Eden as Temple and Template (Part III)

Prototype and Extension

Introduction

In the previous posts (Part I and Part II), I have argued that Eden was indeed the very first temple. From this, one can observe and deduce that Eden was not just the first temple, but it was also a template or prototype that the subsequent temples followed. In this final post, I will show that Eden was the prototype and further, I will also cover the intended purpose of Eden and how this intention finds its completion in the eschatological realization of the New Jerusalem.

Eden as Prototype and Its Intended Extension

If Eden was the first temple, then it served as a prototype for the subsequent temples. From this notion, one can understand the reasoning behind the decorative features in the tabernacle and temple. On this point, Alexander summarizes helpfully: “Since the garden is a place where divinity and humanity enjoy each others presence, it is appropriate that it should be a prototype for later Israelite sanctuaries. This explains why many of the decorative features of the tabernacle and temple are arboreal in nature.”[1] However, in order to further show that Eden was a prototype, one must first understand its intended purpose.

The Garden of Eden was supposed to expand over the entire world. As Adam was to cultivate and keep the garden, he was also supposed to subdue the entire earth and fill it (Gen 1:28). Walton observes:

If people were to fill the earth, 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 the food supply as well as extend the sacred space (since that is what the garden represented).[2]

Consequently, this means that Adam was to expand the boundaries of God’s presence so that it would fill the entire earth. However, man sinned and as a result, God expelled man from his presence in Eden. After the fall of man, the story of the Bible focuses “on how the earth can once more become a dwelling place shared by God and humanity.”[3] God accomplishes this through the tabernacle, temple, and Jesus. When the Spirit indwells the individual believers throughout the world, God fills the world with his presence. This finally comes to completion at the eschatological realization of the New Jerusalem. John sees the new heaven and new earth and equates it with the temple-city (i.e., the New Jerusalem), which is the dwelling place of God (Rev 21:1–3). In other words, God’s presence fills the entire earth. In this, Eden’s intended extension finds its completion at the coming of the New Jerusalem.

If the purpose of Eden comes to completion in the New Jerusalem, there must be some continuity between Eden and the temple-city. Alexander gives a helpful analogy on this point. He says, “Whereas Genesis presents the earth a potential building site, Revelation describes a finished city.”[4] From this, one can reason that if the New Jerusalem is the completion of the intended extension of Eden, and if the New Jerusalem can be considered to be some sort of a temple, then Eden too should be considered as a temple. More particularly, Eden should be considered as the first temple that acts as a template for those to follow.

Conclusion: The Work of the Church

Biblical material and outside resources suggest that Eden was a temple. By tracing the theme of temple throughout the Bible, one can see striking similarities between Eden and the subsequent temples. From this, one has reason to believe that Eden was a temple. However, one is not just left with similarities. Early Jewish writers and thinkers confirm the interpretation of Eden being a temple. If Eden was a temple, it follows that Eden was a blueprint for the subsequent temples. However, this does not mean that they were exactly the same. 

There was real progression even though people could not enjoy God’s presence in the same manner that Adam did. This progression, striking high note at the incarnation, finds its completion in the New Jerusalem where God and man will dwell together forever. Until that day comes, the church is left with a task. 

First, the church must guard the temple. The new covenant people of God are “a royal priesthood” (1 Pet 2:9). As the Old Testament priests guarded the temple, the church must fight off wolves dressed as sheep (Matt 7:15). Second, the church ought to promote holiness for the holy God dwells in the church. Finally, as a royal priesthood, the church is to expand the temple and carry out its purpose and “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). The theme of temple not only helps one understand the story and framework of the Bible, but it gives glorious hope to the believer, for it shows that a better day is coming when the saints will reign with God forever and ever.

 

 

[1] Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 25.

[2] John H. Walton, Genesis, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 186.

[3] Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 14.

[4] Ibid., 14.