Friday, December 4, 2009

A Tale of Two Temples

We are continuing on in the Gospel of John. As it is recorded, immediately after a wedding party where Jesus turns water into the best wine ever, He headed to Jerusalem for Passover.

Upon finding merchants and moneychangers in the Temple there, Jesus runs them out of Temple with a self-made whip. (Of course, this is not to be confused with the other time that Jesus purged the Temple, but that's a story for another time.)

A Tale of Two Temples
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. What better fitting words could describe the story in the Gospels? Jesus was soon going to enable God's grace, but that would come with a price of His innocent suffering and death.

Prior to that big event in the storyline, Jesus would make a some trips through Jerusalem unscathed. In His first recorded visit as an adult, Jesus purges the Temple of merchants and moneychangers. During the purging, Jesus yells at the dove-selling merchants about the audacity they had in turning His “Father's house” into a marketplace (John 2:16). We will examine the aftermath of this purging in John 2:18-22.

As you may imagine, the Jewish merchants were a little upset. They question Jesus, asking Him what miracles He would perform to prove that He had the authority to run people out of the Temple (John.2:18). Notice that this call for miracles implies that the Jews understood that when Jesus said that the Temple was His Father's house, He meant that He was the son of God.

Jesus replies “Destroy this Temple” and raise it in three days (John 2:19). It's not entirely clear who is to destroy the Temple, but it is clear in a later verse that by “Temple” Jesus meant His body (John 2:21). Furthermore, nobody understood that He meant the Temple of His body as opposed to the Temple of Jerusalem until after His resurrection (John 2:22). Finally, note that Jesus was going to raise “it,” with the implied meaning that the same thing which was destroyed would be raised again; Jesus' body.

The actual Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed as well! As we find much later in the storyline, after Jesus' final entry into Jerusalem but before the crucifixion, Jesus prophesied that the actual Temple would be destroyed per Matthew 24:1-2, Mark 13:1-2, and Luke 21:5-6. The Temple was indeed destroyed in 70 CE; ossifying the faith of believers as being an accurate prophesy while simultaneously providing circumstantial evidence to skeptics that the final versions of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written after the Temple's destruction. Note that there was no prophesy of rebuilding this Temple.

Things are a little too clear right now, so let us muddy the water in classic Biblical style by looking at some more Temple references. When Jesus is put on trial, Matthew 26:60-61 reported that people gave true (or at least agreeing) testimony claiming that Jesus said that He would destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days. Of course this could be easily aligned with John's Gospel. Meanwhile, as Mark 14:57-59 renders the same scenario, people gave false testimony that Jesus said that He would destroy the man-made Temple and build another in three days which was not built by man. (By the way, this accusation episode is skipped by both Luke and John.)

Beyond Mark 14:59's statement that their testimony did not agree, it is not clear what makes this “false” testimony. In fact, Mark's version is aligned with modern Christian theology, in that Jesus destroyed the old Temple system of worship and rebuilt it upon His resurrection as the church; a theology echoed in Paul's 1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 6:19, and 2 Corinthians 6:16, and further explained in Paul's Ephesians 2:19-21.

John gets the last word in the Temple debate. Speaking of the New Jerusalem which would descend from the New Heaven, in Revelation 21:22 he says:
“I did not see a Temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its Temple.” NIV
In that sense, Jesus (and God, which would seem redundant) is the Temple, which aligns with John's Gospel and suggests that the concept of the church being the Temple is not quite accurate.

So what does all of this mean? There's no strong conclusion to be drawn in this study without taking the unsavory approach of hyper-literal interpretation. Words can have multiple meanings, so all of the senses of “Temple” could be resolved.

However, what I suspect is that this conglomeration of Temple references has captured the fluent and dynamic nature of the early myths and theologies which evolved in the birth of Christianity. With a bit of wild speculation...

The Temple would be metaphorically destroyed by Christianity so that worshipers would instead be devoted to church groups, with the three day rebuild always meaning the resurrection of Jesus and inherent birth of the church.

Yet the significance of the Temple could not be easily erased from Jewish culture, so the concept of the body as the Temple could have been invented, making the Temple a metaphor for a spiritually clean place of worship, with the bodies now cleaned spiritually through Jesus. Perhaps the author of John's Gospel saw the persistence of sins in the new Christians, and so put a spin on the Temple destruction and rebuilding as only Jesus' body instead of the church.

Then the actual Temple was destroyed, so it seemed appropriate to make the metaphorical destruction a literal destruction prophesy as well. (Perhaps due to geographic isolation, administrative difficulties, or theological philosophy, John's Gospel somehow escapes this revision, having no verses prophesying a destruction of the actual Temple.) A few more revisions later, and we have the Gospels as they are now.

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