Genesis 3:23 - So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden ...

So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. (Genesis 3:23)

Is the Garden of Eden on earth?

This verse has been misconstrued Sectarian professional clerics have interpreted this section of Genesis to be describing a location on the planet earth - the "Garden of Eden" - and Adam and Eve as being the first humans on the planet.

This misunderstanding has created many imaginative and speculative journeys to find the location of the Garden of Eden somewhere in the Middle East. Others have suggested that its location is in Asia. Millions of dollars of tithings have been wasted on these hunts, to no avail. They have also performed archaeological digs in hopes of finding the bones of Adam and Eve, again to no avail.

The reason no one has found the Garden of Eden on the planet is that the Garden of Eden was never on the planet. And the reason they find no evidence of Adam and Eve is because they didn't exist as portrayed.

In fact, this section of Genesis is not describing God's creation of the physical universe. The creation of the physical universe together with the human species is clearly and adequately described in the first chapter of Genesis, which began with:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
and ended with:
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. (Genesis 2:1)
Between these verses the creation of humanity and all the other species of life is described:
God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:25-27)
So why would Genesis describe two different scenarios for the creation of humanity? Because there aren't two different scenarios. God's creation of the physical universe is made clear in the first chapter of Genesis.

Does this mean the Garden of Eden doesn't exist?

However, this doesn't mean there is no Garden of Eden.

The reality is, this depiction of the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve, together with the talking, walking serpent and the tree of life and the tree of knowledge, is an allegorical parable describing how each of us fell from the spiritual realm down to the physical world.

This is confirmed by the wording of the first part of Genesis 3:22:
So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden....
The word "banished" is being translated from the Hebrew שלח (shalach), which means to be 'to send away' or 'to let go' according to the lexicon. It can also be described as 'to let loose,' 'to cast out,' 'to dismiss,' or 'to be divorced.'

So is "banished" the right word to use? "Banished" sounds like losing a country club membership or something. It doesn't communicate the event accurately: God is casting Adam (us) out of the spiritual realm. God kicked us out, in other words.

So where is God casting us out of? The Hebrew being translated to Garden of Eden as עדן גן (gan 'Eden). גן refers to an enclosure, a space protected by adequate barriers; and Eden refers to a location of pleasure.

Notice that the depiction of the Garden of Eden does not describe any kind of walls or fortress around this enclosed Garden. If Eden were on the earth, these walls would have to be pretty big to be enclosed. And in order to be cast out, there must be something to be cast out of.

These problems illustrate that the Garden of Eden was never on the earth. Rather, Garden of Eden is a section of the spiritual realm. And the word Eden is associated with 'pleasure' because the spiritual world is pleasurable. In the spiritual realm we experience the ultimate pleasure.

What is the 'tree of life' in Eden?

This is being symbolized in the story by the "Tree of Life," located in the "middle" of the Garden. The "Tree of Life" represents love for God. This is the core of the spiritual realm. It is love for God that gives us complete fulfillment and the ultimate pleasure.

Just consider how we all search for true love with so much intensity. Even if we have wealth, prestige and fame, we still pine for true love. Most of us focus our love upon our family members, friends and spouses. But still this is not enough. Most people keep on searching for love, whether it is a new lover, friend or respect (as we want others to love and appreciate us). We perpetually seek that perfect person who will love us unconditionally: that special someone we can give our heart to and care for.

In other words, we are engineered for love. We are all about love. Our most popular songs are about love. Our most popular movies are love stories.

But we are typically frustrated with the love found within the physical realm. It just doesn't do it for us. This is why there are so many divorces and breakups. This is why kids leave home. This is why people get depressed. This is why people feel lonely, even when surrounded by people.

The love in the physical world doesn't work for us. Why? Because the inhabitants of this physical world are just like us - they were also cast out of the spiritual world.

Yes, we've all been thrown out of the spiritual world. Why? Because we became envious of God. We wanted to be like God. We wanted what the Supreme Being has. The Supreme Being has power, fame, glory, beauty, all the attention, and many other attributes. We wanted all that. We got jealous.

We were each created to love and care for God in our own unique way. But with this, He also gave us the freedom to love Him or not - because love requires freedom. This explains the two symbolic trees of the "Garden." We can either eat from the "Tree of Life" - love of God - or we can eat from the "tree of self-centered pleasure and pain". In other words, we can either love God and act in such a way to give God pleasure, or we can become self-centered and seek our own pleasure - and experience its consequence, pain.

How were we thrown out of the spiritual realm?

Were we just cast off into space? No. We were pushed into these physical bodies. We, the spiritual living beings, were each forced to take on a particular temporary physical body within this virtual physical domain, the physical universe.

We could compare this to how a person might get forced into an automobile. Let's say a big person stuffs us into the driver's seat of a car. Because there isn't much else to do in the driver's seat of a car, we start the car and begin driving it. Because cars were built for streets and highways, we find ourselves within an environment of streets and highways. That is akin to finding ourselves stuffed within a physical body born within the physical environment.

Now let's say the car was specially designed by a very smart engineer to be so functional that once we began driving it, we began to identify with it. We forget who we were before we got stuffed into the car, and because the car is so functional, after some time we lose the ability to walk on our own. We become completely dependent upon the car, and forget who we were before we got in the car.

This is our situation with these physical bodies. The verse just before this one says:
The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)
What are the "garments of skin"? They symbolize our physical bodies. God designed these physical bodies for us to occupy. Then he cast us out of the spiritual realm and into these physical bodies.

This leads us to the real meaning of the rest of this verse, 'to work the ground from which he had been taken.'

The Hebrew word עבד (`abad) means to 'cultivate' or 'work,' but it also means 'to serve', or more complete, 'to serve as subjects'.

The Hebrew word אדמה ('adamah) can refer to 'ground,' but also 'land, territory, country,' or the 'whole inhabited earth.' In other words, the physical world.

The Hebrew word אשר ('asher) is a conjunction or pronoun participle that serves to connect, either with 'which,' 'who,' 'that which,' 'that,' 'when,' 'since,' 'as,' or the conditional use of 'if.' Here it is translated as "from which," but this is speculatively assuming that Adam came from what is being described here as "the ground." This would be a contradiction, because God is throwing Adam out. How could Adam be made of the stuff that he is being thrown out into?

The key to the meaning of this last section of the verse comes from the meaning of the Hebrew לקח (laqach) which is assumed to mean "taken from." This, however, is an incorrect usage of the word, as לקח means to be 'taken' in the sense of being 'taken by,' 'taken away,' or to be 'carried off by' something. It has been used to describe how a man might take or snatch away a wife. It is also used to describe being taken away or captured by something.

Thus, the translation of this verse would not be, 'to work the ground from which he had been taken.' Rather, it should be something like:
'to toil with the physical body and be captured by the physical world.'
Yes, we are indeed each captured by the physical world. We are trapped within these physical bodies, and forced to work hard to keep it alive and safe. We have to work to feed the body, keep it warm or cool, and keep it healthy. This means we have to defend our body from danger caused by the physical environment or others - be they other humans, animals, insects or microorganisms. It is not easy to keep the body alive and safe. We have to toil at it.

How did we get captured by the physical world?

We have become enamored with the world. We identify with our physical body, and our physical family, house, car, job, community, country and so on. We strive to gain the acceptance of others, and we strive to achieve fleeting sensations of pleasure, amid a constant battle against discomfort, sickness, aging, stress, pain and death.

Even though everything dissolves at the time of death, we are still captured by this world. Even though we will lose our house, money, house, fame, family, friends, position, country and physical identity at the time of death, we are still captivated by them. Even though everyone around us is dying, we live as though we will never die. How did we become captured?

This physical world captured us because it facilitates our learning and growing. In order to learn and grow, we must be captured here, and we must forget our eternal nature. If we always knew this world was temporary, then we wouldn't learn as much here.

It is similar to how medical research will be designed to be "double-blinded." Being double-blinded means that neither the researchers nor the subjects know which subject was given the treatment or a placebo - a sugar pill or fake treatment. That blindedness allows the study to really test whether the treatment works. Otherwise, if they knew they were taking the medicine, many would convince themselves that they feel better - which is called psychosomatic.

Being trapped here in this world means forgetting who we are and where we have come from. This allows us to think we are the bodies, and as a result become tested as to the various challenges that the physical world presents to us.

And those who reach for scripture are trying to find a way out of this world - to grow beyond it.

The very purpose of this verse (and scripture in general) is to teach us that this world is not our home. God teaches within scripture that the physical world is a temporary place, and our true identity and natural position is as one of His loving servitors in the spiritual realm.

Scripture is trying to teach us that this is where we will find real happiness - not within this temporary physical place surrounded by greed, envy and self-centeredness.

It is sad, this misinterpretation of this beautiful and magical text of Genesis into English. This wonderful text that describes, with prose and elegant symbolism, how we each rejected being one of God's loving servitors by becoming envious of Him, and subsequently fell from the spiritual realm into the physical world and these temporary physical bodies.

The saddest element is that these misinterpretations hide the true message being communicated through the text: That the Supreme Being wants us to come home to Him. He wants us back. He doesn't want us to selfishly suffer any longer within this world of greed and envy. He wants us to return to His loving arms. This is why Jesus, Moses and other messengers from God gave this clear instruction:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)

Consider another translation of this verse in Chapter Three of the New Book of Genesis.