I’m a bit slow off the mark with this one as this book was actually released in 2009. I stumbled across it having spoken with some of the OT boffs at Tyndale House and then saw Scot McKnight’s blog describe John Walton’s work as ‘game-changing’. I have to say, having just finished John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One it is an incredibly stimulating and important work. If you haven’t read it, you really must, as I suspect his position will filter down and exercise enormous influence over evangelicals seeking to reconcile the biblical text with modern science.
It’s impossible in a few hundred words to adequately represent his argument so I’ll give it to you in a nut-shell and leave you to buy the book and decide for yourself whether you find it persuasive. In essence Walton is arguing that Genesis 1 is more interested in ‘functional ontology’ rather than material origin. Walton carefully examines similar texts from around the Ancient Near East and concludes that all have in common a concern to describe the functions of the creation, and the role and presence of the deity within the creation. Ancient cosmology is about function not origin. Walton is an evangelical and is thus crystal clear that God did it all, but argues that Genesis 1 is more concerned with the function and ordering of the created world than the exact mechanism by which it came into material existence. So days, seasons, firmaments and expanses are about bringing order and function to that which he made. His discussion of hebrew terms like bara and tohu wabohu is stimulating indeed. Walton argues that Genesis 1 is ultimately a sanctuary text which depicts creation as a temple in which priests serve and God rules. The seventh day then is not so much about rest as about rule – the temple is finished; now the deity comes to his throne and begins to rule through the work of the priests in the ordered system. Walton is committed to reading the text on its own terms and has a good critique of ‘concordism.’ He believes in 7 actual days and a historical Adam. But what he is suggesting is that questions of material origin are not to the fore in the narrator’s mind – everyone took it as read that God did it – the question is teleological – to what end? Now, I know this thesis will provoke lots of questions and the best thing I could say is read the book for yourselves. For what its worth I think its compelling and in lots of ways convincing, without agreeing with everything in the book. [The real challenge Hebrew lovers is to try and translate Gen 1 according to Walton’s theory – I’m not sure this is very easy but am still working it through]. This is a book that takes the text seriously and seeks to understand it on its own terms. The conclusions, if correct, would go along way to helping resolve perceived tensions between the biblical text and modern science, and would give a new slant to the meaning and message of Gen 1.