Theology on Thursday–Genesis 1: Creation or Function?

Posted: February 18, 2010 in Uncategorized

John Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, has caused quite a stir within evangelicalism with his latest book The Lost World of Genesis One (IVP, 2009).  Walton argues that the first chapter of Genesis does not even deal with creation.  What is it about?

According to Walton it is about God ordering the functions of the universe to serve as his cosmic temple. So, when we read Genesis 1 what we are witnessing is the cosmos “given its function as God’s temple, where he has taken up his residence and from where he runs the cosmos.” 

One reviewer (Kingdom Props over at http://v02468.wordpress.com/ ) adeptly summarizes Walton’s argument as follows:

 New discoveries and translations of ancient texts have built a case that what God is creating is not about materials but instead is about function (or order) and functionaries (or objects to operate in that order). Thus on day one time is given structure, and on day four a sun and moon are given to govern over the increases in time. Day two raises a barrier to the sky that places water above us, and puts water beneath us. That barrier results in rain and ice and hail (weather). Day three raises up dry land giving abundance of food to eat. These three things: time, weather, and food, Walton argues, are common praises and prayers across much of ancient literature. Even in Genesis 8 after the flood returns the world to disorder, Noah praises God and thanks Him again for time, weather, and food. Walton has other reasons to believe this text fits to this world understanding: He notes that seas are typically representative of chaos, that the emergence of dry land on day 3 is imagery those near Egypt would readily understand in relation to Nile river patterns, and also that the sea monsters being created is only significant if considered as the ancients would have as part of chaos and outside the gods’ control.

Now, it is important to point out that Walton is NOT arguing that God did not create the universe only that the Genesis 1 does not speak to the issue.

Has Walton found a way to reconcile the apparent age of the earth with Genesis 1? Time will tell but, if the issue interests you, I would certainly recommend giving The Lost World of Genesis One a read.

Grace and peace.

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