on 2 April 2012
If you are like me and have both a keen interest in science and theology, especially the interaction of the two, then this book goes a great deal more in the way of unifying them than you would normally expect. The book focuses as Genesis being an account of the 'functional' creation of the world, rather than the commonly interpreted 'material' creation. Walton explains this in detail as he takes us from the historical context at the time Genesis was written to how this should affect out interpretation today. I highly recommend this book if you are perhaps baffled by the two opposing views (the literal and allegorical views), since this offers a completely new perspective. Time and time again whilst reading it I kept thinking how consistent it is with other parts of the Bible and how it just made sense.
on 3 January 2011
Professor Walton will be known to many biblical scholars and teachers as co-author of a fine Old Testament Survey. This book makes a significant contribution to the study of Genesis and, indeed, the whole of the Hebrew Bible. Walton makes a convincing case that the first chapter of Genesis must be understood in terms of its cultural and literary background in the ancient Near East and not, in the first instance, in the light of our contemporary cosmological concerns. So, like many other ANE creation accounts, Genesis 1 depends on a functional ontology; it portrays the ordering of a chaotic world into a functioning Cosmos which serves as a temple for God, rather than a creation "ex nihilo". Walton's tone throughout is eirenic. His deep scholarship serves always to clarify rather than to mystify. Those scholars, who, in my view understandably, have been led to dismiss the historical-critical enterprise as barren of significance may revise their opinion if they read this. However, this accessible and affordable book will also be of interest for pastors, bible group leaders and indeed all who are interested in establishing how the truths of Scripture bear on current debates.
on 5 October 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.
on 4 May 2015
The central thesis of this book is that, firstly, a truly literal interpretation of Genesis 1 (and any other text for that matter) is that which was intended by the original author and understood by the original recipients. It is not 'whatever seems most natural or obvious to me' - far removed culturally, geographically and temporally from the original writer and readers.
The author then demonstrates by reference to both the Biblical text and materials from other contemporary cultures that our 21st century assumption that the text is dealing with material origins is mistaken and driven by what he calls 'cultural imperialism'. In assuming that the original author shared the same presuppositions, prejudices, interests (even obsessions) that we have, we can dishonour the text and its message. Rather, Walton argues, the text is dealing with the creation of functions. The big picture of Genesis 1 is cosmic temple inauguration.
Days 1 to 3 describe the establishment of the primary functions of time, weather and food. Days 4 to 6 describe the installation of functionaries, culminating in humanity. Alongside this analysis, his treatment of Day 7 is thrilling. On a material approach, Day 7 is an anti-climax. Nothing happens. However, as Walton argues with clarity, it is the grand climax of the whole narrative. 'Rest' does not mean disengagement without responsibility but rather engagement without opposition. This day therefore describes God entering into the control room of the cosmos having brought about order through the installation of functions and functionaries. As I write this in general election week in the UK, it is like the newly elected Prime Minister walking through the door of 10 Downing Street for the first time on the day after the election - not in order to put his feet up, but to get on with running the country having dealt with opposition.
Walton is careful to state his conviction that the material universe is the handiwork of God, but is clear that this is not the concern of Genesis 1. He is able to be relaxed as to whether the earth is young, or billions of years old - the Bible does not have a position on the age of the earth.
On the functional approach, Genesis 1 does not offer an account of material origins and therefore there is no need to choose between it and the current scientific consensus. This is followed by a helpful engagement with those who see it in material terms (eg Young Earth Creationists) and who are prone to see this text as being in conflict with science. He is remarkably patient with them, despite the fact that they drive countless people away from Christianity by compelling them to make this unnecessary choice.
This book is commendably short, tightly argued and well written in a coherent, logical style. It leaves some questions turning over in my head, which is no bad thing. One criticism I have is that the front and back covers both have quotations that describe the analysis of Genesis 1 as 'new'. This is not strictly correct. He is not advancing a new analysis, but stripping back layers of misinterpretation that have built up over the centuries and seeking to uncover the original meaning. I understand that the cover is the responsibility of the publishers (who have an eye to sales) rather than the author. However, it will encourage those who instinctively oppose his conclusions to deride the possibility of a 'new' interpretation all these centuries later. That will be their loss.
on 12 March 2014
“Creations’ debate game changer” is my four words review of John H. Walton’s 192-paged InterVarsity Press published book The Lost World of Genesis One (2009). Noting that the Old Testament was not written to us but for us, Walton returns us to the lost and forgotten ancient Jews to whom the Testament was written to. He, thus, invites us to decipher Jewish ancient cosmology as they would have had understood it. The result, if true, is a game changer in American heating up creations-debate. It renders the whole debate not only unnecessarily but misguided in the first place.
Walton summons us to interpret ancient Jewish cosmology as they would have understood it. He wrote: “We gain nothing by bringing God’s revelation into accordance with today’s science. In contrast, it makes perfect sense that God communicated his revelation to his immediate audience in terms they understood.”(Walton 2009: 15) He invites us to read the text on its “face value”. Before asking what it means to us today, we need to know what it meant to them then.
According to Walton, ancient Near Eastern cosmological origin accounts were not largely concerned with the material origins, to which we have naturally but falsely presupposed they did, but with functional origins. Genesis 1 ought to be interpreted “[a]s an account of functional origins, it offers no clear information about material origins”(162) Day-age creationism, the framework view, gap theories and other proposed views presented by both young and old creationists are all mistaken because they presupposed Genesis 1 presenting a material origins account and thus find themselves oblige to fit it into accordance with contemporary science. Genesis 1 is not an account of material origins. Thus there is no need, in the first place, to attempt to align it with contemporary science.
Ancient Near East viewed coming into existence not primarily on the materialistic sense, as we do today, but functionalistic. They had “little interest in material origins”(33). Walton informed us that an object existed if it was assigned a functional role in the ordered system. He argued,
"Creation thus constituted bringing order to the cosmos from an originally nonfunctional condition. It is from this reading of the literature that we may deduce a functional ontology in the ancient world—that is, that they offer accounts of functional origins rather than accounts of material origins. Consequently, to create something (cause it to exist) in the ancient world means to give it a function, not material properties." (33)
If Genesis 1 is not offering an account of material world but the functional world, the role a being in its sphere of existence plays, then the whole creation-debate is not only pointless but also misguided. Walton case in this book aimed to show that Genesis one is indeed not a material account of the origin of the cosmos but a typical ancient Near East functional account.
Walton contended that the Hebrew term bāra͗ (“to create”) refers to the assignment of functions. Though he accepted creation ex nihilo, a view assumed in a material activity, he believe that Genesis 1 does not teach such a story. God is wholly responsible for material origin but Genesis 1 is not teaching us that. Genesis 1, as ancient Near East cosmological account, is about functional origin. Walton thus interpreted Genesis 1:1 as “In the initial period, God created by assigning functions throughout the heavens and the earth, and this is how he did it.”(45).
Some of reasons Walton offered to show that this is the case is that verse 2 begins already with the waters of the deep, primeval cosmic water, to which no account of its material existence was given (48 cf. 2 Pet. 3:5).Since the dysfunctional waters do not yet have role in the orderly world, they did not “exist”. Day 3, a day God, if read in a materialistic way, appears not be making anything new, make sense in functional reading. God created by assigning function, bring into existence, what is materialistically already there.
Similar to framework view but with functional origin twist, Walton showed how the first three days established the major life-sustaining functions of time, weather and food while four through six God assigned plants and animals functions. The phrase “it was good,” Walton commented, ought not viewed in a moral way but in function way, namely the being created is orderly working according to God’s indented role in the cosmos. He also argued that in ancient Near East world every deity rested in a temple (72) and begin supervising the function. The cosmos is thus God’s temple.
Walton’s revolutionary functional ontology approach in reading Genesis 1 is a game changer because it is unaffected by dynamic science. There is no conflict between Genesis 1 and contemporary science because Genesis 1 is about functional origin and not material origin. Christians are unrestricted to follow whatever material origin contemporary science, which ought to be metaphysically neutral, suggests.
The Lost World of Genesis One is one of those books that completely changed the way I think on this issue. Functional reading of Genesis 1 is a paradigm changer. If you are looking for a fresh air on creationism-debate this is a popular-level must read book.
on 23 October 2010
I enjoyed reading this book, which puts forward Walton's quite radical new interpretation of the creation story. He wisely doesn't get too embroiled in the creation/evolution debate but puts together a strong case for a new way of reading the story. He is convinced that a biblical reading of the passage should take into account the purpose of the narrative which was to show the reader that God was central to the function and purpose of the universe and that that this message was far more important to the early reader than the why and how. He argues that once this is made clear, the centrality of worship in the temple as the focal point for the people of God becomes of crucial importance to the believer. He does refer extensively to similar types of literature from ancient civilizations at the time, but it is hard to evaluate the validity of his claims without any further clues or evidence. This sort of interpretation certainly could help eliminate some of the perceived conflicts between science and religion, but still does not offer theological explanations for the clearly literal NT interpretation of Genesis themes like the identity of Adam and Eve and the Fall.
on 1 January 2011
The book shows how the people during Moses time would have understood Genesis one, and it is nothing like the way young earth creationists do.
Great book, to bad it doesn't contain Genesis chapter two.
on 19 September 2009
This is a book which challenges equally creationists and atheistic evolutionists. Using biblical principles, it offers an interpretation of the opening chapter of Genesis which removes any challenge between evolution and the Bible. The result is a very spiritual work which should deepen readers' faith.
on 23 September 2013
Walton has put together a watershed of approach for creation, with strands coming from many disciplines to provide a well-thought-through argument.
on 3 March 2016
A very eye-opening view. No need for a clash between science and the Bible.