Eden as Temple and Template (Part II)

Seven Similarities

Introduction

This is the second post of the “Eden as Temple and Template” series. In the first post, I said that we can consider that Eden was in fact the first temple, and further, we can say that the Garden of Eden was the template for those to follow and it finds completion at the eschatological (last days) actualization of the New Jerusalem. In Part One, I traced the theme of temple from the tabernacle to the New Jerusalem. In doing so, I followed this theme’s progression of God dwelling with his people and I further listed out similarity after similarity between each temple. The purpose of this was to give a simple understanding of important features so that one could have a basic idea of “temple.” With this basic knowledge, one could then look at Eden and see how similar it was to all the other temples. This post will cover seven similarities between the Garden of Eden and the subsequent temples. It will also cover some texts of early Judaism to show that Eden was explicitly considered as a temple.

Seven Similarities Between Eden and the Other Temples

The following will cover seven similarities between the Garden of Eden to the subsequent temples (though indeed there are more than seven). For a much more thorough source and exposition with more similarities, see G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God; or, in his article form, G. K. Beale, “Eden, Temple, and the Church’s Mission in the New Creation.”

1. God’s Presence

First, one may consider Eden to be a temple because God dwelt there in a similar way that he dwelt in the tabernacle and temple. Just as the priests were able to experience God’s presence in the tabernacle and temple, so also Adam experienced God’s presence in the Garden of Eden. In fact, Adam was able to walk and talk with God (Gen 3:8). There is further reasoning why one could consider Eden as a temple in regards to God’s presence. In Genesis 3:8, an account of God being in the Garden of Eden, the same Hebrew form (hithpael) of הָלַךְ (halak) is used to describe God’s presence as described in the tabernacle (Lev 26:12; 1 Sam 7:6–7).[1] This striking similarity gives reason to consider Eden as a temple.

2. Priests as Guards

As the priests were to serve and guard the tabernacle and the temple (Num 3), so also Adam was to guard the Garden of Eden—God’s dwelling place. In Genesis 2:15, God took the man and caused him to rest (וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ; i.e., put him) in the Garden so that he would וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ לְעָבְדָהּ (work and keep) it. While this often is translated as “work and keep,”[2] one can translate it as “serve and guard.”[3] This is a permissible reading[4] especially when compared to Genesis 3:24. After man sinned, God expelled man out of Eden and God put cherubim and a flaming sword to guard (לִשְׁמֹר [same root word from 2:18]) the way to the tree of life. Thus, Adam had the same vocation as priests who worked in the tabernacle or temple. Consequently, he was the first priest, which gives reason for one to believe that Eden was the first temple.

3. The Placement of Cherubim

As God put cherubim in the Garden to guard Eden (the place of God’s presence), the tabernacle and temple contained replicas or images of cherubim. In the construction of the tabernacle, God gave instruction that cherubim were to be embroidered into the veil that separated (protected) the holy place from the holy of holies (Exod 26:1). This imagery is also used in Solomon’s temple where two huge cherubim were put into the holy of holies by the ark of the covenant (1 Kgs 6:23–28). Further, the doors that separated the holy place from the holy of holies also had engraved cherubim (6:32). This is most likely symbolizing the cherubim guarding the way to the tree of life in the Garden.[5] ­

4. East-Facing Entrance

As the entrance to the tabernacle and temple faced east, so also the entrance of the Garden of Eden faced east (Gen 3:24). This also resembles the east-facing entrance of the eschatological temple of Ezekiel (Ezek 40:6).[6] The east-facing entrance does not only follow Israel’s temple-pattern, but most temples in the Ancient Near East faced east.

5. Garden-Like Atmosphere

One may have reason to believe that the Garden of Eden was a temple because of the subsequent temple’s garden-like atmosphere. Solomon’s temple had carvings of gourds and open flowers (1 Kgs 6:18). Also, the walls, doors, and doorposts had carvings of palm trees and more open flowers (6:29, 32, 35). Garden-imagery was extremely prominent in Solomon’s temple. These images most “likely were intentional reflections of Eden….”[7]

6. Gold

As already noted in the first post, there is often an association with gold and God’s presence (Exod 26:32, 37; 1 Kgs 6:19–22; Rev 21:3, 18). In the description of Eden, gold is mentioned to be present (Gen 2:11–12). If gold is closely linked with God’s presence, then it appears that the gold in Eden could signify a temple-like feature. Alexander adds, “Gold and onyx, mentioned in Genesis 2:11–12, are used extensively to decorate the later sanctuaries and priestly garments….”[8] Thus, there seems to be a close connection to the contents of Eden and features of the tabernacle and temple.

7. Flowing River

Finally, just as a river flows out of the future temple in Ezekiel (Ezek 47:1–12) and from the throne of God (Rev 22:1–3), so also a river flows out of Eden (Gen 2:10). Further, all of these rivers are associated with life. This does not mean that every place with a river flowing out of it is a temple. However, taken with the other similarities, these rivers, which flow out of a place where God dwells, gives reason for one to believe that Eden was a garden.

Early Judaism Understanding Eden as a Temple

One ought not just rely on similarities between Eden and the subsequent temples. It is important to know how early Judaism viewed the Garden of Eden. Beale suggests, “early Judaism understood the Garden to be the first sanctuary….”[9] For example, the Jewish interpretation of the book of Jubilees (160 B.C.) shows that early Judaism considered Eden as a temple.[10] Perhaps the most explicit mention of Eden as being a temple is Jubilees 8:19, which says: “And he [Noah] knew that the Garden of Eden was the holy of holies, and the dwelling of the Lord.” Thus, the early Jewish writings confirm the notion of Eden being a temple as a reasonable conclusion.[11]

Conclusion

Given the brief list of similarities above, it is clearly reasonable to say that Eden was in fact a temple, and therefore, it would be the very first temple. Perhaps the most telling similarity is that God dwelled in Eden in a special manner. Given this, it would follow that all the later temples seem to be building off of Eden. Hence, Eden was their template. In the next and final post of this series, we will see that the Garden of Eden had a peculiar intention: to spread throughout the entire world. Hence, Adam and Eve were to spread the garden-temple so that it would cover the earth. This intention would find fulfillment in the last days: the New Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God (Rev 21:3).

 



[1] G. K. Beale, “Eden, Temple, and the Church’s Mission in the New Creation,” JETS 48/1 (March 2005): 7.

[2] Or it can be translated as “cultivate and keep” or “cultivate/work and take care of.”

[3] John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 105–106.

[4] While this reading is permissible, it is not the favorable reading. However, due to the semantic range and thus various (and synonymous) meanings of the words, one can have reason to see the priest-like roles of Adam in Genesis.

[5] Beale, “Eden, Temple, and the Church’s Mission in the New Creation,” 8.

[6] Ibid., 8.

[7] Ibid., 8.

[8] Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 23. “There are about one hundred references to gold and seven to onyx in the Exodus account of the building of the tabernacle” (ibid., 23n22).

[9] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 77.

[10] Ibid., 77–78. Beale expounds on Jubilees (160 B.C.): 3:27; 4:23–25; Testament of Levi 18:6, 10; and 1 Enoch 24–27.

[11] One also should consider Ezekiel 28:18 referring to Eden as being a temple. However, space forbids a lengthy discussion on such a debated and difficult text. For exposition on this text, see Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 75–76.