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οἰκοδομέω (oikodomeō), with the lexical entry STRONG NT 3618, is the Greek verb for "edify." In the gospels it often has the normal meaning of building a physical structure. But in Acts and the rest of the New Testament, this verb becomes a significant metaphor for the mutual encouragement and strengthening of the people of God.

In Acts 7:47, for instance, it is used metaphorically:

σολομων δε ωκοδομησεν αυτω οικον

“But it was Solomon who built a house for him” (ESV)

Which of the two interpretations should be retained?

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  • Edify means to build in English also (think of an 'edifice,' or some built structure), it' simply that it didn't get a chance to be used in a concrete sense because of how we got the word to begin with. I think its use in contexts where literal buildings are not in view should be taken in the most obvious sense in which a concrete verb would be used in this context: strenghten, nourish, support, increase in number, etc. Oct 24 '19 at 20:12
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In its basic sense, οἰκοδομέω (οἰκοδομῶ) means “to build,” especially a house.1

LSJ, p. 1204, οἰκοδομέω, 1.

Hence, in the New Testament, the verb is used in reference to a man building a house,2 a tower,3 the tombs of the prophets,4 the temple,5 and a synagogue6—all structures.

The verb is also used metaphorically (figuratively) in the sense of “to build up, edify (e.g., a person).”7 According to Oxford English Dictionary, the verb “edify” when used figuratively means,8

OED, edify (v.), 2., c.

This sense is metaphorical (figurative) because the verb literally means to build a structure.

With respect to your question,

Which of the two interpretations should be retained?

The verb can be used literally or metaphorically, and its meaning is determined according to the context. If the context describes the edification of a structure, then the reader can assume it is the literal sense. If, on the other hand, it is describing the edification of a person, then it is the metaphorical sense.

There is one other meaning that I would like to discuss. In the New Testament, the verb οἰκοδομέω is also used in a context where people themselves are built (οἰκοδομέω) into a structure. This structure, the Church, unlike the structures discussed before, is not composed of tangible materials, such as brick, wood, stone, etc.

The apostle Peter wrote,9

5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. NKJV, ©1982

Is this sense literal or metaphorical (figurative)? Thayer seems to lump this verse in with the other verses that clearly use οἰκοδομέω in a figurative sense.10 On the other hand, BDAG does not explicitly state that this use is figurative. Rather, it states that it is used by the author with the meaning of “to construct in a transcendent sense.”11 My opinion is that it is being used in 1 Pet. 2:5 in a literal sense, as the author is describing a structure being built. The difference here is that this structure is a spiritual structure, rather than a physical structure. However, this does not preclude a literal meaning.12


Footnotes

1 LSJ, p. 1294, οἰκοδομέω, 1.
2 Matt. 7:24, 7:26 // Luke 6:48–49
3 Matt. 21:33 // Mark 12:1; Luke 14:28
4 Matt. 23:29 // Luke 11:47–48
5 Matt. 26:61, 27:40 // Mark 14:58, 15:29; John 2:20; Acts 7:47, 7:49
6 Luke 7:5
7 Acts 9:31; 1 Cor. 8:1, 10:23, 14:17; 1 Thes. 5:11
8 OED online, edify (v.), 2., c.
9 1 Pet. 2:5
10 Thayer, p. 440, οἰκοδομέω, β., b.
11 BDAG, p. 696, οἰκοδομέω, 2.
12 As an analogy, I refer to the use of “born again” in John 3:3. Did Jesus mean it literally or metaphorically (figuratively)? He meant it literally, but the second birth is spiritual rather than physical. Likewise, the house built here is a spiritual one, and yet, the verb οἰκοδομέω is still being used in its literal sense, “to build” (a structure).

References

Arndt, William; Bauer, Walter; Danker, Frederick William. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000.

Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; et al. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. with revised supplement. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.

Wilke, Christian Gottlob. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Trans. Thayer, Joseph Henry. Ed. Grimm, Carl Ludwig Wilibald. Rev. ed. New York: American Book, 1889.

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Should οἰκοδομέω be interpreted literally or metaphorically?

In short the answer is :Literally.

Acts 7:47 (NASB)

47 "But it was Solomon who built a house for Him."

In this verse , and in the context of Stephen's words, it should be understood literally and not metaphorically, possibly Stephen inspired by the spirit of God in his prayer ,was quoting one of the following scriptures: 1 Chronicles 17:11-12 and 1 Kings 6:38 (NASB )(Read below)

Because then Stephen goes on to reveal a fundamental message in his prayer:

" However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: " Acts 7:48 (NASB).

Stephen brings his argument to a convincing conclusion by quoting the prophet Isaiah:

Isaiah 66:1-2 (NASB)

Heaven Is God’s Throne:

1 "Thus says the Lord, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that [a]I may rest? 2 “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the Lord. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word."

1 Chronicles 17:11-12 (NASB)

11 "When your days are fulfilled that you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up one of your [a]descendants after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build for Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever."

1 Kings 6:38 (NASB)

38 "In the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month, the house was finished throughout all its parts and according to all its plans. So he was seven years in building it."

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  • @ Nigel J : I do appreciate comments,provided they are given with respect, please explain, thank you. Oct 24 '19 at 13:50
  • You have correctly proved that the text in Chronicles is prophetic and its true, prophetic, meaning relates to a people in whom God shall dwell. So ever after, that text holds that double meaning. It can never have a single meaning, ever again.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 24 '19 at 14:04

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