I've lately been interested in the life of the people in Eden. According to Emanuel Swedenborg, how separated is it from the life we are living today? How did husbands and wives interact? What were their daily routines or lifestyles?

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    Only Adam and Eve dwelt in the garden of Eden and that only briefly (seemingly for less than a day) before they had children. I do not understand your reference to 'husbands and wives' and 'daily routines' and 'lifestyles'.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 13, 2023 at 19:00
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    An article from the Swedenborgian Church of San Franscisco entitled 'Paradise Within' makes reference to Emanuel Swedenborg who explains that the garden symbolizes intelligence, Eden love, and the east the Lord and the Garden of Eden symbolizes the pure, perfect and innocent way that all humans begin their life. He says the Garden of Eden is still there and waiting for us to return. Reference is made to 'Secrets of Heaven #98. sfswedenborgian.org/paradise-within
    – Lesley
    Oct 14, 2023 at 11:45
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    Apparently Emanuel Sweedenborg did not believe in a literal Garden of Eden or a literal Adam and Eve. See Lee Woofendens answer to this question: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/57108/…
    – Lesley
    Oct 14, 2023 at 11:53
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    For those voting to close: This is a perfectly legitimate scoped question that meets C.SE requirements. Swedenborg indeed saw the Garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve in it, as symbolic of the earliest spiritually aware humans on earth, consisting not of two literal individuals, but of an entire culture made up of many people. Oct 15, 2023 at 16:19
  • Agree with @LeeWoofenden, Q already has enough detail and scope especially after Lee's edit. Oct 15, 2023 at 16:49

1 Answer 1


Introduction: "Adam" means "humanity"

First, it is important to understand that the Hebrew word אָדָם (adam) means "a human, humankind." In traditional English versions of the Bible it is sometimes translated "man" (meaning "humans"), as it is in the first Creation story, in Genesis 1:26–27, and sometimes as the name "Adam," as it is later in the second Creation story, such as in Genesis 2:18–23. Regardless of which way it is translated, the original Hebrew word is the word for "a human, humankind," not the word for "a male human being." It includes both men and women, as seen a few chapters later in Genesis:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. (Genesis 5:1–2, King James Version)

In explaining these verses, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) wrote:

The reason the term adam is used is that the Hebrew word means a human. The person is never called by the proper name Adam but is called the human. Clear evidence for this is the fact that here [in verse 2] and earlier the human is spoken of not in the singular but in the plural. What is more, the term refers to both the man and the woman; both together are called the human. Anyone can see that this is so from the words themselves, which are, "He called their name Human Being on the day on which they were created" [Genesis 5:2]. Likewise in chapter 1 it says, "Let us make a human in our image, and these will rule over the fish of the sea" (Genesis 1:26–27, 28). The same words also show that the subject is not some first-created individual of the race but the whole of the earliest church. (Secrets of Heaven #478)

This leads to a crucial point in understanding both the question and this answer.

The people who originally composed and eventually wrote down this story under inspiration from God did not say that God created a man. They said that God created humans, both male and female. And so, Swedenborg reads the Hebrew word אָדָם to mean, not some individual human being, but humanity as a whole, personified in the figure of Adam, and starting in the second half of Genesis 2, also personified as his wife Eve with him.

Stated plainly, "man" or "Adam" in the early chapters of Genesis represents an entire early culture of human beings. Specifically, according to Swedenborg it represents the first spiritually developed and aware people on earth.

Before that, people who were anatomically human did exist (who else would kill Cain, and who else could Seth marry?), but they lived more like animals than like humans. The Creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 are not about the physical creation of human beings, but about God elevating a particular segment of the early human race from being mere animals to being spiritually aware human beings, who could know about God and have a relationship with God, unlike any animal.

This is the same thing Paul was talking about when he said:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; look, new things have come into being! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

It is on this basis that the question can speak of "the life of the people of Eden."

"Adam" means the earliest "church" on earth

In a section in which he is writing about how angels read the Bible compared to how most people on earth read the Bible, Swedenborg says in reference to "Adam":

Adam in paradise, for instance, brings the earliest church to their minds—and not even the church itself but its belief in the Lord. (Secrets of Heaven #64)

By a "church" Swedenborg does not mean a religious institution like the various Christian denominations that exist today. He means the faith, worship, and life of a particular culture, or of people throughout the world who share a similar type of spiritual life. Examples of such "churches" today would be Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, each of which is not a human institution, but a broad perspective about God and spiritual life shared by many people throughout the world.

The earliest "church" on earth, Swedenborg says, was of a "heavenly" nature. In modern terms, this means they were "heart-centered." In more traditional language, their lives were focused on love—especially love for God and love for the neighbor, meaning love for our fellow human beings.

As such, they did not develop theologies and argue about what is true and what is false. Rather, they sensed from the heart, and from an inner inspiration from God and from the spiritual world, what was true and what was false. They rejected what was false, and put the truth directly into practice in their lives.

The people of Eden had a close relationship with God

In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve had eaten from the forbidden tree, it says:

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8)

The story then records a conversation God has with Adam and Eve. This represents the close personal relationship that those earliest humans had with God before they turned their back on God, and were banished from Eden as a result.

Swedenborg accordingly states that the people of Eden did see the Lord walking among them from time to time, though this was accomplished by filling an angel with God's presence, since God did not yet have his own human presence (Jesus Christ) with which to appear to humans on earth.

The people of Eden also had open communication with angels in heaven. The angels taught them and guided them on a good path, and the people of Eden gladly listened to and followed what the angels told them. That is, until they began to turn away from God and stopped listening to God and God's angels.

The people of Eden gave spiritual meaning to everything they saw

Though the early heavenly and spiritual culture represented by Adam and Eve did live in this world, eating, sleeping, and so on, their thinking was immersed largely in spiritual ideas. Even when they saw things around them, they interpreted them spiritually. Swedenborg wrote:

I learned further that people in the earliest church had the most pleasant dreams, and visions as well, and that the meanings of the dreams and visions were suggested to them at the same time. This led to their use of paradise and other images as metaphors.

The objects of their outer senses, which belonged to the earth and the world, accordingly meant nothing to them. They felt no pleasure in those things but only in what they symbolized and represented. As a result, when they saw earthly objects, they did not think at all about them but only about the qualities they symbolized and represented. Such qualities inspired them with great pleasure, because these were the kinds of things that existed in heaven and revealed the Lord to them.

This, according to Swedenborg, is the source of the symbolic language used in the earliest chapters of Genesis. Everything in them was not about the physical things themselves, but about the spiritual realities they represent.

The people of Eden lived simply, family by family

In these early days of humanity, there were no such things as nations and empires that went to war against one another. Rather, Swedenborg wrote:

Angels have told me that the most ancients on our planet lived in similar groupings, divided up into nations, families, and households. All were content with their goods; and it was totally unknown in their day for people to grow rich on others' goods and also to exercise control over others. Ancient times therefore, and especially the most ancient times, were more acceptable to the Lord than those which followed. And since that kind of state existed innocence also reigned at that time, and wisdom with it. Everyone did good out of a desire for good, and behaved righteously out of a desire for righteousness. Doing anything good and righteous for the sake of one's own position or for the sake of gain was unknown to them. (Secrets of Heaven #8118)

And more briefly in another place:

In the earliest era, the human race was divided up into households, clans, and nations. A household comprised a husband and wife and their children along with others of the same clan who served them. A clan comprised several households (the number could be small or large) living not far from each other but not in exactly the same place either. A nation comprised a small or large number of clans. (Secrets of Heaven #470)

"Nation" here means, not a "nation-state" in the present-day sense, but the largest grouping of people who have a similar ancestry. It would be more akin to the word "race," or "racial grouping," in today's language.

The people of Eden, were innocent of any evil, and lived in mutual love and service

On this topic, Swedenborg writes:

If we were born loving, as we were when we were created, we would not be prone to any evil. We would not even know what evil is, because if we have not been drawn to evil and therefore are not inclined to evil, there is no way we can know what it is. If we were told that one thing or another was evil, we would not believe that it was possible. This is the state of innocence that Adam and his wife Eve were in; the nakedness that did not embarrass them portrayed that state. Familiarity with evil after the fall is meant by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The love we were created with is a love for our neighbor that makes us as generous with our neighbor as we are with ourselves, and even more so. We find ourselves full of the joy of that love when we do something good for others, very much the way parents feel toward their children.

This love is truly human. There is something spiritual within it that makes it different from the earthly love that the lower animals have. If we were born loving like this, we would not be born into the darkness of ignorance the way all of us are nowadays, but into some light of knowledge and intelligence; and before long we would actually be informed and intelligent. At first we would go on all fours like animals, but would have an inborn urge to walk on our feet, because even though we were on all fours we would not be looking down toward the ground, but forward toward heaven; and we would be straightening up so that we could look upward. (Divine Providence #275)

Though he is speaking more generally in much of this passage, it is descriptive of how the earliest spiritually aware people, the people of Eden, lived with one another.

The people of Eden had monogamous and spiritual marriages

Though Swedenborg obviously could not visit the people of Eden while they were still living here on earth, he did say that the Lord gave him the opportunity to visit them thousands of years later, where they are now living in one of the highest heavens. And as if to anticipate this question, he writes specifically about what their marriages were like.

You can read the full account in Marriage Love #75. Here is just one excerpt from it. Keep in mind that this is their life in heaven. But it is based on how married couples lived with one another on earth.

But the angel answered and told all about our coming through the woods and the reason for our visit. When he heard that, one of the three men invited us into his tent and brought us in. The man wore a blue cloak and a tunic of white wool, and his wife wore a purple gown and an embroidered linen blouse under her tunic.

Since I had been thinking that I wanted to find out about the marriages of the earliest people, I looked closely at the husband and the wife, one at a time, and I noticed in their faces a sort of unity of their souls. I said, "You two are one!"

"We are one," the man replied. "Her life is in me and mine is in her. We are two bodies but one soul. The union between us is like the two tents in your chest called heart and lungs. She's my heart, and I'm her lungs. But here we mean love when we say 'heart' and wisdom when we say 'lungs,' so she is love of my wisdom and I'm the wisdom of her love. Because of this her love from outside veils my wisdom, and my wisdom from inside is in her love. This is why you can see the unity of our souls, as you said, in our faces." (Marriage Love #75)

Though today some anthropologists believe that humans were originally polygamous, and monogamy developed only later, in the biblical story the earliest people, starting with Adam and Eve, were monogamous, and they became polygamous only later.

Specifically, the first polygamous marriage recorded in the Bible is that of Lamech, who was the fifth-generation descendant of Cain. See Genesis 4:19, 23–24. Since Lamech is also recorded as the first murderer in the Bible after Cain, it is quite clear that polygamy was not originally seen as a good thing. Perhaps polygamy was practiced by the anatomically human beings who existed before the spiritually developed and aware culture represented by Adam and Eve emerged. But the people of Eden themselves lived in monogamous, loving, and faithful marriage.

The people of Eden loved bearing and raising children

Just one more for now. The people of Eden loved bearing and raising children:

They went on to say that from that time on, the greatest exhilaration of their lives had been to have children, with the result that their highest pleasure was loving their spouse in order to produce offspring. They called this their most enjoyable delight and their most delightful joy. The perception of this thrill and pleasure, they added, came from the idea flowing out of heaven that the Lord would be born. (Secrets of Heaven #1123)


Swedenborg provides many more details about the life of the earliest spiritually aware people on earth, represented in the Bible by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and in ancient Greek and Roman mythology by the Golden age. For his most extended description of their character and life, start reading at Secrets of Heaven #1114, and continue until #1125. Other descriptions of them are scattered throughout his writings.

I hope this much will give you some sense of the life and character of the people of Eden. It is short on physical details, since as I said, Swedenborg could not visit the people represented by Adam and Eve when they were still living on earth. But in general, their life was one of love, innocence, wisdom, and kindness toward one another. And their greatest joys were in their loving, faithful, monogamous marriages, and in raising their children.

This is indeed "separated from the life we are living today." But I believe, and Swedenborg states, that in our era God is creating "a new heaven and a new earth." Even if we can never go back to the Garden of Eden, we can look forward to our great-great-grandchildren inhabiting the new Jerusalem in which innocence, peace, and mutual love will once again reign among people on earth.

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