Genesis One 7

Walton.jpgWe 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.

Each chp in Walton’s book is a “proposition” and today we look at Proposition 7: divine rest is in a temple.

Question: What do you think of Walton’s theory that Sabbath is God’s assumption of his ruling function from then on?

In a materialist ontology of Genesis 1, in other words, one concerned with how matter came into existence, the Sabbath Day presents a bit of a problem: it seems an afterthought, almost as if God got tired. But in Walton’s functional ontology, in other words, once concerned with God giving functions to matter that exists, the Sabbath takes on a special meaning.

The big point is this: “Without hesitation the ancient reader would conclude [from any mention of rest] that this a temple text and that day seven is the most important of the seven days” (72).



Deity rests in a temple, and only in a temple. Rest is what happens when a crisis has been resolved or stability achieved. Sabbath, then, is “more a matter of engagement without obstacles rather than disengagement without responsibilities” (73). [I think this is a huge statement by Walton and expresses a major point: sabbath is not about relaxation or a nap, but about being in a condition of stability.]

“After creation, God takes up his rest and rules from his residence” (74). The temple was not so much the place where God’s people gathered for worship as the place where God ruled. The temple was God’s headquarters, his control room.

  • RJS

    The discussion of the seventh day as God taking up his residence and ruling, getting on with the business is interesting.
    How though, does this view relate to the institution of human sabbath practice? It seems to contradict with the usual interpretation and practice.
    The idea that Genesis One as a functional description and a Temple Text rather than a literal description of material origin is intriguing.
    But it leads me to another thought – is the “perspicuity of scripture” a meaningful concept in any real sense? This may seem off topic – but the general impression is that there are many parts of scripture which are simply not clear without a careful consideration of and knowledge of context.

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS,
    1. Critical scholars — I think — have long connected Gen 1 to P, the priestly text, and I believe most critical scholars would see Gen 1 as a temple text. The pillars/foundations holding up the firmament, etc, has been part of this thesis, along with the Sabbath.
    2. Perspicuity, yes, a problem always. But that doctrine was shaped to say that the average adult could read the Bible and grasp its essential message, but it was never shaped that every Christian would instinctively comprehend every passage. It was a Reformation doctrine that supported lay reading of the Bible and it responded to those who thought it was dangerous to give the Bible to lay folks.

  • Rick

    RJS-
    “How though, does this view relate to the institution of human sabbath practice? It seems to contradict with the usual interpretation and practice.”
    If, as Walton states, “Rest is what happens when a crisis has been resolved or stability achieved”, did the meaning of Sabbath change after the Fall- since instability had been reintroduced?
    And since the death, resurrection, and acension of Christ, are we to see this as a return to stability.
    This Sabbath perspective does bring some interesting thoughts about the controversial activities of Jesus on the Sabbath.

  • John H. Walton

    For those who cannot wait in suspense to hear how this affects human practice of the Sabbath, you can find my suggestions on 146-47.

  • dopderbeck

    RJS, here is how the Westminster Confession states the belief in the perspicuity of scripture:

    All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

    This is how the Reformers thought of it — not that the Bible is always easy to understand (Calvin, after all, wrote volumes and volumes of commentary!), but that the basics of the gospel can be sufficiently understood by lay people and clergy alike.

  • BPRJam

    I agree with those who say that working out what Sabbath means for the Israelites is important for the thesis that God resting means that He assumes his place in the temple.
    I don’t know if we will cover pgs 146-147 on this blog, but must admit a bit if anticipation for Dr. Walton’s suggestion.
    I’ve read a particular Jewish scholar (whose name I cannot recall – I’m away from my bookshelf) who suggested that the sabbath was a time of honoring the family ordering – of resting within ones place as family. He critiqued Jesus’ dishonoring of the Sabbath as a dishonoring of family, which is a misunderstanding of Jesus’ familial orderings.
    The suggestion of “resting in one’s place” might be equally applicable to both deity and humanity as a way to functionally conceive of the Sabbath.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    Interesting. This, of course, does not seem the view in much of evangelicalism. Many seem to feel that if interpretation is complex it is only because we wish to rationalize away the “difficult” passages.

  • Bob Smallman

    I thought this was one of the most helpful parts of the book.

  • Phil M

    How does this view of the Sabbath line up with Jesus’ remarks on the Sabbath? A passage such as Mark 2:27 would seem to re-enforce the current practice that the Sabbath was meant to be a rest day in the way that we think about it.
    The functional explanation seems interesting, but I’m struggling to work out it’s consequences for interpreting the Gospels. Does “God takes up his rest and rules from his residence” exclude the Sabbath from being for human benefit rather than God’s?

  • Charlie

    I agree with numerous others who have expressed confusion as to how this “ruling” view of the Sabbath squares with the clear application in the Scriptures…God rested on the seventh day, so you (Israelites) rest from your work too as an act of obedience and faith???

  • John H. Walton

    The answer is coming on 146-47–people who are confused can either read ahead or be patient. Here is the one sentence version: We celebrate the sabbath not by imitating God but through acknowledging his control of our lives when we relinquishing the activities we do to control our lives.

  • AHH

    I also think we shouldn’t be too quick to assume a simplistic “God stopped working [as if that ever happens], so we should stop working” view of what Sabbath means.
    Scripture does not seem to speak with one clear voice about the purpose of the Sabbath. While the text in Exodus connects the Sabbath to the creation week, the parallel text in Deuteronomy does not mention that, instead making it more of a “don’t work yourselves (or others, or your animals) excessively like your slavedrivers in Egypt worked you.”

  • http://derek4messiah.wordpress.com Derek Leman

    Wow, I came into this one late. Sabbath is a sign between Israel and God (Exod. 31:17). It is not a universal ordinance of creation and never was. The way I see it, and I am not alone, God has Israel in mind in creation (not only the Sabbath, but also the moadim, the feasts in Genesis 1:14).
    No one kept the Sabbath until it was introduced in Exodus 16.
    The Sabbath was not transferable in Acts 15 to the nations (see also Romans 14). It remains a sign commandment between Israel and God, part of Israel’s calling. Messianic Jews, such as myself, keep Sabbath, circumcision, dietary law, and similar sign commandments in faith as part of our ongoing covenantal responsibility to God.
    We keep the Sabbath in faith in this world where all is not settled. It is an island in time and while we are slaves six days a week, one day we are free. Thus, keeping the Sabbath when all is not yet settled is a sign that we believe all will be settled.
    The interactions of Jesus over the Sabbath read perfectly into Jewish history as internal debates about how to keep it, not whether to keep it. Jesus did not violate the Sabbath and debates about halakha (how to keep the Law) were common and still are. I commend E.P. Sanders’ Judaism: Practice and Belief for any who want to understand the Judaism of Jesus’ time.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    Derek,
    Just curious, do you mostly agree with Walton’s view of the function of the day of rest or do you mostly disagree?


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