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In 1 Corinthians 3:17, Paul warns, "If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple." (ESV)

This verse is often brought up often in discussions about suicide; but does it actually refer to that or what does it really mean? What constitutes "God's temple" in this passage? Is it the church or individuals within the church? And what does it mean to "destroy God's temple?"

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Reading from the preceding section in the 1 Cor. 3, the temple in verse 17 is referring to the building in verses 1 Cor. 3:10-14 and not our body as the temple of God (that is mentioned in 1 Cor. 6).

Paul was speaking about the divisions among the Corinthians, which is destroying the temple of God.

The matter of God's building in the Bible is a major topic. But to address your question on what constitute destroying is not building with gold, silver and precious stones.

According to 1 Cor 3:12, the proper building materials are gold, silver, and precious stones. There are three because these materials refer to the Three of the Trinity, to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In other words, the church is a group of people constituted of the Triune God.

Gold refers to the life and nature of the Father God. It does not change or become corrupt in nature. Spiritually, it refers to His unchanging nature.

Silver signifies Christ's redemptive work. In Exodus 30, silver was used to redeem the life of God’s people. Well, the Lord was sold with 30 pieces of silver. This is to experience the cross of Christ to deal with every all problems in the universe (or in our daily life).

Precious stones is a transformed substance. It signifies the transforming and constituting Spirit (2 Cor 3:18). We were man of clay (Gen. 2:7; Romans 9:21). When we were saved, we became a stone in God's building (Matt. 16:17-18; 1 Pet. 2:5). Through pressures and refining fires in our environment :D, the Spirit does a transforming work in us until we are transformed into the same image from glory to glory; then we will be precious stones.

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Who's in view?

Based on 1 Cor 3:9-15(the preceding verses) God's temple is the church. In particular, v. 9 says that "You are God's field, God's building."

The idea is a logical continuation of Paul's thought from vv. 1-9. Paul is the "master builder" who laid the foundation v. 10. In v. 6, Paul says "I planted, Apollos watered...". Apollos is one who built on the foundation which had been laid by Paul (the foundation being Christ v. 11).

The immediate context shows that this passage is about the church and not about individuals.

Destroying God's Temple

John Gill says on 1 Cor. 3:12 that the wood, hay, and straw which will be tested by fire are not referring to heresies because if they were, the person building with that material would be condemned. V. 17, however, does seem to be speaking about false teachers (who don't merely build with substandard materials but rather actually destroy God's temple) because it says that God will destroy them.

Vv. 18ff are not an unrelated thought. The wisdom of this age is opposed to the wisdom of God. This section of chapter 3 seems to be referring back to the apparent foolishness of preaching "the word of the cross" in 1 Cor 1:18ff. In fact, 1 Cor. 1:19 says that God "will destroy the wisdom of the wise". Paul is quoting from Isaiah 29:14. He doesn't use the same future verb Ἀπολῶ (fr. 1:19) in 3:17 (φθερεῖ), but their meanings are very similar.

Based on the similarity of these words and the connectedness of the thoughts in chapters 1-3, the destroyer of the temple of God is one who is wise in the world's sight and thus one who does not preach the foolishness of Christ crucified (and also raised--Paul is speaking synecdochally which is made clear in chapter 15).

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