Ephesians 2:19-22 is the conclusion of an argument which began in 2:11. Paul began this section by pointing out in that the gentiles were once enemies of God and totally separated from the Jews (2:11-13). This left Gentiles without hope of salvation, especially since the hatred went both ways. There was a wall, a dividing wall of hostility, between the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul may very well be thinking of the literal wall in the Temple marking off the limited access for the Gentiles to worship in the Temple.
But in 2:14-18 Paul states that through Jesus we have peace with God, the enmity between Jew and Gentile is destroyed. What Jesus did in his body on the cross created a peace between Jew and Gentile which was unimaginable in previous ages.
Perhaps his allusion to the Temple led Paul to use a Temple metaphor in verses 19-22. On the other hand, architectural metaphors are common in the first century. In Galatians Gal 2:9 Paul called the apostles “pillars,” a metaphor which is repeated in Revelation. Another example is 4Q Florilegium (4Q174) describes the “holy ones” as a temple, but one that is built in the last days. For the writer of this document, the an image of exclusion, only the holy ones are a part of the temple, and of course the holy ones include only the writer and his community. Paul’s church, on the other hand, is inclusive. If the true Temple of God is built from both Jews and Gentiles, then all who are in Christ are a part of this temple.
Several implications flow from this metaphor of the church as a Temple of God. If Paul has in mind the Temple in Jerusalem, then he may be thinking of the stones prepared by Herod’s stone workers. These stones were cut and dressed so that the fit perfectly in the spot intended If the individual believer is “like a stone” in the Temple, then we ought to find some comfort in the fact that God has prepared us for the role we play.
Second, the Temple is built on the proper foundation, the “apostles and prophets.” It seems to me that Paul has in mind the first generation of the Church, the apostolic traditions and teachings. But notice the “chief cornerstone” is Jesus himself. In the traditional view, Paul is writing this letter in the early 60’s. If is very likely that the first generation was beginning to die off. Certainly the second generation of the church struggled with deviations in both doctrine and practice. Using this metaphor, Paul is saying that anything not built on the foundation of the existing tradition is bound to be dangerous.
Third, the building is growing. This is a natural extension of the metaphor, since Greek and Roman buildings “grew up” as they were being built. Like a tree, buildings start from the ground (the foundation) and grow upward. There is a step-by-step process which must be followed over a long period of time. The Church universal is continuing to grow, Paul says, until it is a Temple fit for God.
This third point ought to be a warning: We are continuing the process of “growing the church.” What are we contributing to the Temple? Is the contribution of the western Church material which strengthens and builds up the church?