This is something few people get, or accept. It is also why I don’t buy Young Earth Creationism and yet still maintain a high view of Scripture. The language of Genesis 1 (different in order and style from Genesis 2) cannot be removed out of the ancient context.
A basic mistake through much of the history of interpreting Genesis 1 is the failure to identify the type of literature and linguistic usage it represents. This has often led, in turn, to various attempts at bringing Genesis into harmony with the latest scientific theory or the latest scientific theory into harmony with Genesis. Such efforts might be valuable, and indeed essential, if it could first be demonstrated (rather than assumed) that the Genesis materials belonged to the same class of literature and linguistic usage as modern scientific discourse.
A careful examination of the 6-day account of creation, however, reveals that there is a serious category-mistake involved in these kinds of comparisons. The type of narrative form with which Genesis 1 is presented is not natural history but a cosmogony. It is like other ancient cosmogonies in the sense that its basic structure is that of movement from chaos to cosmos. Its logic, therefore, is not geological or biological but cosmological. On the other hand it is radically unlike other ancient cosmogonies in that it is a monotheistic cosmogony; indeed it is using the cosmogonic form to deny and dismiss all polytheistic cosmogonies and their attendant worship of the gods and goddesses of nature. In both form and content, then, Genesis I reveals that its basic purposes are religious and theological, not scientific or historical.
I do not like the term “universalism” for several reasons.
It smacks of (Reverse) Calvinism
It smacks of white privilege
It doesn’t do justice to the wrath of God, judgment, and sin
However, I can’t think of a better term right now. So, universalism* it is.
In reading the notes in The Jewish Study Bible, I caught several statements (drawn from Jewish Tradition) that helped to highlight the text.
In Genesis 18.24, forgiveness and preservation for the several cities lead by the Twins is not found in the act of the sinners, but in the righteousness of the innocent.
This hope from God is found in Jeremiah 5.1 as well.
We can look at 1 Corinthians 7.14 in the same manner.
So, if a small measure of righteousness can ward off the wrath of God and save a city, what then can the wholly righteous act of the death of Christ do if in the Church the Body of Christ and the Spirit remains?
You read a book like Anna Karenina, for example, and those characters and those situations will be like parables such that they will live in your conciousness for your whole life, and as you mature and have different experiences, you will see those same scenes and reexperience those parabolic experiences form different angles with different lighting, and so on. They will grow, thrive, and live entire lives inside your life and continue to turn out more wisdom about love as you come to learn your own internal language about love.
So, we are homeschooling our children for a few weeks during the move and vacation, etc… Today’s assignment (yesterday was to read about religion in Rome) is to read both Creation stories (Genesis 1-2.4 and 2.5-3), detailing five differences, followed by two sentences describing what the differences mean to the them.
The fact is, is that my third and fifth grader will have a better theological grasp of the stories by the end of today than Young Earth Creationists.
Why? Because by comparing the details of the story, we will explore what the different authors wanted to say about Creation(s), and how they see it as applying to them (theology). Yes, there are wrong answers. For instance, if they come back and say that they are the same, just one is expanded, not only will they be grounded, I will deny them their college education, and quite possibly break their toys. Seriously, if they, I will explain to them that if they have any respect at all for Scripture, they will see the differences and appreciate them for what the original authors and redactor is trying to tell us about the way they see God, Creation, Humanity, and the relationships exiting between those realities.
Young Earth Creationists frequently complain that science can’t really tell us much about the distant past because it relies too much on unproven assumptions. However, whilst some details may be unknown, there are multiple independent lines of evidence that all point to a scientifically undeniable conclusion that the YEC version of the planet’s history (as inspired by the Bible notably the early chapters of Genesis) is utterly incorrect and that Earth is very old. Even if a YEC suggests that scientists have failed to ‘add God’ to the mix, that cannot magically eliminate or disprove the conclusion that the Genesis account – taken literally without any embellishment or ‘reinterpretation’ – of precisely how every major aspect of the natural world came to be has been undermined, probably fatally. That of course does not prove the Bible totally unreliable or Christianity false – though it does I believe raise a question about God’s power, knowledge and truthfulness (assuming he exists).
However YECs still insist that a 6,000 year old Earth (and universe), and a catastrophic worldwide flood inundation around 4,500 years’ ago, both ‘have’ to be true if Christianity is true – which of course they say it is.
My question is this. Could and would ANYTHING falsify your claim that mainstream science is ‘wrong’ over these two issues? If so, can you suggest any examples? Any scientific hypothesis has to be potentially falsifiable. If it is not potentially falsifiable then it is not really science but simply faith-inspired dogma – and therefore it should NEVER be taught to anybody as part of ‘science’ in any school or other formal educational setting (including by parents when ‘home-schooling’ their children).
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. First, John Walton is an expert on the conceptual world of the Ancient Near East. His expertise is apparent from the titles of many of his previous works, and it shines through in The Lost World of Genesis One. He displays the breadth of his knowledge most clearly in the chapters concerning the functional, rather than material, orientation of ancient cosmologies and in the chapters concerning divine rest taking place in temples. Readers may disagree with Walton, but I don’t think they can do so because they feel he hasn’t done his homework.
Second, Walton communicates in clear, ordinary language. If you have paid attention to recent posts on this blog, you may have seen Joel mention Walton’s forthcoming academic work on Genesis 1. Academic writers sometimes experience difficulties writing books intended for a wider audience; Walton has avoided this problem. As a result, The Lost World of Genesis One is a book on the first chapter of the Bible that I would not hesitate to recommend to an interested lay person in my parish.
Third, I appreciate the author’s forthrightness concerning Genesis 1, the theory of evolution, and public education. Walton declares:
The concern of this book is neither to tell scientists how they should or should not do science, nor to determine what scientific conclusions are right or wrong. It should be noted that this book is not promoting evolution. The issue I have attempted to approach concerns what scientific ideas or conclusions that the believer who wants to take the Genesis account seriously is obliged to reject … Biological evolution is the reigning paradigm, so we have asked whether this view requires the believer to compromise theology or biblical teaching. We have concluded that there is nothing intrinsic to the scientific details (differentiated from the metaphysical implications that some draw) that would require compromise.
Amen. Now I only hope that Walton can keep his job.
I will conclude with one critique that I did have of the book. I could mention that I would have liked to have seen more discussion of Genesis 1 as polemic, but other scholars have taken on that task elsewhere. My main concern was with the front and back covers. Although I realize words like “new” and “landmark” help sell books, I think they were overdone on this one. While many readers, especially pastors and lay people, will find this book helpful, I wasn’t blown away by the newness of it all. The cultural climate makes the work timely, and Walton certainly adds to the discussion about Genesis 1, but “landmark” (see back cover)? I don’t know. Maybe I have drunk too deeply of Qohelet’s teaching (Ecc. 1.9).
Overall, I highly recommend The Lost World of Genesis One. The combination of Walton’s expertise and his ability to communicate in ordinary language makes for a beneficial, easy read. I also look forward to reading Walton’s academic treatment of Genesis 1 forthcoming from Eisenbrauns.
*** update – I have been informed that the forthcoming title had already forthcome when I wrote this – you can also find it here
“The clear teachings of Scripture include where humanity was at the time of creation, yes? And since we were not there, we shouldn’t claim to know the whole story. For example, the first and earliest book of the Bible is actually Job, YHWH asks, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth? Who created its boundaries, it’s dimensions?” (Job 38:4-5) Obviously, this is a rhetorical question, for no one was with with the Creator. So, what creationists and evolutionists both get wrong with their reading of Scripture that Genesis 1 & 2 has anything to do with history at all. What it is about, first and foremost, is about theology, and God ordering creation in 6 days, resting on the Sabbath, and then continuing to create.
I noticed one of your commenters on facebook said that the Bible is the context, and I think they are right. The Bible is the context in which we should examine Genesis. Just how does Genesis 1 -3 fit in with the rest of the Torah? The answer is simple. The same Hebrew verbs used in God’s order for Adam to till (abodah) and keep (shamar) only appear in the divine demands for the Levitical priesthood attend to God’s sanctuary in the midst of the Israelites, the tabernacle (Ibid). Also, like the Garden of Eden’s imagery in Genesis 1-3, God walks (hithallek) and dwells among the Hebrews just as He does with Adam and Eve. God is also accompanied by God’s guardian angels, the cherubim, which coincidentally guard the inner sanctuaries of the tabernacle and temple.
Genesis 1 and 2 are different and complementary. In Genesis 1, God is creating his tabernacle/temple (the world, creation), and in Genesis 2, God constructed the sanctuary. What creationists and strict evolutionists do not get about the images in the first three chapters in Genesis, is that it has to do first and foremost with YHWH, the God of Israel, and theologies of the temple. Any scientific observation, Christian and/or secular, that avoids this imagery and mystery, is not following the biblical text, but their agenda.
Therefore, from all I have seen from AIG, you are not following your text, but your own agenda and reading that into the Bible.”
Now, in addition, anyone can pick up the Old Testament, yes English translation, and find the very few and rare circumstances in which the imagery of Cherubim arrives on the scene (See 1st Kings 8, for example). When does it happen? In the context of the prophets writing about experiencing God in the temple, as well as King Solomon building a temple. We cannot understand the creation narratives in Genesis 1 & 2, apart from temple theology. Temple theology is not about our modern views of history, but about teaching human beings where our places are in the world. It is not about historic events where we use linear logic to gain access and master the sacred text, but it is about gaining entry into the presence of God, with God ordaining time as sacred. The six-day structure is about God ordering and structuring the world in six-days, as being of great significance theologically and ceremonially.
Far from undermining our faith in YHWH, evolution is compatible with Scripture, but only if we realize that the creation stories are primarily, first and foremost, doxologies of priestly theology, spoken and passed down in times of Jewish rites (as the Bible testifies itself, that the priests lead worship). Young Earth Creationists’ obsession with time and history both does damage to the text, and the Christian understandings of Creation, and the New Creation.