Tag Archives: New Testament

Pentecost_mosaic cred Pete Unseth

Christ’s Body Is the Temple

There is only one verse in the New Testament that teaches specifically that a believer’s physical body is a temple:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? (1 Cor. 6:19)

But it seems like believers today have removed this verse totally from its immediate context, its greater context, and from the many similar verses that clarify the full meaning of this truth. Let’s take a look.

A Variety of Passages

Now, there are at least seven passages in the New Testament that compare believers themselves to a temple or building, but we commonly only hear that our bodies are temples. In fact Paul is emphasizing different things in different passages, but we’ll note some patterns that bring them together.

You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Cor. 3:9)

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Cor. 3:16-17)

 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them ...” (2 Cor. 6:16, q. Ezek. 37:27)

You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are … members of the household of God … Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure … grows into a holy temple in the Lord … (Eph. 2:19-21)

The main thing you should notice is that Paul is talking about the entire, invisible Church as God’s temple in the New Covenant—not the individual believer, or the physical church—and that none of these verses are talking directly about physical health.

Health Is Never Mentioned—Sexual Purity Is

In none of these verses does Paul mention working out. 1 Corinthians 6:19, so often trotted out in that sense, is actually about avoiding sexual immorality by keeping away from sexual immorality and prostitutes, which are still so common in many of the world’s cities.

Prostitutes were kept in pagan shrines, and money from sex funded the work of these temples. Shrine prostitutes are mentioned many times in the Old Testament. So it makes sense for Paul to say to them, you shouldn’t be going to the shrine of a pagan god for sex, when you yourself are the shrine of the one, true living God.

Indirectly, you can of course say that a miniature “temple” demands respect and care. I’m not saying that health isn’t important, or that Christ’s workers shouldn’t live long, healthy lives. That may be true and implied, but it’s simply not directly what this verse is saying. If anything, rather than teaching on working out, we should teach from this verse against pornography and its vital role in maintaining the wicked global sex trade. Any believer that supports this sins against much more than his own body.

I Am Not God’s Temple—We Are

The subject is plural in every case except for 1 Corinthians 6:19. So Paul teaches that we are God’s dwelling place much more often than he teaches that our individual bodies are. (The singular/plural distinction was clear in the early modern English of the King James: “Ye/you/your” was plural, while “thou/thee/thine” was singular.)

Paul used the singular just once, to emphasize the sense of personal responsibility, and the personal defilement that comes from misusing your body sexually. But in most of the New Testament he teaches not that God dwells in me, but that God dwells in us.

When Paul compares the body to a temple, he is taking a cue from Jesus, who compared his body to a temple. Now, in the same passage where he says that “your body is a temple,” he uses the word “body” to mean Christ’s body:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! (1 Cor. 6:15)

So each of us is only one part of the picture. Even the most commonly quoted verses on Christ’s indwelling, like Colossians 1:27, where he says that “Christ in you” is “the hope of glory,” are plural, and being addressed to a group. “The Holy Spirit dwells in us” (2 Tim. 1:14). “He put his Spirit in the midst of them” (Isa. 63:11).

We Are Not a Religious Building—We Are a Sanctuary

The word used for temple in these verses is slightly more specific than ‘temple’; it is the sanctuary of the temple. Richard Trench points out that the distinction is well maintained in New Testament Greek. Whenever Jesus is teaching “in the temple,” we are to understand that he is in the courts of the temple; whenever Zechariah goes into the temple and has a vision, we can understand that he was in the sanctuary, the Holy Place.

Every verse that compares believers to a temple uses the word for sanctuary. The implication is not that it is a grand, important building, consecrated to a religious purpose, but that it is a sacred place, consecrated to God, whatever else it may be.

The teaching that says that our physical well-being honors the indwelling Christ, may be true in some sense. But is this to say that people with lifelong illnesses are dishonoring Christ? That is not what the Bible teaches, and we dishonor the sick when we try to create a karmic link between health and spirituality. There is no mystic link between physical fitness and spiritual fitness.

A Church Is Not God’s House—The Church Is

Another misunderstanding about God’s dwelling is the still-frequent usage of the phrase “house of God” for a church building. This phrase, when used in this way, is essentially a vestige of Judaism, or a holdover from heathenism. It is not the language of the New Testament. Paul and Peter both teach that the church itself—that is, believers—are the house, or family, of God.

If I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in [or among] the household of God, which is the church of the living God … (1 Tim. 3:15)

Some versions say “house of God” in 1 Timothy 3:15, but only a medieval interpretation of the Bible would say that Paul was referring to a physical church.

We are his house. (Heb. 3:6)

You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house … (1 Pet. 2:5)

The word for house also means household. In the time when Paul wrote this, when most churches were still meeting in houses under threat of persecution, Paul could not have conceivably taught that a church building is God’s dwelling place. He taught something much more shocking—he taught that we are.

Conclusion

When Jesus said that the Comforter was with the disciples, but would be in them, he was teaching the fulfillment of multiple prophecies given over hundreds of years. He was teaching that Moses’ wish, that all God’s people could prophesy, was one step closer to fulfillment. He was teaching the end of the Old Covenant—in which God dwelled in limited believers and limited places—and the beginning of a new economy of grace, in which God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh.

That pouring out began on the Day of Pentecost, a Jewish celebration centered around the assembly of men at the temple. But now this outpouring has broken the bounds of upbringing, ethnicity, gender, age, and nation. It is not limited to any physical church or temple, but has entered the hearts of a manifold spiritual assembly, “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:23). This assembly now gathers to no physical meeting place, but under the spiritual banner of the slain Lamb.

Each person who is part of this assembly is like a single stone of a sacred building, or a single cell of Christ’s body, which he said was the temple. Each cell contains the DNA blueprint that represents the whole, which is why we can point a finger at a fellow believer and say, “You yourself are God’s dwelling place.” But it would be far better to imagine every believer from Pentecost onwards, from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and say together, “We are God’s dwelling place.”

Your body may be a temple. But Christ’s body is the temple.

Mosaic credit: Pete Unseth
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The Color of the King

The language of color, the blood of Jesus, and why we argue about what pink is.

“Is that bag pink?”
“No, it’s red.”
“It looks pink to me.”
“I hope it’s not pink.”

My friend and I went on to discuss how we had problems identifying certain colors. One of us may have a mild color blindness, which is common in men. But the more likely culprit is a concept called linguistic relativity.

Language is based on convention, but colors usually have loosely defined conventions. Put another way, any given color is actually a range of specific pigments, which explains why we can disagree: in each person’s brain, those ranges are slightly different, whether or not they are color blind. This is why we can argue about whether something is pink or not.

Translating Colors

Color words are also difficult to translate. Some languages in New Guinea have no colors—only words for “dark” and “light”—while the Hanuno’o Language of the Philippines only has four colors (or color groupings): black, white, red, and green. Even European languages use almost identical words for different colors!

The French color pourpre is much closer to crimson:

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The German color purpur is shown in this logo:

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If you search Wikipedia for the modern Greek color porphyro, from which the other words come, the site redirects to kokkino, which is their word for red!

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So translating color words is fishy business. And any two people can tell the same story accurately but describe the colors they saw differently. This partially explains why the gospels disagree about the royal color that Jesus’ torturers gave him before his execution:

They stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. (Matt. 27:28)
They clothed him with purple. (Mark 15:17)
They unclothed him from purple … (Mark 15:20)
They put on him a purple robe … (John 19:2)
Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. (John 19:5)

Why Four Gospels?

When it comes to the gospels—especially the accounts of the Resurrection—many inconsistencies are solved by one simple principle: If the stories were exactly the same between the four Gospels, it would imply collusion, just as it would in a court case. However, the stories could also be so different as to be irreconcilable. Instead, they share the most important narrative elements but vary when it comes to the non-essentials. This alleged argument against the Gospels shows that the four writers used different firsthand sources, inasmuch as they differ. Yet the picture they paint of Jesus as a person, the attitudes he represents, the places he went, the phrases he used, is consistent.

Why Two Colors?

In modern Greek these two words (κόκκινο and πορφυρό) are actually synonyms (as mentioned above), and they may have been near-synonyms in ancient Greek. But even if they differed at the time, varying testimonies could improve the accuracy: the color Jesus wore during his humiliation was purplish crimson. Since colors are relative, the Gospel sources disagreed slightly on what the royal color was—and yet they all told the truth! John pairs the same two colors, purple and scarlet, multiple times in the Book of the Revelation, and says that the prostitute of Babylon wore them both.

The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour … (Rev. 17:4)

John may have paired the two colors to get as close as possible to the actual color, as we do when we say reddish orange or bluish green.

Hast Thou Purpled?

Lastly, the meaning of purple in English has changed dramatically since English Bible translation began. (Not to mention, it was also used as a verb!) Translating Matthew in the 1520s, William Tyndale rendered our Greek word for scarlet as purple, apparently showing he saw no discrepancy at all between the colors in Greek. Perhaps more importantly, John Donne, a poet contemporary with King James, saw no discrepancy between crimson and purple in English:

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?

The color of blood was, at that time in England, within the range of hues recognized as purple. The Oxford Dictionary even says that the word “purple” comes “from Greek porphura, denoting molluscs that yielded a crimson dye”—again, equating the color, both in English and ancient Greek, with crimson.

What Is the Royal Color?

Linguistic evidence provides many interesting reasons that the two colors are not inconsistent. But I think the most interesting point of all is what Jesus actually wore. It could not have been a pansy violet color as some suppose, but, according to the combined testimony of the Gospel writers, was undoubtably much closer to the color of blood. The color of the King is not a color of florid gentleness, but the color of a royal sacrifice.

He was not just killed, but rejected, tortured, humiliated, and murdered. But the crimson garment they mocked him with became in their hands the clothing of Christ with a greater destiny: He would see the travail of his soul and be satisfied.

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9, ESV)

Proclaiming the Secret

Is the Gospel a ‘Mystery’?

When discussing the greatness of God’s nature and infinitude, there is a temptation that overtakes a Christian. It is the temptation to appeal to mystery as an excuse for having no thoughts about God. We have all done it, I think. We are both humble and healthy to say often, “I don’t know.” But that’s a different thing entirely from saying “I can’t know.” In many cases, we end discussion by erecting a wall of ignorance out of William Cowper’s misquoted phrase: “God moves in a mysterious way.” We forget that the hymn that begins with God’s majestic transcendence ends in God’s self-revelation:

God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Of course, I am too quick to judge. We are not always wrong to quote Cowper about “mysterious ways”, depending on the subject matter. If we are discussing omnipresence, the discussion is bound to cross the path of the Psalmist: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” Here the word “cannot” is important; it expresses God’s final and inviolable transcendence. This is what is meant by Christian mysticism in its best sense, in the sense A. W. Tozer used it: we can know God as we know a friend, but we cannot comprehend him with fullness and finality. We do not yet know him as we know ourselves. As Tozer said, the moment that we understand our God fully, is the moment we have created an idol. Paul said, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

But God forbid we replace Paul’s “I know in part” with “I don’t know at all.” Some Christians have draped God’s incomprehensibility over the whole of their theology, fearing or neglecting to opine about the Friend we should know so well. And yet another day we may sing of walking with him in the cool of the day. Why?

One culprit is a misunderstanding of the biblical sense of mystery. As William Cowper and biblical David knew, mystery should lead us not into ignorance, but into worship. Mystery shows us our finiteness. But Paul uses the Greek word musterion, from which the English word comes, in quite a different sense than we do.

The revelation of the mystery … was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed … (Rom 16:25-26)

This begs the question, how a mystery, which to us means the unknowable, can be both revealed and disclosed. A quick look at the New Testament usage of this word will, I think, show us secret is much closer to what Paul usually meant, and judging by his letters, many of God’s secrets are made to be revealed in due time.

What Paul Meant by ‘Mystery’ (Gk. musterion)

The word mystery (Gk. musterion) is used 27 times in the New Testament, mostly by Paul. The word ‘mystery’ denotes grand themes such as the Church, the Gospel, the Incarnation, the Body of Christ, the Resurrection, or Christ himself. I’ve divided these passages into four lists to show four ways the word mystery is used in the New Testament.

1. As you’ll see in the first list, mystery is primarily used in the New Testament to mean, not something that’s now unknowable, but something that was once unknown. Usually Paul means the Gospel itself, which is known to Christians but which an unspiritual person “is not able to understand” (1 Cor 2:14). Paul sometimes speaks of a mystery as being kept secret but more often, he speaks of them being made known, as he does in the passage quoted above. So a better understanding of the word mystery, for Paul at least, is a secret—something that was unknown or unknowable until God revealed it to us in Christ.

2. Another common theme for Paul is “declaring the mystery” of the Gospel. Again, a gospel that cannot be understood by the Christian cannot be proclaimed to anyone else. Paul asks his readers to pray for him, that God would open a door for him to “declare the mystery of Christ” (Col 4:3). (See List 2.)

3. As I said, Christ is the greatest secret that God ever revealed to Paul. But there are a few other concepts that he calls mysteries, seen in List 3. Every concept that Paul identifies as a mystery is more fully revealed in Christ’s New Covenant than it ever was in the Old Covenant. Although Paul uses words like “unsearchable” and “inscrutable” to describe God’s transcending wisdom and knowledge (Rom 11:32-36), he never uses the word mystery in this way.

4. Finally, John uses the word “mystery” in Revelation for prophetic symbols which were not understood by John at the time that he first saw them. (You could also argue that Paul uses this meaning in Eph 5:32 for Christ and the church.) In both of John’s cases, his heavenly guide had to reveal the meaning of those symbols to him, effectively putting an end to the “mystery” of each symbol.

In the final analysis, none of Paul’s usages of this word lead us into God’s incomprehensibility—for that we have to look elsewhere. But he does show us something else about God; though he kept a big Secret from humanity all the way from Adam to Mary, it was only hidden that the dull human heart might not read it unprepared, and miss the meaning entirely. God is always ready to offer a Word, but we are rarely ready to receive it. For this reason we complain that so little-s secrets pass us by. But for those of us who have met Christ, the capital Secret has been written, as Lewis says, in small letters that our eyes might understand. It was kept so well, that angels desired to look into it—but it was, in fact, a Secret made to be broken.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father … that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. (Eph 3:14,17-19)


1. God Made Known the Secret of the Gospel

And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven …”
Mt 13:11 (cf. Mark 4:11, Luke 8:10)

The revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations
Rom 16:25-26

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge
1 Cor 13:2

making known to us the mystery of his will … which he set forth in Christ …
Eph 1:9

… the mystery was made known to me by revelation …
Eph 3:3

When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. [This mystery is] that the Gentiles are fellow heirs …
Eph 3:4-6

To me … this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God … so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rules and authorities in the heavenly places.
Eph 3:8-10

… the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make knownhow great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim
Col 1:25-28

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea … that their hearts may be encouraged … to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdomand knowledge.
Col 2:1-3

They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
1 Tim 3:9

And the angel … swore by him who lives forever … that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.
Rev 10:7

2. We Declare the Secret of the Gospel

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age … But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.
1 Cor 2:6-7

… servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
1 Cor 4:1

For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God … he uttersmysteries in the Spirit.
1 Cor 14:2

… making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mysteryof the gospel … that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Eph 6:18-20

At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ …
Col 4:3

3. Other Secrets

a. The hardening of the Jews

I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery
Rom 11:25

b. The Resurrection

I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.
1 Cor 15:51

c. Christ and the Church

This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Eph 5:32

d. End-time lawlessness

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.
2 Thess 2:7

e. The Incarnation of Christ

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
1 Tim 3:16

4. Symbols

As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand … the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches …
Rev 1:20

And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great…”
Rev 17:5

But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman … the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”
Rev 17:7, 18