A Dwelling Place of God

Brothers and sisters:
You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God, 
built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.
Through him the whole structure is held together
and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord;
in him you also are being built together
into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
(Ephesians 2:19-22)   

Scripture Study

Rather than elaborate on household relationships, Paul shifts metaphors to speak of the house itself. He describes the universal Church as a structure built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Since the foundation stones are humans, it is quite likely Paul is implying that his readers are also stones placed on this foundation (see 1 Pet 2:5). The apostles are those whom Christ himself appointed to proclaim the gospel and to exercise leadership in his Church. This number is not limited to the Twelve—Paul, an apostle, was not one of the Twelve—but includes a broader group whom Christ had authorized (see 1 Cor 15:5, 7–9; see sidebar on p. 116). The prophets are most likely New Testament prophets, judging by other references to them in this letter (3:5; 4:11; see sidebar on p. 88). Although in 1 Cor 3:11 Paul speaks about Jesus Christ as the only foundation that can be laid for the Church, here he chooses a different metaphor and speaks of the apostles and prophets as the foundation stones with Christ as the capstone.

There is a disagreement among translations regarding whether the Greek word should be interpreted as “capstone” or “cornerstone” in this context. According to ancient building practice, the cornerstone was laid first and then the other foundation stones were lined up to it; the capstone was the trapezoidal-shaped stone placed at the top of an arch, typically at the entrance to a building, that held all the other stones in place. Since in this text Paul identifies the apostles and prophets as foundation stones, it is quite possible that he distinguishes Jesus’ role by referring to him as the capstone, which occupies the highest place. This fits well with the next phrase: Through him the whole structure is held together. Christ’s role in his Church remains crucial for uniting all its parts and keeping them together. Paul shifts the metaphor once again and says this structure grows into a temple sacred in the Lord. The temple grows because it is a living organism. The Church is simultaneously a temple and the body of Christ.

2:22 Paul now applies this final image to his readers by saying in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. All three of the verbs in verses 21–22 are present tense: the Church is held together, grows, and is being built together. Although the Church is already the temple of God and the body of Christ, it is a work in progress—God has not finished building us yet! The phrase “a dwelling place of God” is used to describe God’s temple on earth as well as his heavenly dwelling. We Christians, the Church, are being made into a community in which God himself resides.

The Gentiles have come a long way. From standing far off, having no relationship with Christ or with the people of God and no covenant with God, they have now been united with Jewish believers in the body of Christ, have gained access to God through Christ in the Spirit, have obtained full citizenship and membership in God’s family, and have themselves become a flesh-and-blood house where God lives. That, to say the least, is extraordinary.[1] 

Reflection

“. . . a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

It is harder for Christians today than for those in the first century to grasp the significance of the Church being the temple or dwelling of God on earth. Because God is present everywhere, we sometimes fail to appreciate that he chooses to make himself present in a special way in particular places and in particular people. In ancient times, Jews and pagans shared an awareness that places could be sacred because they were inhabited in a special way by a god. Catholics have an inkling of this because we reverence the presence of Christ in the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacles in our churches. The New Testament, however, teaches that God is really present and can be accessed in every gathering of Jesus’ disciples in his name (Matt 18:19–20). Reverence and faith are the appropriate responses to God’s holy presence in the universal Church, in our dioceses and parishes, in our small communities, and even in our own bodies. We do not adore him in one another and in the Church as we adore the Host, because there still exists in us a mixture of what is divine and what is sinful; the temple of the Church is still under construction (2:21–22). Nevertheless, God is truly present in Christ’s body, the Church, and we must treat our brothers and sisters and the life of the Church with an awareness that God lives within and among us. [2]

 

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.

 

 

[1] Peter S. Williamson, Ephesians, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 80–81.

[2] Ibid.