1 Corinthians 6:12-20 contains some of Paul’s most difficult writing. Two primary reasons why this is the case is because of: 1) The uncertainty of which words that can be attributed to Paul or to the Corinthians, and 2) The uncertainty regarding the circumstances and cultural influences of the Corinthian church. Much of what we think we know can only be deduced from how Paul responds in his letter.
At the same time, it also includes one of the most important passages in Scripture on the theology of the body and the importance of the physical body in our relationship with Christ and our fellow human beings. As Nancy Pearcey notes in her book Love Thy Body, this has a myriad of applications to many contemporary issues in our culture today.
The key to understanding all the controversial issues of our day is that the concept of the human being has likewise been fragmented into… a body/person split…This dualism has created a fractured, fragmented view of the human being in which the body is treated as separate from the authentic self.
Among the issues that are implicated by this view of the body include abortion, euthanasia, the hook-up culture, homosexuality, transgenderism, etc. Thus, an in-depth study of this passage is sorely needed for the church today.
In this paper, I will first examine the competing theories about the background of this passage and how this gives us understanding into the interpretation of this passage. Of particular interest will be the Greek view of the body and sexual immorality as well as the cultural influences of Corinth connected with prostitution and temple imagery. Second, I will apply these insights to several contemporary issues: sexual immorality, abortion, and transgenderism.
The Greco-Roman Attitude Towards the Body
Theories regarding the nature of the body, the soul, and the mind abounded in Ancient Greece. Many commentators argue that Greek culture held a primarily negative view of the body. As William Barclay says, “The Greeks always looked down on the body. There was a proverbial saying: ‘The body is a tomb.’ The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said: ‘I am a poor soul shackled to a corpse.’ The important thing was the soul, the human spirit; the body was a thing that did not matter.” William Baker likewise summarizes that, “In most Greek philosophies, this aspect of human existence is considerably secondary to a person’s essence, the spirit or soul, which is imprisoned in the body and freed upon death.” This is most apparent in Platonic philosophy. George E. Ladd states that under this view, “The body is thus the enemy of the soul, for it is a mass of evil, and serves as a prison for the soul. The body hinders the soul from the acquisition of knowledge.” The mind and the soul are what bear resemblance to Demiurge, being of the same material, while the body is mortal and can corrupt the soul if left undisciplined. Thus, in much of Greek thinking, the body is looked at as an inhibition to the loftier goals of the soul.
However, other scholars caution that this mindset is not representative of much of Greek philosophy. Dale Martin argues that in viewing these Greek texts, modern scholars can often import a Cartesian understanding of an ontological dualism of the body and soul that is not applicable to the Greeks. Contrary to Ladd, who, citing Philo and Plutarch, argues that the Platonic way of thinking was the most influential view in the late first century, Martin contends that Platonism had waned in influence in comparison to Stoicism by the time of the first century, with Philo being an exception. Michael Williams likewise argues that,
The perceptions of the body in many of these biblical demiurgical sources manifest a certain ambivalence that is not often appreciated. On the one hand, the human self is quite completely distinguished from the physical body and ultimately must be rescued from it; but on the other hand, according to many of these texts, precisely in the human body is to be found the best visible trace of the divine in the material world.
Thus, evidence exists that the Greeks could view the body in both negative and positive ways.
Exactly how much influence these views had on the Corinthian church is unclear. Regardless, it is reasonable to conclude that Greek thinking about the body in a negative sense likely had some influence on the Christians in Corinth.
Implications of the Greco-Roman View of the Body
This denigration of the body affected the way the wider Greek culture viewed sexual immorality as well as the resurrection, two key themes in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.
In regards to sexual immorality, it could lead to two different reactions, one libertine and the other ascetic. David Prior summarizes,
If the human body is thus denigrated and trivialized, it is logically possible to adopt one of two mutually-contradictory attitudes to it: either batter it into total subjection and ruthlessly control all your physical appetites; or let the body have its full scope and satisfy every whim and fancy, because it is of no moral significance anyway, and certainly does not affect soul or spirit.
The libertine attitude held that since the body would be done away with upon death, it didn’t matter what you did with it in this life. An ascetic attitude viewed the body and the desires of the body as evil. These desires needed to be trained and kept in check, lest they corrupt your soul or mind. Looking at the whole 1 Corinthians, it is possible that both attitudes could be present in Corinth, with 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 being an example of libertinism. It would be evident in the statements in verse 12 (“All things are lawful”), verse 13 (“Food for the stomach and the stomach for food—and God will destroy both one and the other”), and possibly in verse 18 as well (“Every sin a person commits is outside the body.”).
A wide range of views has developed in regards to the source of these sayings, leading to hermeneutical challenges. One end of the spectrum holds suspicion that any of these sayings derive from the Corinthians but are Paul’s own words. The other end of the spectrum holds all of these are Corinthian sayings to which Paul subsequently responds. Most commentators, however, fall somewhere in the middle and usually accept at least the sayings in verse 12 and the first half of the saying in verse 13, similar to how the ESV translation of the Bible renders these verses with quotation marks. The presence of αλλα as a Greek adversative conjunction in verse 12 and the association of the stomach and feasting with sexual immorality  provide strong evidence that Paul is quoting the Corinthians in such a manner as to rebut them.
The negative view of the body would also lead to skepticism regarding the resurrection since the body would be done away with upon death. The fact that God is going to raise us bodily as he also raised Jesus bodily gives unparalleled meaning and significance to the body and into the ethical implications of how we treat our bodies. As Ciampa and Rosner state, “The body is not insignificant and transient; on the contrary, it will be raised. And since it will be raised, it is important now how we behave with our bodies.” The implications of the resurrection bolster Paul’s theological claim that the body is meant for the Lord (6:13) and his main ethical command to flee from sexual immorality (6:18).
Examples from Corinth
In verses 15-20, Paul uses two examples that would have been very familiar to the Corinthian church: prostitution and temple imagery.
Greek culture, in general, did not take sexual immorality to be a serious offense. Garland cites Cicero in his commentary to give an example of prevailing attitudes towards prostitution and infidelity:
If there is anyone who thinks that youth should be forbidden affairs even with courtesans, he is doubtless austere (I cannot deny it), but his view is contrary not only to the licence of this age, but also to the custom and concessions of our ancestors. For when was this not a common practice? When was it blamed? When was it forbidden?
Athenaeus likewise said, “We keep mistresses for pleasure, concubines for daily concubinage, but wives in order to produce children legitimately and to have a trustworthy guardian of our domestic property.” Thus, when Paul brings up prostitution, this should come as no surprise since it was a fairly regular occurrence in the broader culture.
The temple of Aphrodite also gives the Corinthian church a vivid image of what it means to be a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). A large temple, it would have served as a major landmark in the city and probably would have been a source of sexual immorality for the Corinthian Christians. The ancient geographer Strabo once reported that the Temple of Aphrodite in Corinth had one thousand prostitutes serving in it. However, this was in reference to the temple that existed in Corinth prior to its destruction in 146 B.C. before it was later rebuilt as a Roman colony in 44 B.C. Regardless, a major temple such would likely still be host to temple prostitutes.
Implications of Prostitution and Temple Imagery
Paul uses prostitution as a graphic representation for the implications of sexual immorality into the body of Christ at large and the life of the individual believer.
Sexual immorality has corporate implications. Garland asserts that, “The prostitute is not conceived of here as an individual person but as a confederate of evil, a member of the dark, death-dealing forces at war against Christ.” Thus, the Corinthians are challenged to think of the broader implications of their sexual immorality. Referencing Genesis 2:24, Paul reminds them that sex brings about bodily union (6:16) between the two individuals. Since their bodies are a member of Christ’s body (6:15) through a spiritual union (6:17), will they therefore unite Christ, the most perfect and holy savior of their souls, with a prostitute? Paul’s response (μὴ γένοιτο) is an emphatic no. As Ciampa and Rosner observe, “In going to prostitutes, the Corinthians not only renounce the lordship of Christ over their bodies and deny their resurrection life to come, but they act in a way that sullies and even does violence to Christ’s body.” If they truly believed that Christ is the head of his body and that their bodies are members of his body, then what they do with their bodies will conversely reflect back on Christ’s body.
The temple imagery holds similar implications, drilling down into the individual ramifications of sexual immorality. In contrast to 1 Corinthians 3:16, where Paul refers to the church collectively as “God’s temple,” he now refers to the individual Christians as a temple, making not only the entire body of Christ a sacred entity but also our individual bodies. Of particular note is that Paul in this passage uses the word naos rather than hieron for temple. As Leon Morris indicates, naos is used in regards to “the sacred shrine, the sanctuary, the place where deity dwells,” whereas hieron “includes the entire precincts.” Thus, our bodies are described as not just the temple as a whole, but the epicenter of the temple where the presence of the deity is manifested. To sin against our own bodies (6:18) becomes a sin against God himself. Thus, individual actions matter too because we are all individual temples with God’s indwelling Spirit. Sexual immorality, in addition to being a violation of Christ, becomes a violation of the sanctity of Christ’s temple, further elevating the seriousness of committing such an act.
Although Greek views regarding the body are varied, a persistently negative approach emerges in many of them, seeing the body as an inhibition to knowledge and a corrupting influence on the soul, something that will be left behind upon death. Local factors in Corinth such as sexual immorality (in particular prostitution), as well as the temple of Aphrodite, give Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 a wealth of analogies to draw from in order to demonstrate the heinousness of sexual immorality. Contrary to prevalent Greek thinking, Paul accomplishes this through the elevation of the human body, showing that our physical bodies are members of Christ’s body through spiritual union, purchased by his sacrifice on the cross. The thrust of his argument may be summed up by two maxims, one negative (“Flee from sexual immorality” (v.18)) and one positive (“Glorify God in your body” (v.20)).
A proper understanding of our physical bodies has implications into some of the most pressing issues of our culture. The three I will be briefly discussing are abortion, homosexuality, and transgenderism. (Obviously, these are all sensitive issues worthy of more exploration. If nothing else, I hope to show that our view of the body plays a role in how we view these issues.)
A major philosophical argument used to support abortion is called personhood theory. In short, it advances the notion that there are some entities which are human but may not necessarily be persons. When applied to abortion, it claims that fetuses are human in the biological sense, but do not belong to a “moral community” whereby they have the same moral rights as every other person. Nancy Pearcey writes that,
The assumption at the heart of abortion, then is personhood theory, with its two-tiered view of the human being—one that sees no value in the living human body but places all our worth in the mind or consciousness. Personhood theory thus presumes a very low view of the human body, which ultimately dehumanizes all of us. For if our bodies do not have inherent value, then a key part of our identity is devalued.
Thus, the theology of the body that Paul develops in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 has vast implications into abortion. Since the body itself has intrinsic worth and value and is integral to what makes us human, then the fetus, having a human body, likewise has intrinsic worth and value independent of its cognitive capabilities.
Yet, we also have to acknowledge the absolute fact that childbirth also involves the body of the mother. A woman seeking an abortion may argue that the fetus is a part of her body. Yet, the scientific evidence shows that from the beginning, the fetus has its own unique DNA, and, within a number of weeks, it develops its own unique heartbeat, brainwaves, fingerprints, etc., demonstrating that it is an entity distinct from the mother. The fetus is an entirely different body, and thus an entirely different person.
How is the mother supposed to glorify God with her body? A woman seeking to glorify God with her own body must inevitably look to the telos of her body. One of the unique gifts which God gave to woman was childbirth, incubating and nurturing life, something only they are capable of doing. Seeking to destroy or disrupt the body (either of the child’s or her own) would invariably run counter to God’s command to honor him with our bodies.
How does a theology of the body apply to the topic of homosexuality? Matthew Vines, a prominent gay Christian author, asserts that gender complementarity is not necessary to fulfill the Bible’s conception of what it means to be one flesh. In his book God and the Gay Christian, he writes that the phrase “one flesh” ultimately “doesn’t depend on a particular sexual act, but on the deep relational connection that sex can create…Sexual mechanics for two men or two vary from what transpires between a man and a woman but the strength of the resulting bond can be the same.” Citing Paul’s use of Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31, he ultimately concludes that the “one flesh” language is symbolic because it is also applied to a nonsexual union between Christ and the church.
In light of this, it is important to remember 1 Corinthians 6:15-16. Although Vines also discusses this passage, he only observes the connection Paul makes here to prohibiting sexual immorality. He completely misses (or ignores) Paul’s connection between Genesis 2:24 and the fact that they form a bodily unity (“Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.””) It is precisely this bodily unity which forms a foundation to the one flesh union and why forming that bodily unity outside the context of marriage is so sinful. It is also why Paul includes homosexuality among the list of sins earlier in 1 Corinthians 6:9, because two men and two women cannot achieve the bodily unity that is part of the one flesh unity. Vines is correct in pointing out that the one flesh unity is more than just being about sex but it is certainly no less either.
Pearcey observes that the implication of homosexuality is that “what counts is not my sexed body (lower story) but solely my mind, feelings, and desires (upper story). The assumption is that the body gives no clue to our identity; it gives no guidance to what our sexual choices should be; it is irrelevant and insignificant.” Even though the mind and emotions feel as real and compelling as can possibly be imagined, those desires cannot override the realities of the body and how God intended sex and sexuality to express itself.
This same logic also pertains to the final application in transgenderism, where one’s gender identity is at odds with one’s biological sex (also called gender dysphoria). In an effort to reconcile the Biblical text with transgenderism, Teresa Hornsby of Chicago Theological Seminary advances the following argument:
The inextricable connection of gender to our bodies (and thus our bodies’ chemical and biological make up) has long been taken as, well, the Gospel “Truth” that because of natural, God-given drives, men desire women and women desire men, primarily in order to reproduce—this is our destiny. To accept this premise unquestionably (i.e., that gendered actions—including sexual desires—are naturally connected to our bodies) concretises the notion that some bodies are better than others. And to understand gender as static, unmoving, is to say that there is no hope for real change. If we continue to hold on to the notion that there are only two genders, and those genders (and all gendered behaviours) are natural, thus unchanging, this is to say that lasting social and political change is impossible because it is anchored to nature.
Thus, in order to make social or political change, the way we interpret Scripture must change as well, being more fluid and dynamic like a dancer. It is interesting that the author recognizes how intimately connected gender and biology are, or, at the very least, are perceived to be. Yet, in order to capture those who feel like they don’t fit the traditional heteronormative standards of what it means to be male and female or those with gender dysphoria, the definition of gender would have to ultimately be disconnected from the body.
Such a position finds little support within Scripture. Galatians 3:28 is most often cited (“there is no male and female”). But, it inevitably involves reading into the Scriptures things which the text would never indicate without approaching it with a preconceived social or political agenda. Of course, such a claim could also be leveled at the more traditional interpretations, which is why, in addition to the testimony of Scripture, we must also let the testimony of creation have its place. With the notable exception of intersex individuals, creation is unambiguously divided into a gender binary.
Where such criticism from those like Hornsby is warranted is with regards to cultural standards of masculinity and femininity, which often differ from Biblical standards. It is possible to hold to a biblical theology of the body and still have care and compassion for those with gender dysphoria. 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 again reminds us that the body is not a disposable thing that we should change. It is a part of who we are and what makes us human.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). In addition to the arguments which Paul advances in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, the other major truth about a theology of the body that must be remembered is that Jesus, the Son of God, became an embodied individual with flesh and blood and was resurrected into a body (Luke 24:39).
The body is good. It was created good (Genesis 1:31). It will be recreated good in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:35-58). Though all of creation, including the body, now groans under the weight of sin (Romans 8:18-23), we must never diminish the importance of our bodily existence. What we do in the body and with the body matters to God. The closing lines of our passage also provides a fitting exhortation to this paper: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
 Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018), 14.
 William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, 3rd ed., The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 65.
 William Baker, “1 Corinthians,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, vol. 15 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2009), 91.
 George Eldon Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968), 17.
 Ibid, 15-17.
 Dale B. Martin, The Corinthian Body (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 3-6.
 Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth, 20.
 Martin, The Corinthian Body, 11-15.
 Michael Allen Williams, Rethinking ’Gnosticism’: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 117.
 David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 95.
 Mark Taylor, 1 Corinthians, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 28, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 163.
 David Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 225-240.
 Denny Burk, “Discerning Corinthian Slogans through Paul’s Use of the Diatribe in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 18, no. 1 (2008): 99–121. See also Andrew David Naselli, “Is Every Sin Outside the Body except Immoral Sex? Weighing Whether 1 Corinthians 6:18b Is Paul’s Statement or a Corinthian Slogan,” Journal of Biblical Literature 136, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 969–87.
 Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 251.
 Ibid, 254.
 Thomas R. Schreiner and Nicholas Perrin, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2018), 125. See also Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 1 Co 6:13–14.
 Ciampa and Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 255.
 Garland, 1 Corinthians, 227.
 Ibid, 240.
 Brian S. Rosner, “Temple Prostitution in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20,” Novum Testamentum 40, no. 4 (October 1998): 347.
 Ibid, 350-351.
 Garland, 1 Corinthians, 233.
 Ciampa and Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 258.
 Taylor, 1 Corinthians, 159.
 Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 7, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 102.
 Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, 102.
 “Moral Personhood,” BBC Ethics Guide, accessed December 3, 2018, http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/abortion/philosophical/ moralperson.shtml
 Mary Anne Warren, “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion,” The Monist 57, no.1 (January 1973): 43-61.
 Pearcey, Love Thy Body, 20.
 Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships (New York: Convergent Books, 2014), 145.
 Ibid, 146.
 Ibid, 145.
 Pearcey, Love Thy Body, 30.
 Teresa J. Hornsby, “The Dance of Gender: David, Jesus and Paul,” Neotestamentica 48, no. 1 (2014): 80.
 Ibid, 89.
 This deserves much more attention than I can give it here. Suffice it to say, I believe that intersex conditions are the result of the fall on the human body. Yet, even with most intersex conditions, the biological sex can still be determined. In such cases where the body is truly ambiguous, consideration should be given for the individual’s personal experience to play the determining role in their gender, since the body is unclear.