Thoughts on John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One

The Lost World of Genesis OneThere have been a number of commentaries on Genesis 1 and 2 by conservative evangelical scholars.  Many of these can be found in my literature review (Modern Creation Debate Books).  In the case of John C. Collins, John Sailhamer and John Walton, all three see their views as representing the literal reading of Genesis 1.    Each take Genesis as representing real history but what is the character of that history?  That is the difficult question.   John C. Collins states a very similar view of the doctrine of creation in “Science and Faith” as does Godfrey in “God’s Pattern for Creation: A Covenantal Reading of Genesis 1″ (I highly recommend this book for an overview of the importance of the doctrine of creation while not becoming absorbed in explaining creation scientifically). I have indicated in the past that I expect that Sailhamer could affirm E. J. Young’s list of basic truths of Genesis as would Piper and probably Walton etc… yet to affirm the chronology and history of Adam and Eve and the days does not mean that the exact nature of what those days were like is agreed upon and Young himself, even as a staunch supporter of creationism, appears to have agreed that it is difficult to know.

Is Genesis history?  Collins states on page 65 of “Science and Faith” “Now then : did the author mean us to take Genesis 1:1-2:3 as history? The answer is certainly yes for two reasons…” Yet, if you know Collins’ view of Genesis 1 and 2 you will know that he proposes an analogical view of the days for which we don’t know the length but they are analogous to our days and we know they really happened and in what order.  He does see them as a real set of 24-hour days in a specific week of history.

Regarding a literal reading of Genesis:   For Sailhamer, Walton and Collins, I believe they could each make the claim that Walton makes in his “FAQs” in the back of his book “I believe that the reading that I have offered is the most literal reading possible at this point.” To Walton, the literal reading requires an understanding of the Hebrew language and Israelite culture both of which requires a chronological 6 literal day sequence. On page 90 he states that “These are seven twenty-four hour days. This has always been the best reading of the Hebrew text.” Now in those literal 24 hours days God is taking the physical world he has created in Genesis 1:1 and proclaiming/establishing the functions of those parts: Page 95 “Viewing Genesis 1 as an account of functional origins of the cosmos as temple does not in any way suggest or imply that God was uninvolved in material origins – it only contends that Genesis 1 is not that story. To the author and audience of Genesis, material origins were simply not a priority. To that audience, however, it would likewise have been unthinkable that God was somehow uninvolved in the material origins of creation. Hence there wouldn’t have been any need to stress a material creation account with God depicted as centrally involved in material aspects of creation.”

Now it could be asked, so when was this seven-day period and I’ve not seen Walton address that question but I would guess he would say we don’t know exactly when this was but that there was a time when God established these functions in the space of six days and on the seventh took residence in this cosmic temple where he resides today. In another one of his FAQs he asks and answers the question:  “What would people have seen if they were there as eyewitnesses (i.e. what “really happened?) on these days?” A. We overrate eyewitnesses in our culture. The Bible is much more interested in understanding what God did rather than what an eyewitness would see. For example, an eyewitness would have seen the Red Sea part, but would have no physical evidence that God did it. Genesis 1 is an account of creation intended to convey realities about the origins of the cosmos and God’s role in it and his purpose for it. Most importantly it is designed to help the reader understand that the cosmos should be understood as a temple that God has set up to operate for people as he dwells in their midst. The perspective of an eyewitness would be inadequate and too limited to be of any good. Genesis 1 is not intended to be an eyewitness account.”

Now, this leaves me with quite a few questions but this book is very short and just hits the highlights. I am hoping that his book out in October which is supposed to elaborate on the details will be more helpful. Nonetheless, the functional cosmic temple formation is a powerful concept in that unites so much of the imagery of the rest of the Bible and makes the creation so much more than just a physical place. Beale has explored this idea in some depth (The Garden of Eden and the Biblical Temple)and although he doesn’t address the days of creation his understanding of Genesis is very similar to that of Walton.

So what about the question:  so what is to be gained by these other views that one doesn’t’ get but just saying that the world is young and all matter created and formed within 6 days? To me and others–a great deal! Walton expresses in proposition 17 a number of ways in which his view makes the theology of Genesis 1 stronger and not weaker and provides greater insight than the material literalist is capable of providing. Most of these require more space to explain than I can take here. I’ll just note a few with a couple of my own examples. The appreciation for ongoing role of the creator is enhanced in this view. “If God’s work of creation is considered only a historical act that took place in the past, it is easy to imagine how people might not think in terms of God being active today. We have lost the view that nature does not operate independently from God.” I think that a young earth creationist can take a lot from the temple analogy of the world but they can never fully embrace it because to them the 6 days more about physical creation than anything else. For Walton, God is no less creation of all things than any young earth creationist so nothing is lost there. I find that YEC have a dichotomous view of the world where all things were formed supernaturally in 6 days and then they are just obeying God’s providential laws laid out in that creation since with some interjections of miracles since. One place this affects other views can be seen in the Creationists vs Traducianist debate. Here some 24 hour creationists have felt drawn to the traducianism side because they can’t accept that there is creation ex nihlo nearly eight times per second (conceptions per second) since close of the creation week because creation is supposed to be over in the 6 days.

Walton finds that we have a better appreciation for sacred space:  “One we turn our thinking away from “natural world” to “cosmic-temp” our perspective about the world around us is revolutionized. It is difficult to think of the “natural world” as sacred (because we just designated it “natural”). When the cosmos is viewed in secular terms, it is hard to persuade people to respect it unless then can be convinced that it is in their own best interests to do so. It it is secular, it is easy to think o fit only as a resource to be exploited. We even refer to “natural resources.” But when we adopt the biblical perspective of the cosmic temple, it is no longer possible to look at the world (or space) in secular terms. It is not ours to exploit. We do not have natural resources we have sacred resources. Obviously this view is far removed from a view that sees nature as divine: as sacred space the cosmos is his place. It is therefore not his person. The cosmos is his place and our privileged place in it is his gift to us. The blessing he granted was that he have us permission and the ability to subdue and rule. We are stewards. At the same time we recognize that the most important feature of sacred space is found in what it is by definition: the place of God’s presence.”

Regarding the Sabbath: “If God’s rest on the seventh day involved him taking up his presence in the cosmic temple which has been ordered and made functional so that he is now ready to run the cosmos, our Sabbath rest can be seen in a different light. Obviously, God is not asking us to imitate his Sabbath rest by taking the functional controls. I would suggest that instead he is asking us to recognize that he is at the controls, not us. When we “rest “ on the Sabbath, we recognize him as the author or order and the one who brings rest (stability) to our lives and world. We take our hands off of the controls of our lives and acknowledge him as the one who is in control”

And just one more quote for now (page 149): “The theological issues presented in this list should be recognized as mirroring the theological interests about creation found in the rest of the Bible. As the readers of the Bible looks through Psalms., Wisdom literature, prophets and on into the New Testament, one finds these same sorts of theological affirmations to be the focus. The Bible gives little attention to material origins, though of course God did that too. Consequently even if the reader is not inclined to adopt the proposed interpretation of Genesis 1, his or her theology could be greatly enhanced by the observations offered here by embracing a renewed and informed commitment to God’s intimate involvement in the operation of the cosmos from its incipience and into eternity. We all need to strengthen our theology of creation and Creator whatever our views of the Genesis account of origins. Even though it is natural for us to defend our exegesis, it is arguably even more important to defend our theology. I have attempted to demonstrate that exegesis of the original meaning of Genesis 1 gives us no cause to argue with the idea of the physical world coming about by a slow process. But we do need to defend at all costs an accurate view of the nature of God and his role in our world.”

Walton leaves me with many questions unanswered because hi book only addresses Genesis 1 but if the 75 or so reviews of his book that I’ve read are any indication, readers come away from the book with a much greater appreciation for the meaning of Genesis and how the world functions under God’s control even if they don’t adopt his position that the 6 days of creation are not specifically about material origins. I am hoping that his forthcoming book provides more details so that his thesis can be better evaluated.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One

  1. I like Walton’s book, but I think he falls into the same pit as the others you mentioned, namely in thinking of Genesis as a story of general origins. It is really about the origin of a people and their expectation that the Seed of the Creator would come of their lines. This is evident when we observe the overall patterns. Here are two pieces that deal with this:


    1. What I don’t understand is why a biblical scholar would say that Genesis 1 happened over six, twenty-four hour periods of time when the bible clearly states that one day with the LORD (all caps thus meaning God, “YHVH” and not Christ) is as a thousand years to man?? When you take THAT truth into account while reading Genesis 1, things begin to make sense. Also I’d like to add that in the manuscripts it doesn’t say “the world WAS void and without form” but rather “it BECAME void and without form”. God dis not create this world in vain, He created it to be inhabited. (I study the Father’s word daily. I read the KJV bible and refer to the Strong’s concordance and Smith’s bible dictionary.).
      Marcy Mathis


  2. The earth was covered with water. This was the great chaotic deep, called te-hom and te-hom is a word of a Nilotic origins. The ancient Egyptians believed that Tehom was overcome by Tehut. The oldest known law code is the Law of Tehut. My problem with Walton’s view is that he fails to recognize that the Mesopotamian temple is patterned on the older temples of the Nile Valley and Akkadian has close affinity to the Nilo-Saharan languages.


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