Temple architecture and the sequence of Genesis 1 and 2.

This is a restatement, and reminder, of one of the significant internal reasons to regard the narrative of Genesis 1 and 2 as mainly sequential, rather than parallel – the significant changes in temple imagery between the two. It relates to my understanding of the Bible’s overarching metanarrative as Yaheweh’s desire to fill the whole cosmos with his glory, and to do it through his earthly creation, mankind. Since this is not necessarily a familiar view, I need to keep bringing it to attention. In so doing I’ll add some new thoughts, which I hope will clarify it.

The idea that both Genesis 1 and 2 contain references to temple worship is now mainstream. Even its current detractors tend to argue that the acknowledged temple imagery in the creation account is derived from the structure of the Hebrew tabernacle, rather than vice versa, but in my view this is irrelevant – Genesis 1 is not a scientific statement of what the universe is physically, but an inspired theological reflection on what its structure means to us. For a Moses writing the Torah, whether the pattern of the tabernacle shown on the high mountain was the natural cosmos, or whether instead the pattern of the tabernacle later showed itself to be comparable to the cosmos, the fact is that the ideas overlap.

Richard Middleton has pointed out the fact that despite the temple imagery in Genesis 1, the text nowhere speaks of God’s glory coming to fill it. This is despite the shekinah being a significant culmination of the building of the tabernacle (Ex 40:34-38), and of the later building of the temple by Solomon (2 Chron 7:1-3), as well as its theologically significant absence from the second temple (Ezek 10:18-19; Ezra 6:16-18) – its significance being that the Mosaic covenant was abrogated and Israel awaited the promised New Covenant from a state of theological exile.

Richard and I agree that the story of Adam explains the absence of the glory, by the endowment of God’s spirit through his inbreathing of Adam, the intention being that only through Adam would God’s glory come to fill all things – in the same way that Christ’s gospel promises the same, through the same Spirit, after Adam’s failure.

Turning to Genesis 2, Gordon Wenham was among the first to draw attention to the imagery of “sacred space” in Eden. It is actually significant to my case that those who disagree with Wenham have pointed out the non-parallels to the tabernacle/temple there. In my view, these discontinuities show that the Garden of Eden is to be understood as a different kind of sacred space from either the tabernacle, or the Genesis 1 “cosmic temple,” as I shall now explain.

First, remember what a temple actually is. It is not simply a place for worship – altars were built at many places on Israel’s journey to Canaan, to sacrifice to God in heaven. Instead, a temple is a place where God is represented as dwelling, amongst his people, which is why Exodus 40 is the climax and finale of the book.

But because of the rebellion and faithlessness of Israel, the tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, the second temple and even Ezekiel’s visionary temple (an interesting and perplexing case) are designed to emphasise the holiness and separation of God from the people. Only priests might enter the house beyond the courtyard, and only the High Priest, once annually, entered the holy of holies to make atonement. Moses was fully aware of this, as the one who, alone apart from Joshua, met God face to face both at Sinai and in the “tent of meeting” on the journey, so that his face shone and had to be veiled.

So it is not accidental that the “architecture” of the cosmic temple of Genesis 1 is like that of the tabernacle – the emphasis is on God dwelling, in glory, in heaven. For God to fill the whole earth with his glory, too (which does not happen in the text), would be a step beyond the tabernacle, equivalent to his glory filling not just the holy of holies, or even the house, but the courtyard containing Israel as worshippers. In the New Testament, such a bursting of holy bounds is represented by the tearing of the temple curtain at the death of Jesus, revealing the holy of holies.

But contrast that with Adam in the garden, in Genesis 2. Here no boundaries are mentioned, so that Adam and Eve are free to walk in the midst of the garden, where Yahweh also walks. When cherubim are sent to guard the way to the garden after the Fall, it is the whole garden, not just a holy part of it, they guard: contrast that with the guardian cherubim flanking the ark of the covenant within the holy of holies in the tabernacle. In Eden, then, the emphasis is on free access to God, not separation. This profound contrast provides a strong argument from the narrative itself that the story of Adam follows on from the creation account, rather than duplicating it.

It is a contrast that continues throughout the Bible. In the patriarchal narratives, it is sometimes hard to distinguish worship, from prophetic revelation, from theophany. But it is the last that is the equivalent to the concept of “temple” as God’s presence. And we see that Abraham meets God, for example, when visited by the three men prior to the destruction of Sodom, and also when he enters into an inviolable covenant with him. Similarly, Jacob meets God in actual combat as he returns home. What is important is that in all such theophanies, no temple architecture intervenes – the encounters are face to face, as they were in the garden of God.

The same is true of Moses, who first meets God in open country by the bush at Sinai, returns there after the Exodus, and as I have already mentioned, continues to meet God face to face to receive further revalation. The contrast is even more clear because Israel was offered the chance for such an unmediated encounter when they first arrived at Sinai, but disobeyed through fear, insisting that Moses be their mediator. Thereafter, direct access to God was lost, and the whole priestly apparatus replaced it for Israel.

Finally I need not, I hope, dwell on the great emphasis of the New Testament on direct access to God through Christ. Not only the tearing of the curtain, but the idea that believers become living stones in the temple that is Christ’s body, show an Edenic kind of temple, rather than a Mosaic one. The giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the shekinah glory of that temple, though it is only a deposit guaranteeing the final consummation – the coming together of heaven and earth when God dwells with his people, and there is no longer any need for a temple in the Mosaic sense.

Such a vision is not simply a return to the original order of things – though it is a return to Eden, because the garden was intended to inaugurate a new order of things. It is, however, as Scripture explicitly states, a new creation, in which the old temple architecture of Genesis 1 – where heaven in the holy of holies, the skies the holy house, and the earth the temple court – is replaced with a universal version of the Garden of Eden, where there is free access for all creation to the tree of knowledge and the tree of life. Meaning, of course, to dwell eternally in the glory of God.

And so that is my principal reason, rather than considerations from science or anthropology, for seeing the first two chapters of Genesis as sequential. Genesis 1 is about the old creation, which is still represented in the “weak” covenant of rebellious Israel with its tabernacle and temple. But Genesis 2 is about the new creation – and the free worship of the Patriarchs, Moses and the saints both before and after Christ, who finally succeeds in completing that new creation, as the New Adam and the True Israel.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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2 Responses to Temple architecture and the sequence of Genesis 1 and 2.

  1. swamidass says:

    You are coming around to seeing a theophany in Genesis 2 I see. That is interesting, especially as this arose because it was declared absurd that God would have breadth or hands by some.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      I’m not aware of ever denying a theophany in Gen 2, though I may possibly have been less than specific about which person of thne Trinity it was. However, I have handled mankind as being in the Image of the Image before, and even related it to the garden (way back in 2012) here in my series on Christological Creation (written partly in reaction to the BioLogos emphasis on kenosis).

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