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Edification (in the Bible)


The technical NT term for "building up" the Church, "edification," has its roots in the OT interplay of the concepts of building the Temple and of building the people; it was used by Jesus Himself to speak of the building of the new people of God; and finally, it was emphasized by St. Paul as a theological term for the spiritual formation of the Christian community.

Use in the OT. Used in the literal sense of constructing a building, the word received its religious stamp in the OT when used in the sense of building the Temple, which is a house for the Lord (1 Kgs 6.1). Because "house" could stand for dynasty, "building a house" could also mean establishing a lasting dynasty. This play on words underlies Nathan's response to David's intention to build God a houseGod instead will build a house for David, namely, the Davidic dynasty (2 Sm 7.5, 7, 11). "Building" thus becomes associated with the future of God's people; God will rebuild them [Ps 146 (147A).2; Jer 31.4; 31.28; 33.7]. But cooperation with the divine construction depends less upon descendence from David than upon fidelity to Yahweh (1 Kgs 11.38), so that even neighboring pagan tribes, if they confess Yahweh to be the true God, "shall be built up in the midst of my people" (Jer 12.16).

In the Gospels. The Synoptic tradition (Mk 12.10; Mt 21.42; Lk 20.17) uses the building theme in the image of the stone that the builders rejected; it becomes the keystone or cornerstone of the whole edifice. Rejected by Jewish leaders, Jesus becomes through His Resurrection the center and head of the new people God now builds. Peter is presented as the foundation of the new people whom Jesus calls His own; a church that He Himself will build upon Peter (Mt 16.18). The destruction and rebuilding of the Temple is an important element in the Passion story (Mk 14.58; 15.29; Mt 26.61; 27.40), clarified by Jn2.1922 in the light of the Resurrection: Jesus' body is the new temple of God.

In St. Paul. In St. Paul, the organic union effected by Baptism with the risen Christ, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily (Col 2.9), makes Christians members of Christ (1 Cor 3.1617; 6.15), hence the sanctuary indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6.19). Thus "body of Christ" and "temple" (or "sanctuary") of God become interchangeable terms for the Church, as is illustrated by the mixing of the two figures when Paul says both that the body is built up and that the temple grows (Eph 2.21; 4.12, 16).

The process of "building up" this body-temple, therefore, is a sacred acta far cry from the sentimental or merely ethical sense that "edification" has acquired in modern times. It is primarily a divine act; God Himself is the builder (1 Cor 3.10; Acts 20.32). This does not exclude, but rather demands Christ's causality, for He is the foundation (1 Cor 3.11; Col 2.7) and source of all building power in the Church (Eph 4.1016). It also demands the causality of official ministers, especially the Apostles (Eph 2.20; 4.11). They have divine authority to build up (2 Cor 10.8; 13.10; Rom 15.20). Others share in this power but only subordinately to the Apostles (1 Cor3.10), particularly the Prophets (inspired spokesmen within the community, Eph 2.20; 4.11; one Cor 14.3), but also other ministers, such as evangelists, shepherds, and teachers whom Christ has given to the Church for its upbuilding (Eph 4.1016). The work of construction belongs also to all the faithful, whose church-building power the official ministers organize and direct. The building power may be a charismatic gift (of any kind, one Cor 14.12, 17, especially prophecy, 14.3, and interpretation of tongues, 14.5) or the superior gift of fraternal charity (1 Cor 12.31; 13), which all must possess and which is the building power par excellence (1 Cor 8.1; Eph 4.16). Every Christian thus has the responsibility for building up the Church (1 Thes 5.11; Rom 14.19; 15.2), and this is a genuine work of ministry corresponding to Christ's design (Eph 4.12).

"Building up" in both OT and NT theology means strengthening more than expansion (Col 2.7: "be built up on him and strengthened in the faith"). Thus, the role of sound teaching is stressed in "upbuilding" contexts in contrast to the divisive and weakening effects of heterodoxy (Eph 4.1016). Pauline texts also evoke a wider understanding of the concept by relating it to the contact and interaction of members of the body (Eph4.16): a sharing of consolation (1 Thes 5.11; Rom1.1112), of joy (2 Cor 2.3; one Cor 12.26), of sufferings that can win life for fellow members (Col 1.24; two Cor4.12; two Tm 2.10), and of prayer (Phil 1.19; two Cor1.11; Phlm 22). "Edification" involves fraternal correction, encouragement, and support (1 Thes 5.11, 14); seeking what is pleasing to one's neighbor, what helps him advance in good (Rom 15.2); avoidance of foul language and making one's speech an occasion of grace for the listeners (Eph 4.29); and promoting unity in the community (1 Cor 14.26, 40). In short, the building up of the community is a good to which all else is to be directed (1 Cor 14.26).

The process is itself directed to a higher end. As a house is built for the one who will dwell in it, so Christians are being "built together to become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit" (Eph 2.22), another way of saying they are growing "into a temple holy in the Lord"(2.21). Edification is thus a religious act: its end is the consummate indwelling of the Divine Persons.

Bibliography: j. pfammatter, Die Kirche als Bau (Analecta Gregoriana 110; 1960). o. michel, in g. kittel, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Stuttgart 1935 ) 5:122161. p. bonnard, Jésus-Christ édifiant son église (Neuchâtel 1948). g.w. macrae, "Building the House of the Lord," American Ecclesiastical Review 140 (1959) 361376. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 286. y. congar, The Mystery of the Temple (Westminster, Md. 1962). p. s. minear, Images of the Church in the New Testament (Philadelphia 1960).

[g. t. montague]

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