In these days of mass production it is felt that there is something slightly inferior, even derogatory, about things that are “manufactured”. People often long and pay handsomely for things that are hand-made by an artist, though, strictly speaking, that is what manufactured means (Latin: manus = hand, facere = to make).
In the Bible the word “hand-made” (Gk: cheiropoietos) is certainly depreciatory in intent. It applies especially to the false gods or idols of the heathen as references like Leviticus 26:1,30 and Isaiah 2:18 make plain (cf. espec. Ps. 115; Isa. 44; Jer. 10; Hab. 2:18f.). But the word is also used with regard to the temple in Mark 14:58 and implicitly even to the physical human body in 2 Corinthians 5:1. In light of this we are prompted to ask if the notion of being made by hand has something inherently pejorative about it in Scripture. The question becomes all the more pointed when we recognize that according to Isaiah 45:12 and 48:13, for example, creation, including man himself (Job 10:8; Ps. 119:73), was the work of the hand of God. And it caused even him, who neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps. 121:4; Isa. 40:28), to rest when he had finished his labour (Gen. 2:2f.; Heb. 4:10).
According to Genesis 1, however, creation was “good”, “very good”, even perfect according to Augustine (1*). This immediately prompts questions like: Does the Bible contradict itself? Has there been misunderstanding somewhere? or, Is creation defective in some sense after all? It is worth pursuing the issue further, all the more so when we realize that that the word for “not made by hand” (acheiropoietos) never occurs in the OT (Septuagint) but is exclusively a NT term.
Ephesians 2:11 and Colossians 2:11
We might usefully start with Ephesians 2:11 where circumcision performed by man as a surgical operation is explicitly said to be (made) by hand (2*). In contrast, in Colossians 2:11 Paul, focusing on the circumcision of Christ, refers to it as acheiropoietos (not made by hand). The implication is that it is a spiritual not a physical circumcision like that foreshadowed in the OT (e.g. Lev. 26:41; Deut. 30:6; Jer. 4:4). In view of this, it is not surprising that Paul differentiates between one who is only a Jew outwardly, that is, a physical descendant of Abraham, and one who is a Jew inwardly and implicitly a man of faith (Rom. 2:27-29). Jesus made the same distinction in his confrontation with the Jews in John 8 where he accuses them of failing to act as Abraham did but of imitating their true father, the devil (8:39ff., cf. 7:22-24). Again, writing to the Philippians, Paul claims that Christians as believers in Christ, and hence the spiritual children of Abraham (Gal. 3:29), are the true circumcision (3:3).
(It is worth noting here that the contrast between the two circumcisions is reminiscent of the contrast between the water baptism of John and the Spirit baptism of Jesus.)
The notion of being “made by hand” figures quite prominently in Acts 7. In his review of the history of Israel, Stephen refers disparagingly in verse 41 to the calf to which his ancestors offered a sacrifice in the wilderness rejoicing in the work of their hands. In verse 48 he pointedly observes that God does not live in hand-made (cheiropoietos) houses but in heaven which by implication is not hand-made (v.49). After all, the difference between a heavenly throne and an earthly footstool is fundamental. (See further below on Heb. 9:11,24). If this is so, his reference in verse 50 to things created by the hand of God is in contrast with this. (See further below and also on Heb. 12:27.).
In Acts 17:24 Paul, addressing the Athenians, affirms, like Stephen, that the Creator God does not live in hand-made (cheiropoietos) shrines. Here he does not use the phrase “made by man” which we might expect. There is reason to believe that this was deliberate (see further below). On the other hand, in 19:26 the reference to man-made gods (NIV), where the word cheiropoietos as such is avoided, would appear to be less fraught with significance.
Mark and 2 Corinthians
I have already referred to Mark 14:58 and 2 Corinthians 5:1. Hughes notes in his commentary of 2 Corinthians (p.164 n.22) the similarity, especially in Greek, between these two verses and concludes that Paul must have had in mind our Lord’s words regarding his body being a temple (John 2:19ff.). The point I wish to stress here is that both Herod’s temple and the fleshly body are “hand-made”(cheiropoietos), but while the first is made by man (John 2:20), the second is the work of God (Job 10:8; Ps. 119:73). In view of this, it is important to recognize that both are destructible regardless of their maker, be he God or man. (On the other hand, destruction in Dan. 2:34,45 occurs aneu cheiron, “without hands”, cf. Dan. 8:25; 2 Thes. 2:8.) Furthermore, both are subject to spiritualization and transformation (replacement). In the event, both appear in heaven but in different form. And there they are clearly not hand-made (Rev. 21:22; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2, etc.). (It should also be noted that while Jesus’ body of flesh was handmade, Heb. 10:5, cf. 2:14; 5:7, the body of his glory was not so.)
This prompts the question as to why both are characterized by destructibility or corruptibility. The answer could, of course, be sin as is traditionally held. After all, it can be argued that Adam sinned, brought death to himself, his posterity and indeed to the whole of creation which, as a consequence of his sin, underwent a universal curse (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 8:19-23). But there is a problem, as the letter to the Hebrews makes plain. There it turns out that creation (which has a beginning as well as an end, contrast Heb. 7:3), was formed by God’s own hand (1:10), and stands in antithesis to the eternal Creator himself. Like the old covenant which relates to it (8:13), it is by nature subject to aging (1:11, cf. the fleshly body of Jesus, John 8:57, referred to above) and will eventually perish or be destroyed (1:12) in accordance with the purpose of God. In this scenario, sin is necessarily excluded, as I would strongly contend it is in Romans 8:18-25 where Paul is contrasting the present age with the invisible hope of a glorious future in the age to come (cf. 2 Cor. 4:7-5:10).
Having already contrasted the true or heavenly with the inherently defective earthly tabernacle and its ministry in chapter 8:1-6, our author proceeds in chapter 9:11 to characterize the greater and more perfect tent not merely as “not hand-made” but as “not of this creation”. The only reasonable deduction we can make from this is that, as we have just seen with regard to 1:10-12, the “hand-made” physical creation as such is also inherently defective. And if this is so, the word “good” (kalos, LXX) in Genesis 1 clearly means “useful” like a tool (cf. food in Gen. 2:9; 3:6 which is inherently perishable, John 6:27, and note 1 Cor. 10:26,31; Col. 2:22; 1 Tim. 4:4, etc.) and not perfect like God as has been traditionally held.
This line of reasoning is confirmed by 9:24 where again the “hand-made” sanctuary is contrasted with heaven itself. Here, it might usefully be added that “heaven itself” is in sharp contrast with the physical heavens in Hebrews. We may note 4:14 and 7:26 in particular where the ascended, glorified Jesus is spatially separate(d) from creation (where even the heavens, let alone man, are not clean in his sight, Job 25:5f.) as well as from sinners. An apparent flaw in this observation appears in Hebrews 8:1 where we read that Christ sat on the throne of the Majesty (literally) in the heavens. However, Bruce, for example, points out (p.7 n.33) that this is a reverential periphrasis for the name of God, like “the Majesty on high” in 1:3 (cf. the Power or Mighty One in Mark 14:62). The inference is, then, that the phrase is not an exception to the rule just mentioned.
Apart from pointed contrasts between the earthly and the heavenly in Hebrews 10:34, 11:16, 12:18-24 and 13:14, for example, in Hebrews 12:26-28 the author distinguishes between the shakable and unshakable (or remaining, ESV, cf. 1 Cor. 15:50). His reference to the eventual removal of created things (literally things that have been made) in verse 27 (cf.. 1:12 and Rev. 20:11; 21:1,4, for example) again highlights the inherently destructible and corruptible nature of all that is “hand-made”. Again we might infer the essential temporality or non-remaining nature (Heb. 1:11, cf. Isa. 66:22) of a “manufactured” creation from a comparison of Genesis 1:1 and Revelation 21:1 with Hebrews 7:3.
In light of the above, it would seem safe to conclude that the reference to “hand-made” (cheiropoietos) shrines in Acts 7:48 (cf. v.50) and in 17:24 (cf. v.25) is, as I have already suggested, intentional. In line with Hebrews 8:2,5 and 9:11, both Stephen and Paul are implying not simply that God does not inhabit temples that are made by men (cf. 1 K. 8:27; Acts 7:47) but that he dwells in heaven which is not material at all but spiritual (cf. Heb. 8:2,5; 9:11,24). In other words, the contrast is between the earthly and the heavenly, between this age and the age to come (Eph. 1:21, etc.), between old covenant and new, and between “hand-made” (cheiropoietos) and “not hand-made” (acheiropoietos).
If this conclusion is correct, we are then led inevitably to its corollary, that is, that the traditional view of a universally fallen or cursed creation derived largely from Augustine is false to the Bible. The truth is that everything made by hand, including fleshly man, who derived from the temporal earth, (Gen. 2:7; Job 12:10; Ps. 119:73, etc.), is impermanent (corruptible) or mortal by nature (cf. Rom. 6:12; 2 Cor. 4:11, etc.). Adam’s sin did not rob him of his putative immortality: rather it prevented his escape from the mortality with which he was created (cf. Gen. 2:17; 2 Pet. 1:4, etc.). In contrast with Jesus who did not experience corruption but ascended and was glorified, he lapsed back into the dust from which, like the rest of the animal creation, he was taken (Gen. 3:19; Job 34:14f.; Ps. 104:29). Again, it is not merely a question of idols being made by the hands and/or fingers of man (Isa. 2:8) but of the entire creation which is similarly made by God (Ps. 8:3). Little wonder then that God’s people in the OT were not only forbidden to worship the idols of wood and stone that they themselves had shaped but also the heavenly host, which God himself had made by hand (Dt. 4:19, cf. Acts 7:41f.,50). Worshipping the “manufactured” creature/creation in no matter what form instead of the eternal Creator was the essence of depravity (Rom. 1:25, cf. Ps. 106:20; Heb. 3:3). (Arguably this is why we have no physical description of Jesus in the entire NT.) It remains so today, not least because God himself has subjected it to futility and bondage to decay (Rom. 8:20f.). Just as the old covenant is obsolescent, so is the world it regulates (Mt. 5:18; 24:35; Heb. 1:11; 8:13).
It is a regrettable fact that commentators and various translators (3*) seem to have missed the point that the difference between the words cheiropoietos and acheiropoietos is not that between “man-made” and “God-made” but between the material and the spiritual, the earthly and the heavenly (cf. Lincoln, 2*, Lohse, TDNT, 9:436). In light of this, we are forced to conclude that whatever is “hand-made” is by nature faulty or inadequate in some sense (cf. John 6:63; Heb. 7:18f.; 8:7). A comment by Bishop Lightfoot in his commentary on Colossians first alerted me to the essentially depreciatory nature of the word cheiropoietos, though it is doubtful whether he himself drew appropriate conclusions from it. But Bruce comes close to the essence of the matter when he says that acheiropoietos “was almost a technical term of primitive Christianity to denote the realities of the new order” (p.103 n.62). In other words, the antithesis is not as Lohse suggests “of what is made with men’s hands to the work of God” (TDNT, 9:436). Rather it is of cosmic proportions involving the difference between the present world or age and the world to come where Jesus now reigns at God’s right hand (Eph. 1:21; Heb. 1:6; 2:5; Rev. 3:21, etc.).
What perhaps needs to be considered most seriously by Christians at the present time, however, is the danger inherent in succumbing to materialism and all “manufactured” goods. While it may be true that we are in principle already saved through faith in Christ, we are not yet fully so. Salvation is a process (4*), and so long as that process continues we need to be warned against giving way to the flesh and to the world (see e.g. Rom. 13:14; Gal. 5:17; 2 Tim. 4:9; 1 John 2:15-17). The plain fact is that there is no ultimate future in either (1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:15-17). As flesh, like sinless animals, we necessarily die (Ps. 49:12,20; Isa. 40:6-8; Rom. 8:13,20; Gal. 6:8), but, in any case, as inhabitants of this physical creation, we have to recognize that once it has served its purpose, it will come to an end (Mt. 24:35; Rev. 20:11; 21:1,4).
To sum up, the pejorative nature of “hand-made” (cheiropoietos) is confirmed by Paul when tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 that all human work will be tested by fire. He implies that if it is found to be spiritually wanting and is in effect like the temple (Mark 14:58), the fleshly body (Job 10:8) or surgical circumcision (Col. 2:11), it will not endure (Gk. remain, contrast 1 Cor. 15:58). But the same is true even with regard to the impermanent handiwork of our ever-remaining God in creation as a whole (Heb. 1:10-12), for it too will be tested by fire and in the event be destroyed (2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; Heb. 12:27). On the other hand, what will remain is clearly “not hand-made” (Heb. 10:34; 11:16; 13:8,14, etc.). So far as believers themselves are concerned, they will share the unshakable character of God (Heb. 12:27, cf. Lane, p.481) and be endowed with spiritual bodies that are also “not hand-made” (2 Cor. 5:1, cf. 1 Cor. 15:35ff.) (5*).
1* If we insist that the word “good” here implies perfection, we must recognize that the law, which is also described as “good” (Rom. 7:12), is nonetheless regarded as defective in Scripture (Heb. 7:18f.; 8:7,13), even by Paul himself (Rom. 7:1; 2 Cor. 3:11; Gal. 3:21, etc.). At this point, we do well to remember that Jesus also distinguished between the temporal law (Mt. 5:18, cf. Rom. 7:1), which was written by hand (Ex. 31:18, cf. Col. 2:14), and the permanence of his own words (24:35).
2* Thus A.T.Lincoln writes, p.136: “This term (cheiropoietos) and its opposite are frequently used in the NT for the contrast between external material aspects of the old order of Judaism and the spiritual efficacy of the new order (cf. Col.2:11; also, for example, Mark 14:58; Acts 7:48; Heb. 9:11,24). To talk of circumcision in the flesh made by hands is therefore to reflect the Pauline view that this is no longer the real circumcision (cf. Rom. 2:28,29; Phil. 3:2,3; Col. 2:11).”
3* Just as the NIV usually translates “flesh” as “sinful nature” (e.g. Rom. 8:13; Gal. 6:8), so it translates “hand-made” as man-made and “not hand-made” as “not made by man” (Mark 14:58; 2 Cor. 5:1, etc.). It misses the point in both cases.
4* Dunn in particular rightly lays strong stress on this (ch.6, pp.461-532).
5* The implication is that all that proves to be ultimately profitless (1 Sam. 12:21; Jer. 2:13; 16:19; 1 Cor. 1:19; 8:4-6, etc.) will be subject to the ban (cf. 1 Sam. 15:9) but God’s people will nonetheless be saved (1 Sam. 12:22). In heaven even the ban has been banned (Rev. 22:3)!
F.F.Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians,
Grand Rapids, 1984.
F.F.Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, London, 1965.
J.D.G.Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, London/New York, 2003 ed.
P.E.Hughes, 2 Corinthians, London/Edinburgh, 1962.
W.L.Lane, Hebrews 9-13, Dallas, 1991.
A.T.Lincoln, Ephesians, Dallas, 1990.
E.Lohse, TDNT 9, Grand Rapids, 1974.
Since writing the above I have had the pleasure of reading G.K.Beale’s “The Temple and the Church’s Mission” subtitled A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God, Leicester, 2004. In many ways this is a profound, stimulating and highly commendable work. However, in some respects it leaves me greatly mystified not least because its author appears to draw conclusions at variance with the evidence he adduces.
First, it is the only work, apart from TWNT, that I have come across dealing at length with ‘handmade’ and ‘not handmade’ (see pp.222ff.,309ff.,375ff.). While Beale seems to recognize that ‘handmade’ temples are defective because they are human architectural constructions, geographically located, he apparently fails to appreciate that even what God himself has made ‘by hand’ is also inherently defective (see e.g. p.375). As a consequence, even though he produces a great deal of evidence militating against it, he accepts without question that Romans 8:18-25 points to the redemption of the physical creation (pp.153,227,311,376).
In view of this, Beale is inexorably led to posit the recreation of the world or cosmos. But if the Bible teaches the destruction of the fleshly body (2 Cor. 5:1), the physical temple (John 2:19, cf. Mark 14:58), physical Israel (Mt. 21:41; 23:38), the material creation (2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, cf. Heb. 1:10-12) and the end of the present age and their replacement (Mt. 28:20; Gal. 1:4, etc.), recreation, redemption, renewal and the like are all out of the question.
This leads to another point. Beale seems to be unaware that the notion of an eternal new creation or cosmos (e.g. p.359) is inherently contradictory. By definition, the eternal, which has neither beginning nor end (cf. Heb. 7:3), cannot be new. What is ‘manufactured’ like creation (Ps. 102:25-27; 119:73, etc.) and heathen idols is intrinsically transient (cf. Hos. 13:1-3), what is ‘not manufactured’ is eternal. Surely what the Bible is teaching is that at the end of the present age all created, visible, material things, which, being ‘handmade’, temporal and corruptible, are replaced by the eternal incorruptible which already exists and has always existed. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. As Beale himself would probably agree, believers go at last to heaven into the very holy of holies. But certainly not in the material flesh! Thus, while the New Jerusalem will appear new to us, earthbound creatures that we presently are, it is in fact, as Paul makes clear, our mother (Gal. 4:26). As Jesus said, we are spiritually born from above, and as God’s children (or seed, 1 Pet. 1:23; 1 John 3:9) we share in his own eternality or glory (Rom. 5:2; 8:18, etc.).
Fourth, despite all the evidence he marshals against it, Beale appears to posit a future physical resurrection based on the resurrection body of Jesus which serves as the foundation of the ‘new’ temple. On page 382 he tells us that the beginning form of the temple is not merely spiritual but physical and that the physically resurrected Christ is its cornerstone! This seems to me to be a serious misunderstanding. If Jesus was physically resurrected (cf. Luke 24:39, etc.), then it is clear that since flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 15:50), he had to be transformed at his ascension, as he himself implied in John 20:17. Surely the form of the temple was his body of glory (cf. Phil. 3:21), the glory that he regained on his return to the Father (John 17:5,24). Again, by definition, his body of glory was, or rather is, not physical, material, fleshly but spiritual. As Paul implies in 1 Corinthians 15:45-50 and Philippians 3:21, the body of glory of the second Adam replaces the lowly body of the first. As flesh, Jesus grew older and was hence mortal and corruptible like all the children of Adam; it is only as spirit that he had an indestructible life (Heb. 7:16). It is therefore in light of this that we should read Revelation 21:22.