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Greek Word Study - Temple

Two men went up to the “temple” (hieron -- he eh RON) to pray. But did you know that the Pharisee and the publican. (Luke 18:10) were not allowed in the actual temple building? They had to stand in the temple courtyard outside. This Greek word for “temple,” hieron, included all the holy courtyards and buildings, but never denoted the temple itself.

Two women were found in the “temple”: the prophetess Anna (Luke 2:37) and the widow with her two mites (Luke 12:41f.). These women were not only forbidden to enter the actual temple building; they could not even enter the courtyard of the men. Their praying and giving was confined to a courtyard farther out, but still called part of the hieron.

A few Gentiles went to the “temple” to pray, but they were kept in an outer courtyard even farther away. They were forbidden, on penalty of immediate death, to come any closer to the temple building itself. When Jesus twice cleansed the “temple,” it was actually this outer Gentile courtyard which the Jewish merchants had defiled, changing the “house of prayer for all nations” into a den of thieves.

The N.T. word for the temple building itself was naos (nah OSS). It derives from a word meaning “to dwell” and referred to God’s holy home, which only the priests could enter. It had special reference to the inner “Holy of Holies” where in O.T. times the glory of God dwelt above the ark of the covenant. This most sacred sanctuary was entered only once a year by the high priest alone. By N.T. times, however, this sanctuary was no longer the special dwelling place of God. The ark was gone; the glory was gone; the room was completely empty (Josephus, Wars 5, 5).

Yet God does have a dwelling place on earth. Our bodies are the temple of God's Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19) and we Christians are collectively the temple of God (I Cor 3:16). Moreover, we are God’s temple not just in a general sense (hieron), but as His very dwelling place, His sacred sanctuary (naos). We are the living stones (1 Pet 2:5) that are joined together into a holy temple in the Lord (Eph 2:21). We are the naos of the living God! (2 Cor 6:16)