The Sabbath Abrogated?

Previously: the Sabbath and Adam, the Sabbath and Israel

All this is a nice story about the Sabbath’s significance, but it doesn’t apply to us, right? There’s a very common assumption that the Sabbath, the 4th Commandment, is abrogated (repealed or done away with). It seems typical of evangelicals to believe that the 4th Commandment doesn’t apply to Christians. Various lines of justification are given: we are not under law but grace, Christ is the Sabbath, the Sabbath was a Jewish thing, etc. Christ fulfilled the Sabbath (fulfilling the civil and ceremonial laws), and so Jesus is our “Sabbath.” We’re merely resting in him. Christians, after Christ, are under no obligation to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. That’s an Old Testament, Israelite thing, right?

Ever heard that perspective? Perhaps you think that.

Charles Hodge lays that notion to rest (I’m not sorry for that one), in his Systematic Theology:

The Sabbath was instituted from the Beginning, and is of Perpetual Obligation.

1. This may be inferred from the nature and design of the institution. It is a generally recognized principle, that those commands of the Old Testament which were addressed to the Jews as Jews and were founded on their peculiar circumstances and relations, passed away when the Mosaic economy was abolished; but those founded on the immutable nature of God, or upon the permanent relations of men, are of permanent obligation. There are many such commands which bind men as men; fathers as fathers; children as children; and neighbours as neighbours. It is perfectly apparent that the fourth commandment belongs to this latter class. It is important for all men to know that God created the world, and therefore is an extramundane personal being, infinite in all his perfections. All men need to be arrested in their worldly career, and called upon to pause and to turn their thoughts Godward. It is of incalculable importance that men should have time and opportunity for religious instruction and worship. It is necessary for all men and servile animals to have time to rest and recuperate their strength. The daily nocturnal rest is not sufficient for that purpose, as physiologists assure us, and as experience has demonstrated. Such is obviously the judgment of God.

It appears, therefore, from the nature of this commandment as moral, and not positive or ceremonial, that it is original and universal in its obligation. No man assumes that the commands, “Thou shalt not kill,” and “Thou shalt not steal,” were first announced by Moses, and ceased to be obligatory when the old economy passed away. A moral law is one that binds from its own nature. It expresses an obligation arising either out of our relations to God or out of our permanent relations to our fellow-men. It binds whether formally enacted or not.

—Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 pg. 323

Was it unique to Israel? No. The Sabbath is not merely anchored to the Mosaic Covenant, but to creation. Both creation and redemption from bondage are cited in the giving of the 4th Commandment. God himself set forth the Sabbath immediately after he completed his work of creation. “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

The Sabbath law is abiding and obligatory because it is from creation. Secondly, the 4th Commandment is not a civil or ceremonial law. If it were, then it would be limited to Israel as a political and religious entity, and Christ’s fulfillment of it would do away with it. But it’s the 4th Commandment, part of the Ten Commandments. That’s the moral law, which doesn’t change and is not limited to a specific time or place in Redemptive History. Are any of those other laws only for Israel? Murder? No idols? Do not covet? No, of course not. Neither is the 4th Commandment. The Decalogue is a unity, a unit. It is a body, not fragmented. “The Law” is the Decalogue. It is announced by God and not repealed. It is assumed in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus did not explicitly reenforce the 4th Commandment in so many words, but neither did he reenforce the commandment against worshiping idols! Are we to conclude that that is now abrogated? Nonsense.

What Christ did do was rebuke the traditions of men regarding the commandments (especially the Sabbath), without any implication that the law itself is no longer in force. Pipa notes that:

Christ taught about murder on only one occasion and three times on marriage, but six times He taught about the Sabbath. If this commandment were destined for the dustbin of ceremonial law, why do the Gospel writers devote so much attention to it? Is there any ceremonial law regarding which Jesus spent so much time correcting misunderstandings? No, but on six occasions He cleared away the accretions to the Sabbath commandment in order to establish the proper use of the Sabbath. (pg. 136)

It would have been easy enough for Jesus to say that the Sabbath law was no longer in force, but he didn’t. Again, the Decalogue remains the law of God.

Hodge comments: “2. The original and universal obligation of the law of the Sabbath may be inferred from its having found a place in the decalogue. As all the other commandments in that fundamental revelation of the duties of men to God and to their neighbour, are moral and permanent in their obligation, it would be incongruous and unnatural if the fourth should be a solitary exception.” (Hodge, pg. 324)

Likewise, Joseph Pipa says “it is contrary to all sound reason to wrench out one commandment, claiming it was ceremonial and consequently no longer binding.” (Pipa, pg. 124)

Along with the two above, Hodge offers two more reasons in support of the 4th Commandment being of perpetual obligation:

3. The death penalty for violating the commandment. “The violation of no merely ceremonial or positive law was visited with this penalty.” (Hodge, pg. 324)

4. “We accordingly find that in the prophets as well as in the Pentateuch, and the historical books of the Old Testament, the Sabbath is not only spoken of as “a delight,” but also its faithful observance is predicted as one of the characteristics of the Messianic period.” [Is. 58:13, 14] (Ibid.)

Hodge concludes:

“These considerations, apart from historical evidence or the direct assertion of the Scriptures, are enough to create a strong, if not an invincible presumption, that the Sabbath was instituted from the beginning, and was designed to be of universal and permanent obligation.”

—Ibid., pg. 325

Hodge stands in continuity with the Puritans. According to Beake, Jones, and Packer, John Owen and his contemporaries

“insisted, with virtual unanimity, that, although the Reformers were right to see a merely typical and temporary significance in certain of the detailed prescriptions of the Jewish Sabbath, yet the principle of one day’s rest for public and private worship of God at the end of each six days’ work was a law of creation, made for man as such, and therefore binding upon man as long as he lives in this world. They pointed out that, standing as it does with nine undoubtedly moral and permanently binding laws in the decalogue, it could hardly be of a merely typical and temporary nature itself.”

—J. I. Packer, Quest for Godliness pg. 237 (cited in A Puritan Theology)

The abiding, perpetual obligation of the Sabbath law is not a novelty.

What about our obedience to the 4th Commandment, our observation of the Sabbath? That is the difference. All the Ten Commandments were applied in ways particular to that point in Redemptive History. Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers are full of case laws which are applications of the Decalogue to specific occasions. The 4th Commandment as well had applications particular to God’s people when the church and state were one.

Charles Hodge expounds this:

There are no doubt positive elements in the fourth commandment as it stands in the Bible. It is positive that a seventh, and not a sixth or eighth part of our time should be consecrated to the public service of God. It is positive that the seventh rather than any other day of the week should be thus set apart. But it is moral that there should be a day of rest and cessation from worldly avocations. It is of moral obligation that God and his great works should be statedly remembered. It is a moral duty that the people should assemble for religious instruction and for the united worship of God. All this was obligatory before the time of Moses, and would have been binding had he never existed. All that the fourth commandment did was to put this natural and universal obligation into a definite form.

—Ibid., pg. 323-324

Now, the way Hodge is using the word “positive” is evidently the same way the English Puritan John Owen used it. Owen made a distinction between “moral” law and “positive” law. The former is grounded in the nature of God himself (and therefore cannot be changed) and “positive” laws have no reason for them in themselves and can be changed (like many of the laws in the Old Testament that are no longer).

Owen views the Sabbath as a moral law in its substance, which means the obligation to keep this commandment is universal. Yet the specific day to be sanctified is positive, thus explaining how the Sabbath can be moved from the seventh day to the first day of the week.

—Jones and Beeke, A Puritan Theology kindle loc. 24714

In short, moral law abides, so the command to remember the Sabbath abides forever (just like having no other gods and not lying). The observation of it, though, is what is different. The rigorous civil and ceremonial requirements attached to the Sabbath belong to that Redemptive Historical context. The moral law of one day in seven, however, is consistent throughout Redemptive History, since Adam.

Whatever modifications (i.e., positive laws) were made to the fourth commandment, Owen argues that that is no reason for suggesting that the substance of the commandment was not given to Adam and the patriarchs after him.

—Jones and Beeke, A Puritan Theology kindle loc. 24701

One more citation from Hodge, though his whole treatment of the subject in his Systematic Theology is well worth the read.

It is a strong argument in favour of this conclusion, that the law of the Sabbath was taken up and incorporated in the new dispensation by the Apostles, the infallible founders of the Christian Church. All the Mosaic laws founded on the permanent relations of men either to God or to their fellows, are in like manner adopted in the Christian Code. They are adopted, however, only as to their essential elements. Every law, ceremonial are typical, or designed only for the Jews, is discarded. Men are still bound to worship God, but this is not now to be done especially at Jerusalem, or by sacrifices, or through the ministration of priests. Marriage is as sacred now as it ever was, but all the special laws regulating its duties, and the penalty for its violation, are abrogated. Homicide is as great a crime now as under the Mosaic economy, but the old laws about the avenger of blood and cities of refuge are no longer in force. . . . The same is true with regard to the Sabbath. We are as much bound to keep one day in seven holy unto the Lord, as were the patriarchs or Israelites. This law binds all men as men, because given to all mankind, and because it is founded upon the nature common to all men, and the relation which all men bear to God. The two essential elements of the command are that the Sabbath should be a day of rest, that is, of cessation from worldly avocations and amusements; and that it should be devoted to the worship of God and the services of religion. All else is circumstantial and variable.

—Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 pg. 329

We are not a part of that old covenant context. We are distanced from that context by Jesus Christ. Through the lens of Jesus Christ, we (the modern audience) understand the fuller meaning of the Sabbath, and also how we are to remember it. We understand it better, and observe it differently, than those before Christ.

Share the love

The Sabbath and Israel

Previously: The Sabbath and Adam

The Sabbath is a creation ordinance, and therefore abides as long as creation does. However, particular applications of it are given to Israel as a political entity. This doesn’t mean the Sabbath (1 day a week for God) is limited to Israel. The civc and ceremonial applications of the Sabbath command are, but not the moral law to keep the Sabbath holy.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

—Exodus 20:8-11

“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

—Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Israel, as image bearers, had the same goal as Adam, the work of “expansion.” Obviously it won’t look the same, because man was banished from the Garden-temple of Eden. So the spreading of the Garden can’t happen. But people are still made in God’s image, and must image God. God’s people are still accountable to multiply and rule. The prophet-priest-kingly roles are still there. It may not be the ideal Garden-temple, but God in his grace still meets with his image bearers. This time, he “tabernacles” among them. There is still a place of worship: the Tabernacle. And the worship of God is still to be spread throughout the whole earth. The mandate remains. Israel is corporately “God’s son.”


God makes a covenant with his people, Israel. This is yet another expansion of the one covenant of grace. Yet, it’s unique from all the others. At this point in Redemptive History, God chose to expound His Law. There is exceptionally more clarity in the abiding requirement of the Covenant of Works. God’s moral law is summarized in the “Ten Words”, or decalogue: the Ten Commandments. The terms of the Mosaic Covenant, written by the very finger of God on two tablets of stone. They do not change.

One of the Ten Words, making a reappearance from the Garden of Eden, is the Sabbath. God bases the commandment on the prefall Sabbath ordinance. Creation is the root of the Sabbath being set apart. Contextualized to God’s people, for this point in Redemptive History, that one day of ceasing labor for rest and worship is the 7th day, with explicit application spelled out.

Covenant Sign

The Sabbath is the covenant sign of the Mosaic covenant.

“You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”

—Exodus 31:13-17

Hodge says of this:

(7.) As the observance of the Sabbath had died out among the nations, it was solemnly reenacted under the Mosaic dispensation to be a sign of the covenant between God and the children of Israel. They were to be distinguished as the Sabbath-keeping people among all the nations of the earth, and as such were to be the recipients of God’s special blessings. . . . And in Ezekiel xx. 12, it is said, “Moreover, also, I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.”

—Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 “Soteriology” pg. 322

God not only grounds the Sabbath in creation, but also (in Deuteronomy) in his redeeming his people from Egypt, therefore Sabbath-keeping distinguished God’s people from all other nations. The Sabbath is unique to a covenant people delivered from bondage. Sabbath-keeping is covenantal.

Eschatological Sign

Sabbath is the goal of their labor, an eschatological sign.

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.

—Hebrews 4:8

There was a future hope. The people entering the promised land did not fulfill the full promise of Sabbath rest. It was only pointing forward to a greater reality.

As the Tree of Life was a sign and seal of the covenant of works, holding out eternal life for obedience, so the Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic Covenant, remembering God’s creation and his redeeming his people, pointing forward to eternal rest.

According to R. Scott Clark,

Sabbath was also gospel. Isaiah made that abundantly clear: the Sabbath was about more than our “doing” or “not doing.” Yahweh reminded his people that his throne is heaven and “the earth is my footstool” and “the place of my rest” (Isa. 66:1). Yahweh did not enter into a covenant with Israel because of her sanctity, but he describes the consummate state, drawing upon imagery from the typology. The promise of the new heavens and earth is cast in terms of the Israelite Sabbath (“From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath”), but the promise is universalized: “all flesh” shall worship Yahweh (Isa. 66:23). The prophet Zechariah depicts the consummate state as an eternal day, a “unique day” (ESV) in which the creational pattern of morning and evening is transcended by unending light mirroring the unending seventh day of creation (Zech. 14:7).

—R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession loc. 4985-4991

Theoretically, if they perfectly obeyed the covenant, they would enter the rest. But they could not because of sin. Like Adam they broke the covenant. Israel was not faithful, either.

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,

do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,

on the day of testing in the wilderness,

where your fathers put me to the test

and saw my works for forty years.

Therefore I was provoked with that generation,

and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;

they have not known my ways. ’

As I swore in my wrath,

‘They shall not enter my rest.

—Hebrews 3:7-11

Were they believers, saved by grace through faith, who then fell away? No.

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,

do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

—Hebrews 3:12-19

This is divine commentary on those who did not enter. Unbelief is the reason.

Israel (God’s son) also did not enter

Like each before them, Adam, Noah, Abraham, they too fell short. Hebrews specifically says that many who were delivered from Egypt were not true believers at all! There are always apostates in the visible covenant people of God. “For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (4:2).

God’s people under the Mosaic covenant too could only enter the Sabbath by the labors of Another.

So what?

All this is a nice story about the Sabbath’s significance, but it doesn’t apply to us, right? Christ fulfilled the Sabbath (fulfilling the civil and ceremonial laws), and so Jesus is our “Sabbath.” We’re merely resting in him. Christians, after Christ, are under no obligation to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. That’s an Old Testament, Israelite thing, right?

Ever heard that? Perhaps it is what you believe.

There’s a very common assumption that the Sabbath, the 4th Commandment, is abrogated (repealed or done away with).

Is it?

Share the love

The Sabbath and Adam

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

—Genesis 2:1-3

The Sabbath is a creation ordinance. In the creation narrative, the 7th day is blessed and made holy because God rested from his creation work. It’s the climax of the creation narrative.

As God’s image bearer, the pattern of six days work and 7th day rest applied to Adam. God’s creation account was a pattern for his image bearers to follow.

We know that we need not take the 6-day creation account literalistically. That raises the question, why was it framed that way?

There’s a polemical angle to God’s pattern of work and rest. Contrary to Egyptian beliefs, God rests, and maintaining order is not a struggle. God’s pattern of work and rest: work during the day, rest at night, for 6 days, then rest from work on the 7th (which doesn’t end). According to an Egyptian narrative, creation occurs in a single day, and is reenacted daily. Not only that, but there’s a divine struggle every night. Overnight, the sun battles the dark and chaos, and rises each morning victorious once again.

Contrarily, God reveals in Scripture that creation was once, not repeated, nor does God struggle against other gods to maintain order. God has created, and is in control. There’s no question of whether the chaotic darkness will come again. God is sovereign, and no other.

For us, the modern audience, we need to realize that time and the calendar are not mere conventions. They are grounded in God. There are weeks, made up of seven days, because that is how God wills it.

Besides the polemical purpose, and showing God’s care in making a dwelling place for us, and the detail given to the construction of the first temple, we know from other parts of the Bible that God laid out his work and rest as a pattern for us. Human beings are made in God’s image, and are to imitate him. The framing of the creation week shows us how labor and rest are to be in people’s lives.

If we consider that God established a pattern of work and rest prior to the entrance of sin (unrest) and death into history, we realize that the work/rest pattern is integral to the way human beings are to relate to time, to one another, and to God their Creator.

—R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession loc. 4940

Six days are for us and our labors, and one day is for rest, but not merely idleness, but dedicated to the Lord. Rest and worship go together.

Adam, in his priestly and ruling labors in the Garden-temple of God, was to labor six days and rest every seventh. This is evident from the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy as part of God’s moral law, which does not change. God’s moral will given to Adam was later expounded to Israel in the Ten Commandments.

The Sabbath was also an eschatological sign for Adam of the future rest that will not end. As God rested from his work upon completion of his work, so too would Adam.

A future hope was held out for Adam. Again, God set the pattern. We notice that the seventh day is unique in the creation narrative. It doesn’t end. There’s no “evening and morning.” God labored, delighted in his creation, then ceases his creative work. Rest doesn’t mean idleness, obviously since God still works in providence, God is still working, but certain works, namely creation, ceased.

So too Adam was given labors to complete. Upon completion of his work, perfect obedience to the Word of God given to him, he would cease those works and enter into the Sabbath rest, and disobedience would no longer be possible. The “probation” would be over, and Adam and his posterity would enjoy everlasting rest in God; the eternal life earning would cease, and mankind would enjoy eternal life. The reality pictured by the Tree of Life, the reward of the Covenant of Works, would be theirs.

…by resting on the seventh day, God pictured the rest that He would provide for His people. He offered Adam and his descendants life (eternal rest), so had Adam not fallen into sin, he would have entered into that rest without passing through death. God, by resting on the seventh day, pictured the promised rest, which was a type of our eternal rest.

The Creator’s example of rest is a reason for His not recording the end of the seventh day.

—Joseph Pipa, “The Christian Sabbath”, Perspectives on the Sabbath pg.121

Adam sinned, and did not enter into Sabbath rest.

Tragically, Adam chose disobedience. He broke the covenant. The covenant curse of death, made visible in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, was now his and all he represented. Therefore, every human being is legally guilty of breaking the covenant, and deserving the penalty of death. Even those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam. Because Adam was the federal (representative) head of humanity, we are all guilty. Guilt was credited to our account. This legal aspect is why Christ had to die.

Not only that, but now the human condition is no longer “possible to sin” as Adam and Eve, but now “not possible to not sin.” Sin is our default setting. Not-sinning is not a possibility. So not only are we guilty for breaking the covenant of works by imputation, but we ourselves also violate God’s law, we are disobedient; so we ourselves fall short of the abiding requirement of the covenant of works. We are still under a curse.

That is why no “son” of God after Adam was able to obey, and fulfill the covenant of works. Noah, Abraham, Israel, David; they all fell short, and could not obey because of sin.

But God is gracious. God gave a different covenant: the covenant of grace. All people after Genesis 3 that are saved by God are saved by grace through faith, not their fulfilling of the covenant of works. A Redeemer was first promised in Genesis 3, the Seed that would crush the head of the serpent. Adam should have crushed that serpent. God has promised One who will do what is necessary. All who are saved are saved by believing God’s promise. And all God’s people look forward to that “better and heavenly country,” that eternal Sabbath rest that we lost.

This good news gains progressive clarity throughout Scripture. Until finally, the reality arrives: Jesus Christ. Another federal head. One who would satisfy both the requirement and the penalty of the Covenant of Works.

Therefore, all people must enter the eternal Sabbath rest by the labors of Another.

God graciously did not cancel the offer of rest after the fall; rather, He renewed the promise of life, not through Adam’s obedience but through a Redeemer. According to God’s eternal purpose, the day of rest became a weekly promise and reminder to sinners that He would provide redemption and rest.

—Joseph Pipa, “The Christian Sabbath”, Perspectives on the Sabbath pg.121

Share the love

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.

Share the love

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?

Share the love

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.

Share the love

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

Share the love