Study 4:Creation and the Garden of Eden as a Temple

Reading the first chapters of Genesis may not cause the average Westerner to skythink of the Jerusalem temple, but Israelites of biblical times associated the temple with creation and the Garden of Eden. Evidence of this association can be found in the furnishings of the temple itself as well as the testimony of non-biblical Jewish writers (the most prominent being Philo and Josephus).

In several places, both Philo and Josephus wrote about how the temple represented the entire universe and how the temple’s fixtures and the priest’s garments symbolized different parts of creation giving God the worship due him.[1] The individual lights on the temple’s golden lampstand were thought to symbolize the planets and/or the lights that God fixed in the heavens (Genesis 1:14-16).

Study Series Note: This study is one in a series of studies on the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.).

Some contemporary scholars view the creation account as God establishing the cosmos as a temple for God to manifest his glorious presence.[2] When the temple of creation was complete, God rested on the seventh day—resting was something gods of the ancient Near East did in temples. Unlike the pagan gods, however, Israel’s God could claim the entire universe as his resting place (Psalm 96:5-6).

In his excellent work, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, Greg Beale presents the above evidence (and much more) to explain how the temple is a model of the whole cosmos with the three divisions of the temple structure representing the earth, the heavens, and the heavenly throne room of God.[3] Psalm 78:69 affirms that the temple is designed to reflect the cosmos: “He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.” Beale argues that the cosmic symbolism of the temple points to a day when God’s glory will fill the whole universe. The temple represents the cosmos because God’s intention for creation is that his glory will fill the entire creation. This expansion of God’s presence into the whole world is crucial to the book of Revelation’s depiction of the final state (Revelation 21:1-5, 22-23). Although we will examine the temple theme in Revelation in a later post, it is important to recognize that the ending of the Bible intentionally recalls the beginning. Just as the temple contains many symbols that recall creation and the Garden of Eden, the book of Revelation mentions the Tree of Life and flowing rivers that are originally found in Eden.  Adam and Eve enjoy God’s unmitigated presence and fellowship in the Garden; at the end of days that relationship will be restored. The Garden, therefore, represents God’s original intent and the future destiny of humankind.

The Garden of Eden was considered the first sanctuary or the Holy of Holies (the innermost room of the temple most associated with God’s presence) in a non-canonical Jewish writing called the Book of Jubilees.[4] The Garden’s status as the first sacred place was appropriate considering that God manifested his presence with Adam and Eve in an intimate way. Moreover, sin had not entered the world, so God and humanity enjoyed an unhindered fellowship. The Jerusalem temple recalled the Garden of Eden because the temple, in essence, made fellowship with God possible again (even if sin modified that fellowship to some degree).

 Genesis 1:1-5  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.  5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Genesis 2:4-9   4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.  5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up- for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground,  6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground-  7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.  8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.  9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (ESV)

             Although verses one through five only cover the first day, Genesis 1 continues through a description of God creating the whole universe. Genesis 2 is a different account of creation that focuses down on God’s creation of, and relationship with, humans. God plants a garden and places Adam in that garden.

While one could get the impression that God left Adam alone, the rest of Genesis 2 describes God’s fatherly concern and his active interaction with Adam.[5] God brings the different animals to Adam to name (Gen 2:19), and God sees that these animals are not proper companions for Adam, so God creates Eve and presents her to Adam. Adam is more than excited (Gen 2:22)! Genesis 2 depicts a close relationship of interaction and caring. God involves Adam in his ruling over the world (naming), but God also cares that Adam isn’t quite complete (without Eve). The close relationship between God and people didn’t last long.

Genesis 3:1-13  Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden,  3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”  4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.  7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.  8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”  10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”  11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”  13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Genesis 3:21-24  21 And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.  22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever-”  23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.  24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (ESV)

The story of Adam and Eve being tempted by Satan is familiar to most people. Our focus is on what happened afterward. Verse 8 says Adam and Eve heard the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, implying that God was present in the garden in a very tangible way. Because Adam and Eve recognized the sound of God in the garden, it further implies that God’s presence was a common occurrence. Despite this familiarity, they hid themselves because they were afraid. Their fear came from the knowledge that they were naked and disobedient.

A close relationship wherein God cared and guided people turned into one of fear and separation. Sin damages relationships. The consequence of sin is separation from a holy and perfect God. God cannot have that which is anti-God in his presence. From the Fall in the Garden forward, all sacred places of God’s presence needed a degree of separation between God’s holiness and humanity’s sinfulness. Although God continued to reach out to his people and enact his plan of redemption, the Garden sanctuary could no longer be a place where sinful people enjoyed God’s holy presence.

In his grace, God does not destroy Adam and Eve but gives them coverings for their sin and shame (Gen 3:21). This provision may hint at animal sacrifice to cover humankind’s sin (since the animal died to give its hide).[6] Though some scholars hesitate to assign a foreshadowing of animal sacrifice to these coverings, God nonetheless provides for the couple as they face a new sin-filled reality.[7] This episode fixes the biblical story within a sinful world, a setting that necessitates the later temple sacrifice of animals to cover the sin of humanity as they approach the Holy One’s presence. Like the animals killed in the Garden to make coverings, the sacrifices in the temple (to be discussed in a later post) were God’s way of allowing a substitute to “cover” people’s sins and the justice (death) due for that sin. Even in their sin, God would provide a way for people to relate to him.

Now that humanity’s relationship with God was fractured, they could not be in his holy and just presence. Consequently, God did not want them to live forever in this estranged state. God sent them away from his holy presence and began a plan to redeem humanity and the world for God’s original purpose. This plan is hinted at in Genesis 3:15 when God says to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” That plan finds final fulfillment when Christ, born of a woman, is bloodied and bruised on the cross, but rises in triumph to crush Satan, sin, and death. God sacrifices his son to cover sins forever and to reconcile creation back to himself once and for all. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, the end of time will be like the beginning of time—unfettered fellowship between God and humanity. Restored creation will be a lush garden temple–filled with the presence of God.

End Notes

[1] C.T.R Hayward provides excerpts from both Philo and Josephus along with analysis in his work, The Jewish Temple: A Non-Biblical Sourcebook ( New York: Routledge, 1996), 8-10; 108-153.

[2] John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One. Downers Gove: Intervarsity Press, 2009. Walton argues that Genesis 1 describes the functional origins of the universe as a temple and was not meant to describe material origins. In the process, Walton gives many examples and proofs of the creation account’s relationship to temple dedications. I cite his work here because of his research on this creation-temple relationship and not because I agree with his overall conclusions.

[3] G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2004. The entire second chapter informed much of this section.

[4] Jubilees 4:26; 8:19. See Hayward, 88-90.

[5] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, WBC 1 (Waco: Word, 1987), 86-88.

[6] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 95; Kenneth A. Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26 (NAC 1A; Nashville: B&H, 1996), 254-255.

[7] Wenham, Genesis, 84-85; John Walton, Genesis, NIVAC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 229; Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11 (trans. John Scullion. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 270.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s