As I continue to meander through the world of second-temple Judaism, I’m struck again and again by the temple, which was just ridiculously important in 2TJ, on a cultural, theological, religious, spiritual, ethnic, and every other kind of level. It was simply essential.
The temple is often referred to in modern times when explaining why someone shouldn’t partake of a vice (say, drinking, dressing immodestly, tattoos, what have you). ‘Your body is a temple to the Lord’, says Paul (some translations say sanctuary, but most seem to say temple). This is, as far as I can tell when it’s being used in the above sense, taken to mean this: the temple was a really expensive, nice building that belonged to God that you wouldn’t want to deface. Your body is a temple, so don’t do any of those vices. I don’t really think that’s a caricature, honestly.
Now, the temple was far more than a nice building, though it was indeed a very nice building. The temple was where heaven and earth met, and where God dwelled. The glory of the Lord, with all its smoke, fire, power, presence, peace and magnificence, was in the temple. People died in the temple. People died for the temple. People made it a point to destroy the temple when they took over Jerusalem. Jesus went nuts when people ran rackets inside the temple. God’s glory left the temple, and the Prophets predicted its return, and Israel lamented when it didn’t return. The temple was it.
When Paul says that the body is a temple, all that is in his head, Paul being a Jew. He wasn’t simply saying, hey, your body is a nice piece of God’s workmanship, don’t scratch the paint (though no doubt that probably a decent thing to go ahead and practice). He was saying, your body is where the glory of the Lord is. Your body is where the presence, glory, power, radiance and magnificence of God is through the Holy Spirit. Your body is where heaven and earth meet, and where people can look and see something of the glory of God (let’s be a little naive and ignore any inklings of dualism or mind/body stuff here). I all too often fall quite short of being that which radiates the glory of God.
My point here isn’t to engage in the debate over what vice a Christian should/shouldn’t do. My point is to, for myself more than anyone, really appreciate what the temple imagery means when its used in relation to the body in the New Testament.