Cover Image: The Temple & the Church's Mission

The Temple & the Church's Mission:
A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (NSBT)

G.K. Beale (IVP, 2004)

Blurb Review by Dr. Alistair I. Wilson

Review by Dr. Alistair I. Wilson

Beale's major new book grew out of a short excursus in his NIGNT commentary on Revelation. As those familiar with his earlier work might expect, the result is a very stimulating analysis of the relevant biblical material, with a strong emphasis on canonical coherence, along with significant supporting discussion of non-canonical material.

This is not an abstract study of the architecture and furnishings of the temple, as some prospective readers might fear from the title alone. Rather, it is about the biblical revelation of the Lord's personal presence with his people and the implications of that fact for the rest of creation. On his last page, Beale sums up the main point of his study as follows:

our task as the covenant community, the Church, is to be God's temple, so filled with his glorious presence that we expand and fill the earth with that presence until God finally accomplishes the goal completely at the end of time (p. 402).

This book is ultimately a work of mission theology. It thus follows a number of recent books in which biblical scholars have devoted their energy to serious study of the Church's mission, including the work of O'Brien and Köstenberger in the same series, although Beale approaches this issue in a less overt manner.

The book begins with a brief introductory chapter which takes the vision of Revelation 21-22 as the starting point for a study of the temple. Beale asks why John sees the new heavens and the new earth in chapter 21 and then immediately afterwards is confronted by a vast cubic structure, which reflects the shape of the holy of holies in the temple and which is described in terms which recall both a city and a garden. Beale argues that John's visions recall a significant strand of biblical testimony regarding the place where God dwells with his people. He believes that John is shown a temple which has expanded to fill the whole of the kosmos.

Several reviewers of previous NSBT volumes have noted a measure of disappointment in the brief treatment of OT material in some of the volumes in this series, given that they are works of biblical theology. This complaint certainly cannot be raised against Beale's volume. The next three chapters (around 140 pages) are devoted to consideration of OT and relevant ANE texts. The second chapter examines the use of cosmic imagery in ancient temples, arguing that the temple points to Yahweh's rule over all creation. The third chapter then gathers evidence that the temple is to be understood as a sacred space which is to be expanded throughout creation. The fourth chapter takes the discussion of chapter three on a stage further to consider an eschatological dimension.

The next few chapters take the discussion into the NT in a relatively predictable manner: chapters are devoted to the Gospels, Acts, the Pauline Epistles (1 & 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians), Hebrews and Revelation. The less predictable part is a separate chapter devoted to the temple in 2 Thessalonians. Throughout the chapters on the NT texts, however, Beale keeps the significance of OT texts constantly in view so that there is no artificial separation of the testaments.

Beale argues that Jesus is the new temple and that he is therefore the new creation since Eden was the expression of God's creativity which Adam and Eve were to expand so that the whole of creation would be encompassed (p. 176). As believers are united to him, the people of God, the church, itself becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Beale's argument is cumulative, as he readily admits, and some of his arguments are more persuasive than others. He relies heavily on recognition of allusions and readers may find some allusions rather speculative. One might be tempted to say that Beale seldom has met an allusion he didn't like! Yet the book offers a marvellous presentation of the intertextual connections.

Beale's book is very detailed and quite lengthy so some readers may find the whole book with all its exegetical arguments too much initially. For such as these, and for those who want to see the significance of exegesis worked out, Beale concludes his study with two important chapters. One chapter draws the various threads of the argument together while the second draws out the significance of his findings for the lives of Christians and the mission of the church. The tone of this chapter, concluding as it does with the words of Psalm 67, provides a very welcome sense that good biblical theology is theology for the church, which drives the church to worship.

This book is commended to serious readers as a careful study of the biblical texts and as a piece of constructive Christian theology.

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