Paul and the “Household of God”
“…you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
In Ephesians 2:20-22 Paul conveys the communal implications of Christ’s sacrificial death. In the broader context of Ephesians 2, he addresses the manner in which the death of Christ has reconciled sinful humanity to a holy God (2:1-2, 4, 8-10 ESV). He then makes them aware of the broader implications of the cross by addressing the manner in which the death of Christ has also reconciled contentious human beings to one another (2:11-14). This reconciliation has placed redeemed human beings in the elevated position of sainted “citizen” and “…members of the household of God.” Paul’s use of the word “household” is certainly a reference to the implications of the elevation in that believers are now cohabitants with God. He clarifies this point by affirming the apostles and prophets as the foundation and Christ himself is the “cornerstone.” This imagery is not a reference to a literal facility. Instead, Paul is identifying reconciled humanity as the habitation of God. He forthrightly conveys this point by identifying the community as a “holy temple” (2:21; see also 1Cor 3:16; 1Cor 6:19).
Paul’s use of the word “temple” while referring to the people of God recognizes God’s progression toward the fulfillment of his unchanging plan to live eternally in unfettered fellowship with his people. In creating Adam and Eve God was initiating a plan to create a people who bear his image and with whom he would live eternally. The Fall resulted in the momentary derailment of this plan, but at no point does God abandon his agenda (Gen. 3). Instead, he replaced the Garden of Eden as the center of fellowship between himself and his people. The progression of replacements included the tabernacle under Moses’s leadership (Exodus 33:7) and then it evolved to the temple under Solomon’s reign (2Chron. 7:4-22). Ephesians 2:20-22 uses “temple” in reference the manner in which the church presently fulfills the role that was once assigned to Eden, the Tabernacle, and the literal temple. It is the place where God communes with his people.
It is notable that Ephesians uses the word church (ἐκκλησία) on nine occasions, but never in reference to a local congregation or facility. Instead, the word is identifying the church as a whole. It is a reference to the role held by the individuals who comprise the universal body of believers. Presently, God has chosen the church to be the community of people among whom he dwells and makes himself known. Like Eden, the Tabernacle, and the Temple, the ἐκκλησία is the place where God fulfills his plan to intimately commune with those who bear his image.
In the broader context of Ephesians, the church as the singular household where God fulfills his plan to commune with his people has momentous implications. “A central concern of the letter is the relationship between Gentiles and Jews in the church.” Paul has clearly outlined the manner in which one is initiated into the household of God; it is a gift from a gracious and sacrificial God (2:1-10). More to the point, it is not influenced by the racial or cultural identity of the candidate (2:11-14). Prior to being cleansed by the “blood of Christ,” Jews and Gentiles readily identified themselves as two contentious camps (2:13). But the redeeming work of Christ has united the two camps into one temple where God communes with the diverse gathering of his people (2:14). Disunity within the church amounts to trampling the sacrifice of Christ under-foot and resisting the eternal plan of corporately communing with God. As the temple of God, we are called to joyfully come together and relish in him.