1 Corinthians, Chapter 6 is a well-recognized chapter of the New Testament. Arguably the most famous verses within this text are 19 and 20:
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” NKJ version
Now, I understand that there are several ways we can approach addressing these passages, and I think in some cases addressing the subtle vagaries of the practical and spiritual implications of sharing your body with the Holy Spirit is highly appropriate. However, the angle I wish to take in this post is a straightforward assault upon the unsettling idea that somehow these verses are intended to mean that God actually claims man as some kind of personal property. That is, I would like to dismantle the idea that “you are not your own” means what some members of the more fundamentalist sects of our religion interpret it to mean: cosmic chattel slavery. Man as property of another; in this case, God (or even worse, man in effect possessed by God). I will point out why this is simply not a possible interpretation of these verses in light of God’s omnipotence and perfection. Metaphysically, it is impossible that “ownership” of man can be interpreted this way.
On the one hand, we have a version of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 6, which some interpret as nothing more than proof of man-as-property, without rights to his body or mind, in the tradition of chattel slavery, or even (for those spiritual teachers who deign to provide a gentler approach) some form of perpetual, spiritual, indentured servitude. And yet the Bible speaks of our friendship with Christ, and the light burden, and the Truth setting us free so that we may be free indeed. Now,I have a B.S. Ed. degree from Shippensburg University, perhaps the finest teaching university in the country, with a specialty in the Civil War (and early 20th century Irish affairs) and I can tell you that from my understanding of forced servitude in this country the concepts of “friendship”, “light burden”, and “freedom” have approximately zero to do with that institution. So, why then do so many seem to persist in holding, to at least some degree, the idea that man is actually God’s personal property in the tradition of human-to-human chattel slavery? Why do so many seem to agree that God owning man is essentially the same thing as His owning the “cattle on a thousand hills”? The answer is simple. They have conceded a specific definition of Christian “orthodoxy” which is rooted in the Reformation, which arose from the Catholic church, both of which have foundations within the Augustinian merging of Greek philosophical gnosticism and Christianity. In fact, if one were to attempt to summarize the whole of Christian “orthodox” theology into one single-sentence definition, be it Catholic or Reformed, I believe it would be best described as:
“You are a bystander to yourself because you are owned and controlled by powers which are inexorably beyond you; and these powers are both mitigated by and flowing from the conduit of your arbitrary human authorities, which are likewise beyond you.”
Certainly we have a Master in heaven, that much I do not deny. If one cannot properly refer to the omnipotent Creator as “Master”, then I’m not quite sure who in heaven or in earth can ever fit that description. For God is nothing if not a literal Master over all He sees and all He creates; and even over His very Self. Even the Son refers to his authority as having been given by God (the Father). But He is not like any earthly master. He is, for one thing, not present in body. This creates a strange dynamic in the “conventional” owner/slave sense. As human beings, we have been given many charges…responsibilities of necessity (that is, things which must be done in order to live and thrive, e.g.: working, resting, using wisdom, diligence, stewardship, justice, mercy, honesty, even paying taxes to “Caesar”), not the least of which is to “rule and subdue”. In this sense, it seems apparent that man, by the very nature of his own environment, reason, mortality and morality is responsible for the management of his life on earth, and the day-to-day practicalities which make that life something other than misery and/or death. Of course, Jesus counseled us not to worry about our needs, but this simply cannot be interpreted as an absolving of man of his personal responsibility for his earthly welfare. That would be a stretch so large that I doubt even the neo-Calvinists would concede it. But, it would take a lot to strain credulity when considering their “doctrine”, I admit, so I won’t take any bets.
In light of this, then, how do we square the idea of a heavenly Master with a physical master in the chattel slave sense (or in the sense of any “authority” whatsoever, even down to something as seemingly innocuous as your boss at work)? We have no master present and yet some would say we are to function as though we do. But this hardly seems reasonable. The implicit idea in this interpretation of divine ownership is that we are slaves who must figure out how to walk in our slavery while being functionally free, responsible for doing both our work and His, without even a clear delineation of which is which, because the whole doctrine confuses the issue. Provide for yourself by denying that you have any right to do so whatsoever. Not only does this not make any sense, but seems very little like the “light” kind of burden our Lord spoke of.
Whether our determinist friends in any school of thought—be they neo-Calvinist despots or scientific determinist hypocrites, or whomever—choose to accept it or not, the reasonably verifiable fact is that it is NOT God doing all the providing for man. Man is the one who provides for himself; who reaps and sows according to his due diligence and reason and morality and awareness of the divine directive to exercise wisdom in taking control and ownership of his life. Certainly God’s grace provides in times of trouble as the manna in the desert and the feeding of the five thousand demonstrate. However, unless otherwise instructed by the Spirit, or moved upon by Him due to special circumstance, we are to take our welfare upon ourselves, willfully and personally and purposefully implementing the Truth God gives, which we grasp by our reason, in organizing our world and lives. In short, we have all the tools we need to do for ourselves. And the Bible is not bereft of warnings and rebukes for those who are lazy in this regard.
In light of the biblical mandate that man take ownership of and responsibility for his life on earth, it is not difficult to see how the traditional understanding of human-to-human enslavement and other forms of servitude breaks down, and breaks down immediately. Nevertheless, this obvious and Biblical rebuttal to the idea of cosmic chattel slavery continues to elude the philosophy of many believers. This is due, in large part, to the disturbing trend of Christians accepting that the proof-text is the gold standard of Biblical exegesis (known in cohesive form as Systematic Theology), which in my observation more often than not exaggerates and makes inappropriately literal a simple and contextually specific theological point or points. In regards to the issue at hand, the point is the Pauline declaration that “you are not your own”. Somehow, by some strange and distorted idea of humility (which is really, in neo-Calvinist circles, merely a rank hatred of humanity no matter who it is, what they believe, or what they are doing), this statement gets translated as: “God owns you, so don’t even pretend to think for yourself, or delude yourself into thinking that you are capable of doing anything to please God by yourself in any way at all; you better just sit down and wait until God (or rather, your local church “authority”) tells you what to think and do.” And God, instead of the “friend” which Jesus spoke of and the One who cares for widows and orphans, is the invisible, dour and cold Master, using the whip of discipline (church discipline IS God’s discipline; there is no distinction by those who believe in the false idea that the church has any authority to FORCE outcomes in believers’ lives) and the chain of guilt to compel his brutes to stay with the herd, nodding and joyful and oblivious to anything that smacks of themselves (because they are mere bystanders to their own lives) …yes, going along with the crowd which is compelled ultimately by threat and force into “sound doctrine”. And who, absent the Master in body, are the shepherds of the herd on earth, standing in the stead of the divine Herder? Why, your local neo-Calvinist/neo-reformed pastor (or “elder), of course!
This is undoubtedly where the logic always leads: You don’t own yourself. WE do. Not God, because, look around…He is not here. And anyway, He is too Holy to deal with the likes of sinful, wicked, depraved YOU; and that is why he left US in charge.
Yes. This is exactly where the logic always leads. You are a slave, not to God, but to man.
The local church “authority” becomes slave-master proxy. And voila! In one cold and lonely proof-text we have managed to light the bonfires gnostic, deterministic control of the masses.
So, now that we have shown what 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 is not, let’s examine what it actually is. First, we must acknowledge, in light of the metaphysical reason of God’s omnipotence, that He cannot in fact own you as chattel slave-type property. The idea of God owning creation should not been seen in this kind of earthly and human context because of this metaphysically reasonable point: An omnipotent God, by definition, does not need to own anything at all, because He is all that he needs; and all that He needs is perpetually found in Himself. Because of this, He could not have created all Creation in order to own it, but ownership, rather, has to do with the broader command God gives to man regarding the right to claim ownership of one’s work. In effect, man’s right (via God’s declaration that HE worked, so HE owns his work) to own his labor and thus own its fruits. And by this, it is obvious that man must certainly own himself. For if his work is his own and the product of the work is his own then it is obvious that man must also own himself. You cannot separate the individual from his labor and its product. It is simply not morally or metaphysically possible (why we as Christians, at least ostensibly, decry communist governments; they are simply UNBIBILCAL). This is the fundamental premise behind the idea of God’s “ownership” of man. (More on this in a moment).
At any rate, to declare man divine property introduces a redundancy in man’s very creation by a perfect God. Man was created to be free because God’s perfection means that man could never have been created to be owned, because God by definition needs nothing at all; there this is absolutely no reason God can create man for the purpose of owning him which does not make God a hypocrite. So there is a fundamental dichotomy in the idea of ownership. On the one hand, God is morally bound to declare ownership of His own labor, which is Creation, including man. This is just and right; for an ownership of labor is an ownership of self. And yet by definition there is no metaphysically reasonable way that God can create man for the objective of owning him in the master/slave sense. It simply cannot be. If man was not created to be free to own himself the way God owns Himself then man simply could not have been created at all.
“The earth is mine and everything in it” is not a declaration that God is some kind of cosmic loan officer, either. Or that man is simply watching God’s storehouse, or declaring his own work and its fruits as merely a stewarding God’s property. On the contrary. If man built the storehouse, filled it, maintained it, and has the deed to it, it means, by even Biblical definition that it belongs to the man. Does this make man a robber of God? It does not. On the contrary, it affirms God’s divine purpose for man, and God’s righteous declaration that the earth, the product of His labor, and everything in it belongs to Him. And here we see another obvious reason why God would declare Creation His own. By God saying “mine”, He proclaims that He is Truth. When He assumes the right of ownership of His work, he declares that He is in fact the One, true Creator; and thus all that He says and commands and instructs is Truth. He states loudly by His self-bequeathed right to own His work that He alone may literally declare what IS and what IS NOT. And thus, he anoints Himself…well, God.
And in this sense, Creation and man do indeed belong to Him. And thus He rightly declares by all just and reasonable and moral prerogative that He is at liberty to do as He pleases with what He has built. But we cannot stop here because this logic inevitably leads us to another important metaphysical question: Just what is God pleased to do with his Creation? The answer is that He is again bound to what His own perfection and omnipotence demand of Him; what God is morally obligated to by His own definition of moral purity, and His embodiment of perfection which man grasps via his reason, that God may show Himself faithful to his divine and Holy status, and make thus all men liars who oppose Him; and it is important to remember that man’s reason is something which God also created. Man approves of God according to His word of Truth by a faculty which man wholly owns and controls, and yet, God has made for such a purpose…and this is of course proof of God’s utter confidence that He is in fact who He says He is: by the fact that He has provided man a way to INDEPENDENTLY know it and see it and affirm it. (Yes, I said it. Independently. I utterly deny and renounce the doctrine of Total Depravity, along with the other four points of TULIP.)
But back to the question. What is it that God is pleased to do with Creation? It is simply this: That Creation be itself. Acting by itself, of itself, according to itself, and yes, owning itself. In other words, what pleases God is to create something that is not God. Therefore, divine ownership of man effectively equals releasing man to be himself and to own himself. The Fall makes us slaves to the moral law, and eternally condemned by it, but Christ has returned us to our original status before God. And that original status is to be “free indeed”. Free of slavery; of the waggling finger of the other “power” which once held us captive in the chains of spiritual slavery to the Law. And if we are now free indeed, then what must that freedom imply? Or rather, what is that freedom exactly? More slavery? More chains from the divine Master, claiming complete authority to rule our minds and bodies, contrary to His very perfection? Not at all. The freedom, again, is simply that man does indeed own himself. He is free to be man. He is free to be NOT God. Innocent of the law. Walking in the freedom of good works, which we as Christians do because we are not liars or hypocrites before the moral law of good and evil which we are still consciously aware; and which is why we can still sin and yet our innocence of the moral law means we are no longer condemned by it, nor by God.
Redemption does not mean slavery to God. Yes we are bought with a price, and yes God is entitled to the product of His labor, which is all of Creation and man. But what truly is the metaphysically reasonable understanding of our redemption in light of God’s purpose for His work in the first place? Freedom. And freedom means this: That a man (or woman, for all the complimentarians) is never owned by any other man, or any group of men, or by a “biblical role”, or even by God Himself. That man was created to own himself and his work just as God owns Himself and His work.
To summarize, we have an all-powerful and perfect God, who owns Creation as the fruit of His labor; and His labor is Himself, just as man’s labor is himself. Thus, the idea of divine ownership of man and Creation is the idea of personal property born out of the necessary truth of God creating something that is not Himself, which is that the One, and the one (man) is the sole owner of his work, and so must be the sole owner of himself. But at the same time, God is not a hypocrite, therefore, it must be true that man was created to own himself. God can never be removed from his perfection and perfect power. Because He is perfect, He needs nothing, and therefore He simply cannot use creation for his OWN end, which is always the perfect end, which is Himself. So Creation and man can have but one purpose: to be free. Free to be themselves. To own themselves. Because this is God’s love; and something created in love cannot be made a slave to Him which created it.
Man was created to be free and to own his body, mind, and life, and to taste God’s love and blessings thus by pursuing Him and His Truth as the very definition of freedom, by his own volition.