Monday, March 23, 2015

Dr. John Walton on Genesis

"If we accept Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology, then we need to interpret it as ancient cosmology rather than translate it into modern cosmology. If we try to turn it into modern cosmology, we are making the text say something that it never said. It is not just a case of adding meaning (as more information has become available) it is a case of changing meaning. Since we view the text as authoritative, it is a dangerous thing to change the meaning of the text into something it never intended to say." -- John H. Walton, Ph.D (From here.)

Dr. John Walton

In recent years, John Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, has been both lauded and criticized for his interpretation of Genesis 1–2. In his 2009 landmark book, The Lost World of Genesis One (InterVarsity Press), he argued that to rightly understand Genesis 1—an ancient document—we need to read it within the context of the ancient world. Read alongside other ancient texts, he says, Genesis 1 is not about how God made the world, but about God assigning functions to every aspect of it. In 2013, Walton contributed a chapter in Four Views on the Historical Adam (Zondervan). There he argued that Adam was a historical person, but also that Adam’s primary function in Scripture is to represent all of humanity. For Walton, Genesis 1–2 is not concerned about human material origins, but rather about our God-given function and purpose: to be in relationship with God and work alongside him, as his image bearers, in bringing continued order to our world.

Read the full Christianity Today interview here.

What do you think?

Is Genesis 1-2, not about human origins?

Is Genesis 1-2 about relationships, function and purpose?

Is Adam a historical person in Genesis 1-2?

Does Adam represent all humanity in Genesis 1-2?

What is the original cultural context of Genesis 1-2?

What are the more important aspects of Genesis in Dr. Walton's thinking?

What are the first two Messianic references in Genesis?

I would be interested in readers' responses to these questions.

Related reading: The Themes of Genesis 1-3; Is Genesis Really About Human Origins?; Adam and Eve as Meta-Historical Ancestors; Adam Was a Red Man; Peter Leithart on John Walton's Lost World of Genesis One; The Dangers of Concordism; Facebook Conversation on Creationism


Alice Linsley said...

David responded: I don't believe Adam appears in Genesis 1. The story of the human race begins in 2:7. Genesis 1 is clearly God establishing the domains of His authority, demonstrating that He is the source of all dominions, not just man or certain provinces (the ocean, the harvest, the sun). Gen 1 establishes that God is "the God" not "a God," and so separates the Hebrew faith as distinctly monotheistic.

Now, whether or not the Adam in Gen 2:7ff is a historical person or not is a more challenging. I think good arguments can be made both ways. I do think the genealogies tip the balance for me. That feels like a line of kings, a sense of connectedness 'to the source' of kingship. It is one of the things that first interested me in your work. This idea that Abram was from a long line of kings and that deliberate connection to the Gospel and the Messianic Kingship of Christ has a lot going for it.

Alice Linsley said...

Genesis 1 establishes the distinction between the Creator and the creation, and the God of the Habiru and the gods of other peoples. It also establishes the fixed binary distinctions, and the hierarchy in the order of creation.

Genesis 2 speaks of humans as male and female and tells us that the Creator prepared a specific place - a garden of vast water resources - in which these humans were to live. This places the meta-historical Adam and Eve in a place that history has confirmed as the cradle of both humanity and Abraham's Horite caste (the Horim).

Genesis 3:15 is the first Messianic reference (the Seed of the Woman will crush the serpent's head), and the second in Genesis 4:2 where Eve gives birth and declares I have gotten a Qanitti - translated "Kain" - with the help of the Lord. Qanitti and Kain mean ruler.

The first verifiable historical persons are those listed in the Genesis King Lists in 4 and 5. They are linked to Adam, the eponymous father of the Edomite rulers, known for their red skin tone. Adam is a reference to the color red, as in blood. Abraham was one of these rulers, as were the rulers who descended from Seir the Horite, a ruler of Edom. The Horite rulers of Edom are listed in Genesis 36.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, David!

DManA said...

The Genesis account gives Adam one wife. Not the two you find so significant.

EXCEPT is Jewish tradition, with Lilith.

Is the missing second wife significant?

Anonymous said...

Peter Leithart has a terrific critique of Walton on Genesis 1 here:

The critical point for me, when it comes to whether Genesis 1-11 is historical, is the anthropological data. It's a brute fact that virtually every people group around the world has a flood story similar to Genesis 6-8. That includes the Native Americans, and the stories clearly predate missionary activity- they are widely distributed and independently reported. Lesser known are the stories matching other bits of Genesis 1-11. Some Amerindian groups have a tale of the flood hero cursing one of his sons after the flood, plainly corresponding to the curse on Canaan. One Algonquin tribe who worshiped the Great Spirit spoke about a deathless world until a wicked magician came, corrupted man, and brought death.

I'd also note that explaining away Genesis 1-11 doesn't get us out of the apparent mythology in Genesis. Genesis 12-50 reflects a world somewhat between Genesis 1-11 and the one we are familiar with. Abraham and Isaac live to nearly 200, Jacob lives to 147. And the nations which are described in Genesis 10 appear later in the Bible. From the outside looking in, I think it's painfully obvious that the only reason Walton is seeking an alternative reading of Genesis 1-3 is because of modern science.

Alice Linsley said...

The question is not whether Adam is historical. It is at what place in Genesis does "Adam" stand for a historical individual? In Genesis, the word "adam" is both a generic term and a proper noun. As a generic term adam represents human kind. Adam/Edom (root DM), as a proper noun, represents the eponymous "father" of the line of rulers from which come Cain, Noah, Nimrod, Abraham, Seir, Esau, Moses, David and Jesus.

The Edomite rulers had two wives. They were Horites (Gen. 36). The Horite marriage and ascendancy pattern, involving two wives, is consistent throughout the Bible.

Alice Linsley said...

Peter Leithart's article is linked under "related reading" at the end of this post.

Alice Linsley said...

The mythological Lilith is not mentioned in Genesis. She is a Babylonian figure. The cultural context of Genesis 1-4 is African. Dr. Walton misses this.

See this:

Jay Eppinga said...

A garden, by definition, is an order imposed upon a state of chaos. One not even need be an Ancient to grasp that.

For that matter, wine is an order brought on components already present with a grape (water, sugar, and wild yeasts on the skin).

Alice Linsley said...

Anon, Genesis 1-12 is full of accurate information. As for the longevity of the rulers, see this:

Alice Linsley said...

Jay, you make a good point about a garden being orderly, like the cosmos. This garden was huge!

Read the description of Eden in Genesis 2:10-14. This was a vast well-watered region, involving two river valleys: the Tigris-Euphrates in Mesopotamia, and the Nile head waters: the Gihon and Pishon in the "land of Kush." At first glance, Kush appears to be an anachronism since the first Kush we meet in the Genesis King Lists is a grandson of Noah (Gen. 10). However, this does not mean he was the first ruler named Kush. He may have been named after his maternal grandfather.

Jonathan said...

A case can be made for an even earlier "first" reference (earlier than Gen. 3:15, that is) to a messiah (anointed one), don't you think? What about Gen. 2:15 "And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it"?: -- thus "assigning" a proper "function" to the man. Then, for the second reference, I would take you to the instance of creating the woman out of the rib, and how this was the complement of the man who, without her, would lack the "help" meet for his need. So, the woman is discovered to be a kind of a messiah (or demi-messiah), don't you think? But, if you want to search Genesis for the first references of a messiah-type who is destined to function more like a rescuer/champion of a fallen race, then I suppose I would go with Gen. 3:15 as the first, and Gen. 4:1 as the second such evidences, as you have stated!

Jonathan said...

What is the original cultural context of Genesis 1-2? The creation narratives contained in what we now know as the first two chapters of the Bible written were originally oral. The oral storytellers who lived closer to the time had these, as well as other stories, to choose from, depending on the occasion, the audience, and the motivations of the storyteller. So, the original *re-presentation* of these particular selections in what became the static torah (not only Genesis 1 and 2 but probably more like half of the contents of the first five books) represents a complex discretionary choice on the part of the original group of collectors and their collaborators. I don't think it's necessarily useful, or even possible, to fully resurrect the exact occasion, audience or motivations that pertained at the time of the first Judaic ascripurations of the oral traditions that eventually came to be owned by the religious culture in a more rigid way. It would surely be edifying, though, for Christians to give more credit than has been customary before now, to the particular scribal culture that existed at the time of the Davidic dynasty, and try to understand *their* function, context, and relationships, and paying due reverence to God in acknowledgement of their accomplished work and legacy: for their willingness to be used as God's instruments. This is how the Bible differs from other sacred texts, such as the Koran, or the Book of Mormon, whose claims to truth rests on the proposition that the received text descended unaltered from the mouth of God. Would I go so far as to say that the original scribes were "inspired"? Certainly! Their contemporaries, and ancient writer-progenitors, thought so, too. E.g. II Tim. 3:16.

Alice Linsley said...

Jonathan, I don't see it. However, a case can be made that Adam is the first to rule, have dominion, and that Christ is the ultimate ruler. The first Adam mortal, the Second Adam, immortal.

The kings lists of Genesis 4 and 5, and the data of Genesis 10 and 11, tell us who the people were from whom these narratives came.