Genesis One 1

Walton.jpgWe at the Jesus Creed blog, both Scot and RJS, have already invited one and all to enter into a conversation and discussion about John Walton’s (professor at Wheaton) new book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Today is our first day. We anticipate 18 posts, one for each chapter…

Post one concerns this claim by Walton: “Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology.”

What happens to Genesis 1 and the faith-science debate when Genesis 1 is seen as ancient cosmology? Do you find a struggle at your local church or in your own mind with the claim that Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology?

Seems fair enough — and once you keep this point in your head things begin to change. The exciting thing for me about Walton’s book is that he’s holding firm to a text in historical context and not shying away from building theology — the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrine of creation, etc – on the basis of that text in historical context. Furthermore, he’s unafraid to speak into the mess that evangelicals got themselves entangled into when it comes to creation science. Walton is asking one simple question: What did this text mean in its context? (He’s got a “that was then but this is now” approach.)

Walton argues Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology … Ancient Israelites “did not know the stars were suns; they did not know that earth was spherical…. They believed that the sky was material (not vaporous…” (16). Most importantly, “And God did not think it important to revise their thinking” (16).

The approach of concordism, which tries to show that Genesis 1 fits modern science, runs into two problems: (1) we cannot translate their ancient cosmology into our cosmology for we will then be trying to make it say things it didn’t say and (2) it assumes that we should read Genesis 1 against modern science, but which modern science? Science is always shifting. He makes this powerful claim on p. 19: “There is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture.”

“God communicated his revelation to his immediate audience terms they understood” (17). Cosmic geography, which is what Genesis 1 is about, is “culturally relative” (18). He uses the example of Israelites thinking people thought with their “intestines” and not just “mind.”

The best way to approach Scripture then is “We must take the text on its own terms — it is not written to us” (21). “Its message transcends the culture in which it originated, but the form in which the message was imbedded was fully permeated by the ancient culture” (21).

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  • RJS

    It is a key question Scot. The appeal to ancient cosmology is often met with one or two response – (1) God does not err or “tell lies” thus he would not allow an ancient errant cosmology to influence the text and/or (2) the text is in fact consistent with modern cosmology and here’s how… (concordance).
    Walton’s approach is interesting because he says in essence “This is ancient cosmology – and cosmology is not the intended teaching of the text.” He is pretty hard on concordism – and I agree with him. I think that he over does the “science is always shifting” part – but I think that he hits on how we should read the Bible – God did not reveal a science beyond the understanding of the people and he did not see fit to modify their understanding.

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS, I agree. He does give it to concordism and he appears to have an accommmodationist theory of Scripture, but I’ll have to read the whole thing before I can tell how he understands Scripture.
    I like an approach that says “that was then, but this is now” and let’s not make the Bible what it is not.

  • Coincidentally enough I put my review up of this book last night.
    I think Walton sums up his feelings toward concordism in his quote on page 19, “There is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture.”
    I take that as a fairly serious accusation against concordism. It is true that it could be termed an argument against silence, but considering the breath of Scripture and the evidence Walton lays out describing ancient views of science manifesting Scripture…
    I look forward to the other 17 posts in your series!

  • Thanks for encouraging us to read Dr. Walton’s book. I still want to call him Dr. Walton since the days in the early 90’s when I sat through a bunch of his classes! I learned from him to read the Bible in context and it has served me well.
    I’m 25% through the book and I struggle with the idea of evolution. That said, I think Walton has established clearly that Genesis 1 should be read in terms of their cosmology and not ours.
    Is it a problem for inspiration to have the Bible using language affirming a firmament that holds up the waters above the sky? This kind of thing challenges the definition of inerrancy I used to hold, but we have to decide if we are more committed to a certain form of a doctrine we learned in college or to the Bible as we find it.

  • I’ve never taken a class with Dr. Walton, but I’ve heard a lot about him from friends who have (I attend Wheaton). I love his explanations of Genesis 1 in context, but I’ve sometimes found myself uncomfortable with the results of this thought pattern. That is, I haven’t figured out a way to argue his conclusions, but sometimes I wish there was an explanation that fit better my understanding of creation. So when I say uncomfortable, I almost mean disappointed.
    Additionally, I think that when creation is seen in the way that Dr. Walton will probably continue to present it in his book, its tendency to be divisive will probably fade a bit. It won’t necessarily be an “Oh, duh” thing, but it might be an “Ok, that’s fair” kinda thing. (Hopefully that will be understandable as we continue to discuss this book [which I haven’t read…so I’m just guessing].)

  • The issue of creationism and the AiG-type interpretation of Genesis was an issue that became a “straw that broke the camel’s back” and ended up causing the demise of a small fellowship I was leading. The one who was most strongly promoting the creationist position had a foundational position on inspiration that kept him from seeing a position like Dr. Walton’s (with which I largely agree). He said, bottom-line, God revealed the creation story to Moses and Moses wrote it down. Period. My friend could not accept any human involvement in the revelation of the creation history. Argument over.
    To what extent does this kind of argument underlie the concordist views, and how can we hope to have a conversation if it does? In my opinion it is pure docetism in relation to the nature of Scripture.

  • Jjoe

    There are many many examples of God choosing to dramatically revise the Israelite’s thinking.
    Why would God choose to disclose creation using inaccurate concepts — especially when other cultures in the world at the same time had more accurate views?
    Was God afraid that He wouldn’t be believed if he told Moses that the world was round, when He was already telling them their gods are no longer gods, a much deeper and harder to believe concept?
    God could’ve headed off a lot of evil by doing so, too. I still remember coming across the statue in Rome where Bruno was burned.

  • Larry

    God could’ve headed off a lot of evil by doing so, too. I still remember coming across the statue in Rome where Bruno was burned.
    Bruno was killed for his heretical beliefs and teachings on the Trinity and the incarnation (among other things), not for anything “scientific”. Nothing in Genesis, or how it is interpreted would change that. The idea that Giordano Bruno was a martyr for science is simply a modern myth.

  • Glad you’re doing this book! Hopefully it will be very important in our evangelical circles, given that Wheaton is sort of our Rome!
    I agree with Walton’s overall thesis that the cosmology reflected in the Bible is ancient cosmology. I’m not sure, however, how Walton squares this with his (and Wheaton’s) commitment to inerrancy. I know Walton is not comfortable with the ways in which Pete Enns and Kent Sparks use the accommodation principle. I think ultimately that Walton will say the text does not intend to communicate the ancient cosmology as authoritative truth, but rather adopts it for the purpose of establishing a metaphorical “cosmic temple” theme.
    For me, this raises some difficult questions about authorial intent. Are we slicing the salami too thin if we say the authors of Genesis weren’t in any way intending to teach their cosmology in the text? Is an “inerrancy of purpose” really all conservative evangelicals have fought over? I’d really like to hear John clarify how he thinks about some of these questions. In any event, I think this book is a wonderful contribution that reflects a maturing evangelical scholarly consensus about the genre and interpretation of these texts.

  • I have a different book from Walton that I really enjoyed. I ordered this book but don’t have it yet.
    One question for me is how well attested this view is ancient writings. I love the idea of this approach. I have read many ancient creation myths (translated into English, of course) and the cosmogonies and cosmologies there obviously reflect very different scientific and religious cultural frameworks. Ancient civilizations did not all share one worldview, but their collective world views have a lot in common from our present perspective.
    But it would take much of the bite out of Walton’s idea if one could get in a time machine and go back and discuss his take of Genesis with characters from Moses down to thinkers of the second temple period, then to the Apostles and then the Patristics and find that his idea is a surprise to them. Is there any way to get a read on how well-received his ideas would likely have been to these characters? I ask, in part because I was told by a prof I respect that only in modern times did theologians question whether creation occurred during seven literal days. That writers all the way back just assumed a literal creation week. Don’t know what to think of that claim, both on its own merit as well as vis-a-vis Walton’s book in question here.

  • dopderbeck

    jJoe (#7) said: Why would God choose to disclose creation using inaccurate concepts — especially when other cultures in the world at the same time had more accurate views?
    I respond: What cultures had more accurate views? Pythagoras and Ptolemy came a couple of thousand years after the Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures developed the cosmologies the Hebrew Bible interacts with.

  • I reviewed this book,/a> last week. It is awesome.
    Walton actually challenges young earth creationists, old earth concordists, and the framework hypothesis (i.e., poetic description of material origins.) YEC has never carried much wait for me. There are aspects of the concordist approach that are intriguing to me but overall it isn’t satisfactory. The framework hypothesis has always seemed woefully unable to capture the richness of something that seems to be intended by the text.
    What all three have in common is a deep assumption that the passage is describing what Walton calls “material ontology” … asking where did material items come from? While material ontology would not be incomprehensible to ancient Near Eastern minds it would likely have seemed quite pointless. The issue was “functional ontology,” … what functions/purposes do the “things” around us serve and who gave them their purpose?
    Travis Greene recounted this scene from C. S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader in a comment at my blog: “Eustace tries to tell him [old star-man] that in his world, stars are giant balls of burning gas. His reply is that even in Eustace’s world, that is not what stars are, but merely what they are made of.” The significance of something is not its material composition but rather its purpose.
    The orientation toward material ontology is deeply embedded in our Western post-Enlightenment culture making it incredibly hard to see the centrality of functional ontology. I encourage skeptics to follow the posts here as this unfolds.

  • #1 RJS
    “I think that he over does the “science is always shifting” part …”
    I had the same reaction as I read this part of the book.

  • Dan

    FWIW – Even YEC folk are willing to admit a certain amount of flexibility in the early verses of Genesis 1 (regarding how the universe itself was formed). The main point of contention remains Paul’s use of Adam in parallel with Christ, the genealogy of Christ that traces through clearly historical figures back to Adam, the argument for marriage that Christ himself made based on the man and woman being created male and female from the beginning, the statement in 2 Peter 3 regarding creation and the flood. Whatever one thinks about the big bang and waters above and below the firmament, it is clear that what YEC folk will not relinquish is the historicity of Adam and Eve and the fall. On that point I think YEC folk have a valid and critical point (and I think Augustine would agree as I read through City of God, ch. 13-15, Alister McGrath’s approach to Augustine notwithstanding).
    Seems to me an ANE Cosmology view can look convincing if one only looks at Genesis 1-3. It becomes less cohesive in light of the New Testament references. To win the day, the ANE view has to show not only that the intent of the author of Genesis was not to teach that the creation of Adam and Eve and their subsequent fall were true history, but that the intent of Paul, Jesus, Luke and Peter was not to think of these key events as historical. I think that a much tougher sell. Nothing in the immediate text of context of the NT passages would suggest such an intent. To think they meant something less than a historical Adam and historical flood requires interpreters to impose a cultural context, external to the text, onto the text in a way that seems to violate the text itself.
    In addition, one has to show that the New Testament writers not only wrote from a more primitive cosmology, communicating ideas about the cosmos that were scientifically inaccurate but also must explain convincingly that the NT assertions about metaphysical and moral truths were not also merely cultural, time-bound notions, equally subject to correction. If one says Paul was mistaken about the historicity of Adam then it is quite easy to take the next logical step, as Tony Jones has, and say that the New Testament pronouncements about sexual mores can be adjusted for current cultural and scientific advances that suggest certain sexual preferences are inherent from birth.
    I see no way to retain any sort of view of scripture as “authoritative” at that point. The text is totally subsumed by the broad cultural context, and the “interpretation” of the text depends less and less on grammar, syntax, and immediate context and depends more and more on the scholarly deconstruction of cultural norms and assumptions. The text becomes increasingly irrelevant, the “interpreter” becomes the authority with a capital “A”. As Tony said in his talk at Wheaton, “there is no such thing as orthodoxy”.
    I know I can’t buy into that approach to the New Testament texts without pretty much abandoning everything I’ve believed for 40 years. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”
    Again, the issue is not Genesis in isolation. It is the whole of scripture that is in question with regard to origins.

  • Jjoe

    I thought the Chinese had developed astronomy by that point. In any case, why would God reinforce wrongness in order to be culturally relevant?
    I see that Wikipedia presents both sides of Bruno being a martyr to science. In any case, there have been plenty of persecutions for not believing that the Bible is literally true when it comes to the cosmos.
    Why would God endorse a view, in order to be culturally relevant, when it would result in evil down the road?
    The bottom line is that, like God making the earth appear to be old just to trick us, I don’t see why He would convey an inaccurate set of facts just because it fit into the paradigm of his audience.

  • Travis Greene

    Dan @ 14,
    You raise good points (Although I don’t see how evolution being true would affect Jesus’ words about marriage).
    But I think a question you fail to address is, does it matter if Paul thought Genesis 1-3 was literal and he was wrong? Does his theological point change?
    I agree that the narrative of creation and fall is crucial, but if Paul, who seemed to think Adam was both a literal person and something more (see how he refers to him as “a type of Christ” and so forth), was incorrect about that, he was still inspired by God and his words are still Scripture.
    So to answer Jjoe’s question, Why would God endorse a view, in order to be culturally relevant, when it would result in evil down the road? …I don’t see why He would convey an inaccurate set of facts just because it fit into the paradigm of his audience.
    Why wouldn’t he? Don’t we give dumbed-down or technically inaccurate explanations to children all the time? Would God really need to pull out a chart explaining the solar system and gravity and the various electro-magnetic forces to get across the main theological point that He is God?
    Does it matter that Jesus is factually wrong about the mustard seed being the smallest of seeds? Or do you really think that the point of that passage is to teach the disciples about botany?

  • Honestly, I’m pretty surprised that people still try and project onto Genesis a worldview that could not have possibly existed then. I still think those people come at this discussion from entirely the wrong perspective when they ask: Why would a loving God give people false information? As I’ve said in previous discussions, I think this kind of thinking flies in the face of how we understand culturally-embedded peoples.
    One conclusion we can draw, it seems, is that God is very content for his creation to develop on an incremental level. This is true of theistic evolution and in terms of worldview constructs as well.
    Now, that said, I think Dan is on to the key issue here: Where else does this trail lead us?
    If worldviews were still worldviews, back in the day, even for the biblical writers – what other themes/messages could come into question in light of more recent scientific revelations? I think Dan is right that sexuality – and more specifically sexual identity – is certainly one rabbit trail we could pursue.
    Personally, I’d really like the Jesus Creed community to take these next level discussions on.

  • Connie

    Jjoe, do you really believe that God “tricks” us? That would seem to make Him a deceiver. Am I not mistaken that that is often a term used for Satan?
    I have always felt, regardless of our beliefs about the mechanics of creation, that all theories work backwards to the same point: the moment at which something (material) came out of nothing.

  • Notes from the Introduction and Proposition 1 that I made while reading:
    While I agree with Walton on “concordism,” I wonder if he limits himself to literary evidence only when he writes, “The key is to be found in the literature from the rest of the ancient world” (p.12). What about other archaeological artifacts other than the literary sort? I think a good resource to be able to evaluate how to utilize archaeological data is the early chapters in Grabbe’s recent book Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It?
    On the other hand, I also wonder if Walton lumps too many of the ANE cosmologies together? If we accept Moses as the author then we should think of the audience it was originally intended for first, namely, the Israelites who were going to leave, or who are leaving, or who have left Egypt. Hence, an Egyptian cosmology (with multiple competing cosmogonies) would be better to understand the Genesis creation account against. I would highly recommend reading Gordon Johnston’s article in Bibliotheca Sacra on this from 2008. Mesopotamian, Assyrian, and Akkadian cosmogonies would be encountered later in Israel’s history. Hence, Walton could have been more specific about his contextualization efforts up front. What did the generations of Israelites in Egypt for 400 years, the exodus Israelites, and the Israelite generation getting ready to enter the promised land get exposed to? If that is considered, then we can rule out certain comparisons I am afraid Walton will begin to discuss in later chapters. Emphasis should be on Egyptian cosmogony before the other cosmogonies.
    Other questions concerning the origins of the Genesis account, while not explored by Walton, should be answered early in the book. Just started John Oswalt’s book, The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature? seems to pick up where Walton leaves others wondering early in his book. I have not completed either Walton’s book or Oswalt’s book, but that seems to be some of the concerns I hear from others on this blog and at church when bringing this discussion up. I also recommend reading the early chapters of Peter Enns’s book Incarnation and Inspiration on this as well since it raises the issues in a different style.
    So far a good Intro and Proposition 1 however, for a lay audience as well as an academic audience.

  • JJoe #15 (and Dan #14)
    “… why would God reinforce wrongness in order to be culturally relevant?”
    Let’s say I have four year old daughter. She asks me where she came from. I could respond by saying,
    “One day a large pelican-like bird, carrying you in a large diaper, flew by and placed you on our doorstep. Your mom and I opened the door and there you were.”
    Clearly we recognize this as a fairytale or myth. It has no connection with reality and tells us little that answers deep questions. But I might more likely respond with something like,
    “Well honey, your mommy and I were very much in love and we wanted to have little girl just like you. So daddy planted a seed in mommy’s tummy and after a few months, when you had grown strong and healthy, you left mommy’s tummy. It was one of the happiest days our lives.”
    Is this a “facts only” historical account? No. Is it authoritative? Yes! It answers the four year-old’s questions about her origins using a mytho-historical story. By myth, I’m not talking about fanciful fairy tales. I’m talking about quasi-historical stories that legitimate a particular understanding of origins and the nature of our reality … in this case, a story that informs the girl she sprang forth from the love of her parents through some biological partnership and that she is deeply cherished. It deals with her ontology from a functional, not a material, standpoint.
    By extension, it seems to me that you would want the father to explain the act of sexual intercourse, how a sperm joins with an egg, how various stages of fetal development evolve, etc. … all of which would tell how she materially came into being and provide no information about her purpose and importance.
    The only reason we might think that this would “reinforce wrongness” is because we presume the question being addressed in material origins.
    The writers of the NT suffered the same limitations and Jesus was self-limited to the cultural knowledge of his day.
    Dan, Jones may argue to complete relativism from his views but there is nothing obvious that leads to his conclusions. But on the other hand, I would encourage us not to start with outcome we must protect (ex. traditional family) and then work backward from that shape how we will read the text.

  • toddh

    Great thoughts by Kruse. I’m intrigued to see where this series of posts go. Like the discussion so far.
    I just have one issue with this statement: “Its message transcends the culture in which it originated, but the form in which the message was imbedded was fully permeated by the ancient culture” (21) I think the author here is making a small mistake in assuming that “messages” can be abstracted from cultural trappings. Just like the message at that time was embedded in and fully permeated by the ancient culture, so also however we receive it today will also be embedded in and fully permeated by our modern culture. That’s kind of what we are all arguing about here – how all that works out. There is no such thing as a supracultural “message” that transcends culture.

  • Dan

    If I understand jJoe’s point, it is this: It is often said that God would be “lying” to us if he made the earth “appear” old when in fact it was not. This is an argument used to refute YEC views.
    The irony is that the same logic can be used in reference to Biblical texts, that God, in the “inspiration” of the Old and New Testament texts, uses grammar, syntax, context that suggests fairly clearly that all humans descended from one first couple, that death and suffering are a result of their first act of rebellion, that the earth was once judged by a deluge, etc. Why would God tell us something untrue in the text?
    How is it that the seeming untruth of the appearance of age would reflect badly on God, but the untruth of explicit statements of the Biblical text would not?
    Michael #20. Your examples of explaining pregnancy to a youngster illustrate a significant difference. The story of the stork is an explanation that has no connection to the truth. The second illustration uses simple language, unscientific language, but does communicate the basic reality of reproduction. One is a true picture, the other is a concoction.
    It seems that what we should expect of Genesis, is that though it may not tell us what happened in language that is “scientific”, it should still correspond to the truth of what happened. But what is being argued is not that the language Genesis, Paul, Peter use regarding creation and the flood is merely less than scientific, what is being argued is that the “stories” do not conform to the facts at all on fairly critical points, especially related to sin and death and the parallel to Christ’s physical death and resurrection to conquer sin and death.
    So my point remains, the “story” or “mythological explanation” undercuts the varacity of the text and erodes the ability to trust the scriptures as authoritative on other points. “Inspiration” no longer refers to the text, but to some spiritual meaning that the reader has to intuit while ignoring fallacies in its portrayal of the history of the earth and of mankind. That opens the door to a very wide range of interpretations of everything else and in my mind turns Christianity into a chaotic smorgasbord of ideas.
    The logical conclusion for me would be to become an agnostic, if I were to be convinced of what is beying put forth.

  • RJS

    Interesting comment – I think much of what I (or we) deal with in evangelical circles is reasoning of the form “we must perserve X” therefore “the Bible must be Y.” I really think that this is the wrong approach.
    I think that we need a different starting point (God) and a different foundation (God’s work within his creation). And then the Bible is authoritative. It is God’s story in, as Scot puts it, a wiki story format.
    The constant in all of this is God.

  • RJS

    jjoe (#15),
    I don’t think that there is a cosmological view that God could have endorsed that would not have resulted in “evil down the road.”
    But the evil is not to be blamed on God. Evil of this sort invariably results from human failings, human arrogance, human indifference, human desire for power, human maneuvering for position, human impulses.

  • AHH

    Concordism or accomodation is a really key issue; I think concordism (insisting that Genesis 1 is giving scientific information and therefore must “line up” with science to affirm the inspiration of Scripture) causes about 50% of our problems in the science/faith area.
    And maybe this is Walton’s biggest contribution; to have somebody from a prominent conservative institution say that Genesis 1 uses a backdrop of ancient cosmology (which God doesn’t bother to correct) to communicate a message that is not about cosmology or material origins. And to come out and say that, in context, concordism (whether young-Earth style or Hugh Ross style) is simply a wrong-headed way to approach Genesis 1.
    And that seems to be the point in common in what most Evangelical Genesis scholars say (Walton, Waltke, Wenham, Blocher, Longman, Kline), that Genesis 1 is not attempting to answer our modern science questions. They may disagree about other aspects of the interpretation (some emphasize the literary framework, others the theological polemic, Walton emphasizes the temple aspect, and these are not mutually exclusive), but if the Evangelical church would just listen to our scholars who tell us it isn’t a science textbook, the damage the “creationists” do to the witness of the Gospel would be greatly reduced.
    But this is hard in the church, much of which has bought into the creationist rhetoric that if Genesis 1 isn’t “true” (by modern scientific standards irrelevant to the original context) we might as well throw our Bibles in the trash. We have already seen that a bit in this discussion, where people have brought in Adam & Eve who don’t appear in Genesis 1 at all. There is a “slippery slope” attitude, maybe fed by the modern fundamentalist “house of cards” approach to Scripture, that if one abandons scientific concordism for Genesis 1 the end result will be abandonment of the Resurrection. Or, equally bad in some circles, abandonment of “inerrancy”.
    And as dopderbeck mentioned, maybe “inerrancy” is an elephant in the room. Walton advocates “accommodation”, God using the ideas of the culture and not bothering to correct their errors in order to effectively communicate. Accomodation is compatible with some forms of inerrancy (like that held by Warfield, or Peter Enns), but maybe not with more hardline versions like the Chicago Statement.

  • AHH

    Also, I agree with those who noted Walton’s overstatement about science constantly changing. For a moment he sounded like some who say science is always changing in order to justify ignoring science (whether on the age of the Earth, or common descent, or anthropogenic climate change). Scientific results are adjusted and occasionally revolutionized. But points are also reached where some things are established “beyond a reasonable doubt”. No matter how much science changes, it will not go back to an Earth that is flat or only thousands of years old.
    Of course Walton’s underlying point is valid — for the inspired writer to give a scientific description of his creation that would impress us in 2009 would have interfered with the reader’s understanding of Genesis in 1009 or 3009 or especially in the original Ancient Near East context.

  • Michael, you wrote:
    “Jones may argue to complete relativism from his views but there is nothing obvious that leads to his conclusions.”
    To clarify, Tony certainly doesn’t argue to complete relativism. But he does, understandably, point to the fact that certain standards were established with an understanding of human nature/biology that was less developed than our current understanding. So, it seems to me that he is correct – at least in asking the question: how else should this, or at least *could this*, color our readings of those biblical directions?

  • dopderbeck

    Dan (#22) — I understand and sympathize with your concerns, and to a certain extent, I agree with them, and I think John Walton would agree with them to a certain extent as well. So, I’m pretty sure that Walton would not accept the sort of accomodationist view under which the Flood, or the Exodus, could be entirely fictive as most modern critical scholars suggest. Maybe the underlying events are portrayed in a literary form that is stylized, imaginative, culturally couched, etc., but the events are “real.”
    But — I worry about your starting point. Do you think there is more historical “meat” to the Bible’s narratives because you have met Jesus Christ, the one whom the Bible reveals to be Savior, or do you believe Jesus is Savior only if the Bible’s narratives have a certain “meat” to them? Put another way: if some of the Bible’s narratives are in a literary genre or form other than what you expect, would you really cease believing in the God revealed in Jesus Christ?

  • dopderbeck

    Re: the question a few people have raised about ethical / moral accommodation — excellent, and difficult question! If you step back for a moment, though, I think it’s easy to see that this question doesn’t go away if you take Gen. 1 and so on “literally.” You still have to deal with some serious problems: polygamy, genocide and slavery in the Bible. If we agree that Christian morality forbids polygamy, genocide and slavery, what do we make of the book of Joshua, or Abraham’s philandering? Inevitably, you have to admit some degree of ethical development both in scripture and in the Christian tradition.
    Does this mean we should accept current revisionist views of human sexuality? No, because ethical development isn’t random, it’s directed towards the goal of greater Christ-likeness and shalom. The revisionists might be right that the “radical inclusiveness” of Jesus counsels us to truly love “the other,” including people with different sexual orientations (they are right about this, I think); but it is entirely a different thing to say that the ordering and purposes of sexuality reflected in scripture from beginning to end ought to be completely overridden.
    But you are right — this requires lots of patient discussion once we get out of an ethical proof-text mode.

  • Pete

    AHH (25):
    We need to remember that the finds from the mid 1800’s have taken time to study and then other disciplines to pick up on their impact. Yes the church needs to change its understanding of Genesis 1-2 as a result of this new information, but the way it needs to be done is by preserving unity with the previous generation even if we think they are incorrect at their concordism. I also understand one online review I read, that said, now is as good a time as any other to begin changing the church’s understanding about Gen 1-2. I would argue the younger generation leaving high school and entering college needs to be taught this. By the time they are adults and eventually the next generation of church leadership then those who are concordists will be fewer in number. The change may take a generation or two to complete. Dialogue with the older generation of concordists is ok but I am not going to hope for radical changes. How do I even bring this up to my parents who have recently went to some creation museum near Cincinnati? They may have no idea how to handle these concepts or even how they are being “imperialistic” with the Gen creation account as Walton calls it. They just aren’t even equipped to think in those different categories of accepting a different thought-life system about the world that the ancients thought like. In all, I agree with you, but, man, it is tough!

  • AHH

    Pete (30),
    I agree with you that, as much as concordism needs to die with regard to Genesis 1, this needs to be done graciously and without attacking those of older generations who hold to it, maybe focusing on teaching it in a better way to younger generations (Walton has some suggestions at the end of his book for how to talk to kids about Genesis 1). It should not be cause for division. Maybe the only time to be harsh in opposing concordism in our churches is when there are people pushing it as the ONLY acceptable Christian approach (especially if in doing so they are leading young generations into this ultimately fruitless path).
    Touching on the other post from today, there is a subset of “pesky creationists” who can be damaging to churches much like “pesky Calvinists”, but there are also many who hold the viewpoint in a non-divisive way and should not suffer from guilt by association.

  • Brian in NZ

    AHH, thanks for the definition of concordism. I’m a theological illiterate when it comes to all the specialist words (…ology). I think we miss the point when we think that God is teaching science, history, or any other academic discipline when we read and interpret the bible. I believe that God is primarily trying to reveal himself to his creation. In this western culture, we are indoctrinated with the concept of right or wrong, and of linear thought process. My VERY small understanding or ANE culture (and other eastern cultures even today) is that much less emphasis is placed on the story (what we think is important), and more is placed on the message in the story

  • Pete, you are wise and far-sighted to think in terms of generational change. However, I shudder when I think what it will be like for Dr. Walton’s students (and many others) who will go into ministry and start preaching on Genesis in current churches! Especially in regions like mine, which are home to the aforementioned “Creation Museum.”

  • #22 Dan
    I’m jumping ahead here (so Scot or RJS feel free to delete this if you want to wait) but here is my summary of how Walton sees the six days of creation:
    “Walton turns to the phrase tohu wabohu in 1:2 (“fromless and empty” in NRSV). The central point here is not that the earth was barren. The issue is that it served no function. Days one through three describe the establishment of functions and days four through six describe the installment of functionaries. The functions relate to the three basic needs of humanity: Time, weather, and food.
    * Day 1: Time Measurement (light and darkness)
    * Day 2: Weather (expanse between waters above and below)
    * Day 3: Food (formation of land with vegetation)
    * Day 4: Celestial bodies function to mark off days, seasons, and years.
    * Day 5: Sky and water creatures are told to be fruitful and multiple … their function is to fill the environments for which they’ve been created.
    * Day 6: Various creatures are “produced by the land” that (like the plants on day 3) reproduce according their kind … new generations emerge as a function of the previous generations.
    Of course the climax of day six is the creation of humanity … God’s supreme functionary with the most important function. Humanity is to exercise dominion over all that God has created.”
    You wrote:
    ““It seems that what we should expect of Genesis, is that though it may not tell us what happened in language that is “scientific”, it should still correspond to the truth of what happened.”
    Again the issue is not how the individual “things” came into being. The issue is the function/purpose of the things and who ordered/set their functioning. The issue is not in what order did create … light first or the sun and stars? The issue is that light and dark exist and that they fulfill a function assigned to them by God.
    “” … what is being argued is that the “stories” do not conform to the facts at all on fairly critical points, especially related to sin and death and the parallel to Christ’s physical death and resurrection to conquer sin and death.””
    We are getting beyond the scope of the book here but I’ll say that I don’t agree that these historical particulars are critical points. The issue is what was humanity’s function? To exercise dominion in communion with God. Humanity in some way rebelled and redemption is needed through Christ. The issue is not Adam’s precise historical context and factuality.
    Some things are shrouded in mystery. We don’t know how where evil came from and may never know even in eternity. We don’t really understand why God would choose the mode of redemption he chose. Similarly, I don’t think we really know the nature of the fall and we don’t need to. I suspect Genesis 3 is akin to my example of explaining origins to a four old … it ties to something historical but the issue is not its historical content but rather what it says about how things function in our world.
    What we know is that sin and spiritual death entered our context and we need to repent. And as Adam is symbolic of the humanity under the curse of sin so Christ is symbolic of humanity in the age to come.

  • I think this quote from Peter Enns’ blog explains much of what drives our discussions on these issues.
    “If I may continue a rather reductionistic analysis (which is not accurate on the level of historical analysis, but is alive and well, nonetheless—indeed, perpetuated—in some popular circles): liberals looked at our developing knowledge of the ancient world of the Bible and said “A ha, I told you. The Bible is nothing special. Israelite religion is just like any other ancient faith. You conservatives need to get over yourselves.” The fundamentalist response was (fingers firmly planted in ears) “La la la la la la, I do not hear you. There may be a millimeter of insight in some of what you are saying, but if what you are saying is true, our theology—which is the sure truth of Scripture, handed down through the ages—is false, and that is unthinkable.”
    Battle lines were drawn rather than theological and hermeneutical principles reassessed. …”

  • #22 Dan
    “How is it that the seeming untruth of the appearance of age would reflect badly on God, but the untruth of explicit statements of the Biblical text would not?”
    There is a difference between deception and accommodation. Placing evidence in such a way as to deflect people from the truth is deception. Accommodation is the sacrifice of precision and accuracy about complex realities to unfold important truths to minds that can’t handle the complexity.

  • From my blog about one week ago.
    The Lost World of Genesis One is worth a read. It provides a new way of looking at Genesis One – Creation. The interpretation sees Gen. 1 more as an “inauguration” of the Temple that is God’s dwelling place – His place here on earth, in this cosmos. The material formation of our universe and earth are not the subject, but it is the function and purpose of the creation to form God’s place and humans to then subdue and rule, sustain and maintain, as part of an ongoing process – a continuation of the creation. The inauguration process takes 7 (literal) days. The book enables all believers and non-believers to come together accepting, for instance, biological evolution, with the Christian comment, “Yes, there is no reason God could not have been involved in that process.” Neutrality on science claims that have no proof (beyond a doubt), such as Darwin’s Evolutionary model, becomes an imperative. Allow it to be taught in schools, but entrust the educators to also present the fact that this concept is more hypothesis than theory. Let the facts and the debate be known.
    His book opens to a more tolerant attitude towards creation and the material world. He sees the Bible as written to provide more purpose and function than material elements. The material elements are only the construct from which the more important function then occurs. As an example he provides the building of a computer and its installation – many parts, many wires, much plugging and connecting, much time, even the software,but the function, the use of the piece itself is the goal, and that goal is when the owner turns on the machine and operates it for his intended purpose.

  • Dan

    Michael 36. Seems like a distinction without a difference. “Placing evidence in such a way as to deflect people from the truth” is hardly what is meant by YEC advocates who simply say the universe was created “mature”. And if God “inspired” truth in the writings of the apostles that is true in a “spiritual” sense, particularly in phrases that speak of redemption from the evil of death (O death where is thy victory or GRAVE where is thy sting?) when in fact death was the “good” method God used to perfect the human species, then that would seem a far more deliberate deception than geological formations, genetic similarities, astronomical distances and fossilized bones.
    The issue for me remains the New Testament. I can accept a suggestion that we may not know all there is to know about Genesis 1. The emphatic nature of Paul’s statements regarding Adam and Luke’s inclusion of Adam in the genealogy of Christ cannot be dismissed so easily.
    Even Augustine was fairly clear in this “For I confess to your Charity (Jerome) that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it.

  • AHH

    Before we leave Chapter 1, I think this quote (p. 21) is worth noting:
    God has chosen the agenda of the text, and we must be content with the wisdom of those choices. If we attempt to commandeer the text to address our issues, we distort it in the process.
    This is an interesting repositioning of the Biblical “high ground.”
    Those of us who don’t think Genesis 1 should be read as a science text are often browbeaten by accusations of insufficient regard for Scripture. Here Walton suggests that the ones who are actually being disrespectful to Scripture are those who “commandeer” and “distort” it by asking it modern questions that the inspired ancient writers were not trying to answer.

  • Brian #2

    “There is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture” is a clever statement. It takes the problem and reframes it as the solution. This would work fine for me if science only had explanatory power. But when the benefits of scientific advance are considered, the reframe runs into the problem of evil.

  • Dan #38
    I hope you’ll stay around for the whole series. More pieces will be fleshed out.
    “The issue for me remains the New Testament. I can accept a suggestion that we may not know all there is to know about Genesis 1. The emphatic nature of Paul’s statements regarding Adam and Luke’s inclusion of Adam in the genealogy of Christ cannot be dismissed so easily.”
    Again Adam is outside the context of this book (although Walton does venture briefly into that territory) but here are a couple of thoughts. First, the genealogies of the ancient world were not every-generation-inclusive genealogies as we have today. I don’t think it is entirely clear in what way these genealogies were used. Who was included was apparently significant in communicating certain realities. Matthew’s genealogy clearly shows that Jesus was Abraham’s descendant and thus of Israel … important for his audience. Luke traces back to Adam to show that Jesus was the messiah for all people.
    But if Luke or Paul are of the same limited understanding of history that requires every bit as much accommodation as the ancient Israelites, then they too will write of Adam as a historical person. That we may now learn that the Adam story was a more mytho-historical revelation (like the story told to the four year old above) has zero implication for Luke’s or Paul’s authority. God revealed into a socio-historical context and they wrote out of one. There is nothing in error from within their context. It is only our imposition of a Western post-enlightenment standard that biblical writers must precisely match up with what fact-for-fact understandings of the past that makes it appear that their are errors. Liberal theologians who declare the scripture to untrustworthy myths because of this “error” and conservative scholars who resist any other interpretation, both miss the mark.
    Jesus was the messiah for all humanity. Linking back to Adam as either an actual first man or as a mytho-sybmolic frist man makes no difference I can see. The theological truth is identical. Whether there was an actual Adam who ate of the tree, or this story is a mytho-historical representation of a more deeply complex reality, the theological truth is the same. We are all sinners in need of repentance and a need to embrace Jesus and his Kingdom. Just as the four year old does not need to understand the complexities of how she came into being to know what her circumstances are, neither do we need to understand the complexities of how we came into sin to know that we are sinners in need of redemption.
    I simply do not see that all of theology hinges on these fact-for-fact understandings.

  • RJS

    Brian #2,
    I don’t know quite what you mean by the benefits of scientific advance and the reframe running into the problem of evil.
    Certainly scientific advance has often been misused – but I see that as an example of the age-old problem of evil and an example of the necessity of the gospel. I don’t see what it has to do with reading Genesis 1.

  • AHH

    I think Brian #2 was saying that God *should* have revealed science ahead of its time, like maybe how to make penicillin or better agriculture practices or how to avoid bubonic plague or ozone depletion, in order to alleviate the “evil” coming from lack of scientific knowledge.
    I don’t know that the comment adds anything particularly novel to all the other ways we can think about the “problem of evil”.

  • RJS

    That makes sense – I didn’t read it that way at first.

  • Brian #2

    Thanks. That is just what I had in mind. Yes, there is nothing new in my observation. It was just a connection that an unbeliever might make more quickly than a believer might, and so how one responds to how Walton frames or reframes the issue depends heavily on what one already thinks.

  • Dan

    Michael #41. “But if Luke or Paul are of the same limited understanding of history that requires every bit as much accommodation as the ancient Israelites, then they too will write of Adam as a historical person. That we may now learn that the Adam story was a more mytho-historical revelation (like the story told to the four year old above) has zero implication for Luke’s or Paul’s authority.”
    That is an assertion that I don’t see much support for. The question is why – why would we conclude Paul’s “limited understanding” of Adam, sin and death, which was a central theme of Paul’s proclamation of Christ, has “zero” implication for Paul’s authority? Why?
    As I said earlier, if we presume to correct pre-modern Paul on Adam, then on what basis would we not correct Paul on homosexuality? Why would we not correct Paul’s pre-modern understandings on the virgin birth or the resurrection, which clearly are not explainable in terms of natural cause and effect and natural law? Why would I conclude that Paul, who was wrong about the problem (death as a result of sin) is right about the solution? What is the logical dividing line that enables us to discount Paul on one issue (nature) but accept him as authoritative on another (supernature)?
    It has massive implication for Paul’s authority because the things he wrote no longer have a meaning that can be determined from the text. The door is open to viewing everything Paul wrote (and every quote from Jesus) as being pre-modern understandings which we should now correct as more enlightened modern critics who know better.
    I remain convinced that the central issue in this debate is naturalism, the insistence of secular science that all things without exception must be explained in terms of natural law , and I suspect the main issue here is that many Christians have largely accepted those constraints, deciding that whatever activity God had in creation and earth history, was activity that had to remain within the bounds of natural law, the odd dichotomy that the miracle of the resurrection is acceptable but the miracle of special creation is not.
    I find that commitment unnecessary and completely incompatible with scripture which seems to simply assume that God has the ability to do all kinds of things that simply cannot fit into natural law categories (manna from heaven, parting the sea, prophetic foretelling of the messiah, birth to a virgin, raising the dead). To be biblical, it would seem to me, we have to begin with the God who is described there – not a God who is acceptable to naturalism.

  • Bob Smallman

    Sorry to jump into the discussion so late — we’re on vacation, and I don’t always have internet access.
    Just finished reading Walton’s book last week and had three primary reactions. First, I love his attempt to get us thinking about how the original readers of Genesis would have approached the material. We’ve spent far too much effort trying to squeeze a 20th/21st century mentality into the first few chapters.* 2) While his “functional” approach fascinates me, I’m hoping more of his scholarly peers will interact with it. Is this a valid approach? 3) On the other hand, I personally can’t imagine how I would “translate” his findings to my congregation (many but not all of whom still hold to a young earth position of one sort or another). I think his approach will be a very hard sell to many in evangelicalism who will have trouble following it and will understand it simply as another sell-out to evolution and modernity.
    My own approach has been to broach these issues with our young people, in the hopes that when they get into college they will understand that they don’t have to choose between their faith and their science. With a lot of our older folks, I’m simply trying to let them know that one can be a believing Christian with a high view of scripture and not necessarily hold to young earth creationism.
    *When I preached through Genesis 1-10 a number of years ago, I began by stating that there are a number of positions on creation that Christians can legitimately hold but that I wasn’t going to talk about ANY of them. I was going to try to “listen to the text” and take it on its own terms. So I talked about what the text had to say about who God is and who we are. Most people get so bogged down in the science that they don’t pay much attention to the actual intentions of the text. I think people were surprised at how much was there that had nothing to do with the mechanics of creation.

  • #John1453

    Regarding materialism, naturalism, and methodological naturalism/ materialism
    God created something entirely different from Himself in terms of its being: the physical universe. And He has caused the physical universe to operate in a consistent, regular manner. So regular, in fact, that we call these regularities laws, like Boyle’s law, or second law of thermodynamics. There is no reason to suspect that we cannot understand these regularities according to and on their own terms–which results in a methodological materialism or naturalism.
    In addition to these mechanical regularities (on a non-quantum scale, and statistical regularities on a quantum scale), there are causes and interactions that are not mechanical–either our freely willed actions or God’s freely willed actions / interventions in the physical universe. Just as we can pick up a coffee cup and move it, God, who is omnipotent, can pick up entire mountains (cause floods, volcanoes to explode, etc.). Everyday we, via our free will, create “gaps” that can only be explained by reference to a mind (each of ours). And likewise there will be gaps in the causal chain of events related to God’s actions.
    It seems obvious that God created the universe with these regularities so that we could explore it and understand it. This is one aspect of our world that goes against the AIG Young Earth Creationist view, and against those views that speculate that God created the universe “mature” (including information about stellar explosions that never happened).
    The other aspect of our world is the Bible itself, which never even hints at mature creation. Coupling those two aspects with the zero amount of scientific evidence for the AIG version of YEC, and one comes to the conclusion that God is doing something else in Genesis 1 – 3 than writing about 21st century science.
    A large part of the evangelical problem appears to be their bibliolatry. The foundation of our faith is Christ, not the Bible. The Bible is only revelation. It reveals what God wants to reveal, in the way that He wants to reveal it. Furthermore, God does not fully reveal Himself, and there is good work being done recently on this aspect of God, i.e., on the “hiddenness” of God. AIG YEC’s and fundamentalists and most evangelicals seem to think that our faith would crumble without an inerrant Bible, of the Chicago statement sort. But even if the Bible were fully human and not God-breathed, we’d have excellent evidence for the resurrection of Christ, we’d have our inbuilt intuitive sense of God, we’d have the philosophical evidences for God. And we’d have more revelation than Moses and his compatriots ever did.

  • Dan #46
    “The question is why – why would we conclude Paul’s “limited understanding” of Adam, sin and death, which was a central theme of Paul’s proclamation of Christ, has “zero” implication for Paul’s authority? Why?”
    I think you’re equating “limited” with “errant.” By definition all human understanding is limited. I understand the idea of gravity and live by that understanding, but the physics behind gravity is a mystery to me. Now a physicist might help me gain a better understanding of the physics but my present knowledge is sufficient for my functional needs.
    Paul is from a particular cultural-historical context, and he is writing into a cultural-historical context, that has the Adam narrative as a theological foundation story. Paul is an excellent teacher. He knows that contrast helps people understand and remember teaching. Thus, in Romans 5:12-20, he contrasts Jesus with Adam showing that we are sinners in need of grace through the one man, Jesus. It is sufficient for us to know that we are sinners in need of redemption. Communicating this truth to a culture using their foundational stories at level of comprehension they can easily grasp does not make the teaching errant. It makes it context appropriate.
    “… if we presume to correct pre-modern Paul on Adam …”
    We are not correcting Paul. Paul is spot on. When the little girl in my analogy above tells her friend the origin story her daddy told her, is she errant in her description? Yes, if the question is how she scientifically and facto-historically came to be. But are these two little girls having a science discussion or history discussion? No. If the purpose was to communicate about her metaphysical significance in the world, then certainly the story powerfully communicates that truth. Similarly, Paul is relating metaphysical/theological truth, not giving a history lesson. We have not corrected or changed his theology one iota that I can see. (Also would you say that we are “correcting” Genesis 1:6 when we say there are not waters above and below? Are we “correcting” when say the earth circles the sun and the sun does not “rise” and “set” as was literally assumed to be the case according ancient understandings? I would not … unless you want to talk science.)
    We are the ones who need correcting, not Paul. We need to be corrected from superimposing our post-Enlightenment obsession with fact-for-fact history and material ontology on to the text. We need to stop working from our need to have each text come out in support of our predetermined theologies (i.e. sex confined to the covenant of a man and woman in marriage, the virgin birth, the resurrection … all of which I affirm). We need to start by realizing that the Bible was not written to us, but rather we are listening in on conversations between writers and audiences from specific cultural-historical contexts.

  • Brian in NZ

    Bob (@47), do you think your congregation hold the YEC position because if they doubt even the slightest word in the Bible, then it could open a flood gate of doubt that they might not be able to cope with? I personally have no problem believing that Gen 1-3 is a myth, or fable, told to portray a concept not a fact, but I understand the desire to believe everything because then you don’t need to think about anything.

  • Matt

    It seems to me that an issue often overlooked has to do with Paul’s use of Genesis 3 in Romans 5. According to Gen 3, sin is the result of Adam AND Eve doing their own thing – not just Adam. Perhaps, then, a little more caution is warranted before Rom 5 is used as the smoking gun, which “proves” that a literal interpretation of Gen 3 is the correct one. I’m not suggesting that Paul did not believe Adam was not a historical individual (I think he probably did), just that, given Paul’s “omit-some-detail-to-make-a-contrast” reading of Gen 3 in Rom 5, maybe it’s not so unthinkable for God to have worked in a similar manner in Genesis (i.e., by omitting what would have been incomprehensible scientific theories, etc.)

  • #51 Matt
    I just came back here to make this very point, realizing I had intended to include it in #49 … and then here is your post. Thanks.
    In Romans 5 it is Adam who led us into sin but in 1 Timothy 2 it appears to be Eve. Is Paul confused? No. It is does not appear to me he is deducing a theology from precise examination historical events. He is drawing on the stock stories of the community to reinforce his teaching and his teaching, not the teaching devices, are the issue.

  • Matt (51), the Apostle Paul was rabbinically training and also well versed in Greek and Roman Philosophy. Truly God’s perfect apologist for the Early Church! In Tarsus there was a philosophy academy that Seneca regarded as better than those in Athens. We don’t know that Paul attended there, but he certainly would have heard the public dialogues and become familiar with the philosophical debates of his day.
    1 Corinthians 15:20ff and Romans 5:12ff don’t deal directly with Paul’s soteriology, but with Paul’s platonic approach of Christology. The first man, Adam, is imperfect but the second Man, Jesus Christ, is perfect, the true Form of humanity. God made humans in God’s image and likeness, but sin marred that image so that the first is imperfect. In Platonism types are always imperfect but point to that true Form which is Perfect. Paul is using Platonism to explain Jesus Christ to Corinthians and Romans who would have been familiar with this platonic way of thinking. He wants them to see the pattern of revelation.
    Using this same approach we are able to tease out the pattern of revelation about Jesus Christ not only in reference to Adam, but also in reference to other biblical figures such as Abraham, Moses, and David. Platonism regards the symbol as more real than the material appearance so Adam as symbol is what concerns Paul in the I Corinthians 15 and Romans 5 passages.

  • The image of God can’t be intelligence or free will – angels had both (at least at one time). It can’t be emotion, animals and possibly angels have that too. It is more likely a POSITIONAL image – like an ambassadors was said to be in the image of the king – to speak for him – to represent him. We are GOd’s representatives on earth. Thus our appearance is not important.
    Taking the Gen 1 text to establish teh age of teh universe is abusing scripture – it was not the intent of the passage to explain how and when but Who and why. We must look at it through the eyes of freed slaves who had lived under a polytheist Egypt for 300 years.