Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Return of the Temple

Joseph Smith's re-introduction of temple discussion after nearly two millennia of relative silence on the subject was pivotal for Mormonism and pioneering for Christianity in general. Hugh Nibley once wrote, "Long ago Adam of St. Victor observed with wonder that the Christian fathers had always gone out of their way to avoid any discussion of the tabernacle of God, in spite of its great popular interest and its importance in the divine economy. The reason for this strange attitude is, as Adam and his fellow Richard explain, that the very thing which makes the temple so attractive to many Christians, i.e. the exciting possibility of a literal and tangible bond between heaven and earth, is precisely the thing that most alarms and embarrasses the churchmen. Again, why so? Can it be that the destruction of the temple left a gaping void in the life of the church, a vacuum that the historians and theologians have studiously ignored . . .? If the loss of the temple was really a crippling blow to the church, the fact can no longer be overlooked in the interpretation of church history."1

It is nice to see that the importance of temple worship in Jewish and Christian history is being given its due attention by Biblical scholars in the 21st century. Margaret Barker's books are monumental in this regard. In Paternoster's, Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology, Peter Walker writes, "the Temple is a key and major theme in Biblical theology, which we neglect to our impoverishment and at our peril. An appropriate focus on this Temple theme in the Bible, they [the authors contributing to this volume] concur, will not just have some repercussions in the Middle East, but can also vastly enrich other key themes within biblical thought. Our understandings, for example, of ethics, anthropology, creation, God's presence and the church will be so much poorer (so much 'flatter' and less biblical) if we do not take seriously what God has to teach us through the Temple."2

While Walker is missing a key component in his list, namely soteriology, it is nice to see recognition of this overly-neglected topic in Christian studies. Perhaps, as we begin to approach two centuries following Joseph's revelatory re-introduction of temples within Christianity, we may continue to see scholarly discourse on the relevance and importance of the temple liturgy.

For a great bibliography of temple related books and articles, see Danel Bachman's compilation here.

1 Hugh Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, 4 (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1987), 391-392
2 Peter Walker, "Introduction," Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 2004), 4