December 1, 2020

Another Look: Life in the King’s Garden (Bible Study on Gen 2)

The Creation of Man, Chagall

By Chaplain Mike

Before we dive into making comments about the “Historical Adam” controversy that the recent cover story in Christianity Today highlighted, I thought it would be good to review a couple of posts that we did last year. These are Bible studies of Genesis 2-3. I will reproduce them and update them here today. I encourage you to treat this as a Bible study, to read it with your Bible open so that you can ponder the Scriptures along with me, and even to take notes if that helps you grasp what is being taught.

This morning we start with our study on Genesis 2.

Scholars sometimes speak of “two creation accounts“: Genesis 1:1-2:3 being the first and Genesis 2:4-25 the second. Although this may be technically accurate in the sense that two original stories about creation were joined together in the early part of Genesis, it does not recognize the structure of the book itself and the author’s purpose in putting these stories back to back.

The key to understanding how they complement each other is to step back and see the author’s way of organizing the entire story of Genesis. He does so by use of a phrase that is repeated twelve times throughout the book. This phrase always marks a new beginning, a new story, a new direction in the narrative that takes what came before and shows what happened to the family of the characters introduced in the previous narratives. The Hebrew word is “toledot” (often translated, “These are the generations of…”)

In the book there are twelve statements that begin with words like this, “Now these are the generations of…” (2.4, 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 32, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 19, 36:1, 9 and 37:2). Each of these statements refers to a main character who has already been introduced. What follows each statement is either a listing of family names that trace his descendants, or a series of stories that tell us what became of this character and his family.

If you step back and look at the structure of the book in a bird’s eye view, you see how these statements organize the material and move its stories along.

The heavens and the earth are introduced (1.1-2.3)

  • These are the generations of the heavens and the earth (2.4-ch. 4)

…in which Adam and his family are introduced

  • These are the generations of Adam (5.1-6.8)

…in which Noah is introduced by a genealogy from Adam to Noah

  • These are the generations of Noah (6.9-ch. 9)

And so on. We might translate this phrase (Hebrew: toledot) as: “This is what became of ____________.” The material before this heading introduces the main character and the genealogies/narratives after it describe what happened in subsequent history to that character and his family.

The Most Basic Truths, Nov. 8, 2007

So then, what do we read when we come to the end of the “creation” account in Genesis 1:1-2:3? “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” In other words, starting with Genesis 2:5, the author is going to tell us what became of God’s good “creation” in Genesis 1. This is not a duplicate account, merely a view of “creation” from another perspective. This is a development in the story. The author is going to show us what happened to “God’s temple” that he erected in the first chapter, the temple in which he assigned humans to serve as his priestly representatives.

Another point often overlooked is that Genesis 2 does not stand alone. The next “toledot” does not occur until Genesis 5:1 (“This is what became of Adam,” i.e. the subsequent generations of his family). So the section that tells “what became of the heavens and the earth” actually covers Genesis chapters 2, 3, and 4. This is the whole story the author wants to tell, so it would be wrong to isolate Genesis 2 as some kind of “second creation story” without taking the entire context into consideration.

The next main section in Genesis after 1:1-2:3 runs from 2:4 through chapter 4, and contains three stories, all presented in similar form. Each contains a narrative that concludes with a speech, followed by a brief epilogue.

Creation of Man, Chagall

2:4    Introduction: First toledot

2:5-22    Narrative: The Garden
2:23     Speech: Author’s comment on marriage
2:24-25    Epilogue: Naked and not ashamed

3:1-13    Narrative: The Fall
3:14-19    Speech: God’s words of judgment
3:20-24    Epilogue: Exile from Eden

4:1-22    Narrative: Cain and Abel
4:23-24    Speech: Lamech’s appeal
4:25-26    Epilogue: Birth of Seth

Now let’s look at the text, section by section.

Genesis 2:4 is the “door” that leads us into this section.

  • Chapter 1 described how God made the skies and the land, and formed a land of blessing with humans serving as his representatives.
  • Now, beginning in Gen 2:4, the Bible tells us “This is what came forth from the skies and the land,”  i.e. what happened to God’s good creation.

The second part of 2:4 reverses “skies and land” — “when the Lord God made the land and the skies.” This emphasizes that the perspective of this story will be from the ground up rather than the more cosmic point of view expressed in chapter 1. In addition, the appearance of the covenant name of God (YHWH) and its use throughout this chapter brings attention to God not only as majestic Creator and King but also as the One who enters into relationship with his people.

Though many think these verses merely describe the uncultivated state of the land before the creation of Adam, John Sailhamer points out that the picture looks forward rather than backward, describing what the land was like before the effects of sin came upon it.

Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. (NASB)

God’s curse was not yet upon the land, for the plants (the “thorns and thistles” of 3:18) had not yet sprouted, the rain had not yet fallen (the rain of the Flood), and humans had not yet been exiled from the Garden “to work the land” (3:23). In contrast to the cursed land to come, the original land was fertile, generously watered by springs that irrigated it, promoting verdancy and abundance.


Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (NASB)

This concise statement of Adam’s creation contains a play on words that might be captured by translating it something like, “God formed “groundlings” of dust from the ground.” The verb introduces the metaphor of a potter working with clay to form something. The “living creatures” of 1:24 were brought forth from the earth as well, though God’s direct action was not specified there as it is here. What further sets “Groundling” apart from those animals here in ch. 2 is God breathing into him “the breath of life.”

The Bible consistently speaks of Adam as a real, historical person. There is no reason to think he is merely a literary or mythical (in the sense of non-historical) character that is introduced to make the author’s points. However, that does not mean that the description of his creation in this verse is “literal.” The author is recounting how God formed Adam in anthropomorphic terms.

This is common in Scripture. Job describes his own birth in a similar way:

Your hands fashioned and made me altogether,
And would You destroy me?
Remember now, that You have made me as clay;
And would You turn me into dust again? (Job 10:8-9)

As did David in Psalm 139:13-16…

David (ceramic), Chagall

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

One might argue that those are poetic texts, unlike the historical narrative in Genesis. However, narrative can include figurative and metaphorical elements without sacrificing historical accuracy. James McKeown gives a wise warning about modern people reading ancient texts in his Genesis commentary:

The Bible is not written just for scholars, and therefore it may be understood by a clear, straightforward reading. However, what may have been a clear, straightforward reading to someone two or three thousand years ago may be different from our perceptions today. It may be our scientific minds that are causing the complications. (p. 313)

Was Adam the first human being? I personally don’t think the Bible requires us to take this position. In fact, the final act in this section of Genesis, the story of Cain and Abel, makes more sense if we recognize the presence of other humans on earth besides Adam and Eve. After Cain kills Abel and is sentenced to wander, he is afraid that others will hunt him down. He travels away from the land, moves east of Eden and settles in a community in Nod. There he takes a wife, has a family, and later builds a city of his own.

It is my view that Adam was the first representative man. He is the first of many with whom God graciously inaugurated a special relationship for the purpose of extending his blessing to the whole world. He was the “Adam” (groundling, human being) that God placed in the Garden to be his priest while the rest of “Adam” (all of humankind) dwelt outside the Garden.

In Peter Enns’s words, Adam is “proto-Israel.”

Adam is the beginning of Israel, not humanity. I imagine this may require some explanation.

Israel’s history as a nation can be broken down as follows:

  • Israel is created by God at the exodus through a cosmic battle (gods are defeated and the Red Sea is divided);
  • The Israelites are given Canaan to inhabit, a lush land flowing with milk and honey;
  • They remain in the land as long as they obey the Mosaic law;
  • They persist in a pattern of disobedience and are exiled to Babylon.

Israel’s history parallels Adam’s drama in Genesis:

  • Adam is created in Genesis 2 after the taming of chaos in Genesis 1;
  • Adam is placed in a lush garden;
  • Law (not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) is given as a stipulation for remaining in the garden;
  • Adam and Eve disobey and are exiled.

The question in Genesis is whether  Adam will be obedient to “the law” and stay in Eden, thus continuing this special relationship, or join the other adam outside in exile. This is the same question with Israel: after being created by God, will they obey and remain in the land, or disobey and be exiled?


The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. (Genesis 2:8, NASB)

Beginning at verse 8, the author describes:

  • The garden God planted in Eden (2:8-14)
  • Adam’s role and responsibility in the garden (2:15-17)
  • God’s provision of a partner for Adam (2:18-22)
  • Poetic speech: Adam’s response (2:23)
  • Epilogue: The gift of marriage (2:24-25)

The focus in this section is upon the Garden, the priestly calling of Adam, the two prominent trees and what they represent, and God’s threatened penalty for eating from the forbidden tree.

Adam and Eve (stained glass), Chagall

The word “garden” refers to a “park” or a “botanical garden” of the kind that was common in royal temple or palace complexes in the ancient world. Solomon was renowned for his horticultural interests, and records show that the kings of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia had magnificent garden complexes. The most famous, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, was one of the world’s seven wonders. “Eden” means “abundance.” In this lush, verdant location, God created a royal arboretum, fit for the King, furnished by his own hand.

Two trees stood out among all the attractive and bountiful trees in the garden: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. More about these later.

The author mentions four rivers branching out and irrigating Eden. Two are known to us: the Tigris and Euphrates, which puts us in the Fertile Crescent of the Ancient Near East. Two are unknown: the Pishon and the Gihon. A clue in the description of the Gihon leads us west to the region of Egypt and Ethiopia. Thus, we are speaking of a region that stretches from Egypt to Mesopotamia.

A case can be made, therefore, that the Garden in Eden is an early name for the Promised Land. Later descriptions, such as Genesis 15:18 — “On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates,’ – reinforce this.

If Eden is the Promised Land, this supports John Sailhamer’s interpretation of Genesis 1, that the “six days of creation” do not describe the creation of planet earth, but the preparation of the Promised Land, the land of blessing, the land where God put his first covenant partners, to be his temple in the world. The “eretz” of ch. 1 is the Eden of chapter two, in which God planted his garden.

Genesis 2:15 is an important verse that reflects back on the “image of God” in chapter one. The text says, literally, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden for serving and for keeping.” Most English versions think that these verbs point back to the Garden, “for working and keeping IT.” However, this is problematic grammatically, for “it” is feminine and the word “garden” is masculine. Sailhamer therefore translates, “to worship and obey.”

If this is accurate, it means that Adam is portrayed here as a priest, not a gardener. This interpretation is further supported by the verb “to put.” It could be literally rendered, “to cause to rest” or “to dedicate,” and it is used to speak of the consecration of priests in the Torah. God “putting” Adam in the Garden therefore signifies that God set Adam apart (like a priest) by situating him in his own royal temple-garden and calling him to worship and keep God’s Word.

It is God’s Word (Law) that we next hear. Adam may eat freely of any tree (including the Tree of Life), but he is commanded not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the context of creation, we can get some idea of what these trees represented.

Genesis 1 depicts God as the One who blesses humankind by providing what is “good (tov). At first, the land was tohu wabohu (1:2 — a formless wasteland). But God turns tohu to tov. When Genesis 1 says repeatedly, “And God saw that it was good,” we may understand the verb “to see” in the sense of “to provide.” Day after day, God “saw to it” that what he did would be good for his world and creatures.

God alone knows what is “good” and what is “evil” for his creatures. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil represents the opportunity for humankind to seek this wisdom autonomously, apart from God and his revealed Word. What God, in effect, is telling Adam is: “Trust in the Lord with a whole heart; do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

God warns Adam that if he eats from the forbidden tree, on that very day he will die. Would this threatened consequence have meant anything to Adam?

  • Those who hold certain creationist positions hold that there was no death in the world before the Fall, and that when sin was introduced into the world, not only humans but also animals began to die, that the processes of corruption and decay throughout nature had their onset.
  • Those who think the earth is old, including people who accept the model of biological evolution, say there was most certainly death before the fall. For example, Jim Snoke in his book, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, says: “the language of the curse of Genesis 3:14-24 does not indicate a complete change of the physical world, but rather an exile into a pre-existing outer darkness” — the world that surrounded the garden, a world where animals died, where the sea and darkness and sea monsters represented danger and threat, where, if there were other people besides Adam and Eve in the world, they died too. Snoke argues that the presence of such darkness and death would have been a visible illustration to Adam of God’s warning.

Adam and Eve, Chagall

One thing is clear: Adam and Eve were mortal when God created them. We may have this picture in our minds that they were perfect or even immortal people, placed in a pristine Paradise, who subsequently fell from that state and became corrupt and mortal. Genesis actually pictures them as children in a nascent state who were mortal, naive, and vulnerable to sin from the beginning, needing God’s wisdom and provision to thrive and prosper. They could not have eternal life unless they ate from the Tree of Life (Gen 3:22). They were susceptible to physical death from the start.

However, as we will see when we look at Genesis 3, if God meant they would suffer immediate “physical death” when they ate the forbidden fruit, it did not come to pass. The record says that Adam did not die physically for nearly a millennium! We may conclude that God’s threat to Adam concerned some other form of death. What we see is that they experienced exile from God’s temple, God’s good land. On the day the couple ate from the banned tree, their relationships with God, one another, and creation was forever altered. They were cast from the Garden. They entered the world and joined the darkness. The “Adam” of the Garden joined the “Adam” of the world and became like the rest of humankind.

We won’t take time to discuss the latter part of this chapter, except to say that God’s provision of Eve for Adam represents an example of the “good” that God sees to for his creatures. A partner, crafted as a perfect complement to Adam, God brings the woman to man through a mysterious process that helps the man understand that this is his true counterpart.

The image of God, male and female (1:27), is explicated through this story. One becomes two and then the two become one. Eastern church theology speaks of “perichoresisâ” the mutual embrace, interpenetration, and intimate oneness of the members of the Godhead. God’s greatest creation gift, marriage, pictures this oneness.


  1. Dana Ames says

    Excellent, Chaplain Mike.

    One of the problems with systemic theology (and generally viewing the bible as “the Manufacturer’s Handbook” in which every word carries exactly the same weight and the weight is entirely on the words themselves) is that it pretty much ignores structure and parallel language. It’s actually these that, in a pre-literate society, not only helped people remember the story but also pointed to its Meaning.

    “If you get the message, you might refuse it; but if you get the meaning – hey, don’t ever lose it (if you get the meaning, oh, of it all… )” -Noel Paul Stookey


  2. Two interesting notes from inter-testamental pseudepigrapha:
    1) Eden and Israel are linked up as being the one place that was not affected by Noah’s flood.
    2) Adam is said to have died on the same day he took the fruit since he lived just under 1000 years and with God, one day is as a thousand years.

  3. I don’t understand the word “mysterious” here:

    “…God brings the woman to man through a mysterious process that helps the man understand that this is his true counterpart.”

    Gen. 2:21-22 says, “So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man” (ESV). That seems pretty detailed and straightforward. What would the Bible have to say to make us believe this is how it really happened? “No, this time I’m serious”?

    • One must distinguish between the facts of the story—God made a special land, created Adam and Eve, and so on—and HOW the story is told, which includes figurative and metaphorical language.

      No, I don’t think God actually performed surgery on Adam, removed one of his ribs, and fashioned a woman out of it. That is a metaphorical way of expressing the “truth” of the story that I attempted to summarize in the last two paragraphs of the post.

  4. Great post. I will certainly refer back to this if I ever lead a study through this passage. How about creating a new “category” for Bible studies so that those of us in ministry can resource them to our congregations?

  5. “One thing is clear: Adam and Eve were mortal when God created them.”

    Can you expound on that some more? That’s not clear to me at all.

    • The text in Gen. 3 says that they had to eat from the Tree of Life to live forever. They had the potential for immortality but they did not possess it when created.

      • I see what you’re saying. I was reading your original statement as meaning that they were not even potentially immortal (so long as they had access to the tree of life). Thanks for clarifying.

  6. ahumanoid says

    Thanks for sharing your view, Chaplain Mike. Very helpful.

  7. You think marriage is God’s greatest gift? That’s very interesting, and not what I would have concluded from my conversations with married people. Could you elaborate?

  8. Slightly off-topic but Rana & Ross have just responded in a podcast to the recent CT article on to the claim that the modern science of genetics precludes the possibility of the human family descending from a primordial couple:

    (Relevant e-zine article mentioned in the podcast:

    For those who don’t know, Rana & Ross promote a quazi-literal OEC interpretation of Genesis 1-11, complete with a traditional view of Adam and Eve.

  9. Mike

    This is the best discussion of the meaning of Genesis 2 that I have seen. What I especially love is how you explain the passage as part of the Torah, with the needs of the original readers in mind. I can’t believe how often we approach texts like these without asking the question, “why did God emphasize this to the people of Israel as they were about to go into the land?”

    Thank you for synthesizing Sailhammer and others into a very clear, understandable, and yet profound presentation.

  10. By the way, are you going to address how Paul interacts with this in Romans 5? I think this would be very helpful and interesting.

  11. so much for the perspecuity if scripture

  12. great thought-provoking stuff Chap Mike. i like this kind of rumination since the spiritual ‘truths’ implied by the story the main point really. the manner which it was painted with words the minor issue for both the ancient Israelites & us today…

    after reading the post i was intrigued by the different viewpoints as well as those addressed that i myself had concluded on my own. i like this kind of challenge…

    since i have looked into the YEC vs. old earth arguments to find out if the fear mongering of letting science be science & the Genesis account flexible enough for all believers an eye-opening experience worthy of consideration. the slippery-slope arguments seemed to be built-up much like the Tower of Babel with its single emphasis & resultant double-speak. i know some YECers that have no agenda regarding their beliefs & no crusade to wage. they are not threatened by alternate views, but simply wish to keep the issue neutral without trying to extrapolate one’s orthodoxy from it. good job…

  13. Jason Wyngard says

    Does Evangelical theology accept the Documentary Hypothesis (J, E, and so on), and/or other Near Eastern parallel myths? In other words, whose authorial intention are you attempting to explicate here–God’s? The (Evangelical Christian) reader, considered as part of the “text”-creation process?

    • Some conservatives would likely still hold that the author (or editor) of the text, or much of it, is Moses. Others would recognize that these narratives were probably part of one of the final forms of the text, added during or after the Babylonian exile. Either way, authorial intention deals with a similar situation in the intended audience (Israel). If Moses, the situation was entering the Promised Land. If exilic scribes, then the return from exile and reentry into the Land. Both of these situations are reflected in Adam narratives. God provides a good land and places his representative people there. He gives them his law and warns them of the consequences of disobedience (exile). He also makes available to them the way to life and promises restoration when they fail. Moses’ speech in Deuteronomy 30 is the summary of the Torah’s theology, which was pertinent to both situations.