The Church is the Temple

Posted: May 30, 2009 by joelmartin in Biblical Studies

James Jordan expounds on the Church:

I think a watershed in our  understanding of the Epistles is what kind of context we put them into. To  be crass about it (I intend no insult; I just want to get on with it): Either

1. The apostolic church started from scratch after the OT order  was cancelled, as a bunch of believers (new converts with no background)  sitting around in various houses and gradually coming up with new orders  that had no continuity with the OT orders; or,

2. The apostolic church was made up 99% of converted Jews and  God-fearers who were fully at home in the OT order and simply transformed  it, who used various homes as temples, who used temple worship in these homes on those occasions, and who very rapidly set up separate houses of worship when they could.

In my circles, this comes down to whether the Church “grew out of” the synagogue or the Temple.

For my money, it’s obviously the latter. The NT does not say that  the Church is the new synagogue, but the new Temple. Her worship consists  of living sacrifices and sacrifices of praise. All of the language about the Church is taken from the OT Tabernacle/Temple order. (The synagogue was never anything but a partial extension of the Temple anyway.) Unlike the synagogue, the church has two major temple elements: song with musical instruments and the breaking of bread as a covenant-renewal. ( Gasp!

Breaking bread at places other then the Jerusalem Temple! Hey, Josiah put people to death for that! So did Paul. But this only shows that these churches were TEMPLES!! If they’d just been synagogues there’d have been no scandal.)

The word kohen in the OT simply means “palace servant,” and is used occasionally of secular servants of David’s palace, but 99% of the time of the servants of the Temple (= Palace in Hebrew). Everything in the NT epistles sets a context in which there would be such special servants in the new Christian Temple. And that’s what we find.

When Paul and Peter tell these Christian Jews that they are a Temple of God offering sacrifices, he does not need to spell out to them that their meals should be supervised and initiated by Temple servants (Christian kohanim), nor that such must be men.

More, for a very long time protestants (at least) have ignored the “apocalyptic” context of the NT revelation. (I reject “apocalyptic” since the symbolism of such literature is actually “liturgical” and entirely comes from the Temple and sacrifices.) If this context were better known, however, we would know that all Jews knew that the Temple was an image of heaven, that the shoeless wing-dressed priests were angels, that the objects in the Temple stood in the place of worshippers, and that the entire liturgy took place “in the heavenlies.” Now in Rev. 2-3, the pastors of the churches are called angels. This is not some Brand New Idea, but is completely in continuity with the Temple/priestly tradition. Unlike, however, the Old order, where only such angelic priests might enter the Temple heavens and the rest of the believers were located there only symbolically in the various items of furniture, now in the fullness of time the symbolic furniture is gone and believers are able to enter the Temple heavens along with their “angelic” palace-servant special-priests.

Rev. 2-3 are not letters to churches. They are letters to the priest-pastor-angels of the churches. Jesus threatens THEM. If you want to understand this, read Numbers 18. The people will be punished for their sins, yes, but the Levites will be punished if they fail to warn them.

I submit that if the NT epistles are read in their actual Biblical and historical context, then it will be very clear that Apostolic worship looked a whole more like liturgical and even Eastern orthodox (sans icons) worship, and not in the least like Puritan, Anabaptist, or Brethren worship.

And bringing all this back to Wright, while I don’t know what on earth Wright would say to this, the fact is that he is part of a movement to recover the so-called apocalyptic and Jewish context of the NT writings. The more this context is recovered, the more it will be clear that this “Church came from the synagogue” stuff is nonsense, that this “believers sitting around in homes” stuff is nonsense, and that the epistles mean something very concrete and liturgical when they refer to the Church as temple, worship as sacrifice, leaders as men (women could be everything else in the OT, so saying men-only MEANS “priest”), etc.

Or do we continue the sad rationalism of the last few centuries, and see “temple” and “sacrifice” as mere theological ideas, and not whole-life liturgical matters? There’s about 90% of the trouble, you see. All of these “Levitical” matters are taken as nothing but snapshots of Jesus’ coming work. They are that, but they are also ritual processes that take place in time, means of worship. This is why the Church continues to “move” in a “sacrificial” manner. In Leviticus 1-3, the worshipper Ascends (ch. 1), with Tribute (ch. 2), and then sits down for Communion (ch. 3). This is what the Church also does: Enters, has Offertory, and then Communion. This is not some speculation on my part. It is what the epistles mean when they refer to offering ourselves as living sacrifices. This and nothing else is what the first hearers of these epistles would have understood.

But this is set aside. What WE hear is that these Levitical rituals were just ideas, just pictures of Jesus. And now our worship consists of sitting around and thinking and talking about it. That is NOT what the 1st century hearers and readers of the epistles would have taken from them. I promise you. Believe me. (Trust me!) They would have heard something quite different.

And this is why the Church, as soon as she was able, built Temples for worship, and instituted what to many of us is quite ritualized and liturgical forms of worship. This was no “fall.” It was simply the Church filling out in practice what the epistles teach.

This is NOT to say that anyone TODAY “has it right” or that the Reformers “had it right.” But it is to say that the epistles need to be read in context.

I’ll give one more example. When Jesus broke bread and said “Do this for My memorial,” the apostles knew exactly what that meant. It was the new form of Leviticus 2, something they were very familiar with since it happened every morning and every evening. But how many people today think of that? Precious few. Why? Because they do not put themselves into the shoes of being Jews of the 1st century listening to what Jesus said. They hear this completely out of historical context.

It would not have occurred to anyone in the 1st century that Jesus said, “Do this in memory of Me,” to remind yourselves about Me. Not after 1500 years of bread broken as memorial, as something done to call upon God, to remind God, and to ask Him to come to us! “Do this in memory of Me” is utter nonsense. “In death there is no remembrance of Thee” says the psalmist? No way. “In death there is no performance of Memorial to Thee” is what he said. Memorializing is by RITUAL LITURGICAL ACTION. Don’t believe me? Look up the relevant Greek and Hebrew words. “Cornelius, your  prayers

have come up before God as a Memorial.”

We need to stop reading the epistles as if they dropped out of  heaven onto a blank-slate, and read them in the whole-life liturgical context into which they were written. They look rather different when we do so.

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Comments
  1. Thanks Joel for your thoughts. I have been greatly enriched by my studies into Second Temple Judaism and have found that understanding the audience’s mindset is crucial to unpacking the meaning of Jesus’ parables and other portions of the NT. I am actually hoping to obtain some more works on Judaism…Talmud, Mishnah, Midrash, etc and study them more in depth.

  2. joelmartin says:

    Cool man. I think what Jordan is referring to is what we know of the Temple from the OT itself.

  3. yeah, i caught that…i am ‘amen’ing your emphasis on grasping the context of the NT and to whom it was written. i do agree that there is much more continuity between the Covenant administrations as regards worship and liturgy than most are willing to admit. you only need to read the book of Acts and you will find that the early Christians pretty much retained celebrations of the calendar, etc. It actually had to take convincing to the early Christians that one needn’t not necessarily count certain days above others, that circumcision was no longer necessary, that one can eat pork if they wanted, etc. What is remarkable for me is that Paul didn’t come down and just say that one should or shouldn’t continue to honor the Jewish calendar, but rather differed to conscience on the matter. He did the same thing with diet. Paul was essentially saying that one should so observe as their conscience so leads on this matter. I think that Christians today should adopt much the same attitude. Some want to mock high liturgy or low liturgy. While we should be careful of how we worship the Living God and can serve up some constructive criticism, I have always tried to be gracious to people. Some want loud worship, some want acapella worship, etc etc etc.

    I think we are in agreement that our worship should derive itself from Scripture and that we should have a Biblically-based liturgy. Even with such as the starting place, we deal with differences of opinion from Strict Regulatavists (where there is even some disagreement) to Low Church to High Church to Motorcross Church, etc. There are certain non-negotiables that need to be present in a sanctioned public worship service (Word, Sacrament, Song, Collection, Prayers). How long we spend on each, what style we employ, whether the pastor wears a robe or not…are all matters on conscience, but let each be convinced in their own mind and be ready to give an account to the God we worship.

  4. joelmartin says:

    Well said.

  5. Scott Kistler says:

    Hey guys, I don’t know if this book would be helpful on this topic, as it may skip over the question of the New Testament church’s relationship to the temple. The title caught my eye and I thought that I at least ought to bring it to your attention.

    G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God

    http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=2618

  6. I just recently corresponded with G.K. Beale….go figure…anyhow he pointed out to me a free resource that encapsulates his theology on this issue:

    http://www.tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/library/TynBull_2005_56_1_05_Beale_TempleDescentPentecost.pdf

    I have yet to read it fully, but it does engage these issues we have been discussing.

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