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by Al Maxey

Issue #839 -- January 29, 2022
We do not need to uplift our hands towards heaven,
or to beg the keeper of a temple to let us approach his
idol's ear, as if in this way our prayers were more likely to
be heard. God is near you, He is with you, He is within you.

Seneca the Younger [5 B.C. - 65 A.D.]

Sacred Sanctuary of Our God
Discerning the Naos - Hieron Distinction

George Fox (1624-1691) was an English dissenter who rebelled against the authorities, both religious and political, of his day. Leaving the Puritan faith of his parents, he became an itinerant preacher who proposed a much different, more personal, approach to God. Although often persecuted by those who differed with his theology, he nevertheless persisted in the sharing of his convictions with the public, and he eventually won the approval of such men as William Penn and Oliver Cromwell. In time, George Fox founded the Religious Society of Friends, which is more commonly known to us as the Quakers. One of the defining beliefs of this group is known as the "Inner Light," which is a term Quakers use to describe the theological belief that the very presence of God resides inside of every person. It is an indwelling that is personal and transformative. In an entry to his journal dated 1646, Fox wrote, "The Lord showed me, so that I did see clearly, that He did not dwell in these temples which men had commanded and set up, but in people's hearts. His people were His temple, and He dwelt in them."

Although I am certainly not a subscriber to many of the beliefs and practices of the Quakers, I nevertheless believe that George Fox was absolutely correct in his conviction that the habitation of God is not within the temples (cathedrals, church buildings) men build to house Him. Rather, God dwells within the "temple" of the heart of those who love Him. Stephen, the first martyr of the Faith, at the end of his powerful defense, declared, "The Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands" (Acts 7:48). Needless to say, this greatly upset those who were devoted to such physical structures, along with the many human traditions, rituals, and regulations that came to be associated with such temples and cathedrals. But, Stephen was right. So was George Fox. God has chosen to make His habitation within His people, not within some palatial physical structure. Yes, He accommodated Himself to such physical limitations for a time and for a specific purpose, but that time and that purpose ended at the founding by Jesus the Messiah of a new covenant with our Father. The shadows are now gone; the Substance remains! Palatial temples and crystal cathedrals, though impressive to behold, are spiritually irrelevant; they are not, and will never again be, where God dwells among men, and where only certain men may come before Him within the rigid parameters of religious ceremony. Those days, those structures, those restrictions, those rituals are forever terminated. They served their purpose; now they are gone!

Like Stephen, the apostle Paul understood this truth quite well, making it a part of his sermon in the midst of the Areopagus in Athens: "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands" (Acts 17:24). Even King Solomon grasped this truth: "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built" (1 Kings 8:27). At the end of the prophecy of Isaiah, we find the following spoken by God Himself: "Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool: What Temple can you build for Me as good as that? My hand has made both earth and skies, and they are Mine. Yet I will look with pity on the man who has a humble and a contrite heart, who trembles at My word" (Isaiah 66:1-2). The strong implication here is that when God casts His eye upon His creation, looking for a habitation, He is not drawn to temples, He is drawn to receptive hearts!

In spite of such teaching, however, there are still those today who continue to place undue worth on "temples" (physical structures to which they go at appointed times to "come into the presence of" their God). Many Christians, in fact, firmly believe that when the Lord Jesus returns (the Parousia), it will be to reign from a renewed physical Temple in the city of Jerusalem. We just can't seem to get away from those "sacred structures" into which we are determined to "house" our Lord. We humans like our "temples" - our massive crystal cathedrals, our sprawling church campuses. We look all around us, thinking that in these structures we will encounter our God; yet, if we would simply cast our gaze inward, we would find His true dwelling place: the sanctuary of our heart! It is here He dwells, if we will just open our hearts to Him and allow Him entrance! "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me" (Revelation 3:20). The desire of each of us should be "that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith" (Ephesians 3:17). Dr. Kenneth Wuest, in volume one of his classic Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, points out that the word "dwell" (katoikesai) means "to settle down and be at home." Dr. Wuest writes, "The expanded translation is: 'that Christ might finally settle down and feel completely at home in your hearts.' This at-home-ness of the Lord Jesus in the heart of the saint is 'through faith.'" Where is the "habitation" of our Lord? Where is the "temple"? Where is the "sanctuary"? It is within us; it is NOT within any physical structure made by human hands.

The apostle Paul, on several occasions, makes this very point: "Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (1 Corinthians 6:19). "What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, 'I will dwell in them and walk among them'" (2 Corinthians 6:16). We, both Jews and Gentiles, are being built into a holy structure on a spiritual foundation with Christ as our corner stone, "in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:21-22). What many people may not realize is that none of these words translated "temple" in these passages are the Greek word "hieron" (which is the word for "temple"). Rather, in each of these texts it is the Greek word "naos" (which is the word for "sanctuary"). One should also be aware that Paul is making use of both singulars and plurals in these texts: i.e., in some places he is talking of our individual physical bodies as the dwelling of the Lord, while in other places he is speaking of the corporate body of believers (the church). I have dealt rather extensively with these distinctions in several prior issues of my Reflections, and I would encourage you to examine those studies carefully: "A Sanctuary of the Spirit: A Study of the Individual/Corporate Naos of the Indwelling Holy Spirit" (Reflections #332) ... "Indwelling and Empowering: Reflecting on Questions Relating to the Holy Spirit's Interaction with Our Lives" (Reflections #204) ... "Holy Spirit Home Remodeling: The Washing of Renovation and Renewal by the Holy Spirit - A Study of Titus 3:5" (Reflections #609).

Many disciples may be rather surprised to learn that the Greek word "hieron" (temple), which appears some 71 times in the pages of the New Testament writings, only appears one time outside of the four Gospels and Acts. That one time is in 1 Corinthians 9:13, "Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar?" The other 70 occurrences of this Greek word are in Matthew (11 times), Mark (9 times), Luke (14 times), John (11 times), and Acts (25 times). "Hieron" appears nowhere else in the New Covenant writings! Why is this important? Let me explain. This past week I got an email from a reader in Texas. He wrote: "Al, in your article titled 'Preterism and Eternal Punishment' (Reflections #721), in your discussion of when Revelation was written, you wrote, 'I believe the book of Revelation was written around 96 A.D., and thus it was never intended to be prophetic of the fall of Jerusalem or the destruction of the temple (indeed, the word "temple" never appears in Revelation).' Al, I believe you are mistaken here, as the word 'temple' actually occurs no less than 16 times in the book. Please check this out!" The reality, which anyone with a Greek concordance can easily verify, is that the Greek word for "temple" ("hieron") never appears in Revelation. Every word that is rendered "temple" by many of our English translations is actually the Greek word "naos" ("sanctuary"), which does indeed appear 16 times in Revelation. These two words, however, do not convey the same meaning, and to render each of them by a single English word has led to a good deal of confusion over the years (much like the confused theology that has resulted from rendering several different Greek words as "hell").

Simply stated, "hieron" ("temple") refers to the entire complex of buildings and grounds that comprise this facility, while "naos" ("sanctuary") refers only to that innermost area (the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place) which was off-limits to all but a few, and in which God met man (the high priest) on special occasions. The latter would certainly be part of the former (the sanctuary was certainly a part of the larger temple complex), but one would not think of the former as part of the latter (who would suggest, for example, that the court of the Gentiles or of the women was included within the Holy of Holies?!). The Greek scholar W. E. Vine wrote, "The noun hieron signifies the entire building with its precincts as distinct from the naos, the inner sanctuary; apart from the Gospels and Acts, hieron is mentioned only in 1 Corinthians 9:13. Hieron is never used figuratively" [Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, p. 115]. Dr. Joseph Thayer concurs: "Naos in the Septuagint is used of the temple at Jerusalem, but only of the sacred edifice (or sanctuary) itself, consisting of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. In classical Greek naos is used of the sanctuary or cell of a temple, where the image of the god was placed, which is to be distinguished from 'to hieron', the whole temple, the entire consecrated enclosure; this distinction is observed in the Bible!" [Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 422]. "Hieron and Naos differ, in that the former designates the whole compass of the sacred enclosure, embracing the entire aggregate of buildings, balconies, porticos, courts (viz. that of the men or Israelites, that of the women, that of the priests), belonging to the temple; the latter (naos) designates the sacred edifice properly so called (sanctuary), consisting of two parts, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies (which was entered only on the great day of atonement by the high priest alone)" [Thayer, p. 299]. Dr. Gerhard Kittel observes that the Greek word naos is derived from the Greek term naio, meaning "to dwell; to inhabit," and that it denoted to the pagans "the abode of the gods." Therefore, this inner area was where deity dwelt among men. "Naos is, then, the dwelling of the deity. ... It is the sanctuary in the strict sense as compared with the broader term hieron" [Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 4, p. 880].

This understanding of the naos being the "abode of deity" goes along well with Paul's use of this Greek word in the passages cited above. With the coming of the new covenant, the abode of our God shifted from an institutional setting to an individual setting; from a place to a people. God indwells His people, both individually (the physical body) and collectively (the body of believers: i.e., the church). The material shadows have been replaced by the spiritual Substance! The types have faded away in the presence of the Reality. "Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary" (Hebrews 9:1, NIV). These were temporary, however, and were only "applied until the time of the new order" (Hebrews 9:10, NIV). It wasn't 70 A.D. when the temple and its many courts and rituals and priests and sacrifices became obsolete. That happened with the resurrection and ascension of the Messiah, and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. 70 A.D. was just the "casting aside" of what had already (decades before) been spiritually removed as the habitation of Deity and the "service of worship" of this new "kingdom of priests" (who were both Jew and Gentile, male and female). WE, therefore ... you and I ... are individually and collectively the NAOS of God Almighty, just as Paul declares in his use of this term. Paul's focus in his writings is not on the "temple," it is on the "sanctuary." We are indwelt; we are the habitat of our God; we are priests in His service, under His great High Priest Jesus!

By obscuring this distinction between these two words, the disciples of Christ have been unnecessarily led into confusion. Some, thinking the word "temple" is actually being used repeatedly in Revelation (as well as other texts), have formulated theologies that are not only absurd, but also false! "In the NT, 'temple' (RSV and AV) renders both hieron and naos, thus obscuring the fact that the NT writers generally preserve a distinction between the temple complex" and the sanctuary. "The NEB usually uses 'temple' for both terms as well, but does occasionally preserve a distinction; thus, hieron is rendered 'temple precincts'" in a few passages, while "'naos' is rendered 'sanctuary'" in other texts [The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, p. 759]. "The NT teaches that the believer's body is, in a real sense, a sanctuary of God" [Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 1518]. "In all the NT sayings which treat of the significance of the temple, which use the image of the temple to denote the new relationship to God given in Christ, and which transfer the image to the community, the term is naos rather than hieron. This is not without significance!" [Dr. Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 3, p. 246].

That the community of believers "is itself the naos is a belief common to the whole of the NT witness" [ibid, p. 247]. I love the way the Lord wraps up His revelation to John, and it is a fitting close to this study: "Then I saw the new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. ... I did not see a naos in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its naos" (Revelation 21:1-3, 22). The entire universe itself will have been absorbed into the eternal Holy of Holies, the abode of the One who fills all in all. And with our Savior who paved the way through the veil into the everlasting Sanctuary, we shall forever dwell in that abode where only righteousness and holiness abound. "In that final state there is properly 'no sanctuary' (Rev. 21:22), for God and the Lamb 'are the sanctuary.' All is there hallowed by the Divine Presence; all is sanctuary!!" [Easton's Bible Dictionary, e-Sword]. Lord, hasten that day!!


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Readers' Reflections
NOTE: Differing views and understandings are always welcome here,
yet they do not necessarily reflect my own views and understandings.
They're opportunities for readers to voice what is on their hearts, with
a view toward greater dialogue among disciples with a Berean spirit.

From a Deacon in Florida:

I just finished reading "Where the Prostitutes Bathe: A Powerful, Poignant Parenthetical" (Reflections #838). Good job! I never gave any thought to the significance of the conditions surrounding the washing of King Ahab's bloody chariot until this article.

From a Reader in Florida:

Excellent article on the washing of Ahab's chariot. It seems the following lines from the last paragraph sum it up well: "It is a wakeup call to all who might desire to live as wantonly as Ahab and Jezebel. It paints a picture of how God views the sum of their lives, and how He would have us view the sum of their lives. It is a divine warning!" Blessings, my brother!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Al, I'm with you on the "women" bathing in water that had Ahab's blood in it. That's nasty. Repulsive. Fitting. Boy, when one taunts God with his/her evil doings, bad things happen! Really bad things! I hope you are doing well, and that you are on a roll in 2022.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, I don't know about the church you grew up in, but my experience is that if there were 200 present in the Sunday worship service, and the preacher asked for a show of hands from those who were 100% confident and assured of their salvation, and of their destiny to be with God forever in eternity, there might be one or two at the most (but more likely zero) raising their hands! The apostle John reminds us in his epistle that we can be assured of our salvation. Yet, in the Churches of Christ I'm familiar with, the members were "hopeful," at best, but mostly doubtful. So many times I have heard these words added to the public prayer: "IF we have been found faithful," expressing our hope of squeaking through that narrow gate by the hair on our chinny chin chin! We were so focused on trying to be "good enough" that we never really came to know Jesus, who was the personification of the Grace offered from God! What a sad thought! I can't help but think that if these members had been charged with this faulty thinking sooner, it could have brought us out of legalism much more quickly! Al, may you find the blessings of our Savior overflowing daily as you seek to give others the ability to know Jesus and to be assured of salvation!

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