Open Questions about “The Temple and the Church’s Mission”

G.K. Beale’s work, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, has been massively influential upon the field of biblical theology since it’s publication. If you read the bibliographies of most of the major biblical theologies of the last ten years written by conservative Protestants, you will find that they interact extensively with Beale’s work. The gist of Beale’s work can be found here.

Here are a few “open questions” about Beale’s work. Consider this critical interaction.

If Adam failed the “guard the garden,” then why is his failure not explicitly mentioned in Scripture?

Beale argues that Adam was the first priest (66-70). Once of the major pieaces of evidence that Beale uses to support his claim about Adam’s priesthood is the language of Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. ” According to Beale, the two words “work” and “keep” are most often associated with the work of priests in the Old Testament (67). Furthermore, the word “keep” could be legitimately translated “guard” echoing the work of the priests to guard the tabernacle (67). Building on these claims, Beale contends that Adam’s responsibility was to guard the Garden from intruders.

If guarding the Garden was part of Adam’s commission, then the fact that the serpent infiltrated the Garden indicated failure. Beale believes that Adam, “Failed in the task with which he was commissioned, which includes permitting entrance into the Garden to an antagonistic and unclean being” (87). Thus, part of Adam’s sin seems to be lack of intentionality in protecting God’s sacred space.

Scripture, however, complicates Beale’s presentation of Adam’s failure because it never mentions his lack of guarding the Garden as a sin. It does, however, mention his “one trespass” which refers to his disobedience to God’s word when he ate from the forbidden tree (Rom. 5:15, 16, 17).

How do we resolve the tension between Israel’s holiness and her mission?

A tension that runs throughout the book is God’s call to Israel to be holy and Beale’s contention that Israel was to expand the borders of her temple. Beale argues that God had tasked Israel with the job to be “witness” to the nations and “call” them to the Lord (120). For example, when commenting on Exodus 19:6, Beale concludes, “[The Israelites] were to be mediators in spreading the light of God’s tabernacling presence to the rest of the dark world” (117). In other words, the fact that God formed Israel into a “kingdom of priests” and “holy nations” meant she had a mission to go out to the nations and witness.

It seems, however, as if Beale sees more of a missionary thrust to some Old Testament texts than is actually warranted. It is certainly possible that Exodus 19:6 could be taken to mean that Israel has a mission to go out from her geographical location and evangelize the nations due the fact she is a “kingdom of priests.” But it is also just as equally plausible that her holiness and obedience to God’s law as a special people was the witness to the nations.

Furthermore,  God judges and exiles Israel primarily because of her idolatry and injustice within her own land, not because she failed at her supposed missionary calling. If Israel was really called to expand the borders of the temple and go out and evangelize the nations, it would seem that more condemnations of her lack of mission would exist in the prophetical writings. It certainly seems that when the prophets take about Israel being “witness” or “giving testimony” and being a “light” to the nations, it is talking about Israel being given a new heart which obeys God and, in turn, their holiness attracts the Gentile nations to stream to Zion. In fact, the prevailing picture in the Old Testament is that the nations still have to travel to Jerusalem to worship the one, true living God (Isaiah 2, Zechariah 8).

Moreover, Beale does not resolve the tension between Israel going out and the purpose of an architectural temple in the Old Testament. So much instruction is given surrounding the proper worship of the temple. In fact, it seems as if true worship in Israel cannot occur outside the temple at all! The history of 1 and 2 Kings seems to indicate that when Israel still worships on the “high places” away from the Jerusalem temple, it is a bad thing. But if Israel was to go out to the nations and bring God’s presence, then the physical temple in Jerusalem is rendered largely irrelevant even for Israel in pre-exilic times.

Why would God invest so much time instructing the people to build the temple, if their task was to spread his presence to the nations so that they wouldn’t need the temple? That seems like doing superfluous work!

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