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.
One reason why this book will be read, digested, and influential is because Walton chose to take one theme per chapter, keep his chps short, and make the point clear. Each chp then has a proposition.
Proposition 4: the beginning state in Genesis 1 is nonfunctional.
You will recall that Walton’s big idea is that creation in Genesis 1 is not from nothing (or out of nothing) into something material, but from nonfunction into the functional. His contention in chp 4 is that the famous tohu va-bohu, or “formless and void,” statement of Genesis 1:2 means that God turned the nonfunctional into the functional. Things took order — things that were already in existence.
Walton provides a chart on p. 48 of all the uses of tohu (bohu occurs rarely, and only with the other term), and concludes: “… nothing in these contexts that would lead us to believe that tohu has anything to do with material form” (49). He thinks the word refers to things that have no purpose or to nonfunction. [I think he says more than can be said here; I’m not sure we can say with clarity that “nonfunction” is the point each time. I can see how he sums it up this way and each instance can be read this way, but his point requires that each instance connotes “nonfunction.” I would think “waste” or “chaos” or “desolate” are involved, but I’m not sure the point is “nonfunction” each time. But I do think the word does not refer to materiality.]
This means that God’s “it was good” means “it was now functioning properly” or it now has its clear and set purpose in an ordered world.
Ancient Near Eastern texts confirm this. The point of ancient creation ideas was not a process whereby materiality came into being but instead of bringing order and purpose and function from primordial nonfunction.
Is it fair to say of Walton’s thesis that primordial elements, hence some kind of primordial, disordered materiality, were brought into functional order?