In 2012, I got my most obscure tattoo. People stare at my ribs and guess,
“It’s a battery?
is it a game like pinball?
it’s a ticket for something?
is it a taser?
it’s a mousetrap?”
They are all good guesses, but they are all wrong. For Christians, I assumed the word DESTROY printed above it would be a clue, but evidently not. (The lines are so crooked because it hurt so much my skin couldn’t stop twitching)
I got this tattoo as a reflection on the theme of the temple throughout the Biblical narrative. At its roots, the temple was never instructed by God to be built. If you look at 2 Samuel 7 or 1 Chronicles 17, you’ll see that David came up with the idea for the temple and God is like, ‘umm, why? I never asked for this…I was happy to travel in the tent just so I could be with my people wherever they went.’
Most likely, David wanted to emulate the ornate temples from the surrounding nations to their pantheon of deities. Yet again we see YHWH respond in a way which sets Him apart from all other Ancient Near Eastern gods. He doesn’t need fancy buildings to be constructed because He would rather be near to His people. In that period, it was via the tent and ark in which He traveled.
In the New Testament, Jesus reiterates this idea that God prefers nearness to His people over fancy buildings, saying that He will destroy the temple and rebuild it (John 2:19). The writer points out that Christ is referring to His body and not the physical temple. The progression completes in 1 Corinthians 6 when Paul says that now, our bodies are the places God’s spirit dwells.
All of this is a movement from God living in a temple—a stationary place where people had to go—to Him living in us. Throughout the temple narrative, God moves closer and closer to His people until He is literally inside of us. Compare this, for example, to Islam’s notion of pilgrimage to Mecca. Allah won’t move toward them, so they have to go to him. For Muslims, this is one of the Five Pillars of their religion, meaning it is necessary to be saved.
The symbol has everything to do with God’s nearness to us and nothing to do with exercise, nutrition, tattoos, or anything else our culture has saddled it with. In my opinion, that is a much richer and more beautiful understanding of it than some motivational quote on the wall of a Crossfit gym.
If you think about it, animals are bodies without spirits. Angels are spirits without bodies. The human body is the mystical, mysterious place where the physical and spiritual connect. Human bodies are sacred more than any other object on earth because of this.
Paul uses this term in the context of sexual immorality, which is also often overlooked. He writes that by using our bodies for sexual immorality rather than for Christ, we are in essence binding Him, not just our own body, to this other person. The Romans did not see their bodies as being very important, and they simply used them for their own pleasure. Sex was also often used in pagan worship; you would go and have sex with temple prostitutes in order to worship the gods.
When Paul uses the phrase ‘your body is a temple,’ he is cautioning believers against using their bodies in a way that would muddy the bond, the nearness, between Him and His people, especially through sexual immorality which was closely connected to pagan god worship.
If you want to use that phrase correctly, it should be for two reasons:
- To warn people against misusing their bodies sexually, as this violates God’s covenant with His people. He calls us to use our bodies to be bound to our spouse and to be a physical representation of our spiritual bond to Him. To sleep around may be a near equivalent of ‘binding YHWH to a temple prostitute’ because our bodies bear some mystical connection between the physical and spiritual worlds.
- To remind people of the nearness of our God. We no longer need to go to a temple—or even a church—to meet with Him. We are the place where his Spirit lives, which makes Him so unlike every other god ever conceived by human minds. We can pray, worship, interact, and emote with Him from the comfort of our own bodies.
The Bible is full of dietary rules and other reasons to maintain our strength and fitness into old age. Just look at Caleb in Joshua 14, who at the age of 85 was ready to charge a mountain because he was as strong as he was in his youth. God cares deeply for our bodies. If He didn’t, why would He have healed, fed, and touched so many of them, much less, come to earth in one??
The image of the temple, however, is not a call to fitness or a prohibition against drinking or tattoos. It is far deeper and richer than that, as it hearkens to the mystical connection between God and His people. His Spirit dwells in us regardless of how many pull-ups we can do, or how much fat we’re storing for winter.
You may see this as semantic nitpicking, but I think the more we can accurately understand, represent, and quote God’s Word, the better we can speak His truth to the world. Why would we want to ignorantly spout off Scripture incorrectly?