Opinions on faith and life

Virtually Literal

2010-09-19

Yep, that title’s an oxymoron. But it’s the best I could come up with to describe an argument that so desperately wants the Bible to be allegorical in all the right places. I found it at this article on the so-called Millennial Temple, which while giving only a brief argument for the temple of the Tribulation being spiritual rather than literal, makes some key errors that deserve attention. The bulk of the article is interesting enough and has some nice models and drawings of what they believe is the temple Ezekiel described.

Starting in the fourth paragraph, they claim that the teaching of a literal temple being built in Jerusalem during the Tribulation, in which the Antichrist (AC) or “lawless one” will declare himself God, is in error and based mainly upon 2 Thes. 2:4. The argument centers on two Greek words typically translated “temple”: hieron1 and naos2. The article claims hieron refers to a physical building made with wood and stones, while naos refers to “the spiritual temple of God”, meaning His people. Since 2 Thes. 2:4 uses naos, they claim it cannot refer to a literal temple. They bolster this claim by quoting someone named Doug Fortune, who insists that naos ONLY [sic] means this and never a temple made with hands.

On this basis, then, they argue that the AC will not be revealed in Jerusalem, but “among” the people of God, i.e. the “temple made without hands”. Fortune concludes from this that 2 Thes. 2:8 should be interpreted thusly: “Why are we looking for a man seated in a building yet to be built in the Middle-East, when we should be looking in the mirror? As the man of sin, the Adam nature is revealed and ’the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of His mouth and bring him to an end by His appearing at His coming.” or “the brightness of His coming’ ”.

His interpretation of the account of Jesus’ slaying the AC is required by the prior assumption of a non-literal temple; he is forced into this conclusion by his premises, as he states explicitly a few paragraphs later. So it becomes clear that if the premises are wrong, then the conclusion is also wrong. But if you check the footnotes on those Greek words, the metaphorical use for naos is not the primary one; it normally refers to the inner sanctuary or “holiest place” in the Jewish temple. That is, the metaphorical use is derived from the normal, literal use. Once again we see that the range of meanings of a word comes from context, not the other way around; if we have even one instance of naos being literal then we cannot say it is always figurative.

With the proper understanding of these terms, we can see that what the AC will do is not merely to enter the temple but to enter the Most Holy Place itself, a supremely defiant and blasphemous act. And we can accept the other passages cited there as per the usual teachings: that there will be a literal AC who will enter the inner sanctuary of a literal temple, and later Jesus will literally destroy him. And we don’t have to come up with some imaginative explanation for Paul’s using the appearance of the AC as the event that would signal the beginning of the Tribulation. And of course, the article completely ignores the prophecy about the AC being of the “people” who had destroyed the 2nd temple in 70 AD, among other things.

This illustrates a common problem in Bible interpretation, where a small error at the foundation can create a much larger error as it is built upon. Our view of scripture is critical for how we interpret it: is it to be treated as literature with the same rules of grammar as any other, or is it a mystical and cryptic puzzle whose solution requires us to throw out the rules of grammar and logic and replace them with whatever we want?

So many errors, cults, schisms and feuds have been harvested from the seed of poor reasoning! While this particular instance is not common, it provides a case study in how not to read the Bible. Now we know one of the reasons James said that teachers will be held to a higher standard; they simply must know what they’re doing because others will depend upon them. Choose your teachers very carefully, and cross-examine everything!


1– definition of hieron: 1. a sacred place, temple -- a. used of the temple of Artemis at Ephesus -- b. used of the temple at Jerusalem

2– definition of naos: 1. 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 it is used of the sanctuary or cell of the temple, where the image of gold was placed which is distinguished from the whole enclosure) 2. any heathen temple or shrine 3. metaph. the spiritual temple consisting of the saints of all ages joined together by and in Christ