21 May 2023

Ephesians & The Temple: A Conceptual Framework, Afternoon Thoughts

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church, Ephesians, Exegesis, Holy Spirit, Jewish Backgrounds, Unity
Peering into the Court of Women of Herod’s Temple

Some Ephesians thoughts: A Conceptual Framework. Over the last six months these thoughts have slowly come together. I am not sure these are worth a hoot but I think I can satisfactorily argue the points below in detail. The Temple is key. I knew Paul calls the community God’s temple in 2.21 but it slowly dawned on me that Paul appeals to temple imagery or “culture” both before and after. It just did not “dawn on me” these were temple images but that is their context. Paul is a Jew. And the Temple of God is of fundamental importance to him.


First, the “Backstory.” When God created the cosmos heaven and earth were together. The Creator “dwelled” with humanity in the garden. The Garden, indeed, the whole cosmos was God’s temple that the Creator filled with divine presence. The human responsible for guarding and maintaining the sacred space of the temple defiled it. The human was exiled from the Garden, the sacred space, the Temple where humanity and deity dwelled together.

Throughout biblical history the Creator God is carving out “space” within his vandalized creation to dwell among humanity. The temple is the central symbol of this dwelling, where God declares over and over and over Yahweh dwells in the center of creation in the temple on Mt. Zion. Passages like Leviticus 26.12 which explicitly echoes Genesis 2 “I will walk among you and be your God and you shall be my people,” are found throughout Paul’s Bible. The same theme is also stated in the language “I will be your God and you shall be my people.” (cf. Ex 6.7; 40.34-38; Dt 4.20; 7.6; 14.2; 26.16-19; 1 Kgs 8; Ezk 11.20; 14.11; 34.30; 36.28; 37.23-27; Hos 1.9-10; 2 Chron 6-7; etc. I place 2 Chronicles last because it is the last book of Paul’s Bible and sums up the whole Hebrew Bible in sort of an inspired commentary. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of the Temple in Chronicles).

King (of Israel)

Second. The King. The King is the representative of all the people and the people in a single person. When all of us in the first human vandalized creation leading to the shattering of the unity of heaven and earth, the King, as the representative of all of us, brings healing to God’s creation. So Paul uses temple imagery, we usually call it “sacrificial” but sacrifices are made in the temple. Through the blood of the King (Paul explicitly calls him a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” in 5.1 … temple stuff. The sacrifice of the one obedient and loyal human in the King of Israel was to do one thing according to Paul. The *PURPOSE* of the King was to “gather up all things in heaven and on earth in him” (1.10). Heaven and Earth are “fixed.” They are brought back together through the sacrifice. As humans polluted creation so the King’s sacrifice cleanses the “sanctuary” … aka God’s temple. The temple of creation is healed through the representative King, Jesus. The sacred space of the temple where humanity and deity dwelled together are brought together in the faithful Messiah/King of Israel, humanity and deity are yet again together in King Jesus.

Paul’s entire theology is in chapters 1-3 of Ephesians. He virtually identifies it as such. God has healed the cosmos through Israel’s King. He has been appointed to proclaim that victory.

New Humanity (Jews & Gentiles in Restored Israel)

Third. New Humanity. Notice how Paul begins to use “inheritance” language at this point. Because of the King who has brought heaven and earth back together we have an inheritance “in him.” That is the Messiah (again Messiah means King). This leads Paul into saying things like the King has been made ruler of all things and they have been placed under his feet (1.22f). This again is what Adam was created for in the first place. This is what Psalm 8 (a temple text in the Psalter) celebrates as the original intention for humanity. In the King we have been restored.

In chapter two of Ephesians, this healing of creation is applied directly to hostile human to human relations. That war humans have fought with each other, as Genesis 3 to 11 sadly narrates, is obliterated by the King. Gentiles were aliens from Israel. Israel, is sort of like the “universal” nation. Rather than exclusion from one another, through the sacrificial (temple work) of the Messiah/King, inclusion and shalom with one another reigns.

As the King is every person, so Israel is in a sense every nation. Or perhaps better the “first fruit” of the nations. But the division between Israel and the nations reflects that humanity is simply divided … like heaven and earth were divided. But now the aliens have been brought near and are now “joint citizens” of Israel itself. Because it was God’s purpose to create in the King (who holds heaven and earth together) one “new humanity out of the two” (2.15). If we say that Ephesians 1 records the healing of the ruptures in Genesis 3, then Ephesians 2 records the healing of the ruptures in the human race in Genesis 3-11.

Christ, the King of Israel, is our shalom offering (2.13-14). The Messiah of Israel is the faithful human or Adam. Paul immediately draws on another temple image, the dividing wall. This image is not so much from the Hebrew Scriptures as from the Herodian temple of which Paul frequents according to Acts. The physical three foot wall kept, symbolically, some of the human race away from the dwelling place of God. This barrier, with its dogmas carved into it, has been broken down. Now, through the work of Christ/King Jesus, the races are one just as heaven and earth are one. There is no division in the temple now.

Referred to by Paul in Ephesians 2.14-15, Josephus and the Mishnah the the temple “barrier” with its “regulations” written in both Greek and Latin warning Gentiles of dire consequences if they past this barrier with its “dogmas.” Paul is almost certainly referring to THIS and not God’s own law. This inscription was first recovered in 1871 and another found in 1936. Jesus broke it down.


Fourth, at this very moment, now that Paul has declared that Gentiles are now part of Israel, because the King has proclaimed shalom (pronouncing shalom is a priestly blessing throughout the Hebrew Bible from Numbers 6 to Isaiah 52 which Paul quotes directly to Ezekiel 37 where God establishes a “covenant of shalom” after raising Israel from the dead). Heaven-earth-one. Israel-Nations-one. Shalom is established.

in him [King Jesus] the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple … in whom all of yall are being put together through the Spirit as the dwelling place of God” (2.21-22).

Restored humanity dwells in the restored temple of God sharing direct “access” (access is another good tabernacle/temple image) to God because of the work of the King who healed heaven and earth and all that is in it. In the Garden there was no division between God and Human. In the Garden there was no division between male and female, white and black … and Paul clearly states that in God’s redeemed people there is no racial and gender division.

God’s sacred Presence, the very same Presence that filled the Garden of Eden and walked with humanity is restored in this age through the restored human race. As humanity was intended to “expand” the Garden so we are called to expand God’s temple in this fallen age. But the Future is in fact on display in God’s people. The dwelling Holy Spirit makes us every bit the sacred space that the Israelites beheld in Exodus 40. This is why in chapters 4-6, it seems to me, that Paul continues to apply temple imagery to the conduct of former Gentiles, who are now citizens of Israel. There are certain behaviors in the “house of God.”

We are now all priests (Israel was a nation of priests), we offer sacrifices through our lives, we offer praise through the Psalms (5.19, all stuff priests did in the temple), and above all shalom reigns in God’s Presence. The Spirit fills the temple with life and we bask in the presence of God the Creator who now lives with us through the Spirit … in anticipation when the whole world will yet again be literally God’s temple.

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