The Covenant of Works, part 2

Adam was clearly in covenant relationship with God. Now, what were the features of that covenant?

1. Work (Stipulations)

What Adam was tasked with was the Dominion Mandate (Genesis 1:28), which makes more sense after understanding that the Garden is the Temple.

The Dominion Mandate can be broken down into 3 parts:

  1. Fill the earth with the image of God via procreation.
  2. Subdue the earth.
  3. Have dominion (exercise authority) over creation.

There was also an end to Adam’s labors represented in the Sabbath rest. God’s work ended in rest, it stands to reason that Adam’s work would too upon completion.

J. V. Fesko labels Adam’s work simply as “expansion.” (Last Things First pg. 96)

There’s a lot of misunderstanding over what the Dominion Mandate is. An example:

We were created to dress, till, and keep the earth. We were made to be fruitful – to be productive as God is productive. And God assigned us these tasks before the Fall. Thus, labor is not a curse; it is a blessing that goes with Creation. The sanctity of human labor is rooted in the work of God Himself and in His call to us to imitate Him.

—R. C. Sproul, “Like Father, Like Son” pg. 7

Indeed, to us this idea is particularly attractive to me because of the rank dualism (splitting of sacred from secular work) and the utter lack of a theological view of vocation in my context.

But we must ask the question: is that how we should understand Adam’s responsibilities in the covenant of works? Was Adam merely to “work” in a generic sense?

The key is the Temple context! Fesko reminds us of the elements of the context. (Last Things First pg. 98). Adam was not a mere farmer, but a priest, and the Garden of Eden was the first Temple. Adam was also vice-regent, ruling under God’s authority.

It was God who made man. Moreover, He made man in His own image so that man would be able to exercise dominion. Man remains completely dependent on God in everything, and in everything he is to serve Him. The Kingdom of God can therefore be described as that Kingdom in which all things have been subjected to man, while man is subjected to God in voluntary obedience.

—S. G. DeGraaf, Promise and Deliverance, vol. 1, pg. 16

The difference between inside and outside the Garden is important. Remember that at first, there were no shrubs because there was no rain yet, and there was no cultivation because there’s no cultivator. So God meets these two problems by making it rain and creating the cultivator, Adam. So there is order inside the Garden, but disorder outside. The Garden is man’s habitat, where there is cultivation. Outside, there’s merely uncultivated, spontaneous vegetation. If humanity is to multiply and subdue the earth, that requires expanding the Garden-temple. Adam is to subdue the earth by spreading the order of the Garden. And more people, made in the image of God, would spread with the spreading Garden and rule over creation. Not only hospitable conditions would be spread, but the sacred space as well. Image of God would be spread, and the worship of God would be spread. Hence, the dominion mandate can be labeled “expansion.”

That the closed sanctuary with its trees has a symbolic or sacramental character is now revealed by the fact that the water which nourishes it does not take the form of a sea fed by a subterranean source and with subterranean exits, but that a whole river bursts forth which Eden is not to keep to itself but to take its own share and then to pass on to surrounding districts, and which is sufficiently powerful to divide into four parts – obviously indicating the four quarters of the compass – and to bring to these four quarters and therefore to the whole earth what it had brought to Eden.

—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics vol. 3.1 pg. 255

All that is just a review of last time. Fesko summarizes:

This sets Adam’s covenantal work on an entirely different trajectory than one typically finds. Adam’s mandate is not merely to labor but to expand the garden-temple throughout the earth, fill the earth with the image of God, and subdue it by spreading the glory of God to the ends of the earth. This is what constitutes Adam’s covenant responsibilities. Adam, however, was not tasked with this work indefinitely. There was a terminus to his covenantal labors.

—J. V. Fesko, Last Things First pg. 102


Merit is an important concept in the covenant of works. Some people have a problem simply with the idea of merit in man’s relationship to God. But we shouldn’t. Adam actually could fulfill the covenant. Sin was not a problem, yet. God gave terms, and Adam was able to obey.

Does this mean that Adam obligated God to reward his works? No. Merit is measured in terms of the covenant. God sets the conditions. Based on God’s conditions, Adam’s obedience would earn what God had determined as reward. Simple.

Michael Kruger says it the best: merit designed by God. Not general merit as in equality of the parties, but merit according to what God had set up. He designed that whole thing, so merit is according to God’s design (not apart from him).

“God therefore offers Adam life or death based upon his obedience or disobedience, the terms of the covenant agreement. God does not deal with Adam as if he were his equal but in terms of the covenantal agreement. One may properly call Adam’s state in the garden as one secured or lost by his own obedience or work.”

—J. V. Fesko, Last Things First pg. 108

The element of merit in the covenant of works is vital, for it directly impacts the work of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, and consequently the doctrine of justification.

2. Blessing: The Sabbath Rest

God’s pattern of work, completion of his work, and entering an unending rest from that work was a pattern for Adam. We don’t know details, but what we do know is that Adam’s state was not permanent. After fulfilling his covenant duty he would have entered into permanent Sabbath rest. Remember that the seventh day of the creation week did not end. Just as God finished his work and rested, so too would Adam.

Here’s a mind-blowing thought: there was eschatology before sin.

“We can say there was an eschatology before there was sin, that is, a glorious destiny was in view of which the tree of life in Genesis 2 was also a token.”

—Rowland Ward

There was the promise of eternal rest, patterned after God’s seventh day rest, and typified by the Tree of Life.

Remember that after Adam sinned, God prevented them from snatching from the Tree of Life. Evidently, the Tree of Life was held out for the future, when Adam had fulfilled his duty, and he would enter into eternal life for him and his progeny.

3. Curse: Death

Upon disobedience to the covenant, there is always a curse (or sanction). In this particular covenant, it was eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the penalty was death.

This is what actually happened, which we will deal with when we get to it.

When the covenant was broken (Adam failing to fulfill the stipulations), the covenant of works ended, and God promised a Redeemer. That is the beginning of a different covenant: the covenant of grace.

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Top Reads of 2015

It’s that time of year, again…

Here are my favorite books that I read this year.

Hearing God’s Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality by Peter Adam

This book is so needed. I think every Christian should eventually read this book. There’s so much “spirituality” wafting around, and we uncritically absorb unchristian ideas. Too many evangelicals haven’t the foggiest idea what biblical spirituality is. That’s why this book is so helpful.

What we describe as ‘heresies’ in the New Testament church can more accurately be described as ‘false spiritualities’. What happened at Corinth, Ephesus, Colossae and Galatia was not so much a clearly articulated ‘heresy’ as another spirituality, another way of living as a Christian, another way of praying, another way of relating to God. If this is the case, then the importance and relevance of studying the subject of spirituality will be obvious to all. Indeed people today also move form the purity of the Gospel because they adopt a different spirituality, more than because they adopt a different theology. (pg. 25)

Read more of my favorite excerpts.

Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis by Greg Bahnsen.

It’s a beast. It’s slow reading only because you can’t help but take notes every few lines. It’s that good.

Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman by John Meuther.

Apologetics is not an isolated discipline, and must not be practiced or even studied in isolation. Meuther is right to observe that when it comes to Van Til, we only look at his apologetic, and totally neglect the rest of him. But the rest was connected, indeed, resulted in his apologetic. And as James White has communicated, apologetics cannot be divorced from the church. Cornelius Van Til was the embodiment of that principle. He was an amazing apologist and a committed churchman. Van Til lived an absolutely amazing life. This is my favorite biography.

Biblical Logic: In Theory & Practice, by Joel McDurmon

Logic is a necessity, period. Even more, having the Christian perspective of logic is a necessity. It will affect our everyday life, and every conversation. This book is very approachable, with very good contemporary examples of fallacies. Christians need to be equipped to detect errors in reasoning always, and especially in apologetics. Conversation with an unbelieving perspective (or with anyone) can be simplified when one has been trained to detect simple fallacies. Also, it’s best the Christian not commit those same fallacies, and thereby discredit his claims for Christianity.

Put simply, the ethical Biblical basis for all of logic is the ninth commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Ex. 20:16). This command presupposes a few things—which I will discuss momentarily—but for now simplifies our understanding of logic. Logic is the systematic study and practice of discerning and telling the truth. . . . 

It is an ethical matter which we should approach as seriously as any other ethical matter.

—Joel McDurmon, Biblical Logic: In Theory & Practice, Kindle loc. 347-355

The Last Christian on Earth: Uncover the Enemy’s Plot to Undermine the Church and Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness

Os Guinness provides a much neglected component of apologetics. The tendency in all apologetic disciplines, I think, is to forget the sociological and cultural environment that people actually live in, so we forget about plausibility. We can err in approaching people as disconnected from their environment, as if the intellectual matter of Christianity can be considered in isolation. Both these books remind us that people do not live in the world of abstract ideas. They don’t live and move and have their being in academia. They’re people with families, work, and a culture. Christians are called to witness to people, and if we are to actually do that, we need to not only be students of Scripture and the intellectual challenges to Christianity, but students of people as well. (Fool’s Talk actually was published this year.)

The Sin of Man-Pleasing by Richard Baxter

Every Christian should read this book, especially in (evangelical) cultures where being a doormat is thought to be the greatest mark of Christian maturity. This is one of my favorite books by Baxter.

What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care? by Ed Welch

Best read after Baxter. This book brilliantly deals with how we are so often controlled by the opinions of others. I can’t recommend it enough.

The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth by Mike Cosper

The only negative thing I have to say is “spoiler alert!” Otherwise, Cosper does a great job of showing echoes of the Christian worldview in movies and TV. Christians are under the Lordship of Christ in all that we do and are to interpret everything by Scripture. This book helps us with what we watch.

Strange Fire by John MacArthur

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Very well researched. It hit me about halfway through it that this is actually an apologetics book. The Holy Spirit is God, so false doctrine concerning him must be challenged. And the case made from Scripture is excellent.

Ordinary by Michael Horton

This made it on the recommended reading list. That’s how good it is. Especially helpful to those burnt out from a perspective that places no value in normal, everyday life.

Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis with the Christ of Eschatology by J. V. Fesko

I picked this gem up at Westminster California and read it at the beach. I couldn’t put it down. This book offers helpful correction to how we approach the beginning of the Bible, and will have implications for your study of the rest of Scripture. I highly recommend this.

Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller

If you want to get nailed, read this book. Idolatry is sneaky and we need all the help we can get. I found this insight particularly helpful:

we should consider that counterfeit gods come in clusters, making the idolatry structure of the heart complex. There are “deep idols” within the heart beneath the more concrete and visible “surface idols” that we serve.

Sin in our hearts affects our basic motivational drives so they become idolatrous, “deep idols.” . . . Each deep idol — power, approval, comfort, or control — generates a different set of fears and a different set of hopes.

“Surface idols” are things such as money, our spouse, or children, through which our deep idols seek fulfillment.

—Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods pg. 63-64

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.

A complex, swashbuckling story. Definitely an endurance read.

Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero

Fascinating book, and very practical. Definitely one to re-read, regularly.

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The Covenant of Works

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”

So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He created them male and female.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”

So the heavens and the earth and everything in them were completed. By the seventh day God completed His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it He rested from His work of creation.

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”

—Genesis 1:26-28; 2:1-3, 15-17

Right here, in the beginning of the Bible, God reveals how he relates to his creation in general, and his image bearers in particular.

Covenantal Relationship with God

Westminster Confession of Faith 7: “Of God’s Covenant with Man”

1. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

2. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

Not all agree that God in fact made a covenant with Adam. This covenant of works is not universally recognized. Is this “covenant of works” a biblical fact?

Understanding what covenant is will be helpful.

Covenants in the Bible

Covenant is a big category in the Bible. It has been compared to the hidden structure of the house.

Covenants in Scripture are made between people, and between God and people. Covenant, without context, is an agreement between two parties. Covenant with God will have more nuance than that.

Two kinds of covenant between God and man are bilateral and unilateral. Bilateral means there’s conditions that need to be met. Unilateral means they’re completely on God’s side, he does all the fulfilling.

We use “covenant” at the concept level, meaning even if the word “covenant” is not present in the text. The word doesn’t need to be there; the characteristics of covenant are there. That’s a common challenge to the covenant of works in the Garden, “The word is not there.” That’s okay. Later Scriptures will refer back to something and use the word covenant. It doesn’t need to use the word covenant at that time for it to be there.

Structure of the Covenants

Covenants in Scripture bear many similarities with ancient near-eastern covenants (Fesko, Last Things First pg. 78). Michael Horton, following Meredith Kline, makes a big deal of the similarities between ancient Hittite (Suzerin-vassal) treaties and the covenants in Scripture. Meredith Kline was not the first to see this, so it’s not a novel idea. Many have noticed that the structure of Old Testament covenants matched ancient Near-eastern treaties, especially Hittite. This is especially true of the Ten Commandments, the covenant made at Sinai. The features of these treaties are: Prologue of history of relationship between the two parties, stipulations (requirements), blessings and curses.

Meredith Kline’s belief was that God put his structure of covenant in language that the people would understand. We can understand that.

A very interesting feature of near-eastern covenants is covenant documents. There was always a written form of the treaty; drawing up the terms. Always a covenant document that goes with the covenant made. Two copies were made (Suzerin, vassal), kept in their respective temples of worship.

That is another parallel! With God’s covenant at Sinai, there were two tablets. How do we usually think of the two tablets? In pictures, there’s five commandments on one,and five on the other. As if God couldn’t fit them all, write smaller, whatever. However, it is likely that each tablet has all ten. God’s copy, and the people’s copy. Two copies of the covenant terms, kept in the ark as a testimony to the people. God testifies to the terms of the covenant. According to Michael Kruger, this has been observed by Old Testament scholars for generations.

The significance of this is that the people would have been expecting a covenant document when God made/expanded the covenant throughout history. In the New Testament as well, Christians would have expected new word-revelation to come with the new covenant that Jesus said he made, meaning that the New Testament was expected. Canon was not an early church invention. When you have a new covenant established, you have new documents to accompany it.

Evidence for Covenant in the Garden

“This is what the Lord says: If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night so that day and night cease to come at their regular time, then also My covenant with My servant David may be broken so that he will not have a son reigning on his throne, and the Levitical priests will not be My ministers.”

—Jeremiah 33:20-21

When God creates, it is covenantal. Despite the lack of the word “covenant” in the creation account, it is revealed in Jeremiah that there is covenantal activity going on. The absence of a word doesn’t mean the doctrine is not present. We operate on the concept level, not the word level.

Evidence in Genesis 1-3

The Holy Spirit was present, and in the Bible the Spirit is witness to covenantal activity. (Fesko, Last Things First pg. 84)

The exodus, the baptism of Christ, and the consummation. And in the beginning we see the Spirit of God brooding over the deep.

Other evidence is the presence of sanctions. In Genesis 2:16-17 the language parallels Mosaic commands:

Genesis 2:17 You shall not eat

Exodus 20:13-15 You shall not murder (commit adultery, steal, etc.)

The Trees of Life and Knowledge: Covenant Signs and Seals

They closely parallel the signs of the Abrahamic, Noahic, and Mosaic covenants. Circumcision, the rainbow, and the Sabbath. They are visual reminders of the covenant, blessing and curse, the promise of life or death.

The term sacrament . . . includes, generally, all the signs which God ever commanded men to use, that he might make them sure and confident of the truth of his promises. These he was pleased sometimes to place in natural objects—sometimes to exhibit in miracles. Of the former class we have an example, in his giving the tree of life to Adam and Eve, as an earnest of immortality, that they might feel confident of the promise as often as they ate of the fruit. Another example was, when he gave the bow in the cloud to Noah and his posterity, as a memorial that he would not again destroy the earth by a flood. These were to Adam and Noah as sacraments: not that the tree could give Adam and Eve the immortality which it could not give to itself; or the bow (which is only a reflection of the solar rays on the opposite clouds) could have the effect of confining the waters; but they had a mark engraven on them by the word of God, to be proofs and seals of his covenant.

—John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.14.18

Even though there is no explicit prohibition to Adam eating from the Tree of Life, it’s obvious that the “…the use of the tree was reserved for the future…” (Vos, Biblical Theology pg. 27-28)

Jewish literature/apocrypha also recognized a covenant in the Garden.

Evidence from the rest of Scripture

Genesis 6:18, God establishes the covenant with Noah, and this is the first use of the word “covenant” in Scripture. There’s an important contrast with Genesis 15:18, the “cutting” of the covenant with Abraham.

But I will establish My covenant with you, and you will enter the ark with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives. —Genesis 6:18

On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram —Genesis 15:18

With Noah, what we see is the continuation of a preexisting covenant. There is an absence of covenant initiation language, which is present in the Abraham text.

It is very interesting that there are two ways of speaking about the making of a covenant in the Pentateuch and elsewhere in the Old Testament.  One can speak of making a covenant firm.  Sometimes your translations translate that as “establishing a covenant” and one way is to speak of  “cutting a covenant.”  The one, the latter, the cutting of the covenant, often refers to the inauguration of the covenant.  The other phrase often refers to the confirming of an already established covenant relationship, to make that covenant firm.  Is it not interesting to you that in Genesis 6:18, the passage says that the covenant was made firm?  Now that is the first usage of “Covenant” in the Bible.  But the very language forces you to understand that there was a covenant before it was mentioned.  And the only question is, how far back did it go?  Now we will look at that passage in detail because that is important.  But it is very important for us to understand that the whole structure of the covenant of God with Noah implies with massive force that it is a continuation of a previously established relationship.

—J. Ligon Duncan, Covenant Theology (transcript)

Genesis 9 – dominion mandate reiterated

God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. 2 The fear and terror of you will be in every living creature on the earth, every bird of the sky, every creature that crawls on the ground, and all the fish of the sea. They are placed under your authority.

But you, be fruitful and multiply; spread out over the earth and multiply on it.”

—Genesis 9:1-2, 7

Hosea 6:7

But they, like Adam, have violated the covenant;
there they have betrayed Me.

There’s dispute over the translation of the Hebrew word for Adam or man, the other option resulting in “they, like man, have violated the covenant.” Contextually what is highlighted is specific, not general. Warfield comments in the text:

God in his great goodness had planted Adam in Paradise, but Adam violated the commandment which prohibited his eating of the tree of knowledge, and thereby transgressed the covenant of his God. Loss of fellowship with God and expulsion from Eden were the penal consequences that immediately followed. Israel like Adam had been settled by God in Palestine, the glory of all lands; but ungrateful for God’s great bounty and gracious gift, they broke the covenant of their God, the condition of which, as in the case of the Adamic covenant, was obedience.

—B. B. Warfield, “Hosea 6.7” pg. 128-29

Romans 5:12-19

Paul says that Adam was a type of the one who was to come.

Is one to conclude that Christ as the antitype merited the salvation within a covenantal context but that Adam, the type, was not in such a context?

—Fesko, Last Things First pg. 92

Christ was the mediator of a covenant, so Adam too was in a covenantal context. Both impute. Both have that headship, federal, representative relationship to “descendants.”

There’s the evidence. There was a covenant made by God with Adam in the Garden. We call this the “Covenant of Works.”

Now, what is it?

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The First Adam

Adam’s Role

Why was Adam in the Garden? This relates to a question from last time: why is Adam the image of God? We made the case before that “image of God” is primarily functional, and this corroborates the case for the Garden as being God’s first temple.

“The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.”

—Genesis 2:15

I don’t know about you, but I have always read this as meaning “farming.” I was always taught that, as well. “It’s a garden. Obviously Adam had gardening to do.” And that was pretty much it.

However, what I didn’t know (not knowing the Hebrew terms) is that the same language is used for the work of the priests in the tabernacle: keep guard and minister.

“the only other passages in the Pentateuch where these verbs are used together are to be found in Num. 3:7-8, 8:26, 18:5-6, of the Levites’ duties in guarding and ministering in the sanctuary. If Eden is seen then as an ideal sanctuary, then perhaps Adam should be described as an archetypal Levite.”

–Wenham, “Sanctuary Symbolism” pg. 401

Indeed. Fesko says, “Read within the greater context of Scripture, Adam’s responsibilities in the garden are primarily priestly rather than agricultural.” (Fesko, Last Things First pg. 71)

The Dominion Mandate

Cultivating and guarding is a parallel expression for the mandate of subduing and ruling from Genesis chapter 1.

Managing the sacred space would logically include teaching God’s law, what God has verbally revealed up to this point. Now, if Adam and Eve were to multiply as commanded, what would Adam obviously need to do for his children? Teach, fulfilling the prophetic office.

And as the population grew, the garden would not be able to contain them all. The garden is distinguished from the rest of the earth at that time, so the garden itself would have to be spread, until the whole earth was filled and cultivated.

Remember, the rest of the landscape was uncultivated! And the Garden was the place of God’s presence, where man could walk with God. God commanded Adam to exercise dominion over the earth. Naturally, the Garden was not to remain static, but was to be spread until the whole earth was the temple. Man as the vice-regent, image of God, was to “presence” (verb) God, represent God’s rule throughout all of his creation. Can anyone detect hints of eschatology? In that way, dominion over the creation would be exercised, ruling and subduing.

No, Adam was not just a farmer.

This “ruling” and “subduing” “over all the earth” is plausibly part of a functional definition of the divine image in which Adam was made, though there is likely an additional ontological aspect of the “image” by which humanity was enabled to reflect the functional image. Just as God subdued the chaos, ruled over it, and created and filled the earth with all kinds of animate life, so Adam and Eve were to reflect God’s activities in Genesis 1 by fulfilling the commission to “subdue” and “rule over all the earth” and “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:26, 28). . . .

Adam, however, failed in the task with which he was commissioned. He did not guard the Garden but allowed entrance to a foul snake that brought sin, chaos and disorder into the sanctuary and into Adam and Eve’s lives. He allowed the Serpent to “rule over” him rather than “ruling over” it and casting it out of the Garden. Rather than extending the divine presence of the garden sanctuary, Adam and Eve were expelled from it.

—G. K. Beale, “Garden Temple” pg. 2, 4

What about Us?

The most common application from the Garden narrative would be about work. But that is only secondary, so we’ll look at it first.

Secondarily: Vocation

Yes, work was pre-Fall. So it is true that work is not evil, despite what we might feel half the time. And we should remember that work will continue into eternity. Remember that it was the entrance of sin that made work a pain; “thorns and thistles the ground shall bring forth.”

Even though Adam’s work was in his office of Prophet, Priest, and King, I think it’s perfectly legitimate to get some biblical view of vocation from this text, along with the rest of Scripture (such as Paul’s “don’t work, don’t eat” warning).

But that is not the primary relevance of this text to us.

Primarily: Spreading the Kingdom

All of the descendants of Adam to which this dominion mandate was passed on to failed in carrying it out. Noah, Abraham, corporate Israel in the wilderness, the kingdom of Israel, pre- and post-exile. Only one son of Adam, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, succeeded.

And what has he commissioned us, to do? What we call the “great” commission.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

—Matthew 28:18-20

Notice any similarities with the dominion mandate? We are to be witnesses, and multiply!

We cannot fulfill the covenant of works. That is why we need Christ. The exhortation that can be drawn from this text is often “do work!” But that’s improper. We cannot simply move horizontally from this text to us, and imitate Adam. There’s two barriers to that kind of application: the Fall, and Jesus Christ. First, the Fall messes the whole thing up. Adam actually could have fulfilled the dominion mandate. But he didn’t, and as a result, we who have come after him carry that guilt. Our federal head sinned, so we all sinned. We are all guilty of breaking the covenant of works. Also, due to the principle of sin at war within us, we cannot hope to fulfill the dominion mandate.

We are in need of another representative. Hence, the second thing that comes in between the original context and ours: Jesus Christ. Christ did not just pay the penalty for sin, receiving the judgment that we deserve; passive obedience. Christ also fulfilled what was left undone; active obedience. Christ, the last Adam, is the Prophet, Priest, and King.

Christ, the True Temple

What does this have to do with the Temple? Christ is the Temple. Christ is God’s presence on earth. John himself opens his Gospel by saying that “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14)! Christ is God incarnate. He is the cornerstone of the temple. He is what all the previous temples where pointing forward to! “We beheld his glory.” “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19-22). Christ is the greater temple, the true temple! Sin is now atoned for in Christ, and not once every year but once and for all. The Garden Temple of Eden is the first of many pictures in the Old Testament, Christ is the substance.

That’s a huge reason, by the way, to not be looking for another “picture”, another temple in Jerusalem, in the future. We already have the substance, Jesus Christ.

Secondly, the Church is the Temple

When we are united to Christ by the Holy Spirit, we become part of the temple.

Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you?

Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?

—1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19

And what agreement does God’s sanctuary have with idols? For we are the sanctuary of the living God, as God said:

I will dwell among them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be My people.

—2 Corinthians 6:16

The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.

—Ephesians 2:21-22

you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

—1 Peter 2:5

Then I was given a measuring reed like a rod, with these words: “Go and measure God’s sanctuary and the altar, and count those who worship there. 2 But exclude the courtyard outside the sanctuary. Don’t measure it, because it is given to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for 42 months. 3 I will empower my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth.”

—Revelation 11:1-3

Where is God’s special, unique presence on earth, today? Christ, the true temple, is not here. He’s at the right hand of the father. So, where is God’s presence made uniquely manifest on earth now? In us. We are in dwelt by the Holy Spirit. Revelation tells us that the churches are lamp stands. Lamp stands are temple furniture.

The Dominion Mandate isn’t primarily about us and our work, some general theology of vocation, because Christ did what the first Adam failed at and continues to dominate. Now we who have faith in Christ, being united to him, are co-laborers with Christ, and we are spreading the Kingdom in all that we do. We don’t merely work (get a job) because work is pre-Fall. We do all that we do to spread the rule of God, as Christ’s bride (as Eve was the helpmate of Adam).

We are the bride, the helpmate; co-heirs and co-laborers with Christ.

Why work? Witness.

We briefly observed above that Abraham’s descendants were to be a renewed humanity. They were to bear God’s image and “fill the earth” with children who also bore that image, being beacons of light to others living in spiritual darkness. They were to be God’s instruments through whom God caused the light of his presence to shine in dark hearts of people in order that they too might become part of the increasing expansion of the temple’s sacred space and of the kingdom. This is none other than performing the role of “witness” to God throughout the earth.

In fact, we can speak of Genesis 1:28 as the first “Great Commission” that was repeatedly applied to humanity. The commission was to bless the earth, and part of the essence of this blessing was God’s salvific presence. Before, the “Fall,” Adam and Eve were to produce progeny who would fill the earth with God’s glory being reflected from each of them in the image of God. After the “Fall,” a remnant, created by God in his restored image, was to go out and spread God’s glorious presence among the rest of darkened humanity. This “witness” was to continue until the entire world would be filled with divine glory.

—G. K. Beale, “Garden Temple” pg. 24

Remember that Christ is making a new humanity. Re-creation has begun and Christ is the true vice-regent, perfectly exercising dominion, as his enemies are continually being put under his feet. The new creation, God’s kingdom, Christ’s reign is already, but not yet. It has broken in to this evil age, but is not yet here in it’s fullness. Christ is advancing his new creational rule.

In Genesis 1-2 we have the old creation which is damaged by the Fall in chapter 3. Now, because of Christ’s work, the new creation has begun. A new temple, Jesus Christ, and a new people. Just as in the old creation, man was mandated to spread God’s presence to encompass the whole earth, so with the in-breaking of the new creation there is the commission to spread the salvific presence of God to all nations.

We can obey with confidence, because all authority has been given to Jesus Christ, therefore he commanded us to go and make disciples. Remember what he said after, “I will be with you always.” See, God’s presence. We spread God’s presence throughout the earth. Christ prayed this, that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Christ expands to the whole earth his resurrection presence through us, his disciples.

Furthermore, we can obey this commission with confidence because we have the end of the story. The consummation of all things has been revealed to us. And we know already that God’s presence will fill the earth, and his new, special people will be complete. “God will be among them.” We will finally, at that time, perfectly image our God.

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A Garden in Eden

 These are the records of the heavens and the earth, concerning their creation at the time that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. No shrub of the field had yet grown on the land, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not made it rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground. But water would come out of the ground and water the entire surface of the land. Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.

The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He placed the man He had formed. The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A river went out from Eden to water the garden. From there it divided and became the source of four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon, which flows through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. Gold from that land is pure; bdellium and onyx are also there. The name of the second river is Gihon, which flows through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris, which runs east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”

—Genesis 2:4-17

Let’s look at what the text says about the landscape, so far. The account distinguishes a place in Eden from the surrounding landscape. Notice: “No shrub of the field had yet grown on the land, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not made it rain on the land.”

Does this mean simply that there’s no general vegetation? No,

“. . . even greater specificity is attainable. The phrase, s ́îah.-has ́s ́a-deh, [shrub of the field] refers to the wild vegetation that grows spontaneously after the onset of the rainy season, and e-s ́ eb-has ́s ́a-deh [plant of the field] refers to cultivated grains.

At the end of the dry season and after five months of drought the hills of Israel are as dry as dust, and the vegetation is brown. The farmer’s field is as hard as iron, so plowing and planting are impossible. Then come the rains, resulting in the hills of the steppe being clothed with verdure (Job 38:25-27). The rains also soften the soil and allow the farmer to plow and plant (see Ps 65:9-10). It is in this

geographical context that we must understand s ́îah. -has ́s ́a-deh and e-s ́eb-has ́s ́a-deh.”

—Mark Futato, “Because it Had Rained” pg. 2

This is the consistent use of these phrases in the Old Testament. The confirmation of this use in verse 5, is the second half of verse 5. Mark Futato succintly puts it:

“There was no vegetation that springs up spontaneously as a result of the rains, because there was no rain. And there was no cultivated grain, because there was no cultivator.” —Ibid., pg. 4

God also sends rain. The presence of the river flowing from Eden confirms the presence of rain.

Very quickly, notice the polemical edge: God is the one who does and does not send rain, not Baal, the storm-god of Canaan where the Israelites where heading and would be tempted to worship.

No spontaneous vegetation because it had not rained, no cultivated plants because there’s no cultivator; so God made rain clouds rise to water the whole surface of the ground, and made man the cultivator. Two problems, two solutions. That’s the logical structure of the text.

It’s so simple. Yet, I used to think there was no rain before the flood.

Notice what this must mean about the creation of Adam: this barren landscape is where God made man, “from the dust of the earth.” God then places the man somewhere else. If the landscape is lacking in cultivated plants, how would man survive?

There’s a location that stands out, which is distinct from the rest of the landscape.

“The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east . . . The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

There’s the distinction: a garden. I used to think, for some reason, that the whole planet was a garden. But, how could this garden actually be identified, if the whole planet was a garden (on top of the segment we already examined). “There’s a garden in the east” would be nonsense if the whole planet, east and west, north and south, was all garden-like. In contrast to the surrounding area, where “No shrub of the field had yet grown on the land, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted”, God here, in Eden, “caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food.” Quite the oasis. Why the extravagant provision? It’s hospitable, in contrast to the rest of the area. Human beings can live there.

Naturally, it follows “…and there He placed the man He had formed.” Man’s got to eat. But the garden is not merely functional. It’s not “just” a garden, and man’s purpose there is not “just” a gardener.

The Garden is a Temple.

A Temple

The temple is the special place of meeting with God. It’s the place of God’s special presence. The Bible teaches that God is omnipresent, meaning not God is not localized anywhere. He is not physically bound to a certain space. All of creation is in his presence. Yet, what the Bible also clearly demonstrates is that God makes himself uniquely, specially manifest. And the locations where God does that have certain characteristics in common, throughout Scripture. The temple is the place where God meets man.

The Garden served as the first temple, where God fellowships with man. Let’s look at the identifying marks of temples in Scripture so we can see that the Garden in Eden was just that.

Located in the East

Ezekiel gives significance to the “East” in connection with God’s special presence:

The glory of the Lord rose up from within the city and stood on the mountain east of the city.

—Ezekiel 11:23

He led me to the gate, the one that faces east, and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice sounded like the roar of mighty waters, and the earth shone with His glory. The vision I saw was like the one I had seen when He came to destroy the city, and like the ones I had seen by the Chebar Canal. I fell facedown. The glory of the Lord entered the temple by way of the gate that faced east.

—Ezekiel 43:1-4

The man then brought me back toward the sanctuary’s outer gate that faced east, and it was closed. The Lord said to me: “This gate will remain closed. It will not be opened, and no one will enter through it, because the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered through it. Therefore it will remain closed.

—Ezekiel 44:1-2

The East holds special significance.

Mountain Top

The Garden is elevated. There’s no explicit reference in the text. However, we catch this when we read that a river flowed out of Eden, and water only runs downhill. We also get more from Ezekiel, again, who refers to it as “the holy mountain of God.” In his lament for the king of Tyre, Ezekiel said:

You were in Eden, the garden of God. . . .
You were on the holy mountain of God . . .

So I expelled you in disgrace
from the mountain of God

—Ezekiel 28:13-14, 16

Think of other places of God’s special presence and meeting with people. Mount Sinai, or Horeb. Mount Zion. John himself gets taken to a mountain top to the see the New Jerusalem. Scripture clearly makes connections between God’s presence, temples, and temple’s on top of mountains.

River of Eden

Scripture also demonstrates a connection with a river and the temple.

There is a river—
its streams delight the city of God

—Psalm 46:4

Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple and there was water flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the temple faced east. The water was coming down from under the south side of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. . . .

“This water flows out to the eastern region and goes down to the Arabah. When it enters the sea, the sea of foul water, the water of the sea becomes fresh. Every kind of living creature that swarms will live wherever the river flows, and there will be a huge number of fish because this water goes there. Since the water will become fresh, there will be life everywhere the river goes. . . .

All kinds of trees providing food will grow along both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. Each month they will bear fresh fruit because the water comes from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be used for food and their leaves for medicine.”

—Ezekiel 47:1, 8-9, 12

The prophet Joel also connect water with the temple: “a spring will issue from the Lord’s house.” (3:18)

Parellel is Zechariah 14:8, “On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem.”

The most obvious of this imagery is in Revelation 22:1-3

Then he showed me the river of living water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the broad street of the city. The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him.


There’s connections between the Law of God, which is always present in the Temple, and the Tree of Knowledge. Touch it, you die (as with the Ark of the Covenant that contained the commandments). The tree could well serve as a visible representation of God’s Law. This is likely, given that the two trees where seals of God’s covenant with Adam, containing both blessing and curse (for disobedience).

There is also a connection between the lamp stand and the Tree of Life. The lamp stand, or menorah, that God commanded be made for the Tabernacle looked like a tree.

“You are to make a lampstand out of pure, hammered gold. It is to be made of one piece: its base and shaft, its ornamental cups, and its calyxes and petals. Six branches are to extend from its sides, three branches of the lampstand from one side and three branches of the lampstand from the other side. There are to be three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with a calyx and petals, on the first branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with a calyx and petals, on the next branch. It is to be this way for the six branches that extend from the lampstand. There are to be four cups shaped like almond blossoms on the lampstand shaft along with its calyxes and petals. For the six branches that extend from the lampstand, a calyx must be under the first pair of branches from it, a calyx under the second pair of branches from it, and a calyx under the third pair of branches from it. Their calyxes and branches are to be of one piece. All of it is to be a single hammered piece of pure gold.

“Make seven lamps on it. Its lamps are to be set up so they illuminate the area in front of it. Its snuffers and firepans must be of pure gold. The lampstand with all these utensils is to be made from 75 pounds of pure gold.

—Exodus 25:31-39

There you have a gold tree, complete with branches, buds, and almond flowers. The lamp stand was near the holy of holies in the tabernacle and temple. Jewish literature says the tree of life was near God’s throne in Eden. The final place we see the Tree of Life is near God’s throne:

The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations.

—Revelation 22:2, 14

There were obviously other trees in the Garden of Eden:

The cedars in God’s garden could not rival it;
the pine trees couldn’t compare with its branches,
nor could the plane trees match its boughs.
No tree in the garden of God
could compare with it in beauty.
I made it beautiful with its many limbs,
and all the trees of Eden,
which were in God’s garden, envied it.

—Ezekiel 31:8-9

Recall how the temple was decorated? Carvings of flowers, pomegranates, and palm trees.

The cedar paneling inside the temple was carved with ornamental gourds and flower blossoms. . . .

He carved all the surrounding temple walls with carved engravings—cherubim, palm trees and flower blossoms—in both the inner and outer sanctuaries. . . .

The two doors were made of olive wood. He carved cherubim, palm trees, and flower blossoms on them and overlaid them with gold, hammering gold over the cherubim and palm trees.

—1 Kings 6:18, 29, 32

The Cherubim

Cherubim guard temples throughout the Bible.

In Solomon’s temple:

In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim 15 feet high out of olive wood. . . . Then he put the cherubim inside the inner temple. Since their wings were spread out, the first one’s wing touched one wall while the second cherub’s wing touched the other wall, and in the middle of the temple their wings were touching wing to wing. He also overlaid the cherubim with gold.

—1 Kings 6:23-28

Remember also that two gold cherubim sit on top of the ark of the covenant. They are also woven in the 10 curtains of the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:1) and carved in the walls of the temple. Cherubim are in the temples, and are described as being in the garden and surrounding the throne of God (in Ezekiel and Revelation). Of course, after the Fall the cherubim move to the east entrance of the Garden to guard it. It is interesting to note that cherubim woven on the veil also “guard” the holy of holies (Exodus 26:31). Could the Garden have been a holy of holies? It was indeed the place of direct access to God’s presence, the fall resulting in banishment from that place. Thereafter, only the high priest could come before God, and only once a year (after atonement had been made for himself), and access to the Father only being restored in Christ, who tore that veil.

God’s Presence

God walked in the Garden, just as he later walked in the tabernacle and moved among his people.

The Construction

God’s detailed creation account, spanned out for us in Genesis 1, hints that the Garden is a temple

A fascinating similarity is between the 7 day creation account and the 7 speech instruction for constructing the tabernacle in Exodus 25-27:19. Both the account of God creating the world and the construction of the tabernacle end with the Sabbath; God institutes the Sabbath rest in Exodus 31:12-17, and God rests after the construction of his special dwelling place in Exodus 40:35 just as he rested after creating his special dwelling in the Garden. Rabbinic interpreters also see the similarities here, so this is not a novel interpretation (Fesko, Last Things First pg. 68-69).

Take note that all of this is a cumulative, exegetical argument for the Garden of Eden being the first temple. The Garden of Eden was not merely a garden for cultivation.

As I mentioned, understanding the Garden of Eden as a temple or sanctuary is not a novel or new concept.

And he knew that the garden of Eden was the holy of holies and the dwelling of the Lord. And Mount Sinai was in the midst of the desert and Mount Zion was in the midst of the navel of the earth. The three of these were created as holy places, one facing the other.

—Jubilees 8.19-20 (c. 75-50 BC)

The reason we spent so much time building the case for the Garden as a Temple is because it is the context for Adam. That is where God placed the man. If the Garden was more than just a garden, that adds a whole other dimension to the dominion mandate and the Fall. It necessarily affects how we view Adam, how we view God’s mandate to Adam, and everything that happens in these early chapters of Genesis. Because it shapes who Adam is and what he was supposed to do, it necessarily will affect how we see the last Adam, and what he was supposed to do. The Garden as Temple will also affect our eschatology. Perhaps some might now question the belief that the restoration of all things means bringing everyone back to an agricultural, farming society for all eternity!

Eschatologically, the image we are given of the New Jerusalem is a city, a garden-city. We recall a related historical detail about the ancient city of Babylon. One of the wonders of the ancient world was the hanging gardens at the center of the city, where the temple was. Scripture typifies Babylon as the city of man against God. G. K. Beale relates that to Revelation, where we see an antithesis to Babylon, the city-temple-garden, illuminated by God, descending from heaven; (which is also a cube, just like the holy of holies).

All this evidence together shows us that the Garden of Eden was the first temple.

Further reading:

Garden Temple” by G. K. Beale

9 Reasons The Garden Of Eden Was A Temple

The Temple of Eden

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Let Us Make Man in Our Image

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”

So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He created them male and female.

—Genesis 1:26-27

In order to understand what it means for man to be made in God’s image, we will need to know what God has revealed about himself.

Plurality of God

First is the question of the plurality in this text. Notice that God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” What is that about? Here are some views:

Heavenly Court – I have never personally held this view. The reason is simple: man was not created in the image of angels, and the court did not participate in the creative act of man.

Plural of Majesty – this is what I gravitated towards, in keeping with the original context only, and not allowing for any development of meaning. Other ancient writings employ this device when royalty is speaking. I was thinking that it couldn’t mean the Trinity, because that’s a New Testament thing.

Trinity – I never used to grant this. It was typically used as a quick reference to support the Trinity. But certainly the Trinity is not what the plurality in Genesis meant, right? Not necessarily. Apparently, Jewish commentators recognized the tension between the singular subject and the plural verb, and sought to eliminate the plurality! They did not resolve the tension with the “plural of majesty” explanation. In fact, the “plural of majesty” was first used by the Persians, long after the writing of Genesis.

Hence, Moses and the Israelites likely recognized this tension as well.

This doesn’t mean Moses and the people understood the full implications of this revelation, so does that remove the Trinity as the meaning of the plurality in this text?

If we were relying on merely the human author, then yes. However, is there only a human author of Scripture? No. The ultimate author is God. And God often revealed more to his prophets than they understood. We must remember that revelation is progressive. And the revelation of God as unity and plurality, triune, is progressive from Old Testament to New Testament. Scripture can have a sensus plenior (fuller meaning), despite the limited understanding of the original audience. Indeed, we should expect that, given that the New Testament provides clearer understanding of the Old Testament.

So, reading Genesis from the New Testament perspective, Genesis 1:26 is a reference to the Trinity. Indeed, Genesis 1:2 mentions the Holy Spirit, and Colossians 1:16-17 says Jesus was Creator. We know that God is triune, and the Triune God said let “us” make man in “our” image.

Image and Likeness of God

What exactly is the “image of God” that man is? What does “image” mean, and is it different from “likeness”? This has to be one of the hardest theological questions. There are many possible explanations

Here are some choices, laid out by J.V. Fesko in Last Things First pg. 46. Some of which you may be familiar with.

1. Image and likeness are distinct, they mean different things. Image refers to the natural qualities of man (e.g. reason, personality) while likeness refers to the supernatural graces that make redeemed man godlike. This was the view of the early church.

2. The mental and spiritual faculties that man has in common with God, such as intellectual and moral abilities, and original righteousness.

3. A physical resemblance, namely, that man looks like God.

4. Man rules on earth as God rules over the creation.

5. Man’s ability to relate to God.

6. Man’s ability to create in an analogical fashion like God.

Which is it? Or, are several of these explanations necessarily mutually exclusive? Perhaps, more than one of the options fits the text?

It is important to note that the Hebrew words translated “image” and “likeness” are used interchangeably in the Bible. Also, man had no need of redemption when he was created, so grace toward redeemed man cannot be part of the definition of the image of God. That eliminates the first option. And no, we don’t physically resemble God, because God is spirit. Option three is out.

The rest of the options are all possibilities, together. J.V. Fesko says,

“It seems plausible, though, that God’s image is a combination of options 2, 4, 5, and 6, with option 4 having primary emphasis. This combination appears to be the definition stated in verse 26b when God gives man dominion over the creation. One finds the image of God primarily in man’s role as God’s vice-regent over the creation, and secondarily in his mental and spiritual faculties, his ability to relate to God, and ability to create like God.” –pg. 47

Hoekema says,

“involving both the structure of man (his gifts, capacities, and endowments) and the functioning of man (his actions his relationships to God and to others, and the way he uses his gifts). To stress either of these at the expense of the other is to be one-sided. … To see man as the image of God is to see both the task and the gifts. But the task is primary; the gifts are secondary. The gifts are the means for fulfilling the task.”

The ruling task as primary makes sense even in light of eschatology, since we will rule with God.

Let’s refer to the ever-helpful Westminster Confession of Faith, 4.2:

“After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it…”

Now, recall one of the purposes of the Genesis creation account, as a polemic. So how does this story of God’s creation of man in his image, having dominion over the earth, compare with the original theological/religious context? How is it an alternative story?

And, how will the original historical context help us understand what man made in God’s image meant to the original hearers of Genesis?

Egyptian inscriptions describe man being made in the image of the god Re, formed by the potter Khum, and given life by the breath of Re or Hekat. A different account has man made by the tears of Atum. Man made in the image of the god showed his rule over them. This also is the basis for a man being king.

According to Mesopotamian creation accounts, man is typically said to be formed from the blood of a god mixed with clay. Other times, man comes out of the ground or is shaped in molds. In the Enuma Elish, man is created to work for the gods, because the gods are tired. Man is merely a slave.

Fesko also notes that in Egypt and Mesopotamia the ruling monarchs were said to be god’s image. The name Tutankhamen in Egypt literally means “the living image of the god Amun.” It was common practice for ancient kings to set up images of themselves to illustrate their rule over that land; the image of the king represented their rule. G.K. Beale says, “Likewise, Adam was created as the image of the divine king to indicate that earth was ruled over by Yahweh.” (“Garden Temple”, pg. 5)

“So, then, against the backdrop of the literature of the ancient Near East we obtain a window through wich we can capture some of the significance of man’s creation in the image of God. The triune God created man in his image primarily to rule over the earth, endowing him with many other God-like qualities, to indicate that God ruled over the creation. He also created man in community, male and female, to reflect the divine community of the Trinity.”

–J.V. Fesko, Last Things First pg. 49

The original religious context gives us significant insight into how the Israelites would have understood “image of God.” They were more than familiar with the Egyptian Pharaoh’s identification with deity. Moses himself was in that royal family. Imagine, then, after seeing the true God Yahweh defeat the god’s of Egypt by the plagues, and delivering you out of 400 years of slavery, you then hear that man, mankind, is made in the image and likeness of God! It’s not just the king who represents the ruling presence of God, but it is all mankind. Every human being. Not just king, but slave. And not just man, but woman also. What a revolutionary perspective.

“All mankind, not just one king (as in Egypt), are intermediaries between God and creation, representing and ruling for God in his image.”

–Miller and Soden, In the Beginning. . . We Misunderstood pg. 104

In the biblical creation account man also works in obedience to God. Man serves. But in contrast to the Mesopotamian creation account, humans are not relieving the gods of work that they are tired of doing. Man is not made as a slave to relieve the gods’ burden. God has made man in his image, and Adam served God as a king and priest in his presence.

The implications for king-worship would be significant as well. Ancient kings who associated with diety demanded to be worshiped. We have several examples throughout the Bible of those who fear God refusing to bow down to kings.

Other aspects of the image of God, such as man’s reason and creativity, can be seen as well. There are far reaching implications for a Christian view of art, reasoning, etc. We’ll touch that later.

Apex of Creation

“Among creatures, only man is the image of God, God’s highest and richest self-revelation and consequently the head and crown of the whole creation, the imago Dei and the epitome of nature, both mikrotheos (microgod) and mikrokosmos (microcosm).”

–Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics vol. 2, God and Creation pg. 531

The repetition in Genesis 1:27 indicates that mankind, man and woman, created in the image of God, is the apex, the crown of creation. The creation of man is given a place of prominence, at the end of the creation narrative.

So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He created them male and female.

Put yourself in the place of the original hearers. Freshly delivered from polytheistic Egypt. Anyone ever seen pictures or statues of the Egyptian gods? What do they look like? What is their image and likeness?

Dog. Frog. Falcon. Bull. Animals are the images of the gods. What a contrast is the true revelation, God’s true representation of himself. Why are we forbidden to make an image of God? Because God has already made it. Us. Man is image of God. Man is God’s image, not the animals.

Thus man forms a unity of the material and spiritual world, a mirror of the universe, a connecting link, compendium, the epitome of all nature, a microcosm, and, precisely on that account, also the image and likeness of God, his son and heir, a micro-divine-being (mikrotheos). He is the prophet who explains God and proclaims his excellencies; he is the preist who consecrates himself with all that is created to God as a holy offering; he is the king who governs all things in justice and rectitude. And in all this he points to One who in a still higher and richer sense is the revelation and image of God, to him who is the only begotten of the Father, and the firstborn of all creatures. Adam, the son of God, was a type of Christ.

–Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics pg. 562

Christ, the image of the invisible God

Christ, who is the image of God. —2 Corinthians 4:4

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation. —Colossians 1:15

In keeping with the Christological focus of Scripture itself, we must understand the image of God in reference to Christ being the image of God. We cannot ignore what Paul says: he names Jesus Christ to be the image of God. Therefore, we are obligated to interpret the Genesis account of man made in God’s image in light of Christ, the image of God.

Fesko notes two important doctrinal points: (1) the image of Christ defines what man truly is supposed to be; and (2) it governs the goal of man’s redemption. (pg. 52)

Under the first point, we must acknowledge that Christology defines anthropology. The incarnate Christ defines what man is supposed to be. Jesus Christ is the perfect man.

How does Christ image God perfectly? He rules over creation. Adam, as we all know, failed to exercise dominion.

Under the second point, relating to man’s redemption, we take into account the fall. Yes, man was made in God’s image, but something happened after: the fall of man into sin. So, is man still the image of God? There is now the need for redemption, which there was not before. The image of God was not annihilated, but was damaged by sin. Calvin called it “frightful deformity.” So what does Christ as image of God have to do with our redemption? Paul calls Christ the last Adam. And remember what sanctification is: becoming more like Christ. Likeness to God. We are being restored.

For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son

—Romans 8:29

So it is written: The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, then the spiritual.

The first man was from the earth
and made of dust;
the second man is from heaven.
Like the man made of dust,
so are those who are made of dust;
like the heavenly man,
so are those who are heavenly.
And just as we have borne
the image of the man made of dust,
we will also bear
the image of the heavenly man.

Brothers, I tell you this: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and corruption cannot inherit incorruption.

—1 Corinthians 15:45-50

Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,

who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.
Instead He emptied Himself
by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man
in His external form,
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted Him
and gave Him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

—Philippians 2:5-11

The New Testament perspective on anthropology is clearly defined by Christology. Christ is the image of God, and we cannot possibly understand what it means to be made in God’s image, apart from Christ as the perfect man.

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Introducing Genesis, part 2

Part 1

Can you recall God’s interrogation of Job in chapter 38 the book of Job? God questions Job if he can say how God created! And can Job answer? No. The whole point of God’s questioning is to expose that Job does not know (and therefore cannot challenge God). He doesn’t know because God has not revealed it in special revelation.

The Genesis account doesn’t give us the scientific mechanism of creation. Rather, creation is described as what “seems to the popular eye to occur.” And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Does this mean we deny that the creation narrative is historical? Not at all. It is historical, it really happened, but it is not intended to give scientific information. Genesis is Scripture, correct? What is the intended teaching of God’s Word?

Q. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

–Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A 5

So why do so many people treat Genesis differently than the rest of the Bible?

Genesis is not primarily about general history of the world. It’s a selective history. It’s not a video recording of all history, capturing all the details. Obviously it isn’t, for where is Cain’s wife from? If we insist that all historical details are included in the Genesis account, then we’ve got problems. How could Cain build a “city” if only he and his wife lived there? The narrative doesn’t tell us everything there is to know. It tells us what is needed in God’s purpose of the text. It provides Redemptive History.

Hermeneutical Points:

Original Context

The original audience, the author(s) of the text, the intent of the author(s).

Who were the first listeners of the text? What was their background, their current situation? What questions would they need answered? Do you think they were asking how old the universe was?

What kind of literature is the creation narrative? Are we even supposed to interpret according to strict literalism? That would require zero figurative language (is that even possible?). Genre is vital to proper understanding of the text.

Do we expect a scientifically precise language to be used? All figures of speech would be out. The Bible uses common human expression. It’s not telling us astronomy. To try to ascertain the location of the earth, or it’s shape, is to misunderstand the purpose of the Bible.

For quite a while, evangelical Bible readers have come to these opening chapters with certain expectations, born out of a Western, modernist, scientific presupposition. The expectation is that this part of the Bible that tells us of God’s creating the world will tell us how he did it, and how long it took. What has been ignored is, what was the purpose of the text, as Moses gave it to the Israelites delivered from Egypt?

“Yes, I’m sure they were concerned about evolution, and God was giving them specific answers to modern scientific concerns.”


Indeed, the Bible gives answers, but it also corrects the questions we ask. The Bible is for our instruction, yet we are not the original recipients. We must put ourselves, as much as possible, in the place of the original hearers of the text we are studying. They were a particular people in a particular situation, and God was speaking into that context. On top of our sin and finitude, we are also prone to chronological snobbery. But, we must allow Scripture to shape even the questions we bring to it.

Here’s a taste of the original context of the first hearers of Genesis:

Pagan worldviews and creation myths. Where was Israel before receiving Genesis? Egypt. For how long? Four hundred years. God delivered them from a pagan nation, and they were going to claim a land that was occupied by, more pagans! Lots of unbelief surrounded them. Naturally, since the Hebrews alone were God’s people.

Perhaps that sheds light on the purpose of Genesis 1-3? What would God’s covenant people need to know, freshly redeemed from captivity?

Who is God, what is real, how do we know things, who are we, how should we live. Then, after hearing the creation narrative, they would be wondering why doesn’t that good creation, the garden, match our experience now? The account of the fall of man is given, explaining why the world is the way it is now.

The Genesis account can be understood more clearly in light of the background of the original hearers.

Scripture interprets Scripture (Analogy of Scripture)

 The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

–Westminster Confession of Faith 1.9

Christ and Redemptive History

Remember the Grammatical-Historical method of interpretation? It focuses on grammar, and interprets the text on it’s own merits.

The tendency is to isolate the text from the rest of Redemptive History, and not interpret the text in that larger context.

Rather, we should interpret with a Redemptive-Historical-Grammatical method, not limiting the meaning of a text based on its own merits but within the context of Redemptive History, based on its place in the timeline, and in light of Jesus Christ. We must interpret Genesis within the larger context of Redemptive History, including eschatology. Do we think this portion of Scripture can be properly understood when divorced from the rest of God’s Word?

We have the fullness of revelation. We have been provided the fuller meaning. We can understand Genesis better than the original audience, and even better than Moses, because we are looking back to the reality, while they only had types and shadows.

Christ himself said that our interpretation must be Christocentric. That is what the New Testament authors did. Our method of interpreting Genesis must be that of the the New Testament.

The big question is: what is the ultimate authority for determining a proper hermeneutic? What will be the bottom line to say “this is the correct way to do it”? According to what will you say, “that’s a correct hermeneutic” or “that’s a bad hermeneutic”?

Because of sin and our finitude, and the nature of special revelation, the only way to properly understand anything is to submit to God’s revealed perspective. This even applies to hermeneutics. It will be on God’s authority that we say “that’s a correct hermeneutic.” So the answer is: the Triune God speaking through His Word (the Bible) alone is the only infallible authority in our quest for a proper hermeneutic.

We aren’t trying to find length of days, or interpreting according to “science” (whatever that happens to mean at the time). Christ interpreted, starting with Moses, the things concerning himself. The Apostle’s interpreted that way. That’s what we must do. Yes, Genesis obviously has implications for science, but the primary meaning of Genesis, like all of Scripture, is Jesus Christ.

This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.

–Westminster Confession of Faith 7.5 (God’s Covenant with Man)

Do we think that we can properly understand the first Adam, without reference to the last Adam?

Do we think we can understand the creation without considering the new creation?

We read “in the beginning God created . . .” but then in the New Testament it is revealed that “the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

He was with God in the beginning.

All things were created through Him,

and apart from Him not one thing was created

that has been created.

Life was in Him,

and that life was the light of men.

That light shines in the darkness,

yet the darkness did not overcome it.

–John 1:1-5

For everything was created by Him,

in heaven and on earth,

the visible and the invisible,

whether thrones or dominions

or rulers or authorities—

all things have been created through Him and for Him.

He is before all things,

and by Him all things hold together.

–Colossians 1:16-17

We must interpret Genesis in light of Christ. Does that sound strange? It shouldn’t. Paul wrote that Adam was a type of Christ! He calls Jesus the second Adam, and that both are representatives. We learn that Christ’s work is connected to Adam. See 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5.

We must interpret Genesis even in light of eschatology. That probably sounds really strange, since we tend to isolate eschatology from Redemptive History (it’s ironic that we do that to the beginning and end of the Bible). But it shouldn’t sound strange. There’s a new creation. There’s a restoration of all things.

The two big, key hermeneutical presuppositions to remember throughout our study of Genesis are:

1. Larger context of Redemptive History

2. Centrality of Christ

As Richard Belcher of RTS says, we don’t “find” Christ in the Old Testamnet, but are confronted with Him. All the threads finally make sense in light of Christ. We expect the Old Testament to testify about Christ! We don’t read Christ back into the Old Testament. Rather, we acknowledge that we don’t understand the Old Testament properly apart from Christ.

“We don’t read our Bible’s as if we are Jews, locked in the Old Testament without Christ . . . We read our Bible’s backwards.”

–J.V. Fesko

So what is the point of our studying Genesis?

Do you want to know your Savior better? Christ is revealed in Scripture. Christ is the goal and ultimate meaning of the Scriptures. All of Scripture testifies about Christ. Including Genesis 1-3. We see special connection between Christ and this part of the Bible throughout the New Testament. We will understand the fulfillment, in Christ, if we understand what it was he was supposed to fulfill. As Jesus did on the road to Emmaus, “Then beginning with Moses . . . He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27)

We want to know God in Christ better. Understanding the beginning will help us understand the fulfillment. We’ll understand Christ’s work better if we understand what it is connected to. We will appreciate Christ more, and be moved to worship him.

The hope is that this study will strengthen us in what to believe concerning God. As said before, the Christian worldview is taught in the beginning.

Paul wrote that all Scripture is profitable. We will know God better. We’ll know who we are, better. We’ll understand the whole of Scripture better. We will understand the failure of Adam, better. And will will know the person and work of the second Adam, Jesus Christ the promised Redeemer, better.

If we have engaged in “Bible study”, even of the Old Testament, and have not met Christ there, then we have not interpreted adequately. If we claim to have exegeted the text yet have not been confronted with Christ, then we have not completed our exegesis. Our interpretation is incomplete if Jesus is not there.

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