The Cosmic Temple and Spiritualized Eschatology (Pt.4)

Part Three

Block’s Challenge

Recently the Old Testament scholar Daniel Block has vigorously challenged the whole Cosmic Temple thesis.[1]  Even if his counter-arguments are somewhat provisional[2], and he retains certain questionable positions on some matters (e.g. the presence of a covenant in Eden[3]; violence beyond Eden[4]; Jesus replacing the Jerusalem temple[5]), I think he has banged more than a couple of nails into the coffin.  Allow me to set out several of his major criticisms[6]:

  1. The depiction of Eden in Genesis 1 and 2 stresses, says Block, not a sacred space, but a “royal world, with the man being cast as a king.”[7] I may add that the concept of sacred space may be present, but it need not include a priesthood[8], and there are reasons to think it does not. The office of priest seems to make sense only whe,n others are excluded from the priesthood.  But that cannot be maintained out of what we read in Genesis.  There is no reason to believe that all Adam’s offspring would follow their father in a priestly function, but then who would they represent?  The existence of a priesthood presupposes not a congenial divine-human economy but a broken relationship.[9]  Hence it is simply out of place in Eden.[10]
  2. God’s “walking” (hithallek) in the garden in Genesis 3:8 relates much more to His relationship with man than to the garden as a “sanctuary.”[11]
  3. The presence of cherubim guarding the tree of life need not imply that Eden was sacred space. Block notes that strange composite creatures are found in other settings in ANE parallels like palaces and gates.[12] They are not confined to sanctuaries, so appeals to ANE parallels won’t work.  On top of this is the fact that no presence of these creatures is recorded until after the entrance of sin into the world.
  4. The clothing given to Adam by God was also given to Eve. If Adam wore priestly garments then so did Eve. But the Old Testament knows nothing of women priests.[13]  This incongruity has not been addressed by the promoters of the theory.  But neither has the change of wardrobe from glorious apparel before the Fall to animal skins afterwards.  An explanation is required if Ezekiel 28:13 is truly a description of Adam as Beale insists.
  5. Genesis 3 is silent on whether the entrance to the garden was located in the east.[14] It may have been, but we will never know for sure.
  6. Block notices that the tripartite nature of the primeval environment (garden, Eden, beyond) does not match that of the sanctuary, which had Holy of Holies, Great Room, Court, and beyond. Hence the analogy breaks down upon closer inspection.[15]
  7. Block asks if Genesis 1-3 ought to be read in light of later texts, as the espousers of the Eden/Temple-as-microcosmos approach assert. He replies that “By themselves…the accounts of Gn 1-3 offer no clues that a cosmic or Edenic temple might be involved.” He rather indicates that the sanctuaries of Israel recall what was lost in the garden through the Fall.[16]  He continues by observing that Genesis 1-3 is not based upon the concept of temple theology, but the other way round; temple theology is based in Creation theology.[17]  That is to say, the later temples memorialize the lost Paradise.
  8. Neither Eden nor the Cosmos are described in language which defines temples as places of worship.[18] He points out that the Old Testament calling Israel “the holy land” does not make it a temple, and even if we retain the terminology of calling Eden a “sacred space” it does not make it a temple also.[19] Furthermore, God does not require a dwelling place.[20]  I might add that in this scenario the cosmos is a defiled temple (as evidenced by the presence of evil) and hence the garden becomes a sacred temple within a defiled temple which it is meant to picture.

Even if Block is right about all this, and I think he is, this does not require us to back completely away from linking Eden and the Temple.  But it is best to view the tabernacle/temple as containing a remembrance of God’s paradise, and the ready access to God that was squandered.  I fully endorse the following sentiment of Block’s:

In its design as a miniature Eden the Israelite temple addressed both the alienation of humanity from the divine Suzerain and the alienation of creation in general.[21]

I think this is a crucial point.  The note of alienation is what pushes against the notion of an expanding and finally inclusive cosmic temple.  And alienation is central to the meaning of the physical temples of Israel.

We may expect more scholars to poke holes in the Cosmic Temple thesis in the coming years.

The Cosmic Temple and the Sufficiency of Scripture

As I have shown, several advocates of this Temple > Eden > Cosmos thesis inform us that it is nowhere spelled out in the Scriptures themselves.  We have also seen that interpreters old and new do not always agree with each other about what symbolizes what.  But this could be lived with if the Cosmic Temple imagery were kept as an interesting speculative feature of the Bible, say like the presence of certain chiasmic patterns, or even the view that the early chapters of Genesis comprise a microcosm of Bible history.[22]  Unfortunately this is far from the case.  Leading lights of Covenant and New Covenant theology have pressed this concept into doing major work in service of their eschatological preferences.  The logic is attractive: If the church is now the “true temple” which is to expand as God’s dwelling, and the garden of Eden and the physical Jewish temples were merely anticipations of this actual “end times temple”, then there appears to be no need for a millennium after Christ returns.  All that remains is the consummation of God’s temple in the New Heavens and New Earth.  Premillennialism loses.  But so, I would argue, does the sufficiency of Scripture.    (more…)

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The Cosmic Temple and Spiritualized Eschatology (Pt. 3)

Part Two

Objections to the Cosmic Temple Motif in Scripture

In Beale’s book The Temple and the Church’s Mission, both the garden of Eden and the Jerusalem temple are types of the Church, which is confusingly called the literal non-physical temple.[1]   Beale’s thesis, which is fed by many ingeniously interpreted though vague allusions – mainly reliant upon reinterpreting OT texts by privileged interpretations of the NT – is that the OT stories of Adam, Abraham, and Israel recapitulate the same story of failure to extend God’s spiritual kingdom throughout the world.  Jesus, the final Adam, the final Israel, and the final temple (though apparently not the final Abraham), will set everything to rights when He comes, and then it’s a wrap as far as this present creation is concerned.[2]

This is it in a nutshell.  While its supporters readily admit that the cosmic temple has little support from the text of the Bible[3], the main assertion is that ancient temples were mini-universes: models of the cosmos.  Following this understanding, it is the function of the sacred space in Scripture that becomes dominant, not the literal meaning conveyed by the words in context.  This maneuver concentrates the mind on ideas beyond the prima facie wording of the texts and starts it thinking along very different lines, with its own assortment of motifs, types and recurrences.[4]

Alongside of this it is proposed that the tripartite temple structure mirrored the same threefold structure in the cosmos.  Further, we are instructed to view the garden of Eden as a proto-temple which God intended man to gradually push out over the untamed earth until all was claimed for God.[5]

It is clear from some inter-testamental Jewish writings and from Philo and Josephus that some Jews in the second temple period (c. 200 B.C. – 70 A.D.) understood the temple and the priesthood to reflect realities in Heaven.[6]  It is also clear that some ancient cultures saw the act of temple-building as a sort of re-enactment of the creation of the universe.

Josephus attributes cosmic significance to various aspects of the structure.  The veil hanging above the temple gate itself symbolizes the universe ([Jewish War] 5:212-213).  The twelve loaves placed on the table symbolize the zodiac and the months, while the menorah… symbolizes the seven planets (5:218)[7].

Very well, but these sources are not from the time of Moses, never mind Adam.  True, there are some resemblances between Genesis 1 and God’s directions for the construction of the tabernacle in Exodus 25 – 31[8], but these possible comparisons are not at all decisive for inferring that the tabernacle was designed as a mini-cosmos.

What about the assertion that, “the three sections of Israel’s temple represented the three parts of the cosmos”?  Beale is convinced that the truth of this is undeniable, and he stakes a lot upon it.  But is it really a fact that ancient peoples of the Near East held to this three-tiered conception?  And is it an established fact that the biblical writers assume the same three-storied view of the cosmos?

Biblical theologian Gerhard Hasel and his son, the archaeologist Michael Hasel argue convincingly that neither is actually the case.  They have shown from Canaanite records that “the gods did not always dwell in the heavens or the upper story of a supposed three-storied universe.”[9]  As a matter of fact,

“The most comprehensive study on Mesopotamian cosmic geography concludes that there was no belief in a three-storied universe…”[10] 

After examining the figurative expressions in the Bible they conclude that “the widespread assumption that the biblical cosmology is that of a three-storied universe cannot be maintained.”[11] If they are right then the theory of the temple reflecting such a three-tier cosmos is in serious trouble.  But again, surely the more important point is how dependent upon speculations and mild possibilities all this is?

What Did the Temple Stand For?

When one narrows ones focus down to the Bible the question “did the earthly temple sometimes stand for the whole cosmos?” needs to be reconsidered.  It is perhaps best to think about it in relation to the question of whether the earthly temple stood as a replication of the heavenly temple.  Of this latter thesis there ought to be no argument, for as Exodus 25:9 and 40 show, God gave Moses a blueprint to follow assiduously.  And the enlargement on this given by the author of Hebrews fills out the picture when he calls Jesus in His High Priestly function,

a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected… – Hebrews 8:2[12]

On the face of it this plainly indicates that there is a “true tabernacle” in heaven of which the earthly one was a replica.  But once this is accepted then the temple = cosmos motif seems less viable, because it would seem to go too far to assert that the heavenly temple itself symbolized the whole cosmos.  This would force one to have to assert a double symbolism; (1) temple = cosmos plus (2) earthly temple = heavenly temple.  Unless the entirety of heaven is right now “the true tabernacle”, which is not the impression one gets from reading Hebrews 8 and 9, then the (1) temple = cosmos parallel won’t work.  This impression is sustained by recalling the picture of New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 and 22, which is clearly distinguished from heaven (Rev. 21:2-3).

What this means is that since the true tabernacle is not coextensive even with heaven it cannot picture the cosmos, and for the same reason it cannot represent the cosmos as three-tiered as is maintained by Beale.  (more…)

The Cosmic Temple and Spiritualized Eschatology (Pt.2)

Part One

Firmer Ground

Following the biblical narrative it appears that the design and furnishings of the tabernacle/temple have some correspondence with the Paradise which Adam forfeited.  This “remembrance” would only increase the sense of what was lost and what the Promised One (Gen. 3:15) would restore.  It would act as an encouragement to faith.  And the expectation would only be heightened once it was also revealed that the sanctuary was modeled after one in heaven (Exod. 25:9; Heb. 8:1-5).[1]  These ideas taken together form the backdrop for viewing the earthly temple sanctuary as a place of meeting between God and (one) man.[2]  Once the Redeemer completes eventually His work[3] however, all saints may enter the true Holy Place (cf. Rev. 21:21-26).

If this view is accepted then neither Eden nor the later temple should be seen, in the first place, as a model of the whole Cosmos, but as a “pattern” or “imitation” of “the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.” (Heb. 8:2).[4]  Of course, if the true sanctuary does model the Cosmos then so would the copy.[5]

Cosmic Temple and Typology

However, the usual way this idea is presented in evangelical theology is as a theological motif: a launching pad for a certain typological reading of biblical eschatology.  This motif also depends much on seeing parallels in the way the ancients in other civilizations built their temples to represent their understanding of the universe.  As we’ve seen, sometimes the idea of Eden as a tri-tiered arrangement of garden, land of Eden, and outlying lands is invoked.[6]  Then extrapolation takes over, as one inference is laid upon another.

As imagination kicks into top gear we soon have Adam the priest-sentinel charged with pushing out the borders of Paradise into the wild spaces beyond his habitat while combating the evils which dwell there.  Adam does this so as to supposedly reenact the struggle of God against Chaos in Creation week.[7]  As the biblical story continues Abraham and Israel are “new Adams”[8]  doomed to recapitulate the same scenario, which only ends with Jesus, who, in His resurrection, empowers the Church (which is seen as the “new Israel”) to finish the job.  Presumably Adam (and the other “Adams”) was expected to do this feat literally, but it is now being done spiritually by Christ in the Church.

So according to Beale, who has written many pages describing the garden of Eden as a temple,

The prophecy of the latter-day temple begins in Christ’s first coming and the church through God’s special revelatory presence, the essence of the old temple…Christ was the first expression of this divine presence that had left the old temple, and then his Spirit indwelling the church was the continuing ongoing expression of the beginning latter-day temple.  All along, the symbolic design of the temple was to indicate that God’s “holy of holies” presence would eventually fill the entire cosmos, so that the cosmos, instead of a small physical house, would be the container of this glorious presence…at the climax of all history, the inaugurated indwelling presence of God completely fills the entire cosmos, which appears to have been the design of the Ezek.40-48 temple prophecy all along.[9]  

This scenario plays nicely into the hands of amillennial and postmillennial advocates.[10]  Eden, Adam, the land covenanted to Abraham, the tabernacle and the Jerusalem temple, the people of Israel, are all types of Christ and the Church: the “true temple,” which may typify the Divine Presence filling the whole Cosmos.  The proper interpretation of God’s program resides in the types.[11]  And they supposedly contain the grand story of the Bible, not the covenants, which (naturally) resist typological interpretation!

The groundswell of enthusiasm for this view comes into focus once one has bought into the typology.  The garden of Eden and its recapitulations are interpreted as types of the “true” eschatological temple being extended through Christ’s Church – Christ and His Body being the antitype.  This encourages; indeed it necessitates a supercessionist view of the eschaton.[12]

—————————————————————————-

[1]A straightforward reading of the texts in question makes it unmistakable that this was intended.  The problem then, for both Christian and Jewish interpreters, is what to do with this information.  Sadly, many Christians simply choose to disbelieve it because they adopt theological positions at variance with it.  Some Jewish writers see the Book of Hebrews as a piece of supercessionist polemics, and do not take seriously the agreement between Exodus and Hebrews.  For the latter, see Jonathan Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 243.

[2] That man being the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.

[3] What I mean by this is that Christ only completes His great work once Satan is forever vanquished and the “Creation Project” is at an end.  There is much still to be said about this theme.

[4] I.e. As opposed to the one Moses pitched.

[5] The reader is reminded that in the case of Israel’s temple the three-tiered arrangement of the structure is said to correspond to the three-tiered structure of the universe.

[6] This is what G. K. Beale does in, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 32-33, and G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim, God Dwells Among Us, 52

[7] G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 40.  Here is a contrary opinion: “The red thread of opposition to pagan mythological notions is also visible in the fiat creation by raising the firmament or expanse (Gen. 1:6, 7) without any struggle whatsoever…The ancient cosmologies are not absorbed or reflected in Genesis but overcome.” – Gerhard F. Hasel and Michael G. Hasel, “The Unique Cosmology of Genesis 1 against Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian Parallels”, in The Genesis Creation Account and Its Reverberations in the Old Testament, (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2015), ed. Gerald A. Klingbeil”, 22.  Cf. John W. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths, 67-68.

[8] E.g. G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 39, 60, 62.  Israel is called a “corporate Adam”.

[9] Ibid, 647.

[10] Even though it’s major proponents tend to be amillennial.

[11] I refer to this as typological predetermination.  It will be necessary to enter for a while into the subtleties, not to say the meanderings of typological interpretation.  But I shall do that in volume two.

[12] E.g. Beale entitles chapter 19 of his A New Testament Biblical Theology ; “The Story of the Eden Sanctuary, Israel’s Temple, and Christ and the Church as the Ongoing Eschatological Temple of the Spirit in the New-Creational Kingdom.”.  One cannot escape the prevalence of replacement theology in this book (e.g. 161, 173, 182 n.65, 215, 307, 574, 770, etc.). On page 211 the redeemed nations are called “authentic Israel,” and new covenant believers (i.e. the church) are “true Jerusalemites.” (671). In his comments on the supercessionist test-text Matt. 21:41 Beale speaks of God “rejecting ethnic national Israel as God’s true people” (680), and of Israel’s stewardship being taken from them and given to the gentiles (681). He says, “Jesus identifies himself with Daniel’s stone which smashes the ungodly nations, which also includes…Israel.” (682).  Proponents of this kind of approach regularly complain that they are not supercessionists, but that is because they have so attenuated the word that it no longer retains its true meaning.

The Cosmic Temple and Spiritualized Eschatology (Pt.1)

“Israel’s temple was a symbolic shadow pointing to the eschatological “greater and more perfect tabernacle” (Heb. 9:11) in which Christ and the church would dwell and would form a part.  If so, it would seem to be the wrong approach for Christians to look in hope to the building of another temple in Jerusalem composed of earthly “bricks and mortar” as a fulfillment of the OT temple prophecies.” – G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 634

The above quotation presents one of the logical outcomes of adopting the position that the garden of Eden was designed as a “temple,” which in turn symbolized the created cosmos, which needed to be subordinated to its Creator.  This micro-cosmos Eden “temple” was to be expanded by mankind, we are told, until it covered the surface area of planet earth.  The tabernacle and the temple of Israel were related to the Eden “temple” in that they too were mini-cosmoses; yet they also functioned as types of the final temple, the church in Jesus Christ.  The church is the new and real temple which is to expand its “sacred space” until it spreads over the whole of creation.

Explaining the Cosmic Temple Idea[1]

If one spends time reading the older commentaries, articles and Old Testament theologies, one will find no mention of the idea of a Cosmic Temple.[2]  Today the situation has changed and there is a widespread consensus about cosmic symbolism in the ancient world, the Hebrew Bible included.[3] There are, to be sure, impressive parallels between ancient views about temple complexes, the concept of rest, the symbolism of trees and so on, in Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures, and certain ideas in the Old Testament.

If we put to one side the vital question of the sufficiency of Scripture for the moment and concentrate on the issue at hand, we can put together a decent picture of the way the ancient Jews, among other peoples, saw the temple as symbolizing the universe.  But whether the Bible ought to be thought of as reflecting this same outlook, as some evangelicals claim[4], is an altogether separate question.

The basic concept involved is well expressed in the following quotations:

It is now widely known that archaeological ruins and texts from the Ancient Near East portray ancient temples as small models of heavenly temples or of the universe conceived of as a temple.[5]

The setting for the world’s true story is the cosmos God made.  In this cosmos he intends to be known and worshiped by his image and likeness.  In that sense, the world God made is a cosmic temple.  Within the cosmic temple God planted a garden, and it appears that [man] was charged to expand the borders of that garden until the glory of the Lord covered the dry ground as the waters covered the sea.[6]

The Ancient Near Eastern temples are also compatible with the…conclusion that the three sections of Israel’s temple represented the three parts of the cosmos.[7]

Our thesis is that Israel’s temple was composed of three main parts, each of which symbolized a major part of the cosmos: (1) the outer court represented the habitable world where humanity dwelt; (2) the holy place was emblematic of the visible heavens and its light sources; (3) the holy of holies symbolized the invisible dimension of the cosmos, where God and his heavenly hosts dwelt.[8], [9]

Eden as a Cosmic Temple?

    Greg Beale, who has been at the forefront of this movement, thinks that seeing Eden as a temple, fated for worldwide expansion, has a lot of promise, helping us to comprehend the Bible’s grand narrative.  His case is built up from allusions, hints, strands, and possible scenarios.  Beneath the surface it is all very speculative, and he often has to qualify his assertions (“possibly”, “perhaps”, “no explicit evidence”).  Rarely does he point to plain and clear statements of Scripture to prove his thesis.  For example, if one asks, where is this idea most clearly spelled out?  Beale answers with Ezekiel 28:

Ezekiel 28:18 is probably, therefore, the most explicit place anywhere in canonical literature where the Garden of Eden is called a temple.[10]

The passage in question reads:

You defiled your sanctuaries by the multitude of your iniquities, by the iniquity of your trading; therefore I brought fire from your midst; it devoured you, and I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you. – Ezekiel 28:18

As Beale explains in another place, “Ezek. 28:18 says that the sin of the glorious figure ‘profaned your sanctuaries,’ which alludes to Eden as a temple being profaned.”[11]

The Hebrew word miqdashim (“sanctuaries”) is plural, but it may be that the plural is used simply for emphasis[12], so that in itself does not derail the identification of Adam as the “glorious figure” or Eden as a profaned temple.”  But everyone will admit that the passage has been given many interpretations, and the “Adam interpretation” feels less than airtight.[13]  Bruce Waltke believes that, “the description of the king of Tyre is not apt for Adam.  Rather, the imagery fits Satan quite well; an angelic cherub in God’s court…”[14]  When all is said and done, if Ezekiel 28:18 is the most unambiguous place where Eden is referred to as a temple the thesis does not enjoy a very solid biblical foundation.  (more…)

Personal Thoughts About Commentaries (8): Mark

Mark’s Gospel is terrific for the preacher.  It really comes into its own when expounded.  Any commentary on this book that keeps flipping back and forth between Mark, Matthew and Luke should not be considered a first choice.  There is now an embarrassment of fine resources.  Here is my list:

1. James R. Edwards (Pillar)

Edwards’ commentary on Romans is very good, and it was on my experience with that work that I purchased this.  I ended up reading the whole book and marking most of its pages.  The author gives you what you need (the Markan reveal of Jesus; the theology of Mark; the personal touches; the deliberate plan of the Gospel), in clear prose with good application.  This is my top pick for the preacher and teacher of Mark.

2. William L. Lane (NICNT)

First issued in 1974 this commentary is still better than most of those which have come after it.  Yes, the form-criticism is annoying in places, but when he gets down to interpreting the evangelist’s thought Lane is always an attentive listener.

3. R. T. France (NIGNTC)

France writes beautifully and has a great ability to keep you engaged with Mark while digging deep into his language and structure.  Many would rank this one first.  I demur because I don’t like his treatment of the Olivet Discourse.

4. Eckhard Schnabel (TNTC)

Replacing the solid work of R. Alan Cole was not easy, but Schnabel, who has more pages at his disposal, has bettered the previous commentary in the Tyndale series (of which he is the new editor).  Schnabel gets to grips with what matters, and reads Mark as self-contained.  A good shorter contribution.

5. C. E. B. Cranfield (CGTC)

Talking about short contributions brings me to Cranfield’s work.  Like France (see above) Cranfield writes good prose so naturally that the reader doesn’t have to stop and wonder what was meant.  Breezes through the Greek text while not ignoring theology.  Very helpful for checking ones exegesis.

6. Andrew T. LePeau

I reviewed this when it first came out and gave it a cautious recommendation.  Very good on thought-flow and backgrounds, but questionable assumptions regarding OT allusions.  A good foil to the above commentaries.

7. Larry Hurtado (UBNT)

I like Hurtado and I like this book.  It doesn’t waste your time and inserts good information on culture, structure and the like.

8. Mark Strauss (ZECNT)

I’m not a big fan of Strauss’s survey of the Gospels so I didn’t think I’d like this one.  But it has a lot of merits: attention to Greek without getting bogged down in quibbles, good on theology, plus a great layout.

9. Timothy Geddert (BCBC)

I should perhaps place this one further up the list.  Geddert really gives Mark his due, and holds him in high esteem as a thinker.  That comes across in this helpful book.  The group of essays that come with the commentary enhance its value.  Should I have placed it higher…?

10. D. Edmond Hiebert

Coming from the same stable as Geddert, this older work is very conservative and premillennial.  It also takes the last 12 verses seriously!  A bit stodgy but reliable.

 

There are other good commentaries on this Gospel which deserve a read.  Cole is the older Tyndale work, but being older doesn’t mean it isn’t still good.  Lenski is good and he defends the last 12 verses.  Barbieri’s Moody Gospel Commentary is reliable, but I found myself defaulting to Hiebert for a premillennial view.  Honorable mentions go to Darrell Bock (who might have made the top ten), David Garland, and Robert Stein.  Older works by J. A. Alexander and James Morison shouldn’t be sniffed at (in fact I resorted to Morison quite a lot when I preached through Mark).  The sermonic works of John MacArthur and particularly Alexander Maclaren are of real use.  Finally, Dean Burgon’s ‘The Last Twelve Verses of Mark’ is still pertinent.

Review: ‘The Old Testament’ by Richard Hess

A review of Richard S. Hess, The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016, xiv + 801 pages, hdbk

Richard Hess is an Old Testament professor at Denver Seminary who has distinguished himself with a brace of high quality studies and commentaries.  These include a notable Commentary on Joshua in the Tyndale series, and a book on Israelite Religions.  This work of Old Testament introduction competes with the works of Hill & Walton, Longman & Dillard, Arnold & Beyer, as well as older books by Gleason Archer and R. K. Harrison.

In The Old Testament Hess reviews each book of the Hebrew Bible providing an outline, an overview of the contents, a helpful section on “Reading” each book, which is divided into “Premodern” and critical readings; the latter being particularly useful.  There is then a section on “Gender and Ideological Criticism,” Ancient Near Eastern and Canonical context, Literary structure, Theological themes, and a brief annotated bibliography.  Overall, the style is highly readable and informative.  The chapters are enhanced with black and white  charts, diagrams, maps, photos, and insets focusing on pertinent topics.

The author’s survey of the contents of each book provide a good summary of what one will find when reading through the Bible.  This can serve as a reminder of the main events and persons, especially in the longer books.  The section on “Reading…” will assist any student trying to pick their way through the way the different critical approaches have looked at the texts.  What this does is give the gist of a critical approach, which may have some insight, while revealing its sometime basis in unbelief.  This part of the introduction serves as a good check on ones hermeneutics.

I shall bypass the “Gender” sections for the moment and move to the sections on context.  These pull together the author’s long associations with cultural and archaeological backgrounds and present them in clear terms for the reader.  Hess also shows an ability to fit each book into the wider canonical whole; a knack that will be appreciated by preachers.

For me the most useful parts of the book are the “Literary Readings” and “Theological Perspectives” sections.  Hess discusses form and stylistic features, often noticing things in passages like the grouping of sayings around a theme or person, or the presence of a theme at strategic points.  The theological units summarize both important authorial preoccupations (e.g. key themes, words, and persons, etc.), and developing motifs (although there is some crossover with other sections).

A good example of the books’ usefulness would be the chapter on Deuteronomy.  As well as providing a history of the critical approaches to the book, Hess shows that Deuteronomy’s suzerain-vassal treaty format is integral to its interpretation, and he manages to do this without being boring!  The pages covering “Theological Perspectives” are extremely good.  Hess gives attention to the covenant, the Ten Commandments, and to the Shema while explaining how these influenced Jewish self-understanding thereafter.  Deuteronomy is a book where issues such as gender and justice can be discussed, and the treatment of these issues is well done here.

This brings me to the sections entitled “Gender and Ideological Issues.”  Sometimes (actually quite often) there is not much to say under this heading and we find the author dealing with apologetic matters (e.g. in tackling the Sheffield and Copenhagen schools in 1 & 2 Kings).  In general I have to say that I found these sections heavy going.  Is the Bible really concerned with the sort of gender identity politics and argumentation of the beginning part of the the 21st century?  Feminist interpreters don’t read the Bible as a normative revelation from God to them.  They read it for case studies and to find platforms for their worldly interpretations.  The fact is that every book in the Bible was written by a man, not a woman.  And although there are many women who are vital to its stories (e.g. Eve, Sarah, Hannah, Naomi, Esther, etc.), their stories are told by God through men of God.  Hence, searching out women’s perspectives in a Book like the Bible seems to me to be both an exercise in futility and a distraction from the purpose of the revelation.  The Old Testament comes to us all as persons, not as special identities.

All in all Richard Hess has given the evangelical world a very good book of Old Testament introduction.  While using it extensively for several months it has grown on me more and more.  I recommend it for its excellent presentation of a great deal of helpful conservative information and its economy of style.  While I will not be throwing out my R. K. Harrison, I do think this is the best contemporary work on the subject I have encountered.

 

 

 

 

 

Scripture as Propositional (Pt.2)

Part One

Objection 1: A common objection to viewing Scripture as propositional revelation is that it ends up treating the Bible as a sort of theological concordance, irrespective of the original context of the passage.

Now I agree with that, but that’s not what we’re talking about.  Propositional revelation does not necessarily involve treating the Bible as a theological concordance.

Objection 2:  The propriety of associating the ineffable God with human linguistic forms.

Some scholars balk at the idea that God could employ what they consider to be the culture-bound norms of human language.  To these kinds of people the very thought of propositional truth is archaic nonsense; all propositions are up for grabs as our knowledge moves forward.  So relativism and subjectivism comes in (this can be seen in George Lindbeck’s work The Nature of Doctrine, especially pages 119 and 120).  People like this believe that God’s incomprehensibility makes him completely unknowable objectively, and that He is only subjectively knowable.  He reveals himself to the subject through some kind of existential declaration or disclosure.

Of course, that is not what we should mean when we speak about the incomprehensibility of God.  That doctrine is that God is utterly unknowable unless and to the degree to which He reveals himself to us; and He has revealed himself to us in the Holy Scripture. But the Holy Scripture can only be a proper and sufficient revelation of God if it has the capability of being propositional.  These scholars who speak about the “ineffable and infinite God” employing indefinite symbols of language to communicate to us, are not taking a theistic-biblical view of language.  Therefore, they cannot be taking a biblical view of God either. (more…)

King & Kingdom in Genesis?

This was written as an Excursus for a chapter in the book ‘The Words of the Covenant’

I am well aware of the view held by many respected scholars who believe that “the Kingdom of God” is the main theme of the Bible.[1]  But it must be admitted that it has not been an overarching theme of Genesis, and therefore of the first several thousand years of history.  Though it may be rightly intimated from the image of God of Genesis 1:26-27, and the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28f., that man was to rule over the world for His Maker[2], the idea of a kingdom of God had not yet taken clear shape in the biblical text, especially from the time of the Fall.[3]  What we see, rather, is the story of fallen humanity moving away from their Creator and His program, and a providential counter-movement through Noah to Abram finalizing at some future point in a coming potentate from Judah.  Hence, the kingdom theme emerges very gradually from the Hebrew narrative.  Surely a more prominent theme has been the figure of the coming “Deliverer King”[4] who is promised at the beginning and the end of the Book (Gen. 3:15; 49:8-10).

I am prepared to accept this thesis about the important status of the kingdom of God, but only if one allows certain objections to have their full weight.  The fact is that there are several reasons which militate against this opinion, and it withstands them only on the strength of the totality of the Bible’s broader teaching about the Messiah, seen mainly through the prophetic writings in both Testaments.  Let me unpack these objections below.

Firstly, one cannot brush over the fact that the Book of Genesis places little or no direct emphasis on the kingdom of God, and it is only through making the term do several chores at once that an argument from Genesis can be made.  By “kingdom of God” are we to mean the universal rule of God over all He has made?  If so then I respectfully point out that we are asserting a truism about providence which hardly requires an argument[5]: God is going to be God!  Of course, what can be said about God in this sense cannot be said of man.

Secondly, we might agree with “the recent scholarly consensus [which] largely contends that the kingdom, while present in some sense, nevertheless still awaits a future consummation at the second coming of Jesus Christ, although the kingdom came in provisional fashion at his first advent.”[6]  That is how many people view it, but it requires us to read Genesis, and in fact the Old Testament, with the New Testament already in hand; something which my method here does not permit me to do.

Thirdly, if we define the kingdom of God as God’s reign over the earth and mankind in fellowship with us as vice-regents, we shall have to admit that such a kingdom is eschatological; that it is the goal of the Bible’s eschatology.  Hence, teleology and eschatology move towards the realization of the kingdom of God.  It has not been manifested yet in history.  As Saucy observed,

God’s kingly rule is brought to the earth through the mediation of the kingdom of the Messiah… This pervasive mediatorial kingdom program, ultimately fulfilled through the reign of Christ, is the theme of Scripture and the unifying principle of all aspects of God’s work in history.[7] 

With this I agree, and here the realization of the kingdom of God and the Creation Project are virtually synonymous.  Here one encounters the “mediatorial” idea where God entrusts aspects of the nascent kingdom of God to chosen vessels (e.g. Abraham, David, etc.).  I think this view has been successfully championed by men like Peters, McClain, Pentecost, Saucy, and Vlach.  But in my opinion the actual kingdom of God, understood as “the earthly kingdom of Messiah” is proleptic; that is, seen in advance of its materialization.  It is anticipated more than it is perceived.  The Law of Moses and the throne of David provide concrete yet imperfect instances, not so much of Messiah’s kingdom, but rather of intensified illustrations of God’s universal reign in a fallen world.  Understood this way it is rightly called “mediatorial.”

We find a theocracy, but not the one ushered in at the end of history by “he who comes to whom it belongs” (Gen. 49:10).[8]  If we wish to look for such a kingdom where God’s blessings are mediated to the nations, we will have to wait.    However one sees it, “the earthly kingdom” will always suffer from contingency until the prophesied Messiah comes to rule.[9]

This is why I prefer to think of the arrival of the coming King as the telos of the Bible. It is the King who brings about the realization of the Kingdom of God.  For example, in the time of Jesus, as we shall see, the kingdom was thought of mainly in terms of the future, not the present.  The same is true in the Prophets, as I hope to show.  The mediatorial kingdom view prior to the advent is at best a shadow of the actual kingdom of Messiah.[10]  The consummation of the mediatorial kingdom will be when it is “brought into conformity with God’s Universal Kingdom (see 1 Cor 15:24, 28).”[11]  It oughtn’t to surprise us that the idea emerges as the person of the Messiah comes more and more into focus in the progress of revelation.

King and Kingdom

The term “kingdom” occurs only twice in Genesis (Gen. 10:10; 20:9), and neither usage concerns the kingdom of God.  Genesis 3:15 is at best a pale intimation of this kingdom, with nothing of any substance on the issue being broached to Noah or Abraham.[12]  What can be asserted is that God’s covenant with Abraham included the grant of a land in perpetuity to Abraham’s heirs (Gen. 15).

It is a similar story with the word “king” (melek).  Although it is used many times in Genesis it is not employed to designate the coming Ruler over the future kingdom until Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:7.  Added to this, and as was already noted above, Genesis 41:40 is the sole mention of “throne” in Genesis, and that is a reference to Pharaoh’s throne.  So, to repeat, we find no real development of the kingdom of God concept in the Genesis period.[13]   (more…)

Scripture as Propositional (Pt.1)

The Bible depicts man as specially equipped by God for the express purposes of knowing God’s rational verbal revelation, of communicating with God in praise and prayer, and of discoursing with fellow men about God and his will. – Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, Volume 3, 389

Because of the theistic view of language described above we ought not to be surprised when we turn to Scripture and look upon it as information that has been given to us by God.  Information which discloses a cognitive content; things we are to know.

The penalty for neglecting rational criteria in respect to revelational considerations is the constant danger of ascribing subjective impressions and personal decisions to some divine disclosure and demand.” – Ibid, 433

What Henry is speaking about there is the fact that we must approach the Bible, if we approach it as it is…that is the word of God – a revelation of God to man, in an objective way and as an objective disclosure.  It certainly has subjective meaning and makes a subjective impression upon us, but it is objectively true whether we feel anything or are moved one way or another and the objectivity is to be found in the amenability of Scripture to be worded in propositions; evangelical scholars have generally spoken about Scripture as propositional revelation. Holy Scripture is the faithful written testimony of God’s special revelation to man. ‘God has spoken!’  Those three words make all the difference, and the Bible is, by virtue of its inspired nature, the sole source of special revelation. In written form, the Bible is propositional in character; therefore special revelation is propositional in character.

Proposition – an objective disclosure in contradistinction to a purely personal subjective impression.

The Bible depicts God’s very revelation as meaningful, objectively-intelligible disclosure. We mean by propositional revelation that God supernaturally communicated his revelation to chosen spokesmen in the express form of cognitive truths and that the inspired, prophetic, apostolic proclamation reliably articulates these truths in sentences that are not internally contradictory. –  Carl F. H. Henry, Ibid, 456-457

The reason that we are devoting a whole lecture to this issue of propositional revelation is because this is where the battleground is, at least for the next few years, maybe a decade or more. The postmodern ethos challenges propositional revelation and the influence of postmodernism upon evangelical hermeneutics challenges propositionalism and if we don’t have propositional revelation then we don’t have objective truth from God and therefore we have to defend this crucial issue.

The Unsettling Notion of Propositionalism

The kind of definition that I’ve just read from Carl Henry is being challenged even within evangelical circles by theologians who’ve drunk too deeply from the cup of postmodernism and as a result, have over-applied the objections to classical foundationalism; that is that classical or Cartesian foundationalism just deals with certain undeniable truths and as a result leaves everything else up to scientific inductive experimentation. As we have discovered, that idea has been overthrown now and few people hold it. Unfortunately what has happened is that in evangelicalism people like Stanley Grenz, John Franke, Roger Olson, and others have thrown out foundationalism altogether and they have moved on to a different kind all epistemology. Now, we don’t need to throw at foundationalism; we can speak of ‘soft foundationalism’ as many evangelical scholars do today.  Or we can even prefer the kind of transcendental work of Cornelius Van Til which is better than even ‘soft foundationalism’ for an epistemological base.

These writers are attacking the idea of propositional revelation because they claim that to refer to the Bible as propositional turns it into a rationalistic concordance for theology. One writer of the evangelical left has recently objected that this leads to,

…viewing Scripture as a source of information for systematic theology, as such, it is viewed as a rather loose and relatively disorganized collection of factual, propositional statements.” John R. Franke, The Character of Theology, 88 [in a footnote on the same page Franke notices that Carl Henry develops his definition of theology based on biblical propositions in the first volume of his God, Revelation, and Authority.  But interestingly, Franke neglects to refer his readers to Henry’s thorough examination of the pros and cons of propositional revelation in volume 3 of his magnum opus, pages 403-487]

“A Repository of Proof Texts”

Now this idea of propositional revelation necessitating a concordance view of theology, where we just reduce everything down to certain statements to use at the behest of systematic theology, reveals a reaction to certain statements made by men like Charles Hodge in the 19th century which seemed to imply that the Bible was simply a repository of proof texts to be sorted out into the respective corpora of systematics.

This concordance view was not what Hodge intended. Besides whatever definitional failings may be found in Hodge the same cannot be said of Carl Henry; indeed that author offers one of the clearest and best definitions of propositional revelation available when he writes: (more…)

The Apocalyptic (Wrong) Turn (Pt.5)

Part Four

The Function of Apocalyptic

Brent Sandy says that understanding the function of apocalyptic literature is probably the most important thing about it.[1]  He says that the main thing is to bring hope in adversity.  As he puts it, “The lofty heights of the [rollercoaster] ride – so unlike anything known on this earth – help the persecuted put their misfortunes in perspective.”[2]  Sandy describes the six effects of apocalyptic upon the hearers[3]:

  1. It creates worshipful awe of the sovereign Lord.
  2. It brings hope and comfort that one day this troubled planet will be rules as heaven is ruled.
  3. It reminds hearers that they are in the midst of the cosmic battle between good and evil.
  4. It lends new courage to those under persecution and threat of death that they will be much better off one day.
  5. It creates an exhilarating image of God coming to earth to right all wrongs.
  6. It encourages to ethical purity since the faithful will receive honor in the new creation.

I personally do not find any of these things convincing.  There is nothing here that straight prophecy doesn’t do also.  In fact, God’s covenants do all this far more legibly and cogently.  If the people will not believe the covenants why would they believe apocalyptic visions?  And do these visions truly bring hope, or do they more usually leave a burning impression of the divine activity?

I submit that the function of apocalyptic is often to reveal the actual supernaturalness of reality and the processes running invisibly behind the Creation Project.  As I will show, certain chapters (e.g. Dan 7 & 8; Rev. 12 & 13) do employ powerful images to get our attention.  But they are all explained in the context.[4]

The Influence of the Covenants

What influence, if any do God’s covenants have upon our understanding of apocalyptic literature?  My position in this book is that the Noahic, Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic covenants, mediated via the New covenant in Christ, provide the road map of the Creation Project.  Because these covenants possess a normative hermeneutical status, nothing in Scripture can contradict the oaths expressed in these covenants.  That is just to say that no genre within the Bible will produce teachings that will contradict the expectations aroused by the things that God has unilaterally sworn to do.

Let us take a look then at the covenantal background found in the major apocalyptic passages.  As we do so I will make some comments on the visions themselves.

Examining the Books  

If we examine the “apocalyptic books” of the Bible without reference to critical scholarship what we see is something different than the recommended formulae.  Ezekiel shows us the cherubim, which have been mentioned previously in e.g. Genesis 3 and 1 Kings 6, but we did not comprehend their strangeness until he described them (Ezek. 1 & 10).  This appears to be a simple case of progressive revelation rather than anything connected to genre.  An important question is, can a genre define whether or not a biblical writer decides to describe what he actually saw?  We can admit that the composite beasts of Daniel 7 and 8 are figurative, but as Murphy has said, the figurative and metaphorical convey literal meanings.[5]   He writes,

Do the writers believe in the unseen worlds they depict? They do.  Do they believe that seers are granted visions into and tours of the unseen world? Yes.  Do they believe that the specifics of that world are accurate as described?  Yes and no… They symbolize things, such as empires and kings.  At the same time, even if an empire can be symbolized by a beast, it can be symbolized in other ways as well.  And both are true and revelatory.  The superhuman power of empires, angels, and demons is real.  How it is presented can change.[6]

Granted that empires are depicted as beasts, these meanings are not difficult to locate, since the prophets give us enough data to know what is intended.  However, for the most part, what the prophets see (e.g. angels, cherubs, fiery horses, temples), are what they seem to be.  They are often not representations of something else.[7]   We therefore need to carefully distinguish between the real and the symbolic in apocalyptic.[8] (more…)