The Garden of Eden As The First Temple


Beale: “The first sanctuary was in Eden. How do we know this, since there was no architectural structure in Eden? Such a claim may sound strange to the ears of many. The following nine observations, among others that I do not have space to mention, show that Eden was the first temple.

First, the temple later in the OT was the unique place of God’s presence, where Israel had to go to experience that presence. Israel’s temple was the place where the priest experienced God’s unique presence, and Eden was the place where Adam walked and talked with God. The same Hebrew verbal form (hithpael), hithallek, used for God’s “walking back and forth” in the Garden (Gen 3:8), also describes God’s presence in the tabernacle (Lev 26:12; Deut 23:14; 2 Sam 7:6–7).

Second, Gen 2:15 says God placed Adam in the Garden “to cultivate it and to keep it.” The two Hebrew words for “cultivate and keep” (respectively, oabad and shamar) can easily be, and usually are, translated “serve and guard.” When these two words occur together later in the OT, without ex- ception they have this meaning and refer either to Israelites “serving and guarding/obeying” God’s word (about 10 times) or, more often to priests who “serve” God in the temple and “guard” the temple from unclean things entering it (Num 3:7–8; 8:25–26; 18:5–6; 1 Chr 23:32; Ezek 44:14).

Therefore, Adam was to be the first priest to serve in and guard God’s temple. When Adam fails to guard the temple by sinning and letting in an unclean serpent to defile the temple, Adam loses his priestly role, and the two cherubim take over the responsibility of “guarding” the Garden temple: God “stationed the cherubim . . . to guard the way to the tree of life” (so Gen 3:24). Their role became memorialized in Israel’s later temple when God com- manded Moses to make two statues of angelic figures and station them on either side of the “ark of the covenant” in the “Holy of Holies” in the temple.

Third, the “tree of life” itself was probably the model for the lampstand placed directly outside the “Holy of Holies” in Israel’s temple: it looked like a small tree trunk with seven protruding branches, three on one side and three on the other, and one branch going straight up from the trunk in the middle.

Fourth, that the Garden of Eden was the first temple is also suggested by observing that Israel’s later temple had wood carvings which gave it a garden-like atmosphere and likely were intentional reflections of Eden: 1 Kgs 6:18, 29 says there was “cedar . . . carved in the shape of gourds and open flowers” (v. 18); “on the walls of the temple round about” and on the wood doors of the inner sanctuary were “carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers” (vv. 29, 32, 35); beneath the heads of the two pillars placed at the entrance of the holy place were “carved pomegranates” (1 Kgs 7:18–20).

Fifth, just as the entrance to Israel’s later temple was to face east and be on a mountain (Zion, Exod 15:17), and just as the end-time temple of Ezekiel was to face east (Ezek 40:6) and be on a mountain (Ezek 40:2; 43:12), so the entrance to Eden faced east (Gen 3:24) and was situated on a mountain (Ezek 28:14, 16).

Sixth, the ark in the Holy of Holies, which contained the Law (that led to wisdom), echoes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (that also led to wisdom). The touching of both the ark and this tree resulted in death.

Seventh, just as a river flowed out from Eden (Gen 2:10), so the post-exilic temple (Ep. Arist. 89–91) and the eschatological temple in both Ezek 47:1–12 and Rev 21:1–2 have rivers flowing out from their center (and like- wise Rev 7:15–17 and probably Zech 14:8–9). Indeed, Ezekiel generally depicts latter-day Mount Zion (and its temple) with descriptions of Eden in an attempt to show that the promises originally inherent in Eden would be realized in the fulfillment of his vision.

Eighth, it may even be discernible that there was a sanctuary and a holy place in Eden corresponding roughly to that in Israel’s later temple. The Garden should be precisely viewed as not itself the source of water but adjoining Eden because Gen 2:10 says “a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden.”

Therefore, in the same manner that ancient palaces were adjoined by gardens, “Eden is the source of the waters and [is the palatial] residence of God, and the garden adjoins God’s residence.” Similarly, Ezek 47:1 says that water would flow out from under the Holy of Holies in the future eschatological temple and would water the earth around. Similarly, in the end-time temple of Rev 22:1–2 there is portrayed “a river of the water of life . . . coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb” and flowing into a garden-like grove, which has been modeled on the first paradise in Genesis 2, as has been much of Ezekiel’s portrayal.

If Ezekiel and Revelation are developments of the first garden-temple, which we will argue later is the case, then Eden, the area where the source of water is located, may be comparable to the inner sanctuary of Israel’s later temple and the adjoining Garden to the Holy Place. Even aside from these later biblical texts, Eden and its adjoining garden formed two distinct regions. This is compatible with our further identification of the lampstand in the Holy Place of the temple with the tree of life located in the fertile plot outside the inner place of God’s presence. Additionally, “the bread of the presence,” also in the Holy Place, which provided food for the priests, would appear to reflect the food produced in the Garden for Adam’s sustenance.

I would add to this that the land and seas to be subdued by Adam outside the Garden were roughly equivalent to the outer court of Israel’s subsequent temple, which, as I will argue in a following section below, is, indeed, symbolic of the land and seas throughout the entire earth. Therefore, one may be able to perceive an increasing gradation in holiness from outside the garden proceeding inward: the outermost region surrounding the garden is related to God and is “very good” (Gen 1:31) in that it is God’s creation (= the outer court); the garden itself is a sacred space separate from the outer world (= the Holy Place), where God’s priestly servant worships God by obeying him, by cultivating and guarding; Eden is where God dwells (= the Holy of Holies) as the source of both physical and spiritual life (symbolized by the waters).

Ninth, in the light of these numerous conceptual and linguistic parallels between Eden and Israel’s tabernacle and temple, it should not be unexpected to find that Ezek 28:13–14, 16, 18 refer to “Eden, the garden of God . . . the holy mountain of God,” and also allude to it as containing “sanctuaries,” which elsewhere is a plural way of referring to Israel’s tabernacle (Lev 21:23) and temple (Ezek 7:24; so also Jer 51:51). The plural reference to the one temple probably arose because of the multiple sacred spaces or “sanctuaries” within the temple complex (e.g. courtyard, Holy Place, Holy of Holies).

It is also probable that the Greek OT version of Ezek 28:14 and 16 views the glorious being who had “fallen” to be Adam: “From the day that you were created you were with the cherub” (v. 14); “you sinned; therefore, you have been cast down wounded from the mount of God [where Eden was]” (v. 16). Ezekiel 28:13 pictures Adam dressed in bejeweled clothing like a priest (28:13), which corresponds well to the reference only five verses later to Eden as a holy sanctuary. Ezekiel 28:18 is probably therefore the most explicit place anywhere in canonical literature where the Garden of Eden is called a temple.

All of these observations together point to the likelihood that the Garden of Eden was the first sanctuary in sacred history. Not only was Adam to “guard” this sanctuary but he was to subdue the earth, according to Gen 1:28: “And God blessed them . . . Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that creeps on the surface.” As he was to begin to rule over and subdue the earth, he was to extend the geographical boundaries to the Garden of Eden until Eden extended throughout and covered the whole earth. This meant the presence of God which was limited to Eden was to be extended throughout the whole earth. God’s presence was to “fill” the entire earth.

The intention seems to be that Adam was to widen the boundaries of the Garden in ever increasing circles by extending the order of the garden sanctuary into the inhospitable outer spaces. The outward expansion would include the goal of spreading the glorious presence of God. This would occur especially by Adam’s progeny born in his image and thus reflecting God’s image and the light of his presence, as they continued to obey the mandate given to their parents and went out to subdue the outer country until the Eden sanctuary covered the earth.”

“Eden, The Temple, And The Church’s Mission In The New Creation” JETS 48/1

This entry was posted in Theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.