Historical Creation View: The Garden of Eden and the Relationship of Genesis 1 and 2

What is the relationship of Genesis 1 and 2?  Where was the Garden of Eden and what does Genesis 1 tell us about Eden?

Continuing our series on the Historical Creation view of John Sailhamer proposed in Genesis Unbound (1997 and 2011) we ask about the nature of the Garden of Eden.  The relationship of Eden, the Garden planted in that land and the land outside of Eden for a critical part of Sailhamer’s thesis about about the meaning and intent of the Genesis creation narratives.

Brief summary:  Sailhamer argues that we should read Genesis 1 in terms of its connections to Genesis 2. By reading these together we can identify the “land” in Genesis 1 as the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2.  Since the first verse of Genesis 1 is not limited to the “land” but rather the whole universe the writer then focuses on the “promised land” in the verses that follow.  To say that the creation account focuses on the Promised Land doesn’t mean that it lacks universal implications.  God’s concern has always been for the whole world but the message of God’s work of redemption is centered in His work in the Promised Land.

Genesis 1 and the Garden of Eden:  At face value or reading “literally” it appears that Genesis 1 and the story of the Garden of Eden creation accounts are contradictory.  For example animals are created before man in Genesis 1 but after man in Genesis 2.  We must realize though that the author must have been well aware of the differences between the accounts and did not see them as contradictory.  To the author the order and words used made complete sense and our challenge is to see the passages as the author did.  We can only do this by examining the overall meaning of the two chapters and in the context of the entire Pentateuch.

Quoting from Sailhamer (pg 89):

The author of Genesis and the Pentateuch expected his readers to understand his work as a unit.  By attaching these two different and distinct accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, he expected his readers to see a meaningful link between them.  God’s creation of the man and woman in Genesis 2 was intended to give the reader another view of God’s creation of humanity in Genesis 1. The narrative events in Genesis were to be understood by the reader as a broader perspective on the events of Genesis 1.  The differences between the two accounts were precisely what the author wanted his readers to be aware of.  Those differences broaden our understanding of the narrative events…

If, then, we are to understand Genesis 1 within the context of the whole of the Pentateuch, we must say something about its relationship to the account of God’s preparation of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2. What does the story of God’s preparing of Eden tell us about the events in Genesis 1?


If the creation account in Genesis 1 is related to the record of God’s preparing the garden of Eden, then, to some extent or in some way, Genesis 1 must be about the garden of Eden.  Though much of the classical discussion of Genesis 1 and 2 have tacitly acknowledged this relationship between the two accounts, rarely has it been explicitly drawn into the interpretation of chapter 1.  The implication is that the account of the creation of the “land” in Genesis is actually about the Garden of Eden (JD – rather than the whole earth or whole universe!)

            Just how far should we take that connection?  Just how much of the story of Genesis 2 are we to read back into our understanding of Genesis 1? 

            The relationship between Genesis1 and 2 follows a common pattern seen throughout the further narratives of the primeval history (Genesis 1-11).  The author often links two distinct narratives to reflect a specific textual strategy.  For example, after a narrative with a general description of an event, the author often attaches on which gives more detail about the same event.  Having described the dispersion of the nations “according to their languages and countries”  in Genesis 10, the author attaches the story of the origin of their different languages. 

            In a similar way, in Genesis 1 we are given a general description of God’s work of creation.  In Genesis 2 we see a “close-up” of certain aspects of the account in genesis 1.  We see, in fact, the preparation of the Garden of Eden and the creation of the man and woman in that garden. 

            There are important implications of such narrative links.  One particular linkage deserves special consideration — the identification of the “land” and the Garden of Eden.  The link between Genesis 1 and 2 casts considerable light on the author’s purpose in these creation accounts.  If chapters 1 and 2 recount the same event, then the “land” where the Garden of Eden is located in chapter 2 is identified with the “land” which God makes in chapter 1.  Moreover if the “land” where the Garden of Eden is located is the promised land of the patriarchal narratives, then the focus of the creation account is that same “land.”  If I am right, then Genesis 1 is an account of God’s preparation of the Promised Land. One can easily see how a later writer such as Jeremiah would have drawn the conclusion that Genesis 1 was specifically about God’s preparation of the promised land (see Jeremiah 27:5).

After a discussion of Genesis 1:1 affirming that God created all things from nothing “in the beginning”  Sailhamer continues to build a case for how to understand the author’s intent in the construction of Genesis 1 and 2:

            “However, the viewpoint of the writer shifts considerably in the second verse.  IN the rest of Genesis 1 and 2, the writer is no longer focuses on God’s creation of the universe but on the Promised Land, Israel’s homeland.  As he writes the whole of this account, the author wants us to think both about God’s creation of the universe and about the Promised Land.

            The writer wants us to see god as both the Creator of the universe and the One who prepares a land for His people.  That is one of the central themes of the Pentateuch.  If we keep that perspective in mind, we will see a surprising and remarkable picture of creation unfold form the narrative of Genesis 1 and 2.  We will see a remarkable picture of the Creator emerge, as well. 

             In the early chapters of the Bible, we do not find a distant, detached Creator at work on far-flung worlds….. We find Him as a loving Father, carefully and thoughtfully preparing a specific place for His children to dwell.  He creates a world for them and then prepares a place, a homeland, for them in His world. 

            Thus the Pentateuch teaches that when Israel was promised a land in which to live out God’s blessings (Genesis 15:18), it was not the first time God had prepared a place for them.  From the beginning, God had prepared that place for His chosen people.  From the beginning, God had prepared that place for His chosen people.  When He took it away from the Canaanites and gave it to His people, He did so because they had abused their right to live in His land (Genesis 15:16).  In the same way, if the Israelites were to abuse their right to live in God’s land, He would also take the land away from them and give it to another (Jeremiah 27:1-6).  The land was God’s gift.  It was His land; He created it, and He could give it to whomever He pleased (Jeremiah 27:5).

            The concept of the “land” thus dominates the whole of the theology of the Pentateuch.  The early narratives of Genesis already prepare the reader for God’s great promise to the fathers, the gift of the Promised Land. 


            In focusing on the “land”, I don’t mean that God didn’t create the rest of the earth or that the biblical writer was unconcerned about the rest of the earth.  On the contrary, one of the central points of the Genesis creation account is God’s concern for the whole world shown by the blessing that will come to this “land.”  The “land” is the stage for God’s plan of blessing.  In this very land God will bless not only His own people, Israel, but all the nations of the earth. 

            It is already clear within the Pentateuch that the messianic King will one day come to this land.  He will arise from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 29:8-12) and establish His kingdom in his land (Numbers 24:5-9, 16-24).  He, like Melchizedek, the king of Jerusalem, will bless Abraham and his seed in this land (Genesis 14:18-20), and through Him, all the families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3).  The fact that the account of creation focuses on the Promised Land in no way limits its universal scope.  It only limits its perspective, and to understand it correctly we must read it from that perspective.  (Page 92)

To this I would add that Drs. G. K Beale and John Walton have provided another dimension to the reality of Eden and its relationship to the rest of the world.  They would agree that the text is focused on Eden rather than the whole world but see the garden as a temple within Eden.   Sailhamer sees Eden as the Promised Land itself. These two views are not incompatible with each other. Rather it is possible that both are seeing parts of the message being communicated by Moses to the people near the time in which they will enter the promised land.

The key for Beale in particular, as I recently pointed out in recommending the writings of Dr. G.K. Beale and others, is understanding that the Garden represented the holy place in Eden which itself is a sacred space in creation.  The creation account and the creation itself is a portrait of the beginning of God’s unfolding plan for man and his relationship with what he had created.

It is important to note that Adam had been created outside the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2.8), possibly even outside of Eden.  The image is that of his being created outside of God’s direct presence and then he is brought into his presence when placed in the Garden of Eden just as the priest came into the tabernacle and temple.  Adam was originally made innocent and could enter into God’s presence but the priest had to make sacrifices and wash himself before he could enter that sacred space in the Temple or Tabernacle. That place was the only place where the Shekinah glory – God’s dwelling – was exhibited on earth at his footstool (the Ark of the Covenant).

Thus, the place where Adam had his origins was outside of this dwelling place.   The image of this place of origin if that of the wilderness – or the disordered creation – the formless and void of Genesis 1.1.   He was taken from the wilderness and placed into Eden, a sanctuary in God’s creation where he could commune directly with God (Genesis earth.  In Eden, Adam was able to walk and talk with God in the Garden of Eden.  In Genesis 1 we see that God, the creator, took the disorder of the initial condition of the cosmos (Genesis 1:1) and put order to it.   In Eden we see that He has took the chaos (the wilderness) and made it fit/habitable for man.  In other words He made it a “good” place for man.  In each case, His creation of things were proclaimed “good,” not as an ethical statement about the objects themselves but rather they were good in their purpose as they related to man.  It was their function for which the inspired author is primarily concerned.

“God Dwells Among Us” is a recent book that summarizes G.K. Beale’s larger more academic book that I also recommend: “The Temple and the Churches Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God”

We know what happened though.  Adam failed to tend and protect the Garden.  He allowed Satan into Eden.   Notice that Satan is a malevolent force that is already present in the world.  But in keeping with the image of the creation and the Garden through the whole Bible, the wilderness outside the Garden hadn’t yet been transformed by Adam and Eve and their offspring as God’s appointed image-bearers.  Adam didn’t protect Eve and the Garden in his role as priest and the devil in the form of a snake brought the wilderness into the Garden.  Being tainted by sin, the Garden could no longer be inhabited by Adam. Adam had to leave the garden and was cast out into the rest of the world.  Throughout scriptures, being cast out of the Garden, the promised land, or outside the holy place of the temple or of the tabernacle is always seen as being cast out into a waste land in which the blessings of God are not fulfilled.  A place in which the full bounty of creation is not available to man – at least not without a redeemer!Man was formed out of the wilderness/chaos but established in a place of order and in communion with God – he was in the God’s temple and had direct access to Him.  There he was to tend and protect the Garden.  He was also to exercise dominion. Part of the expression of that dominion was to “name” the animals.   He could do so because he was emulating or even taking-on the role which God had taken in Genesis 1.  In the act of naming the animals he was assigning/naming them their functions to the parts of the creation just as God assigned the plants for food, the sun, moon and stars for signs etc…  God made Adam his vice-reagent over the earth he had created.  As long as Adam fulfilled his role he would the Garden  would continue to expand until it filled the whole earth. There are many references to this eschatological goal throughout the Bible and I would direct you to G. K. Beale, Meredith Kline etc.. for a  fuller defense of these biblical principles.  For starters, G.K. Beale authored a paper in the Journal of Evangelical Theological Society that I find to be a very accessible summary of his book: “Eden, the temple and the church’s mission in the new creation.”  http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-aPDFs/48/48-1/48-1-pp005-031_JETS.pdf  JETS. March 2005 48(1): pp 5-31.

We might ask ourselves at this point:  Why is it that the consistent message of Scriptures points to imagery of places outside of God’s presence as being inhospitable or at least not as hospitable (physically or spiritually) and yet so many people conceptualize the land outside of Eden as a tropical paradise? It isn’t even clear that Eden was a tropic paradise as we might imagine today.  Rather, a more natural and consistent reading of Genesis that takes into account the imagery of Eden in Scriptures sees Eden as a place set apart from the rest of the world.   When Adam sinned he was cast out into the wilderness where God’s bounty (food, water etc..) and personal relationship with man would be broken.  Adam would now have to contend from a weakened position with a world he was supposed to have transformed.  Now rather than transforming that world into a Garden that world would affect and transform him.

How many times do you find the warning to the Israelites that if they didn’t obey that they would be taken away and thorn bushes would come and swallow up the land.  That is exactly what happened, the Israelites were carried off and their previously tended garden and fields previously likened to the Garden of Eden were consumed by the thorn bushes encroaching from the surrounding deserts.

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