When was the last time you meditated on the divine purpose for and theology of the temple? Like me, maybe you’ve never given it much thought. Yet, while reading this book I found myself constantly giving thanks to God for G. K. Beale devoting a 402-page book entirely to the theology of the temple in The Temple and the Church’s Mission. You would be surprised how enlightening and edifying a study of the temple can be!
Beale’s central aim is to show that the tabernacle and the temples were intended to signify and predict God’s plan to expand His dwelling place to cover all of creation, as found in the consummated new heavens and earth in Revelation 21-22. To achieve this end, he thoroughly surveys the theological development of the temple throughout the Biblical storyline.
Beginning with the Old Testament, Beale argues that temples represented God’s rule over creation (chapter 2), that they signified His intention to expand His dwelling place throughout creation (chapter 3), a future promised and predicted throughout the Old Testament (chapter 4).
His argument consists of cosmic imagery being intentionally placed in the OT tabernacle and temples as well as in pagan temples. The outer court is shown to represent the earth; the holy place reveals the sky and heavens; and the Holy of Holies represents the dwelling place of God. Temples therefore, functioning like architectural models of the entire cosmos reflected a desire for, and awareness of the intent of worldwide coverage.
Adam’s original commission to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28) should, among other things, be seen as a command to expand the garden to the whole earth, creating a worldwide Eden in relationship with God. Adam’s sin results in his being cast out from the Garden, but his commission is given to the line of the woman (Noah, Abraham, the patriarchs, and Israel). This command to fill the earth becomes reflected in the temple’s cosmic imagery.
Turning to the New Testament we see that it, “pictures Christ and the church as finally having done what Adam, Noah and Israel had failed to do in extending the temple of God’s presence throughout the world.” (169). Surveying the Gospels, Acts, Hebrews, the letters of Paul and Revelation, Beale explains in Chapters 5-10 that the temple as dwelling place of God is identified as Christ, and then the church through her identification with Him. Through His life and death, Christ brought the already but not yet completion of Adam’s commission through the church, as seen in texts such as Acts 6:7, “and the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” Much more is discussed in these chapters, establishing Christ and His presence in the church as the reality to which the temples pointed and will find their complete fulfilment in His unrestrained presence in all of creation described as a city with garden and temple imagery (Revelation 21-22).
Critically reviewing this book a difficult task as it has influenced many other fantastic scholars and theologians. During my reading of this book, I came across three other significant works with content influenced by the ideas presented in this one: T. Desmond Alexander’s From Eden to the New Jerusalem, James Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment and even Tim Keller’s King’s Cross. With such endorsements and its status as a classic of Biblical Theology, what could I hope to add in reviewing this work? However, I will do my best.
One of the strengths in this book is the constant reminder that Beale has done his research. Doug Moo said that Beale got so obsessed with this topic that he designed his garden around the temple! He has clearly devoted himself to this work and his passion for the topic shows through and is contagious, even in such a technical book. Beale’s mastery of the Biblical text and primary sources (including Ancient Near East sources) is evident. As I studied this book lights were going on everywhere and Biblical dots were being connected.
However, sometimes Beale’s methodology worked against him. I know of others who were only convinced of Beale’s conclusions from other authors that he influenced! Beale intentionally used several lines of evidence to support his claims in this work, with the intention that the more convincing insights will support those less convincing. The mixed blessing in this approach results in abundance of wonderful insights that would be missed otherwise, but unfortunately sometimes bogged down the book with extended diversions that resulted in a lack of rhetorical punch.
Beale also often left conclusions until the end of each chapter and it wasn’t until the very final chapters that he tied his points together in a clear way. With a book of this length and depth, this leaves the reader wondering why their attention is being drawn to certain texts and insights, not to have them tied back together hundreds of pages later. It wouldn’t have hurt Beale to occasionally say “I think this insight is relevant because …” I read this book over a month and because of this weakness, I would encourage others to try to read it in over uninterrupted period of time.
I felt that most of the ANE discussion wasn’t as interesting or persuasive as his discussion of Biblical texts. These sections were only intended to give additional evidence, but they often felt superfluous to the overall argument.
Another issue is the many Scripture reference mistakes. I constantly found references to Revelation 22:1-2 being mistyped as Revelation 21:1-2 and vice versa. With such deep Biblical argumentation, mistyped Scripture references can really make understanding more difficult than necessary!
Theologically and Biblically, the New Testament chapters were particularly illuminating, especially the discussions on passages like 2 Cor 6 that contain quotations of OT texts that by this point were familiar from discussion in earlier chapters. Seeing how the NT writers understood OT passages about the temple being applied to Christ and the church was very informative and helped me get a better understanding of the texts. In contrast with the masterful sections elsewhere, the chapter on Hebrews felt surprisingly dry, possibly because most of the points had been made elsewhere by that point.
Beale concludes the book in a chapter showing the practical implications of his study. This short chapter is so full of insight on other NT passages like Phil 2:17 that I wish Beale could have developed this further! Once seeing how prominent the temple is in the rest of the Bible, it’s too much to ask Beale to put together all the implications in this book. This is now the wonderful task of the reader to return to Scripture and see many texts in a fresh light.
Despite the few issues above, I’ve not come across a book so paradigm shifting and thoroughly Biblical. It was surprising how enjoyable such a dense theological book could be, but with a Biblical revelation on every other page, I couldn’t put it down.
I wish that I could recommend this book to everyone, but my one reservation is due to the style of writing and format of the book placing a lot of expectations upon the reader. Beale presents so many insights that I believe all would benefit from, but realistically this is not a book that most Christians will persevere through.
Most will likely benefit more from someone else bringing these ideas in a more readable and less exhaustive format. Alexander’s From Eden to the New Jerusalem may be such a book, and I will be reviewing it soon. I’ve heard that Beale is also working on a condensed version of this book. If that is the case I hope it will be one that I can recommend more widely.
However, Bible College and Seminary students, pastors and more academic Christians should all seriously consider reading this book!
Many thanks to IVP for a review-copy of this book!
- Reader level: Academic/Seminary level
- Read: the first 50 page excerpt PDF (right-click to save)
- Publisher: IVP Academic
- Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology
- Release Date: September 28, 2004
- Softcover: 458 pages