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Was the Garden of Eden a ‘sanctuary’ from a hostile outside world?

Published: 3 January 2015 (GMT+10)
Picture: Caleb Salisbury Adam-Eve

In Genesis 2–3 we see a contrast between the Garden of Eden and the world outside—God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, but God barred them from the Garden after they sinned. Today’s correspondent asks: does this mean the Garden of Eden was a ‘safe haven’ from a hostile wilderness outside? Indeed, some long-age Christians have posited just this as a part of their attempt to explain the origin of death and suffering in a ‘billions of years’ world (see Retroactive death! What’s wrong with that? and The ‘problem’ of evil and the supremacy of Scripture). CMI’s Shaun Doyle explores why God made the Garden of Eden a localized place … even in a world without evil.

Johnny E. from the UK writes:

I have a question that I couldn’t find answered on your site.

I consider myself a Biblical Creationist and have been encouraged through CMI’s ministry.

Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden as a result of their sin and the garden was guarded to prevent their re-entry. It might be said that whilst Eden was paradise, what was outside the garden could have been quite different. If not, why would Eden be a ‘sanctuary’ or have boundaries?

In support of this I’ve heard it preached recently that Adam, as keeper/guard, of Eden, should have killed the serpent upon finding it questioning God’s Word. This, focusing on Adam as guard/keeper of the Garden, adds some more weight to the idea that outside the garden could have been different to inside.

In short, on what basis do we believe the outside of Eden to be perfect pre-fall and why?

Whilst I believe it was, I’m finding it hard to defend concretely as Eden reads like a perfect sanctuary of God’s presence.

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

Dear Johnny,

Thank you for your email.

The basis for saying the world outside the Garden of Eden was perfect is Genesis 1:31: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day [emphasis added].” The “everything he had made” clearly refers to everything mentioned as created by God in the previous 30 verses of Genesis 1—i.e. the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them. There is no geographical limit to Genesis 1:31. See Was God’s finished creation perfect? for more information.

So why did God make the Garden of Eden? What made the Garden of Eden special? The first part of the answer is in Genesis 2:9: “The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” These two specific trees were unique to the Garden of Eden (cf. Genesis 2:16–17, Genesis 3:22–23). The Tree of Life signified God’s special life-giving presence among his people, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil provided the special test of obedience. This suggests that the Garden of Eden was set up as sacred space; the centre of God’s communion with humanity. This does not mean it was a safe haven from the outside world, but that it was the place where God’s good presence among His people was specially manifested—at least, at first (more on this below). However, the purpose of the Garden was not only symbolic, but also vocational: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15, emphasis added). The Garden of Eden provided Adam (and subsequently, Eve) with a job.

Nevertheless, in Genesis 1:28 we read that Adam and Eve already had a job description: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” In Genesis 2:19–20 we see Adam’s dominion over the animals exercised in his naming of them, and thus Genesis 2 is not ignorant of Genesis 1:28. However, there is more to subduing the earth than just naming the animals. Eve didn’t name any animals, though she was also given dominion over the earth in Genesis 1:28. And naming the animals has nothing to do with the plants. This is where the vocation to tend and keep the garden comes in: it gives Adam and Eve the means by which to “subdue” the earth, as per Genesis 1:28.

But wasn’t the Garden of Eden just a localized area? It certainly was, but in the light of Genesis 1:28 and Genesis 2:15 I severely doubt God intended Adam and his descendants to keep it localized. God could’ve made the whole world like the Garden of Eden, but if He did then He would’ve left us with nothing to do! In fact, I suggest that God intended us to extend the cultivated beauty of the Garden of Eden all over the world to reflect his glory. So why not expand the Garden? Complexify its arrangement? Incorporate other plants into a grand planet-wide garden design? Why not order the plants of the world in such ways that they become even more fruitful food for the animals? These were questions God gave us to answer. And if we had done our gardening job correctly,we could’ve further beautified God’s all-good world, thus showing forth what His special image bearers can do to his glory, and thus playing our part in the manifestation of Isaiah 11:9: “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”. Perhaps we would’ve even taken seeds from the Tree of Life and planted them elsewhere! Alas, our quick fall into sin ruined the project, but God will get the ‘Isaiah 11:9 Eden project’ back on track—through the reign of the Davidic Messiah (Isaiah 11:1–5), who is of course Jesus.

Rather than thinking of the Garden of Eden as a safe haven from a dangerous wilderness, it’s better seen as the template for what God intended us to do with the world. And think of the world outside the Garden as a canvas God gave to us to paint on—a “very good” wilderness that had no evil or suffering, but was created for God’s image bearers to show forth God’s glory in creation.

Helpful Resources

Creation, Fall, Restoration
by Andrew S Kulikovsky
US $24.00
Soft Cover
Refuting Compromise, updated & expanded
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover
15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
by Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan D Sarfati
US $3.50
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Richard L.
Thanks, Shaun! Encouraging the feasibility of “I suggest that God intended us to extend the cultivated beauty of the Garden of Eden all over the world to reflect his glory”—the normative (non-Fall) diffusion of humanity out of the garden—is the implied location of the garden, from Genesis-2 river data.

A river “flowed out of Eden to water the garden” (Gen. 2:10, ESV). As Henry Morris suggests, this wording allows Eden to be a (maybe later-named) district bigger than and containing the garden.

How long did that water flow? A long distance! The river flowed out of the garden and to a place of 4 headwaters (Verse 10), one of those headwaters then flowing “around the **whole** land of Havilah” (Verse 11), before it could exit to the sea, at some point.

Thus, the garden was considerably **up-country**. It wasn’t on a coastal plain. Instead, people could diffuse out of it and settle away from it, in all directions, easing the spreading of non-Fall humanity over the earth.

(Speculatively, the hydrological data from Verses 11-13 are somewhat suggestive that at least 3 drainage basins were involved. If this is correct, then the location of the splitting of the out-of-garden river into 4 headwaters was on or near a continental divide. If this speculation is correct, then the garden was in a truly central location, with lots of room in all directions for non-Fall humanity to diffuse from the garden.)
Gennaro C.
Well done Shaun, very good answer to Johnny and still keeping with wholeness of the Bible. The garden of Eden was a sacred place in the middle of the world as the Sabbath is in the middle of time; both made as 'very good' gift from our Creator. I hope that Johnny will be well satisfied and encouraged to keep going in believing the Bible - the whole of it - as inspired by the Holy Spirit and as such, the source of truth.
May God bless you and all the work at CMI.
Johnny E.

Thank you for spending the time to answer my question which you did with clarity and in truth, using the plain teaching of scripture.

It was particularly helpful how you suggested that Eden was a sacred place, given the presence of the Tree of Life, which clarified why Eden was a sanctuary. Additionally, showing the consistency of God's plan through Scripture, in this case via Isaiah 11:1-5 and v9, was helpful.

I wonder however, if your line: "Alas, our quick fall into sin ruined the project" might create potential confusion. God was not surprised by the fall but is sovereign over it and indeed all events that follow. In short, the redemption wrought through Jesus' death and resurrection is not 'Plan B' because of the fall, but is actually 'Plan A' from eternity past. I don't think you were suggesting the fall was a surprise for God but I offer the thought for clarity.

May the Lord continue to bless CMI's ministry, through which I have been blessed.
Shaun Doyle
Thanks for the encouragement, and I'm glad you found the answer helpful. Thanks also for giving me the benefit of the doubt on my admittedly ambiguous point.

And you're right; I certainly wasn't intending to say that the Cross was a 'Plan B'. As per classical Christian theism, I would make the distinction between two different types of intention in God: what he wants us to do, and what he sovereignly plans will happen. After all, there is surely a legitimate sense in which we can say that God 'wants' us to do what he knows is best for us, even if he knows we won't do it. After all, can we not grieve something that we know will happen, or even cause to happen? If we can, then surely God can too. So the Fall was a tragedy that stopped us from doing what God told us to do (and thus 'intended' for us to do), and so it grieved God, though he knew it was going to happen, and even permitted it to happen.
Seathrun M.
One point that may not be clear to all readers could need to be spelt out. Adam and Eve were put in charge of a Garden of Eden of limited size because that was all that one man and one woman could possibly care for! Even in an ideal world, it would surely take millions of gardeners or farmers to care for the entire planet.
This has to be one reason why Adam and Eve were told to "be fruitful and multiply" before being given dominion over all living things. In addition, they would need to gain experience before taking charge of a wider area - and/or training their children and grandchildren to do so.
God bless and guide your important work!
Shaun Doyle
Well said, Seathrún. This also shows that it was meant to be a family 'business'.
Jon Stephan E.
I don't think the Garden of Eden was anymore a sanctuary than the New Earth will be with its city Jerusalem.
Revelation talks about that none fallen can enter the city, but that does not entail that there will be sinners in the New Earth.
Robert B.
Here Geoff W. repeats something that I've seen asserted on CMI before, that thorns and thistles did not exist until AFTER the fall. Though this may be true; I believe that to preach it as revealed truth is a bit of a stretch.

Using similar logic, can we infer that the portion of the curse where God says that Adam would eat "by the sweat of your brow..." means that prior to the fall; humans didn't have sweat glands?

While such a notion is possible; I don't think we have a solid Biblical argument for it.
Shaun Doyle
I would rather say that they did not manifest until after the Fall. The most likely solutions are that either the plants that produce them did not germinate until after the Fall, and/or that plants that now have with thorns and thistles had the genetic information for them 'switched on' at the Fall.

Anyway, the 'sweat of your brow' comment was not a comment about the existence of sweat, but about the existence of strenuous effort in man's work after the Fall … which would end in futility and frustration. The difference between sweat and thorns is that sweat is not designed to harm, but thorns are.
Ben M.
From the theological tradition that I view things, the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden was more than symbolic, is was sacramental or mysteriological in the Eastern Orthodox sense. Matter conveyed grace; the two were not in contradiction. This co-inherance of matter and Divine Grace was lost in the Fall, and its Redemptive Recovery was in the Incarnation, when the very Human and material Jesus was united in His Divine Person to His very Divine and Uncreated Nature. He then went on to the Cross, and was Himself the Fruit of the Tree of Life- His Body and Blood offered for us for our redemption, not just forgiveness, but the recovery of Grace united to Matter, fulfilled at Pentecost with the Spirit being poured out upon His Body the Church, uniting created Humanity with the Divine, a communion sustained by His Body and Blood, by real co-inherence of the Matter of Communion, Wine and Bread, and Divine Grace- 'take, eat, this is my Bod Given".
Thank you for your ministry in defense of the Patristic high view of Early Genesis. Forgive me, the sinner, Benjamin.
Diana M.
Thank you. I find it interesting to look at the garden of Eden like the way a church is today (or like what God had the Israelite people build the Sanctuary for Him). The altar area (the Most Holy place in the tabernacle) is where the tree of life is.....the rest of the garden of Eden is where area just outside the sanctuary (like the Holy Place) and the rest of God's created "Very Good" world is outside the church......I often wonder if that is why God had the Israelite people make the Sanctuary the way He did....just another example of His once made Garden of Eden for mankind.
Joseph M.
God created everything to be eternal. Eden was a special place within an ‘eternal’ creation. There cannot be any death within eternity. Death only came after the Curse and eternity became 'past eternity'. Death applies to all, because Adam and Eve’s sin affected all of creation (God cursed the earth, the serpent Satan and as a consequence animals fell under the Curse – Genesis 3). It’s a straight reading of scripture. The conflict emerges when man wants to impose their own ideas into the text.
Geoff K.
In addition to my earlier comment on the slaying of the serpent, Death had as yet not entered the world as Adam had not sinned. The entry of death was after sin and it was most likely God who caused the first death when He provided coverings of animal skins for Adam and Eve. Irrespective of who or what was the first death, it remained God's sovereign right to introduce it, not Adam through slaying the serpent.
Geoff K.
The question of why Adam didn't kill the serpent when he saw that it was being disobedient to God is of course, Adam had as yet not eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, so he wouldn't have known that the serpent was evil. Even so, he still had a choice to trust and obey God rather than doubt His word.
Geoff C. W.
Thorns and thistles first appear AFTER the Fall (Genesis 3:18). It may be that nothing was growing outside Eden until then (Genesis 2:5).
Shaun Doyle
That would seem very strange, as it would make the pre-Flood world outside the Garden a barren wasteland. Besides, fish were in the seas, and we have no evidence of a sea inside the Garden. As such, there was at the very least sea life outside the Garden before the Fall.

Moreover, Genesis 1:11 and Genesis 2:5–6 do not speak to the same realities. Genesis 1:11 refers to the creation of vegetation in general, whereas Genesis 2:5–6 refers to the appearance (not the creation) of vegetation specifically relevant to the Curse in Genesis 3. In other words, all vegetation was made on Day 3, but some of it only appeared once God sent rain and man began to till the ground. This means that all vegetation was created on Day 3 of Creation Week, but some of it (specifically—cultivated plants, weeds, and unproductive shrubs) only appeared after the Fall. Man was not first placed in a crop, but in an orchard. For more information, please see Genesis contradictions?

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