Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French
Pauline Theology of the Temple
The Old Testament Background
Israel's history is closely linked with the Covenant; she lives in faith and trust that, true to his word, God will intervene on her behalf as he has done in the past. The transcendent God is "Emmanuel" (Is 7:14; Ho 11:9; Am 5:14), going before his People to teach them to walk in his way (Dt 4:5-8). The Ark is the sign of God's presence, because it is his throne (Nb 10:33-36) whereas the Tent (and later the Temple) symbolized his holiness and distance from the People (Ex 33:7; 40:34-35). The Temple and its liturgy were the place and time of Israel's communion with her God, yet the Holy of Holies could be approached only once a year by the mediator of the congregation.
Through the Ark, the Lord manifested his presence, guiding and protecting the People during their pilgrimage to the Promised Land. However, God is not subject to those possessing the Ark (1 S 4-6) and even Israel learned that God's presence was benevolent only when she was responding to his will.
Only when Jerusalem was conquered did the whole Promised Land belong to Israel; only then did God command that a Temple be built, so that the pilgrim Ark would have a permanent resting-place (Ps 132). Jerusalem was the center of the political unity of the twelve tribes of the Davidic Kingdom, but its great importance was due to the fact that God chose to dwell there (1 K 8:10-13). The people would continue to be guided by the commands of God, who was with them to hear their prayers (1 S 1: 9 f.; 2 S 7:18) and accept their offerings. The glory of God was manifested to Israel in the Temple; by communing with the living God, his People could share in his life and find happiness.
The Temple in the Gospels.
Luke presents the life of Jesus as a journey toward Jerusalem, where he will accomplish the Father's will, described as his Exodus (9:31). The Infancy Narrative centers on the Presentation as Jesus coming to take possession of the Temple (Ml 3:1), fulfilling the prophecy of Dn 9:24 (490 days or 70 weeks pass between the vision of Zachary and the Presentation). The Finding in the Temple has a paschal theme and Jesus states his vocation of service as "being in his Father's house" (2:49). Those who responded to the divine will sought the consolation of Israel (2:25) and the redemption of Jerusalem (2:38) in the Temple. It is significant that Luke begins and ends his Gospel in the Temple (1:8-23; 24:52-53).
John described the Incarnation in terms of the Shekhinah, the presence of God in the Tent and Temple; "we have beheld his glory" (1:14; cf. Ex 40:34-35). He records the clearing of the Temple in relation with the Passover, but places it at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. Jesus describes his body as the Temple in which the glory of God was to manifest itself in a new way when he arose from the dead (2:19-22). This image expresses the unity between Jesus and his Father (14:10). Because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, believers could see the depth of the events of Jesus' life in the light of their Easter faith (2:22; 12:16; 14:26; 16:14); moreover, the same Spirit gave them a share in the life of the risen Lord (3:5; 7:37-39; 20:22). Thus the disciples become one with their Master (15:1-11) and manifest the unity between Father and Son in their love, so that the world will know the Father and Jesus Christ whom he sent (17:3, 22-24). When the Father's love has thus transformed the universe, the faithful will be introduced to the heavenly Jerusalem (Rv 21:1-4) for the wedding feast of the Lamb (21:9). "And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb" (21:22).
The Jerusalem Temple in Paul's Theology.
"They are Israelites and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship and the promises" (Rm 9:4). The Glory is the sensible manifestation of God among his People (1 K 8:10-13; Is 6:1-3). "May you be blessed in the Temple of your holyglory!" (Dn 3:53). The object of messianic hope included a manifestation of God as Lord of the universe (Is 6:3; 40:5; 66:18). Then all the nations who had not opposed the divine plan would come to the Temple to worship the Lord and learn his will (Is 2:2-3). Because of God's presence in the Temple, it became the exclusive place of worship; in the eschatological age, God will manifest himself there in a new way (Ml 3:1).
The Temple of Jerusalem pertains to the privileges of Israel, signifying God's presence among his People and constituting a concrete reminder of the Covenant.
God remains faithful to his promises, calling all mankind to accept the New and Eternal Covenant and thus become God's People (Rm 9:25-26; Ep 2:11-20). The continuity of God's plan of salvation is stressed in the image of grafting wild shoots onto the olive tree (Rm 11:17-19). So Christians share in the promises and blessings promised by God to his People.
However, faith in the person of Christ transforms man and the community. The Christian is a new creature (2 Co 5:17), neither Jew nor pagan (Ga 3:26-29; cf. Is 55:3; 61:8; 62:2; 65:16-17; 66:22; Jr 38:31). The basis of the formation of the People of the New Covenant is union of life with the risen Christ (Ga 2:19-20; 5:25; 1 Co 6:17; 2 Co 3:6-11; 5:15-18; Ph 3:3-7), yet Paul insists that "if you are Christ's then you are Abraham's offspring" (Ga 3:29).
Paul respected the Temple of Jerusalem as a sign of Israel's election (Ac 21:26; 24:11; 25:8). He, John and Peter developed the theological meaning of the Temple in relation to Christ and the Church.
The Spiritual Temple in Pauline Theology.
1) The Christian Community.
The local Church on earth is described in terms of the Temple (1 Co 3:16-17; 2 Co 6:16), as an expression of the truth that Christians are the Body of Christ. The Church is the Temple built upon Christ as its foundation (1 Co 3:11) and cornerstone (Ep 2:20; Rm 9:33; 1 P 2:4, 7). Paul then argues that the unity of Christians must be manifest for the Church is a Temple only because the Spirit of God dwells in them (1 Co 3:16-17). This Spirit is the central reality of Christian existence, the great gift of the Messiah, uniting us with the risen Lord (Rm 1:4; 5:5; 8:9, 11; 1 Co 12:12-13). The presence of the Spirit makes Christians the Body of Christ, the Temple of God; He is the unifying force giving the People of God their common life in Christ (2 Co 3:6-11; 13:14). Because the Spirit has transformed man into a new creation, the Community is holy, consecrated by the presence of God. Just as the Chosen People of the Sinai Covenant were holy (Ex 19:6) and a sign of the creative power of the Word and the Spirit, the fulfilment of the divine plan involves the greater interiorization of this same presence (Jr 31: 3134; Ez 36:24-28).
In 1 Co 3:17, Paul indicates that, like the Temple of Jerusalem (Dt 12:5; 16:6, 16; Is 11:9, etc.) the spiritual Temple is holy because it has been chosen by God and is consecrated to divine worship (Rm 12:1; Ep 5:2 implies that the moral response of Christians to their call has a cultic value). The basic reason for holiness in either Covenant is the creature's relationship to God (Is 6:3; Ez 42:20; Ps 5:7).
Although the universal Church can never be destroyed (Mt 16:18), individual communities (which symbolize God's presence in the world) can (Rv 2:5; 3:16). The Corinthians are warned that they can separate themselves from Christ (cf. Rm 8:31-39) and thus bring God's wrath upon themselves (cf. Ez 8-11).
In 2 Co, Paul considers the spiritual Temple as the realization of the messianic Temple promised in the Old Testament (Ez 37:27; Lv 26:12; Is 44:2, 11; 56:7; Hg 2:9; Tb 13:11). In 6:14-16, the Apostle emphasizes that the Community belongs to Christ, excluding all association with false worship. Christians are consecrated to the service of the true God and must live out their daily activities in a spirit of worship (7: 1).
2) The Universal Church.
In the letter to the Ephesians, the universality of the Church is based upon the union effected and sealed between Jews and Gentiles, who share in the same spiritual blessings (2:15; 3:6). Moreover, because the Church is the Body of the risen Lord (1:22-23), she is celestial, through his gift of the Spirit (2:18). Christ is preparing her for the Parousia (5:26-27).
Christians are part of the spiritual Temple "that has the Apostles and Prophets for its foundation, and Christ Jesus himself for its main cornerstone" (2:20). They are united with each other (2:19) and their moral life manifests a search for their celestial home (Ph 3:20; Col 3:1-4). Christ is the cornerstone in whom both Jews and Gentiles become the one People of God, sharing in the same glorious life of the risen Lord in the Spirit (2:22). Through their personal response to God's gifts, Christians cooperate in the growth of the whole Church "into a holy Temple in the Lord" (2:21), a phrase which shows that Christ is the source of the Church's holiness (cf. 1 Co 3:16-17). He exercises his sanctifying activity through the Spirit, his gift to the Church whereby she is united with her Lord (2:22).
The Church continues the People of God of the Old Covenant; through the sacrifice of Christ, the blessing of Abraham comes upon the Gentiles (Ga 3:14). God is present with his People through the Spirit. The holiness of the Jerusalem Temple was physical; the sanctity of the spiritual Temple is based on a participation in the glorious life of Christ. Living out this life according to the Spirit is the Church's response to Christ's sacrifice of obedience and love (cf. Col 1:24).
3) The individual Christian (1 Co 6: 19-20).
Some Corinthians were misusing the principle that in Christ man finds liberty. Their interpretation of freedom involves libertinism. Paul insists that the very body of man is destined to share in eternal happiness (1 Co 15:42-57) and that even now the Christian's body is consecrated to God because the Christian shares the life of the risen Lord through Baptism (Rm 6:6; 1 Co 12:13) and the Holy Eucharist (1 Co 10:16, 24, 27). The only response fitting for one who has been sanctified by the Spirit of Christ is an imitation of Christ (Ep 5:1).
Because the platonic concept of the soul being imprisoned in the body must have been popular at Corinth, Paul stressed the Semitic idea that the body is the seat of the human person. The body is not to be despised but is to be considered a member of Christ, a Temple of his Spirit. Christians who sin defile the Temple of God. They must remember that they are God's special possession, acquired through the sacrifice of his Son (Rm 8:32). The verb "glorify" is used in the Septuagint to designate an act of cult (Lv 10:3). Among other virtues, moral purity, one of the fruits of the Spirit (Ga 5:22), takes on a religious and cultic character. The Christian is the priest in the Temple of his body; to serve God he must exclude whatever would profane this sanctuary.
4) The Individual and the Community.
The People of God are the recipients of the messianic blessings. The Spirit, who is the first gift, is communicated primarily in relation to the Community as such (1 Co 12:7,12-13; 14:4). Individuals share in the life of the Spirit inasmuch as they are members of the Church. Thus, the Temple is not multiplied because many local communities and numerous individuals possess the title. There is only a difference in the manner in which the Church on earth shares in the riches which come to fruition in heaven and after the Parousia. As the fulness of Christ's Body, the Church is tending in faith toward the consummation of her relationship with her Lord and Spouse.5) The Spirit of Holiness.
In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God is a moral force which will bring about the religious renewal of messianic times (Is 11:1-6; 28:6; 42:1-6; 61:1-4; Ez 36:24-28). For Paul, the Spirit is the sanctifying power of God which brings Christ's life to the Community. This is the Spirit of Christ (Rm 5:5; 8:2, 9; 1 Co 6:11; 2 Co 3:17) and of the Father (1 Co 3:16), a personal gift to the Church (1 Co 12:4-6; 2 Co 13:14) as the guarantee of eternal glory (2 Co 1:22; Ep 1:13-14).
The holiness of the Jerusalem Temple was especially of the physical, cultic order, dedicating a place to God by separating it from profane use. When the concept is applied to the society of those human beings united through the Spirit of Christ, it retains its cultic character but with mystical and moral connotations. Holiness consists in living union with Christ and the Father through the Holy Spirit, which union necessitates opposition to sin and false doctrines (1 Co 3:16; 2 Co 6:14; Ep 2:12). This implies a cleansing (2 Co 7:1), a dying to self (Rm 6:6; Ga 5:24) so that one can say: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Ga 2:20).
The death of Christ is a true sacrifice which the faithful must commemorate (1 Co 10:14-22; 11:26-32). The idea of the New Temple includes a service of God by a public worship to which the individual Christian unites the spiritual sacrifice of his personal life in Christ.
The Origin of Paul's Doctrine.
St. Paul introduced the teaching of the spiritual Temple as one already known to the Corinthians ("Didn't you realize...?" 3:16; 6:19). It may well have been a traditional point of apostolic preaching.
Christ had foretold the destruction of the Temple (Mk 13:2) and spoke of worship "in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23). He claimed to be greater than the Temple (Mt 12:6) and referred to his body as a Temple (Jn 2:19).
Witnesses stated that he had claimed to be able to replace the Jerusalem Temple with another "not made by hands" (Mk 14:55). This idea of a spiritual Temple was unknown to the Jews. Their hope concerning the messianic Temple involved a glorious but material edifice (Ez 40-47; Hn 90 : 28 ). Stephen's statement that "the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands" (Ac 7:48; cf. 17:24; Heb 9:11, 24) seems to be one interpretation of the words attributed to Jesus. Paul's theology of the spiritual Temple may be a development of ideas inherited from the common apostolic tradition.
[The author wishes to acknowledge his dependence on numerous commentators and theologians, especially M. Fraeyman, "La spititualisation de l'idee du Temple dans les epitres pauliniennes", Ephemerides Theologicae Louvanienses 23, 1947, pp. 378-412.]