Word Study #85 — The Flesh — Incarnation

December 24, 2010

The Word became flesh, and lived [camped out] among us!” (Jn.1:14)

How can anyone who is aware of what else John has just said about “the Word”, and to whom it refers, possibly accept the NIV translators’ obsessive use of “sinful nature” as their preferred translation of sarx, “flesh”? No, they do not use it in this reference, of course: this is a classic case of the blatant manipulation of the message by “selective translation”, which is not truly translation at all! How can an academically honest “translator” justify arbitrarily adjusting the text, to support a preconceived “doctrinal” conclusion?

Homer, Hippocrates, and many others classically used sarx as a synonym for soma, “body” (see previous post). Bauer succinctly defines it as “the material that covers the bones of a human or animal”, and L/S adds “the pulp of a fruit”! Classical, LXX, and New Testament writers all refer to “flesh and blood” as evidence of genuine humanity. Jesus himself used it as proof of the reality of his resurrection (Lk.24:39)! A person’s provenance “according to the flesh” is simply his genealogy. Bauer, L/S, and Trench all note that the reference is to the physical, natural order of things or people, including their physical abilities, limitations, or illnesses, as well as the seat of their affections. This sometimes includes procreation (Jn.1:13), but not with any “sinful” connotations. It is for these reasons that I have deemed “human” or “human nature” to be more accurate translations of sarx. Bauer also notes that the LXX attaches no negative aspect to sarx, although Epicurus (3rd.century BC) does, considering it inferior to the pneuma (spirit) or psuche / nous (mind).
The characterization of God-ordained marriage as “becoming one flesh” is a gracious gift, not an accusation. This is even more obvious in Paul’s admonition that such a relationship be carefully and responsibly guarded, both in I Cor.6:16-17 where “body” and “flesh” are used interchangeably, and in Eph.5:29-31.

Genealogical references are common in the New Testament – Jn.3:6, Rom.1:3, 4:1, 9:3,5,8; 11:14; I Cor.10:18, Gal.4:23, Eph.2:11, Phil.3:4, Heb.2:14, 12:9 – as are references to simple human experience or frailty – Mt.26:41 (where Jesus calls “the flesh” “weak”, not “evil”!), Lk.3:6, Jn.8:15, Ac.2:31, Rom.6:19, I Cor.1:26, 29; 7:28; II Cor.4:11, 5:16, 7:5, 12:7; Gal.1:16, 4:13; Phil.1:22, Col.2:1,5; Heb.5:7. None of these carry overtly moral connotations.

There are occasions, of course, where the faithful are warned to be careful where they focus their attention. It is one thing to be aware of one’s “human nature”, and even to accept or acknowledge its limitations or weaknesses, and quite another to allow one’s thoughts and behavior to be ruled by it.
We are instructed to “put off” (Col.2:11) – and here, the majority text does not include either of the “sin” words, but uses both sarx and soma in the genitive case, which is the reason for my rendering the phrase “putting away the body’s human nature” rather than the traditional rendering, “the body of sin”. We are  warned against (Col.2:23) “the gratifying of the human nature [flesh] and (Eph.2:3) its passions”; but we are also encouraged to see that Jesus’ own life be “revealed in our mortal flesh” (II Cor.4:11), and to govern “the life I now live in the flesh” by Jesus’ own faithfulness (Gal.2:20)!

It is no secret that “flesh” and “spirit” are in competition – sometimes severely – for our attention and our loyalty (Gal.5:13-19), but we are not helpless pawns in this game. “The one who is cultivating his human nature [flesh], from that human nature will reap decay; but the one who is cultivating the spirit, will reap eternal life from the Spirit” (Gal.6:8). Or, as one student paraphrased it, “you don’t plant corn and expect to pick beans!”

For a broader perspective on the concept of “human nature”, both its positive and negative potential, please refer to chapter 3 of Citizens of the Kingdom. The human – nature and all – was a part of the creation that its holy Creator deliberately pronounced “very good”! But, also like the rest of creation, it has not always been put to its intended use. Hence the need for a new creation (II Cor.5:17), which has been richly provided in the Lord Jesus, who not only embodies it, but enables his people to do likewise!

The New Testament writers take great pains to establish the true humanity of the Lord Jesus. The confession that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (I Jn.4:2,3, and II Jn.7) is held to be the acid test of faithfulness! The writer to the Hebrews repeatedly asserts that this was absolutely necessary in order for Jesus to accomplish our redemption (Heb.2:14, 5:7, 9:14, 10:20). Peter (I Pet.3:18, 4:1,2) echoes that thought, and Paul (Eph.2:15, Col.1:22) adds that this was the only way the Lord could unite Jewish and Gentile believers. John’s whole prologue (Jn.1:1-18), as well as the first paragraph of his first letter, targets the amazing, almost too-good-to-be-true reality of what has come to be called “the Incarnation” – a word derived from the Latin equivalent, carnis, of the Greek sarx, and related to the English “carnal”, which has suffered the same distortions as “flesh”. Lexically, there is nothing inherently evil in any of these words, which simply refer to ordinary natural things or situations. “Carnally minded” (Rom.8:6), does not mean “evil-minded,” but simply having one’s attention focused on the wrong part of human life. It is applied to ordinary [unredeemed] people (I Cor.1:3-4), weapons (II Cor.10:4), commands (Heb.7:16), ceremonies (Heb.9:10), and “things” (Rom.15:27, I Cor.9:11), as opposed to others that are transformed by being deliberately focused on the Lord.

It is that very “ordinariness” that makes Jesus’ willing identification with our human condition so overwhelming. Paul marvels at Jesus’ willingness to “empty himself” of all his divine prerogatives (Phil.2:6-8) for our benefit, and holds that attitude up as an example for the faithful (2:5). Hebrews 2:9 and 2:14-18 elaborate on the same theme. Jesus is able to come to our rescue and serve as our example precisely because he himself has “been there, done that” (Heb.2:10-16), and emerged triumphant!

The word became flesh, and lived among us! – and continues to do so, as he promised, in his living Body! (W.S.#84)
Thanks be to God!

Word Study #84 — The Body

December 22, 2010

There are few single words that have engendered the controversy and misunderstanding that has long surrounded the term “body”, and at the same time suffered an equivalent lack of attention to its major New Testament uses. (Another word in the same category will follow.)
Out of the 145 occurrences of soma in the New Testament, more than half of which refer either to a lifeless corpse (25 x) or the physical body of an ordinary person (51 x), the greatest abuse has occurred by the co-opting of a single phrase which appears only one single time into a complicated “doctrine” which then takes on a life of its own. Three examples will suffice, though I am sure you can find others.

1. At least as early as medieval times, and even in some of the second and third century “church fathers”, devout people lit upon Paul’s lament in Romans 7 of a persistent problem in his own experience, as if it were an endorsement of the dualism that had pervaded eastern mysticism for millennia: the assumption that anything connected with the physical body (or any other material thing) was inherently evil. Although anyone who takes faithfulness seriously is bound to feel that way on occasion, such an assumption is directly contrary to the majority testimony of Scripture. Such folks have chosen to ignore totally Paul’s surrounding admonitions (Rom.6:6,12; 8:10) regarding the total transformation of mortal life accomplished by Jesus’ resurrection, and substituted all sorts of ascetic practices, which Paul had already summarily dismissed as worthless (Col.2:23 and elsewhere) for achieving “holiness”.

2. I Peter 2:24, a portion of a larger series of quotations from Isaiah and other ancient prophets, is the only New Testament statement directly connecting Jesus’ body with “sins” (hamartia, “failures”, not paraptoma “deliberate transgressions” – see W.S.#7). This brief quote has metastasized into a complex “doctrine” that posits a vindictive, vengeful God who demands capital punishment for every conceivable infraction or error – which notion Jesus himself actively opposed (see John 8). It is true that skillful manipulators can cherry-pick “verses” from Romans to “prove” almost anything they choose, but simple integrity demands the inclusion of the whole message. These folks choose to ignore the many more numerous statements (Heb.2:14-15, Rom.5:10-11, 21; Rom.6:4) that the glorious accomplishment of Jesus’ death – and resurrection – was to destroy both death and people’s fear of its perpetrator!

3. The repeated references to the scene at the Last Supper (Mt.26:26, Mk.14:22, Lk.22:19, I Cor.10:16-17, and 11:24-29), regarding which centuries of “theologians” have demonstrated that the political prevarications of the 1990’s regarding “what the meaning of ‘is‘ is”, are not at all original!
Jesus frequently used the same sentence structure when explaining his parables (“the seed is the Word”, “the harvest is the end of the age”, etc.) that he used when he told his disciples, “This is my Body”. In each case, “this is” functions as a simple synonym for “this represents”. Time and energy spent arguing the details of some sort of magical transformation of simple food, or its supposed supernatural power, would be much better devoted to exploring the task of becoming the Body of which he spoke!

Historically, soma was a very versatile word. In Homer, it referred exclusively to dead bodies, but later, in the 5th century BC, it was used by Pindarus as the opposite of “spirit”, and by Plato as the opposite of “shadow” (seen in Col.2:17) or “soul”, as well as an animal body as opposed to a plant – although Paul includes plants in I Cor.15 . Lysias uses it as a compilation of civil rights, or a civic assembly, and Aristotle of a mathematical proof or a three dimensional figure. In the third century BC, it was first applied to any person, and later primarily of slaves (as in Rev.18:13).

Considerable attention is devoted to the “body” in the New Testament. Jesus considered it of greater importance than food and clothing (Mt.6:25), but less than “life” (psuche) – see W.S.#28. It can be destroyed (Mt.10:28), but also redeemed (Rom.8:23) and transformed (Phil.3:21). It is to be handled with care and appropriate honor (Rom.6:8, I Cor.6), because the physical body of the faithful person, like all the rest of his life, is “for the Lord” (I Cor.6:15), and belongs to him. Indeed, it is to be offered as a “living sacrifice” to God (Rom.12:1) – and a sacrifice, regardless of its content, must be of spotless purity. Such an offering could not possibly be acceptable if the body were inherently evil!

Most significant of all, if judged by the proportion of attention accorded to it in the New Testament, is the awe-inspiring concept of the faithful as comprising the very Body of Christ! For a fuller discussion of that subject, please see chapter 7 of Citizens of the Kingdom. Paul approaches this wonder from three different angles:

– the inclusion of the faithful from all backgrounds in a single unit: “one body” (Rom.12:4,5; Eph.2:16, 4:4; Col.3:15) without distinction;
– the intended function of each member [part] of that Body for the benefit of the whole (I Cor.12:12-27, Rom.12:4-8);
– and the mutual responsibility that such unity entails (Eph.1:23, 4:4, 4:12, 4:16; Col.1:8, 1:24, 2:19), symbolized in the observance of “communion” – W.S. #8, koinonia – (I Cor.10:16-17, 11:24-29).

Do not forget that it is “in (en) one Body” (Col.3:15) that we are called. Not “into” – that would require the preposition eis, and imply the initial invitation to participation. It is we who have already accepted the invitation, and are consequently being incorporated into that one Body, who are then “called” [given further instructions – W.S.#55] , some of which follow in vv.16,17. The complicated inventions, theories, and requirements concocted by self-appointed teachers and hierarchies of every description are completely beside the point.
The only thing that matters is v.19 – “holding on to the Head [Jesus himself]. It’s from him that all the Body, supplied through its joints and ligaments, and knit together, keeps growing with the growth that comes from God!”
The task of every member of that Body (please note that every function listed in Eph.4:11 is plural) is for the purpose of “equipping God’s people” for the job of “building up the Body of Christ”! (Eph.4:12). “The purpose is that we be no longer babies, agitated and carried around by every wind of teaching, deceitfully manipulated by people who are deliberately trying to mislead us, but as we interact truthfully in love, we may grow up in every way into him who is the Head – Christ. From him, the whole Body, joined together [harmonized] and knit together by the proper function of every available ligament, according to the measured working of each individual part, makes bodily growth for building itself up in love.” (Eph.4:14-16).

Amen, Lord! May it be so!

Word Study #83 — “The Promise”

December 16, 2010

The concept of “promise” is closely related to the previous two postings. This is another idea which has been mightily embellished in “accepted teaching”, with little regard for what is actually discussed in the New Testament writings.
It involves one single word-family: epaggelia, epaggelomai, and epaggelma, although the English word “promise” also traditionally occurs, only once each, as a variant translation for homologeo and exomologeo, both usually rendered “confess” (W.S. #68), both describing nefarious behavior , of Herod (Mt.14:7), and Judas (Lk.22:6), as does the use of epaggelomai in Mk.14:11 of the Jewish council.

Classically, both the noun and verb forms originally referred merely to an announcement or edict: a command (Polybius) , or a legal summons (Aeschylus). Only later did they also include “an offer or promise, made of one’s own free will”, or an expectation, including the purported curative property of a potion or drug (Galen). Consequently, even though most of the New Testament uses of the words fall into the category of an offer or a promise, this background should be kept in mind, and should influence our understanding, at least to the extent of serving as a reminder that a “promise” is not a casual or trivial thing, and is not to be taken lightly.

One significant grouping of New Testament references is historical:
–God’s promise to Abraham
1. of descendants (Ac.7:5, Rom.4:13-20, Heb.6:13, 11:11)

2. of the land in which he wandered (Ac.7:5, Heb.11:8-10)

3. of the extension of his blessing to all future faithful (Gal.3:8, 14-18; Gal.4:23,38; Heb.7)
– God’s promise to the people of Israel at the time of the Exodus (Ac.7:17)
– And more generally, “to the fathers [ancestors]”, in which case no specifics of the “promise” are mentioned, except that its fulfillment is connected with Jesus’ resurrection (Ac.13:32,33; 26:6-8, Rom.9:5, 15:8).
A similar theme, with different words, is found in the study of “Inheritance / Covenant” (W.S. #79, 80.)

When we turn to the rest of the New Testament, neither geography nor genealogy figure into any mention of the “promise”. On at least two occasions, Romans 9 and Galatians 3, Paul takes great pains to redefine the concept of “children / heirs of the promise” as intending all who are faithful to Jesus, and no longer necessarily lineal descendants of Abraham. This theme also appears, in less detail, in Eph.2:12, and throughout the letter to the Hebrews.

Jesus himself is recorded as having used the word “promise” only once – Lk.42:49 – when he instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for “my Father’s promise”, which he then specifically identified as the coming of the Holy Spirit. Luke quotes that admonition again in Ac.1:1:4.
In his Pentecost sermon, Peter announces that it has been fulfilled (Ac.2:33), in Jesus’ (himself, in this case, not his followers!) “having received the promised Holy Spirit from the Father” after his resurrection and exaltation, and having subsequently “poured out” upon his faithful followers the powers that had just been demonstrated. Peter ends by declaring (2:39) that “the promise is for you all, and for your children, and for all who are far away, whoever the Lord our God will call!”
The only qualifications are (1) a deliberate change in the orientation of one’s life (W.S.#6), and (2)submitting to baptism (Ch.10 of Citizens of the Kingdom), in the name (W.S.#24) of the Lord Jesus, in order that one’s failures [shortcomings] be removed (W.S. #7). He urges them to  “be rescued” (W.S. #5), not from some dreaded future terror, but (v.40) “from this crooked generation”!
In Eph.1:13, Paul expands the understanding of “the Holy Spirit of promise”, explaining that this is the “guarantee”, or “seal” [stamp of ownership], that we have become God’s possession. This is also the idea in II Cor.7:1, which refers back to 6:16-18, where God’s calling to become a part of his family is described. Please note that in both of these, the promise is conditioned upon the response of the ones to whom it is offered!

The promise is related, in Ac.13:23, to Jesus’ own resurrection, and it is his faithfulness (the form is a simple possessive genitive) upon which the faithful may depend (Gal.3:22). Eph.3:6 reiterates the breadth of the reach of the promise: that Gentiles, too, “are to be fellow-heirs, and joint members of the Body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus!”
Notice, please, that this is cast in the present tense! I wonder if this has always been a problem for the faithful? Paul needed to remind Timothy (I Tim.4:8) that the promise is “for life now and in the future”. Please refer to the discussion of “eternal life” in W.S.#28. We do injustice to the text if we confine “the promise of life” (II Tim.1:1, Jas.1:2, II Pet.1:4, I Jn.2:25) exclusively to either the present or the future. Both are crucial to proper understanding.
When Heb.9:15 speaks of an “eternal inheritance”, remember (W.S.#79,80) that an inheritance is received during one’s lifetime, after the death, not of the recipient, but of his benefactor!

Heb.6:10-12 describes the stubborn endurance necessary for “inheriting the promises”, and Heb.8:6 points out that the covenant / will which Jesus mediates [administers] is established upon “better promises” that was the earlier, now-obsolete one (v.7).
It is “after having done God’s will” (an aorist tense), that the promise is received (also aorist – a “done deal”!) . James’ reference to “inheriting the kingdom” (2:5) is very contemporary: he is talking about behavior in the present-day brotherhood!

A few of the references (II Pet.3:4,9) refer specifically to Jesus’ promised return – simply that it is going to happen – no details are given. Most details are derived from the fertile imaginations of commentators! Others, like Ac.26:6, Eph.3:6, Gal.3:14, 22, 29, while not identifying the content of the promise, connect it solidly to Jesus.

There could be no better summary than Paul’s, in II Cor.1:20 – “For whatever God’s promises are, the “yes” is in him (Jesus)!”, and Peter’s “Through him we’ve also been given very great and valuable promises, in order that through these, you all might become sharers of divine nature!”

It’s all about Jesus, folks!
Thanks be to God!

Word Study #82 — Dwell / Dwelling

December 10, 2010

Since both Paul and John have pointedly explained that the “temple”/ “dwelling” of God is no longer – if indeed it ever was (see previous post) – in a “house made with hands”, but in the gathered Body of his people, it is helpful to explore the concept of “dwelling” itself. This is neither as simple as it sounds – a place to live – nor as complicated as the inventors of “doctrine” would try to make it, with all their rhetoric about “indwelling” (a word which does not occur anywhere, even in traditional translations of the New Testament), “abiding” (which does – W.S. #58), and other contrived “theological” intricacies with which they summarily include – or, more frequently, exclude – those with whose vocabulary and diagrams they agree or differ.

The concept of “dwelling” appears in New Testament writings in three families of words: meno, translated that way only 15x out of 120 occurrences; skenoo, 5x; and oikeo,9x: the latter being made more specific and sorted out by the addition of prefixes, as in egkatoikeo (1x), enoikeo (5x), perioikeo (1x), sunoikeo (1x), and most frequently katoikeo (48x). The vast majority of the uses of most of these words refer simply to geographical location, where people live or stay.

Enoikeo, however, “to dwell or inhabit, to be at home in”, has “God” (II Cor.6:16), “the Spirit” (Rom.8:11, II Tim.1:14), “the Word of Christ” (Col.3:16), or “faithfulness” (II Tim.1:5) as its subject. This is probably where the “indwelling” idea comes from – but please note, the reference is not private, but corporate, except in the final example. The elaborate images constructed from those few references completely fail to take into account that in four of the five, the object of “en” is plural: humin (you all), hemin (us), or autois (them). When the object of the preposition en is plural, “among” is a better translation than “in” (as, “inside of”): implying the corporate Body of Christ, not lonely individuals. The only singular reference is to the faithfulness of Timothy’s grandma.

A similar situation exists for katoikeo, “to settle or colonize, to inhabit, to take up residence,” the most frequent of the words, where it is not referring simply to location. Speaking of the Lord Jesus, in Col.1:19 and 2:9, in whom “dwells” all the completeness of God, the object of the preposition is singular, “in him”, as is the subject in II Pet.3:13 where “righteousness / justice” is said to “dwell” in the new heaven and new earth. Since both the object and its possessive modifier are plural in Eph.3:17, (“your hearts”), that passage may be read either individually or collectively, but the James 4:5 reference to the Spirit that dwells en hemin, is more likely to intend “among us.”

Oikeo, without prefix, also speaks primarily of habitation. Paul’s lament in Rom.7:17,18 of his personal struggle to obey, is cast in the first person singular. One should note that this is not the accusatory diatribe that is so frequently hurled at prospective “converts”, but the testimony of Paul’s own difficulties. There is likewise no indication that Paul – or anyone else, expects it to be normative.  Instructions to faithful disciples in a non-believing marital relationship are likewise singular (I Cor.7:12,13). But reference to the Spirit of God – Rom.8:9,11 and I Cor.7:12,13 (twice) —  revert to the plural, en humin, “among you”. The verbs are plural as well, although Rom.8:9 also contains a singular component, a warning to any who might ignore or disparage the Spirit’s activity.

As is frequently the case, John uses different vocabulary and has different emphases, from those of the other writers. It is not clear – unless they are simply trying to support an already-established “doctrine” – why traditional translators rendered meno , usually translated “remain, continue, stay, abide” – as “dwell” in Jn.6:56, 14:10, 14:17; and even in 1:38 and 39, where the disciples of John the Baptist are clearly asking about Jesus’ current residence. “Stay”would be more appropriate, since he was not at home at the time. The same is true of Luke’s only two uses of meno, in Ac.28:16,30, describing Paul’s situation in Rome.
Likewise, in John’s letters, whether the object of the preposition en is singular (I Jn.3:17,24; 4:15, 16) or plural (I Jn.4:12,13; II Jn.2), one of those more common translations would make more grammatical sense. Notice that elsewhere, in the same letter, meno appears 14x, and is translated 11x “abide” , 2x “continue”, and 1x “remain”. Please refer to W.S.#58 for a fuller discussion of meno.
In any case, meno does not imply the settled, permanent residence that often accompanies katoikeo. Geographical references are temporary; those involving the presence of Father, Son, or Holy Spirit are contingent on the response of a person or group. Note the conditional constructions.

Even more unique is John’s use of yet another word, skenoo, literally, “to pitch a tent, or make an encampment”. This is the “habitation” of an army on the move! And look where it appears in John’s writing! In Jn.1:14, he is describing “The Word made flesh [human] and dwelling among us!” An interesting light on Jesus’ campaign to establish his Kingdom!

The same word appears again only in the Revelation! In Rv.7:15, John speaks of the huge crowd of the faithful in joyful worship around the throne, and marvels, “The one seated on the throne will pitch his tent with them!”
In Rv.12:12, he calls “those who are camping out in heaven” to exuberant celebration, even as they are included in the scorn of the “beast” who opposes God’s name and his “tent”.
And finally (21:3), upon the arrival of the New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb, “God’s tent is with his people! He will camp with them, and they will be his people, the God himself will be with them, their God!”
Wait a minute! Isn’t it all over by then? Most of us thought that by that time, the “pilgrim people” could finally settle down in cozy glory! But no – we are still “camping”!

Where are we headed? We are not told. It’s not about geography, folks.
The only permanence is the gracious presence of the Lord among his people – plural – and mostly present tenses (16x), 5x aorist (already accomplished), and only three in the future tense.

That’s why we need so desperately to meet, share, and interact as his people: it is among those who have accepted the invitation to citizenship in his Kingdom that we are intended to experience, and enjoy, the presence of the King – “until he comes”and even after that!

“Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

Word Study #81 — The Temple

December 3, 2010

In much the same way as an understanding of the inheritance of God’s people (W.S.#79, 80) has been altered throughout their long history, their perception of references to the temple of God has varied as well. A bit of history can do a lot to dispel some rather serious misunderstandings, and careful attention to the New Testament uses of the two words translated “temple” adds interesting and challenging light to the subject.

First, the history. We are told (II Sam.7) that God was not at all impressed when David got the bright idea to build him “a house”, reminding him that he (God) had the whole universe at his disposal for a “dwelling”. Even when Solomon was granted a “building permit” – thought to have been around 957 BC – he recognized that it could not “contain” God in the sense that a temple was interpreted among surrounding cultures. (More of this below.) That impressive edifice was eventually destroyed in the Babylonian conquest, during and after which prophetic messages of “re-building” were recorded. Subsequent to those prophecies, we have records of at least three such restorations: by Ezra and Nehemiah after the exile (538 BC); a re-dedication under the Maccabees in 164 BC after the desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BC; and the temple complex built under Herod the Great in 20 BC, which was in use during Jesus’ earthly ministry. So much for claims of “yet unfulfilled prophecy” regarding a physical reconstruction of “the temple”! “Been there, done that” — at least three times!

More significant to the followers of Jesus, however, are the vocabulary considerations. There are two words translated “temple” in the New Testament. Hieron, occurring primarily in the synoptic gospels and Acts, uniformly refers to a physical location – including all the associated courtyards and buildings, where people gathered, begged, walked, taught, argued, and even set up commercial enterprises. The same word was also used of pagan temples (in the NT, the temple of Artemis of Ephesus). Before Homer, hieron was also used to refer to offerings and sacrifices (L/S), or any “sacred” objects, rites, or omens. After Homer, used with the definite article, the meaning narrowed to any “holy place”. The Jewish temple continued to be one of many gathering places for the faithful, after Pentecost, in addition to their meetings in homes (Ac.2:46, 5:42).

Naos, on the other hand, referred to the inner precincts of a pagan shrine, where an idol “lived”. In a Jewish context, it was the inner court, the “holy of holies”, where they, too, supposed the presence of God to dwell. It was this orientation that Paul was challenging in Ac.7:48 and 17:24, as he tried to make his hearers aware of the transcendence of the Lord he proclaimed. Understanding the word to refer to that portion where only the chosen priest was allowed to enter (Lk.1:9) emphasizes the audacity of the distraught Judas Iscariot, when he despairingly hurled the silver he had been paid for his treachery “into the naos” (Mt.27:5) – the sacred inner sanctum!

It was the naos that was separated from the more public parts of the temple area (hieron) by the thick curtain / veil which was torn in pieces at the time of Jesus’ death. The implications of this event are HUGE! The division between God and man – between “sacred” and “secular” – is forever removed! Jesus has opened the way, once and for all! (Heb.10:20). Please see chapter 8 of Citizens of the Kingdom for a fuller discussion of this event.

A hint of something even more monumental occurs in Jesus’ statement (Jn.2:18-21) to his critics, after the “temple cleansing” incident. John notes (v.21) that Jesus was really talking about “the temple of his body”!
This is the concept that Paul picks up, in I Cor.3:16-17, 6:19, and II Cor.6:16. In each case, it is naos (in the singular) that he chose to use; and in each case, the “you”, whether as a subject or a possessive, is plural, while “body” and “temple” are uniformly singular.
In the I Cor.3 passage, Paul has been describing the task of “building” – by all participants – on the “foundation” which is the Lord Jesus himself. He then demands, “Don’t you all know that you (plural) are God’s temple (singular)?” , and employs the plural “you” twice more in the same thought. Only the warning to be careful not to “mess it up” reverts to the singular. One person can indeed do that! – but functioning as the Body, or the naos – dwelling – of the Spirit of God requires group cooperation! The preposition en usually indicates “in” when its object is singular, but “among” when the object is plural.

The discussion in I Cor.6:15-20 is not quite as clear-cut: somata is plural in v.15, plainly referencing the physical body as “parts” of Christ’s, which Paul then undertakes to explain. But in v.19, he reverts to the singular “body” and “temple”, with the plural subject and possessive. Likewise, in II Cor.6:16, Paul asserts that “WE are the temple (sg.) of the living God!”
Only together can we become the Body of Christ, or the Temple of God / the Holy Spirit!
These two phrases are essentially synonymous, according to Jesus! (cf. Jn.2:21)

It has usually been assumed that II Thes.2:4 referred to an event similar to Antiochus’ statue of Zeus (2ndc. BC) or Augustus’ image of himself (contemporary to the writing?) in a physical temple – but the passages cited above open the additional possibility that this “temple”, too, could be the church – any or every “church” that submits to, or is co-opted by state control?

“Temple” references in the Revelation, a highly symbolic narrative (necessary in an era of intense persecution), are mixed – perhaps on purpose. The faithful are called “pillars” (support structure) in the temple of God (Rv.3:12), where they “serve him day and night” (7:15). “Messengers” come and go from “the temple” (chapters 11,14,15), as do “voices” (ch.16).

But there is no ambiguity in Rv.21:22, where John describes the consummate “City of God”: “I didn’t see a temple in it; for the Lord God, the all-powerful, and the Lamb, are its temple!”
Finally, fully united, the faithful and their Lord – the awe-struck apostle runs out of words to describe the glory of the scene.

We can only echo his parting prayer:

“Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”