I don’t think the “body is a temple” scripture is about tattoos

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In one of the breakout sessions I attended during a seminary training seminar this weekend, we briefly discussed 1 Corinthians 6:19:

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

While the discussion evolved into another topic, I sat there pondering this passage. The verse is often used to justify the cultural prohibition against tattoos and the pseudo-hypocritical prohibition on body piercings. While I was pondering the verse though, I began to realize how superficial this interpretation is.

Consider the following verse:

For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

Now, that same superficial interpretation would tell us that the position to ban body modification is further strengthened because our bodies aren’t ours, but God’s. In other words, we need to treat them with the same respect we show to the physical temple we attend to perform ordinances.

If we take a look at other verses, I think a different context emerges.

Look at 1 Peter 1:18–19:

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

And Mosiah 5:7:

And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

It seems to me that when 1 Corinthians speaks of our body not being ours, it is because it has become God’s (or Jesus’s depending on how you interpret the verses) not through the loss of our ownership but because we become followers of Christ. It’s not that our bodies become his property, but that we become instruments to spread his way of life and teachings.

1 Corinthians 6:20 specifically shows that it is not just our body—but our spirit as well—that is God’s. It also counsels us to use both to glorify God.

So when Paul counselled the Corinthians that their body was a temple, I don’t think he was telling them to not get tattoos. I think he was telling them to remember that they covenanted to become followers of Christ and that they have a responsibility to use their body and the spirt (of which the body is a temple) to further God’s purposes.

UPDATE (17 august 2016): See “Of Bodies and Temples” by Jason K. for some additional insight on this topic.

5 thoughts on “I don’t think the “body is a temple” scripture is about tattoos

  1. You may well be right about Paul’s original intent.

    However, it is very common to read scripture with a view somewhat different than the original intent. To me that is what makes scripture and living prophets so wonderful. They are not static they are true and living. We liken the scriptures to our time and our circumstances and prophets aid us in this task. As times change our application of doctrine and principles may change.

    Also, sometimes prophets have difficulty conveying God’s message. They see through a glass darkly. Prophets may see some worldly influence in tattooing we should avoid and they express that the best they can. Their message may not be 100% consistent or logical but it is unwise to disregard their counsel lightly.

    To call it a pseudo-hypocritical prohibition seems a bit off the mark to me. The bible itself does explicitly prohibit tattoos.

    That said, we should not be on witch hunts or make those with tattoos feel embarrassed about past choices. Having a tattoo is not an unforgivable sin and is quite common even in the church. Many people with tattoos do in fact carry temple recommends as well. In fact it may not in fact be a sin just not best on the good, better, best continuum.

    1. Joe,

      My thoughts were not being dismissive of the prophets message about tattoos. I was being dismissive of using 1 Corinthians 6:19 to justify that message.

      My comments on “pseudo-hypocritical prohibition” had nothing to do with tattoos.

      Regarding the bible itself explicitly prohibiting tattoos, I would be happy to be pointed to a scripture in the Bible (not from the Law of Moses, which has since been fulfilled) that explicitly prohibits tattoos.

      1. And where would this scripture by found Kim? As a person who enjoys a motorcycling hobby and the events, gatherings and culture of that hobby this discussion intrigues me. I can see the merit of your point regarding the use of 1 Cor for this purpose. However there has been a large body of comments from the pulpit at General Conference in reference to this matter. As recent conference addresses are vetted by church leaders for such points of doctrine I am interested in your views. I am not a holder to the mighty stick of Bruce. As we discussed many years ago it is published by Deseret, not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

        1. My issue isn’t whether general authorities say we shouldn’t have tattoos. They are entirely free as the church’s governing body to create policy and guidelines. I’m just saying that this particular scripture, which is commonly used to justify the policy/guideline, means something else than what it is used for.

  2. I always considered “your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost” to mean that a person should stay healty. Although I hate piercing and tatos; I find them ugaly. But I don’t see how they can be interpreted as good or evil.

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