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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 temple5), 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
- 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 when 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
The principle of the sufficiency of Scripture is, I believe, the most consistently attacked doctrine of the Christian Faith. I wish this was the case only with Christianity’s detractors, but it is often true of its adherents as well. All of us who hold the Bible to be God-breathed should require ourselves not to advance any teaching as authoritative unless it is specifically grounded in the Books of the Bible alone. Only the Bible has the right to define doctrines, and it surely cannot do so if its sentences are morphed so unexpectedly.
The idea that the earth after the sixth day was a hostile place with lurking evil save for Eden, or save only for the garden within Eden, is completely unsupported in Scripture, and seems contrary with the idea of God the Creator of order and beauty and peace. The connecting of the Hebrew verbs translated as “tend” and “keep” in the paradise of Genesis 2:15, to a totally different context in the disquieting atmosphere of Numbers 18:5-6, where they might well be rendered “guard” and “serve,” seems to ignore the Edenic context. Only by first converting the pristine world into some place where death and sin is at home (the garden in Eden apart) is the connection remotely thinkable. But after taking this liberty one is free to explore this cosmic temple motif, and to pile on notions of expanding temple borders and subduing the Devil. Beale claims that the Church as the “New Israel” is recapitulating what God did when He overcame chaos to achieve heavenly rest.23 God is now supposedly establishing,
a new-creational kingdom out of chaos over a sinful people by his word by his Spirit through promise, covenant, and redemption, resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this kingdom and judgment (defeat or exile) for the unfaithful, unto his glory.24
This idea is bolstered by “new Adam” and “new Exodus” motifs and parallels from the ancient world25 and shunted on to a supercessionist amillennial eschatology. It is all glued together by heaps of imaginative speculation.26
It is clear to me that much of the Cosmic Temple teaching is not taught in Scripture. This is why one cannot find it in Patristic writers like Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, or Basil, or in the Protestant Reformers. If we restrict ourselves to the Bible alone, then it must be treated with great suspicion.
If one is content to hear the voice of the Scriptures in context then these are the things which readily appear in relation to the subject:
- The garden which God planted for Adam in Eden was a special place because it was made specifically for him.27
- As the garden was in the East of Eden (a name invoking “delight”) in a “good” creation, this meant that outside the garden was beautiful and safe, ready for exploration. The whole planet was “very good” as Adam came into it.
- The Creation mandate of Genesis 1:28-30 indicated that it was expected that Adam and Eve and their offspring would venture outside of the garden.
- Since “sin and death” were introduced through the fall of Adam (cf. Rom. 5:12f.) there was no sin and no death on earth before the sin of Adam.28 Satan was an interloper who did not belong there.
- The only way of claiming that the garden of Eden was a “sacred space” is either to introduce the notion from ANE accounts (which is an intrusion on the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture), or to read sacred spaces such as the tabernacle retrogressively back into Genesis 2 – 3. I repudiate the former but believe there is something to the latter.
- If Eden was a sacred space it does not automatically mean that Adam was a priest. A priest intercedes between God and others. But in Eden what was the need for a priest? Just because a priesthood is needed to mediate in a fallen world, the same cannot hold in Paradise.
- The Dominion mandate (Gen. 1:26-31) does not include any word about expanding the sacred space throughout the earth. To bring it under his control (to “subdue” it) does not imply anything other than the earth’s potential for man to be creative upon it under the guidance of his God. If, as Genesis plainly states, the whole planet was “very good,” then it only makes sense to view the Cosmic Temple thesis with extreme caution and skepticism.
1 Daniel I. Block, “Eden: A Temple? A Reassessment of the Biblical Evidence,” in From Creation to New Creation: Biblical Theology and Exegesis (Peabody, MS: Hendricksen, 2013), edited by Daniel M. Gurtner and Benjamin L. Gladd, 3-29.
2 Ibid, 3
3 Ibid, 10
4 Ibid, 11 & 16
5 Ibid, 27
6 Block includes a considerable number of them.
7 Ibid, 5
8 E.g. Moses was not a priest when he stood before Yahweh at the burning bush
9 “In Israelite thought the temple was a symbol of the fallen world…A pre-fall world needed no temple ” – Ibid, 24-25
10 This seems to be Block’s point on pages 21-22.
11 Ibid, 7-8
12 Ibid, 8-9. This demonstrates how appealing to such comparisons is often double-edged.
13 Ibid, 12
14 Ibid, 16
15 Ibid, 16-17
16 Ibid, 21
17 Ibid, 26
18 Ibid, 22
19 Ibid, 22
20 Ibid, 24
21 Ibid, 26
22 As in Warren Austin Gage, The Gospel of Genesis: Studies in Protology and Eschatology(Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2001), 7-16. I personally find Gage’s typology to be far-fetched.
23 G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 40
24 Ibid, 62
25 Even when these parallels are treated with care it appears that the ‘ancient worldview’ is assumed to be in place before the biblical one. E.g. J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 44-46
26 Attempts to give it sermonic value reveal still more how dependent it all is upon the imaginative powers of the individual. See e.g. G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim, God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth
27 Just as the world was made for Christ (Col. 1:16)
28 Those who appeal to cell and plant degeneration fail to interpret the bible’s use of the word “death” (which is an evil) in Genesis. Since these do not possess nephesh (life) their decay is technically not a death.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.