If God had set up mankind in His Image to subdue the Earth before he placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, what did it look like for the first Imagers of God and why were Adam and Eve so important?
This question is predicated on several points I have explored earlier in this series:
- God chose mankind to Represent (or “Image”) Him on Earth as co-regents with Him. 
- There were Imagers outside the Garden of Eden. 
- Humanoid beings (like AI or aliens) could not Image God on Earth based on their ontology, regardless of their capacity for the job. 
- The first Imagers were probably Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) from roughly 150,000 years ago, though it is possible that Homo heidelbergensis and Neanderthals also Imaged God. 
To dig into how Adam and Eve fit into the larger framework of human history, we must compare and contrast the first two chapters of Genesis as they relate to God’s expectations for His Imagers, as well as the setting description for each set of events.
The Dominion Mandate
On the 6th Day of Creation in Genesis 1, we find that after God creates mankind, He makes a declaration with two parts:
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, c and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls d on the earth.” 29 God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree whose fruit contains seed. This food will be for you, e 30 for all the wildlife of the earth, for every bird of the sky, and for every creature that crawls on the earth—everything having the breath of life in it. I have given every green plant for food.” f And it was so.Genesis 1:28-30 (HCSB)
Let’s break this down into its components. [Note that God’s purposes for mankind, to Image Him on Earth, are described in Part 1 of this series.]
- God’s Purposes
- Mankind is to Image God
- God’s Commands
- Be fruitful and multiply
- Fill the Earth
- Subdue the Earth
- Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and every creature that crawls on the earth.
- God’s Provision
- Seed-bearing plants and every tree with fruit as food for humanity and all creatures.
God’s instructions for His male and female Image-bearers are to reproduce, spread out, and subjugate the Earth, including all the life forms they encounter aside from other Imagers. As I noted in Part 4, the subjugation of the Earth here is denoted by the Hebrew words kabash (כָּבַשׁ) and radah (ורדו). These words are not gentle words, as you can see in the context provided in these passages: Jer 34:16; Esth 7:8; Josh 18:1; Isa 14:2; Ezek 29:15.
The needed force and mindset implied by using these words (as opposed to, say, mashal (מָשַׁל) which is more like “govern” or “have authority over”) indicates that this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park for mankind. It also implied that at the time of creation, the world was in need of imposed order.
To be blunt, there was a certain level of chaos present in the world at this time that needed ordering. This raises interesting questions that are beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say, at the time of God’s seven day coronation ceremony described in Genesis 1, His creation had imperfections that He wanted to address with mankind by His side. This could also be indicative of why God proclaimed that His creation was “good” (tobe, טוֹב) rather than something like tam (תָּם, “perfect/complete”).
To further support this claim of chaos existing as part of God’s creation, let us mention three terms in Genesis 1:2 that describe the state of creation prior to God declaring “Let there be light!”:
2 Now the earth was d formless and empty, e darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. fGenesis 1:2 (HBCB)
(The following quotes come from the Genesis 1:2 notes in the Faithlife Online Study Bible: https://bible.faithlife.com/books/hcsb/)
- “Formless and empty” – this phrase comes from the Hebrew word pairing of tohu (תֹּהוּ) and bohu (בֹּהוּ). These two words together (ex. Jeremiah 4:23) implies not that “nothing” existed but instead that whatever did exist was in a “nonfunctional, barren state.”
- “Watery depths” – the “deep” or “abyss” comes from the Hebrew word tehom (תְּהֹם), which is similar to tamtu (Akkadian) and tiamat (Sumerian). Tiamat was the chaos dragon that was split in two by Marduk in the Enuma Elish. The point here is that tehom and words like it were used to indicate the idea of chaos in ancient Mesopotamia. The Sea, to them, was an untameable, chaotic place of death. This is why Revelation 21 says there will be is “no more sea” in the New Earth… no more chaos! See R. C. Sproul’s thoughts on this here.
Now, this presence of chaos in Genesis 1 prior to mankind coming on the scene is not something that’s wrestled with much in the Western church. This isn’t healthy, especially since it’s right there in Genesis and only a Google search away. If we don’t tackle this stuff, you can come to all kinds of wacky conclusions (Gnosticism, Kabbalah, etc.). Christians in the West need to engage the material.
Personally, I think it’s pretty sweet. Here’s why:
The authors of Genesis are using common near-Eastern tropes to do theology while simultaneously attacking the cultures surrounding Israel! It’s not just Genesis; God easily bests the chaos monster in many places throughout the Bible (Psalm 74, Isaiah 24, Isaiah 27, Revelation 21). These passages are direct pokes in the eyes of other gods because when they do it, they need help or a special weapon: Marduk from Babylon, Ba’al in Canaan, etc. The Israelites are taunting their neighbors, declaring the superiority of Yahweh to their gods!
The point of this is that God creates mankind for the purpose of bringing order to the world at His side. There are spiritual entities in the world that have rebelled against God and cause chaos here on Earth. As Imagers of God, we are called to subdue the Earth and its chaotic forces.
We now come to Genesis 2 and considering the Mandate that Adam and Eve received from God. First, let’s look at the setting of the Garden of Eden.
Genesis 2:4 sets up this new chapter by declaring that we are in “the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens” (KJV); this indicates we’re still in God’s “creation time.” As we’ve discussed in Part 4 of this series, this phraseology does not indicate a recapitulation, but instead is probably a sequel to Genesis 1.
This is further elaborated in verses 5-6. Compare the King James Version and the Holman Christian Standard Bible translations:
5 And every dplant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. 6 But ||there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.(KJV)
There are several points that should interest us, since this is giving us a new setting.
- “plant/shrub/herb of the field” – the English phrase is used throughout the Old Testament about 10 times, using the two words for plants here in Genesis 2: siyach (שִׂיחַ, a shoot, shrub, or bush) and eseb (עֶשֶׂב, grass or herb). These two words by themselves are found in the wilderness (i.e. when Hagar puts Ishmael below a bush in the desert), but when paired with “of the field” (sadeh, שָׂדֶה), it seems to always refer to planted crops, or agriculture.
- “No man to work the ground” – this is a clear reference to agriculture. In his book Mapping Human History, Steve Olsen brings up again and again that “someone in the Middle East” developed agriculture around 10,000 years ago (~8000 BC). Hunter-gatherers like the Natufian culture in the Levant had been experimenting with agricultural practices for their own use for a couple thousand years beforehand, but not the full “settlement” version of agriculture that we think of today.
- “No rain” – the work of geologist Ward Sanford shows that between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago (roughly 8000-4000 BC), there was an Indian monsoons incursion into the Arabian Peninsula, creating a wet periods. This happened in cycles every 23,000 years. This means that
- The wet period in Arabia wouldn’t have been in the hunter-gatherer collective memory,
- We still have another 10,000 years to go until the monsoons swing into the desert again, and
- Therefore, we have a late date in our window of time for when God planted the garden.
- “Water coming up from the ground” – Dr. Jeffrey Rose, in his paper New Light on Human Prehistory in the Arabo-Persian Gulf Oasis (Rose, 2010), outlines the amazing finding that beneath what is now the Persian Gulf, there was a huge oasis that is to this day watered by fresh water springs. This oasis was fed by four river systems: the Tigris, the Euphrates, a now-dry system called Wadi Bain River from the East (Pishon), and a River system that drained from the Zagros mountains (Gihon). This exactly matches the description of Eden from Genesis 2! If this is where the Garden of Eden was, we know that God planted His Garden in a window of time between 72,000 years ago and 8000 BC. We’ll discuss these findings in more detail in another article.
These points already separate the mankind of Genesis 1 from Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 simply based on the setting change. But Adam and Eve’s instructions were different as well. In addition to having the Dominion Mandate by virtue of being human, Adam and Eve were also given additional instructions.
Quoted below is Genesis 2:15-17:
15 The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, i 17 but you must not eat j from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.” k(HCSB)
15 And the Lord God took ||the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden †thou mayest freely eat: 17 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.(KJV)
Let’s break these down. In addition to the Genesis 1 purpose, commands, and provisions for mankind, Adam receives these additional stipulations due to his special placement in the garden:
- God’s Purpose
- Adam (and, by extension, Eve, as his helper) is to “work” the garden of Eden
- Adam (and Eve) is to “watch over” the garden of Eden.
- God’s Command
- Do not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, or you will surely die.
- God’s Provision
- He can eat from anything else in the Garden
We immediately see that God’s instruction includes, for the first time, a prohibition. This is very significant. Disobeying a prohibition of God is described as a “transgression” (פֶּשַׁע, pesha), or crossing a line. Adam taking from the tree is described as a transgression in the Bible, not just a sin. Pesha is different than “sin” (חַטָּאָה, chaṭṭâ’âh), which is more like missing the mark, or an offense. Neither of these are as bad as “iniquity” (עָוֹן, ‛âvôn), which is “crookedness”, “wickedness”, or moral evil. (We’ll discuss this more in the next article.)
The Dominion Mandate did not have prohibitions, just commands. By putting Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, in God’s presence, the responsibilities of man and expectations of God are higher.
Adam is to “work”/”cultivate”/”till” (עָבַד, abad) the garden, which has overtones of servitude (as in, He is working the garden for God). “Watch over” or “keep” (שָׁמַר, shâmar) also means “guard” or “protect.” For instance, God instructs Abraham to shamar His covenant. With these two words paired together, it gives the distinct sense that God has given Adam and Eve charge over the very sacred space where God’s presence is!
This is very interesting. Adam and Eve were to cultivate and protect God’s sacred space in Eden. Protecting and working the garden sounds a lot like the Israelite priests protecting and working the tabernacle.
What does this mean? Well, consider the pattern.
- Israel, God’s response to divorcing the nations, was to be a “kingdom of priests” for the nations.
- Moses, ruler-king over God’s chosen people, a servant of God who was the keeper of God’s commandments.
- Jesus the Christ, the “second Adam,” fulfilled the law and made the perfect sacrifice for all mankind. He is our High Priest, the Son of God.
These parallels in the Hebrew scriptures are widely acknowledged in Biblical scholarship; the typology is very clear. Adam was God’s first God-ordained priest-king of mankind. (The Unseen Realm by Michael Heiser, p. 243-8)
But if there were Imagers of God before Adam, how did God relate to mankind before the Fall?
There is more to unpack!