Genesis One 12

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. We have been waiting for this day, or at least some of our readers have been. What does Walton say about Young Earth Creationists (YEC), those who think the Bible teaches that the world is about 6-7 thousand years old and science is just plain wrong (and unbelieving)?

Proposition 12: Other theories of Genesis 1 either go too far or not far enough.

In brief, Walton discusses YEC, Old Earth Creationism, the Framework hypothesis and other theories.

As for YEC: “It goes too far in its understanding of what we need to do to defend the biblical text … in its belief that the Bible must be read scientifically … and in its attempts to provide an adequate alternative science” (109). Its assumption is that Genesis 1 is about material origins and they are unaware of alternative readings of Genesis 1. When some who grow up with YEC encounter science, they conclude they must reject the Bible.


Old Earth Creationism: Hugh Ross and associates. Days are long periods and he seeks a concordist approach. For Walton, the issue is if Genesis 1 is about material origins. Compatiblity of science and Genesis 1 does not mean Genesis 1 needs to be read scientifically. This approach proves our ingenuity rather than what the text says.

Framework hypothesis: Days 1-3 correlate with Days 4-6. The theology of Genesis 1 then is the focus. Walton thinks this approach does not go far enough, and such an approach was I (SMcK).

Walton then looks briefly at the “gap” theory and the “ruin-reconstruction” theory and once again finds the same problem: the desire to make science fit with the Bible. The problem is that it assumes material origins to have to resort to this interpretive scheme.

  • AHH

    It should be noted that, unlike the other views he mentions, Walton does not say the framework hypothesis is wrong. He just says it does not go far enough in that it misses some of the things he has found. So one can still hold to the Framework view (as many OT scholars do) and also see Walton’s main theses as complementing that view and filling in some additional meaning for the contents of the literary framework.

  • BenB

    I agree with AHH. I’m not sure how one can read Genesis 1, read OT scholars who propose the framework hypothesis, and then reject it. I feel like you can easily hold to everything Walton has already stated – including the 7-day temple inauguration theme – and feel that the author intentionally set up the pattern or structure of the 6 days so as to create a framework. It just seems to make sense when one approaches the text.
    But then again – I’m not OT Scholar.

  • Norman Voss

    I agree that the framework approach is not comprehensive enough. I’ve never been able to determine from M. Kline what the authors overall end purpose was of the literary organization. Still I have adapted it to a limited degree in regards to an organizational recognition of Genesis 1. I have a similar lack of satisfaction with Dr. Walton’s approach as well since there is a limited discussion of the application of the functionaries found within Genesis 1. Applying a functionary creation has limited use if we don’t determine what the functional application in scripture is concerned with. Since both approaches don’t seem to have an application of the eschatological end of scripture then it seems that needed conclusions are not drawn that could and should be determined. Let me provide an example.
    I presented in an earlier post that we see clearly the establishment of the Sun and Moon as functions for the Genesis Heavens and Earth but just as plainly we also see the de-creation of the same Sun and Moon functions in Rev 21:23. Those functionaries are no longer needed for the New Heavens and Earth that has been established through Christ.
    Rev 21:23-24 ESV 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. (24) By its light will the NATIONS WALK, and the KINGS OF THE EARTH will bring their glory into it,
    The New Heavens and Earth is the renewed Covenant Kingdom through Christ in which the spiritual city has been established coming down to reside with men. Rev 21 is not a picture of post mortem eternal life but simply an apocalyptic picture of the City that Hebrews 11-13 says would be for believers while on earth.
    Rev 21:2-3 ESV And I saw the HOLY CITY, new Jerusalem, COMING DOWN OUT OF HEAVEN from God, … “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. HE WILL DWELL WITH THEM, …
    Again the point being that the Genesis 1 functional creation of the SUN AND MOON only had a limited need which served the Old Covenant for marking festivals and seasons. The material Sun and Moon were not affected in this functionary creation and de-creation or assignment of them.
    Also it should be noted the renewal of the Old Heavens and Earth into a New Heavens and earth through Christ reveals that even the H & E of old was a provisional functional assignment. That is why 2 Pet 3 is not speaking of a literal burning up of a physical and material H & E but is a dissolving of the old functional H & E with one in which righteousness dwells.
    2Pe 3:11-13 ESV Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, (12) WAITING FOR AND HASTENING THE COMING OF THE DAY OF GOD, because of which THE HEAVENS WILL BE SET ON FIRE AND DISSOLVED, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! (13) But according to his promise WE ARE WAITING FOR NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH in which righteousness dwells.
    This waiting by the First Century Christians was realized with the desolation of the Temple and OC priesthood which placed Christ stamp of Prophetic end upon Old Covenant Judaism and the end of the Old Heavens and Earth.

  • Nathan

    Professor Walton,
    I just started reading the book so forgive me for tracing backwards. The nature of Genesis 1 is actually something I was recently discussing (and disagreeing with) my church’s associate pastor and this book so far has provided me quite a good foundation to share with him alternate readings of Genesis 1. I just wanted to share with you something I noticed that might interest you. In proposition 3 you propose “The beginning” refers not to a point in time but to the period of the 7 days of creation. I think this is a fair reading, and apparently so does the Jewish Publication Society, because they translated the opening of Genesis 1 exactly that way:
    “When God Began to Create* heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind* from God sweeping over the water—God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
    Of course, the footnotes point out others read “In the beginning God Created…” and “the spirit of God” and not a wind from God, but at least you can see a way of reading the text describing the time span and not the moment of creation.

  • Matt

    A big problem with suggesting that Jesus is the light of day 1 of creation (as I’ve heard the AiC crowd do) while at the same time claiming that Gen 1 is speaking of material origins is that Jesus is being created in Gen 1!

  • RJS

    Norman,
    I may miss your point – but I think that something is wrong here. We will always go wrong if we put too much emphasis on face value literality in either Genesis 1-11 or Revelation. Neither is or was intended to be “history” or prosaic revelation. Sun and moon serve a functional meaning in Gen 1 and in Rev. 21 not scientific meanings. To attach physical significance with any assurance will lead to error. Certainly Rev. teaches nothing significant about the physical nature of the new creation – the nature of illumination or of our bodies.
    I believe in resurrection, judgment, and new creation – but this is a fog not an image we can begin to understand at this time.

  • John H. Walton

    4 Nathan
    I was able to treat the complicated issue of the translation of Gen. 1:1 in more of the detail that it deserves in my Genesis Commentary (NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan, 2001) and I would direct you and other readers there for fuller discussion.
    Pertaining to some of the other comments, I would maintain that there is limited value in assigning labels such as “literal,” “symbolic,” “figurative,” “metaphorical,” “theological” etc. Language by its very nature is often a mix of all of these. Our belief in biblical authority requires us to read the Bible as its author intended it to be read. It the text is truly to have authority, the author/text have to control the authority. If the reader controls the authority, the text is left with only the reader’s authority. I assume that the author is a competent communicator and I try to make myself an informed and conscientious reader. Therefore, my reading of Genesis One represents my best attempt to understand what the author intended to communicate.
    For those acquainted with speech-act theory, this means that I need to focus my attention on the author’s illocution, not devise my own illocution. If God has an illocution distinct from the human author’s we need an authoritative voice to tell us that.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    Dr. Walton, I love comment 7. How would you respond if someone asked what the perlocution was?

  • dopderbeck

    John Walton (#7) said: Our belief in biblical authority requires us to read the Bible as its author intended it to be read. It the text is truly to have authority, the author/text have to control the authority. If the reader controls the authority, the text is left with only the reader’s authority.
    I respond: This is the heart of the matter concerning why “literal” vs. “framework” vs. “functional,” and so on, might matter.
    I am very uncomfortable with the unequivocal strength of this statement about what “our belief in biblical authority” requires. The Bible itself offers no such clear statement about what its own authority requires concerning hermeneutics — indeed the inner-Biblical hermeneutic seems to belie any reasonable construal of the original author’s intent, doesn’t it?
    The notion that there are only two options — the “author’s intent” controls or the “reader controls the authority” — seems like a major straw man to me. My Roman Catholic friends, for example, do not believe they individually “control authority,” but rather that scripture testifies to God’s delegation of some interpretive authority to an Apostolic Magesterium to which they individually must defer. My Pentecostal friends do not believe they individually “control authority,” but rather believe the Holy Spirit directly illuminates their understanding of the text, sometimes in surprising ways. Even most of my Reformed friends recognize that “reason, tradition and experience” are sources of “authority,” though subsidiary to the norma normans “scripture.”
    It also seems to me that the idea of univocal “authorial intent” is an impossible one that has been consigned to the dustbin of bad ideas from the Enlightenment. You don’t have to be a radical postmodernist to recognize some validity in the postmodern critique of “authorship.” This seems particularly poignant to me when dealing with texts that almost certainly were produced over hundreds or thousands of years with input from multiple “authors” and “editors.”
    Are we exchanging one misplaced battleground — historical / literal concordism — with another misplaced battleground — concordism of “intent” — when the reality might be that “our” flat hermeneutic of authority vis-a-vis the Spirit’s ongoing work of illumination is a more basic problem?

  • John H. Walton

    8 Matthew S
    The perlocution would presumably be that the reader acknowledge God as the Creator–the one who gave functions to the ordered cosmos and took up his habitation in the cosmic temple that resulted. The text expects us to recognize his rule and reign. He is responsible for the operations of the cosmos and the cosmos ought to be recognized for what it is–his cosmic temple. This will be fleshed out some in Propositions 14 and 17.

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

    #1 AHH and Ben B #2
    What I thought as I read the book was the Framework Hypothesis still presumes the topic is the material creation of the world. When read that way, I see it virtually as a creative way of recounting some historical events. Other then the fact God made all the stuff, so what?
    When we see the function aspect, the passage comes alive. It is not a history lesson but a dynamic pointer to the evidence of God in the things functioning about us. So in a sense, I think it does contradict the Framework Hypothesis.
    #3 Norm
    “Applying a functionary creation has limited use if we don’t determine what the functional application in scripture is concerned with.”
    The ultimate functionary in the story is humanity as God’s eikons and co-regents over the earth. That is humanity’s ontological function. Seeing Gen 1 through functionality, rather than materiality, brings this into sharp focus.
    The material angle tends to show the creation of humans as the apex of creation activity, with dominion presented almost as an afterthought. The centrality of dominion, and its redemption, is severely muted in much of the Christianity I encounter. I think this is a huge shift.

  • AHH

    A good aspect of this chapter IMO, and of the whole book for that matter, is the rejection, on Biblical grounds, of concordism in all its forms.
    When it is pointed out how awful “creation science” is, the charge can be made of letting secular science dictate how we read the Bible. That is why it is important to make the point that, without any consideration of science, Genesis 1 is simply not talking about these issues. Therefore, it is a wrong-headed approach to try to make Genesis “line up” with science, whether by the horrid pseudoscience of the “young-earth creationists” or by the somewhat better science and convoluted interpretations of old-earth apologists like Hugh Ross. Of course many have been saying this for years, but a respected OT professor at a conservative institution like Wheaton is more likely to be listened to by those who need to hear this.
    If the Evangelical church could just grasp the concept that proper contextual reading of Genesis means NOT trying to line it up with (or set it in opposition to) modern science, a lot of the church’s problems in this area would go away and a big stumbling block to the witness of the Gospel among the scientifically literate would be removed. But the forces of warfare (both cultural and science/faith) are strong, and I suspect it will take many more John Waltons saying things like this before the tide is turned.

  • Norman Voss

    RJS,
    I believe you have misunderstood the implications of what I’m presenting. What I’m saying is that the literal understanding of these functional assignments found in Genesis 1 is defined through scripture and not through a modern literal reading of either Genesis or Revelation. You may be familiar with Gary DeMar and Hank Hanegraaff’s understanding of Revelation from a Preterist hermeneutic approach. This would hardly be considered a literal reading of Revelation in the classical modern sense. Conversely I carry their NT hermeneutical examination back into the OT and especially Genesis to define the origins of the eschatological end. This is where Dr. Walton’s functional Creation blends very well and helps identify the created objects in Genesis 1.
    I would humbly have to disagree with you though on your statement where you conclude this is a fog at this time. I believe the fog is due to historical material application of these functions and has sidetracked most devout seekers since the earliest of the Christian era.
    RJS said … I believe in resurrection, judgment, and new creation – but this is a fog not an image we can begin to understand at this time”
    Resurrection, judgment and new creation may be much more understandable than you are presently determining. Just as Dr. Walton’s book presents challenges to those exploring Genesis so too does a Preterist approach to understanding Revelation and Genesis.
    If you noticed that I did not assign material properties to the Sun and Moon as neither does Rev 21:23. This was a classical application of a functionary purpose to those entities and that is the point I was making. You can carry this insight though into many other functional assignments of Genesis 1 including the H & E themselves. There has been much written on this already by authors like James Jordan, Demar and countless others. The problem is that many have not been exposed to this hermeneutic as it is not prevalent in American Evangelical communities and many such as the above mentioned authors fail to make the proper connection with Genesis.
    Let me suggest a book in which I was somewhat involved with the authors during their writing which you would probably find quite interesting in lieu of Dr. Walton’s thesis concerning Genesis 1.
    Here is the link.
    http://www.beyondcreationscience.com/
    Please recognize that I submit these thoughts to you humbly as it has taken me years to grasp the implications of reading the scriptures in their intended purpose and I’m still digging away and simply share these thoughts so that others might check them out themselves.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    Re #10,
    Straightforward enough.
    There was some discussion the other day about the polemic view. The intended effect/affect named in comment 10, the perlocution, seems to me to imply the “soft polemic” aspect of the story somewhat in that this is YHWH’s temple, nobody else’s.
    I like all this and think there must be something to it. Something that bugs me is that IIRC other ANE temples self-consciously modeled the cosmos, making a clear link between temple and cosmos for their god. I may have gotten that out of another Walton book but would have to verify that. God’s temple creates a division of holy and unholy and it creates a space of fellowship and redemption. Perhaps it did not more clearly refer to the elements in order to avoid making gods out of nature.
    Some questions that come to mind: Is it a problem for the cosmos-as-temple view that there is not a temple-as-cosmos analog? OTOH, are there writings from rabbinical or similar sources that do make a cosmos-as-temple link to establish that this was an ancient Jewish mindset?

  • dopderbeck

    AHH (#12) — here is my concern: what if it turns out that Dr. Walton’s thesis is not entirely correct? What if the author(s) / editors of Gen. 1 (and 2-4) really did intend to communicate something about “material” origins, even if they also or even primarily intended to communicate something about “functional” origins? And what if the original hearers really would have heard something about “material” origins? We cannot, after all, be certain that the functional / material distinction adequately reflects “original intent,” particularly as the weight of ancient Jewish and Christian commentary we have on this text, as well as the weight of contemporary academic literature, sees no such distinction.
    If Dr. Walton is even partly wrong, and “authorial intent” is the sum and measure of Biblical authority, aren’t faithful Christians then obligated to adopt ANE “science”? In other words, why isn’t this just another strained effort to “save” the Bible from modern knowledge? Why is it preferable and more truthful than the accommodationist approaches of Kent Sparks, Pete Enns, John Goldingay, et al.?
    I should say that I genuinely appreciate Dr. Walton and his work. But concordist approaches burned me in the past. I’m reluctant to commit to what seems like a different kind of concordism. And honestly — I sense, and do not appreciate, a subtext that scholars such as Sparks, Enns and Goldingay who propose hermeneutical models that aren’t so closely wedded to authorial intent are denying Biblical authority. But perhaps I have misunderstood.

  • Norman Voss

    Michael K.
    You said … “The ultimate functionary in the story is humanity as God’s eikons and co-regents over the earth. That is humanity’s ontological function. Seeing Gen 1 through functionality, rather than materiality, brings this into sharp focus.”
    I agree strongly with what you have stated above. In fact Adam functionally was God’s original Priest in which his weakness prevented his accomplishing the task at hand. It took Christ the second Adam to bring mankind into full co-regents by imparting God’s Spiritual Image upon those desiring Covenant with God. Adam was the first Covenant Man and this is not implied to those men whom do not seek it with God. A study of “aw-dawm” in the OT reveals that it is God’s Covenant people who are in question and not mankind at large. And interesting prophecy is found in Dan 7:27.
    Dan 7:27 And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the PEOPLE OF THE SAINTS of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.’
    According to Paul the members of the Body of Christ share in his dominion rule which more properly infers service to the world and not domination.
    1Co 12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. … 27 Now YOU ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST and individually members of it.

  • dopderbeck

    Sorry to multi-post, but I find this topic really interesting, and find Dr. Walton’s work helpful-yet-troubling, and I hope I can better explain why. I hope it does not communicate any disrespect, and I very much appreciate Dr. Walton’s willingness to continue dialoguing here. So here goes:
    What I mean is this: it’s obvious that “scientific” concordism fails. Because of Dr. Walton’s presuppositions, however, it seems to me that he needs to show that the “author” really didn’t “intend” to say anything about material origins. In this way, the author’s intent is in agreement (concord) with the facts of natural history, and Dr. Walton’s presuppositions about verbal plenary inspiration and inerrancy are preserved. But this now requires that Dr. Walton’s unique understanding of the author’s “intent” be correct — or else the authority of scripture is compromised. It seems to me this is just another kind of concordism.
    The problem is that I don’t think any OT scholars outside a few conservative evangelicals think the author(s) / redactors of Gen. 1 had no notion at all of material origins with respect to this text. Even in ANE context, the Mesopotamians really believedreally believed antedeluvian human beings could live to be hundreds and thousands of years old; they really believed there was a universally catastrophic flood; and so on.
    Dr. Walton’s approach leaves no room for the possibility that the “authors” of Gen. 1 or any other Biblical text could have been “wrong” about anything. If they seem to be “wrong” about something, we must not understand what they “intended” and have to try to harmonize their inent with what we observe — even if we don’t want to admit that’s what we’re really doing! There is no possibility that God could have accommodated his revelation to human error. Any contrary view represents a denial of “Biblical authority.” Same old same old — isn’t it?
    Or, as is my wont, am I over-reacting against some parts of my conservative evangelical heritage? After all, I do want to submit to the proper authority of the Bible, not deny it. Yet if I have to take Dr. Walton’s definition of what that means, I guess I’d have to become a young earth creationist, because at the end of the day making everything hang on an actual, univocal authorial intent to communicate only “functional” origins seems like a bunch of mental gymnastics to me.

  • #John1453

    Re post 14 and the temple modelling creation
    I had always thought that the temple modelled creation. For example, here is an excerpt from Dominic Rudman, Biblica 84 (2003) 102-107, “The Crucifixion as Chaoskampf: A New Reading of the Passion Narrative in the Synoptic Gospels”:
    “Carrington’s unusual argument deserves closer scrutiny. According to the Antiquities of Josephus, himself a priest (Life 1), the tabernacle was effectively understood to be microcosm of the creation. Divided into three, the outer parts represented the sea and the land, while “the third part thereof … to which the priests were not admitted is, as it were, a heaven peculiar to God” (Ant. 3.181). This suggests that the temple curtain formed the boundary between earth and heaven: its destruction could be taken to signify the irruption of the heavenly world onto the earth (i.e. the arrival of the kingdom of heaven as Carrington suggests). However, it could equally be taken to
    _____________________
    107
    signify the disruption of creation. As noted earlier, the establishing and maintenance of boundaries (e.g. against the sea, or death) is crucial to the process of creation and its preservation in the OT. The dissolution of such boundaries could therefore be seen as signifying a victory by the forces of chaos. It is surely significant that this action happens at the precise moment of Jesus’ death, when chaos has triumphed and all is despair. At this moment, Jesus’ victory remains three days in the future.
    The second possibility stems from the colours of the temple curtain noted above. Both Josephus and Philo suggest that the four colours incorporated into it (blue, purple, crimson and white [2 Chr 3,14]) symbolise the four elements from which the cosmos was created — indeed, according to Josephus, a panorama of the cosmos was embroidered into the curtain (BJ 5.212-13). Thus, the temple curtain represented not only the boundary between earth and heaven, but the cosmos itself. On this basis — and this seems to me the most likely interpretation of the event — one could argue that the tearing of the temple curtain at the moment of Jesus’ death signifies the rending of creation.”

  • John H. Walton

    Obviously these issues could be discussed in great depth–far more is necessary than this blog context allows. But let me say just a word about my view of hermeneutics, which is indeed linked to an understanding of authority and and dependence on the author’s intention. I realize that both of those issues beg for definition and important caveats, and I consistently make them when I have opportunity to do so. What I feel that I need to say however, is that hermeneutics operates in many ways like a science. Particularly, like a science our hermeneutics demand that our interpretation be based on evidence. All interpretations are provisional and in need of external verification. If my interpretation is wrong, the evidence will be found lacking. My interpretation can be judged right insofar as it is judged to offer a suitable analysis of the data. I present my interpretation and my evidence it is out there for external verification to proceed. If I do not have the evidence and cannot make the case that this is the author’s intention, it ought to be rejected and inevitably will be. Interpretations don’t have authority. Likewise, my findings, like all scientific proposals, are subject to peer review. Maybe no one thinks this way now, but others will investigate and see if the results can be reproduced. This is how hermeneutics is supposed to work.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    Thank you Dr. Walton. That was very helpful.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    I agree – the emphasis on inerrant human authorial intent is troubling. I don’t think that it is reasonable to think that this is the way inspiration works across the board. It is akin to saying that Jesus (1) knew everything and (2) could be wrong about nothing on any level in the incarnation. Quite frankly this means that he was not fully human – because error is not sin.
    The idea that authorial intent must concord with reality on all levels is flawed. I like many of Walton’s points – I think that he is on to something useful. But I don’t think it matters a hill of beans if the author thought that he was conveying these (or other theological points) in real material terms or not.

  • dopderbeck

    I should explain a little more some of my presuppositions and where — I think — I differ from Dr. Walton. Understanding the limitations of blog discourse, I’d be interested to see how far apart Dr. Walton and I really are.
    First, I affirm with the Protestant scripture principle — that is, that the scriptures are our infallible, final authority for faith and practice. I also agree with the notion of verbal plenary inspiration, if by that is meant simply that all the words of scripture are theopneustos.
    I don’t think I agree, however, that hermeneutics is fairly characterized as a “science.” I’d say in many ways it’s more “art” than “science.” (See, e.g., Ellen Davis and Richard Hays, “The Art of Reading Scripture”). But I do agree that the scriptures convey objective meaning, in that they convey truth God reveals about Himself that transcends times, places and cultures. So, I agree that there is an important element of “evidence” involved in trying to understand what the text might have meant (exegesis) and what it means for us today (hermeneutics).
    I don’t agree, then, that it matters a “hill of beans” what the original writers / redactors thought (contra RJS #21). However, I disagree with any hermeneutic that says what the “original author” thought is precisely what the text must mean authoritatively for us today. This is because of all the difficulties with the notion of “authorship” that we’ve already discussed, the fact that there is at least some degree of “accommodation” to human limitations in God’s inspiration of the text for which we must account, and the Bible’s own witness to itself.
    This last point — the Bible’s own witness to itself — seems to me a very key thing that is ignored if we simply equate “original authorial intent” with “authoritative meaning for today” without making some significant further comment about how those “two horizons” of original and contemporary context come together.
    The Bible obviously shows inner-Biblical development in meaning. Meanings that could never have occurred to the “original writer” often are found by later scripture writers. It seems that the Spirit’s breathing out of the scriptures through the OT prophets often involved a kind of latency or pregnancy of meaning that the prophets themselves did not fully appreciate.
    This points up, for me, the importance of a canonical aspect to hermeneutics. The final form of the entire canon must factor in to how we understand the contemporary significance of a given scriptural text. In this very important sense, a text that might have meant one thing to the ancient Hebrews very well could mean something very different to us as Christians in light of the New Testament and the death and resurrection of Christ. An excellent (IMHO) treatment of this from an evangelical perspective is Iain Provan, “How Can I Understand Unless Someone Explains it to Me? (Acts 8:30-31): Evangelicals and Biblical Hermeneutics,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 17.1 (2007) 1-36. Provan’s article, I think, provides some excellent hermeneutical resources for evangelical approaches to critical scholarship.
    Finally, when we speak of hermeneutics and “evidence,” I think we need to clarify the role of “evidence” from “general revelation,” as well as the function of subsidiary sources of authority, including reason, experience, and tradition. Here I think there are points at which we have to include the notion of accommodation in our hermeneutical spiral.
    What if the ANE writers / editors of the Bible really believed some things about the material creation that our contemporary science has long since shown to be false, and those beliefs are reflected in scripture? Shouldn’t this extra-Biblical “evidence” be used to test our hermeneutical theories about what the Bible is authoritatively teaching? Didn’t Augustine and Calvin warn us not to interpret the scriptures to say things that obviously are absurd — giving warrant in the Tradition for this approach?
    I suppose I don’t see why it’s a problem for “Biblical authority” if we admit that the “original authors” were human beings who wrote from the cultural / “scientific” frameworks of their times — and admitting that those frameworks, by contemporary standards, often were “wrong,” not just “different.” I don’t think this makes hermeneutics an entirely subjective discipline, because objective “evidence” is available to help us distinguish fallible-situated human frameworks from infallible-transcendent divine meaning. After all, isn’t this what “genre criticism” is all about even from a somewhat more “conservative” perspective?
    So, yes, the ANE writers / editors of Gen. 1 had “functional” perspectives that don’t immediately occur to us moderns — extremely helpful to understand!. But we don’t need to rest the Bible’s authority on this observation. Otherwise, we risk compromising the Bible’s authority if it turns out that the ANE writers also assumed a “material” ontological background that was incorrect. I think we need a hermeneutic that is big enough to take all of the phenomenological data into account.
    Curious for your feedback, John, and others.

  • John H. Walton

    I don’t think we are very far apart, but it would take me a whole book or a whole course to deal with it. As you mentioned–the limitations of the blogosphere.

  • BenB

    Dopderbeck,
    There are a few areas (If I understand you well) that I disagree with you, but those are quite inconsequential! Overall I really agree. One thing for me is that while I do think that Dr. Walton’s work is immensely helpful and I definitely think he’s on to something, I would not be able to say that I think the author’s intent is “only functional.” It just seems there’s a cosmological view of weather, atmosphere, and location of celestial bodies present in the text. For me, with the evidence at hand, as it has been presented to me, makes it hard to say that the writer of Genesis didn’t intend to communicate this cosmology. That being said, it’s clearly “wrong” by modern standards.
    Also, even if Dr. Walton’s thesis is 100% correct, and this text passes the test of “authorial intent” being “inerrant,” as nice as that is, that doesn’t solve the numerous other passages in the Bible about which this statement could never be said truthfully.
    I greatly appreciate Dr. Walton’s insights to this passage. I appreciate his loyalty to Scripture and I especially like that he comes to the evangelical body from a very conservative school and with a more conservative commitment – giving conservatives a better way of reading the text. I think this is a marvelous contribution to the Body of Christ. However, at the end of the day, even if it solves Genesis 1 to where the original author’s intent doesn’t clash with modern science or historical fact (or another intra-Biblical witness), it still avoids the elephant in the room which is the many other passages in the Bible which can’t pass this test.
    Maybe that’s where I can find a helpful mixture of using both Walton’s book here and still the other books like Enns and Sparks.
    Likewise, Dr. Walton, I agree with your referring to it as “science” and dopderbeck I understand why you’d call it an “art.”
    Oddly enough, in my undergrad program my intro class was called “Biblical Hermeneutics: The Art and Science of Biblical Exegesis.”
    I think it’s a healthy dose of art and science which is constantly regulated in the field through the scientific process of explanation, testing, changing, and verification that Dr. Walton spoke of.

  • dopderbeck

    Ben (#24) – I’m comfortable with saying hermeneutics is both “art” and “science.”
    I have been reflecting on this very interesting exchange over the past few days. Something about it has been nagging at me. I think it’s the notion, which perhaps I’m reading into the discussion, that a faith commitment to “the Bible’s authority” necessitates one, and only one, understanding of what inspiration implies with respect to human authorial intent. It seems to me that folks such as Paul Archtemeir and Donald Bloesch and John Goldingay have offered some helpful “evangelical” options that incorporate both the organic (authorial intent) and dynamic (ongoing work of the Holsy Spirit) aspects of revelation without devolving the concept of revelation into mere subjectivism.
    I suppose I appreciate this sort of selective appropration of Barth for evangelical theology. But even if this approach is wrong and a more organic / concursus view of inspiration is correct, I wish we could have that discussion without even a hint of a notion that either “side” is somehow guilty of unbelief or unwillingness to submit to what God is teaching us in scripture. Of course, this side of the eschaton, we all are still being sanctified of our unbelief and rebelliousness, but as far as I can tell there are a range of ways in which one could understand the nature and hermeneutical significance of authorial intent within the trajectory of seeking to be faithful to God and His Word.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    My “hill of beans” comment is of course in align with your later point.
    The author of Genesis One could have had a functional focus in the composition of the text. The author could also have thought that ANE cosmology was the literal truth – and could have intentionally incorporated this viewpoint into the text we have, expecting his readers to take it as the absolute truth. I don’t think that the fact that the authors were as you say “human beings who wrote from the cultural / “scientific” frameworks of their times” undermines the authority of scripture.
    There is nothing in the entire scope of scripture that leads me to believe that God transcends the cultural framework of his people – a cultural framework which he presumably allowed or ordained – except in issues of self-revelation. God stretches the thinking of his people as he acts in the world and builds a relationship with his people.
    I think that this same is true when we move beyond Genesis 1 into the stickier issues of Gen 2-3.

  • RJS

    BenB, (and dopderbeck and others)
    Excellent point – this book and perspective gives very interesting insight into Genesis 1. It can be used as a reasonable counter to the YEC approach to the text. There is no real reason to require a view that the text is attempting to teach a specific cosmology – and good reason to think that the lesson is something quite different.
    But Genesis 1 is only the tip of the iceberg. Genesis 2-3 are much more troubling, especially Adam, Eve, and the Fall. This text is no more scientifically plausible than a literal 6-day creation. Humans did not descend in linear form from a unique pair ca. 6 thousand, or even 100 thousand years ago. The text is not even internally consistent with a “literal face value” reading. I don’t think that this is a theological problem – because we are all one people – but it is a problem for our understanding of inspiration and scripture.
    As a result the question I have been thinking about while reading Walton’s book is somewhat broader in scope. Does the functional approach to reading Genesis 1 have an implication in guiding an approach to all of scripture? What about Gen 2-11, parts of the rest of Genesis, Job, Jonah, and on? By this I don’t mean that the same functional framework is manifest broadly – but that an understanding of the cultural background of texts may help us break free from our cultural inclination to equate truth telling with fact alone.
    But this gets back to my earlier comments – because we come face to face with an understanding of inspiration and what I find to be the real problem with a reliance on author’s intent. Does it matter if Paul thought that Adam and Eve were unique individuals living some 4000 years earlier give or take?
    So dopderbeck said that he didn’t see why it was a problem for “Biblical authority” if we admit that the “original authors” were human beings who wrote from the cultural / “scientific” frameworks of their times — and admitting that those frameworks, by contemporary standards, often were “wrong,” not just “different.”
    I agree – and think that we have to extend this to a reading of Paul and the NT as well. I do not think that Paul was wrong when relating what he knew from eyewitness and experience of the Spirit. I don’t think that he was wrong when contemplating the theological implications of what God’s work in the first century meant. (I also think that the gospels are reliable as they relate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Acts is reliable as it relates the spread of the church in the first century.) But I do think that Paul was a man of the first century and God did not remove him from that culture. The culture influences some of the language and images that he uses to express theological ideas.

  • BenB

    RJS -
    I agree 100%. One that that has been very helpful in conversation with other licensed and ordained ministers, theologically thoughtful laypersons, and learned scholars in my denomination is the use of “the Word of God” to refer to Jesus Christ and not to the Bible at all. In fact, that’s what Jesus is.
    This lets us escape “Word of God” language and all the baggage and expectations such a term carries, when speaking about the Scriptures. Which serve only one purpose: To reveal God to us. And God is revealed through his dealings with His people Israel. He is revealed in the way that they speak about Him. And we learn who we are in relationship to that God by their experience and understanding of how they in fact related to that God – and how they eventually came to terms with how others related to that God.
    This allows stories, myths and metaphors to speak powerfully to us today, speak truthfully about our God, and speak truthfully about what He’s done for us throughout His history with His people, and ultimately in Jesus of Nazareth.
    I have found that such a view carries little baggage and allows for Paul and other writers to not get the facts straight, or other things such as that. Because I recognize that Paul wouldn’t care if Adam didn’t exist, his point is what he was saying about Jesus. If he found out Adam didn’t exist – it wouldn’t change the truth – he’d just find a new way to say it to us!

  • dopderbeck

    BenB (#28) — some good points, but I don’t think we should cease speaking of the scriptures as the “Word of God.” Barth spoke of the “threefold Word of God,” for example — Christ, scripture, and preaching.


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