Genesis 2:15 — Part Nine

If you were reading my blog a year ago, you may remember a series of posts on the correct interpretation of Genesis 2:15. In short, the question is whether the verse should be understood in the traditional way, as the NIV has it — The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Or should it have been translated something like this — “God caused man to rest in the garden for the purpose of obeying and worshiping Him.”

I won’t rehash my entire argument again. You can read the whole thing here: Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixPart SevenPart Eight.

Finally, I got a chance to discuss the issue with the Bible professor from whom I first heard the alternate “obey and worship” interpretation. I asked him the questions at the bottom of Part Eight. Here is his answer: (The rest of this post is his answer verbatim.)

My reasoning regarding Genesis 2:15, which in my view is truly a crucial verse with respect to properly understanding our pre- (and hence post-) Fall purpose, is as follows, in logical sequence:

1) The traditional (though not the only, or even the oldest) translation/understanding of Genesis 2:15 is that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and to guard it.

2) Premise: how one understands/translates one of the boldface expressions inevitably influences and informs how one understands/translates the other.

3) Observation 1: The verbal root used for “put him” in v. 15 (nu’ah) is not the same as the verbal root used for “put him” in v. 8 (sim).

4) Observation 2: The verbal root used in v. 8 (sim), when used with either God or man in Scripture, almost always refers to a physical “putting (down) or placing.”

5) Observation 3: The verbal root used in v. 15 (nu’ah), when used with God as the subject in Scripture, is predominantly used to indicate the “setting at rest,” which comes to represent one of the standard biblical idioms for being brought into full relationship with God.  In the Old Testament, this is evident in the oft-repeated promise of God “to give you [i.e., His people] rest” (cf. Joshua 1:15; 2 Samuel 7:11; Psalm 95:11) — which is clearly not simply physical “putting down” or even “physical” at all, since He continues to hold out this “giving of rest” as a yet to be realized promise even after Israel has achieved complete physical rest from war and strife under David (cf. 2 Samuel 7:1 with 7:11).

6) To be biblically consistent, therefore, it must be CONCLUDED that the use of rest in Genesis 2:15, in which God is the subject, is intended just as everywhere else when God is the subject — i.e., as an indication of Him giving spiritual rest to the specified object — in this case Adam (and later Eve).

7) This being so, it stands to reason that the rest of the verse should also be read in a “spiritual” context.  I.e., if the first part of the verse establishes a significant spiritual/theological idea, this is clearly the vein in which the rest of the verse will/should be read.

8 ) Observation: “cultivating” and “guarding” a garden are not clearly spiritual — or spiritually significant — concepts. (This is distinct from the concept of work as valid and positive — to assume that one must be denying the value of “work” to agree with this statement/observation is a logical non sequitur.)

9) Observation: the pronominal object “it” after “cultivate” and “guard” is feminine (if taken as a pronominal object) — literally, “her”.

10) The term “garden” (gan) in biblical Hebrew is not feminine (“her”), but masculine (i.e., “him”).  Some lexicons of biblical Hebrew suggest that the term “garden” (Heb.: gan) may in fact be both masculine AND feminine, but this is begging the question and not at all borne out by the evidence — in fact, this is circular lexical reasoning based EXCLUSIVELY on the view that garden in Genesis 2:15 is feminine and because the pronominal object on the verbs “cultivate” and “guard” is feminine — yet as I will show in following, a more consistent, grammatical, and hence natural reading is that that there is no pronominal object at all!

11) In all of the instances where the word for garden (gan) is predicated by a verb or adjective, it is clearly treated as masculine (e.g., Isaiah 58:11, Jerermiah 31:11, Song of Solomon 4:12, and Song of Solomon 4:16).  Not surprisingly, therefore, it is identified as an exclusively masculine noun in the standard Concordance of the Hebrew Bible by A. Even Shoshan (Heb. edition [Qonqordantsya Hadasha], p. 240c).

12) The most grammatical — and therefore natural — reading of the clause in question, therefore, would be to take what has been mistakenly thought to be a pronominal object suffix (“her”) as in fact an alternate feminine affix to an infinitive noun — which is attested elsewhere in biblical Hebrew — and may be intended to denote emphasis.

13) This reading solves/avoids the clear gender disagreement noted above by effectively eliminating an object from the infinitive verbs (“to cultivate … to guard”).  The verbs thus become “intransitive” (not taking an object) rather than “transitive” (taking an object).

14) When a) used intransitively, b) used in a clearly spiritually focused context, and c) when used together, the Hebrew infinitive verbs traditionally translated “cultivate” and “guard” in fact mean “worship” and “obey.” Thus writes G.K. Beale, “Eden, the Temple, and the Church’s Mission in the New Creation,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48/1 (2005), pp. 7–8: “The two Hebrew words for ‘cultivate’ and ‘keep’ (respectively, ‘?bad and sh?mar) can easily be, and usually are, translated ‘serve and guard.’  When these two words occur together later in the Old Testament, without exception they have this meaning and refer either to the Israelites ‘serving and guarding/obeying’ God’s word’ (about 10 times) or, more often to priests who ‘serve’ God in the temple and ‘guard’ the temple from unclean things entering it (Numbers 3:7–8; 8:25–26; 18:5–6; 1 Chronicles 23:32; Ezekiel 44:14).”

15) Not only does this translation/understanding flow smoothly from the spiritual focus of the first part of the verse, but — contrary to the usual rendering as “cultivate it and guard it” — it also sets up and flows smoothly into v. 16, which proceeds to give the content of obedience — i.e., to answer the obvious, implied question with which v. 15 thus ends — to wit, “So how do I [Adam] obey?”

16) This translation/understanding is not new, but well established in early Jewish exegetical thought, as attested in a) Midrash Genesis Rabbah, xvi.5, b) Targum Jonathan ad Genesis 2:15, and c) Targum Yerushalmi ad Genesis 2:15.

17) The “traditional” translation, we suspect, is a carry-over by late medieval Christian-English translators who, along with their knowledge of Hebrew, are taking this particular exegetical view from their Jewish teachers.  In Jewish tradition, though the proper reading of “worship and obey” was early recognized, it was set aside in favor of the ungrammatical and contextually problematic reading “cultivate it and keep it” due to the essential theological emphasis of Rabbinic Judaism on fully attaining God’s “rest” (i.e., approval) through worship and obedience rather than expressing such as a result of having already been “set at rest” by God (thus the reason for the “setting at rest” coming before the “worship & obedience” in 2:15). This theologically motivated misreading eventually carried over into Christian English Bible translation history, was consolidated within Jewish exegetical tradition as the monolith of Pharisaically-based Judaism (i.e., Rabbinic Judaism), became entrenched over time and crystallized in the corpus of early Rabbinic literature.

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Genesis 2:15 — Part Eight

I turned next to a friend of mine who wishes to be identified as “Kristen.” She’s a Semitic language authority who is currently studying etching on pottery shards from ancient Assyria.

I sent her my original lesson with this request: “Don’t tell me what the commentaries and translations say — I don’t really care. What I want to know is whether the original Hebrew allows this interpretation without twisting things around too much.”

Here’s her reply: (Much of this is over my head, but I get the general gist and I think you will too.)

On “put” meaning “rest”:

The verbal form you’re referring to here is actually ?????? (wayyanihayhu) which is a composite form consisting of a temporal marker, a prefix (which indicates that the subject is masculine, singular, 3rd person), the three-letter root (which carries the meaning), and a pronominal suffix at the end (which indicates that the object of the verb is masculine, singular, 3rd person).  In other words, the English “(He) put him” comes from one lexical unit in Hebrew. The form yanach is, therefore, inaccurate, because that’s not the form used here and when one refers to Hebrew “verbs” in general, one should always use the naked form which is nothing but an unvocalized (no vowels) three-letter root, in this case nwh. That’s the dictionary form. If you add any vowels to make it pronounceable, you also add a meaning to it. It may sound complicated, but it’s not.

As far as the meaning, you’re right on. The form of nwh in Gen. 2:15 is in the Hiphil stem which is causative. The general meaning of the root nwh is “to rest,” “to repose,” or “to be quiet.” In the causative sense, it means X causes Y to rest. I don’t have any problem with this part at all, other than the yanach thing.

So far, so good. She supports the first part of the RWO interpretation and disagrees with the theologian from Part Six.

On “dress” meaning “worship”:

Inaccurate. See above. Also, the second letter can be b or v depending on whether or not it’s doubled. In this case, it’s not, so it should be a v. Granted, the letter beth is often transliterated as b in English. But Hebrew speakers will pronounce the beth in this verbal form like a v. Your best bet is to say that the Hebrew verb used here is abd without suggested pronunciation. The actual form used here is ????? (le-av-dah).

Your interpretation [PWO] would have been legitimate if the object suffix hadn’t been 3rd person, feminine, singular. I actually like your interpretation a lot, and I don’t think it’s wrong to think of rest/serve/obey as the pre-Fall command at all. It’s just that this verse cannot be used to back up that idea. I tried to help you, but there doesn’t seem to be any way you can get this interpretation out of this verse. You know I don’t use commentaries. I don’t use Word Study aids either. I approached this from a purely philological stand point and tried to go as far back as I could – even beyond the vocalized texts back to the consonantal texts. I even looked at translations which were done before the fifth century AD when the Hebrew texts became vocalized to see whether there might have been some variants of the consonantal texts which back up my hypothesis. This is because the Masoretes – the guys who superimposed vowels on the consonantal texts – are known to have made quite a few mistakes. When the consonantal texts can be vocalized more than one way, the Masoretes were actually the people who interpreted the texts for all of us by assigning vowels which they thought made the most sense to the unvocalized texts. In other words, when the consonantal texts allow for multiple possibilities, they were the ones choosing one possibility for us and declaring that reading authoritative (as is “thus saith the Lord,” done deal – no further questions). I don’t necessarily think they had the right to do that, but I’m not going to go into that. Nonetheless, as evident in ancient translations done prior to the Masoretic era, not all Hebrew readers read the consonantal texts the same way as the Masoretes. In the case of what appears to be irreconcilable differences between the Masoretic texts and other versions (that are based on the consonantal texts), philologists/exegetes (at least the responsible ones) always bypass the Masoretic vocalization and go back all the way to the consonantal texts.) I did all that and found nothing that would help you.

Your interpretation would only make sense if you could establish that the object of serve and obey is God, not the garden. That’s the ONLY way you can justify the meanings “serve” [actually, I said “worship”] and “obey” which you have chosen out of the whole range of things these two verbs can mean.

However, no matter from how many angles I look at this, I just don’t see anything in the linguistic realm that allows for that possibility. You see, the object in Hebrew is built-in; it’s attached right onto the verbs. When Hebrew speakers look at these verbs, there’s no confusion whatsoever that the object of these two verbs (the “rest” verb doesn’t apply here as it is intransitive, requiring no objects) is the garden, not God. “Garden” in Hebrew is feminine in gender and serves as the antecedent of the object suffixes which are attached to these verbs (also feminine singular). If the object suffixes on these verbs were masculine, singular, then, no doubt, the antecedent would definitely be God and you would have yourself a very, very solid case.  If the word “garden” were masculine, then one would have two ways of understanding this verse due to the ambiguity revolving the antecedent, i.e., “till it” vs. “serve [worship] Him” and “guard it” vs. “obey Him.” (Both interpretations would be grammatically possible, because a 3rd person, masculine lexical unit in Hebrew can be translated “he/him” or “it” in English depending on what it is.) Now, as for which reading one decides to go with, that depends upon one’s judgment. Syntactically, you can make a case for either view.

However, as the verse stands, whether in the vocalized texts or the consonantal texts, there just isn’t any possibility that the object of the two verbs would point to God. This has made the rendering of the verbs as “serve” [worship] as opposed to “till/work” and “obey” as opposed to “guard” implausible.  True, the meaning range of both abd and shmr covers “serve” and “obey,” but when you see that the built-in object is inanimate (garden), “serve” [worship] and “obey” have no relevance. You cannot serve [worship] and obey an object. A general rule: a verb means what it means according to how it’s used and the context in which it’s used; it doesn’t mean everything it can mean.

That seemed to be that. The RWO interpretation won’t work. I may have to admit that I’m wrong or at least that the issue can’t be definitively resolved.

But I still want to pursue it a bit further.

  1. I want to track down the professor from whom I first heard this interpretation and see what he has to say about all this. He’s a good friend of a good friend of mine, so I think I’ll be able to do this sometime.
  2. It still makes no sense to me that God put man in a perfect place for the purpose of keeping it nice.
  3. Resting in, worshipping and obeying God is our purpose now, after the fall. I have to believe it was our purpose before the fall too.
  4. The professor, Krell and Kristen all agree that “put” means “rest.” If that’s the case, the rest of the verse doesn’t make sense if interpreted as “dress” and “keep.”

That’s where it stands at present. If I discover more, I’ll post it. As for the original lesson that started this all — I rewrote it. I made the exact same point — that man’s purpose is to rest in God and worship and obey Him. I didn’t use Genesis 2:15 as a proof text, but relied on other Scripture. Everybody liked it just fine.

The rest of this post consists of a couple questions that Kristen wants me to ask the professor when I see him. They don’t add anything new to the discussion, so you don’t need to read them. I’m including them here so I’ll have everything together in one place.

Based on the Masoretic text, the pronominal suffixes on both abd and smr are clearly feminine singular which point to gan as their antecedent. Even if one was to override the masoretic vocalization, the consonantal text would still support the feminine/singular reading. One could argue that, according to the consonantal text, the waw immediately following the two infinitives could have originally been part of the pronominal suffixes attached to the two verbs (thus making them masculine/singular), but that is highly unlikely given the fact that the first waw would be needed to link the two infinitival phrases at the end of 2:15 and the other waw would be needed to form a waw-consecutive form at the beginning of 2:16. To make God the object of abd and smr (which is the only way to justify translating these verbs as serve and obey respectively as opposed to till and guard as required by the context), one has to argue very convincingly that the consonantal text is corrupt or that the Masoretes, for whatever reason, intentionally altered the consonantal text and vocalized the emended text in such a way that the object of these two inifinitives is the garden (or a feminine/singular entity), not God. This position would be considered strong only if the hypothesized reading is supported by pre-Masoretic versions such as the transliteration in the second column of the Hexapla or the translation of the LXX (which probably wouldn’t lend much help since “garden” in Greek is masculine, thus adding to the ambiguity).

Unless a strong case is made for God as the object of the two verbs, the context demands that the verbs be understood according to their object, garden. This has significantly narrowed down the semantic range of these two verbs. Undoubtedly, “serve” and “obey” are part of the semantic range of abd and smar, but can one “serve” and “obey” a garden? Elsewhere in the OT where abd and smar are used to convey the meanings “serve” and “obey,” they’re never used in conjunction with an object like a garden. Therefore, again, the only way to justify translating the two verbs as “serve” and “obey” is to prove that the originally intended object is God, not the garden. Can this be done without violating the Hebrew syntax or clearly demonstrating that this is indeed a case of textual corruption and religiously-motivated vocalization? And if so, on what bases can this be done?

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Genesis 2:15 — Part Seven

While all this was going on, I was also working on a Bible survey series and found myself right back in Genesis 2. I took a different angle this time and didn’t bring up the PDK/RWO issue. But during the course of my study, I was reading in The Genesis Record, by Henry M. Morris. (Creation-Life Publishers, 1976)

He has this to say on Genesis 2:15:

Before explaining to Adam the terms of his “probation,” God first assigned him the specific duty of caring for his garden home. Apparently it was later, after God had formed Eve, that He gave the two of them the much broader commission to exercise dominion over the entire creation (Genesis 1:28-29). At this point, Adam was instructed merely to till the ground in the garden of Eden, to dress it and keep it. Even though there were as yet no noxious weeds, the ground was so fertile and the plant cover so luxuriant that its growth needed to be channeled and controlled.

It is noteworthy that, even in the perfect world as God made it, work was necessary for man’s good. The ideal world is not one of idleness and frolic, but one of serious activity and service. Even in the new earth to come, after sin and the curse have been completely removed, Scripture says “that his servants shall serve Him” (Revelation 22:3).

Adam was told to “keep” the garden. The word means actually to “guard” it. There is no thought involved of protecting it from external enemies, of which there were none, but rather that of exercising a careful and loving stewardship over it, keeping it beautiful and orderly, with every component in place and in harmonious relationship with the whole.

First of all, Genesis 1:28-29 is after Genesis 1:27, which says male and female He created them. So the idea that Adam was tilling the ground but not exercising dominion until Eve comes along is simply wrong. The last sentence of the first paragraph is total speculation based on his PDK interpretation.

Second, in the second paragraph, Morris uses Revelation 22:3 as proof that man will still be working after the curse has been removed. Revelation 22:3 reads: There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him. On a hunch, I looked up the meaning of the word “serve,” the basis for Morris’s entire argument here. It comes from the Greek word latreuo, which means — you already guessed it, didn’t you? — it means “worship.”

Thirdly, in Morris’s third paragraph, he comes up with yet another definition of “keep” as used in Genesis 2:15, which means that the word must allow separate interpretations — including the RWO interpretation, perhaps. The rest of that third paragraph is just speculation.

So now what. I’d heard from several different sources, all of them leaning toward the traditional PDK interpretation, although a few of them dabbled with the RWO interpretation. Taken all together, almost every aspect of the RWO interpretation was allowed by somebody.

Instead of convincing me that I was wrong, everything to this point just made me more convinced that there was something to it.

I just had to find an answer to the issue of the garden and not God being the object of  “dress/worship” and “keep/obey.”

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Genesis 2:15 — Part Six

Meanwhile, I sent my lessons to another reviewer. He is a “theologian” with an M.Div. from Trinity and a good grasp of the original languages and all the tools to consult. Here is his reply.

On “put” meaning “caused to rest”: Checking my Hebrew-English reference works I find that “rest” is one of the meanings of this word, but the particular form of the Hebrew verb in this verse and the fact that it is used in association with a person (him) and a location (in the garden) strongly points to the meaning “put”, as all the translations (including the Septuagint) render it in this verse and the two standard Hebrew reference works I checked confirm (with examples of verses with similar grammatical construction).  The solution to the problem posed is not to get work removed from Gen 2 (and thereby make it a consequence of the fall and a part of the curse — which I think biblically is a false idea, for work is an inherently good thing, for God himself worked in creation).  But the work before the fall was not burdensome and sweaty.  After the fall it was so, because of hindrances to productive work (in the sinful nature of man, and in the cursed creation).  When we finish the verse the way they have rendered it, it makes no sense.  He “made him rest in the garden to till it and keep it” (the Hebrew construction here clearly means that “to” means “for the purpose of”) So, He made Adam rest to work?  That is not what God is saying here.  And we certainly don’t want children to get the idea that work is a result of the curse!

I’m no scholar, but this seems to be largely circular reasoning again. There are also other issues:

  • God’s work in creation certainly wasn’t work in the sense of obligation, so it’s not really the same thing at all.
  • There’s no support for the idea that there was non-burdensome, non-sweaty work before the fall except this verse.
  • I never said God “made him rest in the garden to till it and keep it”. The first part of my lesson is linked to the rest of the lesson. It’s all one argument.
  • He agrees that this verse serves as a purpose statement. But what makes more sense — That God put man in the garden for the purpose of working, or that God wanted man to rest in Him and worship and serve Him. As I showed in the lesson, resting in God and worshipping and serving Him are our purpose after the fall. It makes no sense that man had a different, less-meaningful purpose before the fall.

The theologian continues on the subject of “dress”:

But the same word is use in Gen. 2:5 and 3:23 and it does not mean there “worship the ground” but till or cultivate the ground.  Context rules out the translation “worship”, again as all the Bible translations would confirm, including the Septuagint.

I’ve already addressed the Genesis 2:5 usage, and 3:23 was post-fall and obviously a different activity. I disagree with his context argument in Genesis 2:15.

He goes on to discuss my conclusion:

Work wasn’t needed to fight weeds, but work was perhaps given to man for man’s sake (as the ruler of creation), not for the ground’s sake, and could have prepared the ground to receive seeds from the plants that God made and possibly to prune them to bear more fruit.  We can’t be certain of the nature of the work.  But this [my RWO interpretation] way of rendering Genesis 2:15 finds almost no scholarly support that I can see (though one of my OT profs, argued this way about the verse as part of his old-earth interpretation of Genesis and John Gill (on-line Bible) indicates that a few rabbis may have viewed it this way, although the Septuagint doesn’t.

He starts his comment by saying “perhaps” and later says “We can’t be certain,” which makes his interpretation as much speculation as mine is. He goes on to say that the RWO view has almost no scholarly support, then proceeds to state two people (plus however many rabbis) who do support it.

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Genesis 2:15 — Part Five

Here’s another response from one of my reviewers.

At first glance, I think the interpretation is a little speculative … The interpretation of “dress” bothers me, because in the English text, the object of it is “it” — the garden. However, you indicate the object of “dress” (worship) is God, not the garden.  The only way this would work is if “it” is not in the original Hebrew.  Is it? My thought is that you are hanging too much on this — i.e., the whole point of the lesson.  That might be too risky. 

You know that I deeply respect you and your knowledge of Scripture — and your ability to write.  This one seems to me to go a little too far.  But I’ll listen to a rebuttal.

I responded:

When I look up “to dress it” in Strong’s, the three words translate into Hebrew as just one word, “abad,” one of the meanings of which is “worship.” My guess is that the translators added the “it” to make it clearer according to their understanding of the verse. But I’m no Hebrew scholar and could be wrong.

I didn’t come up with this idea on my own. I heard it from [a professor] who taught an adult Sunday school class at my church. He went on to say that the translators used the words they did because they had a works-based theology and couldn’t deal with the fact that God didn’t require anything from man. I thought he made a lot of sense.

The clincher for me is that the verse seems to be a purpose statement.  It just makes more sense to me that God put man here to worship and obey Him rather than that He put man here to trim the trees, or whatever. Otherwise, there’s no statement (before the fall) that explains man’s purpose or what his relationship with God was supposed to be.

The reviewer’s reply to my reply

I still don’t buy it.  For me, a critical issue is what is said in Genesis 3:17.  You’ve written the lesson, based on the premise that work is the curse of that passage, but I don’t read it that way; I think that the curse is pain and sweat in work, not work itself. Throughout the Bible, work is considered to be a good thing.  In what you say below, I don’t get [the professor’s] connection between the more traditional interpretation and a works-based theology. There is a huge difference between “work” and “works” — as a means of pleasing God.

In looking at my Strong’s, I don’t see “observe the rules” as you say is there as a meaning for “shamar.”  “Observe” is there, but in the sense of “watch out for”, rather than “obey”.  I also don’t see the redirection of the object in regard to “abad”; both terms seem to have the garden as the object, not God.

I see this statement as specifically addressed to Adam, and not applicable to all humankind.  I agree that there is no statement as to God’s purpose for all of us found in the first chapters of Genesis.  But let’s not make one out of something that isn’t clearly seen in the text.  Other passages can be used to clearly support that we are all here to worship and obey God; but a critical issue that many will wrestle with is, “but what does that look like for me?”  I see that this command to Adam is more closely parallel to God’s calling on Moses’ life to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, Paul’s calling to take the gospel to the Gentiles, etc.

I have to admit that was a decided speed bump on the RWO interpretation. Obviously, I had to find out if “dress” and “keep” could refer to Adam’s relationship with God.

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Genesis 2:15 — Part Four

Here’s the way another of my reviewers responded.

I like the way you have explained this verse in the lesson, but I still think God had Adam and Eve doing important, meaningful work in the garden while also worshipping, resting and obeying. Otherwise, why does God tell us to subdue the earth — the earth is perfect when He said this, but it still needed subduing. Adam and Eve helped God to spread the seeds around the land and further the multiplying process, among other things. Also, why do all modern translations not translate the words in the ways you have said? Maybe there is both a literal and spiritual meaning to Adam’s work …

I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea that God needed help. I have to think the garden was perfect, as this reviewer says. Again I ask — What if Adam hadn’t eaten the forbidden fruit but also hadn’t done any work in the garden? Without the knowledge of good and evil, it couldn’t have been sin.

I think this would be a good point to look at the first two chapters of Genesis and see what exactly God did tell Adam to do. As I read it, I come up with three things.

1. So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:27-28).  God told Adam to have a lot of children. I’m guessing that Adam didn’t exactly consider this an obligation — God probably meant it more as encouragement.

2. … And subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth (Genesis 1:28). This is the whole “have dominion/be in charge” issue again, and again, I think it refers to Adam’s position, not his obligation. “Subdue” is also tied to multiplying, so it may simply mean that for man to rule the earth, there had to be men to rule. It obviously wasn’t God’s intention for earth to be empty. For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God Himself that formed the earth and made it; He hath established it, He created it not in vain, He formed it to be inhabited : I am the LORD; and there is none else (Isaiah 45:18).

3. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Genesis 2:16-17). Here’s the obedience issue. This is the entire law that Adam lived under. It’s all about Adam’s relationship with God, not about his role in the garden. Adam was in a position of fellowship with God and could do no wrong (except to eat the fruit) because he didn’t have the knowledge of good and evil. But once he understood the difference, he was required to do good.

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Genesis 2:15 — Part Three

When I sent the lesson on Genesis 2:15 to my review team, I received several responses from people who preferred the PDK interpretation. Here’s the first:

I see where you are going with this, but I have never seen a commentary or heard any teaching before that there was no work in the garden. The fact that Adam had to work here is evidence that work was not a result of the fall. It’s a God ordained beautiful thing. After the fall, work would be harder, but nonetheless he had to work; naming the animals, keeping the garden etc. We work six days a week and rest on the 7th, as God intended pre-fall. We worship God by working.

I think your point of needing rest and the worship of God can be done without using a word that most translations don’t. This article proved helpful to me — especially the 14th-15th paragraphs relate to work.

First of all, it seems to me that the entire basis for Adam having work in the garden rests on Genesis 2:15. And Genesis 2:15 is the verse in question, so to use it as proof of the point is rather circular reasoning. It’s saying “We know Adam had to work in the garden because Genesis 2:15 says so. And we know Genesis 2:15 must prove that Adam had work in the garden because it’s the only verse that says so.”

Second, let me say that I don’t think Adam didn’t have anything to do in the garden. There was stuff to keep him occupied. There just wasn’t anything he had to do except avoid the fruit of the one tree. He was already in fellowship with God, worshipping Him. As for obeying, it all came down to the fruit.

Look at it this way. What if Adam had never eaten the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but he didn’t mow the lawn or trim the trees or plant seeds or whatever it is that the PDK proponents think it was that he had to do? Would the garden have degenerated and become weedy and unpleasant? Of course not — the world was still uncorrupted by sin. And it wouldn’t have been sin for Adam to not work because he didn’t have any knowledge of good and evil.

To move on: Adam did name the animals.

Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field … (Genesis 2:19-20).

But that was a one-time deal and the verse doesn’t even say that God instructed Adam to do it. It just says that God brought the animals to Adam to see what he would call them. Maybe God knew it was something Adam would want to do as part of his rule. Back in Genesis 1:26, we read: Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

The word “rule” in this verse means “to have dominion” or to “be in charge.” It’s not a work, particularly not in a perfect garden. It’s a designation of standing or rank — Adam was top dog, the boss, the king. It wasn’t something Adam had to do, it was something he was. Naming the animals was simply an offshoot of his rule.

So much for that. Now let’s take a look at the Moody site that this reviewer referred to. It’s an article titled Party in Paradise, by: Keith Krell BA Th.; M Div (Bio). Here’s what it says in paragraphs 14-15.

In 2:15, Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. After God made the beautiful garden, fully stocked with its full-grown vegetation, He placed Adam in it. The Hebrew word translated “put,” in 2:15, is not the same one rendered “put” in 2:8. The latter term is the normal one for putting something somewhere. However, the former one connotes rest and safety as well as dedication in God’s presence. God put man in the garden where he could be safe and rest and where he could have fellowship with God (cf. 3:8). He then gave Adam three mandates. The first two were mandates of responsibility and the third one was the mandate of access to garden privileges. The first area of responsibility is indicated by the word “cultivate” (abhad), which means “to serve.” It means, then, to do whatever is necessary to keep the garden esthetically attractive. The details of this service are not provided but we do know that, before Adam was created, there was no one to do it (2:5). We also know that the nature of the service did not involve the kind of activity that Adam had to do after the fall, when he was kicked out of the garden (3:23). There, he must serve the ground from which he was taken, cursed with the “thorns and thistles” of agricultural disharmony (3:17-19). God placed man in Paradise for the purpose of serving Him. Interestingly, this word is also translated “worship” elsewhere in the Old Testament. This indicates that Adam served and thereby worshipped God by tending the garden.

God ordained work. All kinds of work — paid and unpaid — are necessary in the world for us “to subdue it” according to God’s will (1:28). Even if your daily responsibilities may seem dull and unimportant, or cause you to associate with and support worldly, God-hating people, remember, “the Lord takes pleasure in His people”. (Psalm 149:4) And He takes pleasure in us not just at church, but at work too. He’s as attentive to us in our work routines as He was to Joseph in his service as Potiphar’s slave, to Jesus in the carpentry shop, and to the apostle Paul when he was making tents. Enlarge your vision of your spiritual life to include your daily work. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve (Colossians 3:23-24). Present your work to God. You are working for Him.

Interesting, isn’t it? He totally sees the RWO interpretation, but then backs off and takes the standard PDK line. Rather than a rebuttal, I saw this as confirmation of the RWO interpretation.

He refers back to Genesis 2:5: Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.

The word “cultivate” here is our old friend abad, which even Mr. Krell agrees means “worship” many of the times it is used in the Old Testament. It can also mean to “serve” or “keep in bondage.” Could this verse simply mean that the plants that would be useful to man hadn’t been made yet because God hadn’t sent rain and there was no man — who would rule — yet created for them to be useful to?

Mr. Krell also refers to Colossians 3:23-24 — Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. First of all, this verse is written for us today when work, as part of the curse, is decidedly part of the world. Secondly, even so, it refers to our focus on God and not to the work itself.

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Genesis 2:15 — Part Two

As I mentioned in my last post, I wrote a lesson on Genesis 2:15. Here is the relevant part of that lesson, with slight alterations to make it less “lessony.”

We have a purpose. God made humans for a reason. That reason is given in Genesis 2:15, but we will have to search a little bit to find it.

Genesis 2:15 — And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

You might be asking yourself, “What work was there for Adam to do in the garden? God created everything to be good for man? The trees and plants grew all the food he needed. What was it that Adam was supposed to dress and keep?”

And not only that, but in the next chapter, after Adam and Eve have sinned, God curses the ground and tells Adam that from then on he has to work to get his food. So if work was part of the curse of sin, how could Adam have been working before he sinned?

There is another explanation. Words can have multiple meanings. Take, for example, the word “fly.” If I tell you to fly, I might be asking you to travel somewhere by airplane. Or maybe I’m telling you to drive over the speed limit. Perhaps I want you to run as fast as you can. Or if you’re a baseball player, I may want you to hit the ball in the air instead of on the ground. You would know what I meant by the context of our conversation. If I ask you to go get the bag of candy from my car, and fly, you would know that I want you to run as fast as you can. You would also know that I wasn’t telling you to get on an airplane, drive my car or hit a ball into the air.

The Hebrew words in Genesis 2:15 can have several meanings. Let’s take a look at three of these words and see which of their meanings make the most sense in context.

Yanach (pronounced yaw-nakh´) — This word is translated “put” in Genesis 2:15 — … the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden … The Hebrew word yanach can mean “put,” but it can also mean “cast down,” “leave alone,” or “allow” (as I might say, “I would rather you didn’t do that, but I’ll allow it this one time”). None of those meanings make a lot of sense. But there’s another meaning of the word yanach — “cause to rest.” If that is the proper meaning here, the verse should be understood … “the LORD God took the man, and made him rest in the garden.” This makes sense in context because all through the Bible, God tells us that we should rest in Him.

  • Psalm 37:7 — Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him …
  • Matthew 11:28 — Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
  • Philippians 4:6-7 — Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Abad (pronounced aw-bad´) — This word is translated “dress” in Genesis 2:15 — put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. Abad also has several meanings, including “to treat someone like a slave,” “to work,” and “till” (turn over dirt to get ready to plant.) But abad can also mean “worship.” Does it make sense that God would want Adam to worship Him?

  • Psalm 29:2 — Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name; worship the LORD in holy array.
  • John 4:23 — But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.
  • Revelation 15:4 — Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; for ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.

Shamar (pronounced shaw-mar´) — This word is translated “keep” in Genesis 2:15 — put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. Shamar can mean “guard,” “protect,” or “observe the rules” as in obeying. God wanted Adam to obey Him. Does this make sense? Can we find other verses that prove God wants obedience?

  • Deuteronomy 13:4 — You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.
  • Daniel 7:27 — Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 — … When the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

Which makes more sense? That God “put” Adam in the garden to do some kind of work that wasn’t really needed because the place was already perfect — or that God wanted Adam to rest in Him and to worship and obey Him?

You might ask — “What was there that Adam had to obey? What was God telling him to do or not do? In the very next verse, God gave Adam just one instruction that was so simple that even a small child could understand it. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17).

That was it. That was God’s intended purpose for humans. We were supposed to rest in Him, responding to His wonderful gifts with worship and obedience, knowing that He was taking care of everything we needed. We were to enjoy all the great things He had made for us — a beautiful garden, great food, conversations with Him. We were to worship Him — thanking Him for what He did for us and acknowledging that we needed Him. And we were to obey one simple rule — see that one tree over there? Don’t eat the fruit from that one tree. The entire world is filled with all sorts of incredible things for you to enjoy without limit. Just avoid that one tree.

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Genesis 2:15 — Part One

Five or six years ago, in a Sunday school class at our church, we took a course in Genesis from a professor of Bible at a major Christian college. His outline point for Genesis 2:15-25 was “The Responsibility of Man.”

On Genesis 2:15 (And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.), he said something I hadn’t heard before. My notes from that day read as follows:

“Dress” and “keep” are not referring to work as in Genesis 3:23 (Therefore the LORD God sent him [Adam] forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken). The Hebrew words translated “dress” and “keep” should be “obey” and “worship.” Man’s responsibility was to obey and worship God. The word “put” in Genesis 2:15 means “caused to rest.” So, God caused man to rest in the garden for the purpose of obeying and worshiping Him.

I thought that made a great deal of sense, and whenever the subject came to mind I leaned toward this new interpretation.

Just for the record, the new interpretation isn’t the standard one. The NIV has the verse this way: The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 

And the NASB: Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

Recently, I wrote a series of lessons on Genesis and I included the new interpretation. My lesson was questioned, and I eventually rewrote it. I’ve done some follow-up study, and thought I’d share what I found.

Throughout my posts on this subject, I’ll use the initials PDK for the traditional “put, dress, keep” interpretation and RWO for the new “rest, worship, obey” interpretation.

Also, when I quote sources, I’m only going identify them if they are published. I’ve been in contact with various people on an informal basis and don’t know if they want their names bandied about. In those cases, you’ll have to take my word for it. I assure you I haven’t changed a thing they’ve said.

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The Gospel

Imagine a friend walking up to you one day and saying, “Have you heard the good news?” You’d wait a second or two for him to complete his thought, and then you’d ask, “Good news about what?”

The word “gospel” (euangelion in Greek) originally meant the reward given to the bearer of good tidings but the meaning shifted until the word meant the good tidings themselves. On its own, the word is no more specific than “good news” is to us today.

If you ask people what they mean when they say “gospel,” most of them will refer to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the salvation we receive when we trust in Him. And many of the uses of the word in Scripture refer to exactly that.

But many others don’t.

When we see the word “gospel” in the Bible, we should always stop and ask “Gospel about what?” “What gospel?” In the Bible, the word is used to describe different good messages, and the assumption that it always refers to the same news causes a great deal of confusion.

Here’s a list of first appearances of various “gospels.”
• Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 9:35)
• Gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1)
• Gospel of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14)
• Gospel of the grace of God (Romans 1:1)
• Gospel of His Son (Romans 1:9)
• Gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16)
• My [Paul’s] gospel (Romans 2:16)
• Gospel of peace (Romans 10:15)
• Gospel of God (Romans 15:16)
• Gospel which I [Paul] preached to you (1 Corinthians 15:1)
• Gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4)
• Gospel which I [Paul] preach among the Gentiles (Galatians 2:2)
• Gospel for the uncircumcised [Gentiles] (Galatians 2:7)
• Gospel for the circumcised [Jews] (Galatians 2:7)
• Gospel to Abraham (Galatians 3:8)
• Gospel of your [Gentiles] salvation (Ephesians 1:13)
• Gospel which you [Gentiles] heard (Colossians 1:23)
• Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:8)
• Gospel of the blessed God (1 Timothy 1:11)
• Everlasting gospel (Revelation 14:6)

Obviously, there is a lot of overlap. All of them have something to do with salvation and, therefore, ultimately, with Jesus Christ. But the gospel didn’t always include the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ directly. The only way to be sure what specific “good news” a passage is referring to is by context.

For example, the gospel God preached to Abraham (Galatians 3:8) was that in him [Abraham] all the nations would be blessed. This is a prophecy that all nations will someday be blessed through Abraham’s descendants, the nation of Israel, during the Millennial Kingdom. It’s also a prophecy that all nations are blessed through Abraham’s descendant, Jesus Christ. But specifically, it’s a prophecy that all will be saved as Abraham himself was, by his example of faith in God. This was good news to Abraham, but there was nothing in the news that could have informed him of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Still not sure whether “gospel” can refer to anything else? Consider Luke 9:1-6:

Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. And He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece. “Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

In obedience to the Lord, the twelve apostles traveled about Judea preaching the gospel. And yet, later in the chapter (Luke 9:44-45), we read this:

“Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.

In Luke 18:31-34, we read this:

Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.

They did not understand that the Messiah would have to die. So what “gospel” were they preaching on their travels?

It wasn’t until after His resurrection that the apostles finally understood what the Lord had been talking about (Luke 24:5-7; 36-46). But long before then, they had been preaching a gospel.

The gospel that Jesus Christ preached during His earthly ministry, and that He instructed His disciples to preach was that Israel should “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

The long awaited Messiah, prophesied throughout the Old Testament, was on the scene. The kingdom that He would rule over and through which the whole world would be blessed, was fast approaching. The people needed to repent of their sins and be prepared.
This message was for Israel and only for Israel. The blessing of the rest of the nations could only occur through Israel and, therefore, couldn’t happen until Israel had accepted the Messiah (Matthew 10:5-7).

That was before Christ’s death and resurrection. What about afterwards? The Bible makes it clear that there were still two gospels in operation.

But on the contrary, when they [the twelve apostles] saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me [Paul], as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (Galatians 2:7).

So what’s going on here? Christ had died and risen again by this time. Why are there two messages of good news at this point, approximately 20 years later?

Because God was still dealing with two distinct groups of people, the Jews saved under the kingdom dispensation and all those in the Body of Christ, Gentiles and Jews, who were saved under Paul’s ministry.

Here is the gospel for the circumcised given to Peter.

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

“Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it [killed the Messiah] in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:17-21).

In short, they had killed Jesus Christ. That act had separated the nation of Israel from their promised Messiah. They had to repent of their sin and be baptized in order to have their sins forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit. When the nation had done that, the Lord would return and the kingdom would begin.

The nation didn’t repent. The Jewish leaders put Steven to death (Acts 7:51-60). Very shortly thereafter, the Lord raised up Paul and gave him a new, different gospel to a new group of people, the Gentiles. In Paul’s gospel, the cross was no longer a cause of separation but the means of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:21). He made no call to repent and be baptized, but simply to believe (Romans 4:5).

As you can see in the list at the beginning of this post, there are other shades of meaning when “gospel” is used in Scripture. It isn’t my purpose to explain each one. I only wanted to point out that the word can only be understood in context. Don’t assume that “gospel” in Scripture always refers to the same good news for the same audience. Always ask yourself “What good news?”

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