We are in 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.
What does it mean when we say “create”? John Walton argues that the standard view today is a “material ontology.” For us, to “create” means to bring something material into material reality. We think of physical properties.
Walton argues that the ancient world, which had lots of creation stories, did not think of “create” in terms of a “material ontology.” Instead, it thought in terms of “functional ontology.” That is, to create meant to give something material a place and function in an ordered world.
Wow, this is a great idea.
If “God created” is seen in functional instead of material terms, what happens to our reading of Genesis 1?
To prove his point Walton sketches what is known about ancient cosmology texts and he looks at text from Egypt (Memphite theology, Papyrus Leiden I 350, Pyramid texts etc) and from Babylon, including Atrahasis and Enuma Elish. His conclusion is noteworthy: these texts do not discuss creation as bringing something into material existence but of assigning function. That is, creation was about gathering materials and giving them function.
“Creation thus constituted bringing order to the cosmos from an originally nonfunctional condition” (35).