Education in the Garden of Eden
Most Bible students know the story of Genesis 1–3 and its cast of characters: God, Adam, Eve, the angels, the serpent. The setting is a splendid garden in a paradise called “Eden.” The plotline seems to follow a logical series of events. God creates. God instructs Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve sin. Adam and Eve are banished from Eden. However, a closer look at the first few chapters of Genesis, especially through the lens of education, will uncover insights into the cast, the setting, and the story. “The system of education instituted at the beginning of the world was to be a model for man throughout all aftertime. As an illustration of its principles a model school was established in Eden, the home of our first parents. The Garden of Eden was the schoolroom, nature was the lesson book, the Creator Himself was the instructor, and the parents of the human family were the students.”—Ellen G. White, Education, p. 20.
The Lord was founder, principal, and teacher of this first school. But as we know, Adam and Eve ultimately chose another teacher and learned the wrong lessons. What happened, why, and what can we learn from this early account of education that can help us today?
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 3.
Though we don’t think of a garden as a classroom, it makes perfect sense, especially one like Eden, filled with the unspoiled riches of God’s creation. It is hard to imagine, from our perspective today, how much these unfallen beings, in an unfallen world and being directly taught by their Creator, must have been learning in that “classroom.”
God made the man and the woman in His image and gave them a home and meaningful work. When you consider teacher-student dynamics, this is an ideal relationship. God knew Adam’s abilities because He had created Adam. He could teach Adam, knowing that Adam could realize his full potential.
God gave the man responsibility, but He also wanted happiness for him, as well. And perhaps part of the means of giving him happiness was giving him responsibilities. After all, who doesn’t get satisfaction— happiness, even—from being given responsibilities and then faithfully fulfilling them? God knew the heart of Adam and what he would need to thrive; so, He gave Adam the task of taking care of the Garden. “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15, NKJV). It’s hard for us to imagine, knowing only a world of sin and death as we do, what the work must have entailed and the lessons that, no doubt, Adam learned as he worked and kept their garden home.
In Genesis 2:19–23, God created animal companions for Adam, and He also created Eve as Adam’s wife. God knew that Adam needed the companionship and help of a peer; so, He created woman.
God also knew that man needed to be in close relationship with Him; so, He created an intimate space in Eden within the confines of the Garden. All of this attests to God’s purposefulness in Creation and His love for humanity.
Again, from the great distance between us and Eden, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like—though it is fun to try to imagine, isn’t it?
One of the great joys for many teachers is assembling their classrooms: hanging bulletin boards, organizing supplies, and arranging the rooms in the most desirable way. When we look at God’s vision for the classroom that was the Garden of Eden, we see the care He took in preparing a learning environment for Adam and Eve. He desired beauty to surround them. We can imagine that every flower, bird, animal, and tree offered an opportunity for Adam and Eve to learn more about their world and about their Creator.
Yet, there is an abrupt shift from Genesis 2 to Genesis 3. We have taken inventory of all the good that God created with divine intention. But in Genesis 3:1 we also awaken to God’s provision for free will. The presence of the serpent as “more subtil than any beast of the field” is a departure from the language heretofore used. Such words as “very good” and “not ashamed” and “pleasant” are adjectives used to describe God’s creation in the prior chapters. Now, however, with the serpent, there is a change of tone. The word “subtil” also is translated in some versions as “cunning.” Suddenly a negative element is introduced in what, so far, has been only perfection.
In contrast, Genesis presents God as the opposite of “cunning.” God is emphatically clear about His expectations of the pair in the Garden. We know from God’s command in Genesis 2:16, 17 that He has established one key rule that they must obey, and that was not to eat from the forbidden tree.
Whatever else we can take from this story, one thing stands out: Adam and Eve were created as free moral beings, beings who were able to choose between obedience and disobedience. Hence, right from the start, even in an unfallen world, we can see the reality of human free will.
In Genesis 2:17, the Lord told Adam that if he ate from the tree he would “surely die” (emphasis supplied). When Eve, in Genesis 3:3, repeated the command, she did not express it as strongly, leaving out the word “surely.” In Genesis 3:4, the serpent puts the word back in but in an utter contradiction of what God had said. It seems that though Eve was taught of God in the Garden, she didn’t take what she learned as seriously as she should have, as we can see by the very language she used.
As we saw yesterday, Eve—even in her language—watered down what she had been taught despite God’s clear command.
Though she didn’t misinterpret what the Lord said to her, she obviously didn’t take it seriously enough. One can hardly exaggerate the consequences of her actions.
Thus, when Eve encountered the serpent, she repeated (but not exactly) to the serpent what God had said regarding the trees in the Garden (Gen. 3:2, 3). Of course, this message wasn’t news to the serpent.
The serpent was familiar with the command and was therefore well-prepared to twist it, thus preying upon Eve’s innocence.
When the serpent told her that part of the message was incorrect, Eve could have gone to confer with God. This is the beauty of Eden’s education: the access the students had to their Mighty Teacher was surely beyond anything we can now fathom on earth. However, instead of fleeing, instead of seeking divine aid, Eve accepts the serpent’s message. Her acceptance of the serpent’s revision to the message requires some doubt on Eve’s part about God and what He had told them.
Meanwhile, Adam wanders into a difficult situation himself. “Adam understood that his companion had transgressed the command of God, disregarded the only prohibition laid upon them as a test of their fidelity and love. There was a terrible struggle in his mind. He mourned that he had permitted Eve to wander from his side. But now the deed was done; he must be separated from her whose society had been his joy. How could he have it thus?”—Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 56. Unfortunately, though knowing right from wrong, he also chose wrongly.
When Adam and Eve chose to follow the serpent’s message, they faced, among many other consequences, banishment from God’s classroom. Think about what Adam and Eve lost because of their sin. When we understand their fall, we can better understand the purpose of education for us in the present age. In spite of their banishment, life in an imperfect world ushered in a new purpose for education. If education before the Fall was God’s way of acquainting Adam and Eve with Him, His character, His goodness, and His love, then after their banishment the work of education must be to help reacquaint humanity with those things, as well as re-create the image of God in us. In spite of their physical removal from God’s presence, God’s children still can come to know Him, His goodness, and His love. Through prayer, service, and studying His Word, we can draw close to our God as did Adam and Eve in Eden. The good news is that because of Jesus and the plan of redemption, all is not lost. We have hope of salvation and of restoration. And much of Christian education should be pointing students toward Jesus and what He has done for us and the restoration that He offers.
Through Jesus, we have been given “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (NKJV). What a promise! What might some of those things be? Well, Peter gives us a list: faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, and so on. Notice, too, that knowledge is one of the things Peter mentions. This idea, of course, leads to the notion of education. True education will lead to true knowledge, the knowledge of Christ, and thus not only will we become more like Him, but we also may stand to share our knowledge of Him with others.
Some people are considered “natural students” in the classroom.
They barely need to study to make excellent grades. They absorb material easily. Their knowledge seems to “stick.” Second Peter 1 and 2, however, make it evident that our education in Christ is an equalopportunity experience for those who will dedicate themselves to Him.
The encouraging words of 2 Peter 1 contrast with the sobering warning in 2 Peter 2.
Notice what Peter writes in verse 10 about those who despise authority. What a sharp rebuke for what is a reality in our day, as well.
We as a church body must work on the assumption of certain levels of authority (see Heb. 13:7, 17, 24), and we are called to submit to and obey them, at least to the degree that they are being faithful to the Lord themselves.
However, amid this harsh condemnation, Peter offers a counterpoint. He says that although God is mighty to cast out those who chose deception, “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations” (2 Pet. 2:9, NKJV). Is it possible that part of our education in Christianity is not only avoiding temptation but also learning the many ways that God can and does deliver us from it, as well as help guard us against those, Peter warns, who will “secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1, NKJV)? And, since the despising of authority is so condemned, shouldn’t our Christian education also consist of learning the right way to understand, submit, and obey “those who rule over you” (Heb. 13:7, NKJV)?
Though one could not say that Adam and Eve despised authority, in the end they chose to disobey that authority. And what made their transgression so bad was that they did it in response to a blatant contradiction of what that authority, God Himself, had told them, and who had done so for their own good, as well.
Further Thought: “The holy pair were not only children under the fatherly care of God but students receiving instruction from the allwise Creator. They were visited by angels, and were granted communion with their Maker, with no obscuring veil between. They were full of the vigor imparted by the tree of life, and their intellectual power was but little less than that of the angels. The mysteries of the visible universe—‘the wondrous works of him which is perfect in knowledge’ (Job 37:16)—afforded them an exhaustless source of instruction and delight. The laws and operations of nature, which have engaged men’s study for six thousand years, were opened to their minds by the infinite Framer and Upholder of all. They held converse with leaf and flower and tree, gathering from each the secrets of its life. With every living creature, from the mighty leviathan that playeth among the waters to the insect mote that floats in the sunbeam, Adam was familiar. He had given to each its name, and he was acquainted with the nature and habits of all. God’s glory in the heavens, the innumerable worlds in their orderly revolutions, ‘the balancings of the clouds,’ the mysteries of light and sound, of day and night—all were open to the study of our first parents. On every leaf of the forest or stone of the mountains, in every shining star, in earth and air and sky, God’s name was written. The order and harmony of creation spoke to them of infinite wisdom and power.
They were ever discovering some attraction that filled their hearts with deeper love and called forth fresh expressions of gratitude.”—Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 50, 51.