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Orthodox Jews take Deut. 12:5 to refer to the temple in Jerusalem.

But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go,... (Deut. 12:5, ESV).

Jesus contradicted this interpretation:

Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. (John 4:21, ESV)

How should we interpret Deut. 12:5?

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  • Truly excellent question. +1. – Dottard Oct 7 '20 at 2:27
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    In context to Moshe’s “Words” (Devarim), Moshe never imagined a stagnant Temple (הַֽהֵיכָ֔ל) including the inner Holy of Holies (קֹ֖דֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִֽׁים). * Remember the Tabernacle (הַמִּשְׁכָּ֖ן) including the inner Tent of Meeting (אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד) traveled wherever Yisrael traveled. - The Gospel of John shares the same dynamic relationship of God moving with Yisrael outside of Yerushalem just like the Tabernacle (Ha-Mishkan) symbolized God moving with Moshe & Yisrael in-the desert (bamidbar). – חִידָה Oct 7 '20 at 2:32
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    See John 2:18-22; Acts 7:47-50, 17:22-25; 1 Corinthians 6:18-20; Revelation 3:11-13, 21:1-7. – Lucian Oct 7 '20 at 11:20
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The answer is in the question and neatly summarized by Ellicot:

(5) But unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes.—The very form of the order proves its antiquity. No one who was acquainted with the removal of that “place” from Shiloh to Nob, from Nob to Gibeon, from Gibeon to Jerusalem, could have written with such utter unconsciousness of later history as these words imply. It is noticeable that in the reading of this precept in the times of our Lord, the Jews seem to have arrived at the came state of unconsciousness. They could not conceive of the presence or worship of Jehovah anywhere but at Jerusalem. (See on this topic St. Stephen’s speech in Acts 7, and the incidental proofs it contains of God’s presence with Israel in many places, in reply to the accusation made against Stephen of preaching the destruction of the one idolized seat of worship at Jerusalem.)

Similarly, the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary observes:

  1. unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose … to put his name there … thou shalt come—They were forbidden to worship either in the impure superstitious manner of the heathen, or in any of the places frequented by them. A particular place for the general rendezvous of all the tribes would be chosen by God Himself; and the choice of one common place for the solemn rites of religion was an act of divine wisdom, for the security of the true religion. It was admirably calculated to prevent the corruption which would otherwise have crept in from their frequenting groves and high hills—to preserve uniformity of worship and keep alive their faith in Him to whom all their sacrifices pointed. The place was successively Mizpeh, Shiloh, and especially Jerusalem. But in all the references made to it by Moses, the name is never mentioned. This studied silence was maintained partly lest the Canaanites within whose territories it lay might have concentrated their forces to frustrate all hopes of obtaining it; partly lest the desire of possessing a place of such importance might have become a cause of strife or rivalry amongst the Hebrew tribes, as about the appointment to the priesthood (Nu 16:1-30).

Thus, the very history of the various locations of the centralized worship place used by the Israelites (and ironically now denied them) is testament to the dangers of such a narrow interpretation as a single fixed location for centralized worship.

As the OP has correctly observed, Jesus appears to agree (John 4:21) that such an interpretation is fallacious.

The whole function of the central worship place, wherever it was, was to maintain a unified nation by way of unified and consistent worship. large cathedrals served a similar function in Medieval times, but only for the area they served.

In modern times, similar results can now be achieved with modern communication; traditionally magazine, and now the "www".

More to the point, the NT interprets Jesus as the fulfillment of the temple ritual. Specifically:

  • Jesus was the fulfilment of what the sanctuary/temple typified, John 2:19-21, Heb 9:1-28, 10:1-18
  • Jesus represented the foundation of the temple as well, 1 Peter 2:4-8 (Compare Isa 28:16, Ps 118:22)
  • Jesus was the bread of life, John 6:35, 41, 48 (compare Ex 25:23-30, Lev 24:8).
  • Jesus was the light of life, John 8:12, 9:5 (compare the lampstand Ex 25:31-39, Lev 24:3, 4, Isa 53:11, Ps 56:13, etc)
  • Jesus provides the water of life, John 4:13, 14 (Compare the laver Ex 30:17-21. See also 1 Cor 6:11)
  • Jesus was the Passover Lamb and thus the promised Messiah, John 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19 (compare Ex 12:1-14).
  • Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant in fulfillment of the Levitical covenant, Heb 4:14-16, 7:23-28, because He was “pure, blameless, set apart” exactly as the Levites were. See also Heb 9:15, 12:24.
  • Jesus provided the blood of the new covenant of which the communion ceremony was to be a memorial, Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, Heb 13:20, 1 Peter 1:19 (compare Ex 24:5, 8).
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While Dottard answered this question, this is how I would organize the answer.

Jesus’ statement was not so much a contradiction as stating that worship was about to change. Jesus continued:

”You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:22–24, ESV)

But, how do we apply Deut. 12:5 under the new covenant? In Deut. 12:5 ”His habitation” is לְשִׁכְנ֥וֹ, an infinitive with the root (lemma) שׁכן and the 3rd person masculine singular suffix. This verb is a discussion in itself. A relevant passage is John 1:14:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, ESV)

The word dwelt translates ἐσκήνωσεν from the verb σκηνόω. What is striking about this verb is it sounds the same and has the same meaning as שׁכן. These words apparently have the same etymology, although TDNT has the etymology of σκηνόω as uncertain, probably because it is a very old Greek word. BDB traces שׁכן all the way back to Akkadian cuneiform, šakânu. So, the connection would be before those languages were written.

The glory of the LORD is the subject of the verb שׁכן at mount Sinai (Exodus 24:16). The glory of the LORD was visible to sanction the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:35) and Temple (1 Kings 8:11–12).

Deut. 12:5 concerns sacrifices, “and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices…” (Deut. 12:6). Jesus was crucified (our sacrifice), buried, and raised (John 19&20) outside Jerusalem. He ascended in Jerusalem, and the Holy Spirit arrived at Penticost in Jerusalem (Acts 1&2). Thus, Jesus was the final fulfillment of Deut. 12:5. As Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17, ESV)

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