Cover Image: Heaven on Earth

Heaven on Earth:
The Temple in Biblical Theology (ed. S. Gathercole and T. Desmond Alexander)

Paternoster Press, 2004

Blurb Review by Dr. Osvaldo Padilla

Review by Dr. Osvaldo Padilla

This group of essays had its beginning as a series of papers delivered in the 2001 Biblical Theology Study Group of the Tyndale Fellowship. It represents a competent effort to assess-from an Evangelical biblical theological angle-the various facets of the Temple in the Bible. The essays span both Testaments as well as two chapters from a Dogmatic perspective and two essays which situate the Temple in the contemporary milieu of the Middle East. Excluding the Introduction and Epilogue, there are 17 essays. Given space limitations, therefore, one either provides a one or two-sentence review of each essay or engages in a subjective selection of those essays that one finds most stimulating. I have chosen the latter course, although this does not reflect on the value of the other studies.

Palmer's essay examines the Tabernacle account in Ex 25-40 in order to gauge its function for chapters 32-34; 32-34 are then considered in detail in order to assess how they affect the account. Palmer posits three themes from 32-34: 1) how God can live with a sinful people; 2) God's revelation; and 3) God's presence. He concludes that "the function of the tabernacle was to create a portable Sinai." (19). Palmer connects the theological significance of the Tabernacle as reworked around the person of Christ to John 1. First, God is revealed in the incarnation and passion. Second, the lamb vocabulary recalls the cultic context of Exodus. Finally, through the incarnation of Jesus the presence of God is no longer fixed to places but to a person. Carl Armeding tackles the thorny problem highlighted by the tension between 2 Sam 7 and 1 Chron 17: "Was what David proposed and Solomon built a necessary development in Yahwistic faith or a distraction from Yahweh's ideal programme?" (36). This is an important question since some scholars would posit that there are inconsistencies in the canonical assessment of the Temple. Armeding attempts to resolve this by suggesting that 2 Sam 7 and 1 Chron 17 are recensions of an original, each one with its own Tendenz. Samuel follows the pattern of the Deuteronomic History (DH) with its accent on a covenant king ruling in peace and justice over Israel. The Chronicler emphasizes an ideal worshipping community in Jerusalem's temple presided over by a Davidic monarch and Levites. Consequently, the DH does not focus on the temple. The focus of the Chronicler is who is qualified to build the Temple: a man of peace. Hence, Solomon was to build it. Although tensions remain, Armeding goes some way in explaining how the two accounts may fit together in the canon. In the Ezekiel essay, John Taylor calls attention to the Merkabah vision of the prophet. He posits that it occurred in Babylon, not Jerusalem. Further, Ezekiel narrates the departure of God's glory from the Temple. It is deduced that God's presence is not tied to one place. The contribution to biblical theology is as follows: "Ezekiel's great legacy was that he freed Israel from the last vestige of a belief in the localized presence of God in a building in Jerusalem . . . to the possibility that Yahweh was a God of movement . . . and that he was forever moving on with his people." (70). In one of the most thought-provoking essays, Fletcher-Louis tackles the question of Jewish monotheism and incarnation: "How can we explain and justify the movement from Israel's monotheism to the New Testament incarnational vision of God?" (81). The Temple, he argues, aids in answering this question. First, the vision of Genesis is that it is humanity and not the sun or moon which embodies divine presence. It could then be said that Israel was God's idol (or image). Second, most scholars agree that the Temple is a mirror-image of the Garden. Hence, there is a link between creation and Temple. In addition, the High Priest served in Israelite worship what a cult statue served in pagan temples: ". . . the role of the cult statute is played by the high priest who is the visible and concrete image of the creator within the Temple-as-microcosm." (89). Consequently, the way is prepared for the New Testament view that in Jesus the fullness of the deity could be present. In his examination of the Temple in Acts, Steve Walton concentrates on answering Luke's apparent inconsistencies. Particular attention is paid to Stephen's speech, where Walton makes a strong argument for concluding that the speech is not anti-Temple; rather, it is a critique "against the universal human temptation to localize the deity." (143). Walton concludes that Acts is not inconsistent; it describes a period of change from a localized view of God's presence to a universal one. The final essay to be surveyed is the superb study of Greg Beale concerning the Apocalypse. He makes a strong case for viewing the Temple (which is a recreation of Eden) in Revelation 21-22 as the eschatological fulfilment of heaven on earth; that is, a time when the entire world, through the work of Christ, will be an edenic Temple where the people of God will dwell. This important essay is one of the best examples of biblical theology and as such brings together many strands of previous chapters.

By way of criticism, one weakness is the attempt to pack too much material into one volume. As a result, one senses that on occasion the arguments are rushed and that the authors could have said much more (especially the essays by Fletcher-Louis and Beale). One could envision fewer essays which may have alluded to other issues raised in the book but which nevertheless would have provided more depth.

This criticism, however, should not be seen as detraction to purchase the book. It is the most competent example of a biblical theological approach to the Temple that this reviewer has seen. Further, it is ideal for ministers and church leaders as a resource to construct a series of studies on the Temple in the Bible. I myself am already pondering a series for my church.

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