“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
The church is being referred to as the temple of God. Marion Fox comments, “The only correct usage of a plural pronoun to refer to as singular noun as its antecedent is if the singular noun is a collective noun. The only collective usage of the word ‘temple’ in the New Testament is when the apostles have the church in mind” (Fox, The Work of the Holy Spirit, Vol. 1, p. 235).
“You also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesian 2:22).
The language is temple language (cf. Ephesians 2:19-21). The church was in its childhood, still possessing miraculous gifts designed to bring it to maturity (Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 13:8-11). The church is designed to be the temple of God.
“I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
The church is called “the house of God.” This is temple language (e.g. Psalms 27:4; 42:4; 66:13; 69:9 cf. John 2:17; 84:1, 4, 10; 122:1-2; 135:1-2; etc.).
“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
The church is, by metaphor, the temple of God. It is not built with non-living stones. It is built with living stones, individual members of the church.
Why is the church referred to as the temple of God? (1) It has to do with structure. The tabernacle/temple was to be built according to a pattern (Exodus 25:40; Numbers 8:4; 1 Chronicles 28:11, 19; Hebrews 8:5). Likewise, the church is to be built on the correct teaching (1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20).
[Note: Some have wondered how Jesus could be the only foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11) and the foundation could also consist of the apostle and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). It should be understood that the apostles and prophets preached Jesus (Acts 8:5; 8:35; Romans 15:20; 1 Corinthians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:5). Further, it should be understood that what they taught was from Jesus (John 14:25-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-14). Finally, it should be understood that the apostles and prophets refers not to the men themselves but to their inspired teaching (Ephesians 2:18-20 cf. 3:5-6)].
(2) It has to do with worship. “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). The Old Testament temple was a place of worship [1 Kings 8:29 (cf. Exodus 20:24; Deuteronomy 12:5-6, 11; 16:16); 1 Kings 12:25-31; Matthew 21:13 (cf. Isaiah 56:7)]. The church is to assemble (Hebrews 10:25) and worship (Acts 20:7; Hebrews 13:15; Philippians 4:18).
(3) It has to do with relationship. The tabernacle/temple was where God communed with Israel (Exodus 25:22; 1 Kings 9:1-3). Jesus promised, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20 cf. Matthew 26:29). He is with us, when we assemble together to do His will.
[Note on Matthew 26:19: The word “new” is Kainos, meaning new in form, quality, or meaning. The Kingdom sometimes refers to the church (Mark 9:1 cf. Acts 1:8; 2:4; Romans 14:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:24-26, etc.)].
(4) It has to do with representation. The tabernacle/temple of old did not literally house God. It could not contain Him (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 2:6; 6:18; Acts 7:47-50; 17:24-25). However, it did represent Him and His dwelling place (Exodus 25:8; 29:45-46). He, at times, even manifested His presence in the tabernacle/temple (Exodus 40:34-38; Deuteronomy 31:15; 2 Chronicle 7:1-3). God miraculously manifested Himself in the early church (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4, etc.). The church is to represent Him on earth. It should be “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The church should support and uphold the truth, God’s word. If we don’t, who will?
“Oh, Lord, prepare me, to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true; With thanksgiving I’ll be a living sanctuary for You.
Lord, teach Your children to stop their fighting, Start uniting all as one; Let’s get together, loving forever, sanctuary for You”
(Song: Sanctuary by J.W. Thompson and Randy Scruggs).