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The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate Edition Unstated Edition
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"Walton [brings] a fresh perspective that enlightens, enriches, and honors the biblical text. . . I recommend the book to anyone interested in the origins question and look forward to seeing how these ideas shape origins discussion of the future." (Sean M. Cordry, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, September 2010)
"It will challenge many to think about Genesis in the way Christian scholars have been championing for many years now---as an ancient document, speaking to people with an understanding of the world very different from our own. Hopefully, it will open the doors to a conversation that is long overdue." (Douglas J. Becker, Themelios, November 2009)
"An interesting read. Well worth putting in church libraries." (Church Libraries, Winter 2009-10)
"John Walton's expertise in the Ancient Near Eastern sources enables him to shed a flood of new and unexpected light on the deeper meaning of Genesis 1. The Creator, Genesis is saying, designed heaven and earth as a great temple with the intention of coming to live in it himself--and the sabbath isn't just a nice break after the work is done, but the moment when he takes up residence in the world he has just made. The implications of this resonate right through the rest of the Bible. This is not just a book to invite 'creationists' to think differently; it is a book to help all Bible students read the whole of Scripture with fresh eyes." (N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham)
"Professor Walton seeks to describe clearly and with ruthless honesty the nature and purpose of the biblical text in Genesis that is juxtaposed to the claims of modern science and scientism in the current debate over origins. His work will be welcomed by all those who seek to render to both the Scriptures and modern science the authority appropriate to each--while at the same time avoiding false or unnecessary stands on either side." (Shirley A. Mullen, president, Houghton College)
"John Walton offers a compelling and persuasive interpretation of Genesis, one that challenges those who take it as an account of material origins. His excellent book is must-reading for all who are interested in the origins debate." (Tremper Longman III, author of How to Read Genesis, and Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College)
"Every theologian, every pastor, every Christian in the natural sciences, indeed, every Christian who loves the Bible must put aside all other reading material this minute and immediately begin to absorb the contents of John Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One. Walton closely examines Genesis 1 in light of ancient Near Eastern literature and offers a compelling case that the creation account is far more concerned with the cosmos being given its functions as God's temple than it is with the manufacture of the material structures of the earth and universe. In the process, he has blown away all the futile attempts to elicit modern science from the first chapter of the Bible." (Davis A. Young, Professor Emeritus of Geology, Calvin College, and coauthor of The Bible, Rocks and Time)
"Walton's cosmic temple inauguration view of Genesis 1 is a landmark study in the interpretation of that controversial chapter. On the basis of ancient Near Eastern literatures, a rigorous study of the Hebrew word bara' ('create'), and a cogent and sustained argument, Walton has gifted the church with a fresh interpretation of Genesis 1. His view that the seven days refers to the inauguration of the cosmos as a functioning temple where God takes up his residence as his headquarters from which he runs the world merits reflection by all who love the God of Abraham." (Bruce Waltke, professor of Old Testament, Reformed Theological Seminary)
"This book presents a profoundly important new analysis of the meaning of Genesis. Digging deeply into the original Hebrew language and the culture of the people of Israel in Old Testament times, respected scholar John Walton argues convincingly that Genesis was intended to describe the creation of the functions of the cosmos, not its material nature. In the process, he elevates Scripture to a new level of respectful understanding, and eliminates any conflict between scientific and scriptural descriptions of origins." (Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and author of The Language of God)
"Walton's cosmic temple inauguration view of Genesis 1 is a landmark study in the interpretation of that controversial chapter. On the basis of ancient Near Eastern literatures, a rigorous study of the Hebrew word bara' ('create'), and a cogent and sustained argument, Walton has gifted the church with a fresh interpretation of Genesis 1. His view that the seven days refers to the inauguration of the cosmos as a functioning temple where God takes up his residence as his headquarters from which he runs the world merits reflection by all who love the God of Abraham."
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Per Walton, the Ancient Near East (ANE) concept of creation did not regard an object, or entity, as fully created until it was separated or differentiated from its environment, given a name or identity, and assigned a function. This description of how the ancients viewed the process of creation has real explanatory power to illuminate certain passages in the Old testament. It illuminates the fact that the sun, moon, and stars did not come into existence on day 4 for they had already come into existence materially by day 1. It is on day 4 that they were differentiated from their environment then given an identity and a function in relation to life on the earth. In another passage, Psalm 147:4, we are told that God counts the number of the stars and that He calls them all by name. Applying this ANE concept of creation to this verse indicates that the fact that each of the heavenly bodies is known by name means that each of the Heavenly bodies has an individual function. That they are also all counted by number would also seem to indicate that they have a collective function.
What I find problematical concerns the following:
1. Genesis 1 is not history but a description of an inauguration ceremony that ancient Israel may have used (perhaps annually) to describe God’s functional preparation of the cosmos as a temple for his habitation.
There are a few problems with this. Not the least of which is that there is no concrete evidence that that such an inauguration ceremony ever existed in practice or even in the minds of the ancient Israelites. All Walton can provide is vague hints that this might have been so. Second, it seems apparent that the entire book of Genesis is presented as actual history, albeit history with a theological point of view, but actual history nevertheless. Whether one believes this history to be accurate is irrelevant to the point that the author of Genesis is presenting it as history. It is for this reason that I can’t accept the literary Framework interpretation of Genesis one. Genesis 2:4 declares that all the preceding verses are the chronicles or ‘toledoth’ [Hebrew] of the heavens and earth. This word ‘toledoth’ occurs throughout the book of Genesis. Walton seems to contend that it is used only as a literary marker or introduction. But every time it occurs in Genesis the author is emphasizing that he is providing a real historical chronology, most of the time by way of genealogy. Third, if Genesis one is not history but a ceremonial metaphor one cannot objectively discern where literary metaphor ends and actual history begins. If the author of Genesis intentionally combined literary metaphor and actual history one would expect to see such transition markers inserted for the benefit of the reader. No one, so far that I have read, has been able to demonstrate the existence of such markers.
2. The Cosmos is being portrayed as God’s Temple in which He will take rest and use as the control room headquarters for His operational direction of the cosmos.
My first observation is that there is no mention of a ‘temple’ anywhere in this passage nor anywhere else in the book of Genesis. It is certainly strange that such an important concept is not mentioned anywhere at all in a passage supposedly relating an inauguration ceremony for it. Secondly, the ANE functional concept of the temple presented in this book seems at odds with the one for the Jewish temple presented in both Old and New Testaments. I can’t find an instance in either the Old or New Testament where the Temple of God is described as the operational headquarters of deity. What I do find is that It is the place where the sins of men can be dealt with so that men and women can have fellowship with their creator. There is an earthly temple but more importantly there is also a heavenly temple (Heb 8:1-5; Rev 11:19; 14:15-7; 15:5-8; 16:1,17). Both are dedicated solely for the eradication of human sin. In both the heavenly and earthly temples it is the altar that is the central feature (comp Heb. 8:5 with Rev 8:3-5; 14:18; 6:7). It is also important to note that Hebrews 8:5 makes it clear that the earthly temple is a replica of the heavenly temple. This means that the heavenly temple does not encompass all of creation nor does it encompass all of Heaven itself. When God creates the new heaven and new earth there will no longer be a temple in the new creation (Rev 21:22). This is because sin will no longer be a problem in the new creation and thus there will be no need for a temple and its altar to deal with it. The implication that there is no constructed temple in the new creation runs counter to the common pagan ANE concept of the purpose and need for a temple for deity presented by Walton. If there is no temple in the new creation subsequent to the eradication of human sin, then there was no need for a temple in Genesis one prior to the introduction of human sin in chapter 3. While Walton’s scholarship in establishing the concept of temple function among the peoples of the ANE is impressive it also seems to me that he has erred in imposing this pagan concept of the temple onto Genesis 1.
3. Genesis 1 is an entirely functional account of creation. Material existence is not in view in the creation account and neither is the concept of ‘Creation Ex Nihilo’, the creation of something from nothing.
I have no reason to question Walton’s description of the general cultural understanding in the ANE as to what it means to create nor do I have reason to dispute that the pagan cultures surrounding Israel were not interested in how something acquired material existence. On the other hand, I do have reason to question the assertion that the culture of the nation of Israel also had no interest in how the material universe came into being. The creation by God of all things out of nothing was emphasized by the ancient Jewish authors of 2 Maccabees (7:28), 2 Baruch (21:4), and 2 Enoch (24:2). All three were probably written in the 2nd century BC which means that the writers were still steeped in the ANE culture of Israel. Furthermore, the New Testament writers also emphasized Creation Ex Nihilo by God (Rom 4:17; Heb 11:3). Walton acknowledges the NT references to Creation Ex Nihilo but attributes them to a growing interest in material aspects in New Testament times rather than as a reference to Genesis 1. While I do not deny the New testament interest in the cause of material existence of things it also seems clear to me that the shared understanding and emphasis of all these ancient writers on Creation Ex Nihilo is based on their shared understanding of Genesis 1 as a historical account of how the Heavens and earth came into material existence.
It has been the near unanimous traditional interpretation of the ancient Christian Church and Judaism from the third century BC until the 10th century A.D that Genesis 1:1 is an absolute statement describing the initial creation of all matter and the heavenly bodies from nothing by God (see Gordon Wenham’s commentary on Genesis, Vol 1, p 13). Walton however sees Genesis 1:1 as a summary introduction of the functional creation account detailed in the rest of Genesis chapter one. His strongest argument in favor of this is that Genesis 2:1 states that “thus the heavens and the earth and all the host of them were finished” indicating that Gen 1:1 must be seen as recapitulated in detail from 1:2 to 2:1. His point is valid only if one sees all of Genesis one as referring to only a functional creation. If 1:1 describes the material creation coming into existence, then the rest of the following verses can also be seen as the shaping of the material created in verse one to a completed product by day seven. In which case 2:1 need not be seen as ending only functional creation processes but as the end of the entire creative process begun in 1:1. But more importantly the apostle John in the first three verses of his gospel appears to have interpreted Genesis 1:1 in this manner: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (Jn. 1:1-3 NKJ). It seems clear to me at least that John is referring to Creation Ex Nihilo for the entire creation and tying it to a common interpretation of Genesis 1:1. That John is referring to Genesis 1:1 is demanded by the phrase “In the beginning” which translates the Hebrew exactly to the point of even leaving out the Greek definite article before the word ‘beginning’ to match the same anarthrous construction in the Hebrew. Since Walton argues that the culture of the first century AD took a greater interest in material creation than previous generations it would be difficult for him to deny that John is referring to creation ex nihilo and remain consistent.
4. A scholar’s knowledge of a long dead ancient culture is vitally necessary to interpret Genesis 1.
If Genesis is a result of God’s inspired revelation to mankind would it likely have been written in such a way that only a long dead culture could truly understand it? From a historical/theological perspective the opposite has been true. This phenomenon is referred to by theologians as progressive revelation.
Theologians and Bible scholars have noted this progression in the development and expansion of concepts and doctrine from its simplest form in the earliest books of the Old Testament to their development through to the end of the New Testament. This development of understanding continued even after the completion of the Canon. J. Oliver Buswell in his Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion notes that though the doctrine of the Trinity is certainly revealed in the Scriptures that ‘it is was not until the Council of Nicaea, 325 A.D., that it was unequivocally defined in conscience of the church’. Similarly the doctrine of the human and divine natures in Christ was not made systematically explicit until Chalcedon in 451 A.D. (Vol 1, p. 384). The creation ex nihilo passages in the New Testament should be seen as commentary on Genesis 1 and not unrelated concepts. In like manner, our understanding of the semantics of physical and temporal phenomena described in scripture have developed over time. In other words God has given revelation concerning his material creation in language that could be received and processed in a limited way by the ancient Israelites but not necessarily completely understood. Yet I believe that it was also given in such a way so that it would speak to all generations and cultures with the necessary interpretive keys embedded within text. As an illustration of embedded keys, Walton may be correct that the ancient Israelites held to the view that the firmament (KJV), or expanse (in most modern versions) was a solid dome. But notice that in Genesis 1:8 God calls the firmament ‘heaven’. In Job 35:5 and Psalm 8:8 heaven clearly refers to the air in the sky or the atmosphere and not to a solid dome. Even if most ancient Israelites misunderstood the word there was still the possibility of a correct understanding of these passages.
If Genesis is presented as actual history then concordism is not something to be avoided as Walton would like to do. Instead concordism would appear to be a necessity to bring about the correct intersection of Genesis history and science. I still find that the Day-Age view of Genesis 1 provides the most exegetically viable view and the most intellectually satisfying understanding of this passage in retaining the inspired revelatory aspect of Genesis.
Whether you agree with Dr. Walton's theory or not, it is a well written book and will make you think about science and the Bible in different ways. We can have our own presuppositions but for anyone seeking answers to questions, we need to research ideas we may not have heard. I read on Ken Ham's site much about how this book is wrong and it is false teaching. I have no problem with Ken Ham but for anyone to come out and state categorically that their idea is correct and anyone who disagrees is teaching falsely (unless it is obviously false from a Scriptural basis) seems like hubris to me. I can see both Dr. Walton and Ken Ham as brothers in Christ whether I believe their theories or not. Since the Bible was not written to inform anyone on science or the material world, I lean towards Dr. Walton's side. This in no way negates my belief in Jesus as God or any acts written about in the Bible. I have to look at the Bible as the Word of God but also interpret the meaning based on the worldview of the writers and not what I "feel" is correct.
I did find Walton's insistence on the distinction between teological versus dysteological views of evolution to be a bit much (he is following Denis O. Lamoureux here), mostly because the distinction is a metaphysical one and not germane to the science itself. I also have some qualms with the way he presents "Neo-Darwinism" as if it was a monolithic viewpoint when in fact there are people within the paradigm that hold to various metaphysical views regarding purpose or its lack of in evolution.
Despite these disagreements Walton does show why and how one can hold to a serious view of Genesis 1 and to modern concepts of science without them necessarily being in conflict.
This is a short read and one that I highly recommend to anyone who has an interest in the origins debate and its relationship to faith and the Bible.