Eden as Temple and Template (Part I)

Tracing the Theme of Temple

Perhaps one of the most traceable themes in biblical theology is the temple. Nevertheless, there may be confusion regarding where this topic begins in the Bible. The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology begins its exposition of the temple with the tabernacle.[1] On the other hand, in From Eden to the New Jerusalem, T. Desmond Alexander suggests that Eden was the first temple. [2] But how can one have grounds to call Eden a temple? By tracing the theme of temple throughout the Bible, one can see similarities between Eden and the subsequent temples. However, one is not just left with a large amount of similarities to make a conclusion. Early Judaism explicitly suggests that Eden was a temple. But one can go even further than just considering Eden as the first temple.

Thesis

A thesis will guide the following three-post series: Eden was not only the first temple in the biblical narrative of redemptive history, but it also served as a template for the later temples of the people of God and its intended purpose comes to completion in the eschatological (last days) realization of the New Jerusalem.

Plan for Three-Post Series

This thesis will be expounded and argued for in a series of three posts: in the first post, I will trace the theme of temple throughout the Bible in order to give an understanding of the biblical idea of temple and its progression; in the second post, from tracing the theme of temple, I will show the similarities and connections between Eden and the subsequent temples; in the third and final post, I will address the notion of Eden being the prototype of the subsequent temples in which its purpose comes to completion in the New Jerusalem.

Tracing the Theme of Temple

To begin this series, tracing the biblical theme of temple will be helpful. In doing so, one can be able to see the purpose, structure, and features of the temples. From this analysis, one can then make an argument for Eden being a temple due to its striking similarities with the other temples. In tracing this theme, I will skip over Eden and cover the tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, Jesus, the church, and the New Jerusalem.[3]

Tabernacle:

After delivering the Israelites from Egypt, God enters into a covenantal relationship with his chosen people. “This results in the construction of a lavishly decorated tent that becomes God’s dwelling place in the midst of his people.”[4] That is perhaps the primary purpose of the tabernacle—it was the place where God would dwell among his people (Exod 25:8). Consequently, the tabernacle would be a place of divine revelation (25:22). Because Israel was on the move, the tabernacle “was a portable construction.”[5] The tabernacle, lavished with gold and other precious stones, contained the holy place and the holy of holies, which were both entered from the east.[6] The former’s shape was a rectangle and contained the golden lampstand while the latter’s shape was a cube and contained the ark of the covenant. A curtain embroidered with cherubim separated these two rooms (26:31, 33). When the construction of the tabernacle came to its completion, the glory of God filled it (40:34). Because this was a holy place due to God’s presence, the priests guarded it so that unclean things would not enter (Num 3:7–8; 8:26; 18:4–7). But this mobile abode for God did not remain. Solomon would build a more glorious dwelling place.

Solomon’s Temple:

After Israel entered the land of Canaan, overtook Jerusalem, and David died, Solomon built a new temple. Like the tabernacle, gold was a prominent feature of this temple (1 Kgs 6). Solomon’s temple contained the holy place and the holy of holies, which were both entered from the east.[7] Gold covered the holy of holies. This room contained the ark of the covenant. Due to its holiness, doors separated the holy of holies from the holy place.[8] After Solomon’s prayer of dedication, God’s glory filled the temple (8:10–11). Consequently, Jerusalem became the city of God. This means that God’s presence was not only associated with the temple, but it was also associated with the city of Jerusalem. Alexander explains this by noting the significance of gold. He says, “The extension of God’s residence to include the whole city of Jerusalem possibly accounts for the attention given to the large quantities of gold that flowed into the city….”[9] If gold in the tabernacle and temple correlates with God’s presence, then the gold throughout the city appears to also have some association with his presence. However, remaining in God’s presence requires obedience to covenant stipulations. God warned Israel by saying, “But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you from my land that I have given you and, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight…” (2 Chr 7:19–20). As one already knows, Israel disobeyed. Therefore, God left the temple (Ezek 10), brought Israel into exile, and the Babylonians destroyed the temple (2 Kgs 25).

Jesus’s Body:

After the destruction of the temple, one would think there would be little hope. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…” (Gal 4:4). “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled [ἐσκήνωσεν] among us…” (John 1:14).[10] The verbal form of ἐσκήνωσεν (eskēnōsen) with reference to the Word “means that the Word pitched his tabernacle, or lived in his tent, amongst us.”[11] This is often linked to either the tabernacle (cf. Ex. 25:8–9) or the tent of meeting (cf. Exod 33:9). Whether ἐσκήνωσεν (eskēnōsen) refers to the former or to the latter, the result is the same: “God has come to take up residence among his people once again….”[12] This renewed dwelling of God amongst his people shifts from the temple of Jerusalem to the body of Jesus. When he was killed, the curtain of the temple, which separated the holy place from the holy of holies, was torn (Mark 15:38). This signifies a new era where a physical temple and its sacrifices were no longer of need due to the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus, which allows all peoples to be in the presence of God (Heb 10). The centurion’s confession highlights this: “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).[13] God’s presence, because of the work of Jesus, could now spread to the nations by the work of the Spirit.

The Church:

As the locus of God’s dwelling place shifts from the temple of Jerusalem to the person of Jesus, so also it shifts to those who are united with Jesus by the Spirit. There is now a link from earth to heaven—the Spirit. “The Spirit creates a link with heaven through [faith] in Christ, and this trust brings [believers] into the sphere of the true temple consisting of Christ and his Spirit.”[14] The New Testament often refers to the corporate body of believers as God’s temple,[15] but God’s presence goes further on a more personal level. In 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul says, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” Brian Rosner and Roy Ciampa helpfully explain this verse. They write: “Here Paul applies the corporate imagery to the individual believer, with particular reference to the body.”[16] Thus, one may make an astounding conclusion: the bodies of individual believers are temples of God. Further, the indwelled believers are priests who are, like the Old Testament priests, to guard the temple—the church and individual bodies of believers—from sin. From the Old to the New Testament, a major progression of God’s presence is evident. Rather than dwelling with his people in a sanctuary, by his Spirit, God now dwells in his people.[17] Köstenberger helpfully summarizes: “In OT times, God dwelt among his people, first in the tabernacle…then in the temple. In the NT era, believers themselves are the temple of the living God….”[18] The new covenant people of God, which consists both of the Jew and Gentile, are now God’s temple.[19]

The New Jerusalem:

God is its Temple In the final chapters of the Bible, John sees a new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1). In this vision, he saw “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (21:2). This holy city, equated with the new heaven and new earth, fills the entire earth.[20] The city is pure gold (21:18) and its dimensions are in the shape of a cube (21:16). This is strikingly similar to the holy of holies where God dwelled (see 1 Kgs 6:20). The similarity goes even further when John heard a voice saying, “Behold, the dwelling place [tabernacle; σκηνὴ] of God” (Rev 21:3). Just as God dwelled in a golden cube in the tabernacle and temple, God will dwell in a golden cube-city. However, there is a major progression. While God’s presence was in a small cube where only the high priest could go in once a year, the New Jerusalem is an expanded holy of holies, which fills the entire earth. Rather than the restricted presence of God with his people earlier in the Bible, God will dwell with his people (21:3), they will see his face (22:3), and they will reign with him forever (22:4). There are also two more noteworthy elements in this city: the river of the water of life (22:1) and the tree of life (22:2). This brings recollection of the beginning of the biblical meta-story, the Garden of Eden. The tree of life was in Eden and here God’s dwelling place was with man. “Yet, while endzeit resembles urzeit, there is progression.”[21] The beginning of Genesis portrays God and man together in Eden and the end of Revelation portrays God and all his people together in the new heavens and new earth.

Conclusion

I have briefly noted some points on the topic of temple in the Bible. From tabernacle to New Jerusalem, there is a major progression in the history of redemption of God’s presence. Here, however, one may ask, “well, what about Eden?” Their question is valid. This is a series on Eden after all. The reason I covered the above temples is so that when we cover Eden in the next post (a week from today), the reader can draw similarity after similarity between Eden and the subsequent temples. The hope in this was to lay a foundation of temple theology so that when we cover Eden, one can immediately recognize that Eden is so similar to the subsequent temples, that it would appear that Eden is in fact the very first temple. The next post in the series will list out many reasons on why Eden should be called the very first temple.




[1] Robert J. McKelvey, “Temple,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, et. al. (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 806.

[2] T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2009), 20–31.

[3] Due to space, I will not include the future temple in Ezekiel, Zerubabbel’s temple, and Herod’s temple.

[4] Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 15.

[5] McKelvey, “Temple,” 806.

[6] For the entrance on the east, see Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 32. Space forbids discussion on the outer court of the tabernacle.

[7] Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 21. Space forbids discussion on the outer court of the temple.

[8] It is important to note that these doors had engraved cherubim and palm trees on them (1 Kgs 6:19–32).

[9] Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 46. Also see 2 Chronicles 1:15.

[10] Translation and emphasis mine.

[11] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 127.

[12] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 41.

[13] See G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 191.

[14] G. K. Beale and Mitchel Kim, God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014) 83.

[15] For example, see Ephesians 2:19–22 and 1 Corinthians 3:16–17.

[16] Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 264.

[17] James M. Hamilton Jr., God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old & New Testaments, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2006), 26.

[18] Köstenberger, John, 441.

[19] Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence, 160.

[20] Beale and Kim, God Dwells Among Us, 135–138.

[21] Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 14.