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This site is for thoughtful Christians learning how to answer the hard questions people are asking today
Garden of Eden was real place and time
PURPOSE: Helping Christians engage in intelligent conversations with doubters and unbelievers

What happened in the Garden of Eden?

Tradition and folklore have twisted what the Bible actually says

Almost everyone knows a little about Adam and Eve

Almost everyone in the United States has heard something about the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It's just a fanciful tale to most people outside of church, often referenced with sensual overtones and mockery.

Woman thinking about Garden of Eden

Most people – even Christians – don't know the full story as told in the Bible. Most have never read it carefully themselves and cannot speak with confidence about it.

In both church culture and popular culture, so much has been added to the story that it hardly resembles what the Bible really says.

The purpose of this Bible study is to help Christians understand and explain from scripture the full Garden of Eden story and the theology derived from it.

This study will help Christians recognize the add-ons that theologians, religious groups, and pop culture have appended to the story over the centuries.

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is told in Genesis 2:8 thru 4:26.

The Garden of Eden was probably in Iraq, 6,000 to 10,000 years ago

The Bible refers to the Garden of Eden as the 'garden in the east, in Eden' and roughly identifies its location with this description:

Map showing location of Garden of Eden (present-day Irag)

'A river watering the garden flowed from Eden, and from there it divided: it had four headstreams. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah ... The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the second river is the Tigris ... And the fourth river is the Euphrates' (Genesis 2:10-14).

After thousands of years, the smaller rivers Pishon and Gihon are no longer recognizable, but the Tigris and Euphrates are still flowing their courses to the Persian Gulf. This seems to be a description of a real place, not a mythical place, and positions it in ancient Mesopotamia, known as the cradle of civilization.

The Garden of Eden existed at the same time as Adam, and Bible genealogies show that Adam lived about BC 4000 (or, if there are some gaps in the genealogies, maybe as far back as BC 8000).

This puts this story into present-day Iraq somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.

The Eden story is foundational theology for Jews, Christians, and Muslims

This study is not so much about the story itself as it is about the theological doctrines which have grown out of the narrative.

Genesis was written more than three thousand years ago. Over time many extraneous concepts have been interwoven into the story so that people now think the Bible says more about Adam and Eve than it actually says about them and the consequences of their sin.

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is foundational theology for Jews, Christians, and Muslims – the 55% of the world who are monotheists.

Many different religious belief systems have developed from the story.

Religious doctrines are derived from the Eden story

Doctrines are the individual teachings of synagogues, churches, and mosques. All major religious groups have splintered many times over doctrines – and they are still splintering today – with each splinter group claiming to have the correct understanding of the scriptures.

The original text of the Eden story is not in question. Nearly everyone agrees on the actual words as written in Hebrew. The differences are only in translation and interpretation of the words and each group's particular stretches and add-ons.

This Bible study – and the supplemental studies linked from this page – display relevant scripture verses on basic theological issues arising from the Eden story that have become barriers to faith for doubters and unbelievers.

There are different ways to tell a story

Here are three common techniques used to tell stories for best understanding:

  • START AT BEGINNING / MOVE FORWARD. Many stories – perhaps most – are best understood by starting at the beginning and giving a chronological narrative of what happened.
  • START AT MIDDLE / MOVE BACK AND FORTH. Sometimes, however, that's confusing because the listener or reader starting at the beginning may not have enough information to understand the significance of what's happening. A better way to start may be with a major event that has been shaped by the past and now shapes the future.
  • START AT END / MOVE BACK. At other times, the importance of the story may be its ending, so it is best to start with the result and then move back to cover major aspects of the story which contributed to this result.

A Christian perspective of the Eden story

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is a smaller story set inside of a bigger story. The big story is God's eternal plan for humans.

The big story is best understood by STARTING AT THE MIDDLE and then moving back and forth in time. The middle (not necessarily the chronological middle) of the big story is the earthly life of Jesus Christ, about two thousand years ago.

Jesus Christ is the sole basis and starting point for Christianity.

Many Christians seem to think that Christianity comes from the Bible. Not so!

The BIBLE (NEW TESTAMENT) COMES FROM CHRISTIANITY, not the other way around. The Bible came after Jesus ... after lives were being transformed ... after churches were formed. The early church didn't even have a Bible, yet it was already changing the Roman world.

The New Testament – coming after Jesus – is the written record of His birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection and the effect of His life upon the world. The New Testament is the record of Jesus, not the source of our faith.

The New Testament is the practical means, superintended by God, to keep the record of Jesus from becoming distorted over time. So today, everyone agrees on the exact words of the New Testament as originally written in the Greek language. All disputes are about translations and interpretations.

God is relational and love

Starting in the middle of the main story, we hear Jesus tell why He came:

'I HAVE COME that they may have life, and have it to the full' (John 10:10). The fullest life is life that never ends (eternal life).

This is further explained in the most quoted verse in the Bible: 'For God so LOVED the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life' (John 3:16).

When asked how we should live life now, Jesus said: 'LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: LOVE your neighbor as yourself' (Matthew 22:37-39).

The Apostle John, after spending three years with Jesus, said: 'Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is LOVE' (I John 4:8).

So we know that God is relational ... and God created us as relational beings ... and God wants an everlasting love relationship with His human creatures.

God's character determined our kind of world

In the creation story, before the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve, God said, 'Let US make man in our image, in OUR likeness, and let them rule ...' (Genesis 1:26).

We don't know who the 'us' are, but they could have been a divine council, an angelic team, or relationships with heavenly beings we can't even begin to comprehend. Some say this was conversation within the Godhead (trinity). All we know is that God was working in relationships with others before humans were even created.

From even before His revealed intent, God has been relational and love, not an impersonal force or a lonely grandfather in the sky.

Therefore, as best we can understand, God had four options in creating a world, but only one option was viable:

  1. NO WORLD. God could have created no world at all.
  2. AMORAL WORLD. God could have created a world in which there is no concern about whether behavior is morally right or wrong, where there is no good and evil, and where response to God or others doesn't matter.
  3. ROBOTIC WORLD. God could have created a world in which everyone is programmed to do good and nothing ever goes wrong, where there are no individual choices, and where everything runs predictably and flawlessly.
  4. CHOICES WORLD. God could create a world in which everyone has free will to love or not love, to do good or do evil, to chart personal courses. In this kind of world, God gives instructions and assistance, but individuals make personal choices.

The only viable option for God was #4. Even God is limited by His own character. This is the only kind of world in which RELATIONSHIPS and LOVE are possible.

So #4 is the kind of world in which we now find ourselves. It's a messy world – a world of unlimited choices – with joys and sorrows, successes and failures, sickness and health, life and death. God designed the world this way because free will is essential for relationships and the giving and receiving of genuine LOVE. Time lived in this world is relatively short, but during this time we make our own all-important CHOICE of what happens to us after death.

Now we're ready for the Eden story

God spoke the universe into existence in an instant. See the Bible study on the Big Bang.

Then God shaped the world in six stages. See the Bible study on God's six 'days' of creation.

Apparently, humans initially populated the earth but had no accountability to God because He had not yet revealed Himself or given any law. 'For before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law' (Romans 5:13). See the Bible study on people before Adam.

Then an amazing thing happened relatively recently, about six thousand years ago. The Creator of the universe makes His first personal contact with a human, named Adam, and places him in a special place on earth, called the Garden of Eden, and starts a new line of people who have accountability to God and opportunity for eternal life.

of tough questions people are asking

Were Adam and Eve the first humans on earth?

How could Adam bring sin into the world if Satan was already there telling lies and if Eve ate the forbidden fruit first?

Was the world a perfect paradise before Adam sinned?

Was everything originally immortal (never dies) and then became mortal (dies)? Isn't that an oxymoron?

If the earth and everything in it was perfect, then Adam was perfect, so how could a perfect being be enticed into sin by Satan?

If dinosaurs died before Adam, how could Adam's sin cause all death?

If the earth were perfect (from our point of view), how could one man ruin it? Wouldn't that be a design flaw?

Is everyone born guilty for Adam's sin even though they had no part in it?

 Will people burn in hell forever, even if they never heard about Adam or Jesus?

How can a Christian give an intelligent and compelling biblical answer to people who think that the Garden of Eden is just a fairy tale and that it's preposterous for anyone to believe that one man ruined the world by eating an apple?

Tap numbers below for answers

Thinkers Bible Studies / Topic 1.1


Will people burn in hell FOREVER?

for an informed answer
Insight 1: Bible credibility

Tradition and folklore have twisted what the Bible actually says

The Garden of Eden is like a fairy tale to most people, even to Christians, and most don't know that the Bible tells us the time, place, and exactly what happened. Tradition and folklore have added so much to the biblical story that it now almost incomprehensible to doubters and unbelievers. Major theological doctrines have grown out of the story for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Insight 2: yō·wm is Hebrew word for Bible creation day

Adam and Eve may not have been the first humans

TOPIC 1.3 (People before Adam) lists many clues from the Bible that there were people on earth before God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam was the first sinner, but probably not the first human. Bible credibility is at stake here because archaeology, scientific testing, and DNA analysis show clearly that there was human activity on earth before BC 4000. See the evidence from both Bible and science.
Insight 3: What God created in each 'day'

The earth was not a perfect paradise before Adam sinned

See all the Bible verses that tell us that God didn't create the earth as a perfect paradise (from our perspective). The earth as we find it is the way God wanted it. Adam didn't ruin it. Jesus never even mentioned Adam's name. Growth and multiplication without death is no paradise. Death is essential not only for food but also for preventing overcrowding and suffocation, and for clearing the way for new life.

The Bible doesn't say that Adam's sin is the cause of all death

TOPIC 1.3.2 (Sin not cause of death) shows that the idea that all death is the result of Adam's sin comes from church tradition, not from any direct statement in the Bible. See the two verses in scripture which have been stretched and twisted to support the idea that the earth and everything in it was once immortal.

The doctrine of original sin is grossly unjust and biblically challenged

TOPIC 1.4.3 (Original sin) shows that the idea that everyone is born guilty for Adam's sin comes from church tradition, not from any direct statement in the Bible. See the four verses in scripture which have been stretched and twisted to support this monstrous idea, and see the harm it has done in driving people away from God. Also, see an in-depth study of Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15.

The Bible says that in hell the fire burns FOREVER but not the people

TOPIC 3.4.1 (Will people burn in hell forever?) lists all 29 verses on topic from the Bible, quoted in full, showing that hell fire is forever but that people will eventually die in the fire. In Jesus words: burned up, destroyed, consumed, perish. People go to hell because of their own unforgiven sin, not because of Adam's sin. Punishment is with justice, not with crazed vengence.

Here's where we combine the six Insights to get an informed biblical answer: What happened in the Garden of Eden?

The Insights here are like pieces of a puzzle. Put the pieces together and see the big picture! Now you'll be prepared to engage intelligently and coherently with anyone about what the Bible says about any major aspect of the Garden of Eden story. Also see reader comments.
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Helping Christians engage in intelligent and coherent conversations with doubters and unbelievers