Exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, An exceptionally dangerous sin

1 Corinthians 6:18-20

18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

It is unfortunate that today’s Bible text is not more well known, because the revelation it contains was critically needed in Corinth and is no less relevant today. Sexual immorality in its many forms is uniquely damaging to a believer. That is why Paul issues his forceful command: “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18a).

He has already said (1 Cor. 6:15) that illicit sex with a prostitute — only one form of sexual immorality — is like tearing our bodies apart from union with our resurrected Lord. This has been called a Christ-violation.[1] Then, in verses 16-18, Paul describes a body-violation inflicted by the sexually immoral Christian against their own body in that they are using it in ways their Creator never intended. Finally, in verses 19-20, such behavior is said to constitute a Spirit-violation, an offense against the Holy Spirit. Those three violations are a trifecta of stupidity!

There are times when the New Living Translation’s tendency toward paraphrase results in an exceptional translation. This is such a case: “Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.” (1 Cor. 6:18, NLT).

Paul caps his argument (1 Cor. 6:19-20) with two startling metaphors: a temple and a slave. In both cases he is still focusing on the physical body. He is using that focus in his ongoing proof that the body was for the Lord (1 Cor. 6:13) and worthy of their spiritual concern.

To say your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (verse 19) is a metaphor, but figures of speech in the Bible are always intended to express some aspect of reality. Even though a Christian may not look like a temple, the mere fact that the Holy Spirit indwells them makes it so. That being the case, God will not take lightly the desecration of his temple! Do you not know! has the force You had better know!

The second metaphor begins with “You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19b), proving once again that the placement of verse numbers must have taken place late on a very dark night; verse numbers are not part of the inspired text. Slavery metaphors are difficult today because we do not have personal experience with slave auctions or their consequences. Corinth, however, was a major center for slave trafficking[2], so they understood.

David Garland explains the slavery metaphor by saying: “God now has the title-deed to their bodies. Christs death purchased them [1 Pet. 1:19], and they have been transferred from Satan’s household to serve in Christs household.”[3] Freedom in Christ has never been about being free to do whatever you like. The most decisive factor in determining a slave’s status was the character, status, and influence of the one to whom one belonged as a slave.[4] We belong to the Son of God! The other side of that fact is that the slave (i.e., Christian believer) no longer belongs either to himself/herself or to powers into whose bondage he/she may have entered.[5]

The grand conclusion is simple and obvious: Therefore honor God with your bodies (1 Cor. 6:20).

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 472, quoting Bruce Fisk.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 239.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 239.

[4] Dale Martin, Slavery as Salvation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990) 49.

[5] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 477.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!