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Thursday, July 07, 2022
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Voice: Christianity Should Step out of Temple Centralism, Revive ‘Book Religion’ Tradition
A picture shows an angel besides the Bible. A picture shows an angel besides the Bible.

Jesus himself had deep feelings for the temple of God, which can be seen in many parts of the Gospels. For instance, after Jesus entered the holy city greeted by people’s cheers on Palm Sunday, the first thing he did was turn left to enter the Temple. At the entrance, he drove away cattle, sheep, and pigeons. He intended to clean up the filth of religious corruption.

Also, after Jesus ascended to heaven, two of his most important disciples, Peter and John, very often went to the temple to pray at three o’clock in the afternoon. Although those who crucified Jesus were corrupted priests in charge of the Temple, the disciples still observed and continued the most important Judaism tradition of regular praying. From this, we can also see that respecting the temple and the law was quite important to Jesus.

However, a glamorous temple was not the only aspect of Jesus’ thoughts.

Jesus was extremely familiar with the Old Testament - the two foundations of the Hebrew religion: the law and the prophet. He not only had a profound understanding of the nature of the law, such as the exposition of the general outline of the law but also quoted many prophets such as Isaiah, Hosea, and Jonah to explain himself to the world. These were closely related to Jesus’ emphasis on the Old Testament.

Jesus honored the temple, but he was not centered on it. He also inherited and carried forward the tradition of the “holy books”. 

The key era of the formation of the tradition of the holy book was during the reign of King Josiah. Both the Book of Kings and Chronicles record that King Josiah discovered a “book of the Law” during the maintenance of the temple. Some biblical scholars believe that this is a part of the book of Deuteronomy that we have today, and it is the content of Deuteronomy.

It can be said that the core part of the time of Josiah was to take Deuteronomy as the program of religious revival. It was the first time that the authority of the Hebrew religion was determined in the form of the Torah. Torah, like the temple and rituals, became an authoritative element of the Hebrew religion.

Soon after, with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, the Jews were taken into exile in Babylon, leaving their homes and the temple behind. Therefore, the rituals and the temple were no longer available, so the Book of Law became the core of religion, which shifted the Hebrew religion from the former temple-ritual centralism to the latter holy book centralism, “Book Religion”.

Before that, it was the temple era founded by King David and King Solomon around 1000 BC, which made the Jewish people think that they should go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the temple followed by worshiping God. However, when the people of Israel were taken captive by Babylon, they could only go to the rivers and synagogues to teach the Book of Law. That started an era centered on the Book. Consequently, from the former temple-centralism to the latter holy-book-centralism, it is one of the most far-reaching turning points for the Jewish religion.

Then, contrary to our human nature’s expectation, the people of Israel, known as God’s chosen people, did not have the deepest understanding of faith in the period when their joint kingdoms were strong, but rather in the exile period after being taken captive.

After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple - the so-called catastrophe in the history of Israel - although Israel’s religious pattern, social life, and economic structure were severely damaged, the marginalized group, who was in slavery in a foreign land, struggled to make a living, inherited their faith through holy books and community life, and nurtured and precipitated the highest thinking about the true meaning of faith. It was clearly reflected in many prophetic books at that time, such as the relationship between individuals and God that Prophet Jeremiah talked about.

Israel reconsidered why the holy city and temple were destroyed, what the essence of religion was, what the true meaning of “God’s people” was, and what kind of future and hope God would develop in history. In the end, sin and judgment, redemption and return were the major themes that have surged in different prophets’ teaching.

Therefore, superficially it seemed a period of “mute, silence and stagnancy” for the people of Israel, but it was indeed an era in which the vitality of faith was the most prime and surging.

For instance, if you look at the Book of Esther in which there is no mention of ‘the Lord’ from beginning to end because it was probably written in an era when anti-Semitism was on the rise again. If there was the mentioning of the Lord’s name in the text, the author would get into trouble. However, there are five verses of an acrostic in Esther. The order and form of the initial letters in the first four verses were analyzed. The discovery was they indeed appeared in the original Hebrew text and these four letters were JHVH, which is the name of the Lord in Hebrew. At present, the Chinese transliteration of the name is pronounced “Yehehua” (in Chinese Pinyin, translator’s note), and the Hebrew pronunciation is “Yahweh”.

Although they lived in a very difficult environment at that time, even their religious terms could not be explicitly used and so had to use the obscure way, the spirit of faith flowed vividly. Behind Esther’s story was Judaism, a group of God’s chosen people who kept their faith alive and passed on during the captivity just as someone commented on this book, “Although the name of God is not mentioned in Esther, the Book of Esther is full of God’s fingerprints.”

This is amazing and worthy of our deep thought and imitation.

It was the renewal and precipitation of faith in the valley that supported the process of their later returning, rebuilding the temple and offering of sacrifices.

It can be seen that getting out of the temple-centralism and reviving the tradition of holy books was one of the core keys to the inheritance and renewal of the faith of the Jewish community when facing the crisis of religious corruption and exile at that time.

During the long decades of captivity, they did not have their own temples, nor could they publicly perform traditional religious ceremonies such as sacrifices. However, the tradition of holy books helped them keep the tradition and understanding of the faith, and helped them deepen their understanding and precipitation of faith in the trough.

This is indeed a strange contradiction: when the outside world is under pressure, they turned to the inside to think deeply about several essential issues: God, the chosen people, history, past, judgment, redemption, future, peace, hope, etc.

Unfortunately, after their return and the reconstruction, they once again fell into religious corruption, temple-centralism, hypocrisy, and legalism, but hundreds of years later, Jesus came to the world and broke this again, which continues to this day.

The word of Jesus has become the core content of the Gospels we read and think about today. Jesus took his body as the temple and promised that he would be resurrected after death, replacing the physical temple and the system of sacrifice and atonement. Jesus said that true worship was to worship in heart and honesty, then he brought us faith and spiritual renewals. He claimed that wherever two or three people came together in his name, he would be among them. He told us that the essence of the gathering was not about the outward number of participants and large areas of buildings, but was a group of people who gathered in his name. Again, Jesus gave us a new command to love each other so that everyone could recognize his disciples. He told us that the essence of godliness was not to stick to religious ceremonies but to love your neighbor as yourself.

It goes without saying that Jesus is the center of the message of the Bible, and Jesus replaced the temple. Today, the fellowship of those who believe in him is a new form of the temple.

References:

You, Bin., The Literary, Historical and Thought World of the Hebrew Bible - An Introduction. Beijing: China Religious Culture Publisher, 2007.

Pawson, J. David., Unlocking the Bible: Old Testament - the Book of Esther. Taipei: Good TV.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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