Starting with Adam: Seeing How the Priesthood Begins in Genesis 1–2

gateEarlier this year, The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology published my article on typology. In it I argued for a “covenantal topography,” i.e., a semi-predictable pattern which all biblical types follow as they develop through the covenant history of the Bible. In that article, I focused on the priesthood as an example of how types develop from creation through the patriarchs, the law, and prophets. Ultimately, they culminate in Jesus Christ and by extension apply to those in Christ. At least, that’s the argument I made.

If you are interested in typology and how the Bible fits together, this article (“From Beelines to Plotlines: Typology That Follows the Covenantal Topography of Scripture“) may be worth considering (or critiquing, or I hope considering and improving). For today, I share the first phase of the priesthood, to show how priestly themes begin in Genesis with the creation of Adam as the first royal priest.

Creation: The Prototype

In the beginning, God created “images” created to reflect God’s glory. In fact, Genesis 1’s language of “image and likeness” is pregnant with eschatological potential.[1] As the rest of Scripture confirms, Adam is the fountainhead for all personal types. Because his image and likeness is passed down from Adam to Seth (Gen 5:3), the train of redemptive history picks up steam as one generation of image-bearers bears another. This pattern of image-bearers begetting image-bearers has significance for our theological anthropology but also for our theological hermeneutics. Situated at the head of humanity, Adam’s vocation is significant because, as Moses records, God endowed him with covenantal responsibilities—royal rule and priestly service.

In Genesis 1 and 2, Adam and his helpmate are commissioned to have dominion over the earth. They are to subdue and rule all that God has made (1:26–28) and cultivate and keep the garden (2:15–17).[2] As Psalm 8:5–6 later confirms, God “crowned man with glory and honor, . . . put[ting] all things under his feet.” This is a reflection on Adam and his role of ruling over creation.[3] Likewise, Ezekiel 28 portrays the king of Tyre in priestly garb and situates him in Eden,[4] which leads Beale to observe, “Ezekiel 28:13 pictures Adam dressed in bejeweled clothing like a priest.”[5] Thus, in looking at the creation of Adam, we find the beginnings of priest-king in Scripture.

The priestly type, therefore, does not begin with Melchizedek (Genesis 14) or the formation of the Levitical priesthood (Exodus 28ff.). Rather, as many Old Testament commentators note, Adam is portrayed as “an archetypal Levite,” which is another way of saying that Adam was the first priest.[6] Because God placed Adam in his garden sanctuary (Gen 2:8), commissioned him to guard God’s sacred space (2:15), and instructed him to keep covenant (2:16–17), we can see that Adam is far more than a prehistoric farmer. Materially, we find in Adam the first priest. Formally, we find strong evidence that typology begins on page one of the Bible. Thus, when reconstructing what Scripture says about typology, we must begin in the beginning. Eden is filled with typology and thus our typological structures must begin on the Mountain of God.

At the same time, we must consider how the Fall changed the priestly office. While Adam functioned more exclusively as an attendant in the household of God,[7] later priests focused on making atonement and mediating the covenant between God and man. Observing this does not discount the priestly role of Adam, but it does remind us that after sin entered the world, the priestly office would take up the role of sacrificer and intercessor. Adam’s original calling to serve and guard God’s holy garden (Gen 2:15) remained in effect among the Levitical priests,[8] but not without significant change in a Genesis 3 world.

If you are interested in considering the priesthood more, you can read the rest of this article or my own dissertation which takes on the same topic. Yesterday’s blogpost also relates to this topic and may be worth perusing.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds


[1] On the eschatology of Genesis 1–2, see J. V. Fesko, Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis 1-3 with the Christ of Eschatology (Fearn, Scotland: Mentor, 2007), and Warren Austin Gage, The Gospel of Genesis: Studies in Protology and Eschatology (Winona Lake, IN: Carpenter, 1984).

[2] Studies on Genesis 1–2 and their significance for theological anthropology (i.e., the image and likeness of God) are legion, but some of the most recent works include W. Randall Garr, In His Own Image and Likeness: Humanity, Divinity, and Monotheism (Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 15; Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2003); Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005); Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 181–208.

[3] Willem VanGemeren, Psalms, in vol. 5 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (ed. Frank E. Gaebelein; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 112–13; Konrad Schaefer, Psalms: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry (Berit Olam; Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier, 2001), 24–25.

[4] Daniel Block, Ezekiel 25–48 (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 110–12.

[5] G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (NSBT; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 75.

[6] Ken Mathews, Genesis 1–11:26, NAC, vol. 1A (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 52; cf. Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 211–12; Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 66­–70.

[7] Peter Leithart, “Attendants of Yahweh’s House: Priesthood in the Old Testament,” JSOT 85 (1999): 3-24.

[8] “For instance, in Numbers 3, the Levites are given the general responsibility of guarding the high priest (v. 7), the furnishings and the people (v. 8), and their own priesthood (v. 10). Then, specific to each clan, the Gershonites, Kohathites, and Merarites are called to guard, respectively, the tent of meeting (vv. 21–26), the sanctuary (vv. 27–33), and the frames of the tabernacle (v. 33–37). This is followed by the placement of the Levites in front of the sanctuary gate with the license to kill “any outsider who came near” (vv. 38–39). Guarding is a prevalent theme for the priests in Numbers. Indeed, throughout the Old Testament (2 Chr 35:9; 36:4; Ezr 10:5), and into the New Testament (Luke 22:4, 52; Acts 4:1; 5:24, 26), a “temple guard” is present.” David Schrock, “A Biblical-Theological Investigation of Christ’s Priesthood,” 102–03.

2 thoughts on “Starting with Adam: Seeing How the Priesthood Begins in Genesis 1–2

  1. Thanks for all the research! I was blessed and benefited for my own teaching of others, which I have been doing for well over 30 years.

  2. Pingback: You Were Made For This: An Introduction to the Priesthood (Genesis 2:4–25) | Via Emmaus

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