Here’s another response from one of my reviewers.
At first glance, I think the interpretation is a little speculative … The interpretation of “dress” bothers me, because in the English text, the object of it is “it” — the garden. However, you indicate the object of “dress” (worship) is God, not the garden. The only way this would work is if “it” is not in the original Hebrew. Is it? My thought is that you are hanging too much on this — i.e., the whole point of the lesson. That might be too risky.
You know that I deeply respect you and your knowledge of Scripture — and your ability to write. This one seems to me to go a little too far. But I’ll listen to a rebuttal.
When I look up “to dress it” in Strong’s, the three words translate into Hebrew as just one word, “abad,” one of the meanings of which is “worship.” My guess is that the translators added the “it” to make it clearer according to their understanding of the verse. But I’m no Hebrew scholar and could be wrong.
I didn’t come up with this idea on my own. I heard it from [a professor] who taught an adult Sunday school class at my church. He went on to say that the translators used the words they did because they had a works-based theology and couldn’t deal with the fact that God didn’t require anything from man. I thought he made a lot of sense.
The clincher for me is that the verse seems to be a purpose statement. It just makes more sense to me that God put man here to worship and obey Him rather than that He put man here to trim the trees, or whatever. Otherwise, there’s no statement (before the fall) that explains man’s purpose or what his relationship with God was supposed to be.
The reviewer’s reply to my reply
I still don’t buy it. For me, a critical issue is what is said in Genesis 3:17. You’ve written the lesson, based on the premise that work is the curse of that passage, but I don’t read it that way; I think that the curse is pain and sweat in work, not work itself. Throughout the Bible, work is considered to be a good thing. In what you say below, I don’t get [the professor’s] connection between the more traditional interpretation and a works-based theology. There is a huge difference between “work” and “works” — as a means of pleasing God.
In looking at my Strong’s, I don’t see “observe the rules” as you say is there as a meaning for “shamar.” “Observe” is there, but in the sense of “watch out for”, rather than “obey”. I also don’t see the redirection of the object in regard to “abad”; both terms seem to have the garden as the object, not God.
I see this statement as specifically addressed to Adam, and not applicable to all humankind. I agree that there is no statement as to God’s purpose for all of us found in the first chapters of Genesis. But let’s not make one out of something that isn’t clearly seen in the text. Other passages can be used to clearly support that we are all here to worship and obey God; but a critical issue that many will wrestle with is, “but what does that look like for me?” I see that this command to Adam is more closely parallel to God’s calling on Moses’ life to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, Paul’s calling to take the gospel to the Gentiles, etc.
I have to admit that was a decided speed bump on the RWO interpretation. Obviously, I had to find out if “dress” and “keep” could refer to Adam’s relationship with God.