The usual question people ask is: Where was Eden? Here, however, I am deliberately asking: What was Eden? The simple answer to the latter is that it was a specially prepared place into which God placed Adam, the first man (Gen. 2:8). In the previous verse we are informed that God formed him of dust from the ground, and a consequence of this is that we tend to see God as a potter (cf. Job 10:8f.; 33:6; 2 Cor. 4:7) not least because we are all the work of his hands (Job 10:3; 14:15; Ps. 119:73). But this is by no means the only image used in the Bible, for Job 10:11, Psalm 139:13 and15 portray God as a knitter or weaver, and what he once did in the depths of the earth is itself reflected, re-enacted or symbolically repeated by what he continues to do in the womb (cf. Gen. 30:2; Isa. 49:1; Jer. 1:5, etc.). That God forms in the womb is clearly stated in Isaiah 43:1,7 (44:2,24, 43:1,7; 49:1,5; Dt. 32:6; Job 31:15), though here, since the reference is to Israel, the language is doubtless metaphorical. Nonetheless, it might well be argued that since Israel’s origins are likened to formation in the womb, the same must be true of mankind (Adam) as both individual and community.
Adam and the Garden of Eden
As has just been noted, however, Adam, once formed of and in the earth, was then placed by God in the Garden of Eden, elsewhere known as Paradise or a garden of delight or pleasure. In view of this, it is a reasonable conclusion that he represented the (perishable) seed of mankind (Ps. 139:15, cf. John 1:13; 1 Pet. 1:23) who was placed in the womb to produce the ‘fruit of the womb’ (cf. Gen. 30:2; Dt. 7:13; Ps. 128:3f.; Luke 1:42, etc. It is intriguing to note that in Dt. 28:4 the ‘fruit of your body’ is juxtaposed with ‘the fruit of your ground’, cf. v.11), and it was in Eden precisely that Eve, the mother of all living (Gen. 3:20), was created or formed from Adam’s side suggesting that it, i.e. the garden, was “a type of archetypal sanctuary where God was uniquely present in all his life-giving power” (Wenham, p.86). This understanding of the matter is supported by what happened in the case of the second Adam, the heavenly man, who was ‘placed’ or ‘planted’ in Mary’s womb at his incarnation. And just as the Spirit of God ‘hovered over’ the face of the waters at creation (Gen.1:2, ESV) so he did over Mary’s womb (Luke 1:35, though here a different word is used). Through his mother Jesus became a true human being, born of woman and hence flesh (cf. Gen. 3:15; Job 14:1; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 2:14). Furthermore, through her he became a son of Adam (Luke 3:38), of David and of Abraham (Mt. 1:1) according to nature.
Eden the Womb of Mankind
To my knowledge the Bible nowhere explicitly refers to Eden as the womb of mankind (though Ezek. 28:13-15 certainly implies that to be in Eden is to be in the womb), and it may be complained that the evidence on which the assertion is based is purely inferential. This must be conceded but, as we shall see, there is a good deal of evidence.
First, there are hints in Job 3 where Job in his distress regrets the day of his birth (cf. 5:6f.; 14:1f.) and emphasises the fact that he came forth from his mother’s womb (vv.10f., cf.10:18f.; 31:15). Yet in 4:19 Eliphaz and in 10:9 Job himself recall, like the Psalmist (103:14, cf. 78:39), that they are made of dust or clay (cf. Job 33:6), in other words replicas of Adam at creation (1 Cor. 15:48f.; 2 Cor. 4:7). This immediately points up the fleshly nature of the second Adam who was born of woman (Gal. 4:4, cf. Job 14:1) and therefore of the earth – a fact that is far from being denied when Paul contrasts the two in 1 Corinthians 15:45-49.
Like Job, Jeremiah suffers much and laments the fact that his mother gave him birth (20:14) instead of keeping him in her womb where by implication he was blessed like Adam in Paradise (v.17, cf. 1:5; Rom. 9:11). Then in verse 18, in words that are reminiscent of the Genesis 3:17-19, he refers to days of toil, sorrow and shame (cf. Job 3:11ff.; 5:6f.). Clearly Jeremiah’s life is to some degree a reflection, repetition, replication, re-enactment or recapitulation of that of his original progenitor.
A striking feature of Adam and Eve in the Garden was their nakedness (Gen. 2:25; 3:7,10f.). Nakedness is noted elsewhere in the Bible, that is, in Job 1:21 (cf. Eccl. 5:15; 12:7). What is actually said here is that Job came naked from his mother’s womb and will return there. But that is impossible (cf. John 3:4-6) unless we recognise once more that, as in Psalm 139:15, the earth is the original womb of Adam (Gen. 3:19; Ps. 30:9; 146:4; Eccl. 3:20). Certainly, nothing is said here about a garden, but we all know that babies are naked during gestation and in some parts of the world even later (cf. Ezek. 16:7,22,39). On the other hand we may think in terms of passing naked at death (cf. 1 Tim. 6:7, cf. 2 Cor. 5:3f.) into the next world or heavenly paradise as a result of the second birth. Whatever the case, so far as Adam and Eve are concerned, since they are clearly childlike adults, they are clothed before they leave the garden (Gen. 3:21).
Yet another feature of the womb noted in Scripture is that embryos are incapable of either knowing or doing good and evil (Rom. 9:11). Like Adam and Eve, they do not know the law (Isa. 7:15f., cf. 8:4), and where there is no law, there is no sin (Rom. 4:15, etc.). But when they do come to know it as a result of parental teaching some time after birth and weaning (cf. Dt. 4:9; Ps. 78:5-8), they break it and become transgressors (cf. Gen. 8:21; 1 Tim. 2:14; Rom. 3:23; 5:12; 7:9f.). This point is vital to Paul’s argument in Romans 9 regarding election, which excludes moral status.
The implication of God’s planting a garden (Gen. 2:8) is that the world outside is distinctively different and needs to be brought under man’s control. Clearly, once man was cast out of Eden, what before resembled an idyllic and almost parasitic existence (though note 2:5,15) was abruptly and permanently terminated. (In view of the fact that Eden was no longer inhabited and tilled, the conclusion must be drawn that it degenerated into or was reintegrated with the wilderness, cf. Isa. 6:11, etc. So the question, Where was Eden? referred to above, will presumably never be precisely answered.) Once outside, there is no going back (Gen. 3:24). There is no more re-entering Eden than there is one’s mother’s womb (cf. John 3:4-6). And as Paul discovered, the way to the tree of life is barred once sin has been committed and the promise forfeited (Rom. 7:9f.). The need to till the ground outside Eden (Gen. 3:23) would clearly involve much more effort than had been necessary earlier (cf. the umbilical cord and the baby sucking milk from its mother’s breast). However, he was now alienated from fellowship with God, from Eve and from the ground, which for him was cursed, a situation arising from and exacerbated by his continuing moral turbulence (cf. Gen. 4:11f.; John 8:34). Having said this, however, it is noticeable that fertile land like the garden of Eden appears elsewhere in Scripture, as Genesis 13:10, Numbers 16:13, cf. 11:5, and Isaiah 36:17 indicate, suggesting that the cosmic curse tradition has foisted on us, even if it existed, did not operate universally. In other words, Eden was a special place banishment from which had disturbing consequences like those experienced later at the time of the Exile.
The Promised Land
This leads to another point. Writers have often noted that the Promised Land or the land flowing with milk and honey is another, or type of, Eden, a sanctuary or temple, itself a sanctuary (Ezek. 8:6) of God (Ex. 15:16f.; Ps. 78:54; Mal. 3:1, cf. v.12).* Here again, while the blessings of obedience are immense (cf. Gen. 2:17 and Dt. 28:1-14), the supreme curse stemming from sin and rebellion is death in the wilderness of exile (Gen. 2:17; Dt. 30:15-20; Jer. 22:26f.; 44:14, etc.). For the children of Israel, returning to Egypt (Num. 14:3; Acts 7:39) was out of the question (cf. Dt. 17:16) even if it too was in some ways reminiscent of Eden (Num. 11:5; 16:13). In future, it was a punishment or curse, not a blessing (Jer. 24:8; Hos. 7:16; 8:13; 11:5, cf. Acts 7:43). Going backwards is regarded as a heinous sin throughout the Bible (cf. Jer. 7:24; 15:6 and e.g. Galatians; Heb. 11:15). In contrast, advancing to the goal of the Promised Land (Dt. 1:8,21, etc.) or, as Bunyan would remind us, progressing like pilgrims to the celestial city, is fundamental to our life here on earth (Heb. 11:13; 13:14). So, despite various OT passages like Isaiah 51:3, Ezekiel 36:34f. and Amos 9:13-15 which might suggest earthly restoration, in the NT all hope in a return to a mythical golden age or an earthly utopia or Eden is implicitly repudiated. So our goal is the heavenly land or city that dominated Abraham’s (Heb. 11:8-16) and Jesus’ vision (Heb. 12:1-2, cf. John 14:2; 17:5,24). Return for them too was out of the question as it was for Paul (Phil 3:13f., cf. Heb. 3:1).
So just as Eden, the womb of mankind, was the place or sanctuary where God was present, so Israel (Lev. 26:11f.), especially Zion and the temple (Dt. 12:5,11; 1 K. 8:13, etc.), was the place where he dwelt. It was holy ground (Jos. 5:15). It is therefore no surprise that exile was seen as a calamity like ejection from Eden. Yet even there the God of all the earth was himself a sanctuary to his people (Ezek. 11:16). But exile apart, rest even in the promised land was not permanent (cf. Heb. 3-4). Since it was earthly, it was by its very nature imperfect and incomplete (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50b).
The biblical doctrine of perfection has been much neglected under the influence of Augustine on the one hand and Wesleyan perfectionism on the other. However, it is highly relevant to our present theme. If it refers to maturity and completion as suggested, for example, by James 1:4, then it inevitably implies imperfection (immaturity) at the start (Heb. 6:1; 1 Cor. 3:1f.). This is in fact spelt out in Genesis where Adam and Eve were spiritual children or, in racial terms, embryos (cf. 1 Cor. 3:1; Heb. 5:12-14) who knew neither good nor evil (Gen. 2:17, cf. Dt. 1:39; Num. 14:31; Isa. 7:15f.; Rom. 9:11, etc.). Of course, this was not intended to be a permanent state of affairs, which is one of the reasons for the giving of the commandment (2:17, cf. Dt. 8:2,16). While it promised (eternal) life, it in fact produced death (cf. Rom. 7:10). For all that, it set our first parents, like the devotees of Moses at a later stage of salvation history, on a somewhat uncertain road to maturity whether for evil (Gen. 15:16; James 1:15) or for good (cf. Dt. 4:9; 11:26f.; 30:15ff.; 1 Cor. 14:20; 3 John 11, etc.). And despite sin and the vicissitudes of life, all of us are called to finish our course (Luke 13:32; Acts 20:24; 2 Tim. 4:7) and achieve perfection in Christ (Heb. 2:10; 5:9; Phil. 3:12-15, etc.). In this world, from the womb to the tomb we are pilgrims and exiles (1 Pet. 2:11; Heb. 12:1) seeking the culmination of our God-given life in heaven (Heb. 11:13). In other words, our end is greater than our beginning (cf. Hag. 2:9).
Commentators often remark on the similarity that exists between Genesis 2 and 3 and Revelation 22 in particular. Clearly in the latter, the Eden or paradise we once experienced is re-experienced in enhanced form as it was to some extent in the well-watered and fertile Promised Land flowing with milk and honey (cf. Dt. 6:10f.; 8:7-9; 11:10-12). So it is not simply the original restored, as an over-literalistic interpretation of the OT might lead us to think (Isa. 51:3; Ezek. 36:35), for the wheel does not come a literal full circle as in paganism, but it achieves its end or objective in perfection (cf. Rev. 2:7; 3:21). It is in fact a different, spiritual, transcendent, heavenly or glorified Eden of which the first, like Adam himself (Rom. 5:14), is only a type (cf. Heb. 8:5;9:11,23, etc.). How then can it reasonably be symbolised by the womb? Isaiah paints a picture which has the original Eden as its background. Here Mother Zion (cf. Heb. 12:22) not only gives birth to her children painlessly and instantaneously (66:8, cf. Gal. 4:26; 1 Cor. 15:51f.) but also, as the exquisite maternal imagery indicates, provides “a self-contained system of total supply” (Motyer). In Revelation 22, however, apart from having some of the same features of the old one, like the presence of God, the tree of life, fruit trees and the river, the new Eden has one outstandingly different characteristic which reminds us immediately of the womb, that is, the menstrual cycle of autonomous fertility and fruit bearing (Ezek. 47:12; Rev. 22:2), reminiscent of the year of Jubilee celebrated in the Promised Land (Lev. 25:10-12,19). Doubtless the most important features of both Genesis and Revelation are the presence and fellowship of God but with the added bonus in the latter of vision (Rev. 22:4, cf. Ps. 27:4; Mt. 5:8; John 17:24). These are the goal of practically the whole of Scripture. As Jesus himself indicated, eternal life is to know the only true God and the Christ he has sent (John 17:3). It is with God that we are intended to dwell in intimate fellowship (Rev. 21:3,4,7,22,23; 22:3-5) and to be covered by his protective wings (cf. Ps. 36:7; 57:1-3; 61:4; Mt. 23:37) as was promised at the start of the journey (Gen. 17:7; Ex. 6:7; 25:8; 29:45; Lev. 26:12, etc.). There is little wonder that our heavenly paradise (cf. Luke 23:43), characterised as it is by the divine presence, protection, provision and restored (but enhanced) fellowship, resembles, among other things (e.g. John 14:2f.), the womb — even more so than Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:23). (Jesus of course stemmed from and returned to the bosom of the Father, John 1:18.) For with God is the fountain of life (Jer. 2:13; 17:13) and in his presence we feast and drink in perpetual joy from the river of his delights (Ps. 36:8f.; 16:11, cf. Mt. 8:11). But the supreme blessing is of course that the Lord himself is there (Ezek. 48:35; Rev. 21:3,22) as he was when he made us (Gen. 1:26,28; 2: 7ff.; 3:8ff.; 30:2; Job 31:15; Eccl. 11:5; Isa. 44:24; Jer. 1:5; Mal. 2:10, etc.).
Creation and Procreation
There is yet another point to make. As created in the image of God man is meant to act like God in various ways. One of the most elemental of these is in procreation. It was suggested above that after his creation in the earth Adam was sown like a seed in the Garden of Eden (cf. the incarnation and second Adam’s entering Mary’s womb). This being so, since he is the image and glory of God (cf. 1 Cor. 11:7-9,11-12), man is called on to re-enact God’s act of creation in procreation (Gen. 1:26-28, cf. Isa. 45:9f.). While he cannot go back to Eden himself (cf. Gen. 3:24; John 3:4), he can rejoice over his bride and sow his seed in his wife’s garden of delight (cf. Isa. 62:3-5; Prov. 5:15-19; Song 4:5,12,15; Dt. 24:5, cf. Mal. 3:12) ** to produce children made in his own image (cf. Gen. 5:1-3) as God had done before him. Ultimately, as Paul indicates, the mystery of marriage (Eph. 5:32) is a spiritual one (1 Cor. 6:17) and we who are the seed of the word (Mark 4:14,20; Jas. 1:18,21; 1 Pet. 1:23; 1 John 3:9) are like a bride over whom the bridegroom rejoices (Isa. 62:5; Heb. 12:2). It might usefully be added here that God is the greatest of all sowers, for he created the earth to be inhabited (Isa. 45:18; Jer. 27:5). Where it is uninhabited and unsown (Jer. 2;2) it is a desolation (Isa. 6:11, etc.). The same is true of a woman who has no husband; she too is desolate (cf. 2 Sam. 13:20). But even she, like the eunuch (cf. Jesus in Mt. 19:12), has wonderful prospects of fertility on the spiritual level (Isa. 54:1-7; 56:3-5, cf. Gal. 4:27; Mark 4:20; John 15:5) and, as a true daughter of barren Sarah, is enabled to produce ‘spiritual’ children (Gal. 4:26f.). For God’s word will not return to him void (Isa. 55:11, cf. 45:23).
Creation in Travail Awaiting Restoration of Fellowship
I have already pointed out that the earth was the womb of Adam at creation ***. In an extended sense it remains so throughout history. Both Jesus and Paul use the image of pregnancy to describe events at the end-time. Jesus refers to birth pangs (Mt. 24:7f.) and the new genesis (Mt. 19:28, cf. Tit. 3:5), and Paul tells us in Romans 8:18ff. that creation as a whole, including ourselves (cf. 2 Cor. 5:2-4), is in travail awaiting the grand finale, the glorious liberty of the children of God (cf. the year of Jubilee again, Lev. 25:10). To use slightly different but related imagery, sowing will lead to harvest time (Mark 4:26-29). Eventually the earth, having served its purpose of producing and nurturing the full number of the sons (children) of God (cf. Rev. 6:11), will be reaped and its fruit gathered and garnered (Mt. 3:12; 13:30; Jas. 5:7; Rev. 14:14ff.) or burnt (Heb. 6:7f.; 2 Pet. 3:7, 10-12). When this occurs, Eden, despite natural futility (Rom. 8:20) and sin, will, through the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:12-20; 2 Tim. 1:10), have reached its intended goal of transformation and perfection (cf. Isa. 61:10f.; Rev. 11:15). Then bridegroom (Adam/Jesus) and bride (Eve/church) will dwell in nuptial intimacy and Edenic bliss in the Father’s house, temple or garden-city forever (John 14:2f., cf. Ps. 16:11; 23:6; 36:8f.; 37:4; 65:4; Rev. 21:1-4,22; 22:1-5).**** Here God’s people will be sheltered by God’s glorious presence (Isa. 60:19; Rev. 7:15; 21:3) serving as a wall of fire (Zech. 2:5, cf. Isa. 33:14ff.) reminiscent of the flaming sword which prevented sinful Adam and Eve from re-entering the original Eden with its access to the tree of life (cf. Gen. 3:24). Now, since nothing unclean can enter (Rev. 21:27), the curse or ban will no longer apply (Rev. 22:3).
So we may finally conclude that the destiny of what is conceived in the womb is the house of the eternal Father who never dies even if there is, as in the case of the Prodigal Son, temporary alienation.
* It is interesting to note that while Adam and Eve, once they had been banished from Eden, could not return (Gen. 3:24), the exiled Israelites could, once they repented, return to the Promised Land. This again suggests that Eden is the womb of mankind to which return is impossible (cf. John 3:4). On the other hand, and in violent contrast, from the heavenly Eden there is neither ban nor banishment (Rev. 22:3-5).
**It is worth noting that Ezekiel’s wife, like the temple or sanctuary (vv. 21,25), is referred to as “the delight of your eyes” (24:16, cf. Mal. 3:12).
*** It has often been observed that the Bible never refers to Mother Earth or Nature. The reason usually given, and doubtless correctly, is that since all the nations tended to worship nature and to regard it as a mother, the term might well have led unsuspecting Israelites into idolatry.
**** Cf. Acts 17:28. In the words of Brian Hill, Emeritus Professor of Murdoch University in Western Australia, in comment on Psalm 27, “He (God) is our true habitat“ (SU Bible Notes, July, August, September 2000). Cf. Acts 17:28.