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The Temple as a Symbol of the Church

Julian Spriggs M.A.

It is impossible to over-estimate the importance of the temple in Jerusalem to the Jews. It was the centre of their religious system, and the centre of their identity as God’s people. It was the place that God had chosen to be present with his chosen people (Deut 12:5), and was the centre of their sacrificial system. Paul was a Jew, so it is not surprising that he used temple imagery in his writing. He brought the Jewish Gospel to Gentile lands, where there were many pagan temples and sanctuaries in every town and city, so temple imagery would also be meaningful to Gentiles. The essence of a temple, in both Jewish and pagan thought, was that was where the presence of a deity was manifest. To enter a temple was to enter into the presence of the deity.

Greek vocabulary

There are two different Greek words for temple. Although there was not much distinction between them in secular Greek writing, in both the Greek Septuagint and the NT they had distinctly different meanings.

The first is 'hieron', which is used to refer to the whole temple complex in Jerusalem, including all the extensive outer courtyards and precincts. In the NT this always refers to the physical temple in Jerusalem, occurring most frequently in the four gospels and in Acts, when Jesus or his followers entered the Jerusalem temple. In his letters, Paul only uses this word once when he asks about those who are employed in the temple service receiving their food from the temple (1 Cor 9:13). In both Jewish and pagan temples the priests who served in the temple were permitted to eat some of the sacrificial food, so Paul could possibly be referring to either, but the Jerusalem temple is more likely.

The second word is 'naos', which is the Greek word for a shrine or sanctuary, including a pagan shrine, where the gods were thought to dwell. In the NT it is used to describe the special place of God’s dwelling, the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple (eg. Mt 27:5). In his speech in Athens Paul also used this word for pagan shrines (Acts 17:24). In other places in the NT, Jesus used it to describe his own physical body (Jn 2:21), and it is used many times in Revelation to describe the heavenly temple, the place of God’s glorious presence.

In his letters, Paul uses this word six times. Five of those times it is clear that he is referring to either the church (Eph 2:21, 1 Cor 3:16-17, 2 Cor 6:16), or to the physical body of the individual believer (1 Cor 6:19). In the other place there is great debate over whether he is referring to the temple in Jerusalem, or to the church, when he predicts that the man of lawlessness will take his seat in the temple of God (2 Thess 2:4). He also refers to the temple more indirectly, when he refers to the dividing wall of hostility (Eph 2:14-15).

The temple as a symbol of the church

There are hints of this imagery of the temple being the people of God in the OT, although Israel is never directly described as God’s temple. In the wilderness, God set his dwelling in the tabernacle which was set up in the midst of his people, who camped around it in their different tribes (Num 2), so the presence of God was literally in the midst of his people. The Psalmist described Judah as becoming God’s sanctuary (Ps 114:2). In Ezekiel’s eschatological temple, God promised to reside among his people forever (Ezek 43:9). There are three passages where Paul describes the church as God’s holy temple: (1 Cor 3:16-17,2 Cor 6:16 - 7:1, Eph 2:21), which we will look at separately.

First passage (1 Cor 3:16-17)

When addressing issues of disunity in the church, because there were different factions favouring different apostles (1 Cor 1:10-13), Paul challenges the Corinthian believers in their understanding of the nature of the church. He asks, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (3:16). We should note that the 'you' is plural, referring to the people corporately, rather than individually. The Corinthian church is the place where God’s Spirit dwells. Later Paul wrote that the Spirit dwells within each individual believer, but here the church as a corporate identity is the place were God’s Spirit lives. It is the presence of the Spirit in the church that gives them a new identity as God’s people. In the context of their pagan past, the Corinthians would need to come to realise that instead of many pagan shrines, there is now one single temple in Corinth. This is God’s temple, the church.

Through chapter three of 1 Corinthians, Paul was addressing their preference for Apollos, and explaining the function of the two servants, himself and Apollos. Both were described as servants who were together constructing God’s building (3:9). Paul laid the foundation by being the first to preach the Gospel in Corinth and establishing the church there (3:10). Now others were building on that foundation, these being Apollos, the other apostles, and the Corinthian church themselves. Paul warns that those who build on the foundation must take care how they build on that foundation, which is Jesus Christ, because the quality of the building will be disclosed by fire on the day of judgement (3:12-15).

He warns them that their disunity, boasting and worldly wisdom is destroying the church, which is God’s temple, the dwelling place of his Spirit. Because God’s temple is holy, God will destroy the person who destroys it (3:17). Paul’s first aim is to show the believers the true nature of the church as God sees it. They are God’s holy temple, therefore the church should be treated with the same respect that the Jews had for their temple in Jerusalem, and that pagans would have had for the temple of their favourite deity. The church has been sanctified by God, as his holy dwelling place. His second point is to bring a severe warning to those who are causing the disunity, that they will face the fiery judgement of God for profaning his holy temple. This is because their disunity is destroying the church.

Today we need to see that, according to Paul, church is not the building we meet in, but is the corporate group of believers, whether locally, or around the world. It is important for us to grasp the idea that the church is the holy temple of God, his dwelling place on earth, and treat it with awesome respect. The church should be a radical community of people amongst whom the presence of the Spirit is real, which attracts people to forsake the pagan world to find the genuine presence of God.

Second passage (2 Cor 6:16 - 7:1)

In his second letter to the Corinthians, he describes the believers corporately as the temple of the living God (2 Cor 6:16). Here he is arguing that because the church is God’s holy temple, they should not have fellowship with unbelievers, otherwise they will be defiled.

Paul uses a collection of four quotations from the OT to make his point (6:16-18). One of these is from Ezekiel, when God promised that, “My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Ezek 37:27). Ezekiel was repeating God’s covenant promise that he will dwell in the midst of his chosen people. The implication is that if they holy God lives among them they must live holy lives. This was true for OT Israel (Lev 20:26), and continues to be true for the church. Although this passage is frequently used to teach that believers should not marry or have romantic relationships with unbelievers, the original context is the church as a whole, calling the church to be distinct from the world and not to compromise with the worship of idols.

Third passage (Eph 2:21)

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes how the enmity between Jew and Gentile has been broken down by Jesus, to create a new humanity in himself (Eph 2:15). There is now peace between the previously hostile groups. Paul says that he has “broken down the dividing wall, the hostility between us.” (2:14). This is undoubtably an allusion to the wall in the temple beyond which no Gentile could pass. Gentiles were permitted to enter the Court of the Gentiles, so they could listen to the teaching of the rabbis and hear the worship of Yahweh. Surrounding the central sanctuary was a low wall. Beside the gates in this wall was the following inscription, written in Greek and Latin: “No Gentile may enter within the railing around the sanctuary and within the enclosure. Whosoever should be caught will render himself liable to the death penalty which will inevitably follow”. This wall became a symbol of the deep division between Jew and Gentile in the first century which has been torn down in Christ, so both Jew and Gentile can now enter the presence of God in Christ, and become one new community.

Paul continues to describe how Gentiles are no longer strangers and aliens, but are also members of the household of God (2:19), a new community of both Jew and Gentile with Jesus at the head. He describes this community as a living structure which grows in to a holy temple (sanctuary), which is the dwelling place for God (2:21). In this passage, Paul is using the same temple imagery as he used to describe the Corinthian church, but here he is applying it to the entire world-wide church. The church is a living community, which continues to grow and develop, but it is a community where God’s Spirit dwells, making it a holy and sanctified temple. This new community transcends all divisions between peoples, whether of status, culture or gender.

The physical body of the believer as a temple (1 Cor 6:19)

Only once in his letters does Paul use the word 'naos' to describe the believer’s physical body, but it is employing the same imagery as when used to describe the church. Because the 'naos' is the dwelling-place of God, the Spirit of God now dwells in the body of the believer, making each individual the temple of God. When telling the Corinthian believers to flee from fornication, and not to have sexual relations with prostitutes during secular banquets, he asks them, “Do you not know that your body is a temple (naos) of the Holy Spirit within you ...?”. To have sex with a prostitute is to become united with her as one flesh (6:16). However Christ has redeemed them so they can become united with him in one Spirit (6:15,17). If the believer is spiritually united with the Lord, then they become his holy dwelling place, his temple. They should not join themselves with a prostitute because their body belongs to the Lord, which he has bought with a price (6:20), which was the death of Jesus.

This would have been a challenging concept for the Corinthians, who tended to have a negative view of the physical body. Instead of the body being less important, being spiritual means that the importance of the body is affirmed, as it is the dwelling place of the Spirit of God. This has challenging implications for every believer in their every-day lives. If we are the dwelling place of God, then we should continually be aware of his presence with us, which should have profound implications on the way we live. Paul concludes this passage with the instruction to glorify God in your body (6:20). All we do with our body should have the aim to honour and glorify God, giving this passage a far wider application than the immediate issue of fornication.


Paul only uses temple imagery a small number of times in his letters, but he uses it on different levels to give a powerful description of the church as God’s holy dwelling-place on earth. God’s temple is the individual believer, as well as the local fellowship, and the whole world-wide church in every nation. God’s presence through his Holy Spirit is with his people on all these three levels.

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Why These 66 Books?
Books in the Hebrew Scriptures
Quotations in NT From OT
OT Passages Quoted in NT
History of the English Bible
Twelve Books of the Apocrypha
The Pseudepigrapha - False Writings
Lost Books Referenced in OT

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

OT 1: Creation and Patriarchs
OT 2: Exodus and Wilderness
OT 3: Conquest and Monarchy
OT 4: Divided kingdom and Exile
OT 5: Return from Exile
OT 6: 400 Silent Years

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

NT 1: Life and Ministry of Jesus
NT 2: Birth of the Church
NT 3: Paul's Missionary Journeys
NT 4: Paul's Imprisonment
NT 5: John and Later NT

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Genesis Exodus Leviticus
Numbers Deuteronomy

Joshua Judges Ruth
1 & 2 Samuel 1 & 2 Kings Chronicles
Ezra & Nehemiah Esther

Job Psalms Proverbs

Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations
Ezekiel Daniel

Hosea Joel Amos
Obadiah Jonah Micah
Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah
Haggai Zechariah Malachi

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Matthew's Gospel Mark's Gospel Luke's Gospel
John's Gospel

Book of Acts

Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians
Colossians 1 & 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy
2 Timothy Titus Philemon

Hebrews James 1 Peter
2 Peter 1 John 2 & 3 John


Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

Canaanite Religion
Israel's Enemies During the Conquest
Syria / Aram
The Assyrian Empire
Babylon and its History
The Persian Empire
The Greek Empire
The 400 Silent Years
The Ptolemies and Seleucids
Antiochus IV - Epiphanes

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

OT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Jewish Calendar
The Importance of Paradox
Talent Converter (weights)
Cubit Converter (lengths)
OT People Search
Ephah Converter (volumes)
Holy War in the Ancient World
The Holy Spirit in the OT
Types of Jesus in the OT

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Are chapters 1-11 of Genesis historical?
Chronology of the Flood
Genealogies of the Patriarchs
Table of the Nations (Gen 10)
Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9)

Authorship of the Pentateuch
Chronology of the Wilderness Years
Names of God in the OT
Covenants in the OT
The Ten Commandments
The Tabernacle and its Theology
Sacrifices and Offerings
The Jewish Festivals
Balaam and Balak
Highlights from Deuteronomy
Overview of Deuteronomy

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Dates of the Kings of Judah and Israel
King Solomon
The Kings of Israel
King Jeroboam I of Israel
The Syro-Ephraimite War (735 BC)
Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah (701 BC)
King Josiah of Judah
Differences Between Kings and Chronicles
Chronology of the post-exilic period

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

Prophets and the Future
The Call of Jeremiah (Jer 1)
The Fall of Satan? (Is 14, Ezek 28)
Daniel Commentary (10 pages)
Isaiah Commentary (13 pages)
Formation of the Book of Jeremiah

Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Dan 9:24-27)

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

NT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Kingdom of God / Heaven
Parousia (Coming of Christ)
The Importance of Paradox

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Unique Passages in the Synoptic Gospels
The SynopticProblem
Genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1)
Birth Narratives of Jesus
Understanding the Parables
Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration
Was John the Baptist Elijah?
The Triumphal Entry
The Olivet Discourse (Mark 13)
Important themes in John's Gospel
John's Gospel Prologue (John 1)
Jesus Fulfilling Jewish Festivals
Reclining at Table at the Last Supper
The Holy Spirit as the Paraclete

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey. More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Apostolic Messages in the Book of Acts
Paul and His Apostleship
Collection for the Saints
The Church Described as a Temple
Church as the Body of Christ
Jesus as the Last Adam
Food Offered to Idols
Paul's Teaching on Headcoverings
Who are the Fallen Angels
The Meaning of Redemption
What is the Church?
Paul and the Greek Games

Romans Commentary (7 pages)

1 Corinthians Commentary (7 pages)

Galatians Commentary (3 pages)

Philemon Commentary (1 page)

Hebrews Commentary (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Introduction to the Book of Revelation
Characters Introduced in the Book
Structure of Revelation
List of Allusions to OT
The Description of Jesus as the Lamb
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
The Nero Redivius Myth
The Millennium (1000 years)
The Rapture and the Tribulation
Different Approaches to Revelation
Predicted Dates of the Second Coming

Revelation Commentary (10 pages)

How to do Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

How to Study the Bible Inductively
I. The Inductive Study Method
II. Observation Questions
III. Interpretation Questions
IV. Structure of Books
V. Determining the Historical background
VI. Identifying Figures of Speech
VII. Personal Application
VIII. Text Layout

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

How to Understand OT Narratives
How to Understand OT Law
Hebrew Poetry
OT Wisdom Literature
Understanding the OT Prophets
The Four Gospels
The Parables of Jesus
The Book of Acts
How to Understand the NT Letters
Studying End Times (Eschatology)
The Book of Revelation

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Search for Geographical Locations
Major Archaeological Sites in Israel
Archaeological Sites in Assyria, Babylon and Persia
Virtual Paul's Missionary Journeys
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
Photos of the City of Corinth
Photos of the City of Ephesus

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Search Museums for Biblical Archaeology
Israel Museum Photos

Difficult Theological and Ethical Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

Christian Ethics
Never Heard the Gospel
Is there Ever a Just War?
Why Does God Allow Suffering
Handling Disappointment

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

What is Preaching?
I. Two Approaches to Preaching
II. Study a Passage for Preaching
III. Creating a Message Outline
IV. Making Preaching Relevant
V. Presentation and Public Speaking
VI. Preaching Feedback and Critique
Leading a Small Group Bible Study

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.

Teaching on SBS Book Topics for SBS