Paul asks the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Cor 6:19). This language may sound metaphorical, but the apostle has something more concrete in mind. To excavate Paul’s imagery, modern readers must understand how ancient people related to their gods through physical images—what the Bible calls “idols.” Most ancient cultures believed that divine beings entered artisan-made statues through which worshippers could interact with their gods. Conversely, Paul tells the Corinthians that they are living, breathing images of a God whose Spirit resides inside of them.

According to much ancient Near Eastern theology, the purpose of sacred statues was to provide a place for gods to reside on earth. In the Memphite Theology of ancient Egypt, the creator god Ptah makes graven images that the other gods can inhabit: “He established [the gods’] shrines, he made their bodies according to their wishes. Thus, the gods entered their bodies of every wood, every stone, every clay” (AEL 1.59-60). The ancient Mesopotamians would perform a pit pi, or “mouth-opening” ritual after their idols were made to provide an orifice for the incoming deity to enter and animate the image. One of these ritualized incantations reads, “Without its mouth opened, this statue cannot smell incense, cannot eat food, nor drink water” (STT 200.43-44). Once the gods embodied their images, the idol was placed in a temple to become a conduit for the earthly adoration of heavenly beings.

Most Bible readers know that Israel reviled such images. Before the Israelites encounter the Canaanites, for instance, God tells Moses that his people must “destroy all their molten images” (Numbers 33:52). The Hebrew word for “image” is צלם (tselem) and, usually, the term refers to an idol created for other gods (e.g., 2 Kgs 11:18; Ezek 7:20; 16:17; 23:14; Amos 5:26; cf. 1 Sam 6:5-11). Yet, the God of Israel does something a bit different with the divine image. Instead of commanding the Israelites to cast images, the Lord decides to create human beings in the divine image, saying, “Let us create humanity in our image (צלם; tselem) and according to our likeness” (Gen 1:26). Whereas other gods dwelled in statues that were placed in temples, the Lord fashioned humans as the living images whose very bodies exist in the temple abode of God. This is how God’s Spirit “entered into” Ezekiel (Ezek 2:2; 3:24) and why Paul speaks of “the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Cor 6:19): believers’ bodies are sacred spaces in which the divine Spirit resides in a temple image.

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36 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much for the excavation of thé scripture. But i need to know this: when exactly thé Spirit can enter our body as a follower of thé Messiah ? Secondly, what is the différence between ''spirit'' and ''Spirit'' ? Romans 8 : 16.
    • Thank you for reading, Lola. From a New Testament perspective, the idea would be that the Spirit dwells in believers in Jesus from the moment they believe (i.e., affirm Jesus' messiahship). Every one has their own internal "spirit" that comes from God (see, e.g., Eccl 12:7) and God has God's own Spirit (i.e., the Holy Spirit) -- those are the different spirits that Paul is highlighting in Romans 8:16.

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  2. Very beautiful. Thanks for this topic so much!. Since I was very obsessed with books from Michael Heiser in Unseen Realm, I honestly feel that you're views about spiritual gods entering false idols serve as echo from Heiser's book that I read.
  3. Do you not know your body is the temple of God should also mean we keep our bodies pure & try to live a holy life for God. I was taught that anything that would take you away or keep you from God would be similar to worshiping an Idle that you spoke of or even other inanimate objects/things. Following people or the crowd so to speak, rather than doing God's will ,could fall into that category.We are also not limited to worshiping God at a building such as the Temple or a building where a church group meets because we can worship anywhere.We should pray to God daily. How we live our life also glorifies God. We are the shadow of God and He should come first.
  4. Dr. Schaser I have taken your course on "Israelite Creation in Context" and found your view very interesting!! You present points that I would not have considered otherwise. I will listen again just to get it firmly into my brain as I listen and watch as I am sewing.
  5. Just a question Dr. Schaser; how and when did the ancient Mesopotamians know that their gods had entered the statues they had made after they performed the "pit pi" ritual? Did they just assume that the ceremony did the trick (no pun intended)?
    • Yes, Sue. In the minds of the Mesopotamians, the performance of the ritual would have signified the entrance of the deity.
  6. Thank you for this study on the importance of the dwelling of the Holy Spirit within believers as the living temple. But also for the creation account. My grandfather used to say the Holy Spirit resides in but also on as a form of anointing or like Elisha’s mantle. Thoughts?
    • Thank you for reading, Randal. Yes, the Spirit can be both "in" and "on" people -- Scripture describes both of these occurrences.
  7. This is a lovely topic. Dr. Schaeser I'm one of your student in IBC I wonder why not make a commentary of the whole Tanakh and in the New Testament for publish book from IBC's perspective of the whole teaching staff compilation?
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