The Body as a Temple

No need to go to the temple. Your body is one!

In 1 Corinthians 6:19, it says:  “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?”  As some Mormon youth teachers used to like to say to encourage chastity:  “Your body is a temple, and he doesn’t have a recommend!” or as I saw on a tee shirt:  “Your body is a temple, not a visitor center.”  This scripture is often trotted out in opposition to tattoos or piercings, likening those actions to vandalism of the exterior temple walls.  It’s also used to support the Word of Wisdom, and this interpretation isn’t unique to Mormonism.  Other faiths use it to enforce modesty, anti-smoking and temperance.

But what if this scripture is not referring to our individual bodies, but the body of saints?  Consider this passage from 1 Corinthians 12: 12-14:

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one abody, whether we be Jews or bGentiles, whether we be cbond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.  For the body is not one member, but many.

In this passage, “body” clearly refers to the group of worshipers,  not to an individual person, and talks about the benefit of having various individuals each with unique spiritual gifts and playing different roles within the church.  What follows is a caution not to cast off any members of the church for being unique or seemingly lesser, but to remember that the body of saints need each other, not despite their differences but because of them.  Continuing in 1 Corinthians 6: 25-27:

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same acare one for another.  And whether one member asuffer, all the members bsufferwith it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.  Now ye are the body of aChrist, and bmembers in particular.

And you may also be dumb as a rock, just like bad spellers who make fake motivational posters.

This also casts the oft-neglected second half of 1 Corinthians 19: 6 in a new light:  “ye are not your own.”  I recently read a great book (recommended to me by a commenter) called Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by E Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien.  In the book, the authors talk at length about how our Western values are inconsistent with the values of the culture of those who wrote the Bible.  Just coming back to the US from Singapore, this really resonated for me.  One of the Western values that commonly causes cultural disconnect is individuality.  Eastern cultures, including the ancient culture of the Bible, are based on communitarian or group values.

Roles and obligations rankle our ruggedly individual values as Americans.  We don’t want to kiss the ring or take care of our aged and infirm until all our own personal needs are met.  And we lack familiarity with want which makes it even harder to see the need for group reliance.  The entire American dream is built on the idea of an individual immigrant leaving their group obligations behind in their native country, coming to make a better life in a land of milk & honey where they are free from oppression, free to be individuals, free to pursue their own happiness – individually.

We conform to American ideals by expressing our individuality.

Time and again, living in Asia, I struggled with this concept that people did not see themselves primarily as individuals, peers and equal contributors regardless of titles, willing participants in decision making when decisions would affect them.  As one example, according to my local colleagues, Singapore considered staging an “Occupy” protest while I was there (which seemed a bit hypocritical given that it’s an incredibly wealthy country with no natural resources whose wealth was built almost entirely on financial services).  The protest received the required government approval to proceed, but as it turned out, nobody showed up.  Nobody wanted to go unless it was in a large enough group that they wouldn’t stand out or be noticed.  And thus a protest died.

Mormonism is sometimes referred to as an American religion, and even as we strive to become a global church, we often attract those rugged individuals who are willing to break family ties to join because they see this group as the path to more success and happiness for them.  So we are attracting individuals who embrace our Western values, even if they come from an Eastern culture.  Our stories of pioneers are likewise fairly individualistic, pushing back against the political oppression the saints faced, even leaving the US to do so, although it is also a very communitarian story:  trying to live a united order, creating social obligations within dynastic families through plural marriage, and pursuing self-governance (replicating systems that when run by non-Mormons were oppressive).  Even our scriptures extol the virtues of the American experiment, further tying Mormonism to American values.  As a result, we have an even stronger tendency to conflate American values with God’s values or the “correct” values, despite inconsistencies with non-LDS scripture and known history.  The author of the book theorizes that God has neither Western nor Eastern values, but works within whatever society framework exists.  So the book is not trying to favor either Western or Eastern values, just to help readers of the Bible see their own assumptions and consider alternate readings.

Assumptions: Prepare to die.

Which brings us back to the alternate reading of the body as a temple.  The word “ye” is clearly plural, and yet we still default to thinking of a group of individuals rather than the community as an entity in and of itself.  If we think of the “body” as the community of believers, the meaning of the verse changes radically.  The community is the temple.  The community is where the Spirit of God dwells.  Rather than being about individuals and their bodies, it is about the fact that no one is an island, that we all need each other for the Spirit to come dwell.  I am reminded of this scripture that is reiterated in the Doctrine & Covenants:

Matthew 18: 20.  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

D&C 6: 32.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, as I said unto my disciples, where two or three are gathered together in my name, as touching one thing, behold, there will I be in the midst of them—even so am I in the midst of you.

So if we re-read this scripture in light of this understanding, it is really an admonishment that we drive the spirit away when we don’t value the diversity of the individuals in the group or when we want to chase some members out of the body.  The author of the book adds:

“It has become increasingly popular in recent years for believers to call themselves Christ-followers instead of Christians. . . . they don’t want to be associated with the negative, nominal and cultural connotations of the word Christian.  Associating with Christ but not his church is a distinction Jesus would never have made.”

Is this prayer a vain repetition?

Of course, this is something many of us have felt and blogged about:  a desire to distance ourselves from the other Mormons or Christians whose culture or values we don’t like.  A recent documentary called “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers” addresses the image problem Christianity is facing right not.  Of course, as much as some people want to distance themselves from traditional Christians, there are plenty of traditional Christians who want to distance themselves from the progressives or liberals they see as threatening the very fabric and traditions that hold the church together.  Considering this scripture in light of “body” referring to those who collectively worship, we should find ways to stick together, to invite the spirit into our diverse group of people who are all seeking in our own ways to follow the teachings of Christ.

We are told to be wise as serpents in detecting enemies, but harmless as doves in our behavior.  We are told we are being sent as sheep among wolves, but not instructed to turn on the so-called wolves in the process.  We are taught in the parable of the wheat and tares that we can’t know who the wheat are and who the tares are until they are fully mature and it’s time for the final judgment.  We run the risk in both directions of not treating the body (of saints) as a temple (wherein the spirit can dwell) when we are spending too much time judging our fellow worshipers as being too sheep-like or too wolf-like.  Instead, if we think of ourselves collectively as a body (with all parts being necessary), as part of a temple entity rather than individual temples, maybe we get a better glimpse of what Christianity is supposed to be.

  • How do we avoid judging people who are judgmental?  What if they are judging us first?
  • What are the limits of a big tent church?  How big is too big?  Where would you put the boundaries?  Any who believe?  Any who desire to believe?  Take everyone at face value?
  • Can the group get too big to accommodate the spirit?  What if the “body” includes a Martin Harris who needs to withdraw?
  • Should we be concerned that we are mostly attracting converts whose cultural values don’t challenge American values too much?  As we go into untapped areas of the globe like India and China, do we need to dial down our cultural assumptions?



  1. I like the framing of the body that is a temple being the body of The Church and not our individual bodies. It makes much more sense that way too, I think. Not vandalizing the body of Christ with judgment, and other hindrances to interpersonal relationships.

  2. melodynew says:

    This is a wonderful post, Angela. “And we lack familiarity with want which makes it even harder to see the need for group reliance. . .” This is the heart of the matter. My daughter and son each served missions in tribal cultures. Each left our home in Utah County as good Latter-day Saints. Each returned as better Christians — with enlightened understanding of true community — a model in which lives depend upon one another. The American-ized religion we cherish could benefit greatly from our brothers and sisters in other cultural systems. I feel we are missing something foundational to the gospel in our continental US culture. [with acknowledgement that our wards offer a semblance of tribal culture, which can be beautiful and spiritually bonding]

  3. Really interesting Angela. Liberty in the early national period of America was something of a community concept, not an individual one.

  4. I heart the comment by WVS above!
    Regarding your question: “As we go into untapped areas of the globe like India and China, do we need to dial down our cultural assumptions?” I believe the answer is clearly yes. Strong historical example is Brazil and lift of the priesthood ban. I am hopeful that during my lifetime I will see our safe white suburban culture become a little less ‘Western warrior anxiously engaged’ and a little more ‘Eastern pacifist calmly engaged.’

  5. ” …do we need to dial down our cultural assumptions?”

    That this question is even asked is an indication that yes, we need to reexamine the cultural baggage that has accreted to the “body” over years of prosperity and growth that the church has experienced. We are still dominated by a Wasatch Front mentality in many cases, a problem compounded by the fact that we really do have a lay leadership, and who learned how the church worked by watching other lay leaders before them. I am certainly not free of some of that myself. We may have a specific description of a cornerstone of Christ, and a foundation of Apostles and Prophets, but nowhere does it say we must build the exact same building in every case on that foundation.

  6. What EOR said.

    “How do we avoid judging people who are judgmental?  What if they are judging us first?”

    I think it can be easier to jump straight into self-defence mode when we feel ourselves under attack. I try to consider why someone might be reacting the way they are. Perhaps ask where they are coming from, and explain why I might feel differently.

    “What are the limits of a big tent church?  How big is too big?  Where would you put the boundaries?  Any who believe?  Any who desire to believe?  Take everyone at face value?”

    I’d probably go with a desire to believe. As far as taking at face value goes, I think we have some responsibility to weigh what people say, and make a personal assessment about their degree of sincerity perhaps, but I hope I’d be very careful of taking punitive action based on my personal assessment.

    “Can the group get too big to accommodate the spirit?  What if the “body” includes a Martin Harris who needs to withdraw?”

    Well, if there is constant contention, then I suppose it becomes difficult to accommodate the spirit. But I think it is more the degree of respectful discourse (or otherwise) than the size of the tent.

    “Should we be concerned that we are mostly attracting converts whose cultural values don’t challenge American values too much?  As we go into untapped areas of the globe like India and China, do we need to dial down our cultural assumptions?”

    Yes please on dialling down cultural assumptions. I’d also dial down on imposing cultural values too.

  7. Leonard R says:

    What a beautifully important insight… combined with Carrie’s post over on Rational Faiths (, it serves as an important reminder to see both our fellow-saints, and ourselves, as part of the body of Christ. And that each member of that body is important. And seeing that body as the temple in which the Spirit of God can dwell. Just a beautiful tying together and contextualizing to our current situation of Paul’s teachings. Thanks so much.

  8. Body = ~temple

    Just the narrative I need to start smoking the occasional cigar.

    As for your questions:

    • Only judge people who judge people for judging people.

    • Make the boundaries geographical. We can be all-inclusive, while maintaining a sense of control.

    • We can only be too big according to population density. There will be a critical mass (see boundary above)

    • Definitely. Use of deodorant, not marrying off daughters in exchange for livestock, allowing your photo to be taken, or throwing soiled toilet paper in the garbage has had it’s day. (Confession: I just want to wear lava lavas and flip flops to church.)

  9. If we believe the Bibile insofar as it is translated correctly, then certainly there is wiggle room to have a different view on “body.” After all, the version we have today has been translated many times, and often with a Western cultural perspective. However, I’ve always thought it likely that when the church was restored, along with that restoration came came concepts that had been “lost.” In other words, if the church was to be restored and God wanted to restore lost concepts of community and lack of “individuality,” why not have restored the gospel in Asia? Perhaps, though the church is an American church, the fundamental concepts espoused, such as individuality and agency, are in fact how God would have us live. Anyway, this gives pause to think about how often we proof text to make our case.

  10. I really like this reframing of the “body as temple” passage, Angela. Great post!

  11. questioning says:

    Philip Yancey taught this doctrine years ago. First God in Heaven, next God in a physical building – the temple, finally God in the body of the church – his people.

    I don’t see the two viewpoints as contradictory – especially considering the high importance that the actual ‘body’ plays in LDS theology.

  12. “How do we avoid judging people who are judgmental? What if they are judging us first?”

    I guess I don’t know what it means to judge someone in this context. Drawing conclusions about someone’s character or propensity to do X or Y is part of living in society. I’m not too concerned about it. I would guess we’re talking about judging someone’s worthiness, or standing vis-a-vis God, which is a different story. If someone’s doing that to me I’m not sure that it would affect my ability to refrain from judging them similarly, but I don’t know.

  13. Sharee Hughes says:

    I think the body as a temple can be interpreted both ways–as the church and as our individual bodies. We don’t want to defile either.

  14. IDIAT: “if the church was to be restored and God wanted to restore lost concepts of community and lack of “individuality,” why not have restored the gospel in Asia? Perhaps, though the church is an American church, the fundamental concepts espoused, such as individuality and agency, are in fact how God would have us live.” This is a point I have often thought about, and questioning it is even more critical for Mormons than for the authors of the book I read given the importance of America in Mormonism. Is the American experiment privileged and more culturally correct? Or are cultural values irrelevant? It does seem that several American values create wealth and success more reliably than their counterparts. That wealth is what attracts people to America and in many cases to the church.

    Steve Evans: Within the context of the metaphor of the body of the church, judging would be either judging someone as unworthy or as not needed or less honorable than another member. Paul specifically cautions against judging people based on their hierarchical titles or roles and saying we have no need of someone who seems to be in a lesser position. But how does it feel to the person in that lesser position? Like they’ve been judged and found wanting. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg question about disaffection. Did disaffection cause someone to be judged or did being judged give them reason to be offended and then become disaffected? I suppose both happen, and both feed each other.

  15. I really like this application, Angela – especially since it reinforces Paul’s injunction about believing we, as a community of believers, have no need of certain types of people. That type of exclusionary outlook is far too common, and we certainly are not immune to it.

    After her first endowment session, prior to leaving on a mission, my oldest daughter said:

    “Dad, sometimes we focus so much on building the kingdom of God on earth that we forget to establish Zion.”

    I think that applies directly to this post, and I think we separate the two activities far too much when it comes to our actions and attitudes. I don’t think we can do the first, truly, without doing the second – that the kingdom of God on earth is built by establishing Zion – and that Zion is a communal body of different people who love each other and work together as one body, missing no organs or parts. It’s the full, every-instrument-included orchestra Elder Wirthlin described in “Concern for the One”, not just the piccolos or even a nearly full orchestra.

  16. To the OP: Superb work, Ang.

  17. The context of the chapter, the body and spirit, bodies being baptized, many, many physical chastity essences, as well as the Greek used, shows this interpretation to be totally out of context. The chapter ever refers to our bodies being members (appendages) the body of Christ.

  18. jpv, I agree it’s obvious that the main focus of 1 Corinthians 6 is the physical body and that the primary focus of verse 19 is that same physical body – but I also like the application of the principle to the communal body of Christ. I think it would be wrong to assert that verse 19 is NOT about our physical bodies (and, in re-reading Ang’s post, there is that implication at the beginning), but I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to apply it to our congregational and communal command to establish Zion, as well.

    Ang, when I re-read the post, I also realized that you wrote 1 Corinthians 6:25-27 for the second blocked quote when you meant to write 1 Corinthians 12:25-27.

  19. Ray, your point is interesting about a dual meaning and perhaps you are correct. What convinced me otherwise is plural ye followed by singular body. Also a quick search shows that Paul uses body to refer to groups of people far more than to refer to physical individual bodies.

    Another interesting interpretation I’ve heard is that the temple is patterned after the body (particularly female bodies). So rather than your body being a temple, your temple is a body.

  20. “So rather than your body being a temple, your temple is a body.”

    I really like that, Ang, especially since the body obviously can be seen as the spirit’s house – or “the House of the Spirit of God”. We talk of God visiting his house, the temple, and we talk of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost (a member of the Godhead), so it’s an apt statement also to call the “house” where we want that member of the Godhead to “dwell” a temple. That certainly fits the verse’s statement that “the Spirit of God dwelleth in you” – and it would be appropriate to believe that holiness to the Holy Ghost would include a clean / holy bodily house.

  21. Thokozile says:

    This is great! I love the Zulu proverb “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu,” which basically means “a person experiences personhood through people.”

    I think the complication is that a works-centric conception of salvation is inherently individualistic — regardless of how much a community you create or participate in, your ultimate judgement depends on your choices. The five wise virgins can’t share their oil.

  22. Thokozile: “The five wise virgins can’t share their oil.” Only their light. Cool insight.