A Game-Changer in the Genesis 1-2 Debates

A Game-Changer in the Genesis 1-2 Debates September 3, 2013

John Walton’s several publications on Genesis 1-2 are the biggest game-changer in the whole discussion. What Walton does is simply claim, on the basis of Ancient Near Eastern parallels, that these texts are not about God creating materials out of nothing but instead about God assigning functions to the elements of the universe. We can be grateful for his summary “Reading Genesis 1-2 as Ancient Cosmology,” in J. Daryl Charles, Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation. Here are John Walton’s major points:

1. To read an ancient text ethically, it must be read for its intention (illocution). The genre of Genesis 1-2 is “ancient cosmology.” So those who call it “theological history” or “narrative” or “history” are not giving the text the full genre classification it deserves. Ancient cosmologies can be histories and they can not be histories. It all depends on the text itself.

2. To read Genesis 1-2 well one must read it in the context of the ANE. Some dispute this — what they are often doing is say “I don’t know those texts” or “That’s scholarly elitism” or “That means the ground is crumbling under me” — but the point is inescapable. God speaks in those days in those days ways — God doesn’t speak to ancients in ways that reflect our concerns (this is narcissistic reading).

3. The intent of Genesis 1 is functional ontology and not material ontology. That is, what happens in this text is God assigns and names functions to pre-existing materials so that all of creation is ordered as God wants it. Walton here also says Genesis 2 is functional ontology (woman, for instance, is an equivalent, etc).  Walton here provides translations of important ANE texts to show how others in that world thought. A must-read.

4. The overall impact of Genesis 1 is that God makes the created world into a cosmic temple and God then rests in that temple because it is now ready to do what God designed it to do.

5. The church began to misread these texts through the impact of Hellenism and Greek materialistic thinking.

6. The Adam and Eve of Genesis 1-2 are archetypal. This says nothing about historicity. What Paul does with Adam and Eve is much like what Hebrews does with Melchizedek: both history and development.

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