The temple naturally would have been a place of special importance for the Apostle Paul. After he became a follower of Jesus he devoted most of his time to missionary travel and only returned to Jerusalem a few times. But earlier in his life, Jerusalem had been his second home. Without doubt, he would have spent a great deal of time in the temple— it is possible that he was educated somewhere in its courts.
I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel...” (Acts 22:3 ESV)
“Now all the Jews know the way I lived from my youth, spending my life from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem.” (Acts 26:4 NET)
We can assume that he felt awe and affection for the temple matching these words from Scripture— “O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.” (Psalm 26:8 NRSV) “One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4 NRSV) No doubt Paul was devout, like the Prophetess Anna, who “did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2:37 ESV) and like the other disciples he desired “to gather together by common consent in the temple courts” (Acts 2:46 NET).
(The Second Jewish Temple. Model in the Israel Museum. Photo by Deror Avi. Source Wikimedia)
I have heard it suggested that the Apostles abandoned all Jewish religious practices and established separate forms and places of worship— the church. Continuing that line of thought, some have assumed that the only reason why the Apostles went to the temple was because they hoped to evangelize the Jewish people there. If we take these assumptions to be true, then Paul's behavior described in the following verses is hard to explain— he does not seem to be evangelizing, rather, he seems to be participating in the religious services of the temple.
“You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city.” (Acts 24:11–12 ESV)
“Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult.” (Acts 24:17–18 ESV)
“When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance... ”(Acts 22:17 ESV)
Paul talks about his burden for his people Israel in Romans chapter nine. In verse four he talks about the gifts that God had blessed Israel with.
“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.” (Romans 9:4 ESV)
Among the blessings that Paul mentions is “the worship” or “the service of God” (KJV). The Greek word translated as worship or service in this text is latreia— we can see that root in the ending of the word idolatry, meaning idol worship.The Louw & Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains provides this definition for latreia: “to perform religious rites as a part of worship”. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines latreia as “in the Greek Bible, the service or worship of God according to the requirements of the levitical law”. We can discover why the lexicons define latreia as religious rites— especially temple rites— by doing a word study in the Septuagint— the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures— and in the New Testament.
Latreia in the Septuagint
“Now when you come into the land whichever the Lord gives you, according as he said, you shall observe this service. And it shall be if your sons shall say to you, ‘What is this service?’” (Exodus 12:25–26 NETS)
“And it shall be whenever the Lord your God brings you into the land of the Chananites and Chettites and Heuites and Gergesites and Amorrites and Pherezites and Iebousites, which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall also perform this service in this month.” (Exodus 13:5 NETS)
“... but that this may be a witness between us and you and between our descendants after us, to serve a service to the Lord before him with our produce offerings and our sacrifices and our sacrifices of deliverance, and your children will not say to our children tomorrow, ‘You do not have a portion of the Lord.’” (Joshua 22:27 NETS)
“... and of the lodgings of the classes of the priests and Leuites pertaining to every work of ministration of the Lord’s house and of the stores of the liturgical vessels for service in the Lord’s house.” (1 Chronicles 28:13 NETS)
Latreia in Hebrews 9:6
ESV — These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties,...
MOUNCE — When these things had been prepared in this way, the priests used to enter regularly into the outer room to perform their ritual services;...
NKJV — Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services.
With this background, we can understand why many translations bring out the temple service aspect when translating Romans 9:4. As Paul sees it, the temple and its services are one of the blessings that God gave to his people Israel. We can see now why Paul was especially anxious to return to Jerusalem just before his last visit there.
Latreia in Romans 9:4
HCSB — They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, and the promises.
NASB — who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises,
NIV — the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.
Nowhere in the New Testament do we find the Apostles being critical or negative about the temple or its services. Paul speaks of the sacrificial services as a present and living experience without any hint of criticism.
“Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?” (1 Corinthians 10:18 NRSV)
Paul rejects any charges that he has spoken against the temple, and implicitly, its services.
“Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, ... have I committed any offense.”” (Acts 25:8 ESV)
We come from a Christian heritage that has for many centuries spoken negatively and critically of the Israelite religion found in the “Old Testament”. We can find traces of Marcionism in the depictions of the “Old Testament God” in dark light compared to the the brighter and more loving Jesus. When we read the New Testament for ourselves, we do not find this negative spirit toward their ancient religion and its ways. Paul loved his people Israel including their customs and their religious services. Because of centuries of prejudice we have mostly lost sight of this reality— Jesus did not come to overthrow the Law and the Prophets but to bring out of them their fullest meaning.
Within Adventism we take special interest in the Sanctuary and its services. However, we are not completely free from the heritage of prejudice that we share with our fellow Christians— a prejudice that sees the Old Testament as— well, “old”— and in a less than positive light. We must work to end this prejudice— this has always been part of our founding mission.
“Many regard the Jewish economy as an age of darkness. They have received the erroneous idea that repentance and faith had no part in the Hebrew religion, which they claim consisted only of forms and ceremonies. But the children of Israel were saved by Christ as virtually as is the sinner of today.” (The Signs of the Times, Israel Arrives at Sinai, E. G. White, April 22, 1880)
“Let not man mock the ancient Jewish economy, ... The idea that the Old Testament no longer possesses vital interest because the New Testament has been written, is an idea fatal to the soul of him who believes it. Both the Old Testament and the New are necessary. The New Testament does not contain another Gospel, a new religion. It is but the unfolding of the Old.” (The Signs of the Times, The Way, the Truth, and the Life—No. 2, E. G. White, January 13, 1898)
“The Christian church, on the other hand, who profess the utmost faith in Christ, in despising the Jewish system virtually deny Christ, who was the originator of the entire Jewish economy.” (The Signs of the Times, The Law and the Gospel, E. G. White, March 14, 1878)
“The significance of the Jewish economy is not yet fully comprehended.” (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 133)
Here is the appeal— Paul found meaning in the temple services without any conflict with his devotion to the Lord Jesus. Paul found many things in those services that he used in analogies illustrating and explaining the meaning of Jesus. But— the Hebrew Scriptures are more than just sources of metaphors for events in the first-century life of Jesus of Nazareth.
“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:1–4 NRSV)
Paul proclaims that “Moses”— the Torah, and by extension the rest of Hebrew Scriptures— is the “spiritual drink” that has its source in the Messiah. The teachings of the Torah— including the temple services— contain many practical lessons on personal and social behavior. These lessons teach us how to live— and Paul taught those lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures.
“From morning until evening he explained things to them, testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from both the law of Moses and the prophets.” (Acts 28:23 NET)
“Nevertheless, I have written to remind you more boldly on some points because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, serving as a priest of God’s good news. My purpose is that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore I have reason to boast in Christ Jesus regarding what pertains to God. For I would not dare say anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed.” (Romans 15:15-18 HCSB)
May we take a renewed interest in studying all the Scriptures— including the temple services that Paul found so meaningful.