“Why does the earth exist? What is the purpose of human life?” (9). Almost everyone today asks these two questions at some point in their life, and in his short book, T. D. Alexander attempts to answer both of them. T. Desmond Alexander is senior lecturer in Biblical Studies and director of Postgraduate Studies at Union Theological College, Belfast. He is the author of From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Main Themes of the Pentateuch, and he is the coeditor of the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (NDBT) and the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (DOTP). He has written two commentaries, one on the books of Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah (TOTC) and the other on the book of Exodus (TTC).
By examining the meta-narrative of Scripture by use of biblical theology, in chapter one Alexander takes the time to answer two of life’s toughest questions. He intends to achieve his goal by starting at the end—the book of Revelation. Alexander affirms that “a story’s conclusion provides a good guide to the themes and ideas dominant throughout” (10). By seeing the bigger picture, rather than stripping texts out of their literary context, the reader will begin to see the end goal that all of the biblical texts are running towards. In chapter two, what is the longest chapter of the book, Alexander traces the the temple motif throughout the Bible’s storyline to give a “brief overview . . . for understanding how the motif of divine presence on the earth is an important part of the biblical meta-story” (19).
Chapter three examines how God, after Adam and Eve, his first vice-regents, sinned, will re-establish his throne. God’s Son Jesus Christ overcame Satan’s temptations, and, though dying, he rose again and ascended to power as a divine man to rule and subjugate all things under his feet. By obeying Christ, Christians also participate in establishing God’s kingdom here on earth. Chapter four examines how the Garden of Eden’s crafty tempter and his serpent “offspring” will be destroyed by Jesus, the divine warrior, and Christians today are able to stand against him by putting on the armor of our Savior and divine warrior.
Chapter five answers the question, “Why did Jesus need to die” and tells about what his death accomplished, and chapter six gives the reader a display of what life will be like in the new creation. Chapter seven conveys the permanent bond that will exist between God and his people in the new creation, and chapter eight, the conclusion, summarizes the main points of the book. What God’s people will see in the New Jerusalem will be familiar, but it will also be “radically different” (192).
The Chocolate Milk
Alexander stands firmly on evangelical foundations. He sees value in reading the Bible with its meta-narrative in mind, for there is a “scholarly tendency to ‘atomize’ biblical texts [which] is often detrimental to understanding them” (11). To be sure, there will be some outside (and perhaps inside too) of evangelicalism who will think of Alexander as close-minded for even considering the notion that the Bible would be a holistic unit. However, Alexander represents solid, biblical evangelicalism at its finest. His trust in God’s word to answer man’s deepest problems is seen woven throughout his book.
As coeditor of NDBT, Alexander is well-versed in biblical theology and has spent his time well by immersing himself in God’s word to see how each book fills out the entire storyline of the Bible. Alexander is able to guide his reader into a greater understanding of God’s plan. Even the average reader can come away with an understanding of God’s presence as seen through the Old and the New Testaments. By laying out the entire Bible’s storyline about God’s rule, the archenemy of God and his people, why Christ died and what his death accomplished, what we’re looking forward to in the new creation, Alexander gives any reader cause for rejoicing by seeing the magnificent God of the Bible. The “interesting parallel [in Ephesians 5:25-33] between Christ’s love for the church and the love a man should have for his wife . . . is noteworthy, for it conveys something of the intensity of the love we shall experience in the New Jerusalem” (186).
While many might find the second chapter to be too long (59 pages, easily the longest chapter in the book), Alexander accomplishes what he aims to do. Yet this book does not do everything, and at a mere 208 pages (186, really), it cannot do everything. It is roughly half as long as Greg Beale’s magisterial The Temple and the Church’s Mission which is a whopping 458 pages. Yet, while Beale hones in primarily on only one theme (i.e., the temple) and examines its reach throughout the entire Bible, Alexander covers six different topics well enough to be understood and to teach the reader a few of the many dimensions of this diamond we call the Bible. Beale pulls up references from ancient Near Eastern sources, apocryphal sources, pseudepigraphal sources, Qumram and other Jewish and rabbinic material, patristic sources, and, of course, the Bible itself (MT, LXX, and even Theodotion). Alexander, on the other hand, sticks with the Bible.
Alexander doesn’t spend much time in his book combating outside views, and when he does he keeps it in the footnote. His main foe is the “scholarly tendency to ‘atomize’ the biblical text . . . [and b]y stripping passages out of their literary contexts meanings are imposed upon them that were never intended by their authors” (11). He is well aware of this tendency by scholars (as he speaks about it in From Paradise to the Promised Land), but Alexander doesn’t allow these opposing conversations to bog him down. Just as one is able catch a counterfeit dollar bill by having felt many genuine dollar bills, Alexander answers his objectors by showing them the genuine, unified story of the Bible.
The Spoiled Milk
If there’s any disappointment to Alexander’s book, it’s relatively small (though that doesn’t make it any less odd). In chapter two, Alexander writes about every temple that was filled with God’s Spirit except for one major temple: Jesus Christ! He moves from the Jerusalem temple straight to the church as the temple with not even a nod to Jesus Christ as the temple of God. In chapter seven, while contrasting the new creation to the city of Babylon in Revelation 18, Alexander suddenly brings up the topic of capitalism. He writes, “There is nothing that stands more effectively as a barrier to people knowing God than the desire for wealth that comes through capitalism” (183). He then spends two pages giving a few historical facts about America and the small percentage of people who own billions of dollars. Is there a relation to Babylon? Certainly. Does it seem out of place from everything else in the book? Very much so.
Alexander makes reading the Bible easier for everyone, especially for the not-so-average reader. The Bible is a long book with an intricate storyline, and depending on one’s background, he or she may not even know the Bible even has a unified story. So why this book? This short book packs a wallop. This is not the kind of book that exhausts its pages with theological propositions its audience can’t seize—as if they are merely spectators to be dazzled—nor is this meant to be understood by the guild of ivory tower recluses only. Alexander shows that anyone can both understand the Bible and its story and trust the Bible and its story.
In the first line of the first chapter, Alexander asks two of life’s most common questions. If we don’t know God’s purpose, his plan, or the storyline as we fit into it, we will not be able to answer these questions correctly. We won’t understand Ferris Bueller’s thrill over singing Twist and Shout in Chicago’s Von Steuben Day Parade if we don’t know that the entire movie revolves around him ditching one day of school. As such, we won’t understand what our lives are meant for if we don’t know who created us nor the goal he is compelling us to reach: eternal life in the new creation with Jesus Christ himself. The better one knows the Bible’s story, the deeper one will understand God’s goal of redemption. From Eden to the New Jerusalem will bring you one step closer in the right direction.