The Garden of Eden

Genesis 2:8-17

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
October 2014

Our topic today is the Garden of Eden.  These verses in Genesis 2 make up one of the most familiar passages in the entire Bible.  Every Sunday School student knows about the Garden of Eden.  The Garden of Eden was not just a nice biblical story for children.  It was a real place.  Genesis is not a book of myths.  It is real history.

How much do we really know about the Garden of Eden?  Today we want to go a little deeper and answer what was life really like in this garden?  This section will blow your mind.   We will have fun with this topic.  I want you to see this section in perhaps a way you have never seen before.  As we will see, it was very different from the world in which we live.  It was radically different from life as we know it.

Unfortunately, Genesis 2 doesn’t tell us everything about this garden.  It doesn’t answer all of our questions.  How long did he live in the Garden of Eden?  Did he live there for a hundred years or just a few days?

There was a book written one to two hundred years before the time of Jesus called The Book of Jubilees. It was not inspired but it was a popular Jewish book in the first century. The Book of Jubilees says that they were in the garden for seven years (3:15-17). How long were they there?

The Bible does not answer this question.  There are some things that God has revealed and some things he has not revealed.  Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

While we cannot know for sure, there are some inferences we can draw from this chapter.  Adam and Eve could not possibly have been in the garden for a hundred years.  It is impossible. It had to be a relatively short time.  It may have been a few days or a few weeks.  It was probably less than a month.  How do we know?  There are several hints in the text.

1) They never had any children.

If they were in the garden for a hundred years, they would have had kids.  Some have said that perhaps they did have kids in the garden.  Perhaps Cain was not their first child.  There is only one problem with that theory.  If they had kids before the Fall, their kids would have been born sinless, since the Fall had not taken place.  They would have been born without a sin nature.  The Bible teaches that in Adam all die.  All of Adam’s descendants inherited a sin nature, not just some of them.  All of them are born spiritually dead.[1] 

2) They never ate the tree of life.

Adam and Eve were given permission to eat from the tree of Life.  Genesis 2:16 said, “And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from ANY TREE in the garden” and that include the tree of Life. He only tree they were not allowed to eat from was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He never ate from that tree but we will.  That tree will be in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1-2) and we will have access to it for all eternity.

There is no evidence from the text that they ever ate from this tree, even though it was not only in the garden, it was in the center of the garden.  Genesis 2:9 says “In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

After they sinned, God kicked them out of the garden so that they did not eat from this tree and live forever (3:22).  This is just an inference but if they had been in the garden for a hundred years, they would have gotten to every tree in the garden.

3) Satan hated God and wanted to tempt man.

He would have wanted to do this sooner, rather than later.  Why did he tempt them?  He also hated God and wanted to wreck and ruin his creation.  What do we know for sure about this garden?  What was life like in Eden?

The Inhabitants of Eden

Who lived there?  Animals were present.  People were present, although there were only two people on the planet, not seven billion like we have today.  Angels were also present.  Satan was present.  God was there as well.

That is what made Eden paradise.  Eden was the one place where He manifested His presence was in the garden.  Genesis says that God walked in the garden.  He had face to face communication with Adam and Eve in the garden (3:8).

In fact, many have described the Garden of Eden as a temple.  It was like a temple.  God created the earth but the garden was different from the rest of the earth.  The Garden of Eden was special.

It was the one place on the planet where God manifested his presence.  The one place where He manifested Himself was in this beautiful tropical paradise.  The word Eden means “pleasure” or “delight”.  There were many ways the Garden of Eden was like a temple.

  • The entrance to the Temple was to the east, on a mountain facing Zion (Ex. 15:17), just as the end-time temple prophesied in Ezekiel is (40:2, 6; 43:12). The entrance to Eden was from the East (Gen. 3:24).
  • The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were not to have any access to, just like the Ark of the Covenant.  Anyone who touched it would die.  Only certain people were allowed to touch it (the Levites) and even they could only do it at certain times and in a certain way.
  • A river flowed out of Eden (Gen 2:10), just as a river will flow out of the end-time Temple (Ezekiel 47:1-12; Rev. 21:1-2).
  • There were cherubim in the Temple, just as there were cherubim in the garden.  They cherubim in the Temple were just decorations.  They were engravings.  After the Fall, there were some real cherubim there with flaming swords to keep people out.
  • Adam was to “cultivate and take care of” the garden (2:15) and those two Hebrew words are used of the priest in the OT.

The people and animals in the garden were very different form the people and animals we see today.  How were the animals different?  They were all vegetarian.  Animals were not eating each other in paradise.

Genesis 1:30 says, “God said, ‘and to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”  That seems hard for us to imagine today.

Some animals seem to be carnivorous by nature.  They are now but we not before the Fall.  It was a completely different world.   The Bible says that when Jesus returns, animals will go back to the way they were in the Garden of Eden.  Lions right now are carnivores.  In the kingdom, lions will be herbivores (Isaiah 11:7).

You will be able to put a lion and a lamb together.  As my pastor pointed out last Sunday, you cannot do that now.  One will eat the other.  There are many venomous snakes in the world today.  They are poisonous.  They bite you and you die. In the kingdom, children will play with poisonous snakes and not get hurt (Isaiah 11:8-9).  How were people different?  How were Adam and Eve different from us?

1) They did not experience physical birth.

They were created.  They were not born.  They were made.  They did not come into the world through sex.  Jesus did not come into the world through sex either.  Mary was a Virgin but Jesus was born.  Adam and Eve were never born.

Implications of No Birth for Adam

Why are the implications of this.  Because they were not born, four things would be true of them.

1. This means that they did NOT have a belly-button.

Belly-buttons are just a scar from birth and they were not born, so Adam and Eve would not have had one.

2. This means that they did NOT have any ancestors

They did not have any parents or grandparents.

3. This means that they entered the world AS ADULTS.

They did not enter the garden as children.  They did not have a childhood and never had to grow up.

4. This means that they were also created with an appearance of age.

They looked older than they were.  They may have looked twenty or twenty-five years old but were actually only a day old.  The rest of creation was also created with an appearance of age.  Trees were created with fruit on them, according to Genesis (1:12).

2) They were completely sinless.

All of us are sinners.  We are sinners from birth.  They were created perfect without any sin.  They lived in a world with no sin and no crime.  There were no other people on the planet.  They did not worry about their security or being hurt by anyone.  There was no crime, no war and no terrorism. That is different from the world in which we live in today.  They lived in a world of peace.

3)  They were perfectly healthy

They were genetically perfect.  They had twenty-twenty vision.  They were not allergic to anything.  Not only were they created perfect.  They had a perfect body.  They lived in a perfect world with no suffering, disease and sickness and death.  They never got a cold.  They did not have to deal with Ebola or AIDS.

4) They had a much higher longevity rate.

They lived longer than we do.   Adam lived to be 930 years old (5:5).  We live to be about 78.  They lived eleven times longer than we do.  We will learn more about this when we get to Genesis 5.

5) They had a different diet than we do.

Adam and Eve were vegetarians.  They did not eat meat.  Maybe that is why they lived longer but God has given us permission to eat meat now.  We see that in Genesis 9 after the Flood.

6) They didn’t wear any clothes.

They were nudists.  That seems strange to us.  We think of clothes as natural. There are people today who don’t wear clothes on the planet but they are usually primitive people and, as we already saw, the first humans were not savages.  They were very advanced.

Adam was highly intelligent.  He was probably more intelligent than we are.  Evolution pictures the first men as very primitive.   Adam was not a caveman with a low IQ.  Adam knew how to speak right away.  He understood language when God spoke to him and he never went to school.  He was able to name the animals right away.  We had to learn how to speak and communicate.

Why would these advanced humans go around without clothes?  God created people without clothing.  In fact, everything He created was good and Adam and Eve were naked and were not ashamed of their nudity.

That raises an interesting question.  If marriage in the garden is a model for us today, why wouldn’t nudity be a model for us today?  Therefore, some argue that nudity is not wrong today.  Nude beaches are not wrong.  Are these arguments valid?

Nudity was present before the Fall.  We do not live before the Fall.  Some things appropriate before the Fall are not appropriate today.  After the Fall, God gave Adam and Eve clothes to wear.  Some things appropriate after the Fall (marrying relatives) were later forbidden in Levitical Law.  There were some rules in Levitical Law which no longer apply today (food laws).

Public nudity would be wrong today for four reasons. One, it is illegal. Two, it is unbiblical. The Bible commands us to wear modest apparel. Three, it would cause others to sin. Four, it would be a poor testimony to the lost.

The Environment of Eden

There were lots of plants, rivers, trees and water in Eden.  Genesis mentions four rivers and two trees.  There is a river than runs through the whole garden.  Things were different then.  It had a completely different hydrological system.  Plants are watered not from above but from below (a mist came up from the ground).  They had a different water cycle than we have today.

There were three different types of trees in the garden. Some were good for food (2:9), like apple trees and cherry trees.  That is important because there were no grocery stores in Eden.  There were no restaurants.  Adam did not have any money.

He did not have a wallet and if he had one, he would have had no place to put it, as one preacher commented[2].  Some trees just looked good.  You can’t eat them.  They are non-edible.  Some trees are beautiful but do not have any fruit on them.

There was a third type of tree in the garden.  These were special trees, like the tree of life, and tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  They were real fruit trees but they also served another function.  I would call one the tree of life and the tree of death, because when they ate fruit from it, they died.

The Location of Eden

The Bible tells us where it was located.  It gives specific geographic coordinates to it.  Genesis mentions real lands and real rivers associated with it.  The Garden of Eden had a river that ran through it and separated into four other rivers (Tigris, Euphrates, Pishon, Gihon).  These were actual rivers.

Two of them are still called by that name today (Tigris and Euphrates).  They come together at the northwest point of the Persian Gulf.   If you find the four rivers, you find the garden.  The million dollar question is, Where this garden is located?  Has it ever been found?

Some say that it has never been found and never will be found because it never existed.  Others say that it has never been found and cannot be found because it was destroyed in the Flood.  They argue that the Tigris, Euphrates, Pishon, Gihon are all pre-Flood rivers.

The Tigris and Euphrates are not the same as the Tigris and Euphrates today.  That does not make much sense to me.  If that is the case, why would Moses mention these four rivers in the first place?  It would be completely meaningless to include that detail.

There is a third view is the view that I hold.  The third view says that the Garden of Eden can be found and has been found.  Its general location was discovered in the 1980s by an American archaeologist from Missouri State University.  His name is Juris Zarins.  He was not even a Christian but he spent years studying the location of this garden and I think he found it.

Can we visit it today?  No.  It is under water.  You can’t see it but we know where it is located.  It is located where the Persian Gulf is today.

We know the location of the first two rivers.  The Tigris and Euphrates are in the Middle East.  They run right through Iraq and flow into the Persian Gulf.  They are long rivers.  They are over a thousand miles long.  The Euphrates is almost two thousand miles long.

In the 1980s, NASA came up with new technology.  Zarins took a look at satellite images of the Middle East and saw a dried up river bed.  It clearly marked where a river once flowed.  It is impossible to see on the ground.  It is covered by desert sand but looking down can clearly see a river that connects to the Tigris and Euphrates, using satellite images from space.

This was the Pishon which went through Eastern Saudi Arabia (called Wadi Batin river system).  Arabia is where gold is located.  There is an area in Saudi Arabia (the Mahd adh Dhahab located in Al Madina province of the Hejaz region) called “the cradle of gold”.  He only needed to find one more river.

Then he remembered that the Karun River, which is the largest river in Iran (450 miles) used to connect to the Tigris and Euphrates.  There has been a dam since the 1970s.  That would be the fourth river (Gihon).  This is speculation but these are probably the four rivers mentioned in Genesis. The picture below shows three of the rivers.

All four of these rivers connect to the Persian Gulf, which is shallow.  It is only one hundred and fifty feet deep.  The Persian Gulf is the size of Great Britain.  At one time, the Persian Gulf was dry land.

Climate experts believe that it was dry land before the Ice Age.  After the Ice Age, oceans rose and this area flooded. Now scientists are saying that there was a lost civilization which once existed under the Persian Gulf.[3] That is where Eden most likely existed.

The Occupation in Eden

Immediately after Adam was created, God gave him some work to do.  In fact, God planted a garden to create a job for Adam.  Someone needed to take care of the garden.  He was a gardener.  That was just one of his jobs.

He also had to study all of the animals and give them all names.  He was a zoologist.  What is the lesson here?  Work is good.  It is not a curse but a blessing.  It is part of the intended order of creation.  Work is not the result of sin.  It took place in the garden before the Fall.

Now at this point, the land was productive and work was easy.  It was not toilsome as it became after the Fall but Adam still had to do some work.  Most people think that paradise is the absence of work.  They think work and paradise are incompatible.  That is not true.

Even in a perfect world, Adam had some jobs to do.  Even in paradise, the garden had to be tilled and some seeds had to be sown.  God did not create us to be idle.  The Bible has a lot to say about being lazy (cf. Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4, 26; 13:4; 20:4; 22:13; 26:13).

The Restriction in Eden

Adam and Eve lived in a complete paradise but they still had some rules to follow.  God gave them some commands. God could have created Adam and Eve, put them in the garden with no rules and said, “You can do whatever you want”.  He could have been like a permissive parent.  Instead, He gave them some rules.  He set some boundaries.

And the Lord God COMMANDED the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (2:16-17 NKJV)

What is significant about this restriction?  Several things stand out about this restriction.

1) There was only one restriction.

Adam and Eve did not have six hundred commandments to follow, like the Jews had.  They did not have ten commandments to follow.  We have difficulty keeping just ten today.   God made it really easy for them.  They only had one commandment to keep, just one.  They were given one restriction and that restriction was only on one tree.

2) It was a prohibition.

This command was negative.  God did not tell them something that they must do but something they must not do.  It was forbidden under penalty of death.

3) It had to do with food.

It was a food rule.  It had to do with diet.  Chocolate was not forbidden, just fruit from one tree.  There was one tree they were not allowed to eat, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

4) It was perfectly fair.

Some say that this was not fair.  Isn’t this like putting candy in front of a child and telling him that he cannot have any?  God did not even hide the cookie.  He put it right in the middle of the garden, so Adam could not miss it.  Was this entrapment on God’s part?  God creates a beautiful tree with delicious fruit and tells Adam and Eve not to eat it.  No.  The opposite is true.

God said, “You may FREELY eat the fruit of EVERY tree in the garden” (2:16).   Notice the words “freely” and “every”.  They were free to eat from any tree in the garden, as often as they wanted.  God did not say that to Adam that he could eat from some of the trees of the garden or half of the trees of the garden or even most of the trees of the garden.

He said that he could eat from ALL of them, except for one.  It is like telling a little boy in a candy store, he can eat any piece of candy he wants in the entire store, except for one particular candy bar. Adam and Eve were not deprived.  God was not unfair to them.

5) The instructions were clear.

God made it very clear what was forbidden.  The tree was even placed in the middle of the garden, so they would know where it was.  It is hard to accidentally eat something.  You might accidentally touch something but not eat it.  That would require a deliberate choice.

6) A reason was given for it.

God did not give them a prohibition without a reason.  When it came to that tree, God said, “eat and die”.  God told them in no uncertain terms that if they ate from this tree, they would not only die, they would die that very day.  He said, “In the day you eat from the tree you will surely die” (2:17).

Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

The important question we need to answer is this: Why was this tree forbidden? Why would God prohibit a tree that contained knowledge?  Isn’t knowledge a good thing?  Was God trying to keep Adam and Eve ignorant?  Does God give people brownie points for being stupid?  Why did God prohibit the tree of knowledge of good and evil from Adam and Eve?  Didn’t He want them to know good and evil?  Why did God give this restriction?

Why the Tree was NOT Forbidden

We know why the tree was not forbidden. God didn’t prohibit it because it was harmful. God created this tree and put it in the garden. Everything God created was not only good, it was very good and that includes this tree. There was nothing wrong with the fruit on this tree.  The tree was said to be good for food (2:9; 3:6)

God said if they ate from the tree they would die but the tree itself was not harmful. It did not contain any deadly poison that would hurt people if they ate it. It was not the fruit on the tree that caused people to die. It was the fact that they disobeyed God which caused death. What killed them was disobedience to God, not some fruit on a tree.

Why the Tree WAS Forbidden 

People always ask, “If God didn’t want man to eat from this tree, why did He put it in the garden in the first place?”  What was this tree doing in God’s garden? The answer is to test man, not to tempt him but to test him. God tested Adam and Eve in Genesis 2.  Satan tempted them in Genesis 3. James 1:13 says that God NEVER tempts people to sin.  There is a very important reason that this tree was in the garden.  It served a useful purpose.

This tree was a visible TEST of Adam’s obedience.  It was not a test, like the kind of tests you take at school.  This test was not given to find out how much they knew but how much they would obey. It was not an academic test.  It was a moral test.  It was an obedience test.

Why did God test Adam and Eve?  Adam was created perfect.  God gave him authority.  He had authority over the entire earth but He was still under authority.  He was still a creature.

Adam was also created with free will.  Adam was created with freedom of choice.   God did not force Him to obey Him.  He didn’t force Him to worship Him.  God gave Adam and Eve a clear command and they had a decision to make.

Would they obey or disobey God?  This test determined if Adam would submit to God’s authority or reject God’s right to rule and declare himself independent of God.  Next week, we will look at the decision they made.

Modern Applications

So far, we have looked at what life was like in the garden and we have focused on how radically different from the world in which we live.  Our world is full of sin, sickness and death.  We all wear clothes.  We have a different diet.  We do not live as long as they did.  We do not live in paradise.

We came into the world differently but there are many ways in which the world is the same as theirs was.  What are some ways in which our world is similar to the Garden of Eden?  Let me point out about fifteen similarities between us and Adam and Eve.

How Things Have Not Changed Much

  • We are creatures made in the image of God like Adam was.
  • God still gives us work to do, like He did Adam.
  • God still provides for our needs.  He gives us food to eat as well.
  • We can still fellowship with God today.
  • God speaks to us today, though it is usually not audible.
  • We can still get married today, like Adam and Eve did.
  • We can still have children like they did.
  • We have problems with our kids, like they did.
  • There are rules for us to follow today.
  • We have rebelled against God like he has.
  • We tend to blame others for our own failings
  • We encountered spiritual death like Adam.
  • Satan still tempts people today, like he did in the garden.
  • We still have free choice today, like Adam and Eve had.
  • We have a tendency to want to do whatever is forbidden.
  • God still holds us accountable for our actions today.
  • God still judges people today.
  • God still tests people today.

[1] Some say that Eve must have had children prior to Cain because God says in Genesis 3:16: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children” (NKJV).  The argument goes that you cannot increase or multiply pains unless you have some pains to begin with.  That argument is flawed.

If you go from zero to ten there is an increase.  In English, it might imply pain to start with but it doesn’t in Hebrew.  It simply means in Hebrew to increase something. The word is used in Gen 16:10 of what God would to Hagar.  God promised to multiply her seed, before she has had her first child. The expression simply means that she will have many offspring.

Similarly, in Numbers 26:54, God tells Moses to “make great” the inheritance of the larger tribes and “make small” that of the smaller ones, while they are still in the wilderness and no tribe has received any inheritance at all. Again, he means that when the inheritances are handed out, the larger tribes are to get bigger ones, as my friend Van Parunak pointed out.

[2] Bill Hixson, Genesis 2:4-25, spoken recording (n.d.)


6 Responses to The Garden of Eden

  1. Gladys says:

    Okay so question if I may, there is the scripture that says 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

    Ya….he didn’t die then thought, he lived a really long time. I have been told that it was a spiritual death, others use this as proof that time is different for God then for us.
    But the question is if this is when ‘death’ in general started, then wouldn’t he have died spiritually and physically at the same time?

    • admin says:

      Great question. Can you hold off until Sunday when I teach on the Fall (Genesis 3:1-7). It should be answered then in detail. Sorry for the delay. I am still working on that lesson.

  2. SLR says:

    So…kind of a dumb question but I didn’t see any posts that fit my question so this seamed to be the most appropriate place to ask it. Do animals go to heaven? I mean I have been told that they do not have souls which makes since to me since they do not have the ability to accept Christ or not. And it was Adam and eve that sinned not animals. But does the fact that the sin was mans mean that animals just kind of get into heaven? But wether they get into heaven or don’t have a soul, there ist anything in the bible that says they go to hell right?

    • admin says:

      Not a dumb question. We do not know the answer for sure. The Bible does not say that they go to Hell. There is some evidence that they may go to heaven. Wherever you see people, you see animals.

      When God created the world, He created animals with them. After He destroyed the whole world in a flood and repopulated the planet, He made sure that it was repopulated with animals again.

      There will be animals in the Millennial Kingdom when Jesus rules and reigns on the earth for a thousand years. After the earth is destroyed and a new earth is created, there may be animals on it as well but we do not know for sure. Based on the pattern above, there is a good chance of it.

  3. AJ Derxsen says:

    Today’s Tigris and Euphrates /end/ at the Persian Gulf – but in Genesis 2 they /start/ in Eden. So, how can Eden (or more specifically, the Garden thereof) be located where the rivers /end/?

    A more logical argument would be either (a) Eden is located north-northwest of the Gulf, or (b) the land in the north was uplifted during the Flood, so that the rivers now flow south into the Gulf – whereas before the Flood the Gulf area was higher, such that the rivers flowed /from/ there, rather than /to/ there.

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