Book Review: Benjamin L. Gladd, From Adam and Israel to the Church

Gladd, Benjamin L. From Adam and Israel to the Church: A Biblical Theology of the People of God. ESBT 1; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 182pp. Pb; $22.  Link to IVP Academic

In the introduction to this first volume of the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology, series editor Benjamin Gladd explains the need for a new series of books on Biblical Theology. The ESBT series is dedicated to the essential broad themes of the grand storyline of the Bible. The goal of the series is to explore the central biblical-theological themes of the Bible. The series is intentionally limited to ten volumes supporting and interlocking with one another to form a cohesive unit.

Gladd, From Adam to IsraelIn this inaugural volume of the series, Gladd presents a biblical theology of the people of God within the theological framework of covenant theology. Throughout the book he emphasizes a single covenant community from Genesis to Revelation. This is in contrast to dispensationalism, which makes a distinction between the church and ethnic Israel. For Gladd, there is one people of God throughout Scripture, beginning with Adam and Eve and continuing through the new creation.

The first two chapters of this volume examine creation and fall. Following Greg Beale, Gladd argues Eden was like a cosmic temple and God gave Adam and Eve specific roles when he created and commissioned them. God commissioned Adam and Eve to serve as kings, having dominion over creation and extending God’s rule beyond the garden. Second, God called Adam and Eve to serve as priests, caring for the garden. Third, they were commissioned as prophets, communicating God’s word to their children.

Adam and Eve failed in these roles and destroyed their commission when they rebelled against God in the fall. As kings, Adam and Eve ought to have guarded the garden and subdued the serpent; as priests Adam and Even ought to have rid the sanctuary of the defilement of the serpent;  as prophets, they ought to have meditated on God’s word and answered the serpent’s words with God’s word (p. 23-24). As a result, God exiles Adam and Eve from the garden. The rest of Scripture is the story of God restoring the image of God destroyed in the fall. Gladd contrasts the ungodly line of Cain with the godly line of Seth to show the restored image of God will continue (although he does not notice the flood destroyed both lines).

The scenario Gladd describes is compelling, but it is not clear that it is grounded in what the text actually says. I am quite attracted to Beale’s suggestion that Genesis presents the Garden of Eden as a sanctuary and there are clear connections between Eden and the Tabernacle and Temple. In fact, Adam as a priest in the cosmic garden-temple is not a problem, even if it is not explicit in Genesis 2-3. However, I am not convinced Adam and Eve functioned as kings or prophets in Eden. I know Gladd is building a typology from Adam, to Israel and ultimately to Jesus and the church, but it seems to me that he started at the end (Jesus is prophet, priest and king) and read that typology back into Genesis. This is how typology often works.

The next two chapters argue God intended Israel to be a new Adam. Like Adam, Israel was to rule as kings and to function as priests and prophets. He develops a typology between Eden and Sinai and shows the Tabernacle was intentionally designed to reflect Eden. Israel is to rule the land promised to Abraham on God’s behalf. Exodus 19:5-6 describes Israel as a kingdom of priests, created to be holy and set apart from the nations so that God could dwell in their midst. This explains why Israel was to expel the Canaanites from the land; like the serpent in Eden, they must purge all forms of spiritual uncleanliness from the new Eden of the Promised Land (p. 43). As prophets, Israel ought to have confronted the idolatry of the nations, communicating the first two of the ten commandments.

However, Israel also experienced a fall, resulting in their exile from the land. The people cannot maintain the holiness demanded by the Law and worship the gods of the nations. For Gladd, “Israel” does not refer to ethnic Israel even in the Old Testament. It is only the righteous remnant that is “real Israel.”  Gladd says, “The remnant within the nation relates to the covenant community spiritually and participates in the covenant of grace (Gen 3:15)” (p. 54, emphasis original). Gladd cites Romans 9:6 here, “not all who are descended form Israel belong to Israel.”

Yet the prophets of the Old Testament looked forward to a restoration of Israel to their former place in the “latter days” (ch. 4). The nature of this restoration is where Gladd intentionally draws a contrast with dispensationalism. Although he is not wrong, Gladd cites the success of the dispensational Left Behind series as the cause of much confusion about Israel’s future. He tracks many of the same Scripture dispensationalists use but concludes these prophecies do not refer to a future restoration of ethnic Israel. Commenting on Romans 9-11, Gladd states “the Old Testament, as far as I can tell, never talks about the restoration of the theocratic nation of Israel” (p. 128, emphasis original). It is possible to argue many in the Second Temple period expected a restoration of a Davidic king and a re-gathering of the exiles to the land. For Gladd, the restoration of Israel in prophetic texts refers to Jesus as the true king, priest and prophet. Where Adam and Israel failed in these divinely appointed roles, Jesus will succeed.

Gladd argues in the next three chapters Jesus fulfills Israel’s destiny as the king, the priest, and the prophet. The Gospels present Jesus as the king, especially the Gospel of Mark. Gladd conflates king, messiah, and the divinity of Jesus in this section. Jesus is not a conquering Davidic king but rather the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 or the cut-off anointed one of Daniel 9. Jesus rules as the firstborn of creation (Col 1:15), connecting the rule of Jesus to Adam, the firstborn of creation.

Jesus as a priest is more difficult to demonstrate from the Gospels, so Gladd touches on the Temple “cleansing” and argues Jesus’s sacrifice is better than the Old Testament as he functions as the faithful high priest. For Gladd, Jesus ushers in a new age and God’s presence is among his people, so there is no need for a physical temple. Jesus is the true temple. The temple at the time of Jesus had become a place of rampant, so Jesus fulfills Old Testament expectation that God would do well with humanity and act as a faithful priest by purging evil from the temple. This chapter is not as dependent as the book of Hebrews as expected because Gladd’s focus is on Jesus as the end times temple. As Adam and Eve’s commission was to increase the number and fill the earth, so too does Jesus comission his disciples to fill the earth by going to the nations with the Gospel (Matthew 28:18-20).

The chapter on Jesus as a prophet focuses on his conflict with the devil (overcoming the devil through God’s word) and “passing on the divine image” (1 Cor 15:42-53). 1 Corinthians 15 (or Romans 5:21-21) explicitly connects Adam and Christ; where Adam failed, Christ succeeded. Adam’s body died because of sin; Christ’s body was raised to incorruptible flesh. Just as Adam passed the image of God on to Seth, Christ will pass the image of God on to believers at the resurrection.

As representatives of Jesus Christ in the world, the Church now functions in some like Jesus. Here Gladd extends his Christological typology to ecclesiology by arguing the church functions as kings, priests and prophets. He makes a distinction between divine authority represented by Jesus as Messiah and the apostolic community, and the general authority held by pastors, teachers, elders, deacons and every believer. The church does not have the same “divine authority” as the apostolic community because it is under the authority of Scripture. The church therefore functions like kings or priests or prophets, but not exactly like Jesus as Messiah or the apostolic (messianic) circle.

Gladd briefly touches on Romans 9-11 in his chapter on the church ruling as kings. He states this complex debate is outside of the scope of this book, but it seems to me to be more important enough to merit more than a single page. After all, if Paul thought Israel would be restored, then Gladd’s understanding of the prophecy is flawed. Gladd says he is not convinced the church has replaced Israel, nor does he think dispensationalists are correct when they argue God will keep his Old Testament promises to restore the nation of Israel physically by bringing them back to the Promised Land. Instead, he argues true Israel is composed of a remnant of Christian Gentiles and a remnant of Christian Jews (p. 129).

Finally, Gladd looks to the end of the canon by arguing the Church’s function in the New Creation. He argues the Book of Revelation presents the new creation as God’s temple, a restoration of the Edenic Temple. It is therefore not no surprise that God’s people will be priests in the new temple and function as kings in the new creation. It is certainly much more difficult to see how believers will function as a prophet in the new creation, but he suggests individuals will recall the redemptive acts of God in worship.

Conclusion. Gladd’s From Adam and Israel to the Church does indeed tell the story of the unified people of God from the Garden to the New Creation. It reflects classic Covenant Theology with its focus on a single people of God while avoiding replacement theology or an over-emphasis on covenants to unify Scripture. By using the Christological typology of king, priest and prophet, Gladd is able to unify pre-fall Eden, Israel and the Church around the work of Christ.

 

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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