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Glorify God in Your Body !


     Pauline Theology of the Body (1 Cor. 6:12-20)
By : Antonius Galih Aryanto, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, 2008


In chapters five to seven the first letter to the Corinthians letter portrays the Corinthian community struggling with the sexual problems, such as prostitution, homosexuality, and adulterer. This congregation is a young community living in the Graeco-Roman culture that claims the personal freedom to have a sexual relationship with everyone. Inevitably, that culture influences the way of life of the Christians who are absorbing the new Christian values. Therefore Paul proposes the ethical teaching regarding those problems. He reflects the meaning of the “body” in order to give a fundamental understanding of the Christian life.

Paul’s reflection about the body of Christ also inspires the diocesan priests to develop spirituality: the diocesan priest as a man of communion. Therefore, first, I will describe in this paper the meaning of the “body” in the Pauline theology, and after that, I will reflect on my life as a diocesan priest, based on the theology of the body.

A. Theology of the Body
Paul uses the word “body” eight times in this passage (1 Cor.6:12-20). What does this word mean? In the modern understanding, body means physical body, the appearance of a human being or corpse. However, Paul uses this word in a more nuanced way. In Romans 12:1 He writes: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

The phrase “To present your bodies” refers to the whole self; body means the man’s real self, not only his physical body. When he speaks, “Your bodies are member of Christ”, the concept of the body is larger than a physical body. Paul describes a person as a being “bodies”, one whole self. When he continues discussion about the sexual relationship with a prostitute (1 Cor. 6:13, 18), the meaning of the “body” is the physical body. Therefore the meaning of the word “body” should be interpreted based on the context what Paul talks about.

1. The Body is the Member of Christ
The word “body” belongs to the second person plural (your body) and it describes that the Corinthian themselves are members of Christ. As a church the community is symbolized by the body. It has also another meaning that every single person who involves in the congregation is a member of Christ. After baptism is received, everyone is tied Christ; and when people come together to pray in the name of Jesus Christ, they will present and build a Church, a body of Christ (1Cor. 12:27).

The phrase “body of Christ” stresses the church as a living organism. The church is not only a building, but also a lively community interacting with one another. Every member contributes his charism to develop the congregation (1 Cor. 12:26-27). Therefore, the concept “body” implies that every person relates to other and interacts with the environment where the community is living. The “body”, moreover, also relates to its head, Christ. The body does not belong to one’s own self, but Christ is the owner of the body: “The body is for the lord and the lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13).


2. The Body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit

Paul goes farther in describing the relationship between the Corinthians and Christ by saying, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6: 19). One grace of baptism is the receiving the Holy Spirit for a Christian, and it leads the believer to develop his intimate relationship with Christ. His body has become the residence of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit transforms the body to be dedicated to God.

The metaphor of the body as the temple urges the community to grow in holiness. Paul relates the holiness, the temple and the body by saying: “For God’s temple is holy, and that temple are your.” (1 Cor. 3:17). He reminds the believers that by baptism they are washed and sanctified. They should be different from others who do not believe in Christ, such as idolaters, adulterers, thieves and robbers (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

In short, Paul’s theology of the body has personal, social and ecclesiological dimensions. “Body” does not only focus on an individual matters, but it relates also with other believers who interact in the community, and also with Christ who is the head of the body. When one person pollutes his body because of sins, he will affect the whole congregation.

3. How Do We Treat Our Body?
Based on his teaching about the body, Paul gives directions about how people should treat their body. He is against the maxim followed by some Christians: “All things are permissible for me”; therefore they can do anything to satisfy their sexual desire. Paul says, “Not all are helpful” and “But I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12), because only Christ is our master (1 Cor. 6:12). He criticizes also people who go to the prostitutes (1 Cor. 6:16), because when they have a sexual relationship with the prostitute, their body becomes one with her or him, and their immoral sin destroys their relationship with Christ and others. They pollute their body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul is contra to the Corinthians’ understanding that “All sin which a person does is outside the body”; he gives a new maxim: “The immoral sins against the body itself.” Therefore, everyone should have self-control in order to treat his body properly.

Paul’s understanding of human nature integrates with the intimate relationship between human and God. He places the immoral sin in the larger context, as not only an individual problem, but one that is also the concern of the community. In addition, it is not only the immoral sin breaking the relationship, but also other sins, such as those of the idolater, reviler, drunkard, and robber, will break “the temple” and destroy its holiness. Therefore, when a Christian maintains “his temple” and keeps it in sanctity, he glorifies God who is the master of the body (1 Cor. 6: 20).

B. The Diocesan Priest: a Man of the Communion
One specific character of the diocesan Priest is that he dedicates his life for a local church, a diocese. His ministry belongs to a local diocesan community, in union with his bishop and the parishioners where he is working. His identity as a diocesan priest is integrated to his bishop, as the sign and agent of the communion between the local church and the universal church. Therefore, every priest is called to be a sign and instrument of communion, as an extension and representation of his bishop in a parish.

John Paul II urges priests to develop their ability of how to relate to others. “This is truly fundamental for a person who is called to be responsible for a community and to be a “man of communion”. This demands that the priest not be arrogant and quarrelsome...” (Pastores Dabo Vobis no. 43). The diocesan priest devotes his priesthood to the body of Christ; his life is to reconcile many parts of the one body, and to gather them together in the single shepherd, Jesus Christ. Therefore, he should know his flocks, and be immersed in the actual situation where the parishioners are, and be acculturated in a local geographical area and in the local culture, in order to be a sign of communion.

This calling to be a man of the communion is not without challenges and difficulties. The priest should be develop his own life integrally, keep his own life to be a witness of holiness and unity between Christ and the church. Just as Paul says that our body is not ours but belongs to Christ, the life of a diocesan priest does not belong to himself, but it is for God, and is dedicated to serve the community. In many cases, when a priest has a scandal and it becomes public, his priesthood as the agent of communion turns out to be ineffective. There are many scandals that may happen, such as having an exclusive and unhealthy relationship with a woman, sexual problems, and conflict with other priests and parishioners, and so on. These scandals will break his relationship with the community and Christ, and will create division in the church. The scandals also will destroy the credibility of the priest as a pastor, who unites the community. On the contrary, the priest will be more effective in his agency, when his own life shows a dedication and integrity to others, because the people will not only hear what the priest says, but they will evaluate also what the priest does.

Paul’s teaching about “the body” reminds diocesan priests as the witness and instrument of communion with God and of unity among the Christians. Our ministry is directed toward building community with Christ as its foundation, and should embrace differences of race, sex, power, social class, and also differences in spiritual gifts in the parish. Therefore for the reflection, these are the critical questions that should be answered: “How do we build our personal life to be a man of communion?”, and “Do we improve our relationship with God and others in order to empower our agency?”

The meaning of the body in Pauline theology is contras with our individualistic society and culture. In our society every person focus only on his own body, his right and his life, and every one only responsible for himself, but Paul gives new horizon that “You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19). The option how we treat our body should be based on the value of our personal relationship with God who is the master of our body, and our connection with others. Therefore, glorify God in your body, because he is the master of your body.


This paper will be presented to the Young Diocesan Priests, one to five years in priesthood. In my diocese we have meetings for young priests four times a year for ongoing formation. This paper will reflect about the diocesan Priest’s spirituality based on the theology of the body in 1 Cor. 6:12-20.

1 comment

Fijai January said...

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