Genesis One 10

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 10: The seven days of Genesis 1 do not concern material origins.

This is a big point; Walton is arguing that Genesis 1, the classic text of creation of material origins in the last two hundred years of debate about origins, is not about material origins as that debate has thought.

Embracing a functional approach to Genesis 1 for some means an accompanying material approach as well — thus, having it both ways. Walton says no. He has argued that “create” is functional, that the context is functional, the cultural context is functional, and the theology is functional. And now he shows that Genesis 1 does not speak about material creation.

1. There is nothing material in Days 1, 3 and 7.
2. Day two is not about materiality but about weather. There is nothing material up there.
3. Days 4 and 6 have material components but the text deals with them only on the functional level.
4. Day 5 is also about functions and it uses “create” which is functional.

“the seven days and Genesis 1 as a whole have nothing to contribute to the discussion of the age of the earth” (95). Notice that: “nothing.” Nothing in the Bible is about the age of the earth. The struggle of young students, he says, then is unfortunate because the Bible is not about a young earth.

But his point is not that God had nothing to do with origins, but that Genesis 1 is not about origins. It was unthinkable for the ancient Hebrews not to have thought God created the world and it is to God we go for origins.

Prior to Genesis 1 involves the absence of humans as Eikons of God and God’s presence in this temple. The material world was under development. A trip through the material world prior to Genesis 1 is like a trip through a college before students have ever arrived. The buildings are not yet what they are to become, though the materiality is there.

And he thinks death was part of the material world prior to Genesis 1, but not death to the Eikon of God.

  • RJS

    This is the most interesting thing about Walton’s book. It simply takes Genesis 1 out of the debate between science and faith. The intent of the book, the intent of the author, and the inspiration behind the intent of the author was not to describe material origins.
    I’ve long though that a material interpretation of Genesis 1 had the genre wrong, but the fresh look here includes, but moves beyond genre arguments. This is not “a creation myth,” rather it is a literary composition to deliver a different kind of message in the language of the day.
    Some of the issues hit afresh in Gen 2-3; but these now will have to be taken on their own terms as well.

  • MinorProphet

    Scot, I have to humbly and heartedly agree with the author; Genesis is not a science book but a book of literature. Making it the former is a torturing of the text! We have been want to do just that, but as the writer has said, it doesn’t proove a “young earth”, it only makes Chrisitans look foolish in the face of established science. These ideas of “Y.E.” and a literalistic view of Gen. 1-11 have mostly come about since 1961 with the publishing of the Genesis Flood by Whitcomb and Morris. Their intent was to work their dispensational eschatology “backwards” to “proove” their faulty theology. I too bought it for nearly 30 years but have roundly rejected my folly now for what it was.
    The idea of no death before the “fall” also has no merit and causes us SO much extra mental gymnastics to get around when talking about origins with reasonable people. For instance, how much time expired between a “ready made creation” until the supposed fall where physical death was introduced in all creation? a year, two? a decade? We know that within months, the bug population would have covered the populace knee deep, much less going through years of literally no physical death. It does not “fly” [sorry, couldn't resist]!
    Tim Martin and Jeffrey Vaughn have authored an excellent book called “Beyond Creation Science” that addresses how the account in Gen. 1-11 is covenental in nature which clears up SO much misunderstanding because if we have the beginning wrong, the end will be wrong as well. It has been happening for a generation now, and I for one an thrilled to see the remnant speak against this established heresy that has tempted made to see scriptures, in the words of Augustine in the most “Crass” of ways.
    Think of it like this… if Gen. 1:3 is literal, about light, and yet the sun, moon and stars are not created until day four, you have real problems on your literalistic hands. A covenental view easily answers this delimna, while allowing the ancient text to speak.
    Thanks for posting what is, and should be a watershed moment for thinking Christans who ask themselves the hard but real questions.

  • Grant Smith

    Scot, I have to disagree with MinorProphet there is absolutely no problem with light being created before the sun moon and stars, Just as there will be no problem at the end when the light once again will not come from the sun, moon or stars. minorprophet is right that you need to get the start right to get the end right. I hope that he will.

  • RJS

    Yours is a rather distressing comment. Especially the last line, which is demeaning.
    Your implication is what – that we take a material view of Genesis 1?

  • Dru

    Appreciate Dr. Walton’s work, just bought the book. I think there’s an important point to be made about method, his method in particular. Several scholars have been making the point for some time that in our effort to defend the Bible, we have forgotten how to read the Bible. Particulary in Genesis, we rush to unpack the significance for our time. And blow right past the meaning the author(s) intended for initial readers. Darwin and geology were not on the mind of Moses et al and the early Israelites.
    Anticipating an objection from some quarters, this is not an approach primarily motivated by accomodating our science, but is an attempt to set those questions into second place. And give first place to the author and his context. A much needed perspective!

  • Michael W. Kruse

    RJS #1
    “This is not “a creation myth,” rather it is a literary composition to deliver a different kind of message in the language of the day.”
    Over the years I’ve heard many argue for the Framework Hypothesis, which usually argues that Gen 1 is simply a great literary piece about material origins. That has always left me cold because I could sense that there was something more profound going on here. You don’t open the first book of God’s revelation with a “nice story.” :-)
    What I think Walton does is show the type literary composition it is and its immense significance. That is one of things I appreciated about the book.

  • Randy G

    Having spent several years, including summers on beautiful university campuses, I like your use of the college buildings without students imagery. It really gets it.
    Randy Gabrielse

  • dopderbeck

    In “The Meaning of Creation: Genesis and Modern Science,” published in 1984, Conrad Hyers made many of the same arguments about Gen. 1. Hyers stated then that “The Genesis accounts of creation are not in conflict with scientific and historical knowledge, not because they are in conformity with this knowledge but precisely because they have little to do with it. They belong to a different literary genre, type of knowledge, and kind of concern. . . . Not only is the Bible not a textbook on chemistry, astronomy or medicine; it is not making statements at all which are of the same order and intent as modern statements in chemistry, astronomy, or medicine.” (pp. 28-31).
    I very much appreciate John Walton’s approach, but I wonder how or whether it differs from Hyers’? I’m not being critical of Walton here, because I think Hyers basically was correct. What I wonder is, does so much really turn on whether the author(s) / readactors of the Torah’s creation stories “intended” to emphasize only functionality rather than material origins?

  • Wes

    Could someone help me understand how, in light of Romans 5:12, death could pre-exist sin? It seems clear to me that the Scripture teaches that death was the result of sin, not independent of it.

  • Scot McKnight

    Wes, Walton’s argument is that materiality existed before Genesis 1, and that means that there was “death” since plants can’t exist without dying; animals feed on one another; etc.. While Walton hasn’t yet defined “death” in Genesis 3, the point of Genesis 3 is not that there was no death prior to sin but that Adam and Eve didn’t die because they were feasting on the tree of life — when they were banned from that tree, death ensued for them.

  • Wes

    Just to add on to my prior thought, I have read Dr. Walton’s discussion of this (for example, pages 99-100). Forgive me if I oversimplify, but the argument given from logic (since things existed before function was assigned, they must have died), silence (Romans 5:12 doesn’t explicitly deny all types of death) and speculation (since man lost access to the tree of life, he then was subject to death) all assume that God has not spoken to the subject.
    I think this is critically important, and while I find much of Dr. Walton’s thesis here very interesting, I think his response to this question to be wanting, and raises other implications which require careful thought and Berean-like review.

  • dopderbeck

    Wes, you’re begging a very basic methodological question: can what we know apart from scripture influence how we understand what scripture means? It really isn’t possible to answer this question with an absolute “no,” because at the very least, to even begin to understand scripture you have to draw on knowledge you’ve learned apart from scripture, such as basic rules of grammar. (Even more significantly, you have to rely on extra-Biblical knowledge even to determine what books make up the “Bible,” since the scriptures themselves don’t specify the scope of the canon.)
    So, the real question is, what exactly is the relation between Biblical and extra-Biblical truth? Obviously, the answer to this question is complicated, because we expect that what we learn from scripture will influence how we understand what we observe apart from scripture as well as the converse.
    In the case of “death” before the Fall, if we are to take this to mean no death of any kind, we have to hold that scripture requires us to adopt an extreme anti-realist understanding of what can be observed from natural history. This creates such enormous epistemological problems that, for many of us, it makes more sense that “death” here has broader implications than physical death, or at least that it applies only to humans. Alternatively, some opt for “supralapsarian” or “retro-causal” views in which animal death before the temporal Fall also is “caused” by Adam’s later sin (e.g., Bill Dembski’s new forthcoming book).
    There is no easily “solution,” and a variety of possible approaches, but many of us think living with some degree of uncertainty about exactly how we are meant to understand the sin-death connection is necessary if we are to engage faithfully with all of God’s truth.

  • RJS

    We do need to hold some ambiguity as we consider the sin-death connection. But I also think that we need to consider the nature of inspiration and scripture. This doesn’t change the need to consider the sin-death connection very seriously, but it does modify the ground rules a bit. The discussion is theological in context of the entire story of scripture – not an exercise in proof-texting.

  • Wes

    So, essentially you’re saying that taking Romans 5:12 on its face requires “an extreme anti-realist” understanding? I suppose it does if you assume the pre-existence of life prior to the assignment of function.
    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we ought tread carefully here, particularly in light of the consistent, historic witness on this question through out Church history. (If I’m wrong there, perhaps you could point me to someone who – without regard to their scientific understanding – read Genesis 1 to be addressing function rather than material creation.
    So, I think your comment begs at least two questions: (1) In what way is Adam’s sin then to be understood as the vehicle by which death entered the world? and (2) Applying Dr. Walton’s methodology, how can we possibly understand what the Scripture is saying to us? Even if we’re as well educated as Dr. Walton, aren’t we in danger of some new find which radically alters our understanding of the text? By the way, I understand that Dr. Walton supports God’s material creation. I also understand that his theory leaves open the possibility of pre-human hominids (eg, page 113) and I believe I can understand the distinction between the death of an “image-bearer” and other species. I don’t think an argument that says, in part, that Adam had skin and skin cell loss (being a natural part of growth) somehow demonstrates that death must have existed! By the way, the argument seems to explicitly assume the natural existence of death, which is why I ask about death in a glorified state. I think Dr. Walton, whether he wants to or not, is raising the question.
    When the Bible speaks directly, specifically about the origin of death – as a result of sin, I think Dr. Walton owes the church more than the arguments presented. Is there an exegetical argument to be made for the pre-sin occurance of death?
    Hermeneutically, ought we not allow specific revelation (like, for example, Romans 5:12) inform our understanding of the general questions?

  • chad m

    i recently received some materials from the founders of the Creation Museum [Ken Ham and others]. their argument, among all the other hypotheses out there, is that young people are leaving the church because they don’t know how to defend their faith against the “millions of years” belief taught in public school.
    while i found the materials ridiculous, irrational, fear-based, there are several in my congregation who believe this to be true. that is, the reason young people are leaving the church after high school is that they don’t know how to defend their faith against scientific arguments for evolution. in other words, they are duped into believing the “millions of years” evolution view of creation and begin questioning the validity of the Bible’s history.
    my question to books like this coming from smart dudes like Dr. Walton, with whom i agree: how does one use a book such as this in a “conservative” congregation? how does one communicate these ideas to a generation who believes Young Earth is what every Christian must believe or else they are heretics?

  • AHH

    Wes #9/11,
    I’d endorse the thoughts of dopderbeck, but also note the important point (which I think Prof. Walton mentions in the book) that, in context, Romans 5:12 is pretty clearly referring to human death (attributed to human sin). Paul’s concern in this passage is eternal life (contrasted with death) for humans (Eikons as Scot would say) — Romans 5 doesn’t say or imply anything one way or the other about death of other creatures.

  • RJS

    It is interesting to note that even John Calvin felt that the death referred to here was a dissolution and degradation of the human body, not death of all living creatures. Not only this, but he felt that the life of Adam and Eve in the garden was never intended to be forever. They had a creation mandate. What sin introduced was a return to the earth. Without sin they would have passed bodily into the next world without the pain of disease and degradation.
    The idea that sin introduced all kinds of biological “death” into the world is by no means a universal or historically common view of the church.

  • dopderbeck

    Wes (#14) said: Hermeneutically, ought we not allow specific revelation (like, for example, Romans 5:12) inform our understanding of the general questions?
    I respond: this is what I was trying to get it in my earlier comment. It’s never so simple as this, I think. Our understanding of specific revelation is always informed to some extent by general revelation, and our interpretations of general revelation are always to some extent informed by our knowledge from specific revelation. Exactly how that works out in any instance is the enormity of the hermeneutical task.
    You raise some important questions about how we can ever understand what scripture is saying. Part of the answer, I think, is that we have to acknowledge that our understanding of scripture is always partial and imperfect. At best, we can say our intepretations are “faithful”; rarely should we presume they are “absolutely right.”
    But “partial and imperfect” don’t equal “meaningless.” Without a doubt, the scriptures attest to the reality of sin, the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, the necessity of repentance and faith, and the consummation of all things according to God’s gracious plans. We may not precisely understand or agree upon exactly how Paul’s connection between sin and death maps onto the temporal dimension of natural history, but nevertheless we cannot miss that sin causes horrible separation from God and Christ remedies that problem.
    Beyond that (which essentially is the properly qualified Reformation notion of scripture’s perpiscuity), there are many resources within the Christian tradition that bear on faithful interpretation of scripture — including the tradition itself, as well as reason and experience, historical context, canonical context, and so on. (One good primer: Stuart and Fee, How to Read the Bible for All its Worth).
    No one ever said it would be easy — or whoever said that didn’t know what he was talking about.

  • Travis Greene

    chad m @ 15,
    Maybe you can start by suggesting that young people aren’t leaving the faith because they don’t know how to “defend” it, but because we are wrongly requiring them to.

  • Danimal

    Chad 15
    The comments on the Genesis One 9 post dicuss your question.

  • RJS

    chad m,
    I think that Walton’s book – or at least some of the ideas in his book – is an excellent start. You don’t have to begin by “debunking” but by studying the text itself. Teach Genesis one as functional creation and temple image.

  • Michael W. Kruse

    dopderbeck #8
    I think Walton’s take has similarities with the Framework Hypothesis (which I would surmise Hyer holds some variant of) in that they both see a literary genre that is not a fact-for-fact recounting of a historical event. But the FH sees the subject matter as bringing material things into existence where Walton is sees the subject matters as God assigning function.
    I think the difference is significant. It has been my hobby horse that our theology at best minimizes, and at worst overlooks, the function for which humanity was created. Go to the seminary library and see how many books and articles you can find on transubstantiation versus the significance of human labor. Until very recently the listings for second category is extremely minimal … yet it is the very heart of human ontology.
    I think the material focus emphasizes the idea that God created us so we have value. Nothing wrong with that but the material focus alone obscures the crowning functional assignment of human beings as God’s co-regents. The functional focus redirects the spotlight to its appropriate subject, if you will. We are so lost in all the noise about the material questions that this functional centrality gets lost in the din. If Walton is right, and I find him convincing, then the functional focus eliminates the static and clarifies the picture.

  • dopderbeck

    Michael — I think Hyers would have been more likely to shrug at the idea that the composers of Genesis got cosmology “wrong” — in other words, I don’t think Hyers was concerned with preserving the author’s intent with respect to inerrancy. This is the fascinating and subtle difference to me here — did the “author(s)” of Genesis intend to teach only functional ontology? Or rather is the theological message of God’s creative sovereignty all that God intends for us to take as finally authoritative, even if the author(s) original intentions / assumptions with respect to materiality and functionality were mixed?

  • Grant Smith

    RJS(4) My apologies about the last comment, unnecessary. The point was that there is no dilemna in a straight-forward reading of the text with regard to the creation of light on day one as MinorProphet was trying to infer.

  • Norman Voss

    The question concerning the “Sin” and “Death” of Romans 5:12 is explored throughout the chapters following Romans 5 and also in Paul’s Magnum opus of 1 Cor 15 and the resurrection of the “Dead”. 1 Cor 15 is perhaps the most difficult chapter in scripture for the uninitiated to understand. In it Paul describes the raising of the Corporate faithful in God and Christ. This is a corporate rising of Israel prophesied in Dan 12:2 as described nearly 50 years ago by John A. T. Robinson in his work called “The Body”. Israel and all men who attempt to come to God were “Dead” to God (spiritual separation) and Adam is the federal head and motif of this “Dead Body” of believers. The Death of Adam described in Genesis 3 is spiritual Death and not physical. Thus it is spiritual Life that one is raised into concerning overcoming “death” and “Sin”.
    Rom 6:6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the BODY OF SIN might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
    Rom 7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from THIS BODY OF DEATH? Thanks be to God THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD!
    So the story of Adam’s Death in Genesis 3 relates to Rom 5:12 in the spiritual realm of Death (Separation from God) and Paul will prove this if we read and study his Body of Sin and Death as it relates to Adam.
    Christ was the second Adam (federal head) of the Body, thus instead of the Body of Sin and Death we have the Body of Christ through resurrected (Life).