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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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2 Answers 2

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).

The Reward

The reward in view is the reward of the pastor seeing believers being truly edified as they are founded upon Christ. This can be seen from 1 Cor 3:8. The wages or reward in view is seeing believers being so built up in Christ that they appear as precious stones or gold and silver. It is possible for a teacher to be saved and yet teach in such a fashion that their followers are not saved. Paul is warning against this in verse 15. His instructions on preaching are necessarily in view.

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The passage in 1 Cor 3:17 is in the plural. That is "you" should be translated "y'all." However, the preceding verses mention that the individual believer (temple) is building upon the collective body (temple). Is there therefore not in view the contributions the believer makes to the body collective? In other words, are your contributions "edifying" (gold, silver, precious stones) or are they worthless (wood, hay, straw)? The Lord if the judge! Thus if you are wise (1 Cor 3:18-23), your boasting will not be in yourself (worthless) but in the Lord (edifying). Do you see rewards in view here? –  Joseph Apr 19 at 15:06
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@Joseph I've edited to address your question--at least somewhat. In the preceding verses temple is not used, so applying it to the individual is likely not appropriate. The passage is about teachers and the church as a whole being the temple, not about individuals each being little temples. "All things are yours" (vv 21,22) seems to me to be referring to the wisdom which is theirs in Christ. –  Cohen_the_Librarian Apr 23 at 23:44
    
You have provided an excellent summary and critical analysis of the text. I had two questions, if you are able to help clarify: (1) Paul talks about boasting in men (v.21), instead of boasting in the Lord - what is he referring to? (2) Verse 14 talks about receiving some reward - are we to receive some sort of remuneration from the Lord in heaven for faithful service in edifying the body on earth? –  Joseph Apr 25 at 0:58
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@Joseph I think the boasting in men is referring to those who were saying I am of Paul or I am of Apollos in v.5. Regarding reward, I don't think it's remuneration. I'll try to make that more clear. 1 Cor 9:17,18 in context might have some bearing on it too. –  Cohen_the_Librarian Apr 25 at 1:53
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Reading from the preceding section in the same chapter, the temple cited in verse 17 is referring to the collective body of believers (amplified in 1 Cor 3:10-14), and therefore not to our individual bodies as temples of God (which is mentioned later in 1 Cor. 6). The following words in Greek (highlighted in bold) are in the plural form, which substantiates that the "temple" is a collective in the immediate context, and not in reference to any one person.

1 Cor 3:16-17 (Greek)
16 οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ναὸς θεοῦ ἐστε καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν; 17 εἴ τις τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φθείρει, φθερεῖ τοῦτον ὁ θεός: ὁ γὰρ ναὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἅγιός ἐστιν, οἵτινές ἐστε ὑμεῖς.

Paul therefore was speaking in this immediate about the divisions among the Corinthians within the body collective (plural), which is pointing to destroying the temple of God (collective body of believers). The problems in Corinth were literally "de-constructive."

As noted on other postings ont his website, the matter of God's building structure in the Bible (temple) is an important biblical topic. Thus to address the question on what constitutes "destroying" thus places emphasis on not building with gold, silver and precious stones. In other words, when you fail to build with gold, silver, and precious stones, you are building with "wood, hay, and stubble" (de-construction, or weakening God's temple).

According to 1 Cor 3:12, the proper building materials for the Temple of the Lord are gold, silver, and precious stones. Gold is incorruptible, and brings the reader to consider the gold used in the Hebrew Bible within the tabernacle and later the Temple. Silver is another precious metal that does not rust or corrode, and therefore is also incorruptible, and so again we return to the sanctity and purity of God's dwelling (temple). Precious stones are created through heat and pressure, and therefore echoes the transforming and constituting Spirit of Christ (2 Cor 3:18). We are all men 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, the Lord performs his transforming work on the stone transforming us "from glory to glory" (2 Cor 3:18); thus we become those precious stones in the collective temple of the Lord.

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You make no mention of the wood, hay, and straw. Could these refer to the wood of the ark of Noah or the bricks in Egypt (straw and hay) made by the Israelites? I do not know. But would not reward be more in line with the context in this passage? In other words, while our conclusions are not incorrect applications, the question is: What is the actual interpretation? The interpretation appears to lean toward rewards. In other words, your contributions to the body of Christ are either "edifying" the church (gold, silver, and precious stones) or weakening the church (with wood, hay, and straw). –  Joseph Apr 19 at 14:58
    
They are the works of the flesh. Wood signifies the human nature [in contrast with acacia wood used in building the tabernacle, which, signifies Christ’s human nature, strong in character and high in standard]. Grass signifies man in the flesh (Isa. 40:6-7). Stubble signifies lifelessness [No Spirit, dead works]. Stubble is the stump of the crops after being reaped. With the stubble there is no seed, no life. Yes, there is a matter of the kingdom reward to the overcomers. This does solves if not all of the "Arminianism-ly" verses i.e. Matthew, Hebrews etc. –  pehkay Jul 4 at 5:53
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