Thiselton on Embodied Sexuality and Personhood

Anthony C. Thiselton gives a helpful picture of the relationship of “spiritual” actions and the body. Commenting on 1 Corinthians 6:18

v. 18: Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.

“Far from devaluing sex, the very opposite comes about [in v. 18]. In this area Paul was far ahead of first-century cultural assumptions in perceiving the sexual act as one of intimacy and self-commitment which involved the whole person; not the mere manipulation of some ‘peripheral’ function of the body . . . In the context of union with Christ and of physical union the issue becomes one of fully ‘giving’ oneself to the one to whom one belongs. In the context of marriage Paul can perceive this intimacy of self-giving as making ‘holy’ (7:14) or as ‘in the Lord’ (7:39) . . . [A] possible background to 6:18-20 [is] the covenantal relationship which is presupposed in Hos 3:1-3.”[1]

He comments on v. 19:

v. 19: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?

“Paul declares that the very person of the Holy Spirit of God . . . stands to the totality of the bodily, everyday life of the believer (σῶμα) in the same relation of influence and molding of identity as the images of deities in pagan temples . . . Grace and judgment go together: to desecrate the body is to violate God’s gift and to invite an unfavorable and awesome verdict on the part of God himself.”[2]

It is easy to see, then, that the actions we perform with our body are spiritual. Because the Spirit interfaces with us, as Thiselton puts it, as “the whole person,” our bodies inevitably effect our spiritual state. In new thinking, then, could we not also say that what is done to our bodies is inevitably of spiritual consequence for our souls as well?


[1] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 474.

[2] Ibid., 475.

2 Comments

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  1. This is very helpful. It seems to me that this is one of several reconnections or themes that the church needs to make to minister to the sexual brokeness of our age. Sex isn’t a simple biological function to be employed for any and every personal inclination. It is loaded with life-transforming meaning and power. One of the inferences of 1 Cor 6 (and Thiselton) is that it is an act of worship.

    • Thanks for your encouragement, bro. Yes, whole persons are at stake in sexuality, not halves of persons in a supposed dualistic existence.

      That is an interesting point about worship. I wonder, if a person experiences sexual trauma, and sex is essentially a spiritual thing, why would anyone think that it is only the victim’s body that is traumatized and incapacitated (a trend I have seen…in places).

      Great thoughts, Winston – thanks for commenting.

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