The word “planted” here is taken from the Hebrew נָטַע (nata), which can mean ‘to plant,’ but also to ‘fasten, fix, establish.’
“A garden” is translated from the Hebrew גַּן (gan) which can mean ‘garden,’ ‘enclosure,’ or ‘enclosed garden.’
“In the east” is being derived from מִן (min) and קֶדֶם (qedem). מִן means ‘from, out of, on account of, off, on the side of, since, above, than, so that not, more than’ according to the lexicon. And קֶדֶם can be translated to ‘east,’ but also to ‘antiquity, front, that which is before,’ or ‘aforetime.’
So while those who are fixed upon the assumption that this discussion relates to a physical man and woman (“Adam and Eve”) and a place on this planet, there is an entirely different and more appropriate translation to be derived from this Hebrew phrase:
“Established” is a more appropriate translation of נָטַע. While “garden” is acceptable for גַּן, “enclosure” should not be ignored.
מִן and קֶדֶם are more accurately describing, instead of a direction like the “east,” to a time before antiquity: A period before we existed within these physical bodies.
What is being allegorically described is God establishing a place for us – spiritual beings – in the spiritual world after He had created each of us. The “garden” is an enclosed space or section within the spiritual realm. This is the place where our spiritual selves dwelled prior to our fall to the physical world. This fact is confirmed by the words מִן and קֶדֶם, which refer to a time and place prior to our physical existence.
In other words, Eden is a section of the spiritual world.
While the Hebrew word אָדָם (adam) is being translated to “man,” this reference, as clarified in the previous verse, describes the living being – the spirit-person.
Beneath each temporary physical body dwells a unique and individual living being. This is the personality within the physical body, who lives before and after the death of the body.
This is confirmed scientifically. Our physical body is always recycling molecules and atoms. When we look at a picture of our physical body when it was a baby, we are looking at a different body than the one we have on now. Science has established that all the molecules and atoms are different, and most of the cells in the baby body have died and been replaced by new cells. We are thus effectively changing bodies constantly. Like a waterfall that flows with different water every minute.
So when we look at that baby body, and then in the mirror at our physical body now, neither one is our real identity. We are the driver of the physical body. Just as a person sits down in a car and drives a car away, we are seated within this body and are now driving the body.
The question now becomes, why are we in these temporary bodies, and where did we come from?
These questions are answered, allegorically, in this discussion of “Adam and Eve.” First, in this verse, it describes a beautiful section in the spiritual realm where, after He formed us from Himself, He placed us. This doesn't necessarily mean we all were put in the same section either, as the spiritual realm has many domains: “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” (John 14:2)
Thus, a more appropriate translation of this verse (Genesis 2:8) is offered:
Prior to our fall to the physical world, the LORD God established a section of the spiritual realm where He put the living being He had formed.This verse and the rest of this discussion in Genesis is not a complete description of the spiritual world. Just as Jesus had in his statement about “many rooms,” this verse uses allegory and symbolism.
This description is meant for a particular audience. This is an introduction to the concept that there is another world – the spiritual realm – beyond this one, where God dwells and where we dwelled prior to our existence within these physical bodies.
We might compare the use of allegory and symbolism here to how an adult might describe a complex task – like their occupation – to a young child. They would drastically simplify things so the child would get the main thrust, but many details are left out and/or massively simplified.
In the same way, the main thrust of the spiritual environment is described here: We were each formed by God and placed in a particular section within the spiritual world. Thus it is clear that we owe our existence to God. He is in every respect our Creator, but also our Best Friend and Soul Mate.
Just consider if you were God, and you could create anything. What would you create? You would likely create someone to share your life with, right? A playmate and companion, right? Now if you wanted to have a real relationship with that person you wouldn’t create a robot that would mindlessly do anything you wanted. You would create a person with some freedom. You would give that person the freedom to like you or not, right? You would have to if you wanted to exchange a real relationship with them.
In other words, we were made to be with God, but we are also given the freedom to choose between having a relationship with Him or not. This is because God created us to exchange a loving relationship with Him. And love requires freedom. We cannot be forced to love someone. We have to be given complete freedom in order to truly love someone.
Why should this be surprising? Each of us is constantly searching for real love. From the moment we are born into these bodies, we seek someone to love who will truly love us. We seek love by trying to gain people’s attention. We seek love by trying to find a mate. We seek love as we strive for power and authority. In all these efforts, our focus is love. Even the most powerful, wealthy and famous people are seeking love, despite all the attention people give them, and all their power and wealth.
This means that not only is love what we need the most: We cannot find true love within the physical world.
This is because our true love is God. God is that perfect person we are seeking. God is that perfect soul mate we are looking for. God is that best friend who will never abandon us. God is that person who will always protect us. In other words, it is God we seek as we search for true love.
Love is part of our essence because we were made for love. We were formed by God to exchange a loving relationship with Him. We might compare this to how we might make anything with a purpose. Say we manufacture a refrigerator. The refrigerator is made specifically to keep our food cold. That is its purpose. It is designed for that purpose. So it does this pretty well. The fridge won’t drive us around like our cars will, but it will keep our food good and cold.
In the same way, love is so important to us because God made us for the purpose of love. This is why relationships are so important to us. Everyone needs relationships because we were made for loving relationships.
We were created by God to share a loving relationship with Him and His associates within the spiritual realm, and this is what is being described in this discussion in Genesis.