Ephesians 2:20-22 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The church as the household of God (v. 19) has a strong foundation. Paul continues to build on the metaphor of the church as a house and family but transitions this into the image of a temple. He points out three key features of the foundation for this temple. The first is that the foundation is built on the apostles. This recognizes the ministry and authority of those commissioned by Jesus to preach the gospel. This group included the eleven from Jesus’ ministry, Matthias who replaced Judas, Paul, and Barnabas are named as apostles. The term may have been used more broadly than simply a small group as those who have been “sent out.” In this verse, it has a strong sense of authority. The apostles were the source of authoritative teaching because they learned directly from Jesus.

Second, this foundation of this temple was also built upon the prophets. This likely is a reference to Israel’s prophets of the Old Testament. These prophets pointed to the coming of the Messiah and the hope of the gospel (Romans 16:26). This statement connects what Paul writes in the letter to the long past of God’s people. The church and the gospel are not new inventions but have been part of God’s plan since the beginning. The church is the fulfillment of what the prophets looked forward to. Basically, the church–and thus the Ephesian believers–are part of God’s plan in Scripture (Old Testament) and the preaching of the gospel (New Testament). It is “new” in the sense that anyone can become part of it.

Third, this temple made of people has Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. This may be an allusion to Isaiah 28:16, which is also quoted in Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Act 4:11; and 1 Peter 2:6-7. The cornerstone is the key part of the foundation of a building that holds the structure up. It handles the stress of the building and is considered the most important part of the structure. Paul makes this point even clearer in v. 21.

The rest of the building is constructed with Jesus as the cornerstone. The idea of joined together comes from a word only used here and 4:16 in the New Testament. It has the idea of growth or adding parts together to become a whole. It has the prefix “with” (syn), which is used often in this letter to represent the unity of the church together and with Christ. This new family of God grows to become a holy temple in the Lord. Paul used the idea of the church as the temple of God in 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19. There are two key ideas behind this found in the addition of the adjective holy (hagion). This has both relational and ethical connotations to it. Relationally, this is a special place worthy of God’s presence because of God’s mercy and grace. With sin forgiven, believers are able to be in relationship with the Holy God. Ethically, the redemption through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross brings a new life of righteousness and holiness. Believers should live differently because they are the temples of the Holy God.

Finally in v. 22, Paul applies this to the readers of this letter. It is only in him, referring back to “Christ Jesus” of v. 20 and the “Lord” of v. 21, that any of this is possible. Paul uses another verb with the prefix “with” (syn) to show how this new household of God is being built together into this temple. This temple is special because it is worthy of being the dwelling place for God by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the source of transformation, to take us from being deceived and bound by this world to being new creations in Christ. Christ opens the way for this and the Spirit makes it real in each person’s life. The Spirit then unites believers together into a unity. Christ redeems and the Holy Spirit transforms as we give ourselves totally to Christ’s Lordship. It is only “in Christ” that any of this is possible.

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