The Adamic Covenant (pt.2)


Adam’s Responsibilities within the Covenant

Having argued for the existence of the Adamic covenant in pt.1 of this blog series the question then becomes what was Adam’s work or responsibility within the covenant framework? Many scholars and commentators argue that Adam was simply there to work as one who tended the garden for six days, and rest on the Sabbath, established by God in Gen. 2:1-3. For instance, Dr. R.C. Sproul takes this gardening role of Adam, and extrapolates that this creation ordinance brings about “the sanctity of all human labor.”[1] Though Adam was indeed meant to tend and be a steward of the garden, his covenantal work and responsibilities were far more. This will be especially significant when this work is paralleled with the work of the Last Adam, Christ. 

Adam’s responsibility within the covenant can best be laid out in the dominion mandate of Gen. 1:28 which reads, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” So Adam was given three primary tasks within this mandate: 1) he was to procreate and fill the earth with image bearers; 2) he was to subdue the earth; and 3) he was to exercise dominion or authority over the creation. The Garden of Eden was God’s special place on earth, and Richard Barcellos expanding upon the work of G.K. Beale makes a strong case that the garden served as God’s first temple. Barcellos writes, “God’s walking in the garden indicates His special presence among men. In this sense, the garden of Eden was a temple, the earth’s first sanctuary.”[2] There is strong Scriptural evidence that Eden was considered the first temple of God, primarily in Ezekiel 28:11-19. In verses 14 and 16 of this passage, Ezekiel refers to Eden as “the holy mountain of God.” This is of great significance when it comes to a biblical understanding of temples. As G.K. Beal notes, “Ezekiel portrays Eden on a mountain (Ezek. 28:14, 16). Israel’s temple was on Mount Zion (Ex. 15:17), and the eschatological temple was to be located on a mountain (Ezek. 40:2; Rev. 21:10).[3] This is so important in like of Adam’s work in the Garden. Adam was called as a sinless image-bearer of God to multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. In other words, Adam was to extend the garden-temple of God throughout the entire earth. Barcellos puts it this way, “the whole earth was to be God’s special dwelling place with man. Eden was a prototype of something so much greater.”[4] While extending the garden-temple throughout all the earth through his obedience to God’s mandate, Adam was also tasked with “working” (or cultivating) and “keeping the Garden” (Gen. 2:15). However, though cultivate can refer to agricultural work on its own, Beale once again shows how when these to words occur together throughout the Old Testament, they usually refer to the work of priests who keep the service or charge of the tabernacle (see Num. 3:7-8). Beale states that within Gen. 2, Adam “was the archetypical priest who served in and guarded God’s first temple.”[5] 

Therefore, Adam’s responsibility in his covenant relationship to God was to bring all of creation under submission to his authority, extending God’s special dwelling place into every corner of the world, and perfectly cultivate and keep this special dwelling place as a God’s priest. Through the works of the covenant Adam would have been able to enter into a permanent Sabbath rest, and would have obtained the state of non posse peccary (the inability to sin) and non posse mori (the inability to die).[6] How this ultimately would have worked itself out, or how long this period would last is simply unknowable, but because such was built upon Adam’s sole obedience to the noted works, the Adamic covenant can be rightly called the Covenant of Works. Nevertheless, Adam was disobedient and in his disobedience removed from the special dwelling place of God. However, in spite of his disobedience, Adam is given a promise by God that “the offspring of the woman would destroy the works of the wicked serpent who brought temptation into the garden” (Gen. 3:15). This was the promise of a greater Adam, one who would in spite of being wounded “crush the head of the serpent.” This Last Adam would accomplish in a New Covenant, what the first Adam failed to do with his.

***Pt. 3 will cover the relationship between the Adamic Covenant and the Last Adam***



[1] R.C. Sproul, “Like Father, Like Son,” Tabletalk Magazine, (July, 2003), 7.

[2] Richard Barcellos, Better than the Beginning: Creation in Biblical Perspective, (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2013), 109.

[3] G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 73.

[4] Barcellos, 112.

[5] Beale, 68.

[6] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Abridged in One Volume, ed. by John Bolt, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 330.


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