Being a Biblical Theologian: Part I

Last week, I commented on another pastor’s blog.  The subject of the blog concerned different types of translations of the Bible.  In his blog, this pastor spoke of how he didn’t like one particular version due to one reason.  I am familiar with that version, and while I also am not a fan of it, my reason is different than his.  My objection to this translation is due to what I see, at least in one instance, a disregard for the wording of the original text, actually changing the words to match common applications of the text.

The passage is I Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price; so then glorify God in your body.”

A common application of this passage is that a person’s physical body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, there are things you should and should not do to your body because it would be desecrating the temple.  This application is used as a prohibition against body modifications such as piercings and tattoos.  (I must admit, though, that I find it interesting that, for many who hold to this application, it is okay for a woman to get her ears pierced.  Isn’t that in direct contradiction of this application or is a woman’s ear not considered part of the temple?  Doesn’t this show that this application is being used to justify a particular cultural norm or desire?)

The problem with this application is that it is, in my opinion, a total departure from what the Apostle Paul is saying here.  And, as a biblical theologian, that is anathema to me for, if a passage isn’t saying something in the first place, how then can it be made to say what it isn’t saying and then make that the normative application?  The reason I take this stand is how Paul puts together his wording and what his argument is.

First, let’s deal with the grammar and what doesn’t come through in the English translation.  First, the pronouns he uses are plural.  He is talking to a group, not a single person.  Second, body is singular.  This is where the translation of which I spoke earlier diverges from the text.  This translation says “bodies” even though every instance of the word for body in this passage is SINGULAR.  The body to which Paul is referring is the body of Christ which is the sum, the gathering together of all the believers.  This is the body which he calls the temple of the Holy Spirit, not a person’s physical body.

Second, this also fits with one of the major themes of what Paul is trying to say to these Corinthian believers.  A major problem with which they are struggling is divisions.  This church is divided and struggles mightily with unity.  Read through the whole letter; this will be abundantly clear.  When Paul uses the analogy before these verses of a man with a prostitute, he is using this analogy to describe the reality of what he is trying to say regarding the whole body of the church.

While in seminary, it was drilled into me, repeatedly for which I am thankful, to be a biblical theologian.  What this means is that the text is allowed to speak for itself and must not be seen as written in a vacuum but rather to real people and real situations.  Scripture cannot be approached as though it is a textbook, written for a classroom.  The truth that is gleaned from these texts cannot and must not be divorced from these real situations and real people, otherwise, applications of any type can be made from texts even when the text isn’t saying anything of the sort.

I must admit, there are times a text takes me in a direction which at first I did not want to go, but go I must and am thankful after going.  I have found a much deeper understanding of who God is, his character and how he thinks, acts, and responds to different situations. 

In Part II of this blog post, I will give an example of how this has played out in my own life.

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