The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate

Author: John H. Walton
This Month Reddit 5


by RyanTDaniels   2019-11-17

Book recommendations:

The Lost World of Genesis One, by John Walton

The Language of God, by Francis Collins

by RyanTDaniels   2019-11-17

Read The Lost World of Genesis One for the Genesis part and The Language of God for the science part. Both are great books that helped me a lot.

by RyanTDaniels   2019-11-17

Those guys are awesome, too!

As far as I can tell, Dr. Walton is more-or-less the source of NT Wright and Peter Enns' views on Genesis 1. Read The Lost World of Genesis One. That's the book where Walton lays out the cosmic-temple interpretation.

by RyanTDaniels   2019-11-17

Read The Lost World of Genesis One, by John Walton. He's a Christian Old Testament professor who has been very helpful explaining Genesis 1 to people who aren't familiar with the ancient Near-Eastern world.

by RyanTDaniels   2019-11-17

Neither. In Genesis 1, "day" definitely means 24-hour time period. Though the Hebrew word can mean other things (just like English "day"), it's clear from the passage that 24-hour days are in mind.

However, that doesn't mean actual creation took 6 24-hour days. Genesis 1 is an ancient cosmic-temple construction story, not a historical account. It's way too much to write out here, but here's a good book you can read: The Lost World of Genesis One.

by Issachar   2019-11-17

Recommended reading:

And no, it wasn't something I read because I wanted my beliefs confirmed. It actually contradicts my views on Genesis and I'm having to think about them.

by Mynome   2019-07-21

John Walton is an OT scholar and professor at Wheaton College. I just finished the Lost World of Genesis One this week and would highly recommend it.

He argues that the creation account concerns functional origins rather than material origins. To show this he considers a few Hebrew words in Genesis 1, specifically bara (translated as 'create') and tohu and bohu (translated as 'formless and void'). He contends that bara primarily concerns function-giving instead of material creation, and that tohu/bohu refer to an unproductive/nonfunctional state instead of an empty one. His analysis relies heavily on considering ancient near east culture and how they would have interpreted what's writtten in Gen. 1, claiming that a truly literal approach to reading the Bible is found through understanding what it meant in the world that it was first written.

Of course he goes into a lot more detail, and discusses a number of other topics related to the Gen. 1 debate. If you're like I was before reading it, these kinds of arguments will be pretty foreign to you, but I found them to be pretty persuasive and certainly worth a read.

by Shorts28   2019-07-21

Dr. John Walton has published some perspectives on Genesis 1-2 that are making a huge impact around the Christian world ( ... enesis+one). I like his approach. What his analyses of the text have shown are that Gn. 1-2 are accounts of *functional* creation, not that of material creation. It is about how God ordered the cosmos to function, not about its material manufacture. In the Bible there is no question that God is the creator of the material universe (and there are texts that teach that), but that's not what Genesis 1-2 are about. They are about how God brought order and functionality to the material universe that was there. Let me try to explain VERY briefly.

Gn. 1.1 is a heading, not an action. Then, if it's a text about material creation it will start with nothingness, but if it's a text about bringing order, it will start with disorder, which is what Gn. 1.2 says.

The first "day" is clearly (literally) about a *period* of light called day, and a *period* of light called night. It is about the sequence of day and night, evening and morning, literally. Therefore, what Day 1 is about is God ordering the universe and our lives with the function of TIME, not God creating what the physicists call "light," about which the ancients knew nothing.

Day 1: the light and dark function to give us day and night, therefore TIME

Day 2: the firmament functions to give us WEATHER and CLIMATE

Day 3: The earth functions to bring forth vegetation: plant life and AGRICULTURE

Day 4: The heavenly bodies function to mark out the times and seasons

Day 5: The species function to fill the earth, creating the circles of life, the food chain, and FOOD.

Day 6: Humans function to subdue the earth and rule over it: God's representatives on the earth, scientific mandate, responsible care of the planet.

Day 7: God comes to "rest" in His Temple, meaning that He comes to live with the humans He has made and to engage them in daily life, to reveal Himself to them and be their God.


Look through the whole chapter. It is about how the firmament functions to bring us weather (the firmament above and below), how the earth functions to bring forth plants for our sustenance, how the sun, moon, and stars function to order the days and seasons. We find out in day 6 the function of humans: to be fruitful and multiply, to rule the earth and subdue it. Walton contends that we have to look at the text through ancient eyes, not modern ones, and the concern of the ancients was function and order. (It was a given that the deities created the material universe.) The differences between cultures (and creation accounts) was how the universe functioned, how it was ordered, and what people were for. (There were large disagreements among the ancients about function and order; it widely separates the Bible from the surrounding mythologies.)

And on the 7th day God rested. In the ancient world when a god came to "rest" in the temple, he came to live there and engage with the people as their god. So it is not a day of disengagement, but of action and relationship.

In other words, it's a temple text, not an account of material creation. There was no temple that could be built by human hands that would be suitable for him, so God order the entire universe to function as his Temple. The earth was ordered to function as the "Holy Place," and the Garden of Eden as his "Holy of Holies". Adam and Eve were given the function of being his priest and priestess, to care for sacred space (very similar to Leviticus) and to be in relationship with God (that's what Genesis 2 is about).


In other words, your case doesn't prove that the Bible is not from God. Maybe you're looking at Genesis from the way it has been viewed for the last 500 years and not the way it was intended by its author to be understood. Maybe it has nothing to do with light existing 3 days before the sun, anything about geology, or the order of creation of fish and fowl.


> From the creation of Adam to the birth of Christ, the Bible allows about four thousand years.


The young earth theory is based in counting the generations of Genesis. But that's where the mistake lies. Genealogies weren't the same entity in the ancient world that they are today. In our world a genealogy is to record every person in every generation, in the right order and without gaps. We want to see the sequence. Not so in the ancient world. In the ancient world, genealogies were for royal purposes (to show who was the next rightful king), or religious purposes (to make a theological point). As such, the ancients left huge gaps and sometimes even changed the order to make their point (we're not aware that the writers of the Bible ever changed the order, but they did leave huge gaps). You know how Jesus is called "the son of David"? There are 1000 yrs between them. No matter, he was his son. This was common in the ancient world. They included the generations that fit their agenda. Even in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 10 (as well as the ones of Matthew and Luke), they include the people who make up the number that fits their theological point. In our day, we cry FOUL, but in the ancient world, this was business as usual. The genealogies weren't not primarily a way of record keeping, but to establish continuity from one era to another. Even numbers were often (but not necessarily) symbolic rather than literal.


> The Hebrews represent Jehovah as resting on the seventh day, as though the arduous labors of creation had completely exhausted his energies. Fancy Omnipotence requiring rest to recruit its strength! The Bible, and especially in its earlier parts, is grossly anthropomorphic.


Wrong again. In the ancient world, when a deity came to "rest" in his temple, he came to live with his people and engage them as their god. It has nothing to do with exhaustion or relaxation.


> It exhibits God as wrestling with men (Jacob) and sharing their repasts.


The one wrestling with Jacob is identified as an angel in Hosea 12.4. When Jacob says in Genesis 32.28 that he struggled with God, this is true, but the physical wrestling match was with a messenger of God. Jacob had been struggling with God his whole life. When he says in v. 30 that he "saw God face to face," we have to recognize that the Hebrew word is *Elohim*, a word that is used of deity, angels, and even at times humans.


> and in one instance as giving Moses a back view of his person.


You must read more carefully, especially if you are going to accuse and deprecate. The text does not say Moses saw the back of God's person. What God said is that He would cause His goodness to pass in front of Moses (Ex. 33.19) and that He would proclaim His name. But, he added (v. 20), Moses would not be allowed to see Him. Then we see that the Lord's glory passes by (v. 22).


These verses are fulfilled in Ex. 34.5, but there is no notion that Moses saw God. He experienced God's goodness in receiving the covenant. The cloud was full of God's glory. Moses could see the glory of God. God disclosed to Him the hidden nature of his being (Ex. 34.6-7).


So it's just not true that these things give evidence, let alone prove, that the Bible is not from God.

by BobbyBobbie   2019-07-21

> Are you saying that scientists are incapable of understanding what a hyperbole is? I feel like this may be a bad example because once again you've pointed out the difference between truth and scientific truth is word play. I'm not in your head so I can't follow you through your preconceived assumptions. Could you please use a different example?

No. I'm saying looking at everything with a narrow definition of "true" would cause you to miss lots of things which are, in fact, true. "The car flew by me" is not scientifically true. It isn't literal. But it refers to something that actually happened. To look for wings on a car misses the point completely.

> Could you describe the influence intent has on the relationship electrons have when mixing chemical compounds together? Or in cell reproduction?

I'm talking about interpretation of texts here, or verbal messages.

> How do these scholars know this. The scholars can form opinions on what they think the author's intent was, but it would be extremely irresponsible for these scholars to claim that they know what the author's intent was.

They cannot know, anymore than I can know what that last sentence of yours was intended to mean. But I reject that this means we can't form extremely well-informed opinions. Not all opinions here are equal.

Otherwise you just need to throw language out the window...

> What belief do you think I have that I'm importing?

That a creation account should refer to things like chronology, geology, issues of evolution, how biological life began, etc.

> Great. As long as you know that your opinions are never more than just opinions then I have no qualms with you.

See above. I'd much rather have an informed opinion than an uninformed one.

> I highly suggest taking a course on this topic as you are making the same mistake most laymen make when discussing any nuanced topic. The translation of the bible can be an incredibly difficult topic to study as it's not as simple as just looking at the NIV, ESV, or the KJV and then comparing the translations between them. People wouldn't be able to make careers from studying translations of the bible if it were that simple. We are talking about understanding the context of how the language was used in that time, understanding how words don't just directly translate English, and understanding that language changes over time. English speakers today have trouble understanding English from only a couple hundred years ago. I find it extremely hard to believe that we can know how a language was used 3000 years ago and the direct translation for these words into English.

Oh, in this specific example, we're much closer to "knowing". It's a very sure bet that an Israelite living 3000 years ago wouldn't know about Planet Earth. There's next to no doubt about that. They didn't have word for "Earth". And we know that this exact word, "erets", is used in a variety of different ways in the Bible.

> I find it extremely hard to believe that we can know how a language was used 3000 years ago

You best believe it! All you would need to do is show me that the word "erets" refers to Planet Earth and you'll win. You won't find it though, and I have 100s of examples of where "erets" refers to words like "ground", or "soil", or "land".

> Okay, one is known for denying a theory of ancient alien astronauts, and the other is known for his take of Genesis being controversial. Both supposedly have the "exact view" you have, so I'd like to ask you, how do they reason how your controversial opinion has any validity?

Did ... you just look up their Wikipedia pages and be done with them? Lol.

They are both published scholars. They both have their PhDs in the Hebrew Bible. Walton in particular has done extensive work on Genesis 1 specifically. His views are "controversial" because creationists are pushing back on his presentation that Genesis shouldn't be read as a modern scientific account. This simply isn't an issue outside of America. I cannot fault his arguments though. He wrote an entire book on it: Feel free to look into it. You can also look him up on YouTube if you'd like to see a lecture of his where he basically presents the argument within about an hour.

You wouldn't find his view controversial at all. I'm sure you'd agree with him, actually, about what the authorial intent was of Genesis 1. 99.999% of the people who find it controversial think God told them that the Earth is 6000 years old.

by cdoxsey   2019-01-18
I was (and still am) an old-earth evangelical christian.

Many of my friends were young-earth creationists. It's not a topic I hear much about anymore, but I've had many lively discussions about it.

YEC is interesting because there are different ways people think about it in relation to science. The most straightforward would be to claim something like "God created the universe with the appearance of age", so that it would be actually < 10k years old, but appear billions of years old.

Such a theory is consistent with scientific findings, albeit falling prey to Ockham's Razor, and violating the principle of Uniformitarianism, both of which are probably pretty crucial to the Philosophy of science.

Theologically this approach isn't quite as jarring as it may at first appear. I once heard it put as a question: "Did Adam have a belly button?" If he did, then that's not really all that different from "the appearance of age" in general.

For me personally it still didn't sit right with me, and I also disagreed with the general interpretive approach taken to scripture. Genesis isn't a scientific textbook and I don't think it should be read that way. I highly recommend this book for an alternative interpretation:

In general I think science is very important and undervalued in the christian community in general and that's unfortunate. To give just one Biblical example, King David spent years tending a flock of sheep by night, with nothing better to do than stare at the stars for hours on end. As scientifically illiterate as he was, he still knew a lot more about the constellations than I ever will.

by zachus   2018-11-10

John Walton has a very accessible book on this topic as it pertains mostly to Genesis 1.

by Shorts28   2018-11-10

I follow the perspective on Genesis 1 posted by Dr. John Walton. He takes the approach that Gn. 1 is about how God ordered the cosmos and world to function as his temple rather than being about material origin. It's quite a literal reading of Gn.1 in its own right. Day 1 is literally about a period of light and a period of darkness, known as day and night, evening and morning, and therefore God is ordering the function of the day and night, viz., time. On Day 2 God literally separates the firmaments, ordering the function of climate and weather. On Day 3 the earth functions to bring forth vegetation, the function of agriculture. On Day 4 the sun moon and stars literally function to give us times and seasons. On Day 6 humans function to rule the earth and subdue it. You get the point. It's not taking Genesis 1 as metaphor, poetry, or figurative, but literally as God ordering the world to function in a certain way.


Certainly God created the world and all that is (Jn. 1.3, Col. 1.15-16; Heb. 1.3, and others), but that's not what Gn. 1-2 are about.


Given that interpretation, there is still the same need for salvation. A literal and historic Adam and Eve (who may or may not be the first hominids) represent all of humanity, and their sin and separation from God is real and require the sacrifice of Jesus for atonement.


As you can see, I'm not a young earth creationist, nor do I believe in a 6-day creation, but I still believe God created the world, Adam & Eve were real, the Garden of Eden was real—just that Gn. 1-2 are not about the material creation. If you're interested, here are links to Dr. Walton's books:






I can explain Walton's perspective more if you wish. I just don't want to dump a wall of text on you without you wanting to see more.

by russnewcomer   2018-11-10
Obviously, there are many different ways to view the Bible and Christianity. As another practicing Christian, I'd say that the most important thing to understand that the Bible is about the revelation of Jesus, and the book is through and through about revealing his nature, character, and way of interacting with the world. If you talk to or read most orthodox theologians (and by this I mean, not 'church leaders' but those who study and write about belief and doctrine and are generally accepted as largely non-heretical), you'll find a surprisingly wide view of the 'literal' nature of scripture, but a significant agreement on the essential nature of the teachings of Jesus.

The moral side of the Bible is a side affect of growing closer to, and following the teachings of, Jesus.

I'd also say that one of the things that non-fundamentalist Christians have done particularly poorly in popular culture in the last 30 years is discuss how the Bible we have was written to a different culture than ours, and taking it 'literally' means stripping it from much of the intended meaning. You asked about creationism and the big bang, here's a book you could possibly be interested in, by a scholar of Genesis, discussing how the text of Genesis is not intended as a scientific document. It's called The Lost World of Genesis One, by John Walton (