The Church and the Temple: a Comparison (Sun. Nov. 27)

The word of the day is “temple.”  In our reading of Ephesians 2:14-22, St. Paul compares the Church to a holy temple built on a solid foundation.  Furthermore, he emphasizes that Christ is the Cornerstone that unites its members into a sacred dwelling place of God.

In our reading, Paul draws the analogy between the building of the Old Testament temple in Jerusalem and the nature of the Church described in the New Testament.  There are three main comparisons:  the foundation, the Cornerstone, and the materials that “fitted together” that make up the building as a dwelling place for God.

First, note that the Book of Hebrews speaks of the “tabernacle,” not the temple.  This “Tent of Meeting” was a  portable place of worship.  The Israelites carried it with them when they wandered in the wilderness.  But they continued to use it until the end of the reign of King David.

According to Exodus, God gave the pattern of the tabernacle to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 26 1-27:21).  As the Israelites wandered in the desert, this tabernacle was to house the sacred Ark of the Covenant and to be the dwelling place of God.  But in the Holy Land until the reign of King David, the People of God used the tabernacle as their sacred place of worship.

The Book of Hebrews teaches that the tabernacle was but a “copy and shadow of heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5).  And so was the temple that Solomon built to replace the Tent of Meeting.  This more glorious temple was a continuation of the sacred rites of the tabernacle (Hebrews 13:10) (Strong’s #4633, 228).  Thus, the Book of Revelation refers to “the temple of the tabernacle” (Rev. 15:5).  The Orthodox Study Bible comments that the “tabernacle was itself the archetype of the temple in Jerusalem” (see Ex. 25:9, 40; Heb. 8:5, 9:11; 13:10).

This understanding enables us to compare the nature of the Church to the features of the temple.  But remember that these elements of the Old Testament edifice are but “shadows.”  They are imperfect outlines of the Church’s spiritual realities that they dimly represent (Strong’s #4639, 228).

The Foundation

First, note that huge, costly stones formed the foundation of Solomon’s temple.  Over eighty thousand laborers cut and dressed these stones at the quarry.  They fit together so perfectly that the workmen did not have to use any hammer, ax, or other iron tool to set them in place.

The foundation of the Old Testament temple foreshadows the foundation of the Church, the apostles and the prophets.  These messengers of God are far stronger and more secure than any physical stone.  And they are so fixed that they are one in their witness to Christ.  Through the earthquakes, fires, winds, and storms of history, they remain rock-solid and unwavering.  Moreover, there is no crack or fissure between them, but together they support the whole building.

The Cornerstone

The prophet Isaiah promised the People of God, “See I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a test-stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16  Oxford Annotated).  The root of the  Hebrew word refers to a corner.  However, Isaiah’s words tie together the idea of a foundation (Hebrew/Aramaic #4143,149) and its establishment  (Hebrew/Aramaic #3245, 1160).  The writer also describes the stone as precious or weighty (Hebrew/Aramaic #3368, 119) and tested (Hebrew/Aramaic #976, 36).  In combination, these terms refer to a  cornerstone that lies at the basis of a building, one that is tested, true, and substantial.

The book of Psalms associates such a stone with a worship procession.  The Oxford Annotated Bible suggests, “It is tenable that the speaker is a king who has come to the temple to offer thanks for a victory” (Oxford Annotated fn. on 118:19 ff.).  In verse 118:19, the king asks to be admitted into the temple.  He says, “Open to me the gates of righteousness.”  Inside the temple, the king gives thanks to God that he has prevailed when others doubted him.

As Paul does in our reading, several New Testament authors apply this verse to Jesus Christ (Matt. 21:45, Acts 4:11, 1 Peter 2:7).   The Lord’s own people rejected Him.  Yet, he is the keystone that holds the whole edifice of the Church together.  In His life, death, and resurrection, Christ has confirmed all that the prophets and the psalms attributed to him:  He is the established, tested, and essential ground on which the Church stands.  Thus, in the Divine Liturgy before the Creed, the priest prays:  “I will love Thee O Lord my strength.  The Lord is my firm foundation, my refuge, and my deliverer” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2013).

The Materials of the Building

Finally, the Church is made up of its members, both living and departed.  The temple was a magnificent edifice made of beautiful white limestone, quarried and shaped at the site.  Thus, the workers could join the dressed stones together in a harmonious unity without disrupting the peace of the sacred place.

Similarly, the Apostle says, “You also are living stones, being built up into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:6).  The Greek word refers to building stones for construction (Strong’s #3037, 151).  But they are not inert and insensible.  They are alive (Strong’s #2198, 106-07).  Certainly more precious than anything in creation, human persons can grow in faith, life, and relationship with God and one another.  Moreover, as each member grows, the whole Church becomes a holy temple (vs. 21).

For Reflection

From this comparison of the Church with the temple, we may learn that all of the Church’s features are essential.  The Church has no foundation without the apostles and prophets.  The Church has no unity without Christ, its Cornerstone.  And our churches are just empty buildings without their members.

In this time of individualism, when so many insist on their own rights without considering others, it is easy to forget what we learn from our reading.  We neglect the communal, corporate, and common nature of the Church.  Surely one of the lessons of this time of social turmoil is that we need each other.  We depend on one another, not merely to pray for, help, and support one another.  But we cannot be the Church on our own without each other.  Together with one another, united in Christ, and built upon the foundation of Holy Tradition, we fulfill our calling to be the Church, the temple of the Holy Spirit.

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