Introduction to the Bible: An Introduction to the Bible

by Rev. Ralph A. Smith


Chapter Six

The Edenic Covenant


The pre-fall covenant with Adam governs the entire era from the creation until the coming of Christ. The new covenant in Christ is a fulfillment rather than a replacement of the original covenant. In other words, the entire Biblical story of the growth of God's kingdom is grounded in the Edenic covenant given in Genesis 1-3. If we do not understand these chapters properly, we will not be able to understand the rest of Scripture either. Thus, to begin our study, we will consider first the condition of the kingdom at the time of creation, the five points of the covenant in the Edenic Covenant, and man's response to the covenant and God's judgment.


The Kingdom

God created the world in six days. Why six days? Because His work in creation set a pattern for man to follow, work six days, rest one day (Ex. 20:9-11). Furthermore, man's work was to be the continuation of God's work. The world was dark, formless, and empty at the beginning (Gen. 1:2). For six days God worked to give the world light, form, and living things. The crown of His creation was man, who was commissioned to continue the work that God had begun (Gen. 1:26-28).

When God created man, He created Adam, the head of the race, first. Then, God created Adam's home, the Garden of Eden, while Adam watched (Gen. 2:8), giving Adam an example of how he was to work. The Garden was organized with two special trees in the center, a wall around it, and a gate in front. Man was allowed to eat freely from every tree in the Garden, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17). Man had two primary responsibilities: to guard the Garden, and to till it so that it would bring forth more fruit (Gen. 2:15).

God trained Adam for family life by bringing all the animals before him and having Adam name them (Gen. 2:19-20). Naming the animals meant more than pronouncing a sound; it meant assigning a "label" to each animal that appropriately described it. Adam learned about each animal and understood something of its meaning and purpose in the kingdom of God. He also saw that the animals resembled himself in many ways but that there was an immeasurable bio-cultural gap between himself and the animals. Adam realized that all the animals had mates, but he was alone. Adam was ready to be given a wife that he would cherish. His unspoken prayer was answered and God gave him Eve (Gen. 2:21-23).

The world Adam and Eve ruled was divided into three parts. The Garden of Eden was their home. It was also a mountaintop sanctuary where they met with God directly. The land of Eden was the land of the sanctuary, close to God. The rest of the world was farther away from the Holy Place where God manifested Himself. There was another threefold division of the world. The heavens were above them, ruled by the sun in the day and the moon and stars at night (Gen. 1:14-18). The land was their home. The great ocean was underneath them. This is the source of the symbolism of the world as a threefold structure, later reflected in the tabernacle and the temple.


The Covenant

The five points of the covenant are not presented in simple covenantal order, but they all appear in the text.

1. Clearly the entire passage (Gen. 1-3) demonstrates the absolute Lordship of God who creates all things according to His will and plan. God's sovereignty in creation is especially seen in that all things are created by His word. The tenfold speaking of God in the creation story (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28, 29) corresponds to the tenfold word of God in the Mosaic covenant, the ten commandments. There is even a hint of the Trinity in the creation of Adam and Eve, both in the divine counsel -- "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Gen. 1:26) -- and in the very fact that human society is God's image, no less than the human individual.

2. Adam is the lord of creation under God. He is the original king of the world, though there is no state in a formal sense. Adam and his queen are given dominion over all creation (Gen. 1:28). Adam is also the original priest and prophet, since God speaks to Adam who then teaches his wife the word of God (Gen. 2:16-18). His priestly responsibility is seen in the command to guard the Garden sanctuary (Gen. 2:15), for priests in later times were the guardians of the temple. His responsibility as the first husband and father included farming the Garden (Gen. 2:15) and having children to fill the earth for the glory of God (1:28).

3. In a sense, these responsibilities constituted the commands of the covenant also, but the ethical heart of the covenant was found in the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). As the command was stated, Adam could have inferred that the prohibition was temporary. For the emphasis is clearly on God's gracious provision of all the trees of the Garden (2:16). The fact that there were two trees in the midst of the Garden with names (Gen. 2:9), one of which was forbidden, virtually constituted a divine invitation to eat from the tree of life.

The essence of the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not a matter of eating or not eating. The issue was, Would Adam and Even trust God and obey Him simply because He is God? To test Adam's obedience in something he understood to be a matter of righteousness would still have been a test. But God gave Adam a more difficult test. Obedience to the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil does not have the kind of obvious ethical significance as a command like "Thou shalt not kill." If Adam had obeyed God when tested, he would have manifested the faith and love that is the true heart of obedience. For this reason, God tested Adam on what may seem like an arbitrary issue.

4. The blessing and curse of the covenant were set forth in the two trees. The tree of life would bring blessing if Adam and Eve chose it rather than the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If they chose the forbidden tree, however, they faced the curse of death. It was as if the Lord were saying to Adam what Moses later said to Israel: "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live" (Deu. 30:19).

5. Had Adam chosen life, he and his posterity would have inherited the world and Satan would have been cast out. Presumably, that would have included inheriting the right to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, too. For if Adam had refused Satan's temptation he would have understood the true meaning of good and evil, the very thing the tree and the test was supposed to teach him. In other words, the prohibition of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was pedagogical. If the lesson had been learned, Adam and Eve would have graduated into a higher status.


Adam's Covenantal Response

Satan appeared in the Garden in the form of a serpent. This was allowed by God in order to test Adam and teach them the essential meaning of good and evil. Merely giving Adam a lecture on the philosophy of good and evil would not have really furnished Adam with the understanding he needed. Just as when God wanted to give Adam a wife, He first provided a project that would be meaningful to him for his whole life and would, at the same time, teach Adam of his need for a wife, so also when God wanted to teach him about good and evil, He sent Satan to test him. This required Adam to guard the Garden from evil. If Adam had successfully defended the Garden from Satan's attack, the hard part of his guarding work would have been over.

When Satan approached Adam and Eve, Adam should have understood from Satan's challenge what the real meaning of good and evil was. Good is to obey the voice of God, evil is to rebel against it. Good and evil are not substances or things; they are words which describe our covenantal response to God. Had Adam learned this truth by submission to God's will, he would have been confirmed in holiness by eating of the tree of life. We might say that Adam had a choice of sacraments, the magical sacrament of Satan which promised power through disobedience to God, or the covenantal sacrament of God which promised life and all good things by submission to Him.

What Adam actually did was to set up his wife as a guinea pig to see what would happen if someone did eat from the tree. When Satan addressed Eve, Adam, who was standing by, said nothing. He intentionally allowed Eve to be deceived into eating the fruit in order to see what would happen to her (cf. 1 Tm. 2:14). If she did not die, then he would know it would be safe for him to eat also. Nothing happened to Eve, so Adam assumed it was safe to eat. But the fall had already occurred when Adam decided to let Eve eat.


God's Covenantal Judgment

God appeared in Person to expel Adam and Eve from the Garden. They heard the sound of God, which was probably like the sound of the glory-cloud (cf. Ex. 19: 16; 20:18; 1 Sm. 22:8-16; Ez. 1:4ff., esp. vs. 24), like the sound of thunder. Nothing in Genesis implies a gentle, soft sound. Adam and Eve, like the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai, were terrified by what they had heard and they hid themselves (Gn. 3:10). God spoke to Adam first because he was the covenantal leader. He pronounced judgment on the Serpent first as the source of the temptation. And in that judgment is found the first promise of salvation, the basis for a new covenant: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Gn. 3:15).

Adam and Eve did die that very day, just as God had said. They died covenantally through their representative, the animal sacrifice offered in their stead which bore the curse of the covenant for them (Gen. 3:21). This is the beginning of the sacrificial system in the Bible. Judgment included the promise of life in a new covenant which would provide a representative who could truly take away sin.

Being expelled from the Garden was another form of death, for Adam had been created to have fellowship with God. Cast out of the Garden, Adam and the race of men after him hunger for the true Garden of God, without really knowing what it is that they are seeking: "Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst" (Jn. 6:35).

In addition, the processes of physical decay, the gradual "death" of their bodies began that day. Sickness and pain, fatigue and the sufferings of the body in the aging process were not part of the original creation. From the day they sinned, Adam and Eve "began to die" physically. Beyond the physical death they experienced, the world around them entered into death also. The earth itself was "subjected to futility" (Rm. 8:20) because of Adam's sin; the entire animal and physical world was brought into the "bondage of corruption" (Rm. 9:21).

But in judgment there was also grace. God did not merely annul the original covenant and destroy the race He created in His image, though it would have been righteous for Him to have done so. He brought man into a form of judgment that made provision for redemption. This involved two aspects. First, God made provision for the continuation of the old covenant, a postponement of final judgment, so to speak. Second, God granted man the promise of a new covenant -- the seed of the woman would come and destroy the serpent. Thus, the covenantal situation set up by God's judgment of Adam and Eve was a temporary extension of the original covenant that included a promise of a new and better covenant in the future.


Table of Contents


The Covenantal Structure of the Bible: Introduction to the Bible
Copyright © 1999 by Ralph Allan Smith. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission from the author. Also online at and available for download in PDF format. is dedicated to applying the covenantal worldview to modern-day issues. It is a ministry of the Covenant Worldview Institute and the Mitaka Evangelical Church of Tokyo, Japan. The essays and books at are (mostly?) written by Reverend Ralph Allan Smith, who has laboured as a teacher, pastor, and missionary in Tokyo since 1981, and as the director of the Covenant Worldview Institute since 1988. All feedback is welcome. He can be contacted at