Walton’s book

I decided to post my essay both for whomever and so I can direct fellow students if they’re interested. (also publishing is a good guard against being plagiarized)

The Lost World of Genesis 1

John H. Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis One provides many new and thought provoking ideas to the modern interpretation of the account of creation. Well written and researched Walton’s theories bear further scrutiny, however the extent that Walton takes His arguments causes, perhaps unneeded, controversy and confusion. That Walton, at times, also makes statements that seem to conflict with the ardency of His assertions only heightens the need for careful examination.

The main point Walton presents is that the creation account of Genesis 1 is mainly functional in the ontological meaning of “create” for those the book was first written to. Namely, that when Genesis states that God “created” (Hebrew word bārā in the text), the original readers would have interpreted that to mean that God caused to have purpose and meaning out of that which was previously chaos. To back up this theory Walton points to other ancient creation accounts that depict the “gods” as reordering the cosmos in creation not creating ex nihilo (out of nothing). From this insight Walton returns to the Biblical text and notes the similarities between these ancient accounts and the Biblical record. That for most of the six days of creation God was ordering and naming. Walton’s primary intent seems to be to both present the creation account as compatible with modern science and challenge “concordists” who treat the creation account as a science textbook.

Out of this perspective Walton presents the creation account as also being a “tabernacle” story where God orders the universe into the first tabernacle. Walton then applies this method of looking at Genesis towards the issues of evolution, Intelligent Design, and scientific education in public schools.

The Lost World of Genesis One does present an intriguing way to think about the creation account. Also, given the Pentateuch’s repetition of tabernacle imagery with the campsite of Israel, and the tabernacle itself, there may be something to the order of creation being indicative of the tabernacle. As well, Walton in the last chapters interacts well with the issue of Evolution and how believers in Christ can dialogue and think about that subject. However, it is the extent to which Walton takes his ontological premise that raises questions. Many of Walton’s assertions do not leave room for any interpretation of a material act in concert with the functional acts of creation. At times it seems that where Walton would do better to say that the creative acts of Genesis 1 were mainly functional, what comes across is that these acts were merely functional. This continual insistence that the original readers would have seen only a functional message in creation is confusing given the fact that Walton himself asserts that, “Would they have believed that their gods also manufactured the material? Absolutely, for nothing can be thought of to stand apart from the gods.” Even in His word survey of the Hebrew word bārā Walton admits that sometimes this word is used for material creation.

This brings up a crucial criticism of Walton’s presupposition, namely that He does not address the concept of communicable language in His application of ancient creation accounts to the Biblical text. The revelation that ancient accounts communicate creative acts as reordering material makes perfect sense when put in the context of humans attempting to conceptualize through their own language, and through the way they experience “creation”. No human can create ex nihilo, but always takes raw materials and orders it to a “use”. The question is, did the original readers recognize these creation accounts as being directly correlative to their own expressions of creative endeavor or as pointing to a greater concept toward which they could not directly relate? Given Walton’s statement that a material aspect of creation would have been presumed by the original readers the latter option seems more likely. This concept should have at least been addressed in Walton’s argument, but it appears that Walton simply took the ancient’s use of language at face value. This “face value” approach towards matter and function both denigrates the intelligence of the original recipients and, at times, places Walton on slippery exegetical footing. Most notable is chapter five where Walton interprets Genesis 1:1-5 backwards from verse five. Walton even goes so far as to suggest that when God said “Let there be light” God didn’t materially create light, He simply ordered it to serve His purpose. That there are questions raised in this interpretation regarding the flow of the passage, not to mention verse one seeming to indicate that light did not exist until God called it into being, are obvious.

Even more disconcerting in Walton’s adamancy of a “functional” creation account in Genesis is that ultimately a question arises, by what authority did God create? Is God the God of the universe simply because He has the power to reorder existing matter or that He created that matter? While Walton does say that He believes God did ultimately materially create everything, many of His arguments do not carry the weight of that conviction. More confusing as well, is Walton’s recognition that the New Testament indicates an acknowledgement of a material aspect of creation. Walton even quotes Paul as Paul references creation and Jesus’ role in it in Col. 1: 16-17, “For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers of rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” That Paul would connect Jesus to creation in a material manner is insightful and brings another question to Walton’s line of reasoning. Paul was a Pharisee trained by some of the foremost scholars of His day. If, as Walton asserts, the correct interpretation of Genesis ignores a material aspect, why would Paul speak of Christ’s role in creation as being materially effectual?

Another glaring omission in Walton’s arguments is His disregard for the material intent of the creator in the process of creation. Walton intimates that “creation” does not ultimately occur until functionality is realized. To borrow an analogy of his, a chair doesn’t become a chair until it is used as a chair. Only in functioning as a chair is a chair a chair according to Walton’s reasoning. Again Walton’s narrow ontological reasoning asserts itself in ignoring a creative, material, purposive intent on the part of the creator.

A vital part of the creative process is creative intent. To again use the “chair” analogy, a carpenter builds a chair with the intent that it be used as a chair. If then the chair is used as a footstool or desk, it does not immediately become a footstool or desk because that is not its intended use. In so ardently arguing for a merely functional interpretation Walton interposes a punctiliar paradigm on an organic, materialistic process. At what point does “creation” happen? Does it occur at conception in the mind of the creator? Does creation happen in material construction or does creation finally occur when what is created is utilized functionally? From a common sense perspective the answer is yes to all these questions. Even more pertinent to Walton’s argument, would those who originally read Genesis have been concerned with “when” creation happened either functionally or materially? Walton in one sense gets it right in saying that the question to an Eastern mind is inconsequential. More important in the Eastern perspective is the purposive intent and the effectual result. Is it not far more likely that the original readers of Genesis would have viewed the account in a non-punctiliar, organic, materially purposive and functional manner, rather than a merely functional one?

Given these sizeable concerns however, Walton does effectively engage the evolution/creation debate in the final four chapters. He calls Christians to both a God glorifying perspective in seeing God involved in all natural processes, and seeing these processes as being a part of His purpose. Walton also clearly defines the role of science as being in the physical realm and delineates where the proponents of “science” stray into the metaphysical

Walton also prescribes a perfectly plausible educational model while imploring both sides of the controversy to refrain from attempting to legislate their beliefs. On the whole, The Lost World of Genesis One is not a book to be taken lightly. John H. Walton does bring up valid exegetical questions and calls into question those who would read the Genesis account in a way it was not meant to be read. However, as emphatically as He makes His argument Walton does not succeed in creating a compelling argument for His interpretation of Genesis one. What Walton has done is bring up an avenue of exegetical study that bears further investigation and perhaps Walton more than anyone should further investigate.


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