The Garden of Eden: A Biblical-Theological Framework

gardenGod’s people dwelling in God’s place under God’s rule: This tripartite division, outlined by Graeme Goldsworthy in his book According to Plan, well articulates the relationship of Adam and Eve to God in the Garden. Yet, often when Christians read the creation account in Genesis 1–2 they miss the royal and priestly themes in those two chapters. In fact, in teaching this section of Scripture, I have often had veteran saints question the validity of calling Adam a royal priest and the garden of Eden a royal sanctuary.

So, in what follows, I hope to provide a brief summary of the biblical evidence for seeing the first image-bearers (imago Dei) as royal priests commissioned by God to have priestly dominion over the earth—a commission later restored in type to Israel (see Exodus 19:5–6), fulfilled in Christ (see, e.g., Hebrews 5), and shared with all those who are in Christ (see 1 Peter 2:5, 9–10). In these sections, we will focus on the temple and by extension to the purpose and work of mankind in that original garden-sanctuary. (Much of this research stems from my dissertation, which considered in depth the details of the priesthood in Scripture).

Gardens in the Bible

The Garden in Eden

Easily missed by a casual reading of Genesis 2, the “Garden of Eden” (2:15; 3:23, 24; cf. Ezek 36:35; Joel 2:3) is actually the “Garden in Eden” (2:8; cf. 2:10)—meaning that the Garden is a subsection of the land of Eden itself. Confirming this, John Walton writes, “Technically speaking, Genesis 2:10 indicates that the garden should be understood as adjoining Eden because the water flows from Eden and waters the garden.”[1]  Further support for this view, that the garden is in Eden, is the fact that the man was created outside the Garden (2:7) and then brought to work the garden (2:8).

The Garden of God

Genesis 2 is the account of the Garden of God (cf. Isa 51:3; Ezek 28:13; 31:9), and the man Adam who is placed in the Garden as a servant of the Lord. Describing the literary framework of Genesis 2:8ff, Peter Gentry states, “Genesis 2:8–17 portrays the first man as a kind of priest in the garden sanctuary. In terms of literary structure, 2:8a describes the creation of the garden and 2:8b the placing of the man there. In what follows, 2:9–15 elaborates on 2:8a [the place] and 2:16–17 elaborates on 2:8b [the priest].”[2] Thus, in light of Moses later writing, we should see this Garden as a sacred sanctuary, the place where God walked in the presence of his people (cf. Leviticus 26:12). Continue reading

On the Transgender Movement in Public Schools: Video and Written Resources

malefemaleThe Prince William County School Board is set to vote again on Proposal 060, the measure postponed last fall. This policy change would add sexual orientation and gender identity language to the non-discrimination policy of the public schools. Since last fall churches in our county have sought to speak with grace and truth in the public square.

Such speaking is not often easy, because it is often perceived that opposition to transgender policies is unloving towards those struggling with gender dysphoria. Yet, the most unloving thing we can do is permit falsehood to reign and children to be deceived by the messaging of the transgender movement. (See there agenda here).

In what follows, you can find a number of video resources about the transgender movement. Below that are written resources that can also be read and disseminated. Continue reading

The Biblical Story of Priestly Glory

priesthoodOn Monday, I made the case that we should understand the imago dei in priestly terms. To develop that idea a bit, let me show how the biblical story line can be understood through the lens of the priesthood, as well.

Creation

In creation Adam was made to be a royal priest. Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Or it could be translated “to serve it and guard it.” In other words, the man in the Garden was more than a prehistoric gardener. He was a royal priest. And we know he was a priest because the language used in Genesis 2:15 is used repeatedly of priests in Numbers 3. Moses, the author of both books, is making the point that Adam was stationed in the Garden as a priest—to serve the Lord by cultivating the Garden (even expanding its borders) and to guard the Garden from unclean intruders (a key work of the priest and one he failed to do in Genesis 3). In short, redemptive history begins with a priest in the Garden, one whose righteous appearance and holy vocation was breathtaking, as Ezekiel 28:12–14 describes,

You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were an anointed guardian cherub [A better translation is the NET: “I placed you there with an anointed guardian cherub]; I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.

Sadly, this glorious beginning did not last long. Continue reading

The Priestly Aspect of the Imago Dei

priestIn The Christian FaithMichael Horton suggests four aspects of the Imago Dei, what it means to be made in God’s image. He enumerates them as

  1. Sonship/Royal Dominion
  2. Representation
  3. Glory
  4. Prophetic Witness

For each there is solid biblical evidence. Genesis 1:26–31; Psalm 8; and Hebrews 2:5–9 all testify to humanity’s royal sonship. Likewise, the whole creation narrative (Genesis 1–2) invites us to see man and woman as God’s creatures representing him on the earth. First Corinthians 11:7 speaks of mankind as the “glory of God.” Horton rightly distinguishes, “The Son and the Spirit are the uncreated Glory of God . . . human beings are the created reflectors of divine majesty” (401). They are, in other words, God’s “created glory,” which in time will be inhabited by the “uncreated glory” of God in the person of Jesus Christ. And last, as creatures made by the Word of God, in covenant relation with him, every human is a prophetic witness. In the fall, this prophetic witness is distorted. Humans are now ensnared to an innumerable cadre of idols (see Rom 1:18–32), but the formal purpose remains—to be made in the image of God is to be a prophetic witness.

Horton’s articulation is compelling, biblical, and beautiful. But it seems, in my estimation, to stress royal and prophetic tasks without giving equal attention to the priestly nature of humanity. To be fair, Horton refers to humanity’s priestly vocation under the headings of “representation” and “glory.” But because these are supporting the vocational idea of representation and the abstract idea of glory, we miss a key idea—the imago dei is by definition a priestly office. Or better, the imago dei is a royal priest who bears witness to the God of creation. Let’s consider. Continue reading

The Image of God and Public Theology

Earlier this week, I considered the personal effect of meditating on and living in the truth of being made in God’s image. Today, I want to show how the image Dei should inform our public theology and social ethics. In a sentence, the image of God should inform the way we look at the world, because only when we keep the image of God at the forefront of our mind will we rightly be able to glorify God in all of life.  Here are five ways the image of God should inform our ethics—four specific, one generic. Continue reading

Re-Imaging Our Personal Identity

A friend of mine once quipped that when we tell people we are ‘fine,’ we are really saying in code that we are Freaked Out, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional (F. I. N. E.). I think he has a point, as ‘fine’ is so often used to cover up deep-seated insecurities and hurt.

Sad as it may be, this is the human condition. We are masters of making fig-leaf coverings. We have lost our original covering of righteousness, and deep down we all know that something is not quite right.

On biblical terms: We are made to bear the image of God’s glory, but in our sin we have fallen short. Therefore, we need restoration to be who God made us to be. In other words, we need to be remade in the image of God. Praise be to God that this is what the gospel of Jesus Christ accomplishes. Consider just a few verses. Continue reading

The Image of God: A Covenantal Proposal

Yesterday, I cited Marc Cortez‘s survey of Genesis 1:26-28 and what the image of God means. In his book, Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed he lists structural, functional, relational, and multi-faceted as four ways that the imago Dei has been explained. Yet, he also exposes the fact that there are weaknesses in each position, and thus he contributes his own proposal which is a covenantal version of the multi-faceted view. Continue reading

The Image of God (Genesis 1:26)

Genesis 1:26 

“The divine Son is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Man was created in a way that reflects the imaging relation among the persons of the Trinity. The redemption of man from the fall and sin includes re-creation (2 Cor. 5:17), his being “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness,” in the image of Christ (Eph. 4:24).” (History of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ” in ESV Study Bible’s,  p. 2635).

In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth, and on the earth he placed a man and a woman to reflect his glory and rule his creation (Gen 1:26-28). Genesis 1:26-27 recounts the words of the triune God, “Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness. . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

In his Theological Anthropology, Marc Cortez supplies a helpful survey of the ways Christians have understood the Imago Dei.  He summarizes the positions and asserts that some have argued that there is something material in man that makes him unique (i.e., his reason, mental capacity, etc.); others have suggested a functional view, that man made in God’s image is intended to rule over creation. This has strong exegetical support in Genesis 1:26-31 and Psalm 8. Still others make a case for a relational aspect of God’s image. Just as God exists as the three-in-one God, so mankind is male and female, and when man and woman unite in marriage, the two become one. The relationship is complementary, and in the mysterious union and diversity between the sexes is there a material glimpse of the one God who exists in three persons. Continue reading

Last Things First: Meditations on the Image of God

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15).

This weekend, I will be preaching from some of the richest Christological verses in the Bible, Colossians 1:15-20.  And in preparation this week, I have been reading JV Fesko’s Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis 1-3 with the Christ of EschatologyFesko’s treatment of “protology,” eschatology, and Christology are incredible stimulating and illuminating.  Seeing that Genesis 1-3 is not just a polemic against Charles Darwin, nor a proof-text the age of the earth, but rather a glorious beginning to the story of Jesus Christ–his creation, redemption, and new creation.  Fesko effectively demonstrates that these passages are about the Triune God and the true man, Jesus Christ. 

Drawing on a rich history of commentators, Fesko quotes Anthony Hoekema, G.K. Beale, and John Calvin as they seek to explain the context and the concept of the Imago Dei.  Their reflections are worth pondering in order to better understand this tremendous biblical truth–namely, what it means to be made in the image of God, and that Jesus Christ himself is the Image of God!  Quoting from Hoekema’s The Image of God first, Fesko remarks: 

The image of God in man must: “be seen as involving the structure of man (his gifts, capacities, and endowments) and the functioning of man (his actions, his relationships to God and to others, and the way he uses his gifts).  To stress either of the of these at the expense of the other is to be one-sided…To see man as the image of God is to see both the task and the gifts.  But the task is primary; the gifts are secondary.  The gifts are the means for fulfilling the task” (A. Hoekema, quoted by Fesko in Last Things First, 47).

To Hoekema’s balanced representation of structure and function, Fesko incorporate’s Beale’s cultural-historical observations:

G.K. Beale explains the connection between monarchs as images of deities and explains, “ancient kings would set up images of themselves in distant lands over which they ruled in order to represent their sovereign presence.  For example, after conquering a new territory, the Assyrian king Shalmanesar ‘fashioned a mighty image of my majesty’ that he ‘set up’ on a clack obelisk, and then he virtually equates his ‘image’ with that of ‘the glory of Assur’ his god.  Likewise, Adam was created as the image of the divine king to indicate that earth was ruled over by Yahweh” (G.K. Beale, quoted by Fesko, 49).

Finally, Fesko quotes the great reformer, John Calvin, whose comments highlight the dignity bestowed upon humanity’s nature. 

The chief seat of the Divine image was in his mind and heart, where it was eminent…In the mind perfect intelligence flourished and reigned, uprightness attended as its companion, and all the senses were prepared and molded for due obedience to reason; and in the body there was a suitable corresondence with this internal order’ (John Calvin, quoted by Fesko, 50).

In short order, John Fesko, summarizes some of the most important aspects of the doctrine of humanity.  He supports a holistic definition that incorporates Calvin’s substantive understanding, that mankind has essential properties that reflect the Godhead; Hoekema’s dual understanding that mankind is made to rule (function) and that God has given mankind gifts and abilities to carry out that task (structure); and Beale’s cultural-historical understanding of humanity’s place as delegated vice-regents to rule over creation, to expand the glory of God by ruling over creation and proliferating the image of God.

Of course, there is much more to say because this original program was aborted as soon as Adam’s feet touched earth.  Humanity proceded to reflect the image of God, but in a marred and perverted way.  Nevertheless, eternal God’s intention for the true Imago Dei was never thwarted!  As highlighted by Last Things First, Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ was always the intended telos of mankind.  We are made in his image, but He is the image of God (cf. Col. 1:15; 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:4; Heb. 1:3).  Fesko distills the preceding quotations well, so we will finish with his summary:

Set against the ancient Near Eastern religions in which the ‘forces of nature are divinities that may hold the human race in thralldom, our text declares man to be a free agent who has the God-given power to control nature’ (Nahum Sarna, Genesis, 13).  Moreover, no man or any other creature is a deity.  Rather, God’s image, his incommunicable attributes, were given to man so he could rule as God’s vice-regent over the creation (50).

Made in the image of Christ, may we rejoice in the True ImageoDei, Jesus, and press on to Christ-like conformity as we embrace our roles as vice-regents, looking for the day when our bodies are redeemed and we will ever reign with Christ (cf. Rom. 8:23; 2 Tim. 2:12).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss