Among the writings of Paul, 1 Corinthians is the letter which teaches the church what it means to be a Christian community.
The opening verses (ch1 vv1-9) have the effect of defining where the church comes from and what it’s based on, and I will want to show how the rest
of the teaching follows on from that.
I was drawing out a definition of the church in the attached thread;
Defining the church
Part of the definition was that the church is a “gathered assembly”, an EKKLESIA.
So the next concern is how this assembly gains unity from the presence of the Spirit (ch3 vv16-17).
Paul describes the believers as the “Spirit-governed”, the PNEUMATIKOI.
In their understanding of God, that should separate them from the “soul-governed”, the PSYCHIKOI, who are simply baffled (ch2 v14).
In their relation to each other, that should separate them from the “flesh-governed”, the SARKIKOI, who are full of “jealousy and strife” (ch3
Their failure to live up to this “freedom from strife” compels him to press the point more emphatically.
Therefore Paul asks, in v16;
“Do you not know that you [in the plural] are God’s Temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
That’s really a condensed version of a much longer implied argument, which ought to be spelled out in detail.
1) In principle, each
member of the Christian community has received the Spirit.
2) It follows, in principle, that the Spirit is present in every
member of the community.
3) In other words, the Spirit is present, in principle, in the whole community as a group
This is the real point of the declaration that “God’s Spirit dwells in you people”.
This is a very important consideration, because it means that the Spirit is present as a bond of union between the members of the community.
In modern times, the idea that a group of people “share a common spirit” is used metaphorically. It just means they have the same aims and
But if the one Spirit present in each individual is an objective reality, then the link between them is also an objective reality.
There is an invisible, non-physical connection which binds them together as one group.
Moving on to the next part of the argument;
4) Earlier in the chapter, Paul was comparing the church to a building.
5) But we have already established that the Spirit of God is present in the body of the church.
6) The result of combining those two ideas is that the church is a building occupied by the Spirit of God
7) But the Spirit of God is God.
This premise needs to be one of the links in the chain, in order to make Paul’s conclusion possible.
We’ve already seen it in the argument of ch2 vv10-11.
8) Combining the last two statements, the church , as a metaphorical building, is a building occupied by God.
9) But being “a building occupied by a god”, in one sense or another, is what constitutes a temple.
10) Therefore the church, the Christian community, is the Temple of God.
Then Paul takes that thought, in the next verse, and follows through the consequences;
“If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple are you”.
10) “You people are God’s Temple” was the point established in the previous verse.
11) But the temple of any god is “holy”, the sacred property belonging to that god, and jealously guarded.
12) Therefore the Christian community, the church, is also “holy”, the property of their God.
13) Any god would be angry with a man who destroyed one of their temples.
The ancient world would have understood this point better than we can.
We need to have some sense of the importance of a temple before we can grasp the enormity of the offence.
14) It should be expected, then, that God would be angry with anyone who destroys his Temple, the church.
15) So the warning that God would “destroy” that man should not come as a surprise.
16) And what is meant by “the destruction of God’s Temple”?
In other contexts, this could have been about God’s response to the persecution of the church.
But in the context of this present letter, Paul’s main concern is clearly the divided state of the Corinthians.
17) The logic must be that the division of the church is the destruction of the church
At least, if you break up the unity, the unity no longer exists.
18) In other words, if you divide the church., you are committing one of the greatest religious crimes known to the ancient world, the act of
You have destroyed the Temple of God
19) Therefore anyone who breaks down the unity of the church is inviting his own destruction
20) So now, Corinthians, do you understand why allowing division to appear in the community is such a bad idea?
The presence of the Spirit in the church should be the bond of union in the church.
While conversely the prevalence of disunity will be one of the symptoms that people are not acting in accordance with the Spirit.
A divided church is one which has been taken over by the quarrelsome SARKIKOI; that is to say, "those who are governed by the flesh".