I didn’t watch any of the political conventions live when they were happening, as, frankly, it’s all nauseating to enough of a degree that I can rarely watch them without becoming too irritated. I did read about them in the news, so I was able to keep up. Seeing an entire political party presumably representing half of the nation proudly celebrate sexual perversion and murdering children in the womb while also explaining with straight faces that all of us should pay for the birth control of others with our money probably had enough historical weight to it that perhaps I should have bothered to see it live. Still, it was all more palatable in print.
And the fact that such things were being said in Charlotte where our Church is headquartered had me thinking, mental tongue in mental check, of the man of sin standing in the holy place declaring himself smarter than God.
And there’s the wispy connection!
Over the years, I’ve stumbled onto websites here and there, evangelical and others, suggesting that the “temple of God” in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 somehow must mean something other than some sort of place or structure in Jerusalem. They argue that the Church is now God’s true, spiritual temple (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:17, 1 Cor. 6:19, et al.), which is, of course, true, in that God dwells in and among us. This is then taken to create other novel ideas that, ultimately, don’t follow. For instance, I’ve seen some suggest the possibility that the “man of sin” Paul describes is, in reality, symbolic of all men choosing their own way over God’s, or that the “man of sin” must declare himself God in a special place or location of Christian worship as opposed to a “Jewish” location. And, given that our Church headquarters is in Charlotte, the sight of “leaders” declaring God’s laws to be pointless and void there brought that speculation to mind.
However, the speculation is misguided. The argument that “temple of God” in 2 Thessalonians somehow must be interpreted in any manner other than plainly and straightforwardly is generally without any strong foundation at all, and the best interpretation is, still, the simplest: that Paul is referring to a location in Jerusalem, where sacrifices will be reinstituted for a time, just as we explain in many of our booklets (such as “The Middle East in Prophecy”).
In their flights of fancy, many of the authors I’ve come across make a huge deal out of the use of the words naos and hieron in the Greek, but the effort is generally wrong-headed and reads meaning and suggestion into the words that is not natural to the Greek.
The word “temple” in most English versions of the New Testament is translated primarily from those two Greek words, naos and hieron. ”Temple” is a serviceable translation, but it doesn’t make the distinction communicated by the two words, which is a simple one. Hieron refers to the larger temple complex, while naos refers to the central Temple building, itself. For instance, during His earthly ministry, Jesus could enter the outer part of the temple complex, the hieron, but not the inner part of the temple–the temple proper–which would be the naos and which the law allowed only Levitical priests to enter, and Jesus was not a Levitical priest (cf. Hebrews 13-14). When Jesus drove the money-changers out of the temple (e.g., Matt. 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, John 2), He did not drive them out of the naos–the temple building, proper–but the hieron, the temple complex in general including the outer courts and buildings. Though the money-changers should not have been allowed to set up their business anywhere on the grounds (that is, in the hieron), they would not have been allowed in the temple building, itself (that is, the naos), and would not have wanted to, as there would have been no money to be made there!
This also explains some things that can be confusing in English. For instance, the murder of Zechariah “between the temple and the altar” (Matt. 23:35). Yes, the altar is in the temple (hieron) but it is not in the temple building (naos), itself.
Actually, this is what makes Judas’ actions in his passionate desperation and utter depression after His betrayal of Christ stand out in a way that is often missed in English. When he goes back to the priests and casts his blood money contemptuously into the Temple, it is not the outer portion where he does so, but rather into the Temple building, itself–the naos–where only the priests were allowed (Matt. 27:5).
Consequently, the different Hebrew words do not denote a spiritual difference, so to speak, but a functional one, referring to different aspects of the physical temple. More than that, the natural, functional difference between the two words warns us against making too much of the apostles’ use of them, since the natural difference between the words fully and completely explains the way the New Testament writers use them without having to postulate extra spiritual significance.
For instance, when you think of what Paul and Peter are both trying to say in their New Testament writings–that, as “living stones,” Christians are “being built up a spiritual house” as the “temple of the living God”–then it makes perfect sense that they would use the word naos, referring to the building–the actual “house of God”–instead of hieron. The idea that after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection Peter and Paul no longer refer to the physical temple as the naos is irrelevant as there is no reference to the temple building in Jerusalem after that time that would require the use of naos instead of hieron. We should not read too much into what is simply the most natural use of the words.
Plus, there are at least two more considerations. The idea that “temple of God” cannot refer to a Jewish building any longer since the Body of Christ makes up the true, spiritual “temple of God” has to assume that is the case, as there is no real evidence that it is so. Did God still accept the physical temple in Jerusalem even after He established the Church on Pentecost 31AD? Yes, He did. Paul had no problem offering a lawful sacrifice in the temple in Acts 21. (Yes, verse 26 uses the word hieron, but, again, that is the natural Greek word to use. Paul would not be allowed into the naos. It’s unreasonable to read something significant into the fact that a word is being used in its natural manner.)
Another is that while the temple building on earth doesn’t appear much in the Bible after a certain point (again, not unusual: the story does not demand it) other than in providing the basis for Paul and Peter’s points about the Church, a temple building does appear — it’s just not on earth! Revelation 11:19; 14:17; 15:5; and 16:17 all refer to the temple (naos) in heaven containing the ark of the covenant which shows itself during the climactic events of the end times. That naos is definitely not the Church and clearly is a building. Actually, the Bible tells us that the tabernacle and Solomon’s temples were build according to “heavenly blueprints” as it were and suggests that those blueprints were copies in some way on this heavenly building and its design and properties (e.g., Exodus 26:30, 1 Chr. 28:19, Heb. 8:5 & 9:23).
For those I’ve seen trying to scratch itching ears out there with novel restrictions on naos and hieron invented to “support” their point, I imagine the conversation going like this:
- Person A: The “temple of God” in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 can’t be a real Jewish temple!
- Person B: Ah, I see what you’re saying–it could be the intended or sanctified site of one. The book of Ezra says…
- Person A: No, no, no–I mean it has to refer to the Christian Church in some way!
- Person B: Why?
- Person A: Well, you see, in the New Testament, Christians are the temple of God! Paul and Peter said so!
- Person B: True, but that doesn’t mean “temple” always has to be interpreted that way. Paul was even willing to sacrifice in the temple after Christ’s death, and he didn’t see that as an ungodly thing to do. There’s nothing in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 to suggest it means anything but a literal temple or holy place, like the building that made Paul and Peter’s descriptions sensible in the first place.
- Person A: Ah, but there is! They use the word naos, which, in the New Testament, is only used for the Body of Christ–the Church! They use naos instead of hieron there!
- Person B: Well, no, that’s not true. There are plenty of verses that use naos for an actual temple building–look at Matt…
- Person A: No, no–those are before Christ died and was resurrected! After that, naos only refers to the Church!
- Person B: Actually, there was no need after that to use naos in those writings, because there are no references to the temple building versus the broader “temple” including it’s courts, additional buildings, etc. The writers use naos and hieron exactly as they would if there were no special significance at all, since naos would be the natural word to use to refer to a temple building and hieron would be the natural word to refer to the larger complex Jesus and and Apostles walked around in.
- Person A: Ah! But they don’t refer to the building! You see…
- Person B: Well, right, but that’s my point. They don’t refer to the building other than in their analogy for the Church. So there’s no need for them to use naos to refer to the building, since it doesn’t show up in the rest of the narrative or letters. Yet, sure enough, as soon as another temple building does show up in the vision in Revelation, the Apostle John does use naos. He uses it in Revelation, and not just for those instances where it may be symbolic of the Church. For instance, Revelation 7:15, 11:19, 14:15, 14:17, 15:5-8, etc. If the natural usage and meaning of the words explains how the writers use them, we shouldn’t add our own reasoning and try to pull out some “special” significance when it just isn’t warranted in any way.
- Person A: Yeah, but… that’s a building in heaven… So… you know… It doesn’t count…
- Person B: Aw, don’t feel bad. It’s all just speculation, anyway, right? We just need to be careful we don’t get so married to our speculation that we begin to “invent” evidence where there is none. And besides, take heart–you seem to have finally stopped using exclamation marks in all of your statements! Why do you do that, anyway?
- Person A: Actually, I’m a big Mark Trail fan.
- Person B: Ahhhhh! That explains it…
Speculation is fine, but it’s still speculation. There is no reason to say with confidence that the “temple (naos) of God” in 2 Thess. 2:4 is anything but some sort of physical structure or dedicated space associated with the Jewish offerings, which are, indeed, to commence again some time in the future, only to be ceased again by a despot with terrifyingly “exciting” aspirations. And for all the speculation about different ideas floating around other there in “nominal” Christianity, there is no comfort in the Greek words naos and hieron for them. Sometimes a temple is just a temple.
(If you’d like to look into the natural difference between naos and hieron, yourself, Trench’s New Testament Synonyms has a pretty decent entry.)
In other news: Yes, it does feel good writing a blog entry after a long absence! The “sabbatical” was imposed by the demands of current work–camp, Feast, pastoral stuff, TW article due, et al.–and I couldn’t sit and write a blog post in good conscience when I had more pressing things to do. And, with the FOT work moving into its final phases, it may be another while before I post, again. But–at the same time–it is a nice break!
Wherever you are, I hope your preparations of the Fall Festivals are going well!