Getting the Garden Wrong
A Scriptural Critique of
“Getting the Garden Right,” by Richard C. Barcellos
and Other Garden Covenant Arguments
by Chris Fales of “Conversations From the Porch” Podcast
I fully agree with Richard Barcellos concerning the importance of getting the Garden of Eden right in order to properly grasp what follows in the entirety of the rest of the Scriptures. He states, “Eden sets the stage for the drama of redemption revealed to us in subsequent Holy Scripture.”1 It is in those first few chapters of Genesis that we learn of God as Creator and all that he made and how he made it. We see there that he created mankind in his image, blessed and commissioned them. Within those verses we read that all that was created was good and indeed “very good.” These chapters tell of a Garden that the Lord had planted, of two trees that dwelt there, and of man and woman being placed in that “paradise” with a single command that was eventually disobeyed. That disobedience brought death and curses to mankind and the world but in the mist of that Garden and calamity the greatest news was announced, a Savior was coming.
I imagine that Barcellos and others that hold to his views would agree with everything that I have just mentioned, but then they would add, “It is there in those chapters that we find the first Divine/human covenant made between God and Adam.” But at that statement the Bible student who has never studied Covenant Theology (CT) may be scratching their head and thinking, “Covenant? That’s new to me. I’ve never seen a covenant in the Garden before.” And I will contend that that is because there is no Garden Covenant of any kind in Gen. 1-3 or even in the entirety of the Bible. It simply is not there. But that has not stopped Covenant Theologians, Progressive Covenantalists, and other hybrid theologies from seeking to add this new ingredient to the clear biblical data on the subject.
“Does this even matter,” I have been asked numerous times? Yes, it matters, and to the degree one takes this hypothetical covenant can determine much about it’s outworking into many other doctrines. For those who hold to a full-blown Covenant of Works (CoW) the theological implications are tremendous.2 Then there are those who believe that there was indeed a covenant of some sort but it did not offer a reward for obedience. Their position bears little difference than those who deny a GC outright but does, in my opinion, diminish the glory of the true covenants of the Scriptures and flattens out a portion of the redemptive narrative, failing to see the way in which God fellowshipped with his people in the epochs before sin and after it had entered into the world.
One of the main things you will notice in my response to Barcellos and others who hold to a Garden Covenant is that I will not in the slightest way refer to or resort to the Confessions of the Reformed (WCF, 1689 LBC, etc) as validation for any views put forward here. My ultimate concern is not what the Confessions assert but what the Bible itself declares, so it is to the Scriptures we must look.
It is not the attempt of this paper to put forward a full commentary of the entirety of Barcellos’ book (or even every argument that can be fathomed for a Garden Covenant). Within Getting the Garden Right other topics are discussed (like the Sabbath and “moral law”) that I have no intention of discussing here. My goal is to simply, and briefly, discuss some of the more prominent and common arguments that have been made for such. While this is labeled as a response to Dr. Barcellos’ book it is not meant as a personal attack. Though I have not met him in person, the small bit of virtual interaction I have had with him (and yes, he knew I am NCT) was very friendly. To be honest, it has been my internet to write on the “proofs” of a GC for some time, but with the release of Barcellos’ book I decided to go ahead and get on with it. And since Barcellos did such a great job articulating his side’s position I thought it would be best to interact with his writing for that reason.
Let me define my term “Garden Covenant” (GC) that I will be I using in this paper. I will be using GC as a general term to encapsulate all variations of pre-fall Covenants, to include a “Creation Covenant,” “Covenant of Works,” “Adamic Covenant,” and so on. I do not see any evidence that God ever establish a contractual relationship with man until after Noah exited the Ark so it doesn’t matter what kind of covenant is put forward as a Garden Covenant.
So, without further ado, let’s pull some weeds.
1 Barcellos, 9.
2 Such as the introduction of “Imputed Active Obedience,” (the idea that the death and resurrection of Christ was not sufficient to make his redeemed righteous before God), that What Christ won for his saints was merely what Adam hypothetically cold have obtained through his obedience during a probationary period of testing, and more. These implications may be explored at another time in a future writing.