Genesis One 9

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 9 is another big one:

The seven days of Genesis 1 relate to the cosmic temple inauguration.

Put this differently: the seven days are not about the duration of bringing matter into existence, but a period of time devoted to inaugurating the various functions of the temple. That is, they prepare the cosmos for God’s dwelling and humans as those who are to worship the God in whose temple they dwell.

As with Solomon’s temple, the temple was not built until God indwellt it — so Genesis 1′s seven days (Solomon’s took seven years) indicates the completion of the temple when God indwells. Genesis 1 could be an enthronement-of-God text used annually.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    “Genesis 1 could be an enthronement-of-God text used annually.”
    I love that idea!

  • RJS

    This is an interesting proposal – as it takes the entire emphasis off of God’s mechanism of creation and turns it on to God’s relationship with his creation.

  • AHH

    What was not clear to me in the book is whether Prof. Walton is saying there were 7 actual chronological days in which God assigned these functions (on Wednesday God assigns timekeeping functions, on Friday God commissions human with their functions, etc.). Or would he say (along with proponents of the framework view as I understand it) that the “days” provide a literary structure but have no direct relationship to any actual chronology (neither of material origins nor of functional assignment)?
    Prof. Walton, if you are reading, can you clarify on that point?

  • Bob Smallman

    As I read through the book, I found this to be a pretty attractive approach. But, as the pastor of a relatively literate and somewhat rural congregation, I kept asking myself how I would ever present this to my people as the straightforward meaning of the text.
    I know that the difficulty of understanding a new (but possibly very ancient) idea, is not a criterion of it’s truth, but as a practical matter it’s hard for me to imagine this concept resonating with a lot of my people!

  • Scot McKnight

    Bob, I sure hope John Walton answers this one. I’m not a pastor, but here’s what I’d do:
    1. Have the pastors and staff read the book together.
    2. Have influential leaders read the book with staff and pastors.
    3. Start with SS.
    4. Leave it there until you need to say something public, and do so gently as an option.
    Let the people of God embrace the idea before the idea becomes belief.

  • RJS

    Scot,
    I agree with you on approach – but would like to add one thing for consideration.
    Realize that a fraction – possibly minor, possibly substantial – of the people in your congregation are already conflicted over the “straightforward” reading of the text but ignore the issues. Sometimes going gently simply means opening the door to the idea that there are multiple possible readings of the text. You may be surprised at who sighs with relief.

  • John H. Walton

    I am on the road so will not be able to monitor all day, but here are a couple of quick reactions. First to 2 AHH, there is no reason why they could not be 24 hour days. This is a big plus both for dealing with the text, where that is the clearest reading, and for dealing with YEC for whom one of the biggest issues is the length of the day.
    Second, to 4 Bob Smallman, Scot’s and RJS’s ideas are good ones. Another technique that I have used is to introduce the position gradually. That is, people will usually not find any objection to considering the cosmos as a temple. Furthermore, I have gotten very little resistance to a statement like, “Genesis is far more interested in functions than in materials.” These are literary, cultural and theological “value-added” elements that do not ask people to give anything up. The conflicts concerning the age of the earth and the value of evolutionary ideas need not be issues addressed in sermons but can be discussions with those who are stake-holders.
    I also find it necessary, as you can imagine, to lay some hermeneutical foundations before getting to certain aspects of the theory. This takes time. People need to hear the hermeneutic of cultural background articulated clearly, see it applied consistently to numerous issues, and see the need for it (i.e., that without it we misunderstand passages). This is what I do in my book, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, and it is what I do in classes, whether in school or in church.

  • RJS

    There is no reason from the text alone that they could not be 24 hour days – perhaps this will allow an ear from some.
    But there are profoundly complete reasons why creation in 24 hour days is an entirely untenable concept. I think that Bob (or others in similar situations) will be surprised by the number who actually breathe a sigh of relief that taking Genesis seriously and following Jesus does not require one to grit one’s teeth and chant “I believe” in the face of doubt and conflict of varying degrees.
    You need an answer to the question of the perspicuity of scripture – but Scot gave an answer in an earlier comment (post 7) that helps here. A doctrine of the clarity of scripture only extends to the idea that the average adult could read the Bible and grasp its essential message. Scripture is not and never has been a book without depth and nuance – and it is wrestling with the depth and nuance that builds relationship with God and allows growth. (OK I expanded on Scot’s comment – but I think this is the general idea.)

  • Norman Voss

    Dr. Walton,
    I have thoroughly enjoyed your book. And have used your Genesis commentary for a few years now and greatly appreciate your work. However I have a major problem with you still accepting that the day in Genesis One could be 24 hour days. The only real comparison is figuratively at best and a 24 hour understanding has no real application except in a physical man made Temple construction which scripture directs us is not what the true temple is about. The idea that there is a need to placate the YEC is not really worth the effort as many of them base their hermeneutic upon a form of dispensationalism.
    There is plenty of literature beside the Bible which illustrates for us that the Hebrews themselves understood the “Day” as having metaphorical meaning. One of the most obvious is found in the Book of Jubilees concerning “The DAY that Adam Died”.
    Jubilees 4:29 … Adam died, … And he lacked seventy years of one thousand years; FOR ONE THOUSAND YEARS ARE AS ONE DAY IN THE TESTIMONY OF THE HEAVENS and therefore was it written concerning the tree of knowledge: ‘On the day that ye eat thereof ye shall die.’ For this reason HE DID NOT COMPLETE THE YEARS OF THIS DAY; for HE DIED DURING IT.
    This piece of literature is probably 100-200 years before Christ and as you know was highly influential to first century believers as it’s found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The statement of 1000 years as a Day is very likely the reference that Peter quotes from in 2 Pet 3:8 and the 1000 years fulfillment of life also has implications for John in Revelation about those who would live and reign for 1000 years. That idea is in contrast to Adam who did not reach the 1000 years of the “DAY” but died short of it. This is simply a representation theologically that Adam came up short of eternal life because of his fall in the Garden. It clearly demonstrates that the Hebrew concept of Day in early Genesis had nothing to do with 24 hour days. The sooner we come to that realization the quicker we can move on past that misguided idea.
    Augustine recognized this in his time and presented that the Days represent epochs of Jewish history until the coming of the Messiah which represented the sixth Day. The problem is that Augustine mixes his understanding with a false idea of the beginning and ending of the Temple construction not realizing that the Temple was completed when the Old one was destroyed thus ending the Old Covenant World. Thus ever since that time we have been living in God’s Sabbath Rest.
    “And we know that the law extends from the time of which we have record, that is, from the beginning of the world: “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth.’ Thence down to the time in which we ARE NOW LIVING ARE SIX AGES, THIS BEING THE SIXTH, as you have often heard and know. The FIRST AGE IS RECKONED FROM ADAM TO NOAH; THE SECOND, FROM NOAH TO ABRAHAM; and, as Matthew the evangelist duly follows and distinguishes, THE THIRD, FROM ABRAHAM TO DAVID; the FOURTH, FROM DAVID TO THE CARRYING AWAY INTO BABYLON; the FIFTH, FROM THE CARRYING AWAY INTO BABYLON TO JOHN THE BAPTIST; the sixth, FROM JOHN THE BAPTIST TO THE END OF THE WORLD.”
    “Moreover, GOD MADE MAN AFTER HIS OWN IMAGE ON THE SIXTH DAY, because IN THIS SIXTH AGE IS MANIFESTED the renewing of our mind through the gospel, after the image of Him who created us; Colossians 3:10 and the water is turned into wine, that we may taste of Christ, now manifested in the law and the prophets. Hence there were there six water-pots, which He bade be filled with water. Now THE SIX WATER-POTS SIGNIFY THE SIX AGES, which were not without prophecy. And those six periods, divided and separated as it were by joints, would be as empty vessels unless they were filled by Christ.”
    Augustine, TRACTATE IX, p. 65.

  • John H. Walton

    The Hebrew text clearly favors a 24 hour day, regardless of what the history of interpretation has done with it. You are right, that if the days are not days of material creation, they become symbolic, whether referring to regular celebrations or not. That is why I make the statement that there is no reason NOT to think of them as 24 hour days. Nothing gained, nothing lost–it is just no longer an issue to argue about. We have to stop thinking about Gen one as eyewitness account or something communicated to Adam and Eve. It is the revelation of God through an author (Moses) to an audience (wilderness Israel ready to construct a Tabernacle?) about that which is most important concerning creation. The seven days not only provide a literary framework, they provide a conceptual framework as they connect to the temple/tabernacle.

  • AHH

    there is no reason why they could not be 24 hour days
    Like another commenter, this phrasing strikes me as a bit of a sop to appease the Young-Earth crowd (and the concordist crowd more generally). It would seem to leave a crack in the door for something parallel to the “days of revelation” approach adopted by some who acknowledge the results of science but are wedded to concordism — in that approach the creation unfolded as science describes but the “days” are 6 consecutive 24-hour periods in which God revealed Genesis 1 to Moses. That way lies madness, I think.
    Of course Prof. Walton correctly points out that textually the “days” function as 24-hour days within the story. But it seems to me that once you say (as Prof. Walton does in #10) that what the “days” provide in the bigger picture is “a literary framework” and “a conceptual framework” then the best way to talk about connection between the “days” and real chronology is “that’s a meaningless question because the days are symbolic” rather than “they could be 24 hours”. Asking what these “days” are in terms of human chronology (except perhaps for the chronology of a temple ceremony) is as meaningless as asking which specific inn the Good Samaritan took the beaten traveler to.
    I’m probably biased by my opinion that most of the church’s problems in this area come from “concordism” — thinking that Scripture and science are answering the same kinds of questions and therefore must “line up”. I appreciate that Prof. Walton rejects a concordist approach to Genesis 1, but here it seemed to me like he left a crack in the door for it. I think that, whether Genesis 1 is about God’s material creative activity or functional assignment or both, questions about connecting the “days” to actual chronology of God’s creative work must primarily be rejected as meaningless — because they are concordist questions and concordism is fundamentally a wrong approach to Genesis 1.

  • AHH

    I endorse the thoughts of Scot and RJS and Prof. Walton about approaches for moving the church to a healthier place on Genesis 1. Particularly Prof. Walton’s thoughts about gradual introduction of concepts in a non-threatening way. And I very much agree with RJS that simply letting people know that there are multiple ways to interpret this passage among faithful Christians is a huge first step. Just helping people realize that the Answers in Genesis reading is not the only option for “Bible-believing” Christians may be the most important thing we can do in this area.
    At some point, maybe depending on the church and setting, I think it is also important to confront the mistake of concordism. As Prof. Walton mentions, some hermeneutical foundations may help there. If people can see that one aspect of holding Scripture in high regard is not asking it questions the inspired writers were not trying to answer, that is another big step (applicable elsewhere as well).
    My own attempt at this for an Adult Ed class at my church was converted into written form and posted here:
    http://steamdoc.s5.com/sci-nature/Chapter3.pdf
    I do not claim it is optimal (and what is optimal will depend on the context in which teaching is given), but it gets at what I think are the important aspects. If/when I get some time, I want to update this to include the ideas of “function” and “cosmic temple” from Prof. Walton, which I find quite helpful.

  • Bob Smallman

    Just a brief follow-up on my earlier comments and your helpful responses:
    My primary focus over my career has been to help our young people understand that they don’t have to buy into YEC in order to be faithful to the scriptures — particularly as they encounter biology professors in college who are able to skillfully refute YEC arguments. Among these young people I have found (for the most part) an enthusiastic response.
    Among most of my well-educated adults, I have sensed a breath of relief when they discover that I’m not a young-earther. But many others simply cannot imagine any other position than YEC, and we have a good enough relationship established over the years to disagree agreeably — and I’ve seen no need to “convert” them.
    So, at least for me, the strategy has been to focus these discussions on younger people in the hope of preparing them for a positive college experience. At a minimum, I want them to know they don’t have to choose between their faith and their intellect. Interestingly enough, we currently have three of our youth group grads working on PhDs in various biological fields and several others doing undergrad work in biology. So apparently they’ve gotten the message that it’s a “safe” discipline to pursue as a Christian!

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    Enjoying this.
    I’m out of my depth here but I have a question about the connection of the state of an ANE god in his temple to the cultic rituals. I have the general impression that some ANE cultic rituals might have involved some form of symbolic re-enactment of the creation myth. For example, I believe I read an article once that suggested that one culture’s rituals might have involved physically dividing a human sacrifice to correspond with the stages of their creation myth. (This might even open a possible question as to which came first, the practice of the human sacrifice or its background symbolism.) It seems to me that this sort of symbolism would be good evidence for exactly the sort of thinking in an ANE worldview as is proposed here.
    My questions:
    For a given ANE culture and its cult, is it common to find correspondence between their creation myth and their cultic rituals?
    Would it be expected to find some sort of correspondence in Israel’s cultic practices to their creation account? I’m not aware of such a correspondence but that might only be my ignorance. If indeed there is not much correspondence between Israel’s cultic practices and the creation account, does this in any way present a challenge to the reading of that account as proposed here?
    I’m not trying to push back, just trying to anticipate a possible challenge and know how to respond. I hope my questions make sense. Thanks!

  • http://www.beyondcreationscience.com/ Norman Voss

    The teaching and acceptance of a functional creation for Genesis One is going to be a slow process to say the least. I think we are starting to see the seeds planted with good works by those such as Dr. Walton and I would hope these discussions would start to resonate within the Biblical Scholarly community and trickle down somewhat. The problem is that those who then leave the scholarly world must enter into the reality of the general population which can not handle some of these more difficult theological discussions easily. Therein lays our historical problem as the simplistic literal reading of the scriptures is easier to build a unified spiritual community around. (example #1 is YEC) Pastors are not keen even if they understand the deeper theological implications to upset the apple cart of their flocks. Rightfully so I might add. I serve in the Eldership of a moderately large congregation and teach classes and am constantly careful to be mindful of not developing one against the other on difficult subjects.
    It takes strategic patience and seeking opportunity in measured steps. I believe that internet forums are quite useful in spreading these ideas along with encouraging writers and speakers to address the college age crowd. This takes gifted writers and speakers who can relate the message in a manner that is simpler and yet meaningful. We should pray for those with God’s gifts to be raised up for the work of preparing young people for the future.
    Let me recommend for those who may be interested in reading a recent book that deals with Genesis origins and Revelations end times. You may find it quite helpful and it is definitely not a concordist approach to Genesis. Here is the link and you may read a couple of chapters online in which they present Dr. Walton’s functionary understanding of Genesis One.
    http://www.beyondcreationscience.com/


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