by Jul 26, 2023Biblical studies, Hermeneutics0 comments

G.K. Beale, the name sounds like a superhero or a CEO media mogul, like Clark Kent or Josh Lewis. In reality, G.K. Beale is a biblical scholar, so he is neither rich nor has superpowers, but he is knowledgeable. Beale is known for his biblical theology and the unique ability to make biblical connections like a theological savant with undiagnosed autism. 

He wrote a whole book on the Temple in biblical theology just because he could. Some say he is the most interesting man in the world (of biblical studies). Demons tell ‘G.K. Beale stories’ while sitting around a campfire. G.K. Beale has a diary, it is called The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. G.K. Beale can touch MC Hammer. When G.K. Beale was in middle school, his English teacher assigned an essay: “What is a theologian?” He received an A+ for turning in a blank page with only his name at the top.

All jokes aside, in his book, New Testament Biblical Theology he makes a rather unexpected (at least to me) claim. The Bible pictures the Garden of Eden as the first Temple in creation. He lays out a few arguments in support. All of his lines of reasoning for this claim are found on pages 617-621 of his book. Below is a short summary of a few of them. 

      • In the later OT, the Temple was the place of God’s special presence where He made Himself known and felt to Israel. That is exactly how His walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden is depicted. (Gen. 3:8)
      • Adam is placed in the Garden to “cultivate” (abad) and “keep” (samar) it (Gen 2:15). The same two words are translated elsewhere as “serve” and “guard”, and when they appear together, they are either referring to Israelites serving or obeying God’s Word or more often, to the job of the priest in guarding and keeping the Temple. (Num. 3:7-8; 8:25-26; 1 Chron. 23:32) 
      • The Tree of Life served as a model for the lampstand, which was clearly shaped as a tree, in the Temple.  
      • Israel’s later Temple was made with wood carvings of flowers, palm trees, etc. meant to recall Eden’s garden brilliance (1 Kings 6:18, 29, 32, 35); pomegranates were also placed at the bottom of the two stone pillars in the Temple (7:18-20).
      • The entrance to the Temple was to the east, on a mountain facing Zion (Ex. 15:17), just as the end-time temple prophesied in Ezekiel is (40:2, 6; 43:12). Well, turns out the entrance to Eden was from the east (Gen. 3:24) and in some places pictured as being on a mountain. (Ezek. 28:14, 16)
      • The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Ark of the Covenant both were accessed or touched only on pain of death. Also, both were sources of wisdom.
      • Ezekiel 28:13-14 refers Eden as “the holy mountain of God,” which everywhere else in the OT is Temple and Tabernacle language.

I have not come even close to doing justice to the exegetical work Beale does in his book. I admit I am a fanboy but his work is “THICK” like grandma’s grits. This short sketch should be enough to show that there is a good case to be made for understanding the Garden of Eden as the first Temple. Yet most Christians might ask, why does this matter? Or, is this one more interesting factoid you [Dawson] think is cool but really if said in public makes you eat alone in the cafeteria? Thank you for asking! I can answer that one so pull up a chair and, can I have your pudding? 

The theological implications of this idea are far-reaching. They are actually so massive they spread out like the tentacles of the mythical Kraken touching all areas of theology. I can’t go into all of them so here are just a few bullet points. 

Creation — Why did God create the world? To inhabit it and dwell with people. Making creation the first context for our worship, its beauty, truth, and goodness roll up into praise to God, the Creator. Explaining at least one reason God’s attributes and glory are all over God’s handiwork. 

Anthropology — If the Garden is the Temple, then Adam is a priest. That has implications for our idea of human purpose and our relation to the rest of creation. Touching on issues in the ethics of marriage and family, as well as ecological ethics. 

Christology — When we start to realize that Christ is the greater Temple, fulfilling all that the Temple was supposed to be, as well as the true Adam, it starts to fill in the picture on the aim of Christ’s work. The cross can be seen as both the victory over principalities and powers as well as the means of atonement for human sin. In this light, the cosmic dimension of redemption and the human dimension can both fit into the frame of Christ’s work.   

Ecclesiology —With the above thinking about human purpose, and Christ’s work (also above) in view, our theology of the church will be shaped by temple thinking in a dramatic way. 

If the Garden was a Temple, then it’s a “foundational” idea we can ‘build on’.