By Peter Thompson B.Theo Grad Dip Theology
Combination of the Cultivated-Field/Vineyard and the Temple Metaphors
In 1 Corinthians 3:5-15, the church is described as both a productive, cultivated-field/vineyard owned by God Himself, and God’s building.
It is clear that God’s building refers once again to His temple because:
- verses 12-13 refer to the church community (including leaders) building on the foundation with gold, silver and precious stones which were all used in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:20-22, 28-32; 7:9-10, 48-51; 1 Chronicles 29:2-3; 2 Chronicles 3:4-7; 5:1; compare Revelation 21:18-22) and in the wilderness tabernacle (Exodus 25:2-8; 36:34-38; 38:24-28; 39:1-21, 32-42);
- Jesus is described as the foundation of the end-time temple (Isaiah 28:16); and
- God’s building is explicitly called His temple in verses 16-17 as a key part of this whole integrated chapter.
This temple imagery is combined with the image of cultivating a field/vineyard which has some very important connotations in the light of the Old Testament if we are to fully comprehend the imagery of 1 Timothy 3:15.
Roles in God’s New Cultivated-Field/Vineyard
The agricultural side of the imagery is significant in that:
- God owns the church, not the apostles/leaders who are assigned by God to serve Him as fellow-workers together, with no human leader more important than another (verses 5, 8-9; compare Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20: 9-19);
- once again, it is God who is continually causing the growth, not human apostles/leaders (verses 6-7); and
- although apostles plant God’s cultivated field, and other leaders water it, they are nothing in comparison to the role God undertakes in bringing forth growth (verse 7).
Jesus the Foundation of God’s Temple
On the construction side of the imagery, the emphasis is on God’s servants the apostles laying the only correct foundation, Jesus Christ, and on how the Christian community builds on that foundation. It is no coincidence that the Greek word for “master-builder” to describe Paul in verse 10 is the same word used in the Greek translation of Exodus 35:31-32 to describe Bezalel who, being filled with the Spirit, designed the wilderness tabernacle.
Failure to build on the Jesus-foundation carefully (1 Corinthian 3:10, 12-15) is significant because:
- the Greek word for “temple” in verses 16-17 generally denotes the inner chamber of the temple, the Holy of Holies where God’s actual presence dwelt (Exodus 25:22; 40:32-38; Numbers 7:89; 9:15-23; Leviticus 16:2; 1 Kings 8:1-11; 2 Chronicles 5:11-14; 7:1-3; compare Isaiah 6:1-4; Haggai 2:7; Revelation 15:7-8; Ezekiel 10:1-22; 43:1-5);
- God’s presence in the Old Testament tabernacle/temple was crucial for Israel’s continued existence, just as the presence of Jesus is the only means of access to the Father’s presence by the Spirit (Exodus 33:13-16; Isaiah 63:7-10; John 14:6-7; compare Ephesians 2:18; John 8:19; 10:38);
- the church is the actual end-time temple where God promised to dwell among them forever (Ezekiel 43:6-9);
- the temple is a holy place, set apart for God’s purposes, where no uncleanness can enter (2 Corinthians 6:16-18; 7:1; Revelation 21:22-27); and
- considering that unity as God’s family/people is a work of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Ephesians 4:1-6), any disunity in the form of strife and division grieves and banishes the Spirit, bringing the temple to ruin because the Spirit alone seals/marks the Christian community as God’s children/people (1 Corinthians 3:1-4, 16-17, 21; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30-32; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Hebrews 10:26-31; Isaiah 63:7-14; Acts 7:51; compare Galatians 5:16-26; Mark 3:22-30; Matthew 12:22-32).
Growing the Temple in God’s Wisdom
It is not worldly wisdom, boasting in human ability, which builds the church as God’s temple, but God Himself in His wisdom as His fellow-workers plant and water (and hence build) under His direction (1 Corinthians 3:5-7, 18-21; compare Zechariah 6:12-15 where the Messiah, the “Branch”, builds the temple with the help of those afar off).
The Corinthians, like us today, are not to go beyond what is written and become puffed up in favour of one against another (1 Corinthians 4:6-7). This is why the revelatory insight of the original apostles and prophets form the enduring foundation of God’s organic household/temple in Ephesians 2:20-21 (see Part 2).
Comparing the Garden of Eden with Israel’s Tabernacle/Temple
Adam served as a type of primal priest in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and guard/keep not just the Garden itself, but God’s one commandment (Genesis 2:15-16), because:
- Solomon’s temple had a garden-like appearance throughout the Holy Place and Holy of Holies with the proliferation of pomegranates, gourds, palm trees, lilies and open flowers adorning the walls, doors and furniture (1 Kings 6:18, 29, 32, 35; 7:18-26, 36, 42, 49; compare Isaiah 60:13; Lamentations 2:6; Psalm 52:8; 74:3-8; 92:13-15);
- both the Garden and the temple were unique places of God’s presence (Genesis 3:8-9; Leviticus 26:12-13; Deuteronomy 23:12-14; compare 2 Samuel 7:6-7);
- a river of life flows out of both Eden and the end-time temple (Genesis 2:10; Revelation 21:22; 22:1-4; Ezekiel 47:1-12; Psalm 36:8-9; compare Revelation 7:15-17; Jeremiah 17:12-13; Zechariah 14:5-11);
- the same two Hebrew words, “cultivate” and “guard/keep”, in Genesis 2:15 are exclusively used together in close proximity to speak of either the Israelites serving God and guarding/keeping God’s word/commandments (1 Kings 9:1-2, 6-7; Deuteronomy 10:12-13; 11:16; 13:4; Joshua 22:5) or the Levite priests guarding the service of the tabernacle/temple (2 Chronicles 23:18-19; Numbers 3:5-8; 8:23-26; 18:2-6; 1 Chronicles 23:27, 32; Ezekiel 44:10-11, 14);
- priests had the duty of guarding God’s sanctuary to stop unclean things from entering (Numbers 3:6-7, 32, 38; 18:3-7; 1 Chronicles 9:17-27; Nehemiah 11:18-19; compare Revelation 21:22-27), something Adam failed to do in respect to the unclean serpent entering the Garden (Genesis 3:1; note the imagery in Ezekiel 28:13-18 of the King of Tyre as a type of Adam);
- failure to guard/keep God’s sanctuary/temple and commandment(s) resulted in expulsion from the sacred Garden for Adam (Genesis 3:22-24), and from the promised land for Israel (2 Kings 25:1-21); and
- Cherubim were placed at the entrance to the Garden to prevent further human access to the tree of life after Adam’s expulsion (Genesis 4:23-24), and cherubim guard the mercy seat/ark of the covenant where God’s presence is manifest, and feature on the inner walls and doors of the Holy Place as protectors of the tree of life (Exodus 25:17-22; 1 Kings 6:29-35; 8:6-7; Ezekiel 44:17-20).
The Christian Priesthood
Consequently, with Adam as the primal priest, it is a human duty to keep God’s word/commandments and guard the place of His presence from anything unclean. This explains why all true Christians are, together, a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6; 5:9-10; compare Isaiah 61:3-6; 66:20-21; Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9).
This is not the duty of just a few privileged leaders in a hierarchical system, but the duty of the whole Christian community functioning properly in one mind, will and purpose together under the humble oversight of the servant leadership.
This is why Paul always addressed the whole Christian community to deal with the issues he raised in his letters, rather than specifically addressing the leadership to do it (e.g., Galatians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2, 10; 3:1-3; 5:1-5; Philippians 1:1; 4:1; Romans 15:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 3:6-7). Consequently, Paul:
- recognised each congregation’s self-sufficiency in the Spirit (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 4:7-10; 1 Corinthians 2:12-13; 14:29-31; 2 Corinthians 1:24; Romans 1:7, 11-12; Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:7-10; compare 1 John 2:24-27; John 6:43-45; 14:26; 16:13; Jeremiah 31:33-34; Isaiah 54:11-14);
- reminded each church community of the foundations he had already previously established in the truth of the Gospel (e.g., 1 Corinthians 4:14-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:5; 3:10; compare Colossians 1:4-8; 2 Peter 3:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:1-2);
- gave them directions as required when new situations beyond the initial instruction in the Gospel arose (1 Corinthians 7:17; 11:34; 16:1; compare Titus 1:5);
- pleaded with them and urged/encouraged them all to conduct themselves appropriately together (e.g., Ephesians 4:1; Romans 12:1; 15:30; 16:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 4:1, 10; 5:14; 2 Corinthians 5:20; 6:1; Philippians 1:27; 4:2; Acts 14:21-23; 16:40; 20:1-2; compare Philemon 8-10); and
- only occasionally needed to command them where it concerned matters integral to the Gospel and the health of the whole church (1 Corinthians 7:10; 11:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:4-6, 10-12; compare 1 Timothy 1:3; 4:11; 5:7; 6:17; 2 Timothy 2:14; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 1 Thessalonians 4:8).
It seems the New Testament authors, and in particular Paul, were well aware of the priesthood of all believers.
Hence, over Parts 4 and 5, we will look at how churches should be restructured to reverse the current decline in western Christianity.
To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you can download the Framework and Notes here, free of charge.
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Peter “Thommo” Thompson was born in 1958 in the bulldust of south-western Queensland in the region around the township of Mitchell. He was converted outside of the church through a supernatural encounter with the living God in Mackay, North Queensland, in February 1979, and embarked upon a long and arduous journey of God dealing with the figurative bulldust in his life. In 2012, he completed a Bachelor of Ministry & Theology double degree, and in 2013, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Theology, all at Tabor Adelaide. He currently lives with his two adult daughters in Ipswich, Queensland, and is writing a series of academic novels with the intent of hopefully helping to facilitate a church unifying movement through an unbranded form of Christianity in Australia.
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