Many Christians believe that the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden is a parable rather than a fact.
Jesus used parables often in his teaching, and people are not troubled by whether or not the event actually happened. Was the Good Samaritan an actual person? Was the injured man real? Were the words spoken to the innkeeper an exact quotation?
Effective teaching can be accomplished by telling an illustrative story (parable) as well by reporting an actual event.
Whether an actual event or allegory, the core teaching in this story is clear either way.
THE VIEWPOINT ON THIS SITE is that the Garden of Eden was a real place at a real time with real people, for these reasons:
The Eden story is written in the simple way of the ancients, not the way we report events today with sophisticated language. Back then, ethereal concepts were often represented symbolically, a type of shorthand:
These symbols have visual impact to aid comprehension and memory retention for illiterate people. The story apparently was passed by word of mouth for about 2,500 years – from the time of Adam (about BC 4000) until the time of Moses (about BC 1500) – longer than the time from Jesus to today!
Whether or not the story contains symbolic elements and figurative people, the essential meaning is clear:
Satan's temptation resulted in the first deliberate act of defiance to God – 'the trespass' in Bible study here on Romans 5, trying to take God's place – and punishment was the denial of access to eternal life, which was once offered.
The Garden of Eden story is the oldest people story in the world, and it's the framework of spiritual belief for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
The story is told at the beginning of the Bible and serves as an introduction to the entire Bible by referencing important principles which are covered in detail in other parts of the Bible.
The Bible is a mini-library of spiritual documents. As we experience it today, our single printed volume is 66 small books bound together, about 1,200 pages in total, arranged in approximate historical sequence.
It starts with a sharp picture of God making the first contact with humans and ends with a shadowy glimpse of life after death for humans. Inbetween is considerable information about how we should live our lives now. The major themes are laid out in this first story.
As discussed above, it appears that the story of Adam and Eve was transmitted by oral tradition for about 2,500 years before it was put into writing!
Without divine supervision, it is unreasonable to believe that exact words and sequence of words could be preserved by word of mouth from generation to generation over that long time without critical distortions and conflicting versions.
Only one rational conclusion: God gave the words to the writer and supervised the preservation, though we don't know how.
In the Garden of Eden story, we can't prove the actual words spoken because no reporter was there to record events as they happened. Furthermore, the words ascribed to God and others occurred before the development of languages capable of conveying nuanced meanings.
So how do we know that these ancient conversations and events recorded in Genesis are trustworthy? WE BACK INTO THEM LOGICALLY, like this:
How could the writer possibly have known these things unless God told him? The probability of being correct thousands of years ago on all five of these counter-intuitive points would be far beyond the realm of chance, probably in the order of something like 1000x1000x1000x1000x1000.
If we have powerful evidence for trust in the transmitter, then we can trust his transmissions even though we don't know how he got his knowledge.
Christians believe that God superintended and preserved the Garden of Eden story in a sufficient way for all people at all times and all places to grasp its native meanings.
In the Eden story, God came to earth in person, for the first time ever, and talked to man, establishing a personal relationship and setting rules. The almighty designer-creator God of the universe coming to man! Almost inconceivable!
The Garden of Eden was a paradise but not perfect. God said this Garden (special place) needed people to work it, presumably because of the normal aging, death, and birth occurring throughout the earth. God placed Adam (already created) into this Garden. Satan was already there.
In ancient times – before writing and books – information was transmitted as stories that could be remembered and passed on from generation to generation. Each part of the story was packed with meaning and was explained repeatedly by elders to youth, with stern rebuke and correction for even the most trivial deviation. To the ancients, the meaning was the most important part of the story.
See Q&A Garden of Eden for major elements of the story.
God showed up in person and talked to man, establishing a personal relationship. The almighty designer-creator God of the universe! Almost inconceivable!
A quick reading of the story indicates that Adam's sin was that he ate forbidden fruit, but a careful study shows that eating the fruit was just the outward manifestation of the actual sin. God looks through the action, into the heart, to see the motives.
'You will not certainly die, the serpent said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized they were naked [God saw their motive] ...' (Genesis 3:4-7)
Adam's sin was that he decided to try to be his own god and to follow his own rules, no longer subject to God's rules.
The nature of Adam's sin and its consequences are discussed at length in the verse-by-verse Bible study here on Romans 5.
Until the last three hundred years, Jews and Christians were almost unanimous in their belief that Moses was the author and/or compiler of the book of Genesis.
Moses was the ideal person for God to use for writing. He was born an Israelite (slave family in Egypt) but was adopted as a son into Pharaoh's household. He was well-educated and understood the world around him. Then God called him to lead the Israelites out of slavery and form a new nation to proclaim to the world that there is only ONE GOD, who must be worshiped and obeyed.
More recently, most Bible scholars believe that Genesis is a compilation of materials written at different times by four or more authors, one of whom was Moses.
The authorship issue cannot be settled by Bible study because the Bible does not name or identify the writer.
Other portions of scripture – including statements from Jesus – refer to Moses writing 'the law' (usually referring to the first five books of the Bible, called the Pentatuch) but this alone does not establish Moses' role in writing Genesis.
It really doesn't matter who wrote and/or compiled the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden as long as we have confidence that the message is from God.
'So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man' (Genesis 2:21-24).
Translation of 'made.' In Genesis 1:27 male and female humans were 'created' (Hebrew word bara), but in Genesis 2:22 Eve was 'made' (Hebrew word wayyiben). There's a big difference. Bara means created as a whole new kind of entity. Wayyiben means formed, fashioned or built from an entity already existing.
Time gap. Apparently there was a long time gap – perhaps thousands of years – between Genesis 1:27 (when God created humans, male and female) and Genesis 2:15 (when God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden), as explained here:
'Adam named his wife Eve [means 'living'] because she would become the mother of all the living' (Genesis 3:20).
The term 'mother of all the living' implies that there must be other kinds of mothers, such as 'mother of all the dying.'
This verse does not say mother (first female ever) of all humankind as in Genesis 1:27, but mother (first female) of a particular category of humankind.
This is clarified by the summary statement in Genesis 5:2: 'He created them male and female, at the time they were created, he blessed them and called them 'man.'' The first humans (mankind), male and female, were created at the same time according to Genesis 1; Eve was created later according to Genesis 2.
Consider these additional affirmations from other Bible statements:
These affirmations, and more, are discussed in detail in the Bible study here on People before Adam.
Eve was specially created to be the first female ('the mother') to start a new line of people ('the living') who would not be subject to eternal death ('the second death') but have eternal life. Her line of descendants is traced through the Old Testament patriarchs directly to Jesus and start of the church.
Many people believe Eve was a mythical person, but the Bible does not treat her that way. The Bible genealogy of Jesus runs clearly from Eve directly to Mary. God would not deceive us by starting with a fictitious person. See the Bible study here on people before Adam for reasons why Adam and Eve were real people.
We don't know any details about how God created Eve, but here are some new thoughts to consider in light of linguistic knowledge and modern science:
Translation of 'rib.' In the original Hebrew, the word is 'tsela,' translated as 'rib' in the King James Bible and most English Bibles ever since. That Hebrew word is used 41 times in the Old Testament, but Genesis 2:21 is the only time the word is translated as 'rib.' All other times it is translated as 'side,' a clarification many English translations now acknowledge in a footnote.
Translation of 'closed up the place with flesh.' In the original Hebrew, 'the place' is 'tachtenah' and is usually translated as 'underneath it.'
Usual image. From translations in most English Bibles, we get this mental image: God makes a big incision in Adam ... cuts off and pulls out a rib bone ... bloody operation ... closes up the opening and leaves Adam with one less rib.
Alternate image. By using the translations above – side and underneath it – we get a different mental image: God takes some tissue from Adam's side – as is now done routinely in cloning animals – and immediately heals the flesh underneath it.
Cloning. Cloning of humans is now possible but illegal. The first mammal cloned was Dolly, the sheep, in 1996, from a cell taken from the mammary gland of a donor sheep. It proved that a cell from the side of a body can create a whole new individual without sperm or egg. Cloning of animals is now common and big business (especially cloning of racehorses). Ancient people would have no understanding of this, but it appears to us now that God formed Eve through some kind of cloning.
Regardless of how God did it – by bone or by tissue – this apparently was the first miracle; i.e., the first time God suspended natural laws to do something very unusual and extraordinary.
God could have just 'placed' (from the outside) a woman in the Garden – like he did Adam – but instead chose to bypass the normal birth and maturation process. God fashioned an instant wife for Adam.
About 4000 years later, God performed another birth miracle – known to us as the Virgin Birth – to bring Jesus into the world.
WHY did God form Eve in a miraculous way?
'THAT IS WHY a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh' (Genesis 2:24).
God created humans to fill the earth and rule the earth (Genesis 1:28). To help us do this in an orderly way, God has ordained three institutions: marriage, government, and church.
God's formal inauguration of marriage was in the Garden of Eden.
God established marriage as something new and unique, moving beyond the raw sex of animals to the tender sex of people in love, with a lifetime commitment, for raising families of godly people.
In a cursory read of this story, it seems that Eve sinned first. '... she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it' (Genesis 3:6).
And Satan sinned before Eve by telling lies about God. Furthermore, millions of people had lived and died on earth before Eve sinned; certainly, they weren't all perfect.
So why does Romans 5:12 – the key verse supporting the doctrine of original sin – say that '... sin entered the world through one man [Adam] ...?' Why do Christians say that Adam was the first sinner?
The biblical answer is found interwoven in the entire Romans 5:12-19 passage, which is the only portion of scripture that deals with this subject. That passage requires much more than a quick read. See the Bible study here on Romans 5.
From the study in Romans 5, we learn that God's justice and judgment take into account the kind of spiritual revelation a person has received. People will be judged according to the light given to them, which varies from time to time, place to place, person to person.
'And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression' (1 Timothy 2:13–14). Adam knew full well what he was doing. Eve was confused.
Adam was the first person who had a personal encounter with God ... received an unmistakably clear rule (law) directly from God ... and deliberately chose to defy God by trying to become his own god. That crossed the line, beyond ordinary misdeeds and misunderstandings.
Adam's sin – called the 'trespass' in Romans 5 – was much more than eating forbidden fruit. It was the first human rebellion against God's law – a deliberate attempt to take God's place – and the sin happened in his mind even before his overt action.
The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden is the oldest story in the world. It's an introduction to major themes of the Bible, outlined below but examined in detail in individual Bible studies throughout this site.
The Bible studies on this site cover many more questions about the Garden of Eden than discussed on this page. Tap below for discussion of more questions:
Adam was first priest.
Two key points: One God (no idolatry), marriage (no promiscuous sex). Same two in Council of Jerusalem. Same two today.
Bible doesn't say, but some clues. No other act of disobedience is mentioned.
Adam's children made offerings to God. Probably a family matter, learned from God, passed on to children.
God understands, forgives. Live and learn.