Benjamin Gladd excels in taking big theological ideas and presenting them in succinct, digestible, and teachable ways. He helps turn academics into real life questions with personal significance. And in his latest book, From Adam and Israel to the Church: A Biblical Theology of the People of God, he wants to talk about the great value in which each person is created to bear the image of God as a prophet, priest, and king in his family. From the start Gladd explains that his purpose in writing is “not polemical. My main concern in this project is to examine the nature of the people of God from Genesis to Revelation through the lens of being in God’s ‘image.’” What does it mean to be a part of God’s family?
Gladd begins by showing us that in creation, we see that God made the heavens and the earth as his cosmic sanctuary where he sovereignly rules, with Adam and Eve being the crown of creation. Created in God’s image, they are both “to rule as kings on his behalf, to serve and mediate his glory as priests, and to embody and teach God’s law to one another as prophets” (20). God shares an intimate communion with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, but even in his perfect creation there is an eschatological goal to expand God’s presence and glory among the earth, to produce godly offspring, and to keep his commands and subdue evil. With God’s full presence being in heaven, they looked forward to an incorruptible earth in incorruptible bodies, where God would descend in his full presence to rule and dwell with all humanity forever.
But as we are all too familiar with the history, Gladd has to address the fall and its effects. Although a good chapter, I will say that I was disappointed to see how Gen. 3:16 was presented in this section. He does say that the language is difficult here and goes on to say that it “appears to say that discord will emerge within the marriage relationship. The fall did not destroy Eve’s identity as queen, but it did affect how she will rule. Instead of ruling the created world together with her husband and preserving the internal structure of marriage, Eve will attempt to ‘rule’ over her husband and rest control over him” (26). I understand that since this is not an academic work, Gladd doesn’t see the need to lay out the other translations and interpretations of this verse. But with the book’s aim for a popular level audience, it is concerning to see this presentation on its own—especially given the fact that the church fathers of Late Antiquity translate Gen. 3:16, not as Eve desiring or ruling over her husband, but as turning, and this is interpreted as a positive action. This is remarkable given the historical and Aristotelian and Philonic philosophical context regarding the nature of women in which these same church fathers seem to accept. *
Nonetheless, Adam and Eve’s sin now renders them both unclean and they are exiled from Eden and the tree of life. Gladd describes them now as “kings without a kingdom, priests without a temple, and prophets without the intimate voice of God” (29). We see the beginning of the perversion of the image of God in Cain, who fails in all three offices of prophet, priest, and king. Sin infects the whole created order and humanity rebelliously seeks to glorify self rather than God. But Gladd walks us through Scripture to demonstrate how God graciously and sovereignly restores his image. We see God setting Israel apart, as a corporate Adam of sorts, giving the Israelites his law and a land by which he will dwell with them. They too fail. The offices of prophet, priest, and king are splintered. But God will restore the true Israel in Christ, the last Adam and the true and faithful Israel, who is the ultimate prophet, priest, and king.
Gladd then showcases Christ’s church as an eschatological community, the family of God, our union with Christ rendering us “little last Adams and true Israelites” (116). In Pentecost, we see the formal event of the restoration of God’s people to function as prophets, priests, and kings. “Therefore, believers in the new age can execute their threefold office through Christ, in a more effective manner on the personal level. That is, the restored image in New Testament believers is eschatological to the core. We rule over all forms of evil in our daily lives, enjoy God’s presence, and embody God’s law far more than Adam and the nation of Israel ever did.” (123).
Just as Gladd has specific chapters teaching how Christ is the ultimate prophet, priest, and king, he gives separate chapters of how the church corporately and her individual believers function as prophets, priests, and kings. These are helpful chapters. Briefly, Gladd does distinguish between how Christ (messianic) and the apostles (apostolic) employ these offices with divine authority, and then how pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons (special) and every believer (general) employs these offices under biblical authority. This could be helpful but needs more elaboration. I was left with a lot of questions about how this distinction functions for the church. Perhaps I am wanting a bigger project than Gladd set out to give us though, as he does introduce the book as an overview.
Gladd follows this biblical thread all the way through Revelation and the church in the new creation, as Christ’s bride, God’s temple, the new Jerusalem, prophets, priests, and kings. And, as he has been pointing out our need to use an eschatological lens throughout the book, Gladd again presses that this should motivate us to “fall into the rhythm of the new creation” (169). He gives brief application on how in these last days the church should show the world how to rule well, worship God alone, and embody his law.
Gladd succeeds in sharing with us “an accessible, biblical theology on the people of God and the divine image,” “skim[ming] the redemptive-historical cream off the top” (2). This is a needed framework for many more discussions and studies. Without aiming to be polemical, the book is a great defense against dispensational teaching as well.
And I have to say that as a woman reading this book, it was quite refreshing to not be put into the usual second-class status in creation or in the new creation. Gladd doesn’t teach a separate identity for women, with the men being called as the prophets, priests, and kings, and the women’s “role” as subservient, inferior helpers, but that woman too is created to co-rule, mediate God’s glory and presence to the world, and embody his law. He doesn’t get into any distinctions though, as to how we do this as relational allies in marriage or in the church.
Again, perhaps this is beyond the scope of the book, but an extra chapter or some applications on the telos of sexual differentiation and the reciprocity in relationships as we fulfill these offices would have been very helpful. Here the experience for the woman reader is somewhat frustrated as she often finds many roadblocks in the church when trying to employ her vocation. While I am relieved to be reading a book where men and women are told they share in this same trifold vocation, I sense many women may have the same nagging question as me while reading it since we often aren’t integrated into the theological heart, communication, and communion of the saints: is this book for me too? If I try to employ what this teaches, will I be suspect as trying to usurp male authority? This isn’t so much a critique of Gladd’s book in particular, but one that male theologians might want to consider as pressing on informed female readers.
I was thinking the same thing while reading Daniel Treier’s book, Introducing Evangelical Theology. As I was thinking how great it would be for churches to use to train teachers, I thought, would women be included in such training as well? Or would we be separated? This is something that theologically minded women come to grips with when considering our identity in Christ. So in closing, this is a specific way that the church may be challenged to consider how we need to fall into the rhythm of the new heavens and the new earth.
I do commend to you Gladd’s helpful book. And again I am impressed by how succinctly he can present theological themes in Scripture. Great addition to the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology Series. *My friend Anna Anderson wrote a helpful paper on the Church Fathers on Genesis 3:16cd highlighting this.
*Originally published on December 3, 2019.