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1 Corinthians 6:19 ESV

"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?" My emphasis.

1 Corinthians 6:19 NKJV

"Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?"

The NIV has "temples". Not only does the NIV use "temples" instead of "temple", but also regarding this verse 'Barnes' Notes on the Bible' has "our bodies are his temples".

What are the issues that cause "naos" to be translated "a temple", "the temple" and "temples"?

The difference between "a temple" and "the temple" seems significant if Christians are each "a temple" as opposed to all Christians being "the temple".

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The undisputed text of 1 Cor 6:19 is:

ἢ οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι τὸ σῶμα ὑμῶν ναὸς τοῦ ἐν ὑμῖν Ἁγίου Πνεύματός ἐστιν, οὗ ἔχετε ἀπὸ Θεοῦ; καὶ οὐκ ἐστὲ ἑαυτῶν; = or do you(pl) not know that the body of you(pl) is [a] temple in you(pl) of the Holy Spirit, whom you have from God ... (my translation)

As translated above it is ambiguous - does Paul mean that:

  • Christian believers as a whole compose a temple of the Holy Spirit as per 1 Cor 3:15-17? or
  • Each of us individually is a temple of the Holy Spirit

Despite the English ambiguity, the Greek is quite clear that the latter option is grammatically demanded. To make this meaning clear, the various versions need to adjust the translation - there are several ways to do this and most versions get this quite correct but in different ways. The following versions correctly convey the meaning in the Greek:

  • NIV: Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? ...
  • ESV: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? ...
  • NASB: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God ...

Each of these different versions has their advantages and disadvantages. However, the NIV makes this very clear that it is each of our bodies that is a temple of the Holy Spirit and removes any doubt that Paul is discussing the corporate body of believers.

Note: There is no indefinite article in Greek, only a definite article; In English, this problem is solved by using the plural (as per the NIV), else one must be supplied (as per the other versions).

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The Greek text reads:

ἢ οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι τὸ σῶμα ὑμῶν ναὸς τοῦ ἐν ὑμῖν Ἁγίου Πνεύματός ἐστιν,
οὗ ἔχετε ἀπὸ Θεοῦ,
καὶ οὐκ ἐστὲ ἑαυτῶν;

ναὸς (naos - "temple") and σῶμα (sōma - "body") are both singular, but Know you not - οὐκ οἴδατε - is in the plural, as is ὑμῶν (umōn - "your"). This may explain why the NIV translators chose to use the plural rather than the singular. But of the 26 Greek translations shown on biblehub, only the NIV does this. Metzger's Textual Commentary doesn't make any mention of any significant textual variants.

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Greek does not have an indefinite article ("a", "an"); an English translator must determine whether to include an indefinite article based on what best conveys the original meaning. There is some art and some science here.

Greek has a definite article that can convey the sense of the English "the" (it performs other functions as well and matches the case/gender/number of what it is paired with), but there is no article paired with "temple" in the Greek text of this passage (see Critical Text, Textus Receptus, and others here).

Inclusion of "the" or the plural "temples" are interpretive translations, not a literal rendering of the Greek, which merely says "temple" with no article.

If we want a literal translation (though there are some downsides to word-for-word translation), "temple" or "a temple" are arguable.

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  • Greek does not 'have a definite article'. Greek has an article, which does not define. See Daniel B Wallace Beyond the Basics. This is an important matter with regard to concept and important to understand in translation that the article in Greek serves different functions (there are several) to the 'definite article' in English. There are five articles in English - Zero article, 'the', 'a/an', 'some' and the Null article. (See Peter Masters.)
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 18:04
  • @NigelJ thanks, I expanded my comments on Greek articles to clarify. Although the Greek articles o, n, to, are often referred to as definite articles, I agree they do not correspond 1-for-1 with the function of definite articles in English. Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 19:55
  • 'ο/η/το are the masculine, feminine and neuter inflections of the single Greek article in the nominative singular. They are never referred to as 'the definite articles'. I suggest, again, Daniel B Wallace Beyond the Basics.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 5:18
  • @NigelJ I've added a citation. May I inquire why you take issue with my referring to o/n/to with the term "definite article", but do not mind when others do so? Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 11:55
  • I have no idea who does and who doesn't. The matter formed an important aspect of your answer and it is something that requires statement. The development of the article, over the 1,500 years that it took Greek to form fully, is from the demonstrative pronoun (this/that) and is a matter of conceptual location. Nouns identify concepts by labelling them. The article identifies concepts by locating them. But I don't expect anyone to notice what I say. I simply refer people to Daniel B Wallace, who, in this specific matter (though definitely not in every matter) is my mentor.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 13:55

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