Word Study #82 — Dwell / Dwelling

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!”

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