How logically coherent is John Walton's position on Genesis 1?


(Daniel Pech) #1

I am trying to make a completely coherent sense of John Walton’s thinking on Genesis 1.

I assume that Walton believes in a materially real Jesus who materially miraculously rose from the dead in an actual, materially glorified body. Perhaps I am mistaken in assuming that Walton believes that the Biblical Jesus was materially all the things that the Bible seems plainly to say that He was. In any case, that belief is radically at odds with modern secular thinking. It is not just an idea, it actually occurred.

But Walton seems to me to reduce most of the thinking of the Ancient Hebrews to that of the common thinking of the ANE world. And, surely, Walton grants that it is logically possible to too deeply reduce the thinking of Believers’ of any age to that of their surrounding culture.

But if Walton is correct in so reducing the thinking of the ancient Hebrews, then what, if anything, does he think that the Hebrews believed that was radically unlike ANE thinking? As best I can tell, Walton’s non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1 makes the account into a set of mere abstractions that the Hebrews were to believe, specifically those of God’s ‘functional’ purposes for the already-existing-and-functioning material world. But, if Walton’s notions of the material origins of that world and of its functions are correct, then I think that these mere abstractions have nothing theologically particular to do with that world, and instead are just fictions added to the materially correct-according-to-Walton conceptions of that world and its origins.

To my way of thinking, this reduces God to having come into existence only at the point in material history at which Walton thinks that God first communicated to this one select people. But why does Walton think that God did not, at that point, also communicate these abstractions to all other Peoples? Does Walton think that those other Peoples had not evolved enough to properly appreciate these Divine abstractions?


(SeanO) #2

@DanielPech Are you asking why God did not give the Genesis story to all of the nations? Or are you asking if John Walton’s theory collapses the Israelite conception of creation into the pagan one of the surrounding nations?

God did reveal Himself to all nations - from Adam until the time of Noah - from Noah to Abraham - there were always people aware of God. Melchizedek was a priest of God who was not a descendant of Abraham. People were aware of God’s existence. But many people, like Cain and his descendants, chose to reject God and go their own way.

The line of Seth was faithful to follow God and to seek Him. Others, as Romans 1 says, chose to reject the Creator. God communicated His truth to those with ears to hear.


(Daniel Pech) #3

Hi SeanO! :slight_smile:

I’m simply (1) asking what Walton thinks on these issues, and (2) wanting for my contributions to RZIMConnect to leave the question open to anyone who might, in any way, side distinctively with Walton.

I myself believe that the Bible teaches that God originally revealed Himself to humanity as a whole, but that humanity Fell and subsequently increasingly refused God in favor of false gods, false ideas about God that they followed instead, and no ideas about God.


(Jimmy Sellers) #4

If you recall from his book I think he answers the material question without room for doubt.

An important caveat must be noted at this point. If we conclude that Genesis 1 is not an account of material origins, we are not thereby suggesting that God is not responsible for material origins. I firmly believe that God is fully responsible for material origins, and that, in fact, material origins do involve at some point creation out of nothing. But that theological question is not the one we are asking.
Walton, J. H. (2009). The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (pp. 42–43). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

He goes on to add that his question revolves around the text.

We are asking a textual question: What sort of origins account do we find in Genesis 1? Or what aspect of origins is addressed in Genesis 1? Most interpreters have generally thought that Genesis 1 contains an account of material origins because that was the only sort of origins that our material culture was interested in. It wasn’t that scholars examined all the possible levels at which origins could be discussed; they presupposed the material aspect.
Walton, J. H. (2009). The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (p. 43). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
Your other question will be best answered in his book.

I think he does a great job comparing ANE deities with Yahweh and demonstrating his uniqueness.

Hope this helps.


(Anthony Costello ) #5

So I am listening to The Lost World of Genesis One currently, and I do think that Walton is clear that the New Testament states unequivocally that God created the universe ex nihilo–John 1 is indubitable on that point.

On that issue then, I am not concerned that Walton is denying any traditional teaching on creation of the universe from nothing, he is just saying that Genesis 1 is agnostic (says nothing) about the actuality of that doctrine.

With regard to your point whether Walton sees ancient Hebrew thinking as substantively different from other ANE thinking on origins, I do think he walks an awfully thin line here, and while I am sure, if he were asked straight-forwardly, he would respond saying that Genesis is vastly different from other ANE sources, it is hard to discern in the book to what extent that is true. Although I may have to read through it more carefully; for as I said, I am only listening to it on audio book.

Either way I would agree with you that if Moses’s (or whoever we want to consider the final author of Genesis) theological thinking and writing were so similar to the point of being almost identical to other ANE thinking and writing, then it raises the question of what exactly is special revelation? Was the author of Genesis actually saying anything new? Or was he just parroting the cultural narratives around him? That would be a serious concern.

That said, I think we can make expansive room for a general revelation to all humankind that has allowed many cultures from the ancient world, and even today, to have some kind of knowledge of God from His external work. So, there should be some thematic overlap in vying origin accounts, since all cultures have had access to the same book of creation.

So far I am not sure exactly where I stand with Walton’s view. On the one hand he is one of the finest OT scholars in the country, so I have to defer to him and his view to some extent, since to assume I know the OT better than he would be epistemic arrogance. On the other hand, I also sense that if there were simply a shift in the scientific paradigm regarding evolution, that he and his followers would eventually backtrack from the view of Genesis 1 being only an account of God bringing functionality into existence, and not ontology. I also think that that scientific paradigm shift is in principle upon us, even if it has not yet worked it’s way into the culture yet.

in Christ,
Anthony