Genesis One 8

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.

Proposition 8 of Walton’s book, and one that can reorient everything one sees in Genesis 1:

The cosmos is a temple.

The ancient near east creation narratives drew close connections between cosmos and temple. And temples were often considered symbols of the cosmos.

Josephus, a 1st century AD Jewish historian, stated that everyone of the objects in the Temple recalled and represented the universe.

Walton sees it like this in the Temple complex: the courtyard represented the cosmic spheres outside of the organized cosmos (sea and pillars), the antechamber represented food and light, and the veil separated the heavens and the earth. Major texts include Isa 66:1-2, 1 Ki 8:27, Exod 40:34.

So, temple and cosmos are connected.

So what? Genesis 1 is designed to reveal that the cosmos is the temple of God, the cosmos is a place for God to dwell, and humans are dwelling in God’s temple.

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  • An excellent, thought-provoking metaphor for perceiving creation. Many people expect better-than-usual behavior (e.g., respectful, reverent, loving, welcoming, and generous) in church on Sundays. If the cosmos is God’s temple, then we should act similarly in the sacred world.
    Thanks for your insights.

  • Well, that seems to be a great answer to my question in the Genesis One – 3 discussion (comment #12) re: the relationship between OT Creation and New Creation in the NT. If Creation of the Cosmos is functionally a temple in which God can dwell, and one aspect of the New Creation is the indwelling of God’s spirit in our hearts (1 Cor 3:16, 2 Cor 5:17) there are great parallels.

  • I wonder how this might inform 1 Cor. 3:16–Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (ESV) I find Walton’s view compelling, only now I wish to study it further, especially in light of other references to the temple.

  • Norman Voss

    Joh 5:17 ESV But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
    I again remind folks that some of the most popular early first Century Christians understood Genesis One as a functionary creation account. However they believed that the Temple was being created in their hearts by faith in Christ. The Epistle of Barnabas along with the Hebrew letter demonstrates that understanding by saying that true Sabbath coincides with this Temple completion. This new Temple though corresponds with and anticipates the demise of the Earthly Temple. The one that Christ said would be destroyed in their Generation thus signaling the end of the Old Covenant and the consummation of the New One.
    Heb 4:4 ESV For he has somewhere spoken of the SEVENTH DAY in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” … 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,
    Heb 8:5 ESV They serve a COPY AND SHADOW OF THE HEAVENLY THINGS. For when Moses was about to erect the tent (tabernacle nv), … 13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and GROWING OLD IS READY TO VANISH AWAY.
    I think we may have lost sight that the Old Covenant Sabbath and Temple were a type of the higher Spiritual realities that were to come. The OT Sabbath said that no man was to work by the penalty of Death. Well in the new Sabbath there is absolutely NO Works of Our Own as Christ is our Works.
    Heb 9:11 ASV But Christ having come a high priest of the good things to come, through the GREATER AND MORE PERFECT TABERNACLE, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, … :24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, WHICH ARE THE FIGURES OF THE TRUE; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:
    Take a look now at the Barnabas letter and notice the functionary Creation account being described from Genesis One. Then notice that he then details that WHEN THAT WEEK OF FUNCTIONARY CREATION IS COMPLETED THAT A TEMPLE WILL HAVE BEEN BUILT in 16:6.
    Barnabas 15:1 Furthermore it was written concerning the Sabbath in the ten words which he spake on Mount Sinai face to face to Moses. “SANCTIFY ALSO THE SABBATH of the Lord with pure hands and a pure heart.”
    2 And in another place he says, “If my sons keep the Sabbath, then will I bestow my mercy upon them.”
    3 He speaks of the Sabbath at the beginning of the Creation, “And God MADE IN SIX DAYS THE WORKS OF HIS HANDS AND ON THE SEVENTH DAY HE MADE AN END, and rested in it and sanctified it.”
    4 Notice, children, what is the meaning of “He made an end in six days”? He means this: that the Lord will make an end of everything in six thousand years, for a day with him means a thousand years. And he himself is my witness when he says, “Lo, the day of the Lord shall be as a thousand years.” So then, children, in six days, that is in six thousand years, EVERYTHING WILL BE COMPLETED.
    5 “And he rested on the seventh day.” This means, when his Son comes he will destroy the time of the wicked one, and will judge the godless, and will change the sun and the moon and the stars, and then he will truly rest on the seventh day.
    6 Furthermore he says, “Thou shalt sanctify it with clean hands and a pure heart.” If, then, anyone has at present the power to keep holy the day which God made holy, by being pure in heart, we are altogether deceived.
    7 See that we shall indeed keep it holy at that time, when we enjoy true rest, when we shall be able to do so because we have been made righteous ourselves and have received the promise, when there is no more sin, but ALL THINGS HAVE BEEN MADE NEW BY THE LORD: then we shall be able to keep it holy because we ourselves have first been made holy. …
    16:1 I will also speak with you concerning the Temple, and show how the wretched men erred by putting their hope on the building, and not on the God who MADE THEM, and IS THE TRUE HOUSE OF GOD. …
    6 But let us inquire if a temple of God exists. Yes, it exists, where he himself said that he makes and perfects it. For it is written, “And it shall come to pass WHEN THE WEEK IS ENDED that A TEMPLE OF GOD SHALL BE BUILT gloriously in the name of the Lord.” …
    8 “But it shall be built in the name of the Lord.” Now give heed, in order that the temple of the Lord may be built gloriously. Learn in what way. When we received the remission of sins, and put our hope on the Name, we became new, being created again from the beginning; wherefore God truly dwells in us, in the habitation which we are.
    9 How? His word of faith, the calling of his promise, the wisdom of the ordinances, the commands of the teaching, himself prophesying in us, himself dwelling in us, by opening the door of the temple (that is the mouth) to us, giving repentance to us, and thus he leads us, who have been enslaved to death into the incorruptible temple.

  • God starts with the universal, redeems through the particular, and then redeems the universal.
    With people, he made himself known to all, but people turned away from him. So he redeemed the particular (Abraham) and a seed of redemption is spreading now to end in redemption of all humankind.
    With creation, God hallows the cosmos, the fall corrupts his temple, he locates a temple in the midst of his Chosen People Israel, he dwells in Israel and in the church, and in the last days the whole cosmos will again be hallowed (the world to come).

  • Craig Beard

    I haven’t read Walton’s book (though I’ve heard him speak on the topic) or followed all the comments on Scot’s discussion of the book, so this may be redundant. But for those interested in digging deeper into the idea of the cosmos as God’s temple, I recommend the work of Dr. Greg Beale. He has written a book entitled _The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God_, which he summarizes at

  • Dana Ames

    Dr. Walton,
    are you familiar with Margaret Barker’s work? There are some interesting resonances between the two of you in terms of the Temple, and also with Sailhamer’s ideas about the plan of the tabernacle.

  • As I recall, Walton says that it was typical of ANE comsmologies to end with an establishment of a temple and the gods taking up residence. Richard Bacukham points out that unlike many OT models of the New Jerusalem, the temple disappears in John’s Revelation. The city itself is the temple … and that seems to me to fit with the idea that the whole creation is the temple.

  • Alice C. Linsley

    The 7 days/stages represent the 7 tiers typical of a Babylonian temple, not the Temple in Jerusalem. The number of tiers ranged from 2 to 7, with a shrine or most holy place at the summit.
    Genesis 1 represents the cosmology of the eastern Afro-Asiatics while Gen. 2-3 represents the the first-ancestor narratives typical of the western Afro-Asiatics. The latter is the older.