P.J. Miller over on Sola Dei Gloria recently posted an article asking, “Will the Temple Be Rebuilt?” It’s actually a pretty good article for the first half or so, where the author makes some interesting connections between the New Covenant concept of the people of God becoming little temples and the prophecies and promises of the Tanakh:
But God instructed Moses: “have them make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). The Hebrew phrase “will live among them” (ושׁכנתי בתוכם) also means “live within them”. The alternative interpretation is supported by Isaiah, where it is written: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit … ” (Isaiah 57:15).
He’s also spot-on when he writes in the next paragraph,
However, Israel had, for the most part, misconceived the true enemy. Israel’s sanctity was not threatened by foreign aggression (which God would Himself defeat on condition of Israel’s obedience – Deut. 28), but by the insidious and subtle advances of sin, which defiled the soul of the people of God.
He is also quite correct in his later analysis that the Temple of believers is as subject to defilement as the Temple of stone.
Unfortunately, he veers off-course from there due to the fact that, like most Christians, he has never studied what the Torah actually says. For example, he writes, “Under the Law, the entire course of life from birth to death is defiling. That the Temple of the Sinai Covenant was itself prone to contamination is clear from the fact that it could not admit women, lepers and Gentiles into its inner parts.”
Absolutely untrue! To address the second point first, the Torah never forbids women or Gentiles from drawing near to present their sacrifices. In fact, the foreigner who wished to sacrifice to the God of Israel was supposed to be allowed to draw near under the same conditions as the native Israelite (Num. 15:14, Lev. 22:25). Hannah, the mother of Samuel, prayed right at the doorway of the Tabernacle (1Sa. 1:9, 12-13). The partitioning of the Temple grounds into courts of Levites, Israelites, Women, and Gentiles and the erection of a “middle wall of partition” (cf. Eph. 2:14) to keep Gentiles at a distance were man-made traditions instituted in defiance of the Torah, not in accordance with it.
To answer the second point, Mr. Miller is correct that many everyday activities in the Torah are “defiling,” but overestimates the gravity of “defilement.” The word typically translated “unclean” is tamei. The condition of being “unclean” is tumah. (“It’s not a tumah!” –Kindergarten Cop. Sorry, couldn’t resist.) These are technical terms that are far more clinical than “unclean” represents them to be. Simply put, tamei means nothing more or less than, “not prepared to enter the holy precincts.” It does not mean sinful, or evil, or less worthy, or less honorable, or abhorrent, or any of the images that “unclean” conveys.
A lion is tamei, but it is still a noble enough beast that “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” is a suitable title for the Messiah. A woman becomes tamei temporarily after giving birth, but being fruitful and multiplying is a direct command from the Most High. I am tamei, for I was with my grandfather when he died.
Being in a state of tumah does not render one unfit for prayer, worship, or any other service of the Holy One. All it means in every case not involving chronic and potentially infectious infection is that one must take time to prepare one’s self before going up to the Temple. In most cases, this simply meant a ritual immersion in water and waiting until sundown. In some cases, such as coming in contact with the dead, it required a somewhat longer ritual taking seven days and immersing twice in specially-treated water. The purpose for all this was simple: As one took the time to prepare one’s self physically for entering the place where the Holy One’s Presence dwelt, he or she would also be preparing themselves spiritually.
Why am I going into all this? Because Mr. Miller makes an enormous error in this apologetic against the Temple that go to the heart of who Yeshua really is:
The sinless Messiah, on the other hand, is the incorruptible Temple of God. Jesus works on a principle opposite to that found in the Law. He lovingly touched lepers and corpses in the full confidence of his absolute sanctity. Life and healing flowed naturally from the One who could never be rendered unclean. Knowing this mystery, a woman dared even to touch him in secret, though she had been bleeding for twelve years.
If the woman really thought that Yeshua couldn’t be rendered unclean, she would not have feared to touch Him. But in fact, Scripture tells us that she trembled when she realized she was “caught” (Mark 5:33). Why? Because she assumed that He would be outraged that she had rendered Him tumah. But He wasn’t upset. In fact, He went right on to make Himself even more unclean by entering a house with a corpse.
Matthew connects this thought for us. He describes how Yeshua went out of His way to touch a leper to heal him (8:3)–making Himself unclean. How Yeshua was willing to enter the house of a Gentile to heal his servant (v. 7)–which by the understanding of the day would have made Him unclean. How Yeshua entered a house of sickness to heal Peter’s mother-in-law (v. 14)–which arguably made Him unclean, but also exposed Him to the illness. How Yeshua cast out unclean spirits and healed all who were ill, all to “fulfill what was spoken of through Isaiah the prophet: ‘He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases'” (v. 17, q. Isa. 53:4).
What is Matthew’s point? That Yeshua never hesitated to become tamei so that those He touched could be made tahor, that He took on (temporary, of course) separation from the Temple service so that those He touched could be made fit for Temple service, that the uncleaness of the sick, the demonized, the lepers, and even the dead fell on Him so that they could be healed, released, cleansed, and raised.
And all of this culminated in the Cross, when God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2Co. 5:21).
This did not contrast Yeshua the Living Temple with the Temple made with hands, but rather demonstrated the full purpose of the Temple: Not only to house the Presence of the Eternal God, but also to be a place where sinners could be reconciled to Him. A man who sinned in Israel did not sacrifice outside of the Temple so that he could come in to the Presence, he came in “as is” with his sacrifice into the Temple precincts, having prepared himself externally and repented in his heart, nevertheless bearing his sin into the holy courtyard until it could be transferred to the sacrifice.
In the final analysis, Mr. Miller does not understand the Torah, and because he does not understand the Torah–in fact, does not want to understand it, considering it to be “the weak and beggarly (by comparison) principles”–he understands neither Yeshua’s work nor Paul’s letters. Paul certainly did not consider the Temple to be weak and beggarly, but worshipped in it by sacrifice nearly three decades after the Cross, and well over a decade after he penned Galatians (see our article on Acts 21). And if Paul considered the Temple service, the Torah, circumcision, and even the traditions of the Jewish people to be important, why do those claiming to study his words centuries later call him a liar?
Of course, that is not their intent. But that is the end result.