According to most English translations, Genesis 2:15 says that God took “the human” (האדם; ha’adam) and “put him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it (לעבדה ולשמרה; le’avdah u’leshamrah). On this rendering, the first human being is put into the garden to work the soil and care for its produce. However, an alternative translation of the Hebrew words for “cultivate” (עבד; avad) and “keep” (שׁמר; shamar) would be “worship and obey.” Based on the context of Genesis, it’s reasonable to assume that both pairs of meanings are at play: God places Adam in the garden not only to help the land flourish, but also to maintain a worshipful and obedient relationship with the Lord.

God intended the first human to oversee creation and the idea of “cultivating and keeping” the garden dovetails with the notion of worshipping and obeying the Creator of it all. As an act of service, Adam not only cultivates the garden, but he also enriches the bond between himself and God. The terms לעבדה ולשמרה are also used of the Levitical task of ministry in the Temple (cf. Numbers 3:8). The similar use of language in both Genesis 2:15 and Numbers 3:8 suggests that the Garden of Eden could be seen as a temple of God in which the first human being served in a priestly role.

Thus, Adam was tasked with maintaining an environment in the Garden of Eden that was conducive to both his spiritual and physical wellbeing. In other words, both “cultivate and keep” and “worship and obey” are appropriate translations as they reveal the first human’s critical role in developing and maintaining the divine-human fellowship.



  1. I think there was a need for priestly role in paradise before any committed sin. The relationship between human and God was so young that it needed to be developed.
    • What can you say about the Fruit of knowledge while Adam and Eve still didn't eat? because as I known base on interpretation, Adam and Eve only thought to stay in the Garden as part of it like animal pets in the household.

      + More answers (1)
    • i too am a cdn livng in scotland for our Lord who brought me over here.. ahhh greetings lois.. nice to see you on this site.. hugs xo
      i am am i to old to learn hebrew.. there are 2 sites that i am peeking thru.. hmm the Lord will tell me which is which huh.. God bless Lois Lord .. hallelujah xx
  2. Interesting! However, since Biblical Hebrew did not include vowels, it's pretty safe to conclude that 'Adam' was not the name Yah (God) gave to the first human/male. Is this a classic case of ascribing 'legendary' names by later biblical editors? Similar with 'David' 'Solomon' King 'Saul', 'Ruth', 'Esther', 'Nabal', etc.?
  3. Thanks Dr. Ashley
    When we accept God as our savior, We enter into a relationship with Him. and every relationship comes with responsibilities. Our Job is to Obey God, Submit to His will and Commit our life to Him and to continue until He calls us home.
  4. Thank you for your thoughtful article. The idea that we are to "work and cultivate" creation and "worship and obey" the creator is enlightening. Let me ask about the alternate translation which you refer to as "worship and obey". I have been told that biblical Hebrew did not have a unique word for "obey." Depending on context, "shema" can be translated into English as either "hear" or "obey." Are you saying that the context is the reason in Genesis 2 that one could translate "shamar" as "obey", or that the word itself, with or without context, is literally best translated as "obey" rather than "keep"? Just trying to improve my knowledge! Thanks again.
    • Dennis, thanks for your question. The word shema in Hebrew is most often translated as "hear." However, the semantic range of the word includes the translation of "obey." It really depends on the context. What I always tell my students is that "context is key" and you have to determine if it allows for that type of translation.
  5. Read once that one semantic meaning tending also included guarding. Scripture does not say what Adam was doing while the serpent talked with Eve.
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