Where was the first temple of God on the earth among men? Who was the earth’s first priest? I think the answer to both questions takes us back to the first chapters of the Bible. Consider the two observations below and their explanations.
Adam was made outside the garden, which was the earth’s first temple, then put in it.
“The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed” (Gen. 2:8). Genesis 2:15 says, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” This is very interesting. The garden was the place of God’s special dwelling on the earth with man. It was in the garden that Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the LORD God walking…” (Gen. 3:8). G. K. Beale comments:
The same Hebrew verbal form (stem) mithallek…used for God’s ‘walking back and forth’ in the Garden (Gen. 3:8), also describes God’s presence in the tabernacle (Lev. 26:12; Deut. 23:14; 2 Sam. 7:6-7).
God’s walking in the garden indicates His special presence among men. In this sense, the garden of Eden was a temple, a special dwelling place of God on earth among men. The garden of Eden was the earth’s first sanctuary.
Since this may be a new concept for some readers, it is important to consider this a bit further. Was the garden the earth’s first temple? Was the garden a special dwelling place of God among men on the earth? The text of Genesis 2 and 3 does not use those words to describe the garden of Eden. But as we have already seen, it does utilize language used elsewhere in Scripture that describes God’s presence in Israel’s tabernacle. Does the Bible look back upon the garden of Eden and indicate that it was, in fact, a temple, a sanctuary, the first special dwelling place of God on earth among men? I think it does.
Consider Ezekiel 28:11-19, especially verses 13-14, 16, and 18.
11 Again the word of the LORD came to me saying, 12 “Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “You had the seal of perfection, Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 “You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering: The ruby, the topaz and the diamond; The beryl, the onyx and the jasper; The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, Was in you. On the day that you were created They were prepared. 14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers, And I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; You walked in the midst of the stones of fire. 15 “You were blameless in your ways From the day you were created Until unrighteousness was found in you. 16 “By the abundance of your trade You were internally filled with violence, And you sinned; Therefore I have cast you as profane From the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, From the midst of the stones of fire. 17 “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, That they may see you. 18 “By the multitude of your iniquities, In the unrighteousness of your trade You profaned your sanctuaries. Therefore I have brought fire from the midst of you; It has consumed you, And I have turned you to ashes on the earth In the eyes of all who see you. 19 “All who know you among the peoples Are appalled at you; You have become terrified And you will cease to be forever.”’” (Ezek. 28:11-19)
Notice that verse 13 is speaking explicitly of Eden, “You were in Eden, the garden of God.” Verses 14 and 16 call Eden “the holy mountain of God.” We will see in the next chapter that “…from the beginning of the Bible, mountains are sites of transcendent spiritual experiences, encounters with God or appearances by God.” Beale says of mountains:
The prophet Ezekiel portrays Eden on a mountain (Ezek. 28:14, 16). Israel’s temple was on Mount Zion (e.g., Exod. 15:17), and the end-time temple was to be located on a mountain (Ezek. 40:2; 43:12; Rev. 21:10).
Identifying Eden as “the holy mountain of God” indicates God’s special presence among men on the earth. In verse 18, the prophet Ezekiel says, “You profaned your sanctuaries.” Beale comments upon this passage as follows:
…it should not be unexpected to find that Ezekiel 28:13-14, 16, 18 refer to ‘Eden, the garden of God…the holy mountain of God’, and also alludes to it as containing ‘sanctuaries’, which elsewhere is a plural way of referring to Israel’s tabernacle (Lev. 21:23) and temple (Ezek. 7:24; so also Jer. 51:51). The plural reference to the one temple probably arose because of the multiple sacred spaces or ‘sanctuaries’ within the temple complex (e.g., courtyard, holy place, holy of holies)… Ezekiel 28 is probably, therefore, the most explicit place anywhere in canonical literature where the Garden of Eden is called a temple.”
This is an important passage of Scripture because it identifies Eden as a temple, the first mountain of God in which He dwelled among men on the earth. Kline says, “Paradise was a sanctuary, a temple-garden. Agreeably, Ezekiel calls it “the garden of God” (28:13;31:8f.) and Isaiah, “the garden of the Lord” (51:3).”
It is interesting that Christian commentators are not the only ones who argue that the garden of Eden was the first temple of God on the earth. There is extra-biblical evidence of the garden as a temple from early Jewish literature. Fesko says:
Perhaps one of the earliest writings that identify the garden of Eden as a temple comes from the Jewish book of Jubilees (c. 75-50 B. C.): ‘And he [Noah] knew that the garden of Eden was the holy of holies and the dwelling of the LORD.’”
Beale notes that the Qumran community, an intertestamental group, identified “itself as the ‘Temple of Adam…’ and ‘an Eden of glory [bearing] fruits [of life]’.”
Adam was made outside the garden-temple then placed in it. But what was he supposed to do in or with that temple? His commission was obviously vitally connected to the garden God put him in though not limited to it. Remember, he was to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28; cf. Isa. 45:18). So the garden of Eden was not the end; it was only the beginning. Adam was called as an image-bearer of God who was sinless to multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. His calling was to extend the garden-temple throughout the entire earth. In effect, the whole earth was to be God’s special dwelling place with man. Eden was a prototype of something much greater.
Adam was commanded to cultivate and keep the garden in obedience to God.
Genesis 2:15 says, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” If the garden was a temple, then Adam was a priest who offered up his work to God. It is of interest to note that when Adam is exiled from the garden due to his sin, Moses tells us that “God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate [or “serve”] the ground from which he was taken” (Gen. 3:23; Remember that Adam was created outside the garden of Eden.). Then, in the next verse, God “stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard [or “keep”] the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24). Notice that Adam was to “cultivate [or “serve”]” the ground and the cheribum were to “guard [or “keep”] the way to the tree of life.” These are the same words used together in Genesis 2:15, which says, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” What does it mean that Adam was to “cultivate and keep” the garden, especially if it was the earth’s first temple?
It is very interesting to note that these two words, “cultivate” and “keep,” are used together in other Old Testament texts to refer to the work of priests in connection with Israel’s tabernacle and temple (Num. 3:7-8; 8:25-26; 18:5-6; 1 Chron. 23:32; Ezek. 44:14). Listen to Beale again:
Genesis 2:15 says God placed Adam in the Garden ‘to cultivate (i.e., work] it and to keep it.’ The two Hebrew words for ‘cultivate and keep’ are usually translated ‘serve and guard [or keep]’ elsewhere in the Old Testament. It is true that the Hebrew word usually translated ‘cultivate’ can refer to an agricultural task when used by itself… When, however, these two words…occur together in the Old Testament…, they refer either to Israelites ‘serving’ God and ‘guarding [keeping]’ God’s word…or to priests who ‘keep’ the ‘service’ (or ‘charge’) of the tabernacle (see Num. 3:7-8; 8:25-26; 18:5-6; 1 Chr. 23:32; Ezek. 44:14).
…the writer of Genesis 2 was portraying Adam against the later portrait of Israel’s priests, and that he was the archetypical priest who served in and guarded (or ‘took care of’) God’s first temple.
Since the garden of Eden was a temple, Adam was not only the first prophet (i.e., he would have spoke on behalf of God among men by passing-on the commission of Gen. 1:28) and human king of the earth (i.e., he was told to rule), he was its first priest. But Adam sinned. Adam’s sin, therefore, gets him kicked out of the first house of God among men on the earth.Richard Barcellos Grace Reformed Baptist Church Palmdale, CA www.grbcav.org
* This post was adapted from the author’s Better than the Beginning: Creation in Biblical Perspective, forthcoming from RBAP and used with permission.
 G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 66.
 “Mountain” in Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III, Editors, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarstiy Press, 1998), 573.
 Beale, Temple and the Church’s Mission, 73.
 Beale, Temple and the Church’s Mission, 75-76.
 Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 48.
 Fesko, Last Things First, 74. Beale dates the book of Jubilees at 160 BC. Cf. Beale, Temple and the Church’s Mission, 77.
 Beale, Temple and the Church’s Mission, 78.
 Cf. Beale, Temple and the Church’s Mission, 67.
 Beale, Temple and the Church’s Mission, 66-67.
 Beale, Temple and the Church’s Mission, 68.