When you listen to the questions of atheists and believers alike as they discuss the Genesis account, one of the things that has to impress you is how many assumptions people make about what the Bible says. I remember opening a children's Bible that had been given to my daughter and finding a picture of a Marilyn Monroe-looking Eve and a Kirk Douglas-looking Adam leaving a garden bordered by limestone block walls with ivy growing on the walls. Standing at the gate of the Garden was an angel that looked like Jesse Ventura with wings, standing and holding a sword with the point aimed at their backs. It might be humorous if the consequences of assumptions like these were not so serious. One of the problems of such presentations is the total absence of any spiritual connection to what the Bible is telling us. Another problem is bringing such a picture in line with what other passsages in the Bible say and what the scientific evidence is. What we would like to attempt to do in this article is to point out some of the most misleading assumptions, and try to show how these misconceptions mislead people--especially children--as to what God is telling us in the biblical descriptions given in Genesis.

Life in the Garden of Eden was not Heaven

Many times people seem to assume that life in the Garden of Eden was a heavenly existence with no pain, with no work, with no problems, and with no struggles. There is a difference between being sinless (not knowing the difference between good and evil) and being without the normal problems of a physical existence. An infant does not know the difference between good and evil, but he or she certainly experiences pain and struggles in life. In man's case, the normal activities of humans were commanded by God. Man was told to "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every thing that moves on the earth" (Genesis 1:28, New KJV). All of those things require man and woman to work. You cannot have dominion and subdue things without effort and work. In Genesis 2:15, we are told that "the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it." Man had a role in the Garden and that role required him to do something. It is interesting that all scientific evidence regarding early man shows that man was what is called a "gatherer." What that means is that man survived by picking his food off trees and bushes and whatever else was available. He did not farm or raise animals.

It is also important to notice that man was commanded to "be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth." I have heard it said that this is the only command that God ever gave that mankind has ever obeyed. More to the point, however, is the fact that Eve appears to have had children during the time that mankind was in the Garden of Eden. In the curse given to Adam and Eve, the statement is made, "I will greatly increase your pain in child bearing. (Genesis 3:16, NIV). If the pain is multiplied, then there must have been pain before. There are a number of things that could explain this, but the point is that childbirth was another part of man's experience in the garden. You can argue that man sinned too quickly for children to have been born, but there is no indication of that in the Genesis account, and considerable evidence against that assumption.

Because people have assumed that the existence of man in the garden was not really a physical existence, all kinds of problems have been created. Questions about where Cain got his wife, and why there were people that Cain was afraid would kill him (Genesis 4:14). If many children were born in the Garden, then it was not just Adam and Eve that left the garden, but a whole population of people. This means that the assumption that God created other people we are not told about in the Bible is not necessary. Cain simply married a woman who was a descendent of those who had been born in the Garden, and there was a whole population of these individuals in the world that were living faithfully to God. In Genesis 4:15, God could warn them not to kill Cain and they would obey.

Another complication involving the assumption that the Garden was not a physical place, is unrealistic and has unworkable explanations about animals. There is no need to tell man to "have dominion" or to "subdue" the living creatures of the earth if the existence of man and the animals was not physical. Some have totally missed the point of the nature of sin by assuming that there was no death of any kind until man ate the forbidden fruit. God had told man "In the day that you eat of it you surely shall die"(Genesis 2:17). Man did not drop dead physically when he ate of the fruit, but he did drop dead spiritually. The fact is that neither animals nor man can eat anything without something dying. Every time you eat anything, something dies. Cells in our bodies die and are replaced to keep us healthy. Death in the physical world has never been held out by the Bible as the ultimate tragedy. Death is a part of life. It is spiritual death that the Bible holds out as the ultimate tragedy. For an atheist who believes that this life is all there is, that concept may be very hard to grasp, but Jesus made it totally clear to his followers when he said "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but can not kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Hell" (Matthew 10:28).

Mankind in the Garden was Very Primitive

All of the fossil and archeological evidence concerning early man is in agreement that man was primitive and ignorant in his life on earth. That does not mean that man was stupid. A person is stupid when he is unable (or I would suggest unwilling) to learn. Being ignorant simply means you do not have information. A person could be a genius and yet be ignorant. Being primitive simply means that there has been an absence of the application of technology to improving the lifestyle of a group of people. The curse given to Adam indicates that unusable plants and intense labor was going to be necessary for man to survive. (See Genesis 3:17-19). Man had no experience in doing agriculture, because he had been able to simply gather food from the trees and bushes up until this time. Man was supremely ignorant and had to learn how to get food by "the sweat of your face" (Genesis 3:19).

The Bible also tells us bits and pieces of the technological development of man. In Genesis 4:21, we read about the first instrument of music. In verse 22, we read about the development of bronze and iron. In the archeological studies that have been done to study the history of man, we see a gradual development of these abilities. People may not wish to take the Genesis account that literally, but the accuracy of the description is remarkable. When Adam and Eve left the Garden, they did not move into a modular home. These were primitive people who lived in a cruel and inhospitable world. Death was a part of life, and people did not live as most people in America do.

Many times people are appalled at the brutal things that are described in the Old Testament. Reading through the book of Judges reveals savage behavior and rampant misbehavior even on the part of those who were being used by God to accomplish His will. Samson was a man, for example, who thought nothing of going into a harlot (Judges 16:1) or of using animals in cruel ways (see Judges 15:4-6). Jephthah made a foolish vow to God that resulted in tragedy (Judges 11:30-40). God did not command these things to be done, and they are reported to us as history without comment or approval in the Bible. We tend to judge these things by twenty-first century standards without realizing the primitive nature of the culture in which they took place.

The Primary Message of the Garden is Redemptive

Why do we have the story of the Garden of Eden in our Bible? What is its purpose? Is God primarily trying to give us an archeological and anthropological history of our origins? The problem with our understandings is related to the problems we have with the creation account in chapter one of Genesis. Genesis 1 is not trying to give us a scientific explanation of the creation process. There have been some 24,000,000 different kinds of living things that have existed on this planet, and if Genesis 1 tried to explain each of them the Genesis 1 account alone would make up a book so large no one could lift it. Genesis 1 is a very superficial account which basically tries to say to man that God is the creator of the cosmos, and that man has a special relationship to God because man is created in God's image.

The second chapter of Genesis tells us that it was for a different purpose. After building on chapter 1, the author of Genesis 2 tells us "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." The purpose of this chapter according to its author is to show the relationship of man and woman. Those who complain that the order of the creation in chapter 2 contradicts the order in chapter 1 have not looked at the purpose of chapter 2.

In chapter 3, we begin the story of man's decision to separate himself from God by disobedience, and the start of God's redemptive plan to bring man back into a close living relationship to God. The stated end purpose of man's return to God through Christ is given in Genesis 3:15 when God tells the serpent, Satan, and us through the Word that Jesus will redeem us. The primary message of the story of the Garden of Eden is man's choice to reject God and God's choice to provide a way for man to return to his creator. The rest of the Bible builds on that foundation.

The Christian system tells us in the Bible that Satan and his angels will be separated from God and all the positive things that God brings to us (Matthew 25:41, 46). The Garden of Eden and its truthfulness is critical to understanding that process and plan that God has given for man to be forgiven of his sins and return to God. We need to be careful that our assumptions and lack of thinking do not cause us to miss a message that is most fundamental to the Word of God.

--John N. Clayton

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, MayJun04.