(Rom. 2:22) What does it mean to “rob temples”?

Paul writes, “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” (Rom. 2:22). What does this mean?

OPTION #1. Robbing the JEWISH Temple

Some commentators believe that Paul is referring to the practice of robbing the Jewish Temple. BDAG’s first entry for ierosuleo (“rob temples”) is “to take objects from a temple by force or stealth,” and its second entry is “to commit irreverent acts, commit sacrilege.” They argue that Paul is siding with Jesus’ disgust at the robbery and stealing that was happening in the Temple (Mt. 21:13).

OPTION #2. Robbing PAGAN temples

Grant Osborne,[1] Douglas Moo,[2] and John Stott[3] argue that Paul is referring to robbing Pagan temples. After all, look at the grammar: “You who abhor idols.” How can Paul have the Jewish Temple in mind, when the parallel is hating idolatry?

While the practice of robbing pagan temples was “relatively infrequent” in history,[4] it is not without historical precedent. Josephus records an incident in AD 19 in Rome, where four Jewish men convinced a Gentile convert (Fulvia) to make a sizable donation to the Jewish Temple. However, the men “they employed [the money] for their own uses, and spent the money themselves” (Antiquities, 18.82). Tiberius (Fulvia’s husband) had 4,000 Jews expelled from Rome because of this. Josephus writes, “Thus were these Jews banished out of the city by the wickedness of four men” (Antiquities, 18.84). Josephus also writes, “Let no one blaspheme those gods which other cities esteem such; nor may anyone steal what belongs to strange temples; nor take away the gifts that are dedicated to any god” (Antiquities, 4.207). This implies that the Jewish people were doing this, or perhaps, were tempted to do this. This would make sense of Paul’s indictment that “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (v.24).

[1] Osborne, G. R. (2004). Romans (p. 75). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[2] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 164). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[3] Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (p. 91). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[4] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 164). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.