The work of building up is almost always seen in a positive light in the Scriptures. The Hebrew word bana is used of building a physical structure. It is used to describe the building up of Jerusalem ( Psalm 147:2 ). It is interestingly used to describe God's fashioning of Adam's rib into a woman ( Gen 2:22 ). This word also denotes the place that Rachel and Leah had in "building" the house (family) of Israel.
To build up is often used in the sense of strengthening, establishing, and causing to prosper. "If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored" ( Job 22:23 ). "God will rebuild the cities of Judah" ( Psalm 69:35 ). Jeremiah spoke of God's intention to build up and plant a kingdom ( 18:9 ). He also describes God's intentions for the nation after the captivity ( 24:6 ). This condition will also be realized in God's purpose for Israel in the last days ( 31:4 ; 33:7 ). The poetic books speak of a person being built up in wisdom ( 24:3 ).
In the New Testament we find several compound Greek verbs that are based on the root verb domeo, meaning "to build." Paul uses epoikodomeo [ejpoikodomevw] to describe himself as an expert builder in 1 Corinthians 3:10, and then encourages others to be careful how they build upon the foundation he laid. The teachers who follow after Paul should build up their pupils in the knowledge of Christ. Paul emphasizes that Christ is the only foundation (v. 11), but there are many ways of building upon it (v. 12). From the passage it seems clear that even saved people can spend their lives building in areas that do not count for eternity. Those who build in eternal values that will stand the test of fire will be rewarded (v. 14).
This same verb is found in Ephesians 2, describing the mystical body of Christ into which the Gentile believers are "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (v. 20). The Gentiles are also "being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" (v. 22). This indicates that the Holy Spirit is continuing to build the church.
Jude uses this word to encourage believers to build themselves up in their faith (v. 20). Believers are to be grounded in the body of truth that constitutes faith; and then they are built up by continuing prayer. God builds us by the Holy Spirit. Teachers are sometimes his instruments but we are responsible individually to allow conditions to be present that bring about this building up. Epoikodomeo [ejpoikodomevw] is also used in a negative sense in 1 Corinthians 8:10 in reference to a weaker brother who is emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols.
The other Greek verb that is germane to this topic is oikodomeo [oijkodomevw]. It is used to describe the construction of a building ( 1 Pe 2:7 ). It is also used of the church being built up ( Acts 9:31 ). In 1 Corinthians 14:4 it is translated as "edifies." The main use of the word seems to center on actions of believers toward each other as in 1 Corinthians 10:23, "Everything is permissible' but not everything is constructive." This concept of edifying is further explained in Ephesians 4:12-16. Spiritual gifts are not given for self-aggrandizement but for the building up of the body of Christ (v. 12). The church working together as a team is to be striving to build itself up in love (v. 16).
Alan N. Winkler
Bibliography A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Build Up'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".