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5.0 out of 5 stars
THE BEST INTERPRETATION OF GENESIS 1 CURRENTLY AVAILABLE, 5 Oct 2009
Here is a book that I hope will be put into the hands of every Christian who is interested in science.
Dr John Walton is a very careful and established Old Testament scholar who teaches at Wheaton College. He has done a lot of work in Ancient Near Eastern studies and is also the author of the NIV Genesis commentary. The most crucial insight of his view is that the seven days of Genesis 1 are seven literal days, but there is no adequate reason to interpret these seven days as the duration in which the universe with the living things began their existence. Rather, there are better reasons to interpret the seven days as the duration in which the universe with the living things were organized (or re-organized) to function in a way that was compatible with the appearance of the first humans, who with the organized universe formed a cosmic temple. It should be noted that this view is not the same as the `Gap Theory'. The Gap theory proposes a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, but this is grammatically problematic in the Hebrew language. Walton's view does not have this problem as he does not propose a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Rather, the whole of Genesis 1 are taken to be the days in which God reorganized the universe to be functional with respect to man.
It is most important to grasp the methodological principle that, to understand an ancient text, we have to find out how the ancient readers would have understood it. Based on studies of the Ancient Near Eastern culture as well as Hebrew texts, Walton argues that it is preferable to take the Hebrew word bara which is translated as 'create' in Genesis 1 to mean functional (with respect to the cosmic temple) rather than ontological creation. Therefore, there is good evidence to think that the functional view is how the ancient readers would have understood Genesis 1. And unlike some other approaches to Genesis 1, Walton's view does not involve linguistic gymnastics but it is a rather straightforward interpretation that is based on a better understanding of the Hebrew word bara.
Hence, regardless of the scientific view that a Christian holds, he or she would have to consider this approach seriously as this is quite likely what the Bible really meant. If this was what the author of Genesis intended to convey to his audience, then 21st century readers should be wary of imposing their modern ideas (e.g. the Young Earth Creationism, which sees the seven days as the beginning of existence of the universe) onto the text. The reason why many people in the churches hold firmly to Young Earth Creationism is perhaps because they think that that is what the Bible plainly teaches. They should heed the words of Augustine with reference to Genesis, `In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.' Young Earth Creationists should therefore be open-minded and be willing to consider other interpretations of Genesis 1, and in view of the Jewish background of the text it is actually more reasonable to interpret it in functional terms.
The implication of Walton's view is that Genesis does not say when the universe (with the living things) began to exist. It could have been millions of years (for the purpose of which God did not reveal to us), and then a reorganization just before the creation of the first humans. Hence, there is no conflict between science and Christianity in the matter of dating the age of the earth, and therefore the age of the earth as a stumbling block for many unbelievers is totally unnecessary.
It is also important to emphasize that, while Walton's interpretation has the implication that Genesis does not say when the universe began to exist, this does not imply that the Bible does not affirm that God is literally the first cause of the beginning of existence of the universe. On the contrary, there are other passages in the Bible (e.g. Colossians 1:16-17) which affirm (literally and regardless of duration) God's creation of the material cosmos ontologically, and Walton himself affirms this also on p97. It should be noted that this point--God as the first cause of the beginning of the universe-- is well supported by philosophy, history, and recent discoveries in science (see The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, published by one of the world's most respected academic press, Wiley-Blackwell). Hence, Christians can have full confidence that God is the first cause of the beginning of the universe, and that there is no conflict between science and Christianity in the matter of dating the age of the universe.
To conclude, Walton's view is the best interpretation of Genesis 1 currently available, though I feel quite sad that not many Christians are aware of it yet (most people are only aware of the Young-Earth and the Day-Age interpretations). This view has resolved the questions that I have, and I think that it can help many others (especially people from communist background such as mainland China) who have heard of Christianity and who are struggling with its apparent conflict with science. Get this book; the ideas in it are important for our understanding of the Bible, for teaching our children about the relationship between Genesis and science, and perhaps indirectly for the salvation of other people.