RPM, Volume 17, Number 14, March 29 to April 4, 2015

Garden Temple

Part 1

By Gregory K. Beale

It is particularly interesting that among the preceding cultic affinities drawn between Eden and Israel's temple was the observation that the word pair usually translated as "cultivate" ['abad] and "keep" [shamar] occur together in the Old Testament elsewhere referring only either to Israelites "serving" God and "guarding" (keeping) God's word (approximately 10 times), or to priests who "keep" the "service" (or "charge") of the tabernacle (5 times). Not only does Genesis 1-2 portray Adam as a kingly gardener but one who performs acts of worshipful obedience in doing so. Consequently, he is being portrayed as a priest in this task.

Cosmic Expansion of the Garden Sanctuary Through Adam's Rule as a Priest-King in God's Image

Not only was Adam to "serve" in and "guard" the initial stage of the Edenic sanctuary, but Genesis 1:28 affirms that he also was to subdue the entire earth: "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 earth." Genesis 1:27 provides the means by which the commission and goal of verse 28 was to be accomplished: humanity will fulfill the commission by means of being in God's image. 1 They were to reflect God's kingship by being his vice-regents on earth. Because Adam and Eve were to subdue and rule "over all the earth," it is plausible to suggest that they were to extend the geographical boundaries of the Garden until Eden extended throughout and covered the whole earth. 2 They were on the primeval hillock of hospitable Eden, outside of which lay the inhospitable land. They were to extend the smaller livable area of the Garden by transforming the outer chaotic region into a habitable territory.

In actuality, Adam, as God's vice-regent, and his progeny were to put "the finishing touches" on the world God created in Genesis 1 by making it a livable place for humans. The penultimate goal of the Creator was to make creation a livable place for humans in order that they would achieve the grand aim of glorifying him. This penultimate goal would appear to be confirmed by Isaiah 45:18: "God formed the earth and made it … and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited" (likewise cf. Psalm 115:16). God's ultimate goal in creation was to magnify his glory throughout the earth by means of his faithful image bearers.

As we will see below, this is consistent with the notion in Babylonian and Egyptian tradition of people being created to serve their god in a temple and extend that god's glorious light by building more temples or widening the borders of an original temple. In Adam's case, however, it is more probable that he was to spread God's luminescent presence by extending the boundaries of the original Edenic temple outward into the earth. Furthermore, in contrast to ancient Near Eastern accounts, God did not create Adam and Eve because he was tired of the drudgery of providing for himself, but that humanity would reflect his glorious image in extending his sacred presence outward into the wider regions of the earth. 3

In this regard, Genesis 1:26-27 says four times that God made Adam in his "image" or "likeness," and Genesis 2 says God placed him into the garden-like sanctuary. Ancient kings would set up images of themselves in distant lands over which they ruled in order to represent their sovereign presence. For example, after conquering a new territory, the Assyrian king Shalmanesar "fashioned a mighty image of my majesty" that he "set up" on a black obelisk, and then he virtually equates his "image" with that of "the glory of Assur" his god. 4 Likewise, Adam was created as the image of the divine king to indicate that earth was ruled over by Yahweh. 5 In the light of Genesis 1:26-28, this meant the presence of God, which was initially to be limited to the temple of Eden and the adjoining garden, was to be extended throughout the whole earth by his image bearers, as they themselves represented and reflected his glorious presence and attributes.

The following parallels from Assyria and Egypt (discussed below) show that typically images of gods were placed in the god's temple and that kings were viewed as living images of a god. Against this background and in the light of Genesis 1:26-28, Adam's commission to "cultivate" (with connotations of "serving") and "guard" in Genesis 2:15 as a priest-king is probably part of the commission given in 1:26-28. 6 Hence, Genesis 2:15 continues the theme of subduing and filling the earth by humanity created in the divine image. 7This "ruling" and "subduing" "over all the earth" is plausibly part of a functional definition of the divine image in which Adam was made, though there is likely an additional ontological aspect of the "image" by which humanity was enabled to reflect the functional image. 8Just as God subdued the chaos, ruled over it, and created and filled the earth with all kinds of animate life, so Adam and Eve were to reflect God's activities in Genesis 1 by fulfilling the commission to "subdue" and "rule over all the earth" and "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:26, 28). 9

In the light of the above, one can conclude that Adam's kingly and priestly activity in the garden was to be a beginning fulfillment of the commission in 1:28 and was not to be limited to the garden's original earthly boundaries but was to be extended over the whole world. In particular, for example, Adam's speaking and naming of the animals (Genesis 2:19) expresses part of his rule over the creation and reflects God's naming of parts of creation in Genesis 1 through his creative speech. 10 The Qumran community represents the first extant interpretation making a link between Genesis 1:26, 28 and Genesis 2: "You molded [Adam], our [fa]ther, in the image of [your] glory … [in the gard]en of Eden, which you planted, y[ou] made him to rule … in order that he would walk in a glorious earth," and "he guarded." 11

Similarly, that Adam and Eve were to become "one flesh" in 2:24 is certainly part of the beginning of the commission to be "fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth," further underscoring that humanity's function in the image of God as "male and female" (Gen. 1:27) 12 was to be extended until the earth was filled with people performing this function. Accordingly, a significant increase in population would necessitate an expansion of the original sacred habitable dwelling of the first primal couple. 13 In this regard, Matthew 19:4-6 (= Mark 10:6-9) is one of the earliest texts relating Genesis 1:27 to Adam and Eve in Eden.

Jesus identifies humans as "male and female" in the image of God who were to begin to fulfill their commission in the Garden by maintaining their unity. Reproducing offspring in God's image is a natural implication of the first couple's unity.

I have found corroboration for the link between Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:15ff. in John Walton's Genesis commentary. Walton contends that Adam was much more than a gardener; he was to maintain the created order of the sacred space of the sanctuary. He also concludes that such maintenance indicates that the "cultivating" and "guarding" of Genesis 2:15 is an expression of the "subduing and ruling" of chapter 1. 14

Consequently, as observed earlier, Adam's priestly role in the Garden was to "manage" or "care" for it by maintaining its order and keeping out uncleanness. This included "gardening" but likely went beyond it to managing the affairs of the sacred place where God's presence dwelt and maintaining its orderliness in contrast to the disordered space outside. This management included "guarding" Eden from the threat of unclean things entering into it and corrupting it. And would not this management also logically include Adam's teaching of God's Law (from Gen. 2:16-17) to Eve in order that they both would help one another to obey in order that spiritual chaos might not set in? The picture, therefore, is that of a "warden" managing a sacred ward. As the first couple had children, it is certainly plausible to suggest that the management of the Garden extended to teaching them God's Law and serving God by obeying it. Furthermore, Walton observes that if people were going to fill the earth [according to Genesis 1], we must conclude that they were not intended to stay in the garden in a static situation. Yet moving out of the garden would appear a hardship since the land outside the garden was not as hospitable as that inside the garden (otherwise the garden would not be distinguishable). Perhaps, then, we should surmise that people were gradually supposed to extend the garden as they went about subduing and ruling. Extending the garden would extend the food supply as well as extend sacred space (since that is what the garden represented). 15

The intention seems clear 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. 16 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 the mandate given to their parents and went out to subdue the outer country. The original purpose of an expanding Eden will be supported by our next chapter which be exclusively dedicated to tracing other passages in the Old Testament and early Judaism that interpret the Garden in this manner.

The Psalmist, commenting on the purpose of Adam and humanity in Psalm 8, also indicates that the ultimate goal of humanity was to fill the whole earth with God's glory. The Psalm begins in verse 1 and concludes in verse 9 with the same stated goal: "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth." This "majesty" is God's glorious "splendor" (cf. v. 1). The goal of divine splendor is to be achieved "in all the earth" by humanity whom God "has crowned with glory and majesty" by making him in his image (v. 5). In particular, Psalm 8 says God's glory is to be spread throughout the earth by humanity "ruling" over all "the works of thy [God's] hands" (vv. 6-8). Included in this rule was making "the enemy and revengeful cease" (v. 2), which the Aramaic translation identifies with the "author of enmity," the Devil. Genesis 1:28 is best taken as a command, possibly with an implied promise that God will provide the ability to humanity to carry it out. 17 A medieval rabbinic commentary expresses well the aspect of "mandate" involved in the verse:

the rationale of the commandment is that the world should be settled, because God … desires its settlement, as it is written, "He did not create it a waste but formed it for habitation" [Isa. 45:18]. And this is a great commandment for whose sake there exist all of the other commandments, for they were given to human beings and not to the ministering angels … And he who does not fulfill it annuls a positive commandment … because he himself demonstrates that he does not wish to fulfill God's desire to settle his world" (Sefer ha-Hinnukh). 18

Adam, however, failed in the task with which he was commissioned. He did not guard the Garden but allowed entrance to a foul snake that brought sin, chaos and disorder into the sanctuary and into Adam and Eve's lives. He allowed the Serpent to "rule over" him rather than "ruling over" it and casting it out of the Garden. Rather than extending the divine presence of the garden sanctuary, Adam and Eve were expelled from it.

Wheaton College Graduate School
Wheaton, Illinois

* This is a preliminary and edited version of a forthcoming chapter in a volume entitled Eden, the Temple, and the Mission of the Church: A Biblical Theology of the Temple.


  1. The same relationship exists between 1:26a and 1:26b; see also, in this respect, W. J. Dumbrell, The Search for Order (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994) 18-20.
  2. See Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 55-56.
  3. John Walton, Genesis, 186.
  4. Henri Frankfort, The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, 90 and plate 93.
  5. Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology (New York: Harper and Row, 1962) 1:146-47.
  6. I have found support for this link in Jeremy Cohen, Be Fertile and Increase, Fill the Earth and Master It (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1989) 18, who also cites James Barr and Claus Westermann in support.
  7. So also Dumbrell, Search for Order, 24-26.
  8. See Cohen, Be Fertile and Increase, 22-23, for evidence that God's "image" in Genesis 1:26a, 27 has both an ontological and functional aspect, though it is likely that the latter is the emphasis in Genesis 1 (which is also the emphasis of Walton, Genesis, 130-31).
  9. Following W. Austin Gage, The Gospel of Genesis (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1984) 27-36.
  10. Ibid., 31. Interestingly, Midrash Rabbah Gen. 17.4 says that the way Adam expressed being in the image of God (Gen. 1:26a) was by his ability to name the animals in Genesis 2:20. See Cohen, Be Fertile and Increase, 99, for other Jewish traditions making the same link between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.
  11. 4Q 504 = 4QWords of the Luminaries (frag. 8 Recto, lines 4-6); so also 4Q423 = 4Q Instruction g (frag. 2, line 2): "is it not a garden … to rule … And over it he made you (Adam) to rule, to till it and to guard it." Likewise, though not quite as clearly, 4Q418, fragment 81 (= 4Q423 8 + 24?) links Genesis 1:26, 28 with Genesis 2:15.
  12. Cf. Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988) 113, 126.
  13. This finds some support from Josephus, Antiquities 1.110, who says that God wanted the people at the tower of Babel to spread out over the earth in fulfillment of the Genesis 1:26, 28 commission "because of increasing population."
  14. Genesis, 174, which is supported by F. Gorman, The Ideology of Ritual (JSOT Supp 91; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990) 28-29; E. Hornung, Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1982) 183.
  15. Walton, Genesis, 186.
  16. This may be implied by Isaiah 45:18: God "did not create it [the earth] a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited [as Eden was initially inhabited]."
  17. We are not able here to enter into the problem of whether Genesis 1:28 is merely a "blessing … delineating a privilege" (Walton, Genesis, 134) or whether it is a blessing that includes a mandate or command. Traditionally, it has been called a "creation mandate." P. Jouon, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Subsidia Biblica 14; Rome: Pontifical Institute, 1993) 2:373, concludes that in Genesis 1:28 all "five imperatives are direct imperatives," with the explicit sense of a direct command. Gesenius, E. Kautzsch, and A. E. Cowley, Hebrew Grammar (Oxford: Clarendon, 1970), 324, construe it as command, "the fulfillment of which is altogether out of the power of the one addressed," which has the force of an "assurance" or "promise." G. J. Wenham combines the two preceding views: "This command … carries with it an implicit promise that God will enable man to fulfill it" (Genesis 1-15, 33). Wenham's conclusion is pointed to by observing that imperatives are used as commands in the restatement of Genesis 1:28 to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-2: "Go forth from your country … and you will be a blessing") and to Jacob (Gen. 35:11, "be fruitful and multiply"). Some see the verb "bless" in Genesis 12:2 to be a basic imperative (so Robert Carroll, "Blessing the Nations: Toward a Biblical Theology of Mission from Genesis," Bulletin for Biblical Research 10 [2000]: 22, who cites others in support). Some grammarians see Genesis 12:2 as part of a promise (e.g., see Gesenius, Kautzsch, and Cowley, Hebrew Grammar, 325), while others view it as an "indirect imperative" expressing purpose or result (Jouon, Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, 385; cf. Carroll, "Blessing the Nations," 22, who cites others who view the construction to be conveying consequence or purpose). But the context of such "indirect" uses of the imperative may indicate that they retain a notion of "command" (e.g., Exod. 3:10, an example adduced in Gesenius, Kantsch, Cowley, 325: "Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring out my people;" cf. in light of Exod. 3:11; 4:21-23; 6:10-13). Apparently, on this basis, Ross, Creation and Blessing, 263, sees that the last imperative of 12:2 emphasizes the purpose of the divine blessing yet still retains an imperatival force" (Carroll's discussion approaches the same conclusion).
  18. Cited from Cohen, Be Fertile and Increase, 195, who also summarizes Luther's perspective of Genesis 1:28a with similar import: "Defiance of the instruction to reproduce not only contravenes the will of God but subverts the order of God's creation, whose natural imperative our verse bespeaks" (Ibid., 307-8).
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