Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Did Jesus Come to Establish a New Temple?

I know a new post in my long series on Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom is long overdue. Unfortunately, with the dissertation work and the wedding (only 10 more days!), blogging has had to take a backseat. Here I want to rip something out from a future post and start a discussion of it here as it will relate to some issues Brant and I want to discuss more in detail here on the blog in the near future.

Ultimately, the contents of this post will be part of a larger project, and I wish I had more time to set this up and give it a bit more polish (I have many more bibliographical references to include!), but here's a sneak peak for now... As G. K. Chesterton once said, "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."

The Charge Concerning the Temple Made At Jesus’ Trial (Matt 26:61)
As in Mark, Jesus’ claim to have authority over the temple is one of the major issues at his trial in Matthew's Gospel. Matthew tells us that two witnesses came forward, testifying that Jesus had made the claim, “I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days” (Matt 26:61). Again, as in Mark, those scoffing at the foot of the cross repeat the charge (Matt 27:40). Of course, he is also mocked for claiming to be a king (Matt 27:37-43). The reader catches the irony--Jesus is both the true King and the true temple builder.
However, unlike Mark, Matthew’s account of the trial carefully distinguishes the witnesses who make the temple charge from those who gave false testimony. Unlike Mark, who adds that they “bore false witness” (cf. Mark 14:57), Matthew makes no such comment. In addition, the Matthean account lacks Mark’s comment about their testimony, “Yet, not even so did their testimony agree” (Mark 14:59). Allison and Davies write, “We guess that Mark’s ‘false witness’ has been omitted not out of a desire to avoid redundancy because Matthew does indeed think the testimony is true: Jesus did say what they claim.”[1]
In fact, there are subtle differences between Jesus' words regarding the temple in Matthew and Mark that should be mentioned. First of all, Matthew omits Mark’s description of the temple “made by hands” (cf. Mark 14:58). Secondly, the reference to building “another” temple is absent from Matthew’s account. Finally, while Jesus is charged in Mark as saying ἐγὼ καταλύσω (“I will destroy,” cf. Mark 14:58), in Matthew he is simply accused of saying δύναμαι καταλῦσαι (“I am able to destroy,” cf. Matt 26:61).
Despite the differences, Matthew (like, I would argue elsewhere, Mark) may very well intend his readers to see Jesus as the true temple. As in Mark, the only other references to three-day predictions refer to Jesus' resurrection (Matt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19) and his claim to rebuild the temple (Matt 26:61; 27:38). Furthermore, Matthew’s version of the charge, δύναμαι καταλῦσαι (“I am able to destroy,” cf. Matt 26:61) may evoke Matthew 22, where Jesus speaks of the resurrection of the dead, denouncing the Sadducees for not knowing the δύναμιν τοῦ θεοῦ ("power of God") (22:29). Finally, it is important to note Matthew’s account of Jesus’ statement in reference to himself in chapter twelve: “something greater than the temple is here” (Matt 12:6). In Matthew, therefore, Jesus doesn’t speak of building another temple (cf. Mark 14:58) because it is the same temple that it destroyed and “rebuilt”--his body![2]
The Church as the New Temple
The charge made at the trial is not the only passage that seems to describe Jesus as a temple-builder in Matthew. Matthew seems to identify the community of faith, the Church, with the new Zion/temple. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus applies imagery evocative of Jerusalem to his disciples. Jesus explains, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid." Of course, Jerusalem was the city set on a hill--Zion. The language of being a "light" to the "world" evokes Isaiah's restoration prophecy concerning Zion:
“I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand
and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the
" (Isa 42:6).
Also, in Matthew 18:20, Jesus describes His presence as being among his disciples: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Since Jesus has already been identified as "God with us" (Matt 1:23), it would seem that here the community of believers, the Church, therefore, functions as the new temple. A similar theology may be found in the writings of Qumran community, which identified itself as a spiritual temple (cf. 1QS 5:-7; 4QFlor 1:2-7).
We have already considered the traditional link between the Davidic messiah and the rebuilding of the temple (see here and here). Matthew thus appears to link Jesus, the Messiah, with the original builder of the temple, Solomon. Thus, Jesus’ promise to build the Church on a rock (cf. Matt 16:17) seems to evoke the image of Solomon’s building of the temple: as the son of David, Solomon, built the temple, so too Christ, the true son of David, builds the Church. In fact, Jesus describes himself as “something greater than Solomon” (Matt 12:42).[3]
Moreover, the image of Jesus building the Church on a rock seems to call to mind a rabbinic tradition that the temple was built on a sacred rock.[1] In fact, shrines were often associated with sacred stones in literature from the ancient near East.[2] A famous example of this would be Jacob’s dream of a heavenly ladder in Genesis 28:10-22, in which Jacob builds holy shrine around a sacred stone, described as “…the house of God…the gate of heaven” (Gen 28:17). In Psalm 118, the “cornerstone” is also most likely associated with the building of the temple (Ps 118:3; see discussion above).
In connection with the sacred rock motif, the sanctuary was believed to be the center or “navel” of the world, in which both heaven and the watery place of the dead somehow converged:
“The sanctuary is not only the centre of the earth, it posses also an other characteristic of the navel, viz. that of being the place of communication with the upper and with the nether world, or on the one hand with heaven in general and with Paradise and the divine throne in particular—on the other hand with Tehom in general and with the realm of the dead and Hell in particular; in other words: in the sanctuary the three parts of the universe, earth, upper and nether world, meet.”[3]
Thus, for example, the fifteen steps of the temple were associated with the tehom.[4] Likewise, Psalm 29:10 and Psalm 93:2-4 link the Lord’s enthronement (over the ark in the temple?) with the flood waters.[5] Similarly, the passage in Isaiah cited above regarding the foundation stone is followed by the mention of flooding waters (cf. Isa 28:17). Many scholars have thus seen Matthew 16:17-19 in terms of this tradition.

In connection with this, we might also mention Matthew 7:24, where Jesus compares the righteous disciple to “a wise man who built his house upon a rock…” It is quite possible that the image of a man of wisdom building a house upon a rock would evoke the memory of the figure of Solomon, known both for his wisdom and for building the temple on a rock.[6] Understood against this backdrop, in promising to build the Church on a rock, Jesus may be indicating that he is like Solomon—a wise buider.[7] Thus, as the foundation stone was associated with the waters of the underworld, Jesus tells Peter, “…the gates of Hades shall not prevail against [the Church]” (Matt 16:28).
Given the presence of New Temple expectations within first-century Jewish expectations it is utterly stunning that in all of Jesus’ teachings in Matthew there is never a hint that a restored temple will be located within the city of Jerusalem. This is especially surprising since Matthew sprinkles his narrative with more traditional terms of Jewish piety such as describing Jerusalem as the “holy city” (Matt 4:5; 27:53) and the sanctuary of the temple as a “holy place” (24:15). Jesus himself describes the city as the “city of the Great King,” God’s “footstool” (Matt 5:35), thus recognizing its holiness. Even Matthew’s account of Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple is prefaced with a sympathetic picture of Jesus expressing his heartache over the city (cf. Matt 23:37).[8]

More to the point, Matthew re-orients eschatological expectations away from the earthly city and temple and onto the resurrected Jesus. This theological shift away from the earthly city is painted literarily by the evangelist who concludes his Gospel with Jesus appearing to the disciples on another mountain—not Zion, but a nondescript location in Galilee (cf. Matt 28:16).[9] The exact geographical region is irrelevant; the significance is not on the place but on the person of Jesus. The ingathering of “all nations” will indeed take place—not through an earthly restoration in earthly Zion but through the apostles’ ministry of baptism, through which the disciples will experience in the presence of Jesus, so that in being regathered to/in him, the restoration at the new temple is realized (Matt 28:19-20; 18:20).[10]
[1] See b. Yoma 54a; Lev. R. 20.4; Bet ha-Midr. 5.63; Nu. R. 12.4; B. Suk. 49a; 53ab; B. Mak. 11a; P. Sanh. 29a. For a full treatment see R. J. McKelvey, The New Temple: The Church in the New Testament (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 188-92; Ben F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus (London: SCM, 1979), 179-222; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Study of God 2; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 406-407, 499-500; Bernard P. Robinson, “Peter and His Successors: Tradition and Redaction in Matthew 16:17-19,” in JSNT 21 (1984): 101 n 26. Also see, Colin Brown, “The Gates of Hell: An Alternative Approach,” in Society of Biblical Literature Papers 1987 Papers, 357-67. Brown argues that locating this tradition in Matthew 16 is problematic due to the fact that virtually no clear references to this tradition are found until the rabbinic period. Respectfully disagreeing with Joachim Jeremias, who takes this view, Brown states that discerning such allusions appear to be the result of “… reading into the text a whole complex of ideas, some of which are drawn from later sources” (359). Brown’s hesitancy is understandable—certainly without the references in the later rabbinic sources, it would be practically impossible to claim such a tradition existed. Nonetheless, with sincere respect for Brown’s learning, it should be pointed out that while caution is certainly necessary when it comes to using such writings, one should not simply assume that distinctive beliefs found in them were simply invented out of thin air—something Brown would surely agree with. Here we hope to avoid the charge of reading too much into the text. First, we have demonstrated the clear reference to Jesus as one “greater than Solomon.” Secondly, it is hard to imagine that Matthew’s Jewish readers would not have found Solomonic echoes in Jesus’ description of the “wise” builder. Thirdly, we have demonstrated the presence of Davidic imagery in Matthew 16:16-19 (i.e., “son of God,” “messiah,” and “keys of the kingdom”). Fourthly, as we have already shown from our discussion of Matthew 18:20 [absent from this post, but i.e., the language of "binding and loosing" in Rabbinic literature], Matthew does in fact make use of traditions that are only explicitly developed in the rabbinic literature. It hardly seems a stretch, given the clear presence of a tradition linking the foundation of the temple with a rock in the rabbinic period, to imagine that yet one more image in Matthew 16, namely the “rock” the Church itself is built on, was not also part of the complex of images employed there. In fact, asserting that Jesus was combining a totally separate image, such as the foundation of a pagan temple, seems to require an even greater stretch— i.e., would Jesus really compare the Church to a temple dedicated to a pagan god? See Wright who combines Brown’s views with Meyer’s cosmic stone interpretation. N. T. Wright, “Jerusalem in the New Testament,” in Jerusalem, Past and Present in the Purposes of God (P.W.L. Walker, ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 57.
[2] See A. J. Wensinck, The Ideas of the Western Semites Concerning the Navel of the Earth (Amsterdam: Johannes Muller, 1916); Luis I. J. Stadelmann, The Hebrew Conception of the World (Rome: Biblical Institute, 1970), 147-54.
[3] Wensinck, The Ideas of Western Semites, 23; also see, Thomas Fawcett, Hebrew Myth and Christian Gospel (London: SCM Press, 1973), 195-6. Also see, John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (vol. 3 of The Roots of the Problem and Person; ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 2001) 3:230; Joachim Gnilka, ‘Tu es, Petrus.’ Die Pterus-Verheissung in Mt 16, 17-19,” in MTZ 38 (1987): 3-17; Philip Alexander, “Jerusalem as the Omphalos of the World: On the History of a Geographical Concept” in Judaism 46 (1997):147-58. In association with this it is important to point out that temples themselves were seen as points of intersection between heaven, the underwold and earth.
[4] B. Suk. 53a; B. Mak. 11a; P. Sanh. 29a; P. Yoma 42c; Wensink, The Ideas of Western Semites, 22-3; McKelvey, The New Temple, 190;
[5] Thomas Fawcett, Hebrew Myth, 195.
[6] For a further discussion see W. D. Davies, The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish Territorial Doctrine (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), 8-14. The bibliographical data in Davies’ footnotes here are especially helpful.
[7] Very early we find that Matt 7:24 and Matt 16:17 were linked together with Jesus’ promise to rebuild a temple “not made with hands” (Mark 14:58). Ignatius of Antioch writes in the introduction to his letter to the Philadelphians that Jesus, “… has firmly established His Church upon a rock, by a spiritual building, not made with hands, against which the winds and the floods have beaten, yet have not been able to overthrow.” Moreover, Matthew 16:17-18 is laced with a number of Davidic images. Peter’s description of Jesus as “the Son of God” clearly evokes Davidic imagery (cf. 2 Sam 7:17; 1 Chr 17:13, 1 Chr 28:6; Ps 2:7; 89:26). See John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (ABRL; New York, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1995), 163; Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew (London: William Collins Sons & Co., 1973), 194-5. Jesus’ role as the “anointed one,” the “Christ,” is also a reference to Davidic themes, since the term was a commonly used as a title for Davidic kings, cf. 2 Sam 19:21, 22:51; 23:1; 2 Chr 6:42; Pss 2:2; 18:50; 20:6; 28:8; 84:9; 89:38, 51; 132:10, 17. Also see Fredricksen, Jesus of Nazareth, 124. Jesus’ promise to Peter includes language taken from the oracle concerning the Davidic Prime Minister in Isaiah 22:22: the keys; the language of binding and loosing is reminiscent of the promise made, “he shall open and none shall shut, he shall shut and none shall open”; the weight of the house is placed upon the Minister as the Church is built upon Peter.
[8] Luke separates this logion from Jesus’ condemnation of the temple (cf. Luke 13:34). The only possible hint of such a future restoration is found in Matthew 23:39 (“I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”). That this verse refers to a future earthly restoration is, to put it mildly, highly unlikely. Instead it probably refers to Jesus future coming in judgment. In Luke it is clearly a reference to Jesus’ triumphal entry. John P. Meier, The Vision of Matthew (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), 166; Ben Meyer, Five Speeches that Changed the World (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1994), 102; Davies and Allison, Matthew 19-28, 323; De Young writes, “There is in this passage no expression of the thought that this judgment on the Temple, and hence on Jerusalem as the religious centre of God’s people, will ever be reversed; that God will ever return to this Temple in Jerusalem and once again make it the place where he exercises his redemptive revelational relation with his people.” De Young, Jerusalem in the New Testament, 89.
[9] Indeed, the theme of mountains is prevalent throughout Matthew’s gospel. The background for this imagery is no doubt due in part to Sinai traditions. A number of have scholars have noted that this motif seems to relativize Zion’s status. See Terence L. Donaldson, Jesus on the Mountain: A Study in Matthean Theology (JSNTSS 8; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985), 187-188101-2; 180-8.
[10] N. T. Wright, “Jerusalem in the New Testament,” in Jerusalem in the New Testament, 56-64.


Leroy and Kari said...

Great post -- but here's a question. What do you do with the fact that in Matt 12.6 meizon is neuter? It seems to suggest that it is "mercy" which is greater than "sacrifice," not that Jesus is greater than the Temple (12.7). Shouldn't meizon be masculine for your reading to work?

I want your reading to work, given my dissertation topic -- Jesus as New Isaac in Matthew. Since the Aqedah in Judaism was the foundation of Temple sacrifice, I think it makes a lot of sense to see Matthew's Jesus as a new Temple, but I'm having issues working through Matt 12.1-8. Ideas?

Stuart said...

MAGNIFICENT! I really can't wait for whatever book all this will eventually feed into: you and Brant are really two blokes tapped into a rich vein of scholarly insight!

Oh, and, on another note, all my best wishes and prayers for the wedding: may you twow be truly blessed as Joachim and Anne, and taste something of the intended delights of wedded bliss for humanity unfallen in Eden.

Jack Said said...

I had written down my thoughts on John 14:2-3, where I believe Jesus was speaking of his own resurrection and the consequence dynamics in the lives of the disciples when he said, "i am going to the Father's house to prepare a place..".

The "lil temples" will be the foreshadow of the ultimate goal where god's glory filling the earth, i.e. instead of the temple in jerusalem, the whole world will be god's temple

appreciate your comments.