9 Reasons The Garden of Eden Was a Temple

the gardenG.K. Beale is a bit of an expert on the subject of the Temple in biblical theology. He did happen to write a whole book on it. Given that, it’s unsurprising that he devotes some space to exploring the significance of the Temple in NT theology in his recent New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New by sketching it’s structure and function in the OT. One of the more eye-opening claims he makes in this section is that the Bible pictures the Garden of Eden as the first Temple in the first creation. He gives 9 arguments/lines of reasoning for that point (pp. 617-621):

  1. In the later OT the Temple was the place of God’s special presence where he made himself known and felt to Israel. That is exactly how his walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden is depicted. (Gen. 3:8)
  2. Adam is placed in the garden to “cultivate (abad)” and “keep (samar)” it (Gen 2:15). The same two words are translated elsewhere “serve” and “guard”, and when they appear together, they are either referring to Israelites serving or obeying God’s word, or more usually, to the job of the priest in guarding and keeping the Temple. (Num. 3:7-8; 8:25-26; 1 Chron. 23:32) Elsewhere Adam is portrayed dressed in the clothes of the high priest, functioning as a high priest. (Ezek 28:11-19; see Beale, pg. 618 on this for more argumentation.)
  3. The tree of life served as a model for the lampstand, which was clearly shaped as a tree, in the Temple.
  4. Israel’s later Temple was made with wood carvings of flowers, palm trees, etc. meant to recall Eden’s garden brilliance  (1 Kings 6:18, 29, 32, 35); pomegranates were also placed at the bottom of the two stone pillars in the Temple. (7:18-20)
  5. The entrance to the Temple was to the east, on a mountain facing Zion (Ex. 15:17), just as the end-time temple prophesied in Ezekiel is (40:2, 6; 43:12). Well, turns out the entrance to Eden was from the East (Gen. 3:24) and in some places pictured as being on a mountain. (Ezek. 28:14, 16)
  6. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the ark of the covenant both were accessed or touched only on pain of death. Also, both were sources of wisdom.
  7. Just as a river flowed out of Eden (Gen 2:10), so a river is supposed to flow out of the End-time Temple (Ezek 47:1-12; Rev. 21:1-2)
  8. This one requires some serious argument so I suggest you consult Beale directly here (pg. 620-621), but just as there was a tripartite sacred structure to the Temple, Beale discerns a tripartite structure to creation with Eden standing at the center as a Holy of Holies.
  9. Ezekiel 28:13-14 refers the Eden as “the holy mountain of God” which everywhere else in the OT is Temple and Tabernacle language.

I have not come even close to doing justice to the exegetical work Beale does in this section, nor in the aforementioned book on the subject. Still, this rough sketch should be enough to show that there is a substantial case to be made for understanding the Garden of Eden as the first Temple in biblical theology.

What does this matter you might ask? The theological implications are actually so massive that I can’t go into all of them. I’ll just bullet-point a few that could be teased out into blogs in their own right (probably books too):

  • Creation — Why did God create the world? To inhabit it and dwell with people.
  • Anthropology — If the Garden is the Temple, then Adam is a priest. That has implications for our idea of human purpose and our relation to the rest of creation.
  • Israel/Covenant — God sets apart a people of Tabernacle and Temple-makers, who take up Adam’s original commission.
  • Christology — When we start to realize that Christ is the greater Temple, fulfilling all that the Temple was supposed to be, as well as the true Adam, it starts to fill in the picture on the aim of Christ’s work.
  • Ecclesiology — It follows from our thinking about human purpose, and our idea of Christ’s work that our theology of the church will be impacted by this idea as well.
  • Eschatology — If our theology of creation is impacted, then so is our eschatology, because God will fulfill his purposes at the end of all things.

The list could go on and on and on, but you get my point.  The Garden was a Temple and that’s big.

Also, if nothing else, it’s just interesting for Bible nerds and that’s good enough, right?

Soli Deo Gloria

24 thoughts on “9 Reasons The Garden of Eden Was a Temple

  1. 10) Worship is the default state of humanity before self-justification takes hold when our eyes are opened by the inevitable loss of innocence when we try to be god instead of trusting God and we realize we’re naked and vulnerable. We then enter into a life of scarcity and neurotic performance which can only be escaped when our trust in God is restored through the eternal Temple sacrifice on Calvary. http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/worship-not-performance/

    • I definitely think this has implications for our theology of worship and our theology of sin. Our root sin is idolatry and it’s unavoidable. If we don’t worship God, we can’t help but worship something else because it’s our created function, written into our very being.

  2. MG Kline in Kingdom Prologue supports this demonstrating that Eden was the site of God’s Throne-Presence. Devoting a number of chapters to support that Eden was a temple and Adam was a priest:

    “Stationed in Eden was the localized, visible Presence of the Creator-King. After introducing the Glory-Spirit at the critical point in creational beginnings marked by Genesis 1:2, the biblical record affords several indications of the continuing presence of this theophanic Glory and in particular of its settling in the garden area where man was located.” p.47

  3. Every blog I’ve read of yours, I learn 5 new things and always walk away with a new idea or question that ultimately strengthens my faith. Love it, keep it up man. Thank you

  4. I wonder if Beale might have it backwards: the tabernacle & temple are models of the garden. The garden is a garden, the temple is the recapitulation of what was lost, now being regained. Reading backward from things is as important as reading forward.

    But the temple can help us understand what the Garden was all about too.

    • I don’t think that the two are necessarily opposed. The temple is a recapitulation of the garden, but the garden was like a temple. Also, the future end-time Jerusalem is a garden-city-temple that fulfills all that the Garden was supposed to be and the temple pointed to.

      Great comment! Thanks for stopping by!!

  5. I thought the idea that the Garden was the prototype and the tabernacle, then the temple, built upon it was interesting. We know from Exodus and Hebrews that the tabernacle/temple was built based upon a pattern shown to Moses up on Mt. Sinai by God, which was copied after the Heavenly temple with it’s altars, holy of holies, menorah and cherubim (Revelations). When God “placed” the cherubs and the flaming (Heb. enchanted?) sword to guard/block the way back to the Tree of life, thus defending the holiness of God as they do in heaven, the word “placed” is the verb form of “tabernacle”. Add to this that Jacob when traveling through that region claimed to have seen the house of God and the Gate to heaven, and we might have a case for the Garden of Eden to have been like a portal between heaven and earth.

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  7. My favorite line in this entire blog: “Also, if nothing else, it’s just interesting for Bible nerds and that’s good enough, right?” Fantastic thoughts to build from. Thank you!

  8. Hello children of the one true living God, please pray always that you will be accounted worthy to escape the hour of temptation that is going to come upon the entire earth. And pray always that you will also be accounted worthy to stand in the presence of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

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  13. I’m a little surprised that not one single person realized or mentitled. …. that WE…. are now the temple…. therefore before the “fall”…. Adams Soul was the temple of God as well….. it’s pretty simple… the Garden, tabernacle, and temple are all imagery illustrating the tripartite man…. the Spirit being at the center of the soul… operating a body…. outer couRte, inner court, holy of Holies. … we were kicked out of the garden because we fell into outside mindedness…. thus creating a veil that kept us from directly knowing the pressence of God….. jesus overcame, Told us the kingdom is within….. n the veil was torn to move back into the Holy place n be filled with the Holy Spirit. …..

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