Beale: The Importance of ‘Extended Meaning’ Part 4 of 4

“Another reason these ‘indeterminate temple prophecies’ are better viewed as not including any traditional temple building has to do with the progression of redemptive history. Christ and his church clearly are the inaugurated form of the latter-day temple. To have a physical temple built towards the end of the church age, as a partial inaugurated fulfilment of the same Old Testament prophecies that Christ and the church had begun to fulfil, would be hermeneutically and theologically strange. It would be a redemptive historical hiccup.

Recalling…Hebrews enhances the unlikelihood of any future physical temple structure: physical temples were the ‘shadows’ and the inaugurated temple in Christ was the ‘true substance’ of the shadows. In conjunction with this, ‘handmade’ temples went out of theological style with the resurrection of Christ, which commenced the eschatological temple ‘made without hands’. The early Christian community from the beginning reckoned that any humanly constructed temple was impossible in the eschatological era, since the old creation is referred to as ‘handmade’, and the temple of the new creation is alluded to as ‘made without hands’.

If this principle were violated, then redemptive history would take a retrograde step back from the new creation into the old; the inauguration of the new creation temple in Christ and the church would exist alongside an old-age temple. Certainly, when the old world is destroyed at the end of the age, and only the new, eternal creation remains, there is no room for such an antiquated structure.

Consequently, an approach of ‘literal interpretation’ that attempts to conform fulfillment of prophecies to physical realities as much as possible is probably not an ideal way to describe a biblical hermeneutic. Nevertheless, we have endeavoured to show that even someone guided by such an interpretative rule could see that our understanding of the end-time temple is not inconsistent with that approach. On the other hand, a ‘literate canonical approach’ that aspires to the broad literary meaning of the entire biblical context is a more felicitous way to summarize a single method of interpretation.

Such an interpretative approach aims to unravel the original intention of biblical authors, understanding that intention may be multilayered, without any of the layers contracting the others. These original intentions may have meaning more correspondent to ‘literal’ physical reality, while others may allude to ‘literal’ spiritual realities. This is certainly true with respect to the temple. We have attempted to sail between the coast of ‘literalism’ on one side and that of ‘spiritualization’ on the other, and hope we have avoided the dangers of both.

We think that the approach we have taken avoids the criticism of mystical spiritualizing since the end-time temple is physical but on grander scale than former temples. Indeed, the entire new creation is what the localized temple pointed to and symbolized all along! Rather than a little structure, the new cosmos is the physical abode for the divine glory. This approach does not employ allegorical methods of interpretation or the reading in of symbols that have no controls. Rather, the controlling paradigm throughout this study has been Genesis 1:28 in relation to the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2. We have seen that later temples and prophecies of the end-time temple usually allude to one or both of these Genesis passages, so that these early Genesis texts provide the interpretative controls for understanding the progressive revelation of the temple in the Old and New Testaments.

On the other hand, this ongoing biblical revelation itself sheds light on how these Genesis passages are developed, though this interpretative developmental growth cannot extend beyond the organic bounds of the first chapters of the Bible. In fact, the image of God’s glorious presence in a garden-like temple has formed an inclusio or kind of ‘book-end’ structure around the entire canon (Gen. 2 and Rev. 21:1–22:3), providing an interpretative key for understanding the material about the temple throughout Scripture. Another interpretative key has been the temple’s cosmic symbolism, which pointed to the goal of its own extension to become co-equal with the cosmos itself.”

-G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 2004, 384-385

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