01 June 2010

the lost world of genesis one

John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009).

I have been acquainted with John Walton's work for a few years, though understandably not to a great degree since I am primarily a student of the New Testament. A couple of years back, however, I watched his video work for the curriculum of The Bible in 90 Days and was quite impressed with his ability to teach, synthesize and present the Old Testament story as well as he did. After having a few brief follow-up conversations with him at SBLs since, I have become a fan of John Walton.

This book was given a much fuller review and discussion on J:C, and I have wanted to read through it since its release. Having finally read through it, I can now say up-front that this is an outstanding work based on Genesis One. The book is set forth in 18 Propositions which take the reader through Walton's perspective and case for properly approaching and interpreting Genesis One.

Perhaps one of the most important pieces to understand for this perspective is that the Hebrew concept for create (bara) is not concerned with material origins, but with function - giving something a purpose rather than giving something an ontological existence ex nihilo. (This, of course, should not be seen as denying ex nihilo since God would have necessarily been a first-cause by definition. Rather, this is to say that ex nihilo is not what is being discussed in Genesis One.) While most biblical scholars agree that Verse 1 in Genesis is more of a title of the book rather than the opening line of events, Walton builds on this and says that Verse 2 is a focus on functions rather than with raw material. It is God who gives purpose to that which he has made, and therein lies the biblical concept of YHWH as creator . . . and what makes his ongoing work of creator still at work today.

From here Walton sees the first three days as pertaining to the three major functions of life: time, weather and food. It is within these specified areas that God then places the functionaries within their proper place. Once that God declares it to be "good" he is not speaking morally, nor is he indicating that it is perfect (an entirely different concept indeed), but rather it has a good functionality within the place he has set it.

After all of this YHWH comes to rest in his creation, a concept which Walton takes as a reference to temple activity - where the divinity climaxes his work by resting in the temple. This should be taken as a rise to one's rest as a seating of royalty rather than rest in the concept of sleep or relaxation. The language here involves the kingship of YHWH in the cosmos he has set forth. YHWH rests here because he has made this for his enjoyment, and because he is the only king of it. Thus, Day Seven is a proper climax rather than an anticlimax of creative activity.

The implications of this type of an approach abound, and Walton explores many of them. Still, there is great benefit from reading through this book as concepts of creation inevitably serve as foundational to the entirety of life and theology. The questions of purpose and eschatology are bound to the question of origin. And this is a good move in that direction.

Coming from the field of biblical studies, it is refreshing to see an approach to the text which does not begin at modern debates, but instead goes to the heart of the narrative and begins with the appropriate context. Perhaps the greatest obstacle in understanding Genesis One is that most people simply do not consider the purpose of the literature - that it is not concerned with being anti-Darwinian, or proving the existence of God, the Trinity, UFOs, dinosaurs, Elvis, or any other such thing. It is about the functionality of creation given by the creator - and his right to rule all the cosmos.

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