The Future of an Allusion: G.K. Beale’s NT Biblical Theology (Pt.2)
The Argument of the Book (continued)
I said in the first part of this review that Beale is a supercessionist (he believes the Church is the “true Israel”), and the second half of the book makes this crystal clear (although it is not absent from the first half). Although building on things said in the first half, I found the allusions and Beale’s interpretations of them (especially in light of what was overlooked in the contexts), to be more strained and partisan than the previous sixteen chapters.
Part Six investigates the role of the Holy Spirit in the “already/not yet eschatological” paradigm which Beale has set up. He cites Ezekiel 36:26-27 and 37:1-14 (560-561) as examples of OT Spirit-texts. Although he has commented on these passages before he does not read them in light of their clear covenantal context (e.g. 34:11-15, 23-27, 36:22-28; 37:22-26), nor does he notice the constant refrain “O mountains of Israel” tying these chapters together. One should beware of coming to these chapters only to plunder one or two proof texts before departing. Beale ties these passages to Isaiah 32:15 (but notice v.1) and 44:3-5 (“Jacob” is referred to 3 times in the context, and also in vv.21-22). Taken as read they relate to a time when “Jacob” (Israel) will be redeemed and blessed in their land and shepherded over by the promised Davidic king; a covenant promise which Beale has already shown was expected to be fulfilled literally. But it quickly becomes apparent that for Beale “Jacob” is not national Israel, and the fulfillment is upon the “true Israel” and the national promises have dissipated. Beale associates, rightly, Ezekiel 36 with John 3, and draws the common though questionable conclusion that,
Jesus himself” interprets the new birth as “the inbreaking new age as [being] the beginning fulfillment of the Ezek. 36-37 prophecy that the Spirit would create God’s new people by resurrecting them. (570).
But there is a good deal in Ezekiel 36 and 37 (not to mention chs.34, 40ff.) which is being filtered into this opinion; especially when it is realized that Beale’s now-but-not-yet “resurrection” is in view, along with the belief that “God’s new people” means different people than the nation addressed by the prophet (see 572, 592). A couple of pages later is a chart (Table 17.2) where comparisons between several Isaianic passages are supposedly being alluded to in Acts 1:8, but I’m afraid all I see are coincidences in wording, which can scarcely be avoided.
2 Corinthians 5:1-4 is then appealed to to prove that we are participating in resurrection life now (579), and then I Cor. 15:20, 23 and Rom. 8:23 are brought together to teach “the believer’s new resurrected spiritual being” (582) shall in future be united to the resurrected body. The thinking is that we are already resurrected in Christ’s resurrection, even though that resurrection was physical. There follows a section connecting the fruit of the Spirit with Isaiah, although again, some scholars see things others do not. Next the “two witnesses” of Revelation 11:11-12, whom Beale believes represent the church, are connected with the symbolic resurrection depicted in Ezekiel 47:5, 10, thus closing the circle.
The next chapter (ch.18) develops the author’s previous work on the church in Jesus as the “End-Time Already-Not Yet Eschatological Temple.” Jesus proclaimed Himself as the the end-time temple in John 2:19-22 (593), and “the underlying narrative” of Acts 2 is interpreted as Christ’s ongoing construction of the spiritual temple by His Spirit. He cites Isa. 4:2-6, 30:27-30; Jer. 3:16-17, and Zech. 1:16-2:13 to show that the OT itself conceives of “a nonarchitectural temple” (594. cf. 643 n.55) – these prophecies finding initial fulfillment at Pentecost. Some Bible students may fail to make the same connections Beale does.
The author also believes that through allusions to Jewish interpretations of Exodus 20:18a,
Luke was intending to some degree that his readers have in mind God’s revelation to Moses at Sinai as a backdrop for understanding the events leading up to and climaxing at Pentecost. (596).
If this is so then Acts (and so also Luke) was clearly written for a Jewish audience (which seems problematic). This would simplify the problem of interpretive expectation, but would intensify other matters (e.g. Acts 1:6; 3:19-21; 26:7). Also, did the people prophesy in Acts 2:16-17? Beale thinks so (602). What about Acts 2:19-20? Even non-premillennial interpreters are cautious with their interpretations of Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2.
There follows an enlightening excursus about Sinai being a kind of temple, although it is surely possible to see a temple as a physical representation of the true tabernacle (Heb. 8:2-5)?
Chapter 19 is where he really gets going with the temple motif, where he summarizes the argument of The Temple and the Church’s Mission. Rev. 21:1-22:5 is called an “apocalyptic vision” (615), raising questions about what New Jerusalem really is. Then there is some interesting information about the parallels between Eden and Solomon’s Temple along with the reassertion of Adam being the one referred to in Ezekiel. 28:13 (618), his fall being depicted in 28:16 (621). While this speculation has more going for it than most, it could be argued that the temple was more a remembrance picture of Eden (e.g., A. P. Ross), than Eden itself being a temple. Still, it is worth pondering.
Not as convincing is the next section where the author attempts to show that Adam’s commission to rule the earth as priest-king is passed on to Abraham and his descendents (623-626). Despite the scriptures adduced by the writer, nowhere do we read of a commission being given to Abraham. He was given an unconditional covenant which only God obligated Himself to fulfill (Gen. 15). Moreover, Abraham did not fail in those temporary conditions which he was given later (Gen. 17, 22). In fact, one of the reoccurring issues in the book is that similarities are very often pushed to the exclusion of important dissimilarities.
Israel’s temple is viewed as a model of the future cosmic glory (631); something which New Jerusalem also appears to picture (639). In fact, Israel was to expand the limits of the temple and of its own land to the ends of the earth in the way that Adam should have done. (631). Beale has some proof texts , but this reviewer will let the reader of Beale’s book to decide if they are up to the task he assigns them.
He then moves into the New Testament, where his aim is to show that Christ and His church make up the eschatological end-time temple. Along the way he mentions Heb. 9:11 and comments,
Israel’s temple was a symbolic shadow pointing to the eschatological “greater and more perfect tabernacle”…in which Christ and the church would dwell and would form a part. (634).
A few lines previously Christ is called “the true temple.” This raises two questions: first, if Christ (and the church) form only “a part” of the future tabernacle, how can Christ be that tabernacle? Second, Hebrews 9:11, is referring to the true tabernacle in heaven after which the earthly one was patterned (Heb. 8:2-5). This is not a future tabernacle, but one which must have existed prior to Moses’ tabernacle. Beale , along with many expositors, seems not to believe this heavenly tabernacle exists (see 634 n.42), although nothing in Hebrews suggests it does not. If that is so, Christ cannot be in the process of building it, as Beale suggests, because it is already built.
There are some comments about Ezekiel’s temple (not the real one in the first part of the book, but the “symbolic” one in the second half). He believes the New Jerusalem picture draws on those chapters. There are some words about what “literal” means in terms of a promise made to someone who could not understand future realities (643). Then we enter chapters 20 and 21 where the author depicts “The Church as the Transformed and Restored Eschatological Israel.” He begins by discussing his presuppositions, the second of which is that Christ is the true Israel and the church in Him is “the continuation of true Israel from the OT.” (652) This move of equating Christ with Israel and the church as “true Israel” in Christ is a popular one made by contemporary covenant theologians. While being clearly supercessionist it does not have a marked anti-Israel look to it.
How does Beale argue his case? After saying that Jesus is the “true Israel” he deals with the meaning of “mystery” in Eph. 3 (654-655 although he does not mention Col. 1 or indeed his interpretation of the term in his Commentary on Rev. 1:20 where it refers to “fulfillment of prophecy in an unexpected manner.” – which, if amillennialism is followed, would make virtually all prophecy a “mystery”). As a covenant theologian Beale does not see the church as a “new man” starting at Pentecost. Then come brief expositions of portions of Isa. 49; Psa. 87; Isa. 19, 56, 66; Zechariah, and Ezek. 47. The purpose of looking at these passages is to show how Gentiles in the eschaton are referred to as Israelites, and even priests!
The next section runs through names and images of OT Israel which are given to the church in the NT. Beale acknowledges Charles Provan’s book, The Church is Israel Now: The Transfer of Conditional Privilege (669 n.50). Provan is a self-confessed replacement theologian. Beale doesn’t assume the title, but he argues for it all the same. For example, on page 670f. he argues for “Christians as Sons of God [ok], Abraham’s Seed [fine], Israel [?], Jerusalem [!], Circumcised Jews [?].” Nowhere does the NT ever explicitly say the church is any of these last three things (Beale’s book has many admissions about the lack of explicit references to his teaching), so inferences come to the fore. For example, using Paul’s allegory in Gal. 4 he writes,
Consequently, new-covenant believers are children of “Jerusalem above,” who is their “mother,” so that they are considered to have been born in the true Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26, 31) and thus to be true Jerusalemites. In saying this, Paul may have been influenced by Ps. 87, which, as we saw earlier, prophesied that gentiles were to be born in end-time Jerusalem… (671-672)
Jerusalem which is above, is, of course, not in Israel. Jerusalem in Psa. 87 is on earth (his presuppositions show in that he thinks this is an either/or state of affairs – 766). The author puts a lot of weight on the Gentiles in Psa. 87 being born in Jerusalem and infers that they are viewed as Israelites, but it is at least as likely that Psa. 87:4-6 should be interpreted as designating national boundaries for those born in those places as that all are to be seen as being born in Zion. In his interpretation of Matt. 21:43 he shows his colors when he declares “Jesus then interprets this to mean that ‘the kingdom of God will be taken away from you [Israel] and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.’” (673 my emphasis). On page 680 he writes of “rejecting ethnic national Israel as God’s true people” (cf. also 681), and interprets the stone cut out without hands which smashes the image in Dan. 2 as smashing “the ungodly nations, which also includes Israel.” (682).
Beale sees James’s use of Amos 9:12 in Acts 15:14 as an indication that Gentiles will become the eschatological Israel (i.e. the Church) along with the small remnant of Jews. He quotes replacement advocate Provan approvingly: “If [it]…looks, quacks, waddles, and feels like a duck and in the NT is called a duck – then [it]…is, indeed, a duck.” (686). Some may not be convinced he has made a good case, and instead feel justified in heeding Jer. 33:23-26. One thing ought to be clear: “if it looks, talks, acts, and writes like a replacement theologian – and appeals to the same arguments as replacement theologians – then, it is indeed, a replacement theologian.”
I had hoped to complete my overview by this post, but the sheer size of the volume demands I add one further descriptive piece before fully turning to my criticisms of the book. Part Three