John Walton on Genesis 1

I am reading John Walton's little book, The Lost World of Genesis One (IVP). It really is very good. Well worth checking out. Walton is a scholar of the ancient Near East and this is his own, creative, take on how Genesis 1 would have been interpreted by its ancient Israelite audience.

Walton seeks to recover the ancient cosmology behind Genesis 1. Modern readers almost inevitably try to read Gen 1 in the light of modern cosmologies and, as a result, end up misunderstanding the text.

His big idea is that creation is understood in functional terms (so Gen 1 is not, for instance, about creating something from nothing, but about giving functions to things. It is a more radical idea than it sounds from my brief comment here).

I have not yet got the parts where he discusses how we handle Gen 1 in debates on evolution but you can bet your butt that Walton sees evolution as "not incompatible with" anything in Gen 1.

One of the more sensible discussions on the text that genuinely sheds new light.


Terry Wright said…
This has been in my to-read list for well over a year now...
Anonymous said…

If you are able to give his take on the evolution part, when you get to it, I'd (we'd all) be very grateful.
I read that. I think Walton makes a very persuasive case for his functional view of Genesis 1.

I think the section of the book that deals with the relationship between theology and science is not so strong; I think he has moved away from his area of expertise, though I don't think he is necessarilly wrong to see evolution as incompatible with the Genesis 1.
Robin Parry said…
OK — I have finished the book. It is very good.

On evolution Walton does not pin his theology to any scientific theory but he sees no conflict between evolution and Genesis 1 (Matt, you are simply incorrect to say that he sees them as incompatible).

My view is that he is correct to resist creationism (but then he was preaching to the converted there — I have denied creationism since I became a Christian in 1984 so I was not hard to win over).

He makes a good case for his functional view. I am certainly open to it but not fully persuaded. I'd need to ponder a while more. I don't come to decisions on new ideas very fast.
Edwardtbabinski said…
Walton showed his approval of Paul Seely's articles in his NIV Applied Commentary on Genesis (2000). But Walton also teaches at a college founded by old-earth creationists. So he can't actually endorse evolution as the most reasonable explanation, but I'm happy just to see him finding ways to possibly accommodate evolution.

Still, his views leave many questions unanswered.

The flat earth cosmos is but one of many ancient Near Eastern ideas found in the Bible and its view of "god." Please see my article, "The Cosmology of the Bible" in the book, The Christian Delusion.

Also see these articles:

The Rise of Monotheism and Israel's Theological Worldview [Key Articles That Sum Up What Scholars Are Discussing]

Lastly, a few questions.

1) If the ancients assumed a flat earth, one must consider what other assumptions the ancients held throughout the ancient Near East including Israel, that may have been faulty. Divine kingships and divinely led nations? Animal sacrifice? Circumcision? Having their temples face east, with different degrees of holiness inside different areas of the temple? (common enough) The whole idea of an anthropomorphic god with jealousy, anger, seeking to fill his nostrils with the "soothing aroma" of burnt animals?

2) Also, can we assume that in this cosmos of hundreds of billions of stars the earth is the only one with intelligent life on it? We don't know. The cosmos is vast indeed.

According to the book of Revelation a “new earth” and a “new heaven” will be created after Jesus returns. Occupants of other planets throughout the hundred billion galaxies of our present “heaven” will no doubt be surprised to receive such an unearned favor, all because of what happens on our little world. Or is this simply another example of how the Hebrews viewed the earth as the flat firm foundation of creation with the heavens above created simply for the earth below?


Though it is not a direct article of the Christian faith that the planet we inhabit is the only inhabited one in the cosmos, yet it is so worked up from what is called the Mosaic account of creation, the story of Eve and the forbidden fruit, and the counterpart of that story, the death of the Son of God--that to believe otherwise renders the Christian system of faith at once little and ridiculous, and scatters it in the mind like feathers in the air.

Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

So long as people believed, as St. Paul himself did, in one week of creation and a past of 4,000 years--so long as people thought the stars were satellites of the earth and that animals were there to serve man--there was no difficulty in believing that a single man could have ruined everything, and that another man had saved everything.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “Fall, Redemption, and Geocentrism,”Christianity and Evolution

Did Jesus die uniquely to save the sins of human beings on planet Earth, or is he being strung up somewhere in the universe on every Friday?

Michael Ruse, “Booknotes,” Biology & Philosophy, Vol. 14, No. 1, Jan. 1999

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