The Temple of Eden

In his book The Temple and the Church’s Mission (IVP/Apollos, 2004), G. K. Beale argues that the Garden of Eden was the “first archetypal temple.” He provides 14 conceptual and linguistic parallels between Eden and future tabernacle/temple structures. My brief summary:

1. The Garden as the unique place of God’s presence. Eden was the place where God walked back and forth with man, paralleled this with later references to the Tabernacle (Gen. 3:8 with Lev. 26:12, Deut. 23:14; 2 Sam. 7:6–7).

2. The Garden as the place of the first priest. Adam was placed in the garden to “cultivate and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Taken alone, “cultivation” has obvious agricultural meaning. But this pair of terms (“cultivate/keep” also translated “serve/guard”) is used elsewhere in the OT to describe the work of the priest (Num. 3:7–8; 8:25–26; 18:5–6; 1 Chr. 23:32; Ezek. 44:14). Thus “the task of Adam in Genesis 2:15 included more than mere spadework in the dirt of a garden. It is apparently that priestly obligations in Israel’s later temple included the duty of ‘guarding’ unclean things from entering (cf. Num. 3:6–7, 32, 38; 18:1–7), and this appears to be relevant for Adam, especially in view of the unclean creature lurking on the perimeter of the Garden and who then enters” (p. 69).

3. The Garden as the place of the first guarding cherubim. After sin was introduced into the garden, Adam and Eve are barred from the tree of life by cherubim. This reveals that Adam’s work included more than gardening—he was to protect the garden from evil and uncleanness. (Gen. 3:24 with Ex. 25:18–22; 1 Kgs. 6:29-35, 8:6–7; Ezek. 28:14–16, 41:18).

4. The Garden as the place of the first arboreal lampstand. Likely, the Tree of Life provides the model for the lampstand placed directly outside the holy of holies (Ex. 25:31–36).

5. The Garden as formative for garden imagery in Israel’s temple. Temple references in the OT possess botanical, garden-like features (1 Kgs. 6:18, 29, 32; 7:20–26, 42, 47; Zech. 1:8–11; Ps. 74:3–7; 52:8; 92:13–15; Lam. 2:6; Isa. 60:13, 21).

6. Eden as the first source of water. Like Eden, the eschatological temples feature a source of water (Gen. 2:10 with Ezek. 47:1–12; Rev. 21:1–2).

7. The Garden as the place of precious stones. Note the correlation between precious stones in Eden and the building materials of the later tabernacle and temple (Gen. 2:12 with 1 Kgs. 6:20–22, Ex. 25:7, 11–39; 28:6–27; 1 Chr. 29:2).

8. The Garden as the place of the first mountain. Eden was situated upon a mountain (Ezek. 28:14, 16) just like Mount Zion (Ex. 15:17) and the eschatological temple (Ezek. 40:2; 43:12; Rev. 21:10).

9. The Garden as the first place of wisdom. “The ark in the holy of holies, which contained the Law (that led to wisdom) echoes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (that also led to wisdom). Both the touching of the ark and the partaking of the tree’s fruit resulted in death” (pp. 73–74).

10. The Garden as the first place with an eastern facing entrance. Like the future tabernacle and temples, Eden was entered from the east (Gen. 3:24 with Ezek. 40:6).

11. The Garden as part of a tripartite sacred structure. Genesis 2:10 reveals that “a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden.” This reference formally distinguishes Eden from the garden. From this Beale builds the case that Eden and its adjoining garden “formed two distinct regions” (p. 74). He sees here tripartite degrees of holiness, similar to the temple complex, comprised of (a) the region outside the garden (the outer court); (b) the garden representing a sacred place (the holy place); and (c) Eden, where God dwells (the holy of holies).

12. Ezekiel’s view of the Garden of Eden as the first sanctuary. In Ezekiel 28:13–18, the prophet draws a number of parallels between Eden and Israel’s tabernacle/temple. Specifically, the prophet references Eden as a sanctuary and pictures Adam dressed as a priest (v. 13). And “Ezekiel 28:18 is probably, therefore, the most explicit place anywhere in canonical literature where the Garden of Eden is called a temple” (pp. 75-76).

13. The Ancient Near Eastern concept of temples in association with garden-like features. “Gardens not untypically were part of temple complexes in the Ancient Near East” (p. 76).

14. Early Judaism’s view of the garden as the first sanctuary. Beale provides evidence from the non-canonical Jewish literature to further prove that “Judaism in various ways also understood the Garden to be the first sanctuary in line with the above Old Testament evidence” (p. 27).

Conclusion: “The cumulative effect of the preceding parallels between the Garden of Genesis 2 and Israel’s tabernacle and temple indicates that Eden was the first archetypal temple, upon which all of Israel’s temples were based” (pp. 79-80).

Read more on these conceptual and linguistic parallels on pages 66–80 of Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (IVP/Apollos, 2004).

4 thoughts on “The Temple of Eden

  1. Those are some really good parallels to bring out, especially when one sees the New Creation description in Revelation and its temple language. Would we be correct in saying that the later tabernacle/Temple structure was intended as a reminder of God’s original creation where uninhibited communion between God and man existed? The feeling that I seem to get from some of the other recent temple/creation parallel studies is that they want to diminish the importance or reality of the creation narratives (including the Fall account) by simply viewing it as symbolic of a better Temple. These cases seem to view creation more as a retro-cast of the Mosaic model than a forecast of it. How does Beale handle that?

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