From the “Temple of God” to God as the Temple: A Biblical Theological Study of the Temple in the Book of Revelation
McGinn, Sheila E
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ANDREA SPATAFORA, From the “Temple of God” to God as the Temple: A Biblical Theological Study of the Temple in the Book of Revelation (Tesi Gregoriana, Serie Teologia 27; Rome: Editrice Pontificia Universita Gregoriana, 1997). Pp. 338. Paper Lit 35.000, $25.
This monograph is Fr. Spatafora’s doctoral thesis for the Gregorian University, wherein he combines a careful exegesis of the pertinent scriptural (and extracanonical) passages concerning the temple with a lively interest in the contemporary theological appropriation of this message.
Spatafora rightly points out that the term (…) is key in the Apocalypse, appearing thirteen times throughout both sections of the book. Previous researchers have looked at the various occurrences of (…) in isolation from each other, rather than seeking coherence and development in the Seer’s use of the term. In fact, a certain amount of disjunction in John’s use of the term has been assumed in previous studies. S. sets out to correct this by providing “a complete study of the notion of the temple in the Apocalypse”-thereby demonstrating that “there is a development [in John’s use of (…)] that culminates in the vision of the eschatological city [in Revelation 21-221” (n. 9).
Spatafora divides this investigation into five chapters. He begins by reviewing the notions of the temple found in the OT (chap. I) and then in the intertestamental Jewish literature (chap. 2), to establish the spectrum of ideas which would have influenced the Seer, especially those current in Judaism of the first century C.E.. He then explores the changes in the NT understandings of the temple, with particular focus on the Johannine school (chap. 3). In chap. 4 S. examines the use of the term (…)in the Book of Revelation. Finally, in chap. 5 he turns to an exposition of the theological conclusions which can be drawn from this study.
The OT survey shows “a gradual shift in emphasis from an interest in the temple in Jerusalem . . . to the hope of a glorious [and heavenly] sanctuary to last for all time” (p. 60). The intertestamental literature evidences a continuation of this shift, with a resulting focus on an eschatological temple that God will establish for eternity. The NT materials show the development of identification of the temple with the resurrected body of Christ. In particular, the authors of the Fourth Gospel and of Hebrews affirm a spiritual temple rather than a physical place-the risen Lord is the tabernacle where human beings can encounter God. Similarly, Paul identifies the body of Christ-the church-as the temple of God. This spiritualization of the temple by NT authors marks their rejection of the historical temple of Jerusalem, its sacrificial worship, and its priestly caste of mediators in favor of Christ as the one mediator between God and human beings.
Turning to the Book of Revelation in particular, S. shows that the gift of the divine name to the Christian believers constitutes them as the new temple for the divine presence at the end of time. This eschatological reality is a present reality for believers “which results from the resurrection of Christ but . . . will be fully perfected in endtime” (p. 157). Hence, Christian worship “is more than a human, earthly activity of celebration. It is a participation in the transcendent world” (p. 159). The temple is the transcendent dimension of the church, where God dwells, where the divine Self is revealed to believers and, through them, to the world. The arrival of the new Jerusalem at the end of Revelation marks the replacement of the heavenly sanctuary by the persons of God and of the Lamb, who directly assume the functions of the temple as meeting place between God and humanity; the church is purified and transformed into the heavenly city on earth in which God dwells. According to the Seer, the present experience of the believing community “is only a foretaste of their total communion with God reserved for the eschaton” (p. 305).
Spatafora provides a careful word study and draws an interesting line of development in the meaning of the temple in the Book of Revelation. Two weaknesses are that he omits any discussion of gender roles in Revelation, and that he leaves unsupported his claim that the NT rejection of the priesthood of the Jewish temple “does not mean . . . that the Church does not need a ministerial priesthood” (p. 123). Still, S. has contributed an important and illuminating study of the ecclesiology of Revelation -a woefully ignored area in NT scholarship. Highly recommended.
Sheila E. McGinn, John Carroll University, University Heights, OH 44118
Copyright Catholic Biblical Association of America Jan 1999
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