Alan Donaldson, a member of the Chapel, has written a guest post on a new book on Genesis which was profiled in the March 2015 issue of Christianity Today
A Review of The Lost World of Genesis One
John H. Walton
Many Christians are conflicted by belief in the Bible as the inspired word of God versus the persuasive discoveries of modern geology. How can the earth be millions of years old if the opening chapters of Genesis are correct? A solution to this dilemma may be found in the proposals offered by John H. Walton, PhD in his book The Lost World of Genesis One. Dr. Walton is a convinced Christian, a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, a prolific author and an acknowledged expert on both ancient Near East language, particularly Hebrew, and ancient Near East culture. His studies have led him to conclude that the modern understanding of Genesis is most likely incorrect.
The scholarly and detailed discussion of Genesis 1 & 2 found in Dr. Walton’s book really ought to be read for full understanding of his concepts. But in brief, the original Hebrew text uses words for “creation” that do not necessarily mean material origin, which is the meaning that modern English and usage would apply. In addition, the creation stories and references found in other texts of that time and region almost never speak of material origins. Rather “creation” to those ancient peoples, including the Israelites, meant the way gods organized the world and humans activity. It other words, “creation” referred to the function of how things worked, not the making of them. The vital cultural difference between Israelite (Bible-based) belief and that of their neighbors is in one God rather than many gods. The Old Testament is replete with tales of how easy the Israelites found it to lose their adherence to monotheism and slip into the prevalent culture of many gods or idols.
If this reading of Genesis as a story of functional creation, not material creation, is correct then all the conflict with modern geology, and even evolution, may be resolved. And, indeed, that is just what Dr. Walton suggests. He holds that science may well be right about its theories of origin and development, as long as science does not try to address the question of purpose: the question of “why”. He holds that science in incapable of knowing “why” by the very nature of its discipline, which is to prove facts through experiment and cross-verification. And as a Christian, Dr. Walton has no doubt of where “why” is found: in God’s purpose.
Of further interest is Dr. Walton’s conclusion that the seven day duration of the Genesis “creation” story is a correct reading of the Hebrew text. He believes that God did indeed establish the order of the universe in seven calendar days because there is no other meaning that can be credited to the Hebrew words. When in time those seven days occurred is not established by his understanding of the text. But more remarkable yet is Dr. Walton’s suggestion that Genesis 1 & 2 may not be simply a story of God’s establishment of functions in the world after all. He finds scholarly reasons to believe that the seven days of Genesis is actually a ceremonial ritual for the establishment of God’s Temple in the cosmos. The multiple sources for such a conclusion are detailed in the book and this reviewer is hesitant to summarize them. Reading The Lost World of Genesis One is urged to further pursue this concept and other ideas presented therein, such as a discussion of the teaching of origin science in the classroom. (The book can be downloaded to Kindle from Amazon for only $9.99!)
Perhaps most persuasive of Dr. Walton’s conclusions is that he did not originally intend his studies to resolve the conflict that Genesis presents. He developed those conclusions solely after his learned research into ancient Near East culture and language. The book is filled with testimony to his deep and well-informed faith in Christianity. It will help a reader not only to understand the Bible but see how its teaching applies to the modern world.