From Sacred Space to Holy House The localized presence of God and God's glory among his people is central to the unfolding story of the Old Testament. This "sacred geography" includes Eden ( Gen 2:8 ), Bethel ( Gen 28:10-22 ), Sinai ( Exod 3:5-6 ; 19:18-20 ; 24:16 ; 34:5 ; Deut 4:12 ; 5:24 ; Psalm 68:8 ; cf. Heb 12:18-21 ), and Shiloh ( Judges 18:31 ; 1 Sam 3:21 ; Psalm 78:60 ; Jer 7:12 ). God's glory rested over the ark of the covenant ( Exod 25:22 ), in the tabernacle ( Exod 40:34-38 ; Num 9:15 ; 2 Samuel 7:5-7 2 Samuel 7:13 ), and in Solomon's temple, God's house ( 1 Kings 8:10-21 ; Psalm 26:8 ; 27:4 ; 84:1-4 ; Ezek 10:18 ), and in Jerusalem ( Psalm 50:1-2 ; 76:2 ; 132:13-14 ; Ezek 48:35 ). Although Israel knew well that God could not be confined to this earth, much less a man-made dwelling ( 1 Kings 8:27 1 Kings 8:30 1 Kings 8:39 1 Kings 8:43 1 Kings 8:49 ; 2 Chron 2:6 ; 6:18 ; Isa 66:1 ; cf. Psalm 2:4 ; 11:4 ; Acts 7:48-50 ), they experienced God among them in specific, holy places. Such encounters demonstrated their unique position as a people ( Exod 19:4-6 ; Deut 8:6-11 ), and demanded ritual purity ( Exod 29:29-30 ; Num 8:5-22 ; Isa 52:11 ; Mal 3:1-4 ) and separateness from foreigners ( Exod 23:20-33 ). Israel's prophets looked forward to a day when God's sanctuary would be forever among his people ( Ezek 37:26-28 ; 43:1-7 ; Micah 4:1-2 ; Hag 2:7 ; Zech. 2 6:11-15 ; 2 8:3 2 8:23 ; 14:4 ). In other contexts, images of reconstruction and rebuilding symbolize God's postexilic restoration of Israel ( Jer 24:4-7 ; Jeremiah 31:4 Jeremiah 31:27-40 ; 33:7 ; 42:10 ; Ezek 36:33-36 ; Amos 9:11-15 ). This language was both literal, referring to their homes and cities, and metaphorical, referring to the nation and its fortunes. Both these themes, of God dwelling among his people and God building up his people, are taken up in the New Testament as images for the new covenant community.
From Solomon's Temple to Something Greater In the Gospels, especially Luke, temple worship figures prominently ( 1:9 ; Luke 2:27 Luke 2:46 ; 19:47 ; 21:37 ; 24:53 ), and Jesus affirms the continuing sanctity of the temple as the dwelling-place of God ( Matt 23:21 ; cf. John 2:17 ). Nevertheless, as the drama unfolds, Jesus is revealed to be greater than the temple ( Matt 12:6 ); he is driven to purify it ( Mark 11:15-18 ; cf. Mal 3:1-3 ), foresees its destruction ( Matt 24:2 ; Mark 13:2 ; John 4:21 ), and is tried, in part, for his alleged antitemple stance ( Matt 26:61 ). Jesus' promise to build his church echoes God's promise to Israel in the Old Testament ( Matt 16:18 ; cf. Acts 15:14-18 ). For John, Jesus is the new tabernacle ( 1:14 ) and temple ( 2:19-21 ) of God. Although the early Christians continued to worship at the temple ( Acts 2:46 ; 5:42 ), Stephen's apology, echoing both Jesus and Isaiah 66, betrayed a shifting perspective on the locus of God's presence with his people ( Acts 6:14 ; 7:48-50 ; cf. John 4:21-24 ; Heb 10:19-22 ).
Internal Disunity, External Defilement, and Inter-racial Enmity In several passages Paul identifies the church as the eschatological dwelling of God. God is not only present among, but actually dwells within, his people. First Corinthians 3:9b-17, as a sober warning to the divisive, describes the church as a building (oikodome [ajnoikodomevw]) established upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, built up by Paul and other laborers, and jealously guarded by God against all who would cause it harm ( 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 1 Corinthians 3:17 ). The church is under construction, and God functions to oversee and protect the project ( 3:10 ; Psalm 127:1 ) until it is finally complete. The church is also, however, a fully occupied dwelling, the temple of God's Holy Spirit (naos theou; 3:16 ). The first image highlights the need for diligent, responsible human effort; the second, the reality of God's holy presence and impending judgment (cf. 1 Sam 5:7 ; 2 Sam 6:7 ; 1 Peter 4:17 ).
In 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1 the church is called the temple of the living God (naos theou zomntos) in stark contrast to a world characterized by lawlessness, darkness, disbelief, and idolatry. It is God's dwelling-place and consists of God's people. The call to purity and separateness here, drawn from Israel's scriptures ( Exod 29:45 ; Lev 26:11-12 ; 2 Sam 7:14 ; Isa 52:11 ; Ezek 37:26-28 ), ha sin mind primarily the defilement of pagan religious practices (cf. 1 Cor 10:19-22 ); as God's restored temple, God's people must commit themselves to holy living ( 2 Cor 7:1 ). Appropriate conduct is also the focus of 1 Timothy 3:15, where the church is the established and unmovable house of God (oikos theou [oi\ko"qeov"]).
As a celebration of Jew-Gentile unity and equality in Christ, Ephesians 2:20-22 portrays the church as building (oikodome [ajnoikodomevw]), holy temple (naos hagios [naov"a&gio"]), and dwelling-place of God (katoiketerion tou theou [katoikhthvriontou'qeov"]). Within this structure, Christ's preeminent role as the cornerstone establishes unity between Jew and Gentile (cf. Psalm 118:22; Isa 28:16; Matt 21:42; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7) and provides the whole with life and growth (Eph 2:21), while the apostles and New Testament prophets provide a solid foundation (2:20; cf. Rev 3:12; 21:14). Images of nation, building, body, and temple converge but the central message is clear: Because Christ's death has established peace, union with Christ dissolves all barriers between Jew and Gentile.
A Spiritual House of Living Stones and Holy Priests The spiritual house (oikos [oi\ko"] pneumatikos [pneumatikov"]) of 1 Peter 2:4-5 is clearly a temple. Christ, who was once rejected by humankind (Psalm 118:22), is now a choice, living stone in God's temple (Isa 28:16), sharing his life and bringing unity to all who come to him. But the writer's focus shifts quickly from the building itself to the activities within; not only are believers living stones in God's house, but the church corporately is called to perform priestly service and offer holy sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5, 9; 4:17; Rom 12:1).
Heavenly Houses for God's People The resurrection body of the believer can also be called a dwelling. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-4, this house (oikodome, oikia, oiketerion) is designed and built by God, not by human hands (cf. Mark 14:58; Col 2:11), and it far surpasses the earthly tent of this life, which is subject to decay and death (2 Cor 4:16; 5:1; cf. 2 Peter 1:13-14). This heavenly house is not so much a temple for the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:19) as it is the residence of the glorified believer and that which overcomes earthly affliction, mortality, and the nakedness of the intermediate state (2 Cor 5:3-4). In the event of death, the new house replaces the old (v. 1); for those who survive until the parousia, the old is transformed into the new (vv. 2, 4).
Bruce N. Fisk
Bibliography. E. P. Clowney, Biblical Interpretation and the Church: The Problem of Contextualization; R. Y. K. Fung, EvQ 53 (1981): 89-107; M. J. Harris, From Grave to Glory: Resurrection in the New Testament; A. T. Lincoln, Paradise Now and Not Yet; R. J. McKelvey, The New Temple: The Church in the New Testament; P. S. Minear, Images of the Church in the New Testament; H. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology; B. Witherington, Jesus, Paul and the End of the World.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Building'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".