Temples, Heresies, and Poor Hermeneutics: Moving from the Temple of God to God as the Temple

By David Brown

And Jesus said to them destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. (John 2:19)

One of the great tragedies in the modern evangelical church is the lack of doctrinal teaching coming from the pulpit. This unfortunate fact has been documented repeatedly over the last several decades (1) and this dilemma continues to have a devastating effect upon evangelical congregations. In many cases the ministers themselves have failed to grasp key hermeneutical principles that deal with Jesus and New Testament fulfillment. If pastors are unwilling to dig deeper into theological studies, how can we ask or expect the congregations to do so? As a result, evangelical churches have become progressively ignorant in how to interpret the Bible and in how to apply its teachings into our lives. It is heart wrenching.

As an example of what I have been writing about over the last several years, let me present a classic problem by one of the most well known evangelical pastors. In a 2015 sermon series called “Brand: New” Andy Stanley described Jesus’ ministry as not only something entirely new, but also an approach that completely eliminated Old Testament practices. In the introduction to a sermon outline Stanley wrote:

Jesus stepped into a world where religion was characterized by the temple model: sacred places that housed sacred text that were interpreted by sacred men who used those texts to control superstitious people. Jesus initiated something entirely new, a complete departure from the temple model. But soon enough some of his followers began to assimilate Jesus into the temple model.(2)

This outline is plagued with so many problems it’s difficult to decide where to begin. First, Stanley is wrong in advocating that Jesus’ ministry approach was something entirely new.(3) It was not. In fact, not only did it fulfill Old Testament prophecies, but also Jesus’ ministry continued a typological pattern that began in the Old Testament.

So what is a typological pattern? An example of typological patterns can be seen in Jesus’ sacrificial death. In dying on the cross He became the perfect sacrifice that the
temporary animal sacrificial system of Judaism only pointed to.(4) The typological pattern Stanley failed to recognize in this outline was that Jesus did not eliminate the temple system used in the Old Testament, but rather He became the new and better temple in the New Testament. Fulfillment, replacement, but not elimination.

There are four passages in John’s Gospel that indicate that Jesus is the replacement for the Old Testament temple.(5) Most of these passages deal with shared words that were used to describe the temple/tabernacle that are applied to Jesus in John’s Gospel. Because of space limitation let’s just focus on one of the more obvious passages. In John 2:19, Jesus tells the Jews “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” They think Jesus is talking about the temple building, claiming it took forty-six years to build, but in verse twenty-one John teaches that Jesus was talking about the temple of His body. Jesus was claiming to be the new and better temple. So, the temple system of the Old Testament was not done away with as Stanley suggested, it was replaced, fulfilled by a new and better temple, namely Jesus. As a result, Jesus becomes the new locus of worship in the New Testament. To stand in the presence of God, to worship, to pray we do not go to the temple building in Jerusalem, we come to the new temple who is Jesus Christ. He is the temple of God (skenoo). Praise God the temple still exists!

The second problem Stanley created with his muddled theology was the concept that nothing of value could be taken from the Old Testament and applied into modern times or even worse that if we take any concepts from the Old Testament we do so at the expense of love. Stanley wrote:

We’re all tempted to connect with God based upon the temple model. It seems easier, more clearly defined. But Jesus gave us a better way-a way characterized by love. If we drag even a bit of the old into the new, the old will win out. We will have sacred places ruled by sacred men who interpret sacred texts to control superstitious people. But we won’t have love.(6)

Ichabod! To suggest that love was sacrificed in the Old Testament, or the temple setting is simply a fatally flawed argument. In fact, meditation upon God’s word was done primarily out of love and respect for Yahweh and obedience to His illuminating instructions. For example in Psalm 19 the psalmist uses the metaphor of the sun to graphically describe the illumination of God’s word (Torah) and its effect upon humanity. The main thrust of this psalm is that just as the sun illuminates the heavens so God’s word (Torah) illuminates mankind! Ironically, many of the Psalms are based upon the temple setting and the OT sacred texts that Stanley rails against. God’s love for mankind did not begin in the first century. The history of God’s love was experienced and recorded for thousands of years in the Old Testament.

Finally, Stanley failed to grasp basic concepts of the progressive revelation the New Testament provides believers in understanding the Old Testament. Jesus’ emergence did not bring entirely new concepts to ministry, but rather further revealed the works of the Father and of His love for humanity.

So what’s the answer to muddled theology and heretical teachings? The great tragedy in the evangelical church stems from a lack of orthodox training of the congregation and often times this lack of doctrinal teaching comes directly from the pulpit. More than anyone the pastor must be an intentional, avid Bible student and this theological diligence does not end with seminary graduation. True growth must include knowledge and understanding of the Bible not just Sunday morning attendance. Pastors and congregants alike, must push themselves into a deeper understanding God’s word and theological concepts. The fruit that we bear, rather than the pews that we fill on Sunday morning, will be the true measure of our success. To Him we must give our all.


 

1 David Wells, No Place for Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993). See also Mark A. Knoll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994).

2 Sermon Outline from North Point Ministries website from the sermon series entitled “Brand: New” 2015.

3 Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, vol. 1 (New York: Harper One Publishing, 1984), 7-13. Early Christian believers did not see Christianity as a new and unique religion but rather as fulfillment to the prophesies of Judaism.

4 Paul Hoskins, Jesus as the Fulfillment of the Temple in the Gospel of John (Waynesboro: Paternoster Press, 2006).

5 The four passages in John’s Gospel that describe Jesus as the replacement for the temple are 1:14, 1:51, 2:18-22, and 4:20-24.

6 Sermon Outline from North Point Ministries website from the sermon series entitled “Brand: New” 2015.


 

Dr. David Brown has served as a Pastor in Mississippi and Louisiana. You can follow him on Twitter @davidbdwb

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