Robert Cargill wrote a blog from Israel reminding everyone that tomorrow is Tisha b’Av (see Remembering Tisha b’Av). This is the day when Rome destroyed the second temple in 70 CE (there are other tragedies like the destruction of the first temple associated with the date  that you can find listed here). As a reader of the Gospels and the Epistle to the Hebrews it seemed quite evident that the early church had a complicated relationship with the temple. Jesus was accused of making threats against the temple. Some of the language in his apocalyptic discourses seem to confirm that the early church remembered him as saying the days of the temple were numbered. Aspects of the Gospels like John baptizing in the Jordan or Jesus presenting himself as the center of YHWH’s activity have been interpreted as anti-temple polemical actions. The Gospel of John even depicts Jesus as a new temple (or tabernacle): “tabernacles among us” in 1.14.

It seems fair to say that the church was somewhat anti-temple like Qumran. They may have been against the abuses of the temple, not the temple itself. The narratives of Jesus cleansing the temple seem to have this connotation. Of course, if the temple was not abused by its occupants both the critics at Qumran and the early Christians would have not been upset with the temple vis-a-vis the temple. On major difference between these two groups is that it seems the early church refused to remain sectarian. Instead, they continued to participate in the temple cult.

This is most striking in the Book of Acts (which I had been reading over the summer, hence its current relevance). On the one hand, Peter and John are depicted as heading to the temple to worship (3.1-10). In 21.15-40 we have the dramatic scene of Paul returning to Jerusalem and James asking him to pay for the expenses of those who seemed to have taken a Nazarite vow by going with them to the temple. James is concerned that some see Paul as being against the Law. Paul doesn’t fight James and he seems to be alright with James’ idea, although this does result in a riot that leads to his arrest.

We know from Josephus’ Antiquities (XX.9) that James was later killed, but it seems like he was seen as a fairly Law observant Jew. The high priest Ananus ben Ananus is presented as being in the wrong in his judgment to have him killed.

On the other hand Stephen does seem a bit negative. He refers to the temple as “built with hands” (χειροποιήτοις) which is often the same language used for idols and he quotes Isaiah 66.1-2 to remind his audience that the cosmos are God’s temple (indicating that the temple can be used as an idol? it is preventing the Jews from realizing the universality of their God’s reign?). This seems more in line with the Book of Hebrews and other statements in the Gospels that indicated a temporarily to the temple cult and its practices, maybe even the temple itself (7.47-50).

It would seem from the Book of Acts that the first Christians had an interesting relationship with the temple. They didn’t abandon it though they thought it had been corrupted. They denied an agenda to do it harmed, though the Gospels do record Jesus’ words in a way that seem to indicate they saw judgment on the temple as vindicating Jesus as a prophet (especially with the Daniel 7 ascending to judge allusions).