Ray’s Note: I especially appreciated this guest article by Troy Edwards (www.vindicatinggod.org) as he had some very good explanations of idioms and their use. I have included it here by permission and with slight editing. The highlighted emphasis is mine to especially draw attention to the importance of understanding the effect of idioms.
God Destroys Those Who Destroy His Temple
By Troy J. Edwards
“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” (1 Corinthians 3:17)
Recently, I was asked by someone to explain this passage in the light of the Biblical truth advocated by our ministry that God, due to His divine nature of harmless love (1 John 4:16; Rom 13:8-10; Heb 7:26; John 10:10; 1 Pet 5:7-10), does not literally or directly (by the use of His omnipotent power) bring destruction upon anyone.
We are to always keep in mind that the Bible is the inspired and infallible written Word of God. Nevertheless, because it comes to us from a time and culture far removed from our own, much of it requires explanation and interpretation (Pro 1:6; Luke 24:25-27; Acts 8:27-34; 2 Pet 1:20).
God chose to have His Word communicated via men who were part of an ancient Hebrew culture. All cultures, both past and present, have idioms. Idioms are words that are unique to a particular language, culture and group of people. The ancient Hebrew people were no exception. Therefore, it is important to understand the unique idioms that were present among the culture and expressed through the writings of God’s servants. One of the numerous idioms among the Hebrews was the permissive idiom. The late Hebrew scholar, Robert Young, described this particular idiom while commenting on 2 Chron 25:16. He explained that the passage is:
“…. agreeably to the well-known scripture idiom whereby what God allows he is said to do.” (Young, Robert, 1868, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, as Literally and Idiomatically Translated out of the Original Languages; New York: Fullarton, McNab & Co., p315)
Though God spoke through the language and idioms of an ancient culture He also took into consideration the fact that His message would someday be studied by numerous languages and cultures in different ages that might not be familiar with ancient Hebraism. Therefore, He always ensured that His meanings were explained in other portions of Scripture.
For example, God complains to Satan concerning Job, “….thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause” (Job 2:3b). However, the careful reader understands that it was Satan who actually brought the destruction upon Job (Job 1:10-12). While the divinely-inspired writer of Job rendered God’s statement to Satan in the permissive idiom of the Hebrews, the context of Job makes plain the truth that His statement was permissive rather than causative. He is merely said to do that which He permitted Satan to do.
A study of the Bible shows us that God is only said to destroy when He removes His protective presence from the recipient of destruction (Psalm 145:20; Isa 64:6-7; 43:25-28; 2 Kings 13:22-23; Prov 1:24-28; Hosea 5:6). He is said to destroy when He “gives people up” and allows their enemies to destroy them (Isa 34:2; 2 Chron 12:5-7; Hosea 11:8-9; Eze 21:31). Therefore, when reading any Bible passage, especially in the Old Testament, that appears to teach that God personally engaged in destructive behavior, it is best to interpret it in the permissive rather than in the causative.
Thankfully some Bible translators recognize this truth and render certain passages to reflect it. For example, in Isa 64:7 we read, “…. for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.” Isaiah complained that God had consumed them. However, Isaiah also complained that God “hid His face.” The “hiding” of God’s face is defined in Scripture as the removal of His divine protection, thus allowing whatever forces of evil already poised to destroy to have their way (Num 6:24-27; Deut 31:16-18; Isa 59:1-2). Therefore, the New Century Version is correct in rendering Isa 64:7 as, “…. That is because you have turned away from us and have let our sins destroy us.”
The Hebrew Idioms Carry Over into the New Testament
Many Bible students believe that gaining knowledge of the original Greek language is sufficient for interpreting and understanding the New Testament. Yet, though the New Testament is written in the Greek rather than the Hebrew, it was still written from a Hebraic perspective. Thus, cultural idioms found in the Old Testament carry over into the New. Ignorance of this truth has led to grave misunderstandings of God’s character and actions. One of several scholars have noted that
“…. the idiom of the New Testament not unfrequently departs from classical Greek, and follows the Hebrew. An interpreter who neglects this will fall into great difficulties, and commit many surprising and almost ridiculous mistakes.” (Stuart, Moses, 1827, Elements of Biblical Criticism and Interpretation (London: B. J. Holdsworth, p99)
I would add to the above statement that such surprising and difficult mistakes often lead one to mischaracterize God and paint a false picture of Him. In order to avoid misrepresenting God as a harsh destroyer, one needs to recognize that the permissive idiom (or “idiom of permission” as others refer to it) is frequent in the New Testament as well as in the Old.
For example, our Lord Jesus taught us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:13). But does God actually lead people into temptation? James tells us, “…. God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (James 1:13b). God’s Word never contradicts itself. Therefore, the only explanation is that our Lord taught using the idiomatic expressions of the Jews. As one scholar stated:
“Lead us not, in the Hebrew idiom, signifies ‘Suffer or abandon us not.’” (Davidson, David, 1848, The Comprehensive Pocket Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments with Explanatory Notes by David Davidson; Edinburgh: James Brydone, p619)
Another commentator writes:
“A Hebraism, according to which God is said to do that which he permits to be done. The meaning is, preserve us from temptation; permit us not to fall into temptation.” (Paige, Lucious Robinson, 1849, A Commentary on the New Testament, Volume 1; Boston: Benjamin B. Mussey p77)
Hence, this is ample proof that the Greek New Testament requires knowledge of Hebrew idioms in order to fully comprehend it.
“Him God Shall Destroy”
Since the Hebrew idioms, including the permissive idiom, carries over into the New Testament, then when we read in 1 Cor. 3:17, “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy,” we can understand this as permissive rather than causative.
In the Old Testament, God said concerning His house, or temple, “…. and this house, which I have sanctified for my name, will I cast out of my sight” (2 Chron 7:20b). The Contemporary English Version renders it, “I will desert this temple where I said I would be worshiped” and the Good News Translation reads, “I will abandon this Temple that I have consecrated as the place where I am to be worshiped.”
When God forsakes or abandons His temple then that is the removal of His protection, to which He permits those enemies already poised to destroy to have their way:
“I have forsaken mine house, I have left mine heritage; I have given the dearly beloved of my soul into the hand of her enemies. (Jer 12:7)
The Unlocked Dynamic Bible translates the latter part of Jer 12:7, “I have allowed their enemies to conquer the people whom I love.” It is in this manner that God is said to destroy in relation to His temple:
“The Lord hath cast off his altar, he hath abhorred his sanctuary, he hath given up into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces; they have made a noise in the house of the LORD, as in the day of a solemn feast. The LORD hath purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion: he hath stretched out a line, he hath not withdrawn his hand from destroying: therefore he made the rampart and the wall to lament; they languished together.” (Lam 2:7-8)
Again, other translations make the permissive sense of this passage clearer:
- “The Lord rejected his altar and deserted his holy Temple; He allowed the enemy to tear down its walls” (Good News Translation)
- “The Lord abandoned his altar and his temple; he let Zion’s enemies capture her fortresses” (Contemporary English Version)
- “He has allowed our enemies to tear down the walls of our temple and our palaces” (Unlocked Dynamic Version)
This same pattern by which God is said to destroy, which is by the loss of His protection over the sinning one rather than to directly inflict, continues into the New Testament. While the Old Testament Jews built an external temple, the New Testament reveals that God’s temple are the physical bodies of those who follow and serve Christ (1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:14-16; Eph 2:21- 22; John 2:19-22). In the same epistle in which we are warned that God would destroy those who destroy His temple, we learn how church rebels are disciplined:
“To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Cor 5:5)
Just as we see in the Old Testament that God does not destroy directly but by no longer protecting the offender and allowing their enemies to kill them, the same principle applies to the New Testament temple defilers. God will no longer protect them from the consequences of their own destructive behavior (see Rom 1:24-28). The “Unlocked Dynamic Bible” interpretation of 1 Cor 3:17 brings this out:
“Yahweh promises that he will destroy anyone who attempts to destroy his temple. This is because his temple belongs to him alone. And he protects you by the same promise because you are now his temple and you belong to him alone!” (1 Cor 3:17, Unlocked Dynamic Bible)
Therefore, with all such passages, always keep in mind that God’s primary method of destruction is “permissive” and not “causative” in the sense that He will no longer protect a person and will allow them to suffer the inevitable consequences of their sin.