Summarizing the Biblical-Theological Case for Eden Being a Temple-Garden

The garden of Eden was not just some Mesopotamian farmland, but an archetypal sanctuary or a temple-garden.[1] Though we often speak of “the Garden of Eden” as a single place, a close reading of the text reveals that Eden and the garden are distinct. Note especially Genesis 2:8, “The LORD God planted a garden in Eden.” It’s been suggested that the garden is attached to Eden, with Eden itself being the temple since “a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden” (Gen. 2:10).[2]

However, Genesis 1–3 does not explicitly state that Eden has an architectural structure, nor does it even use the word “temple” or “sanctuary” to describe it. So how do we know that it was a temple? Numerous scholars have argued for this understanding of Eden based on the many parallels that exist between the garden and later Israelite sanctuaries.[3] Here are twelve of those arguments in summary form.[4]

  1. Just as the temple was the place of God’s unique presence experienced by the priests, so Eden was the place where God walked with Adam. G.K. Beale notes, “The same Hebrew verbal form (Hithpael) 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 [23:15 MT]; 2 Sam. 7:6–7; Ezek. 28:14).”[6]
  2. Adam is depicted as a priest with respect to his task, namely, “to work” (עָבְדָ֖) and “to keep” (שָׁמְרָֽ) the garden, which is the priest’s task in the temple (Num. 3:7–8; 8:25–26; 18:5–6; 1 Chron. 23:32; Ezek. 44:14).[7] Adam also donned priestly attire (Ezek. 28:13ff.).
  3. The cherubim assumed Adam’s function to guard the tree of life (Gen. 3:24), which became memorialized in the tabernacle (cf. Exod. 25:18–22).
  4. The “tree of life” (Gen. 2:9) was probably a model of the lampstand in the tabernacle (Exod. 25:31ff).[8]
  5. Israel’s tabernacle and temple had wood carvings that gave it a garden-like ambiance (1 Kings 6:18, 29, 32, 35; 7:18–20).
  6. Just as the entrance to Israel’s later temple was to face east and be on a mountain, 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).
  7. The ark, which contained the law, in the Holy of Holies echoed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as both lead to wisdom.
  8. As a river flowed out from Eden (Gen. 2:10), so a river flows from the eschatological temple (Ezek. 47:1–12; Rev. 21:1–2; cf. Ps. 36:8–9; Rev. 22:1–2).
  9. Just as gold and onyx are in the garden (Gen. 2:11–12), so they are used to decorate the later sanctuaries and priestly garments (Exod. 25:7, 11, 17, 31).
  10. Just as the temple had a tripartite structure of concentric circles of holiness (Holy of Holies > Holy Place > Courtyard), so the garden of Eden had the same (Eden > Garden > Outer World).
  11. Ezekiel refers to “Eden, the garden of God… the holy mountain of God” and also alludes to it containing “sanctuaries” (28:18; cf. 7:24; Lev. 21:23; Jer. 51:51).
  12. Just as the climax and purpose of creation was rest (Gen. 2:1–3), so the construction of the tabernacle culminates with rest (Exod. 31:12–17).

[1] G.J. Wenham, “Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story,” Proceedings of the World Congress of Jewish Studies 9 (1986), 19.

[2] J.H. Walton, “Eden, Garden Of.” In T.D. Alexander and D.W. Baker (eds.), Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2003), 202. The same idea is presented by G.K. Beale in God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014), 22, which includes a helpful figure.

[3] The following arguments are indebted to G.J. Wenham, “Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story,” 19–25 and G.K. Beale, New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 617–22; cf. Beale, G.K. “The Final Vision of the Apocalypse and its Implications for Biblical Theology of the Temple.” In Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology, eds. Alexander, T.D. and S. Gathercole (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2004), 197–199; idem., The Temple and the Church’s Mission (Downers Grove, IL: Apollos IVP, 2004), 66–80; idem., “Eden, the Temple, and the Church’s Mission in the New Creation,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48 (2005), 7–10. For an argument against viewing Eden as a temple see Daniel Block, “Eden: A Temple? A Reassessment of the Biblical Evidence.” In From Creation to New Creation: Biblical Theology and Exegesis, eds. Daniel M. Gurtner and Benjamin L. Gladd (Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013). While I do not find Block’s essay persuasive, it does call for more caution in connecting the garden and the tabernacle/temple.

[4] For more detail see Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 617ff. and Wenham, “Sanctuary Symbolism,” 19–25.

[5] Beale, God Dwells Among Us, 51.

[6] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 59.

[7] See Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, 54.

[8] See Meyers, Carol L. The Tabernacle Menorah: A Synthetic Study of a Symbol from the Biblical Cult (ASORDS 2: Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1976), 180.

Leave a comment



Tim Black

1 year ago

Daniel,

Do you mean to claim that Eden was a temple in the sense of a physical building (“architectural construction”)? Or do you mean that Eden had the same functions as a temple, without actually having the same architectural form? Do you mean that Eden was not a geographical region?

The half of the comparison in point 10 which describes Eden, “Eden > Garden > Outer World,” would appear to indicate that Eden was in the Garden, but the text of scripture says the Garden was “in” Eden (via a beth preposition in Gen. 2:8). Can you explain this apparent inconsistency?

Daniel Ragusa

1 year ago

Tim,

Thanks for your questions and close reading of the post.

First, I’m saying that Eden was a geographical place distinguishable from the garden though it didn’t take the exact architectural form as the later tabernacle and temple. In that it was a real place it would have some architectural structure with God himself as its builder. It might be better to speak of all three (Eden, tabernacle, temple) more generally as “sanctuaries” for clarity. Also, I would put the emphasis on their functional similarity as unique dwelling places of God. Jesus is able to speak of himself as the temple (Jn. 2:19) for in him the fullness of deity dwells bodily (Col. 2:9).

Second, I see Eden as the center based on Gen. 2:10, “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden,” which parallels the eschatological temple in which the river flows from the throne of God (Ezek. 47:1–12; Rev. 22:1–2). The throne is always centrally located (e.g., the ark of the covenant being in the Holy of Holies) . I see what you are saying though with Gen. 2:8. I guess I am weighing the biblical-theological parallel more than the preposition that can be more or less ambiguous. Eden is given primacy though even in 2:8 in that it preceded the garden.

John Sellman

1 year ago

You could just as easily argue that the temple was a reconstruction of the garden. This direction seems more natural to me. Secondly, the temple contained an element not seen in the garden, sacrifices for sin.

Richard

1 year ago

John,

There are sacrifices for sin in 3:21.

John Sellman

1 year ago

Was God providing skins meant to be propitiatory? In any case, I thought the Garden under discussion was pre fall and pre curse.

Daniel Ragusa

1 year ago

John,

Thanks for your thoughts here. I would agree that the temple is better understood as a reconstruction of the garden. I was only trying to draw out the parallels in the post and not so much precisely define the relationship between the two. I like how G. K. Beale speaks of the tabernacle as “Eden Remixed.”

Also, regarding the sacrifices for sin, there is a soteriological element that is added following the fall, but the eschatological element present in Gen. 1-2 continues in the tabernacle and temple. Vos and Gaffin have made the point that eschatology precedes soteriology, which I think is helpful here. I’d commend Vos’ book The Eschatology of the Old Testament, particularly the chapter “Eschatology in Its Pre-Redemptive Stage.”

Richie Cronin

1 year ago

Daniel

Could you provide more information on your exegesis of Eze 28 as referring to edam donning priestly attire (point 2). I’m sure you are aware that the vast majority of exegesis on this points sees it as referring in some way to the king of Tyre or to Satan.

Richie Cronin

1 year ago

Sorry for my typos above.

Strictly speaking point two is not helpful. Because the suggestion is that Adam does in the Garden what priests do in the temple, but the aim of this article hinges on there being a difference between the garden and eden. To suggest that Eden apart from the Garden is the proto-temple would mean we have to find evidence Adam was a priest for Eden and not the Garden which is the opposite of what we see.

Samuel Hoogendoorn

1 year ago

I think that you’ll are way overthinking this and being dogmatic about something that is not explicitly stated anywhere in Scripture. I think that Eden was a region that contained a mountain, where God would come down from and meet with Adam in the garden, from which flowed the river that split into four and the base and watered the gardens of Eden that Adam had to take care of. God is the source of life. Water is essential for life. The Living Water is God Himself. That’s my idea anyway, and I’m sure that there are Scriptural parallels (God coming down on a mountain to meet with Moses, Psalm 121:1-2 “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. 2 My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.”, etc.)

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