T. Desmond Alexander. From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2009 (Nottingham, England: InterVarsity, 2008). 208pp. 978-0825420153. $19.99 Paperback. Published in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 14.2 (2010), 94-95.
T. Desmond Alexander is well known to those interested in biblical theology. Among his publications are key books on the Messiah in the OT (The Servant King) and a theological introduction to the Pentateuch (From Paradise to the Promised Land), along with significant essays on the genealogies, on royal ideology, and on the seed theme in Genesis. Together with Brian Rosner, D. A. Carson, and Graeme Goldsworthy, he edited the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. The book under review here is the best brief survey of biblical theology to be found anywhere. In 200 pages Alexander instructively presents the major themes in and contours of the Bible’s plot.
He sets out to probe God’s revelation of the world’s meta-story in the Bible for answers to two questions: why does the earth exist and what is the purpose of human life? Alexander shows that the earth is God’s cosmic temple, and humanity’s purpose is to rule in God’s stead and minister in his temple. We are priest-kings in a cosmic temple.
Alexander first examines the gardens that frame the Bible’s big story in the matching portraits of Genesis 1–3 and Revelation 21–22. He contends, with Beale and others, that the earth was designed as a divine residence, and that the tabernacle and temple are literally “microcosms”—depictions of the universe in miniature. As such the tabernacle and temple are symbols of what the world is to be, matching the depiction of the new Jerusalem as a temple-city in Revelation 21–22 and the Garden of Eden as a divine sanctuary in Genesis 2–3. Adam’s role, and Israel’s, was to broaden the boundaries of the dwelling place of God, and that task has been given to the church, which is now God’s temple where the Spirit dwells. Everyone interested in understanding the Bible will want to study the compelling evidence presented for these concepts.
Alexander then explores the role of Adam and Eve as God’s viceroys, priest-kings whose duty it was to “extend God’s temple and kingdom throughout the earth” (78). Instead they betrayed God, sided with his enemy, forfeited their priestly status, and gave the serpent control over the earth. God sets up the theocracy of Israel and later the kingdom of God in the church to reestablish his sovereignty in the world. From Abraham and Melchizedek through the nation of Israel on to Jesus, Alexander traces the depiction of God’s priest-king. The exodus from Egypt is a picture of rescue from the consequences of sin and the establishment of God’s rule and presence, which amounts to a transfer of God’s people from one kingdom to another. Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament expectations for a priest-king, and he accomplishes a new and greater exodus.
This new exodus involves the defeat of the ancient serpent, cursed in Genesis 3:15. The conquest is accomplished by the slaying of the new Passover Lamb, Jesus, who was then raised from the dead. He crushed the serpent’s head, accomplishing atonement, purification, and sanctification. God’s people are set right before him (justified), cleansed of their sin (purified), and set apart for him (sanctified). We look forward to the harmonious relationships between creatures and creation in the glorious eschatological future promised in the Bible. This hope, based on our understanding of the plot and purpose inherent in the Bible’s big story, guards us against the new epidemic of “affluenza,” which rests like a spell cast by the sorceress-harlot Babylon on Western society.
This is a remarkable book. In short compass Alexander is wide ranging and thorough, detailed and stimulating. From Eden to the New Jerusalem is a book on biblical theology that will benefit pastors and students, and it deserves a wide reading in the academy as well, especially for the ways it balances prevailing atomistic approaches with a big picture overview. The smaller episodes and characters within the big story cannot be understood apart from whole, and I know of no better brief sketch of the whole picture than this one.
Related: Andy Naselli recently interviewed Desi Alexander on Biblical Theology at Between Two Worlds.