Re: "robbing temples"?

Randy Leedy (
Sat, 25 Jan 1997 11:08:39 -0500

Felix Sung inquires about the meaning of hIEROSULEW in Romans 2:22.
In the context, of course, Paul is charging legalistic Jews with
practicing the very things they preach against. So whatever "robbing
temples" is, it must be some form of idolatry, since it answers to
the Jews' detestation of idols.

I had occasion to look at this phrase just yesterday. One opinion,
reflected in BAGD, is that the verb can signify something much more
general than "rob temples," and they suggest something like "commit
sacrilege." To fail to worship the true God properly is not
qualitatively different than to worship a false one. I suspect that
this view may be the one most widely held, though I haven't read
widely enough to tell for sure.

Leon Morris's commentary cites some rabbinical sources (I think)
indicating that some Jews (merchants, probably) may have had a
practice of literally robbing idolatrous shrines and then selling the
plunder. Apparently there was a set of casuistical rules sanctioning
such activity. (I hope my memory is working right; I wasn't planning
to have to repeat what I read without looking back at it again!)

For myself, I wonder whether Paul may be referring to something like
the moneychanging in the Temple, which Jesus characterized as
thievery. The fact that Paul is writing to Rome rather than to
Jerusalem seems to weaken this argument, but perhaps does not
entirely invalidate it.

At any rate, I think we catch the drift quite clearly: a legitimate
detestation of idols must spring from genuine understanding, fear,
and worship of the one true God. Whatever particular Paul had in
mind, it is clear that the Jews of his day did not understand, fear,
and worship God in purity and sincerity; their monotheism was more a
badge of national pride than of submission to Truth, more an excuse
for looking down condescendingly upon the poor benighted heathen than
for looking up reverentially to the great Lord of the Universe. Their
sacrilegious pride was no better in God's sight than pagan idolatry;
this surely is Paul's point, even if we cannot be entirely certain
about the precise form(s) in which that pride manifested itself (I'm
getting the idea of pride from elsewhere in Romans 2).

Perhaps now Felix has another name (mine, not Morris's) to add to the
list of those that he found not to be so helpful. Seriously, Felix,
you might try taking a look at Morris.

In Love to God and Neighbor,
Randy Leedy
Bob Jones University
Greenville, SC