Was the Garden of Eden the First Temple?
Was the Garden of Eden the first temple? It's an intriguing concept. I ran across this idea listening to an MP3 on a talk by Dr. Greg Beale, a theologian to whom I was introduced in the footnotes of Charles Cooper's God's Elect and the Great Tribulation. Although Cooper disagrees with Beale's conclusions regarding the end-times, Cooper used many of Beale's analyses in his own conclusions.
When I saw an MP3 by Beale on WordMP3.com, I checked it out. It was in this presentation that I was first exposed to the idea that the Garden of Eden was the first temple. I will summarize the support for the argument the best I can. For a full presentation, see Beale's MP3 “The Use of Old Testament Prophecy in the New Testament - Literal Allegory or Analogical” on WordMP3.com.
Dr. Beale argues from what he calls a “cumulative case.” He reads from the NASB.
1. A temple is the unique place where Israel had to go to experience God's presence.
For example, Moses had to go into the tabernacle to hear God speak. So, too, the Garden of Eden was the place where Adam and Eve could hear God speak. Outside of the garden was a land that was uncultivated and inhospitable. To experience God's presence, they had to be in the garden.
The Hebrew phrase for God “walking back and forth” in the Garden (Gen. 3:8) is the same as used in Leviticus 6:12, Deuteronomy 23:14, and others, where the Israelites are told to keep the temple holy, for the Lord “moves about” to protect them.
2. Adam was likely the first priest.
The phrase “cultivate and keep” [the Garden] (Gen. 2:15) can also mean — and usually is translated — “serve and guard.” This is how it is translated later in the Old Testament in reference to the priests serving in the temple. It is also used of Israel as a whole, when the nation is told to “serve [or obey] and guard” God's Word.
Interestingly, the priests also performed the dual function of cultivating, as well as “serving and guarding.” In the temple complex, there were gardens. In the Near East, even today, in order for the priests to serve in the temple, they must take care of the gardens.
3. When Adam fails to “serve and guard” by falling to the deception of the serpent, he loses his role and the cherubim take over and “guard” the entrance of the Garden (Gen. 3:24).
This parallels the role of the priests in guarding the temple (Neh. 12:4, Neh. 11:9, 2 Chron. 11:3). In Beale's words, the priests were “wardens, managing a sacred ward.” Their role was memorialized in the later temple when God instructed the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant to be decorated with two statues of angels, standing on either side with wings
Tree of Life may be the model for the lampstand outside of the holy of holies. In Exodus 25, the lampstand was described as looking like a small tree trunk, with seven protruding branches.
4. Throughout the Old Testament, we see the temples reflecting a garden theme.
In the building plans for the first temple, for example, these plans are rife with garden imagery. In 1 Kings 6:18-29, we read that the cedars were to be carved like gourds and open flowers. God also directs the temple to be decorated with cherubim, flowers, trees, open flowers, and pomegranates. Even the decorative elements of the priestly robes reflect garden imagery, including the hem of the priest's robe, which was to be decorated with pomegranates.
5. Like other temples, including the end-times temple, the Garden was on a mountain, faced east, and water flows out.
It was on a mountain (Ezekiel 28), it faced east (Gen 3:24), and water flowed out (Gen. 2:10).
6. Like other temples, the Garden of Eden had three sections: 1) Eden itself, the source of water (Gen. 2:10) 2) the garden, which was adjacent to it, where Adam served; and 3) the outer, inhospitable region, which was eventually to be inhabited.
Later temples all contain similar triad structures.
7. The Garden is referred to as a sanctuary.
Ezekiel 28:18: “Eden holy mountain of God . . .” and it alludes to it as containing “sanctuaries.” Elsewhere, this is a plural reference that refers to the temple (Lev. 21:23, Eze. 7:24, Jer. 51:51, and others). “The plural reference to the temple probably arose because of the numerous sacred space within the temple complex,” explains Beale.
Beale concludes by saying that Ezekiel 28:18 is probably the most explicit place in canonical literature where the Garden of Eden is called a sanctuary. In noncannonical literature, however, in Jubilees 8:19, the Garden of Eden is explicitly called “holy of holies.”
“If it looks like a temple, if it feels like a temple, if it smells like a temple, it probably is a temple,” says Beale.
Why does it matter whether the Garden of Eden is the first temple? Beale seems to be arguing that, throughout history, God has created a successive series of temples, each building and expanding on the symbolic and theological imagery, ultimately leading to the final and perfect temple, the Body of Christ.
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