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The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient…

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate

by John H. Walton

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My review:

John Walton is one of the top evangelical scholars on the Old Testament, so I was very pleased to hear he had written a book on this subject. The book has very careful, respectful, orthodox scholarship and remains accessible due to the clear writing style and the book's format of 17 propositions each supported by a short chapter. I found his argument very compelling.

My summary of the argument:

Scripture never attempts to modify Israel's scientific understanding of the world: a flat world, the geocentric orbit of the sun, the intestines as the seat of the emotions, etc are assumed concepts in Scripture. As the view of divine creation in the entire ancient world was one of establishing function rather than material origins, we must not assume that Genesis 1 is necessarily correcting this understanding. In fact, the ancients' concept of existence was of fitting into an ordered, functional system, rather than being materially present.

A central piece of our understanding of the passage, then, is of the the word "create," or bara in Hebrew. In order to have the most literal understanding here, we can't assume that the definition of bara lines up at all points with the English word. Rather, our source for understanding the word must be its usage elsewhere in the OT. The word is used about 50 times in the OT, often clearly used to indicate establishing function, but never unambiguously used to indicate material creation. This makes establishing function the closest, most conservative understanding of this concept.

Thus Walton concludes that the (24-hour) days of creation was the period in which God established an ordered system, functioning as He intended. Walton also holds that God is responsible for the material origins of the cosmos, but that we are not told how or when God accomplished that.

Genesis 1, then, gives account of three days of establishing functions followed by three days of installing functionaries. For example, the first day, we can consider God to be creating time, as he called forth a period of light as "day." This also solves the question of how day and night occur before the material creation of the sun. The first three days establish time, weather, and food--the foundational functions of life. Days 4-6 still have a functional orientation, but focus on the functionaries. For example, in day 4, God establishes the task of the lights, which is to provide light and mark off days, festivals, seasons, years.

I won't summarize this part of the argument, but Walton demonstrates that Genesis 1 is a temple inauguration narrative, so all of the cosmos is God's temple and he takes up dwelling in it beginning on day seven.

Walton does not claim that Scripture supports evolution, only that we can view scientific conclusions as unobjectionable as long as we understand that whatever the material origins of the universe was, it was God's way of making the cosmos and he remains active in his Creator role. ( )
  LauraBee00 | Mar 7, 2018 |
In this astute mix of cultural critique and biblical studies, John H. Walton presents and defends twenty propositions supporting a literary and theological understanding of Genesis 1 within the context of the ancient Near Eastern world and unpacks its implications for our modern scientific understanding of origins.

Ideal for students, professors, pastors and lay readers with an interest in the intelligent design controversy and creation-evolution debates, Walton's thoughtful analysis unpacks seldom appreciated aspects of the biblical text and sets Bible-believing scientists free to investigate the question of origins.
  tony_sturges | Aug 11, 2017 |
Summary: Walton argues from our knowledge of the ancient cultures in Israel’s context that Genesis 1 is a functional account of how the cosmos is being set up as God’s temple rather than an account of material origins.

Some time back, I reviewed The Lost World of Adam and Eve, which is the sequel to this book. I thought it did one of the best jobs I’ve seen of showing how we must try to understand the book of Genesis as its recipients would have in their own cultural context, rather than trying to make it answer questions about origins in the light of the theories of Darwin and the evolutionary science that has developed over the last 150 years. I’ve always had the sense that we’ve been asking of the text of Genesis questions that neither the writer nor the inspiring Holy Spirit never intended to address. The question that remains is what does the early chapters of Genesis affirm? John H. Walton offers a strong argument that these were written out of a very different world view that was considering the cosmos not in terms of the causative factors in their material origins (although Walton is clear to attribute ultimate causation of and sustenance of the creation to God), but rather as an account of how God establishes the functions and places the functionaries in his cosmic temple over which he rules.

Several insights were particularly helpful. One was his demonstration that the cultures of Israel’s day looked at the world in terms of functional rather than material origins. With the rise of modern science we see the world very differently and this results in some of our difficulties in reading the Genesis texts. Also, he explains the seventh day rest of God, which always has seemed anti-climactic to me as in fact the climax of this account as God enters and sits down, as it were, on the throne of his cosmic temple and begins his rule over what he has set in place. Finally, there is the important implication that because this is not an account of material origins their need be no conflict between Genesis 1 (and indeed the chapters that follow as he argues in his sequel) and scientific accounts of origins as long as science does not try to address teleological questions and conclude there is no God.

As in the sequel, Walton develops his treatment of Genesis 1 as a series of propositions. The chapter titles will give you a sense of the flow of his argument:

Proposition 1: Genesis One Is Ancient Cosmology
Proposition 2: Ancient Cosmology Is Function Oriented
Proposition 3: “Create” (Hebrew bara’) Concerns Functions
Proposition 4: The Beginning State in Genesis One is Non-Functional
Proposition 5: Days One Through Three in Genesis 1 Establish Functions
Proposition 6: Days Four Through Six in Genesis 1 Install Functionaries
Proposition 7: Divine Rest Is In a Temple
Proposition 8: The Cosmos Is a Temple
Proposition 9: The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Relate to the Cosmic Temple Inauguration
Proposition 10: The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Do Not Concern Material Origins
Proposition 11: “Functional Cosmic Temple” Offers Face-Value Exegesis
Proposition 12: Other Theories of Genesis 1 Either Go Too Far or Not Far Enough
Proposition 13: The Difference Between Origin Accounts in Science and Scripture is Metaphysical in Nature
Proposition 14: God’s Roles as Creator and Sustainer are Less Different Than We Have Thought
Proposition 15: Current Debate About Intelligent Design Ultimately Concerns Purpose
Proposition 16: Scientific Explanations of Origins Can Be Viewed in Light of Purpose, and If So, Are Unobjectionable
Proposition 17: Resulting Theology in This View of Genesis 1 Is Stronger, Not Weaker
Proposition 18: Public Science Education Should Be Neutral Regarding Purpose
Summary and Conclusions

Walton, a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton, contends that this reading of scripture that takes the cultural-historical context of Genesis seriously is in fact the most faithful to an evangelical doctrine of scripture. It does not start from the questions we want to ask, but asks what truths the text was affirming, first for its original readers, and only then for us. He argues that his approach can take the text at face value rather than needing to apply the hermeneutical gymnastics of those who try to reconcile Genesis and scientific accounts. The result is one that explains away neither scripture nor science.

I also think he makes wise recommendations about public science teaching needing to be neutral about metaphysical questions, excluding both atheist and creationist agendas from the classroom. Whether scholars agree with Walton in all the particulars (and some consider his denial of ancient near east culture interest in material origins in the Genesis text over-emphasized) Walton offers a proposal that defuses, at least from the Christian side, the perceived warfare between science and faith. It seems that there are many concerns from the care of creation to the alleviation of suffering in which both Christians and all thoughtful scientists may make common cause rather than be adversaries. Would that it were so. ( )
  BobonBooks | Aug 10, 2016 |
This is a book that deals with how we read the Bible. It suggests that the "Creation vs. Evolution" argument misses the point of Genesis 1. His premise is that we cannot read into the text more or something different from what the original author and readers intended/meant. He argues against "concordism" and for Genesis 1 being read most literally as being the origin of functions. A worth while read if this topic interests you. He may have made those on both sides of the Creation/Evolution upset with him:) ( )
  vanjr | Oct 4, 2015 |
It was 7th grade when Mrs Mayo, my public school science teacher, taught evolution. She prefaced that day stating evolution does not disprove creation but merely explains it (this was in southwest Louisiana, 1982). As I read the bible throughout the years I never really considered that the 6 day account in Genesis was contradictory to an old earth because of the way everything is worded… until I watched a series of videos by a 6 Day Creationist sometime around 1998 who was supremely adamant that evolution was the most formidable weapon of deceit and doubt facing Christians today. And until exposed to many of the complexities around the issue I considered it for approximately 2 years before dismissing it. I’m no scientist, but I eventually settled back on the old earth model, thats just what makes the most sense to me. And like science I remain open to change my views upon further knowledge.

I was faced with the dilemma that I wasn’t comfortable with the 6 Day = 6 Eons theory either, it just didn’t pan out in light of the sequence of days in Genesis 1. For instance Day one begins with the Earth already created, and the stars aren’t there until day 4. So that didn’t add up, how could I be faithful to scripture and not ignore science.

Walton provides a satisfactory explanation along with a deeper appreciation for Genesis 1, as much more than just an account of creation. He refutes the Concordist model which states Genesis 1 was written to scientifically explain the material creation of life, the universe, and everything. He shows that this view was beyond the ancient’s worldview and that their main concern was explaining functional origins, i.e. the Cosmic Temple Inauguration model. And the preeminent thrust of was mainly a teleological account, the explanation of purpose and function.

The teleological evidence of Genesis 1 is needed today as much if not more than ever. The modern world is so confused when it comes to purpose, we assume that God created us merely to be happy, whether his happiness our ours. But the authors intention in Genesis is much more profound. The ideas expressed in Genesis 1 as interpreted here are implicitly related to environment, sexuality, family, and every other aspect of human activity of life and civilization.

The beauty is that his premise is compatible with both a literal 6 Day Creation model and Old Earth via evolution and/or big bang theory, as well as any other model. The central idea being that Genesis 1 is detailing a functional inauguration, and that since scripture gives no scientific model of the material creation of the universe but states emphatically that God is highly involved in the process no matter the method.

Science provides no mechanism for the metaphysical question of purpose in regard to the origins of life, it cannot explore the “why” questions only the “how” questions. Science cannot and will not tell us the goal of the universe, why we are here, or even if we have a purpose or not… and it should not… It would not be empirical science if it did. That is the aim of teleology and metaphysics, which should be taught in conjunction to science, but as a separate entity.

Any model of the origin of the cosmos and life should be taught along with all its complexities and problems. And philosophical ideas such as teleology and metaphysics should be taught as objective non-religious ideas, with the aim of teaching students ‘how to think’, not ‘what to think’. Its is a shame and a waste that there is a conflict that is inherently politicized that prevents textbook publishers and educators to owning up to the problems deep-rooted in the evolution model. But that is normal science, owning up to and discussing these things is part of the scientific process.

Science is a great tool for exploring the universe, but it is not the end all of knowledge, nor does it claim to be. History has taught us that as our knowledge increases the truths of science change. Whats true and beyond doubt in one generation is not necessarily true in the next. The process of doing science itself changes over time. Quantum physics is a huge wrench in the contemporary process. Again, I’m no scientist, but I’m not ignorant of some of the problems and ideas.

Lastly, Walton does an outstanding job relating academic ideas in a down-to-earth style. He presents his propositions in a clear and logical manner that is easy to follow. He follows each chapter with a summary, summarizes everything at the halfway point of the book and again at the end so there is not much room for misunderstanding and plenty room for grasping the whole picture. He then answers a few common questions at the very end in a Q & A style. Its pretty concise and logical laid out. Which makes for a great and quick read for such a heavy topic. ( )
  louisvigo | Jul 2, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
While I would quibble with Walton on certain points, I see Walton's work as an essential primer on the realia of Genesis 1 and a much-needed corrective to the inconsistent hermeneutics found in apologetics material on origins. Frankly, this is a book that needed to be written and was long overdue.
added by Christa_Josh | editJournal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Michael S. Heiser (Mar 1, 2010)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0830837043, Paperback)

In this astute mix of cultural critique and biblical studies, John H. Walton presents and defends twenty propositions supporting a literary and theological understanding of Genesis 1 within the context of the ancient Near Eastern world and unpacks its implications for our modern scientific understanding of origins. Ideal for students, professors, pastors and lay readers with an interest in the intelligent design controversy and creation-evolution debates, Walton's thoughtful analysis unpacks seldom appreciated aspects of the biblical text and sets Bible-believing scientists free to investigate the question of origins.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:24 -0400)

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