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1 Corinthians 3:16 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:59 mins 15 secs

Background to the Indwelling Holy Spirit


1 Corinthians 3:16 NASB "Do you not know that you are a temple of God and {that} the Spirit of God dwells in you?"

Paul has just spent time, starting in verse 9 and going down to verse 15, talking about the judgment seat of Christ. The question should occur to us as we read through this as to why in that study of the judgment seat of Christ and the problem with divisions Paul suddenly shifts to this question in verse 16. What does the context have to do all of a sudden with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the fact that we are a temple of God? There are two verses on that and then he shifts back in verse 18 to dealing with wisdom versus foolishness—in our vocabulary, divine viewpoint versus human viewpoint.

Verse 16 is really drawing a conclusion and making an application when he asks, "Do you not know that you are a temple of God and {that} the Spirit of God dwells in you?" In order to answer the question of why Paul goes to this subject we are going to have to take a lengthy detailed study of the subject of the dwelling of God in human history and the significance of a temple. We must understand the significance of this temple reference. When we run into the word "temple" in the New Testament the place to define the meaning of the word is the Old Testament. The second thing we have to investigate is the nature of this indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, and third, we must then understand exactly how this relates to the physical body.

Look at the context here. Paul has just finished talking about the judgment seat of Christ in vv. 9-15. After we die physically it is going to be too late to produce gold, silver and precious stones. The emphasis on the present body being the temple of the Holy Spirit is that this present temporal body which is living in time is that which gives us an opportunity to grow and advance to spiritual maturity and to glorify God. It is not emphasizing the physical body, it is emphasizing that it is only in time when we have this physical, corporal body that we can glorify God through advancing to spiritual maturity. This is not a verse that needs to be applied to any healthy or unhealthy practices related to the body because the temple isn't physical, the temple is a spiritual abode that is established by the Holy Spirit in our body. The body itself is merely the temporal place where the temple is established. So don't let legalism get you to distort this particular verse.

Next, we need to understand what it means to destroy in verse 17. It is translated "destroy" in the NASB; the New King James translates it "defile," which is a superior translation. We must investigate the relationship of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to the indwelling of Jesus Christ. We need to relate the conclusions of that study to the doctrine of the abiding of Christ and fellowship. Then we can refine our understanding of how the positional indwelling of Christ and the Holy Spirit connect. That is positional. That provides the foundation for the sanctifying ministry, i.e. the experiential part, of the Holy Spirit and Christ in their function of fellowship and abiding. So we are going to see that there is an interconnection between the positional ministries of the Holy Spirit and abiding in Christ and the practical, experiential aspect of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and abiding in Christ, and that it is that interconnection and function that provides the mechanics for the spiritual life.

Basic exegesis of 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17. "Do you not know?" This is a rhetorical question. It is the second person plural, perfect active indicative of OIDA [o)ida] which means to perceive, to know, and is basically indicates a knowledge in the soul that they should have at this point. It relates at this time to EPGNOSIS [e)pignwsij] knowledge which they should know. They should have this knowledge in their soul. The negative here in the Greek is OUK [o)uk] which expects a positive answer (with the other Greek negative ME [mh] you expect a negative answer). So when Paul says, "Do you not know" something, using OU [o)u] he is expecting the answer, Yes, we do know this. This should be in their frame of reference and they should understand this doctrine of being the temple of God, they have been taught this in the past, and so by asking this rhetorical question Paul is reminding them of what they have been previously taught. The next word is "that," which in the Greek is the particle HOTI [o(ti] which is usually inserted to explain something. This could be translated, "Do you not know" and then instead of a "that" have a colon there, because the next phrase, "the temple of God dwells in you" is a timeless reality for the believer in the church age. So it is a principle that he is emphasizing and it could be translated: "Do you not know: you are a temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you." Again, he uses a second person plural. He says "you are," and the "you" here is a second person plural. It is a gnomic present which indicates a statement of a universal truth: "you are [continue to be]," present tense. This is the standard principle for every single believer in the church age.

The previous "you," which is a plural, has led some to think that because the problem that Paul is dealing with here is a problem of problems of conflicts and difficulties inside the congregation that the plural here is talking to the congregation as a whole, that "you" is a congregation or a temple of God and the Holy Spirit dwells in you. This is wrong because if you do an analysis of how Paul addresses the congregation with the second person plural pronoun, "you," he continuously uses that. There are only about two places in the entire epistle where he uses a first person singular "you." The rest of the time he is addressing the congregation as a whole but he is applying it to each individual. The second reason we know he is applying this to each individual is the context. If we go back to v. 15 we read, NKJV "if anyone's work," and it should be translated more literally, "if any individual's work is burned up." In v. 17 there is the same structure, "if any person defiles the temple of God." That is talking about individuals, so verse 16 is bracketed by verses that focus on individual application. So for those two reasons, both the way Paul uses the second person plural pronoun and the fact that this verse is bracketed by individual application, we must say that verse 16 is talking about each individual being a temple of God and each individual has the Holy Spirit living in them. This is not talking about a corporate application in a congregation. The application here is a warning related to the judgment that was just spoken of back in verses 9-15, and that judgment is individual and it is relates to how we function as temples of God the Holy Spirit.  

Paul says, "Do you not know that you are a temple of God?" A temple is a place where God dwells, so this is going to bring in the idea from the Old Testament of the dwelling of God in the tabernacle and the temple during the age of Israel. "…and {that} the Spirit of God dwells in you?" Here we have the Greek phrase TO PNEUMA TOU THEOU [to pneuma tou qeou], Paul's standard way of describing the Holy Spirit in a genitival construction. And that "he dwells in you"—present active indicative of the verb OIKEO [o)ikew], meaning to domicile, to take up residence, to live, to make a home "in you,"—EN [e)n] plus the dative of advantage of EGO [e)gw], meaning He takes up residence in you for His advantage. This is the basis, then, for the sanctification of the believer. Sanctification means that we are set apart for the service of God.

1 Corinthians 3:17 NASB "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are." This begins with a first class condition, "If," and for the sake of argument we are going to assume that a person can destroy the temple of God. "If any man," and the focus is on the individual believer, "destroys." What is the meaning of "destroy"? The NKJV concept of "defile" is preferable. This verb is the 3rd person singular, present active indicative of PHTHEIRO [fqeirw]. This is a key word for properly interpreting this whole concept of the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit and the temple that is created in the body of the believer. "If any person defiles"—PTHEIRO means to corrupt or defile. It is used eight time in the New Testament. The KJV translates it corrupt or a variation of corrupt six times, defile one time, and destroy one time. But this is not to be understood as destruction but as defiling, because the context is talking about "temple" and it is talking about the function of a temple. In the Jewish system the temple was defiled when anyone violated the precisely correct ritual procedures outlined by God in the Mosaic law. So whenever they were engaged in any of the activities, either actively or passively, that made them unclean in the Old Testament—that is ceremonial uncleanness. Ceremonial uncleanness is not necessarily out of fellowship, it has to do with the function of ritual, not the function of spirituality. What this is referring to is that in the Old Testament when the precisely correct ritual procedures were violated then a person could not come into the presence of God. If that continued in the nation Israel for an extended period of time then instead of experiencing the blessing of God they would begin to experience the discipline and then the judgment of God. That is exactly what this context is talking about. Paul has just outlined the fact that you either walk by the Spirit or you walk by the sin nature. If you choose to walk by the sin nature then you are going to suffer loss at the judgment seat of Christ. Why? Because you as a believer have been set apart (doctrine of sanctification) because in you is the temple of God created by God the Holy Spirit and when you live in carnality you are defiling that temple, and as long as you are in obedience that becomes a source of blessing and prosperity in your life. If you are disobedient the result is divine discipline and judgment, and eventual loss at the judgment seat of Christ.

Notice that Paul says, "God will destroy [defile] him." This is a repetition of the same word PHTHEIRO, but this word has several different meanings and Paul plays on those differences of meanings in order to bring out his point. PHTHEIRO not only means to defile spiritually or ritually, it also indicates judgment. So when Paul repeats this word it indicates the idea that if any man defiles the temple of God, God will judge him. Why? "…for the temple of God is holy," HAGIOS [a(gioj], meaning it is set apart for the service of God, "and that is what you are." If we are living according to the flesh then we are not serving God, and if we are not serving God then we are not fulfilling the purpose for which we have been saved, therefore God is going to discipline us and judge us. That is how this fits into the entire context.

Now we have to look at the overall structure of Scripture in terms of the theme of God dwelling with man. Let us not forget in this study that it is the name of Jesus Christ, Emanuel, which means in the Hebrew "God with us." So this is a major theme in Scripture of God dwelling with man and it begins in Eden when God is personally dwelling on the earth. Every day he came and spent time with Adam and the woman. This was the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. So we have God dwelling with man there, and then that fellowship is broken because of man's sin. But when Adam sinned it doesn't mean that God leaves the planet. What happened was that God established the cherubim with a flaming sword to guard the entrance to the garden, so that Adam and the woman and their descendents could not have access to the tree of life. So there was the geography on the earth prior to the flood where Eden was still there. Cf. Genesis 6:3 NASB "Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." This is a verse that is often mistranslated and it is a difficult verse to understand simply because we have so little information and it uses some rare usage of words. The idea in this verse by the word "strive" is the idea of contending, is how that is usually translated. But the word that we see translated "strive" is based on a Hebrew is a hapax legomina, which means it is only used one time in all of Hebrew literature. That means we can't go to other Hebrew passages to compare context and try to figure out just exactly what it means. The only thing we can do is go to other related languages to see how cognate words are used in those languages. In both Ugaritic which was a very close cousin to Hebrew and in Akkadian there was a cognate which meant to abide or to remain or to stay. Not only that but the Septuagint and the Syriac version of the Old Testament, the Targums and the Vulgate, follow that same reading and they render this passage: "My spirit shall not abide [or live] with man forever." That indicates that up to the flood God is still abiding on the earth. Though the reference here is to "my spirit" and our first knee-jerk reaction is to always take a reference like that to be the Holy Spirit, remember there is not always a clear delineation of the Trinity in the Old Testament and many times a reference to "my spirit" can also mean just "my presence." So the suggestion is that the proper interpretation of this verse is that God continued a presence on the earth up until the flood and that part of that presence was to exercise judgment. There is also another word that the Hebrew word could relate to and that would indicate judgment. So it also has the idea of judgment and it is suggested that God continued His presence on the earth as a judge. He is the one who judges Cain, remember, when Cain commits murder. There is no delegated judiciary during the age of the Gentiles up to the flood. It is only after the flood in the Noahic covenant that God delegates judicial authority to man in the principle of capital punishment and judging murderers. That would suggest that there was either no judiciary prior to the flood—but that would produce anarchy, especially as there would have been a very large population on the earth before the flood—or there could be the presence of God on the earth, and that in turn would mirror or imitate what happens at the end of history, which is the presence of God back on the earth during the Millennium.

After the flood up to Abraham there is no presence of God on the earth. A few times God appears to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but there is not a permanent presence of God on the earth again until the Mosaic time when God personally takes up residence in the tabernacle and then the temple. So there was the pre-incarnate Christ then taking up residence in the tabernacle and the temple and there was the permanent dwelling of God on the earth as a sign of His covenant with Israel and a sign of blessing with Israel. When that presence leaves, as Ezekiel describes it as a precursor to the 5th cycle of discipline, that indicates that God is removing blessing from the nation. So once again get the scene that the presence of God is related to blessing and when that presence is defiled there is judgment.

Then we come to the Messianic era when the presence of God comes to dwell among men in the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. He, in fact, refers to His body in John chapter two as a temple. He uses the same word for temple that we find in 1 Corinthians 3:16, the word NAOS [naoj] which indicates that inner sanctuary of the temple, not the other word HEIRON [e(iron] which refers to the overall temple grounds. Then something unique happens on the day of Pentecost. Rather than God dwelling in a structure or an individual body God now takes up residence in every single believer, so that every single believer becomes a temple of God in order for Him to manifest Himself to the rest of humanity. So the presence of God is going to become the source of blessing in the life of every believer. That is the place where God is going to demonstrate His blessing during the church age. Then we go from that to the final age which is the Millennial age when Jesus Christ will return as the promised Messiah, as the King of Israel, and there will be a new temple constructed in Israel, the Millennial temple, where all the nations will go to worship God and that will then become the source of blessing for all the nations on planet earth.

So this is how the concept of a temple and the indwelling of God and the dwelling of God among men is a major theme in the Scripture. So we have to have that as out overall frame of reference before we start trying to understand just what Paul is referring to, that each believer is a temple of God.

The doctrine of God dwelling with man

1)  The Bible speaks of God as dwelling with man in numerous passages. A few are: Leviticus 26:11, 12 NASB "Moreover, I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you. I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people; John 1:14 NASB "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." Notice the connection between glory and the dwelling of God. This goes back to the whole concept in the Old Testament tabernacle of the Shekinah glory. So we see a correlation in John between the glory beheld by John at the incarnation of Christ and this is a reminder for the reader to make a connection between Jesus and the incarnation and the manifestation of the Shekinah glory in the Old Testament. Then, 2 Corinthians 6:16 where Paul is applying to the church the same principle that was articulated in Leviticus 26:12: "Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE." So there is a development in revelation from the Old Testament dispensation to the New Testament dispensation where each believer becomes a temple as opposed to a visible temple constructed with hands. 0

2)  The temple in the Old Testament was the place of residence for the pre-incarnate Christ, God the Son. The temple is where there was a visible manifestation of God.

3)  Jesus Christ, then, describes His presence during the incarnation as a temple in John 2:19-22 NASB "Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews then said, 'It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?' But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken."

4)  The tabernacle was the temporary abode, the temple was the more permanent structure, and they portrayed the person and work of Christ and included the presence of Yahweh, the second person of the Trinity, as the glory of the Lord. The tabernacle and the temple are centred on the presence of the pre-incarnate Christ and everything in the temple and the tabernacle was designed to teach doctrines about the person and work of Jesus Christ. 

5)  The church age temple of the Holy Spirit corresponds to the Old Testament temple. The church age temple in each individual believer corresponds to the Old Testament temple. As the indwelling of Christ in the Jewish temple was a guarantee of security and blessing for them under the Mosaic covenant, so the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the believer is a guarantee of security and blessing for the church age believer.

The doctrine of the Shekinah dwelling of God


1)  The commonly used term is the term "Shekinah glory." Shekinah is from the Hebrew verb which means to dwell. The word "glory" is from the Hebrew word kabodh, and it refers to something that is weighty, something of extreme significance or importance, or something that is heavy. So there are these two words that are combined to indicate this presence of God. In the Old Testament the priest designated the tent in the holy of holies the centremost part of the tabernacle to be the tent of meeting. Later the term came to be used of God's presence or his dwelling on the earth and it is also related to the phrase used in the Old Testament, "the house of God." So all of these terms together emphasize the dwelling of God among His people for the purpose of blessing.

2)  "Glory" was the common biblical word that was used to refer to the presence of God in the Old Testament. Shekinah was a post-biblical word that was developed by the rabbis in between the Old Testament and the New Testament. We find this is passages such as Exodus 16:10 NASB "It came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud." The cloud is not the glory of the Lord and neither is the shining or shimmering presence, that is the result or effect of the presence of God. Leviticus 9:23 NASB "Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people." Numbers 14:10 NASB "But all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Then the glory of the LORD appeared in the tent of meeting to all the sons of Israel." So the term "glory of the Lord" is designed to express the presence of God in the temple or tabernacle.

3)  God's glory was associated with the pillar of cloud during the day and the pillar of fire at night. There are four times when that glory of the Lord is manifested in the Old Testament. First of all, during the Exodus when the pillar of cloud led the Jews out of Egypt. Second, it appeared on Mount Sinai. Third, it appeared at the dedication of the tabernacle where it then rested between the cherubim on the cover of the ark of the covenant. Fourth, the glory of the Lord entered into Solomon's temple.

4)  The Shekinah glory emphasizes the unique presence of God among His people. It is a visible presence designed to confirm His blessing and to provide guidance for His people.

5)  The Shekinah is not the shining or the glowing in the cloud but is the cause of that shining or glowing.

6)  The Shekinah represents the positional place of blessing the Jew had under the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. It represents his positional place of blessing. But how well they kept the commandments of the Old Testament related to the temple and worship determined the experiential blessing.