In verses 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19, and 2 Corinthians 6:16 Paul uses the Old Testament temple as a metaphor for believers. What this metaphor conveys is the comparison of our New Testament worship to that of the Old Testament. The Levitical law required sacrifices. However, now our worship demands a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), a sacrifice of our lives. The Old Testament worship was centered on locality and the temple building. However, now worship is in spirit and in truth and no longer based on such externals such as location and buildings (John 4:20-24). And finally, just as the Shekinah glory dwelt within the temple, now the same presence of God, the Holy Spirit, dwells within us (1 Corinthians 6:19). And just as the Shekinah glory was the visible presence of God at the temple or tabernacle, so the presence of God should be visible in our lives (i.e., “the fruit of the Spirit,” Gal 5:22-23).
In these three texts, Paul uses the metaphor both in reference to individual believers but also to the corporate body of those believers—the Church. Therefore, the temple metaphor is applicable to an individual believer as well as the Church corporately. What this means is that not only are we as individual believers called to be pure from sin and defilement, but even more, as individual stones composing this spiritual building (to borrow from Peter 2:5), we have an obligation to the corporate body’s purity. Individuals make up the church, thus individual purity makes up the broader Church purity. This means we must fight individual sin as well as corporate impurities, such as false teaching.
In 1 Cor 3:16-17 Paul refers believers (“you” plural) as the temple of God (singular). This could either be interpreted as the plurality of believers together composing the temple of God or the plurality of believers each individually are temples of God. In 1 Cor 6:19 Paul makes specific mention to the physical bodies of believers and calls them (using “you” plural) the temple of God, seemingly indicating that the metaphor applies to each Christian individually (i.e., each individual is a temple of God’s Spirit). In 2 Cor 6:16 Paul says “we” (first person, plural) are the temple (singular). This most likely indicates that Paul is using the temple metaphor in reference to the corporate body of believers.
* Originally posted on former blog, I’m Calling Us Out.