In the Old Testament the unity of worship was clearly God’s plan. That worship was to be centred on the temple in Jerusalem. While God prophesied the division of the kingdom because of sin, it was His intention that this should only be a political division, not a spiritual division. Two kingdoms were OK, two churches were not. That is why, when Jeroboam built a second temple at Bethel and another in Dan, he is forever after referred to as “Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.”
Is it any different in the New Testament era? Let me begin with a statement that might shock some readers: Almost all the mentions of the temple of God in the New Testament refer not to individual Christians as temples, but to the collective body of Christians known as the church. Lets go through the applicable verses, one by one.
Revelation 3:12: Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God,
The promise is that the overcomer will be part of the temple, not the whole temple.
1 Peter 2:5-7 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,
Believers are called living stones who are built together into one spiritual house (temple) with Jesus as the corner stone.
Ephesians 2:19-22 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
This is very similar to Peter’s words, believers are the household of God built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets and Jesus the corner stone to become one holy temple.
1 Corinthians 3:9-11 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
The temple is God’s building with the help of true ministers of the gospel, the foundation is Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
Ye is plural, these verses are addressed to Christians, as a group they are one temple. Paul does not say ye are temples of God, or thou art the temple. There is only one temple in view here., thus to defile the temple does not refer to the sins of an individual defiling his own body, rather those sins defile the whole body, the temple. Think of Achan, he thought it was harmless to take the things he did, no one knew about it, it would not bother anyone else. Yet the army of God was defeated in battle because of his sin.
2 Corinthians 6:16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Again, ye is plural, temple is singular.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
This is the one verse that does speak of the body of an individual believer as the temple of God. This verse must not be taken as the key to understanding other verses which speack unequivocally of the temple as the collective body, the church. But one must first be spiritually alive, a living stone, to be added to the holy temple. “Ye are not your own,” – we have no liberty here to think independently or to think we have no need of our fellow believers.
Quotations from Anabaptist/Mennonite leaders of the past:
“For jus as there was but one Adam and one Eve; one Noah and one ark, one Isaac and one Rebecca, so there is but one church of Christ, which is the body, city, temple, house and bride of Christ, having but a single gospel, faith, baptism, Supper, and service; travelling on the same road and leading a pious, unblamable life, as the Scriptures teach.”
Menno Simons, 1539, Complete Writings, page 191
“Paul teaches us in his epistle to the Ephesians, concerning the true church, which Christ has presented to Himself, that it is glorious, holy and without blemish, without spot or wrinkle; that they are baptized together into one Spirit, and into one body, the head of which is Christ, and are joined together as members of His body. These have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father, of us all, who is through us all, and in us all. This is the true temple of God, in which dwells the Spirit of God. This church Christ has bought and redeemed with His blood.”
Claes de Praet, 1556, Martyrs Mirror, page 558