These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15, K.J.V.)
Have you ever heard a preacher welcome a congregation by saying, “It’s good to see you in the house of God today”? Have you ever heard a church member say, “I think the church building should be the most beautiful building in the community because that building is the house of God”? If you have heard such statements, you probably accepted their basic premise without any objection, that premise being that the church building is the house of God. But is the church building actually the house of God? Well, I hate to break this to you, but it isn’t.
You say, “But in 1 Timothy 3:14-15 Paul talks to Timothy about behaving himself ‘in the house of God, which is the church of the living God.'” Yes, that’s what the text does say in the classic King James translation. The problem is, this is one of those instances where the venerable old K.J.V. misses the mark. Just as the K.J.V. errs in Romans 8:16 and Romans 8:26 by referring to the third person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit, as “the Spirit itself” rather than “the Spirit Himself,” it errs in 1 Timothy 3:15 by translating the Greek word oikos as “house.”
To be fair to the K.J.V.’s translation team, oikos really is the Greek word for “house.” For example, the word is used in Matthew 9:6, which records how Jesus healed a certain paralytic and told him to take up his bed and go to his house (oikos). Furthermore, the word can also rightly be used to refer to a building that isn’t actually a house. As evidence of this, it’s used in Matthew 12:4 in reference to the Old Testament Tabernacle and in Matthew 21:13, Matthew 23:38, and John 2:16 in reference to the Jerusalem Temple. Obviously, each of those two buildings was an actual structure that could metaphorically be called a “house” and in those instances the K.J.V. correctly translates oikos as “house.”
The problem arises when we try to apply this same terminology to the church. First of all, even though the Christians of the early church era met in their homes, and the familiar word oikos is used to describe each of those “house churches,” those houses certainly weren’t exclusively used as sites of worship the way the Jewish Tabernacle and Temple had been. No, people actually lived in those houses throughout the week whenever a church assembly wasn’t taking place. This explains why, when those house churches are referred to in passages such as Romans 16:3-5, Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, and Philemon verses 1 and 2, they are described as being the houses of the people who lived in them. That’s different than each of them being described as “the house of God.”
The source of the confusion regarding the term “the house of God” isn’t hard to identify. Whereas the human worshippers who came to the Tabernacle building weren’t called “the tabernacle” and the human worshippers who came to the Temple building weren’t called “the temple,” the human worshippers who came to a house church were actually called “the church.” That made it easy to blur the line between the people themselves and the building in which they met for worship. Naturally, then, when the congregations stopped meeting in peoples’ homes and started meeting in ornate buildings that were built to exclusively be places of worship, each of those buildings came to be known as “the house of God.” For the record, that happened in the third century A.D.
The truth, however, is that the only “temple” or “house” that God has today is the body of each and every Christian. As the apostle Paul taught, the Christian’s body is the “temple” of God because God the Holy Spirit literally dwells inside that Christian (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Another good verse to work in here is Acts 7:48, which tells us “the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands” (N.K.J.V.).
When you understand all this, you will understand why all the newer translations of the Bible, translations other than the K.J.V., translate the word oikos in 1 Timothy 3:15 as “household” rather than “house.” That term “the household of God” is a reference to the family of God, the body of believers who can correctly be called “the church.” And just to show you that “household” is a perfectly acceptable alternative translation for oikos, the K.J.V. translators themselves translated oikos as “household” in Acts 16:15, 1 Corinthians 1:16, and 2 Timothy 4:19. We can only wish they would have followed that pattern when they came to 1 Timothy 3:15. It would have spared us a lot of confusion.