The Garden of Eden: thoughts from Tim Martin

When I was at Truthvoice 2008 a month ago, the co-author of Beyond Creation Science, Tim Martin, gave two talks that I thought were worthy of discussion on my blog. Here are my thoughts on the first talk.

[Note: I am summarizing based on the notes I took, and I honestly hope I misrepresent nothing he said. I’m going to let him know about this to give him a chance for correction/clarification.]

First, some contextualization. Beyond Creation Science seeks to make the case that the Creation narrative of Genesis is not a historical account about the creation of the physical world, but a metaphorical and prophetic description of the creation of the Mosaic covenant and the coming New Covenant, written a genre quite similar to Revelation. I, like Tim and his co-author Jeff Vaughn, do not see the early Genesis material as an historical account that a literal reading gives, but until recently, this and the fact that we are all full preterists were the closest our views came to coinciding. I reject their contention that Genesis contains “apocalyptic language”, and that we should correlate the “heavens and earth” created in Genesis 1 with the “heavens and earth” that most preterists identify as a term referring to covenant systems. As regards this latter, see Mat 5.18, compare Isa 65.17f and Rev 21.1, compare Heb 1.10-12 and 8.13; all speak of the changed world order that resulted from the fulfillment/completion of the Old Covenant and the full establishment of the New. Although the book is oriented more for newcomers to preterism, they have been confident that other preterists would come to see it their way because of their important argument: since all of us preterists understand that “heavens and earth” in eschatological terms outside of Genesis does not refer to the physical cosmos at all but are spoken of in non-literal apocalyptic language, Tim and Jeff expect that we’ll see that same language in Genesis and interpret it that same way. Tim and I had some great interaction on these issues while they were writing this book, but we never really came to terms with our differences of opinion. This isn’t the place for me to fully interact with that argument, but it’s an important one, and one that has caused a sharp divide in preterism because of the insistence of a healthy contingent of the preterist community that Genesis must be simple history as we know it. Ok, I hope I didn’t lose you there, because all of this is neither here nor there in regards to the following.

In fact, it was because I expected Martin’s talks at the conference to be along the lines of his book that I was so pleasantly surprised by what he presented instead. It was a wise decision on his part to leave the controversial “covenant creation” material from his book out of play and focus on the more practical aspects of what Genesis should mean. The great thing about the material I’m going to summarize is that it works whether you read the Garden narrative as historical, mythical, or prophetic/allegorical.

Martin began with reading from select passages of Eliot’s “The Waste Land” in order to paint a picture of the worldview of hopelessness and purposelessness held by so many unbelievers. He then turned it around and argued that the predominant Christian worldview is not substantially different. To hear many talk, the Church does the best it can, given the incomplete gift of redemption we have been promised that we won’t really receive until a future consummation. Martin blames the hopelessness the world is struggling with right now because the Church itself is still reeling from the effects of “twentieth century wilderness Christianity”. We now lie “between the times,” between the Garden of Eden at the beginning and awaiting the restored Garden pictured in Revelation. Waste Land Christianity is separated from God’s Garden, beginning and end.

Martin then describes how understanding fulfilled eschatology (preterism) is a return to God’s Garden. The garden in Revelation 21 and 22 is not the result of some future apocalyptic event; it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. To embrace the gospel is to live in God’s Garden.

Because the Garden at the end of Revelation is the conclusion of the story of the Garden in Genesis, to understand the Garden at the end is to understand the Garden at the beginning. Martin contends that Revelation 21-22 portrays the Garden of Eden “all grown up”.

It really got interesting for me when he got into his next theme.

God the Gardener

Martin suggested that the role of Gardener is key for understanding much of Scripture. He listed a bundle of Scriptures that use gardening/agricultural imagery, including Ps 80.8-9; Isa 27.2-4; Heb 6.7-8; Isa 5.7; Ps 1.3; Ezk 19.10-14; Mat 3.10, 13.10, 20.1; Rom 11.17-18, but most explicitly, John 15.1, “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener…”

Martin pointed out that, far from the over-idealized view of the Garden scene held by many Christians, Genesis 2.15 explicitly states that even the Garden of Eden needed tending. Whom did He entrust the care of the garden to? “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Gen 2.15) God put His son in the garden.

Adam the Son

The notion of Adam being the son of God initially raised my eyebrows, but that very terminology shows up explicitly in Luke 3.38 – “…Adam, the son of God.”
Martin made the case that Genesis 2 shows God’s children in God’s Garden; after the Fall, the question becomes, how is God going to mend His family? John particularly seems concerned with affirming the status of the followers of Messiah as children of God, especially John (see Jn 1.12-13; 1 Jn 2.29-3.10 “…children born…of God”; Rev 3.21 “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son”; Rev 21.7; note also Rom 8.23, which refers to “adoption as sons”, something preterists assert was fulfilled at the time of the Parousia.

Garden Grace and Freedom

Martin emphasized that the relationship between God and his children pictured in the garden as being based on grace in a familial manner. He then asked, “Did Adam have to earn his place in God’s Garden?”

The answer is no: Genesis 2.8 shows that the garden was itself a gift to Adam as a father gives good gifts to his son, and that the threat did not come first, but the gift. In fact, residence in the garden was only the first of many gifts. God provided them with food and water needed for sustenance, and even situated him in a luxurious land noted for being packed with precious stones (Gen 2.8-10). In fact, on this point, we find another parallel between the Garden of Eden and the Revelation 21-22 situation: Revelation 21.21 describes a treasure city made from treasures from both earth (gold and stones) and seas (pearl), all of which are specifically noted to exist in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2.8-10.

The Garden is a family scene; it is filled with an atmosphere of Grace. Martin asks, “What would cause death? Any and every sin?” To which the answer is, “No.” An overemphasis on the single restriction obscures the paternal aspect of God at work in this passage. Remember, what was the first thing God said to Adam? “You are free…” (Gen 2.16; cf. Gal 5.1). Did God charge Adam for dominion over the animals? (Ge 2:21) Did God charge Adam a bride-price for Eve? Did God require 7 years of hard labor for her hand in marriage? No. These were good gifts from a Father to His son.

Even when the prohibition comes in, Martin argues, we see God’s fatherly concern at work. Following James Jordan, he suggests that God put the tree of knowledge off limits not as an arbitrary test of obedience but because His children were not yet mature enough for that particular knowledge. Scripture elsewhere attributes the ability to tell good from evil to maturity level (Heb 5.14; cf. Isa 7.16).

But there was also an aspect of discipline to the restriction. Martin (probably following Jordan here, too) asserted that the tree of knowledge was a picture of the dietary laws, which were instituted to teach discipline. At this point, Martin remarked, “God was homeschooling his children!”

My thoughts

Martin and Vaughn contend that this narrative was a metaphorical depiction of the inception of the Mosaic covenant and an indication that Adam and Eve are representative, not of humanity as a whole, but of the original recipients of the Old Covenant. They have stated that Adam and Eve are not historical or mythical people, but covenant people. In other words, for Martin and Vaughn, the parallel between the Garden narrative tree of knowledge and the dietary laws is one between metaphor and referent. I, on the other hand, side with the mythical representation, but I am not claiming that Genesis 2 is simply or purely mythological: Israelite religious leaders (possibly including although not necessarily limited to Moses) sought to present the need for and value of the Law and capitalize on the pagan mythology still lingering among the people. They killed two birds with one stone by adapting and sanctifying a preexisting myth, couching what they wanted to convey in a familiar framework, in order to provide an understandable picture of the Covenant and the Law. For instance, I believe there is a high likelihood of an intentional parallel between the prohibited tree of the Garden narrative and the dietary restrictions of the Mosaic covenant, but that doesn’t mean that every single other aspect of the narrative had a specific prophetic fulfillment or metaphorical referent. Genesis 2 isn’t an allegory, but has applicability buried within it. As Tolkien advised, I avoid confusing applicability with allegory. Allegory depends on homomorphism, i.e. one-to-one mapping of metaphor to referent, whereas the Genesis myths were probably originally intended to speak as mythological narrative. Although they were adapted at certain key points to remind the audience of the Old Covenant, I don’t think that we can say that early Genesis consists of a whole bunch of metaphors strung together to form a one-to-one metaphorical narrative.

I don’t really have a problem with any of Tim’s observations that I listed here, and I continue to ruminate on them. My main difference is that I believe the metaphors Martin identifies were contemporaneous to, not prophetic of, their main subject (the Law and Mosaic Covenant). I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this stuff, especially those of you who do not accept Genesis 2-3 to be an historical account. Where are his points the weakest? The strongest?

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