Treasures From the Original

Let Us Resolve Not to be Temple Robbers (Romans 2:22)

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Why should we seek to bring the worthless treasure of the temples of this fallen world into our lives and into the church, when we have the incomparable Christ?

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Do you know what it means to be a "temple robber"? It has nothing to do with giving or not giving to the Lord's work. It describes a much more basic and serious sin. Individual Christians, families, churches, and Christian institutions can all fall prey to it. 

The Greek word translated "rob temples", used here and only one other place in the Bible, pinpoints the potential fault in our lives and ministries, and calls clearly for repentance.

Context: Our Starting Point

Let us begin by looking at verse 22 in context by starting at verse 17:

Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law.

You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples ["commit sacrilege" in the KJV]? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," as it is written.

For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law?

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God (Romans 2:17-29).

In the verses above, Paul addresses the Jew who would rest in his law-keeping as a way of justifying himself before God. This passage is part of Paul's larger discourse in which he teaches that all men, Jews and Gentiles, with or without a written law code, are sinners in the sight of God and in need of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.

It's interesting to note that all of the "you" pronouns in this passage are singular. The sins of which Paul speaks are individual, not corporate or national. Accountability before God is an individual matter. Likewise, salvation is an individual matter. There is no salvation in being a member of a certain nation or group. And for the Jew in particular, Paul makes the point that salvation is not a matter of outward physical circumcision, but of "circumcision of the heart" of the individual, wrought by the Holy Spirit in salvation.

A Word Used Only Twice

Paul's focus, especially beginning at verse 17, is the hypocrisy of making one's boast in the Law. The word that Paul uses in verse 22, translated "commit sacrilege" in the KJV and "rob temples" in the NKJV, is used only twice in the New Testament. Here in verse 22, it appears in the verb form hierosuleo, which means, literally, "to rob temples."

In Acts 19:37, the noun form of the same word is used. That passage gives the account of a riot incited against Paul and his companions by those who made their living producing images of the goddess Diana. The city clerk of Ephesus, attempting to quell the riot, spoke in their defense, saying, "these men are not hierosolous," literally, temple robbers.

What is the point in these two passages?

A Capital Crime

According to historians, some Jews of the Dispersion actually made a self-righteous business venture of looting pagan temples and selling the idols, or the precious metals of which they were made, for profit. This was a direct violation of Deuteronomy 7:25: "You shall burn the carved images of their gods with fire; you shall not covet the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, lest you be snared by it; for it is an abomination to the Lord your God."

Not only was this a violation of Old Testament law, it was also a violation of Roman law. Josephus and Philo both say that hierosuleo, robbery of temples, was a crime on a par with treason and murder in the Roman world, punishable by death. There was also a Roman law against stealing sacred books and monies from the Jewish Temple, promulgated by Caesar Augustus. But since Romans 2:22 refers to temples in the plural, and has "abhor idols" as the antithesis, it is highly doubtful that Paul is asking Jews if they rob their own Temple. However, the fact that Jews would rob pagan temples, when even Roman law protected them against the robbery of their own Temple, would only add to their hypocrisy in the eyes of Gentiles.

Paul uses hierosuleo in Romans 2:22 because robbing pagan temples was one of the more blatant contemporary examples of Jewish hypocrisy, and would be a cause of blasphemy of the name of Jehovah among the Gentiles (2:24).

Applying This Truth Today

Let me suggest these points of application:

First, Christians individually, in our families, in the workplace - in all of our connections and pursuits - must guard against the sin of hypocrisy. Many greatly, sadly neglect this truth today. We can fall into hypocrisy so easily in so many ways. Children are on the lookout for it in their parents. Especially in the ages of the "cancel culture", the unbelieving world is constantly on the lookout for any opportunity to accuse Christians of hypocrisy. It is true, many of those accusations will be lies spawned by Satan, who is the father of the lie (John 8:44). But we must, by seeking to please the Lord and examining our living and thinking in the light of His Word, , and thus keep from giving the Gospel a bad reputation in the eyes of others.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)

Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:16-18)

Secondly, extension of the underlying principle of temple-robbing would certainly encompass appropriating anything having to do with idolatry, for any purpose. Often the contemporary Evangelical church and Christian ministries and educational institutions "rob temples" by bringing the trappings of the idolatrous world into their worship and conduct, and the thinking of the world into their doctrine, teaching, and preaching.

Twenty times in the Gospel records, the Lord Jesus condemned the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees of the religious establishment of the day as "hypocrites". We must ask: What would the Lord say of our churches and institutions today? The evidence abounds that He could, very justly, level such a charge against many. May there be sincere repentance of these things.

Why should we seek to bring the worthless treasure of the "temples" of this fallen world into our lives and into the church, when we have the incomparable Christ, "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3)? Let us follow the example the Holy Spirit has given to us:

By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the [pagan] treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. (Hebrews 11:24-27)


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