John Sailhamer is a familiar name around the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary campus. Even after he left for Golden Gate Seminary ~7 years ago, his thought left an indelible imprint on the student body. That is not to say that all agree with his methodology or some of his more “fanciful” interpretations of the Old Testament. Ask any Old Testament Studies major about his opinions on the works of Sailhamer and I assure you, he will have one. One student prefers the canonical theological approach of Childs; the other wholly endorses the compositional theological framework of Sailhamer. Students are not alone here. One hears rumblings of disagreement from the faculty halls. All this to say, I was introduced to Sailhamer’s interpretations fairly early on in my MDiv training.
One of his more memorable interpretations is his understanding of לְעָבְדָ֖הּ וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ in Genesis 2:15. Should it be translated “to work and till it [the garden]” or “to worship and obey [God]”? Sailhamer opts for the later. He writes,
The man is put in the Garden to worship and obey him. The man’s life in the Garden was to be characterized by worship and obedience; he was to be a priest, not merely a worker and keeper of the Garden.
In support of his argument, Sailhamer notes three things. First, the ה ָ ending on “to work” and “to till” is feminine. It, therefore, cannot agree with the word “garden” as it is a masculine noun. Second, work is described as a result of the Fall in Genesis 3. Third, Deuteronomy 30:15-18 claims that Israel must be obedient in order to live long in the land that God is giving her. This is similar to the stipulations given Adam and Eve. Obedience = life in Eden.
Agree with Sailhamer’s understanding of Genesis 2:15 or not, I found an early form of this interpretation in Theophilus’ To Autolycus as I was reading this afternoon. In Book II, Chapter 24 we read,
Τῷ δὲ εἰπεῖν, “ἐργάζεσθαι,” οὐκ ἄλλην τινὰ ἐργασίαν δηλοῖ ἀλλ᾿ ἢ τὸ φυλάττειν τὴν ἐντολὴν τοῦ Θεοῦ, ὅπως μὴ παρακούσας ἀπολέσῃ ἑαυτόν, καθὼς καὶ ἀπώλεσε διὰ ἁμαρτίας.
And by the expression, “till it,” no other kind of labor is implied than the observance of God’s command, lest, disobeying, he should destroy himself, as indeed he did destroy himself, by sin.
The Septuagint text, the text that Theophilus most like used, reads,
Καὶ ἔλαβεν κύριος ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον, ὃν ἔπλασεν, καὶ ἔθετο αὐτὸν ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ ἐργάζεσθαι αὐτὸν καὶ φυλάσσειν.
And the LORD God took the man, who he formed, and put him in the garden to work it and to keep it.
Even though the pronoun αὐτὸν, “it,” agrees with παραδείσῳ, “Garden,” (masculine singular), Theophilus treats τὴν ἐντολὴν τοῦ Θεοῦ, “the commandment of God” as the referent for αὐτὸν, “it.” Man, according to Theophilus, is to obey God’s commandment and to keep it.
Theophilus’ interpretation is similar to Sailhamer’s in that God is not concerned with Adam and Eve’s ability and willingness to farm but with his obedience to God’s command to not eat from the tree. The two interpreters diverge in that Sailhamer views this as a twofold command: to worship and to obey. Theophilus understands the passage as commanding one thing: obedience. He treats φυλάσσειν, “to keep,” as a further explanation of ἐργάζεσθαι, “to obey”: “And God put man in the Garden to obey, that is, to keep God’s commandment.”