First Corinthians 3:16-23


The Corinthians are exalting worldly teaching with the main emphasis being on the men who do the teaching.  Paul’s point has been do not let men and their worldly wisdom distract you from God and his revelation.


Paul takes the building image and reveals that the building is a temple, the temple of God.


The church is God’s temple
The Spirit of God lives in the church


Temple Image

This image is used again in 2 Cor. 6:16 and in Ephesians 2:21

Both Paul the Jew and the Pagan Corinthians had a culture that centered on temple worship.

Temple” is the word “naos” (naoV) and refers to the holy place, sanctuary or the actual  shrine.

It is not the word “hieron” which referred to the buildings around the temple in addition to the sanctuary.

Psalm 114:2 “Judah became God’s sanctuary.”

These Corinthians were a sanctuary or temple for God in the city of Corinth.

This has eschatological ring to it:

1)      Jesus said he would rebuild the temple in three days (Mark 14:58; John 2:19-21)

2)      God will rebuild his temple in the last days:

a.       Tribulation temple

b.      Millennial temple

c.       Eternal temple – “Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.” Rev. 3:12


Rhetorical Question

The use of the rhetorical question (asking if they know obvious information) is used 10 times in this book:

1)      3:16

2)      5:6

3)      6:2

4)      6:3

5)      6:9

6)      6:15

7)      6:16

8)      6:19

9)      9:13

10)  9:24


Paul only uses this sarcastic rhetorical question 1 other time: Romans 6:16




The statement “If anyone destroys God’s temple” refers to teachers, leaders and people who destroy God’s church.

In the Corinthian’s case it referred to worthless teaching.


The Corinthians were to be an alternative to the worldly ways and thinking of Corinth.
They were to be God’s sanctuary in the midst of Corinth.



The Greek says:

“If anyone the temple of God destroys, destroy this person will God.”

        fqeirei/fqerei or “. . . destroys, destroy . . .”

Destroy  - fqeirei “phtheirei” – these verbs mean “to corrupt, to ruin, to spoil”. 

The first is present indicative active. 

The second is future indicative active.

This has the sound of a holy law.

When interpreting the meaning of “destroy” it should be understood that this word is still in the context of verses 3:10-15.  Two things are noted from the above illustration and one thing is note from 5:5:

1)      The destruction is not total annihilation or eternal damnation since in 3:15 the corrupt teachers were saved through the fire.

2)      The destruction appears to be more than temporal since the judgment of the previous image was in eternity.

3)      “Destroy” probably should also mean some form of physical destruction when the immoral brother is handed over to Satan for that very purpose in 5:5.



1)      To interpret all this within theological borders some say that Paul is talking about 2 different groups of people.  The saved in the church are mentioned in 3:10-15, but the unsaved imposters are mentioned here in 3:16-17.  I disagree with that on the basis that the only way you would recognize that was if your theology demanded it.

2)      Paul is talking hypothetically and with an unrealistic threat.

3)      There is a level of destruction that we do not know or understand.

4)      The destruction is of the physical life now and in eternal rewards in the future.


It is a serious matter to consider the church as God’s temple where he manifests his presence.



In this verse Paul begins to tie up 1:18-3:4

The reason they should not be deceived is that all the “great teachers” belong to the church of  Corinth, the church belongs to Christ and Christ to God.

The hierarchy of the church then looks like this:

  • God
  • Christ
  • Corinthians (Corinthian Church)
  • Apostles, teachers, and then everything else that is listed.

“Do not deceive yourself” addresses the issue that the people of the Corinthian church (the spiritual temple of God) had settled for worldly wisdom instead of God’s revelation.


The self-deceived are destroying the church in Corinth.
Notice: “do not deceive yourself”.  There is no one else to blame.


“If anyone thinks he is wise by the standards of this age” includes most of the Corinthians.  This is used in 8:2 N d 14:3.


“Wise” to the Corinthians is described as “the standards of this age”



The wisdom of the world, which was what the church in Corinth had settled for, is foolishness in God’s eyes or compared to the divine viewpoint.


This is reverse of 1:18-25 were the wisdom of God was foolishness to the world.
Now he says the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God.


Human effort to understand or even try to outsmart God has always failed.

1) Text Verse One:

       “He catches the wise in their craftiness.”


2) Text Verse Two:

      “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”






“So then. . .” is the closing of this argument.


The closing is in three parts:

1)      Exhortation in 21 “Let no one boast”

2)      Theological basis in 21b-23 – no more saying “I am of Paul”.  The field analogy said “you are of God.”  Paul’s point:  All things are for you and you are of God.”

3)      Doxology 23


“All things are yours” (three men, five items)

1)      paul

2)      Apollos

3)      Cephas

4)      The world

5)      Life

6)      Death

7)      Present

8)      Future


“Having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor. 6:9-10)



“You are of Christ”

“Christ is of God”


Here Christ is the servant of God.
This is not a discussion on the person of Christ, but on the role of Christ.