“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”
—1 Cor. 6:19.
In Israel, particularly in Jerusalem, it’s hard to miss the significance of the Temple Mount and other sacred places where people have worshipped God for thousands of years. The sacred place where we worship God has evolved over time, from Abraham’s altar to Moses’ Tabernacle to Solomon’s Temple. For me, Christianity seamlessly continued this evolution. The apostle Paul, a devout Jew, employed metaphor to explain that the temple, no longer a physical place, instead exists in groups and even individual believers. There is a great exhibit in ANU, the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, that shows the evolution of Jewish sacred places of worship over time.
Most religions house a statue of their deity in their temples, but the Jews did not, because of God’s instruction in Exodus 20:4: “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.”
As Israel’s population grew and its geographic area expanded, the distance to the temple became a barrier to frequent worship for many. When the Hebrews were held captive in Babylonia and no longer had access to the majesty of Solomon’s Temple, they learned a very important lesson: The worship of God does not require a specific place, such as a structure in Jerusalem. Even in exile, the Jews did not stop worshipping God but instead modified their worship, relying on individual prayers and Torah study to accommodate their new reality. That’s when the synagogue system emerged. The Hebrews learned that they were able to worship God even in exile and beyond in the Diaspora. They learned that God was omnipresent and the Shekinah, the Lord’s abiding presence, was with them.
When the Israelites were released from captivity, instead of evolving a new form of worship, they reverted to what they knew and rebuilt their temple, despite receiving no specific command to do so. Is that why the Ark and the Tabernacle, the two biblical elements directly tied to God’s presence, were not present in the Second Temple?
In 1 Cor. 3:16, Paul draws on Israel’s history in his rebuke of the Corinthians when he says, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”
Here, he is saying that “you,” plural, the body of believers in Corinth, are the temple. When he says, “God’s spirit dwells in your midst,” he is reminding the Corinthians that their situation now is just like when the Lord was in their midst during captivity, and so they are called to live a moral life.
Paul uses the same imagery to condemn the lifestyle choices of individual believers in Corinth. To them, Paul says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19). His point is that just as God was in the Tabernacle in the Holy of Holies, and God’s presence filled Solomon’s Temple, God is now living in individuals, and they should therefore act accordingly.
Christianity is not exclusive in its claim that God is either in you or can be in you. It seems to be an almost universal belief.
Peter refers to Christians as “living stones” because unlike the stones of the temple that bear silent witness, we are living witnesses, a living temple with Christ as the chief cornerstone.
This evolution challenges the idea that the temple in Jerusalem needs to be rebuilt yet again. We have moved from a physical to a spiritual understanding of the temple, and God has moved from a law written on stones to one that is written in our hearts. We should use the power of God within us to demonstrate God’s presence in the world, to heal the world, and to spread shalom, peace, throughout the world.
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