When evidence was brought against Jesus by his accusers, one of them said, “This man said, ‘I can destroy the temple of God and within three days rebuild it’” (Matthew 26:61, also Mark 14:58).
Their accusation was a distorted account of what Jesus actually said. When asked for a sign, Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The Jews, like his accusers, thought that Our Lord was referring to the Jerusalem temple (John 2:20), but John tells us that Jesus “…was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). Where did our Lord and St. John get this idea of referring to a body as a temple? It came from the Bible, of course.
In fact, the Bible connects several ideas together with the body and temple. For example, Scripture sometimes refers to the temple or the tent of the tabernacle as a “house.” Exodus 34:26 says that, “The choicest first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of the LORD, your God.” Likewise, 1 Kings 9:10 says “After the twenty years during which Solomon built the two houses, the temple of the LORD and the palace of the king …”
The temple is one of the two “houses” built by Solomon. Jesus likewise taps into this association when he says (quoting Isaiah 56:7) to the moneychangers in the temple, “‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46). The temple can be likened to a house and elsewhere a house can refer to a body.
A really interesting house/body/temple connection is found in Second Samuel. King David lived in a palace, a house of cedar, and he thought it wrong for God to dwell in a tent (i.e., the tabernacle) so he decided he would build a temple for God (2 Samuel 7:2). In response to David’s love for God, God said that it was not David who would build a house (temple), but that God would build a house for David: “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever’” (2 Samuel 7:16). “House” here refers to David’s bodily offspring, a royal dynasty. The temple is a house. David’s bodily offspring (dynasty) is a house as well.
The same Hebrew association can be found in the writings of Paul. For example, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:1, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” The “earthly tent” and “house” refers to our bodies. Likewise, Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). As you can see, Paul uses the words “tent,” “house,” “body,” and “temple” interchangeably.
For the sake of completeness, we should also add the Church to this list. The Church is the body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23, Colossians 1:18, 24). It is therefore also a house: The Church is the “household of God, the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) and we are “living stones” built into a “spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5). This “spiritual house” is also described as a temple, “…a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
As you can see, there is more behind John’s explanation of the temple referring to a body than first meets the eye. The next time you are reading Scripture and you see an association like this, dig a little deeper behind the meaning of the text. You might be surprised at what you’ll find.
Gary Michuta is an author, speaker and apologist and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.