Genesis One 11

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 11: “Functional cosmic temple” offers face-value exegesis.

In John Walton’s view, his reading of Genesis 1 as as God’s setting up the world as his temple with humans as Eikons of God is the plain reading of the text.

In Walton’s view, other readings spend too much time letting material origins shape how they read Genesis 1.

The “theological” approach, which reduces the text to God as Creation, Sabbath as central and humans as God’s Eikons, is a salvage operation. The “poetic” approach reduces the text to aesthetics, but mostly because it knows it’s not scientific and therefore needs to be approached from another angle. The “polemical” view seeks to see how this text differs from other Ancient Near Eastern texts, and this helps — except that Genesis 1 doesn’t seem to be polemical in its statements. It’s a positive description of the formation of the cosmic temple.

The “concordist” view seeks to show that this text is compatible with science. Concordism takes on a healthy view of Scripture as inspired but, out of a desire to protect God or the Bible from error, mistakenly assumes a modern, scientific world view and seeks to show how science is either wrong or how science can fit inside the narrative of Genesis 1, finding place somehow for instance for the Big Bang.



Walton says we have to interpret this text as it was written in its day and as it was understood in its day, and we are not asked to impose modern science on the text. Hence, the face-value of this text, in its ANE context, is the formation of the cosmic temple.

On Friday, we look at Walton’s response to Young Earth Creationists, folks who often give off the aroma that they alone affirm the Bible’s authority.

  • David Neff

    Scot, I was a student of Gerhard Hasel’s. You may know that he pioneered the polemicist reading of Gen. 1. I always thought it was very helpful in distinguishing Genesis from the Babylonian creation myth and other ANE texts. But I never figured out where he saw the polemics in it. The Genesis statement is so positive and doesn’t have the “attack” flavor of a polemic. Nevertheless, his exposition of the differences between the creative work of Elohim and the struggle between Marduk and Tiamat was wonderful.

  • Scot McKnight

    David, I taught Genesis 1-11 in two different classes where our focus was a contrast with Enuma Elish, etc., and it was easy to move from the comparative to the polemical. Even as I was doing that, I wondered to myself over and over but is this what the author of Genesis is doing? Still, comparison with other ANE texts sheds light on the sorts of things we can see in the text.
    By the way, I benefited immensely from Hasel’s two books on the nature of OT and NT theology.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    I posed a question towards the end of another post in this series but it was near the end of the thread’s life. I think this functional view will open avenues of thinking for some time to come. But I wonder if God intended for his people to see the genesis of Genesis primarily in terms of cosmic temple with God in command and at rest – why are there not more direct references to this in the tabernacle (later temple) rituals that God later established? Would we not expect a clearer link between cultic rituals and creation story? Or is that barking up the wrong tree?

  • Tim Stidham

    I always thought the polemic was imbedded in the idea that the forces of chaos were mere tools or building blocks in God’s hands, rather than alternate deities.
    I don’t think polemic is the main point but I don’t think it can be dismissed. It’s relevant for a minority culture. I also think poetic has value in simply identifying the structure of the text. It points us beyond scientific/historical categories and agendas. It’s also incomplete.
    Humans as icons I can see for us looking back on the text, but world as temple is harder to nail down. Haven’t read the book, but I’m assuming language like “firmament” or “dome” is implying a physical structure, etc… So the sky is the ceiling. Even humans as eicons would be weakened by the whole “no graven image” thing. We see the connection now, but would it really have been the author’s purpose? Not sure it (humans as eicons) was part of the emerging Jewish landscape.
    I just think the Genesis writers would be more explicit.
    But in a general way, the worshipful nature of the literary context does lend itself to the creation as showcase of God’s glory. If that’s what he’s getting at, it seems true, but maybe not all that innovative. It’s kind of there in other theories already.
    It also depends heavily on when and where Genesis is written. But thanks for raising my interest again in this narrative!
    Bottom line: isn’t this about origins, still? It shows WHY universe was built and WHY humans exist. It deals in beginnings but more with purpose. Didn’t we already know creation’s purpose was to glorify God?
    I guess I’d really have to see a lot of specific temple references to change my view.

  • Chris Barrigar

    A crucial contribution to this discussion is Denis Lamoureux’s work on Genesis 1-3 in his major book ‘Evolutionary Creation’ (Wipf & Stock, 2009), or the simplified version in ‘I love Jesus and I accept evolution’ (also Wipf & Stock, 2009). They are a bit expensive, but well worth the purchase to see his exegesis of Genesis 1-3 as ‘mytho-poetic’ from his perspective as a Pentecostal scholar. These two books will go a long way to preserving the faith of many evangelicals who struggle deeply with the disconnection between their literal reading of Genesis 1-3 and the evolutionary processes they see with their own eyes in the science lab.

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

    I think reading the Bible as a story helps a lot hear. The Gen 1 story is part of the larger story of the election of Abraham and through him Israel. 1:14 says the heavenly bodies are for signs and festivals (moadim, used not of seasons and agriculture so much as temple festivals). The chapter ends with God ceasing and this is called on in Exodus as a basis for the Sabbath.
    Why are festivals and Sabbath in Gen 1? The answer, it seems to me, is that God had Israel and the final redemption of all things through Israel in mind during creation. This is profound. Creation already contained within it signs of redemption.
    The presence of festivals and Sabbath in Gen 1 should add to the evidence for the cosmos as temple idea Walton presents. Thoughts?

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

    LOL, I meant “helps a lot here.” Blushing.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    Derek, that’s interesting.
    Does it follow from your comment to say that religious festivals did not follow the schedule of stars and seasons just because they were convenient, but rather that the sun, moon, and stars were created at least in part for the express purpose of marking off those festivals? Would Gen 1 support that or would that be freighting a bit too much back into the text?

  • http://www.TomBalderston.com Tom Balderston

    Prof. Walton’s fine book is a refreshing effort to provide a foundationally objective viewpoint that places tolerance and neutrality on an equal plane. I have always been hard core in the Big Bang court and anti Macro evolution, but Walton softened this attitude. Howeeve, the reason for Creation remains for man to be in a relationship with God. He does not need our relationship. He set up this world to dwell in so that he could be near us and he could know us and we could know him, making it our prividge to know him. According to Walton – The cosmic temple is the means, not the end, for God did not need a temple either.

  • AHH

    I have leaned (without personal expertise) more toward the polemic view, but this doesn’t have to be an either/or. Prof. Walton does not totally dismiss the polemic aspect. One can have a “hard” polemic style that trashes the other side, or a “soft” polemic that more subtly undermines the competition as it uses familiar cultural imagery but changes some key elements.
    It seems like there is some of this “soft” polemic in Genesis 1, as it uses similar motifs to Enuma Elish et al. but tells the story in a very different way. Maybe “contrast” is a better word than “polemic” — like when Jesus reenacted the Passover meal but changed things so that he was the lamb, you might not call it polemic versus the Old Covenant but by telling the story in a new way he was establishing something different. I think any use of a familiar motif that tells a story in a way that makes points very different from the old story is in this “soft” sense a polemic against the old story. So even if polemic isn’t the main purpose of Genesis 1, by undermining the stories of ANE culture (warring gods, parts of nature as gods, only a select few imaging the gods) I think there is at least an undercurrent.

  • Bob Smallman

    “Walton says we have to interpret this text as it was written in its day and as it was understood in its day, and we are not asked to impose modern science on the text. Hence, the face-value of this text, in its ANE context, is the formation of the cosmic temple.”
    In my mind, this whole concept of re-thinking how the original readers/listeners would have understood the text is absolutely key. It lies behind the contributions of Walton, Sparks and Enns — though, of course, each approaches the task differently.
    The interpretive issue is remarkably similar when one approaches the book of Revelation. With either book (Genesis or Revelation) we tend to rush to the “how-does-this-apply-to-me” phase and bypass asking the more foundational question, “What did this mean for it’s original recipients?” Walton, it seems to me, forces us to see Genesis not as a 21st century book (though it has great application to us in teaching us about the God of Genesis 1) but as an authentic ANE document which needs to be read through ANE eyes.
    Seen in this light, Walton is the “conservative,” and young earthers are the “liberals” in their respective approaches to this ancient text.

  • Patrick

    Maybe as a complement to Walton, can I recommend Marva Dawn’s new book ‘In the Beginning, God: Creation, Culture and the Spiritual Life’. Lovely short reflection on Gen 1-3 calling Christians to move beyond sterile debates and read the text for worship and spiritual transformation. An uplifting read. One nice phrase – Gen 1-3 is about exultation not explanation.

  • Patrick

    Bob
    “With either book (Genesis or Revelation) we tend to rush to the “how-does-this-apply-to-me” phase and bypass asking the more foundational question, “What did this mean for it’s original recipients?”
    Interesting you say that. Dawn’s opening page says ‘The Bible is all about God … but if we consider the matter seriously we discover that we often read the Bible imagining it is about ourselves.’ Rather than asking “How does this text apply to me?” or “How does this text support my own ideas?” (that shifts the focus from God to us), she wonders how might we read Genesis 1-3 differently if we are asking such questions as ‘What is God doing in this text?’. This could be the difference, she argues, between self-improvement and adoration.

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

    MatthewS #8:
    I would say that God had Israel in mind when devising the system of luminaries (or Gen 1 os saying that). God could have devised any luminary system he wanted to. He made one that produces some odd results (29.5 day lunar cycle, 364.20 day solar cycle, neither divisible by a 7 day week, 7 day week is arbitrary with respect to the luminaries).
    The Jewish calendar alternates 29 and 30 days (ancient system was slightly different) to match the lunar cycle pretty closely and makes corrections on certain years to keep the festivals on the solar cycle (ancient system involved judges determining the changes, new system makes them regular on a leap year cycle).
    Through the festivals, God turned Israel into a sky-watching people.

  • http://www.freeoldtestamentaudio.com/Blog/New.php Jeremy

    I think the value of the polemic approach becomes clearer when one looks at some of the strange ways that things are said in Genesis 1 (following Gary Rendsburg – The Book of Genesis course from the Teaching Company). For instance, why does the author say “the greater light” and “the lesser light” instead of “sun” and “moon?” Likely, because he didn’t want to use shemesh and yareach, which were names of deities. I think that the author may be going out of his way to deny that the sun and the moon are deities. There are a number of other examples of this type of circumlocution in Genesis 1.

  • Mark Russell

    I’m confused as to what an Elkon of God is???
    Also, “face value exegesis” is over-rated in my humble opinion…

  • dopderbeck

    I still can’t quite articulate why, but much as I appreciate the distinction between material and function, I’m having trouble ascribing this difference in intent to the author of Gen. 1.
    Maybe it’s the “who is the author” and “who is the ‘original audience’” problem. Who “wrote” Gen. 1 and who was the “original audience”? Let’s say we accept the idea that Gen. 1 is attributable to the “Priestly” source (P) and was composed around 500 BCE, after the Babylonian Exile. Is the Priestly theology concerned with material or functional origins? Or is it really concerned, as the “polemical” view suggests, with the “orderliness” of creation as against the Mesopotamian / Babylonian theology of creation as divine conflict?

  • SAM TICKLE MD

    This is so important that all can understand. I feel the creationist are flying folks into a false wall. When they see and hit that wall they turn into atheist (because they are stuck on all the false teaching)

  • http://craigvick.wordpress.com craig v.

    No doubt because I’m not a scholar, I carry a little skepticism when it comes to “the original audience”. Do we even know that the author of Genesis had at his disposal the ANE texts that we have? Also, the spans of time are much larger than we seem to acknowledge in our theories. It would be like forming a description of western European culture based only on a few scattered texts (Descartes’ Meditations, Beowulf and To Kill a Mockingbird for example). Is this really feasible? I suspect this is part of the reason why the cosmic temple seems interesting but a little forced.

  • Rick

    Dopderbeck-
    “Is the Priestly theology concerned with material or functional origins? Or is it really concerned, as the “polemical” view suggests, with the “orderliness” of creation as against the Mesopotamian / Babylonian theology of creation as divine conflict?”
    Does it have to be an either/or, or can it be an both/and?

  • Scot McKnight

    Craig, I share that skeptical stance about what we really can know. On the other hand, what most ANE context study is doing is “general ballgame” stuff rather than specific group of people. Futhermore, there’s a profound difference between reading Genesis 1 in a modern (should we believe evolution?) context and an ancient near eastern context. Taking the other ANE accounts into consideration drives back into that world and removes us from our world, and all to the good if the goal is to understand a text in its context.

  • Norman Voss

    #8 “Does it follow from your comment to say that religious festivals did not follow the schedule of stars and seasons just because they were convenient, but rather that the sun, moon, and stars were created at least in part for the express purpose of marking off those festivals? Would Gen 1 support that or would that be freighting a bit too much back into the text?”
    The answer to your question is tied to the changing of Covenants. In the New Covenant established by Christ there is no Temple nor festivals or celebrations needed to be in alignment with God. Those are called the Elements or rudiments and are associated with Old Covenant Worship. With the New Covenant those items as described in Rev 21:23 are not in play and thus no need for the functionary purpose of the Sun and Moon. They are original functions that are being rolled up with the demise of the Old Covenant in the same manner as the Temple was about to be set aside. Paul in Gal 4:8-10 makes it clear that turning back to these passing beginning elements is turning back to bondage.
    Rev 21:23 And the city HAS NO NEED OF SUN OR MOON to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
    Gal 4:8-10 Howbeit at that time, not knowing God, YE WERE IN BONDAGE TO THEM that by nature are no gods: (9) but now that ye have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, HOW TURN YE BACK AGAIN TO THE WEAK AND BEGGARLY RUDIMENTS, whereunto ye desire to be in bondage over again? (10) Ye observe DAYS, AND MONTHS, AND SEASONS, AND YEARS.

  • RJS

    Mark (#16)
    Eikon of God is a human created in the image of God.

  • RJS

    I’ve never been a fan of the polemical view of Genesis 1. The concordist and literal views are not supported by the text or by our observations of the world.
    Although I do think that there are elements of the presentation in Gen 1 that intentionally avoid terms that might reflect foreign Gods. This is different than the claim of a polemical purpose.
    I find this as temple image hard to get my head around though. It seems like a stretch. But that could be a context issue (my context).


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