An Email about Authority and Mathematics, Part 4 (Introduction to “Spirit and truth”)

samaritanI’ve written on John 4:23-24 several times. It’s a critical passage in understanding the New Testament’s doctrine of worship — and much, much more. And it’s one of those passages that is almost always misunderstood because we come to looking for answers to the wrong questions.

(Joh 4:21-24 ESV)  21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Traditional reading

In many denominations, especially those who teach the Regulative Principle, the passage is explained as a contrast between the Jews and Samaritans. The Jews have the truth (meeting in the right location according to the right rules) but lack the spirit (have hard hearts). The Samaritans lack the truth (once worshiped on Mt. Gerezim) but have the right spirit (have tender hearts anxious to worship). Jesus, it is argued, therefore wants use to have both the right rules and the right hearts. (And the rules will be found by applying CENI and the Regulative Principle).However, nothing here criticizes the heart of the Jews. Indeed, while Jesus often confronts the Jewish leaders, he doesn’t condemn the entire nation as hard hearted. After all, John’s Gospel tells of many Jews who came to Jesus with tender hearts — just not all.

Nor does Jesus commend the hearts of the Samaritans in the passage, and he only criticizes their worship in the wrong location. You see, under Ezra and Nehemiah, the Samaritans had been excluded from the Temple, and under the Maccabees, the Jews had destroyed the alternative temple built by the Samaritans on Mt. Gerezim. (It’s really hard to criticize their failure to go to the Temple when they weren’t permitted there.)

And, as we’ll see, the context clearly points us toward different meanings for “Spirit” and for “truth.”

Background: Jesus the Temple

For a while now, New Testament scholars have been becoming increasingly convinced that Jesus saw himself as coming in judgment on the Temple and as its replacement.

N. T. Wright explains how this is true –

“The Temple was a true signpost to God’s future.”

“Jesus … offered the reality to which the Temple had been pointing.”

For a deeper discussion of this subject, see Jesus the Temple by Nicholas Perrin.

And this helps us better understand such statements from Jesus as —

(Mat 12:5-6 ESV) 5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?  6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.

(Joh 2:18-19 ESV) 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”  19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

Background: The church is the temple

We are, I’m sure, familiar with the passages where the apostles refer to the church as temple. There are many, such as —

(1Co 3:10-17 ESV)  10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.  11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw –  13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.  14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.  16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

In an extensive metaphor, Paul describes the Corinthian congregation as a temple of the Holy Spirit under construction. Like the Temple in Jerusalem, the temple can be made of gold, silver, precious stones, or lesser materials (as in the case of Nehemiah’s temple).

And like God’s Temple in Jerusalem, this temple can be destroyed — and such a destruction would be a dreadful sin against God.

Later, Paul uses the same typology to make another point to the Corinthians –

(2Co 6:16 NAS)  16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

Peter offers the same typology –

(1Pe 2:4-5 NAS)  4 And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God,  5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Thus, we repeatedly see a congregation characterized as a temple for the Holy Spirit as well as a place for church members to offer “spiritual sacrifices.”

On a shallow reading, it would seem contradictory to describe both Jesus and the church as the new temple, but the church is the body of Christ. The church and Jesus are joined —

(Eph 4:15-16 ESV)  15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Thinking ahead a bit

What is distinctive about the Temple to Jesus and the Samaritan woman? Well, it’s where you go to worship, to proskuneo. Indeed, the word for “worship” used by Jesus is the word used by the Jews to refer uniquely to worship at the Temple.

The Jews would never, ever have spoken of worshipping in the synagogue or even at home. They might go to the synagogue to pray or study the Torah, but worship was an event that could only occur in Jerusalem.

The worship of God at the Temple primarily involved sacrifice of animals and other kinds of food — oil, wine, flour, etc. And so to really get Jesus’ point, you have to imagine “worship” as referring especially to dragging a very unhappy sheep or bull through the narrow, crowded streets of Jerusalem, up the very tall steps leading to the Temple, to the priest, to offer that animal’s life to Jehovah God to express thanks for his blessings or to ask for forgiveness. That’s the primary sense of proskuneo when Jesus was speaking.

And so, in the mind of any First Century Jew or Samaritan, to worship meant to sacrifice. It’s not about going through rites and rituals to appease an angry god. That’s paganism. It’s about sacrificing out of gratitude for the goodness of God, and so any interpretation of Jesus’ words that leaves out sacrifice has to be wrong.

On the other hand, we know that Jesus fulfilled the obligation to offer atonement sacrifices to God. But what we forget (because we don’t study our Torahs) is that the Jews also offered voluntary sacrifices — peace or thanks offerings. And these involved the worshiper eating from the sacrifice, symbolically with God.

And so Jesus’ atonement sacrifice doesn’t end the need to sacrifice, just the need to sacrifice to obtain forgiveness. That’s already done and accomplished.

(Rom 12:1 ESV) I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Do you see how neatly it all ties together? We sacrifice ourselves, everything we are, in gratitude to God, not to buy salvation but in appreciation for the salvation we’ve already received.

Thus, the church, as the body of Christ, is the place where we give ourselves away to God. Here are some other comparisons to the Temple in Jerusalem —

* We entered the presence of God in the church, because the fullness of the Godhead dwells within the church, just as the Jews approached the presence of God at the Temple.

* We must be cleansed to enter the church, not just by baptismal waters but also by the Spirit, because the body of Christ can only be made up of members who are sinless, just the Jews had to wash in a mikveh before entering the Temple.

* The church has a mission to show the glory of God to the world, just as the Temple once did.

* But most importantly, the church is where we offer sacrifice, ourselves, just as the Temple once was that place for the Jews.

Now, notice that “church” does not mean “assembly.” All these things are true of the church whether or not we’re gathered to sing and listen to sermons. It’s a 24/7 kind of thing.

This is not to say that we can’t worship during the assembly, just that the word “worship” on the lips of Jesus and his apostles is not a reference specifically to the assembly — it’s a reference to dying to self.

(Heb 13:16 NIV) 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

[to be continued]

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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14 Responses to An Email about Authority and Mathematics, Part 4 (Introduction to “Spirit and truth”)

  1. Grizz says:


    you wrote, “On a shallow reading, it would seem contradictory to describe both Jesus and the church as the new temple, but the church is the body of Christ. The church and Jesus are joined –

    (Eph 4:15-16 ESV) 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

    Jay, you claim this is contradictory, but how is it contradictory? If Jesus and the church are joined, and we agree that they are, then why should they NOT both be described as the new temple?

    Would not both things joined share the properties of both things whether speaking of them jointly or distinctly?

    For instance, My wife and I are married. She is married and so am I. Both of us are married. Therefore to apply the rules and characteristics of marriage to both of us is valid and logical.

    How can it be illogical to apply the rules and characteristics of marriage to our union or to apply them to either of us as individuals within the marriage relationship?


  2. Johnny says:

    He never said it was contradictory, the part you quoted makes that clear.

  3. Like all physical descriptions of spiritual things, the Bride is real, but the illustration itself is allegorical. It is unwise to take metaphors and try to hammer all the pertinent natural details (rules and characteristics) onto them. My father is Jesus’ father, and Jesus is my older brother, but our “marriage” is not incestuous. The children of God don’t have feathers, even though the psalmist said that God does. Jesus is the head of the Body, but His body does not always do what He says. Nor is he dependent upon us for his continued existence, as is so with the natural man. These are limited pictures of a greater reality, not reality in and of themselves. These pictures are intended to clue us into that spiritual reality. They have not the power to duplicate that reality in the natural. No one should confuse a model for the real thing.

    It is possible to drive off the road while staring at the map.

  4. martin says:

    Hello all,
    Just found this site a few days ago, and look forward to participating in a Christ exalting, God honoring discussion. The timing was quite fortuitous since this discussion of regulative worship/life of worship has been a matter of great importance to me lately. Our church hired a preacher a couple of years ago who is quite fond of CENI as an exegetical framework, and is applying it to everything that occurs at the facility. For instance, we used to have VBS at our church building. However once he came he moved VBS off campus and into homes. According to his interpretation of CENI, it is acceptable in a home but not at church because, well, it’s church. And when two or more believers are gathered in His name it’s worship, and as such CENI applies. But two or more believers at home don’t qualify as worship and so CENI does not apply. After all CENI is only about worship.
    But here’s the problem as I see it–as Jay points out, under the new covenant our entire lives are worship. It may often be less than acceptable, but it is our worship none the less. And not in some metaphoric manner. Our entire life should be a life of complete and total sacrifice to God, filled with constant praise, prayer and service.
    Accepting scripture at face value I can only conclude that our entire lives are meant to be lived in worship of God. If CENI applies to worship, then we must apply it to everything we do, everywhere, all the time. So it would appear to me that you can either accept CENI, or a life of worship, but it would be exceedingly difficult to accept both.

  5. Anthony Hipps says:

    Martin, you nailed it brother. According to Romans 12 the sacrifice of ouserlves and using our gifts for Christ is “WORSHIP”. Colossians 3:17 says everything we do is (or should be) worship (done in the name of the Lord giving praise to God). I Corinthians 10:31 shares that same sentiment. Until we come to the understanding that our whole lives, in and out of the assembly, are worship then we are missing it. Keep growing, learning, asking and seeking my brother. It is a very blessed journey. Yours In Christ, Big A.

  6. John says:

    Amazing, is it not, just how ridiculous the application of CENI becomes? When I was preaching a minister from a near by congregation (a graduate of a preaching school in a near by city) refused to fellowship us because we at times sang during communion, for which he said there was no example of mixing two acts of worship; and also because we had a chain prayer during a men’s breakfast and devotional. He said that was not scriptural because there was no example of a prayer being said without an “amen”, and that during a chain prayer not all participants say “amen”.

    While growing up I always heard that the rest of the religious world stood amazed at, and intimidated by, our Biblical knowledge. To be honest, I believe most were snickering.

  7. tmcluret says:

    Yes, several texts gladly teach that all Christian living is worship. This is one major reason that church leaders must commit to live holy lives and urge others to do the same. The “secret lives” of church leaders–including elders, deacons, teachers, ministers, and those “special” members- must be exposed and addressed, rather than protected, rationalized, minimized or denied. This point is emphasized in every book of the New Testament. It was a major concern of Paul. All of life is worship. Has church adapted so thoroughly to the post modern era –“write your own narrative, out of your own convictions”– that it is now post-repentance? If it is post repentance, it is post-worship. But all of life is worship. Does Scripture now only “encourage” and “exhort,” does it no longer reprove or rebuke? How much editing must occur to pair down the Word of God to that level? God doesn’t ask perfection from us. In grace, he bestows a status of sonship (childhood), justification and sanctification upon us. Yet, these are dynamic forces, associated with the active Spirit and the active Son. They change us in a God-ward direction. We acknowledge our failures along the way–as best we can– and God continues to work in and through us. It is the conspiratorial compromise with worldly values by Christians who know better, sometimes church leaders–usually done in the name of “maintaining the fellowship”–that underlies many–perhaps most–shortcomings in the modern church (as, sometimes, in the ancient church, Revelation 2-3). Yes, Judas was a thief for quite a while without public exposure (to my knowledge). Yes, tares will grow next to wheat and will not be eliminated until the End. Yet, Judas did play a unique role in the drama of salvation history, and the tares are “secret” to others. It is when secrets are held because ungodly living is known to occur that leaders have a responsibility to act…or, if they are scared, they can resign and retain some degree of self-respect and honor, although that would cost them their power.

  8. John, every time I am about to believe my CoC brothers when they tell me how things have changed all over the denomination, I read a testimony like yours and feel like I have time-traveled back to the 19th Century. Someone in the CoC is continuing to churn out new generations of people whose thinking has not progressed since Daniel Sommer. It’s distressing. It’s embarrassing. It makes me want to tell my friends, “Don’t take a chance! Stay away!”

  9. Ray Downen says:

    Jay often has good insight into scripture. Here he’s wrong. He says,

    we repeatedly see a congregation characterized as a temple for the Holy Spirit as well as a place for church members to offer “spiritual sacrifices.”

    And what the scripture is teaching is that church MEMBERS are the temple, not the congregation gathered or apart. EACH Christian is a temple of the Spirit, is the message of the apostles. The Spirit lives within each of US, not within any gathered group.

  10. Jay Guin says:


    I wouldn’t be as disappointed in your exegesis if the verses already quoted in the main post didn’t contradict what you are saying. I urge you to read them.

    It is also true that we are individually temples of the Spirit, as shown by 1 Cor 6:19. But every other reference to being a temple of the Spirit is congregational —

    (Eph 2:19-22 ESV) 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

  11. Larry Cheek says:

    To many times when congregational is mentioned many church members that assemble in a congregation see others outside their congregation as not part of the Kingdom also. Some even condemn other congregations within the same city.

  12. Ray Downen says:

    I’m sorry to have to continue to disagree with the idea that God deals with congregations rather than with individuals within the congregation. Paul surely is saying that you (individuals) are being built together. Individuals. Members of a congregation do not share guilt when their leaders go astray. Indidivual members not guilty of particular sins of others in the congregation are not judged guilty as part of the group which includes some guilty members. At least that’s how I see it. We will face judgment as individuals rather than as groups.

    The seven letters to seven CONGREGATIONS makes clear that there was sin “in the camp.” It makes clear that judgment will slurely follow. What is not made clear is that it’s the guilty individuals who will suffer for their sin and not the congregation as a whole. God is a just judge. He will not condemn those who are NOT guilty! We note that the congregation in Corinth was guilty for not rebuking the guilty person in their midst. They obviously knew of the sin so should have handled it with righteousness. They were guilty of NOT dealing with known sin. It’s circumstances like this that Jay is speaking of, I suspect. And he’s surely right that members of a congregation should be aware of their brothers and sisters and should care for one another. And we should love also those who are NOT members of “our” congregation.

  13. Jay Guin says:

    Ray wrote,

    I’m sorry to have to continue to disagree with the idea that God deals with congregations rather than with individuals within the congregation.

    I have never said such a thing. Ever. Rather, my point is that BOTH are true. The individual is a temple of the Spirit, as is the congregation — but the Bible speaks far more often and in far more detail about the congregation as temple. That doesn’t make it untrue that the individual is also a temple, but it does mean that our teaching should reflect the emphasis of the scriptures.

    Just so, baptism quite obviously has a vital individual impact, but it also is a congregational event. It’s not EITHER/OR, nor do we have the right to require God to pick one or the other.

    I have to say that I disagree with the canned CoC argument that because of the lampstands metaphor in Rev, a congregation is either all damned or all saved. That’s absurd — a human invention designed to let us easily condemn congregation by congregation, coming from a judgmental heart.

    Of course, it can happen that way, but it doesn’t have to happen that way.

  14. Ray Downen says:

    Good for Jay! He notes that Jesus wants us as His people to work together rather than each apart from all other Christians. And he’s right that Paul wrote to congregations more often than to only an individual. Yet EACH of us will stand before the Judge in the final judgment. As an individual rather than as a part of any group.

    I don’t speak for anyone but myself, of course. I hope I don’t use any “canned” arguments even though some no doubt have thought before me in ways that I now think. For some years now I’ve been aware that Jay Guin thinks for himself and doesn’t depend on the teaching of others before he decides what to think is true. This is admirable!

    As for baptism being a “congregational event,” it may or may not be seen by onlookers. Its effects are the same regardless of how many or few observe the act. It’s an individual being born again of water and spirit. No witnesses are necessary. If a congregation has a new member, that’s allright. But Paul clearly says that baptism is “into Christ,.” I believe Paul.

    Some nowadays have adopted the Baptist view that baptism is into a congregation. That is NOT what the apostles taught and practiced. If the baptizer is part of a congregation, most likely the new Christian will automatically be added to the membership roll of that congregation. But it need not be that way. The Christian is now “in Christ.”

    The new Christian is blessed if he/she finds a group of fellow believers and chooses to become part of that group. But it’s up to the new Christian where “membership” in a congregation is placed. Baptism, I repeat, is “into Christ” (Galatians 3:27). It’s entirely an INDIVIUAL event.

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