Garden of Eden
- Main Text: Genesis 2:4b-25
- Accompanying text: Mark 10:6-8
What this passage means to us
This section of the Bible touches on modern themes such as human origins, the environment, choice, gender equality and what constitutes marriage. “The story of Adam and Eve speaks to all of us. It addresses who we are, where we came from, why we love and why we suffer. Its vast reach seems part of its design. Though it serves as one of the foundation stones of three great world faiths, it precedes, or claims to precede, any particular religion” . Jesus refers to this passage, and the apostolic writers use it as a resource in explaining church teachings.
As we proceed through various OT passages in the next few months, it’s important to remember that it is the New Testament that sheds light on the Old Testament, and not vice versa. The purpose of the Old Testament was to point to Jesus, the Son of God, and to what Jesus says and does. Therefore, in our study of the Old Testament it is vital to keep Jesus in the front of our thoughts because he alone is the full revelation of God.
When it comes to origins, Genesis 2 re-asserts that God is the first cause. “In the beginning God” (Genesis 1:1, John 1:1), and everything thereafter flows from him. In our concept of time nothing preceded him. Paul informs us that this divine act is the work of Christ, and that the sustaining of the universe (or multiverse) and all that it involves still relies solely on who Jesus is. “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17).
God created the unborn Adam, and then Eve from Adam, from whom all of humanity would subsequently be born. From the beginning there was an ecological mandate to keep or maintain the Garden of Eden, which for Adam was the only world known to him. In the Psalms David noted that this responsibility that was given to Adam was passed on to all of humanity: “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?…You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas” (Psalm 8:4-8). The implication is that we should be mindful of creation and the environment, and care for them in the same way as God cares for us. Even the very act of naming the animals implies taking and interest in them and adopting responsibility for them. “Names in the Bible are not only descriptive, they also carry authority in them” . We continue to name the animals, identifying newly discovered species and classifying them as we come across them. ‘The first man Adam became a living being’, but Jesus, the second and “the last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45), in whom “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell” and “through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Colossians 1:19-20).
The ability of Adam to think and speak and question things is evident in this passage, although we don’t know how he learnt the language involved. How did he know it? He did not grow up and go through the early stages of learning that we’ve all experienced. It was part and parcel of the miracle of his creation, which giftedness was also imparted to Eve. In the Garden the ideas of choice and death first appear in Scripture. How could Adam be expected to make the right choice if he didn’t know the difference between good and evil? One could argue that it seemed unfair. When we make a choice, we like to know all the pros and cons involved, and to know all the facts and ramifications before deciding which option to take. In a sense we operate according to sight when it comes to matters of choice. Spiritually, however, obedience is by faith and not by sight. We might view choice as a weighing up of one’s options, and this is often the best approach when it comes to decision making. Adam was asked to listen to God and to obey him in faith, to trust in God’s word without the benefit of sight and foreknowledge. Christians are called to respond to “the obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 16:26).
As far as gender equality goes, Genesis 2:18-20 has been much misunderstood. Does the word “helper” have to imply that she or he who helps is inferior to the person being helped? The Lord has been “my helper” (Psalm 27:9) and “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Does the fact that God helps us make God inferior to us? Jesus served his disciples by washing their feet — did that make him inferior to them? Other possible translations of the Hebrew word translated as “helper” are “power”, “force” and “strength”. The phrase “suitable for” is better translated “comparable to”. None of the animals were a power comparable to Adam, but Eve was! Both were created in the image of God, both being “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7).
The Biblical pattern of marriage between a man and woman is established in this chapter. It’s a concept of loving and unified togetherness, which is used later by Old Testament writers as a metaphor to illustrate the ideal union between Israel and God, and by New Testament writers the sacred bond between Christ and the Church.
Context and Story-line
Genesis 2 is often seen as an expansion of the creation of humanity as described in Genesis 1. “Narrated at the beginning of Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve has over the centuries decisively shaped conceptions of human origins and human destiny. On the face of things, it was highly unlikely to achieve such pre-eminence…this is fiction at its most fictional” . For Christians it’s not a fanciful semi-theological story. “Genesis is clearly a book from God and should be read with this assumption. It is a book written by Moses, using his education and gift for writing from his time in Egypt to record the extraordinary works of God” .
God “made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel” (Psalm 103:10). Moses was not alive at the time of any of the Genesis accounts. Possibly he gathered the oral traditions of his people as the Spirit inspired his writings, and Moses or his editor interwove various ethical ideas into the narrative. It’s clear that there is an instructive element in how Genesis 2 is composed. For example, the warning about death for disobedience might have been lost on the newly-created Adam but would have been more meaningful to the rebellious Israelites; the command to tend the Garden would have reinforced Moses’ instructions about good husbandry: and the reference to becoming one flesh and leaving your parents would have had relevance to subsequent generations and not to Adam and Eve. Thus, instruction appears to be part of the context.
Genesis 2 sounds idyllic. A beautiful garden, as much fresh food as you may wish, a friend and companion by your side, and the weather so good that you could wander around naked and no one around to notice other than your spouse. But something was about to go very wrong…
- Colossians 1:15-20
- Psalm 8
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and references
- Stephen Greenblatt, The Rise and Fall of Adam & Eve: The Story that Created Us (London, UK: Penguin Random House, 2018). 8.
- David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible: A unique overview of the whole Bible (London, UK: Harper Collins publishers, 2015). 47.
- Stephen Greenblatt, The Rise and Fall of Adam & Eve: The Story that Created Us (London, UK: Penguin Random House, 2018). 3.
- David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible: A unique overview of the whole Bible (London, UK: Harper Collins publishers, 2015). 27.