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.
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 Bible refers to the Garden of Eden as the 'garden in the east, in Eden' and roughly identifies its location with this description:
'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.
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.
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.
Here are three common techniques used to tell stories for best understanding:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.