John Walton on Genesis

First, I reckon you have to watch the video here, but Biologos makes an excellent point:

John Walton offers some important reminders in this video with regard to how we should approach a reading of the book of Genesis. Walton says that first and foremost, we have to approach Genesis for what it is, which is an ancient text. While it is a text that is written for us—in the sense that it was written for all people in all times and places—it was not written to us. That is, it was not written in our language or with our culture in mind.

And on the same token, you might want to check out this post, which begins:

This is an essential catholic and evangelical truth: the Word of God does not speak of something the way, for example, I may speak of something I know or have an opinion about. Scripture is God speaking. When Scripture speaks, we hear the voice of God.

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11 Replies to “John Walton on Genesis”

  1. This approach is mistaken. First and foremost, we should approach Genesis for what it is, which is the Word of God for all men, including us. According to II Tim. 3:16, God wrote the Bible for all men at all times, including us. Since God is omniscient, He wrote it with our language and culture in mind as well as all others.

    God Himself graciously constructed the message exactly as He wanted it to be most effective in accomplishing what He wanted to reveal about the Creation to all men, in a way everyone could understand it. He said exactly what He wanted to say through the Scripture writers, and they were said for our wisdom, profitable for doctrine, for reproof [evidence], for correction [restoration], for instruction [training] in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect [complete], thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

    Since every word of Scripture is literally “God-breathed” (II Tim. 3:16, John 10:35, Matt. 5:18, Rev. 22:18-19), the words of Scripture must be regarded with flawless integrity, and moreover for our edification as God intended, not to confuse or mislead us. It is not possible for God to breathe out a falsehood or even a possibly misleading statement based on limitations of human perspective.

    More at How far should we take Inspiration.

    1. Rory, I would agree and disagree. First, we know that it is impossible for God to lie, but yet, we know that He has said things which people didn’t understand, with the fuller revelation coming to fruition much later. Further, we know that God does send deception to people and blinds them. Further, He doesn’t always reveal everything that He has done or is doing.

      While God breathed the word into the hearts of the people who wrote it, I would not say He wrote it. They used the words of their culture, or how else would they have understood it? Since our culture is radically different in certain aspects and only different in others, this is where the precept comes into study always. I do not think that Scripture changes, but people certainly do. I think what was written is eternal, but we have to understand it properly through the author, not the the modern reader.

  2. In the spirit of friendly back-and-forth, some reactions:

    The video: Though the video’s assumption that “rest” is a reference to the Temple may in some way be correct, to say that Genesis 1 is primarily about a Temple is something I just can’t buy. The Bible’s point of view with regards to God does not require a Temple for God to act, and much of the OT narrative takes place with a powerful God who acts despite the lack of a Temple. To be honest, the good Dr. Walton’s work here looks to me sloppy.

    The philosophy: I’ve got to agree with Rory’s contention that we cannot simply use culture to make parts of the Bible irrelevant to us, because the Bible is to all ages.

    1. I don’t think any part of the bible is irrelevant, nor do I think that Walton is arguing that. Just the opposite. I think understanding the culture makes the bible more relevant. I like Walton’s approach because it seeks to take the inspiration of Scripture as a fact, but seeks to understand how the audience would have received it. The Temple Motif is ‘okay’ and while I enjoy some parts of his overall ordering structure, I have to say that no where else in the bible do find such an interpretation (although this might not be necessary, always) nor from the earliest interpreters.

      I’ve read his first book on the matter had do find some of it ‘sloppy’ but no more so than the ardent creationist who dismisses everything else but their own interpretation.

      I always point to the Prodigal Son when talking about the need to study original reception.

      1. Perhaps I should back up and rephrase more carefully on the “irrelevent” bit. I agree you find the Bible relevant, and though I don’t know Walton, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he also finds the whole thing relevant.

        What I’m worried about, though, is the tendency to take an entire passage and reduce it until we only see a tiny part of it, thus effectively nullifying the rest of it. It this case, though I’ve just seen the video, it looks like he’s taking the word “rest,” moving to what this word may have meant, and then stretching the whole passage around it. And you’re right about the problem that also exists on the YEC side of it all–that instead of picking a word like “rest” as the only word we really see in a passage, we might sometimes only see the words “day,” “evening,” and “morning” in what we should recognize as a very rich passage.

        And what’s this about the prodigal son. Though I’ve already taken up a good deal of time in discussion with you, I would be grateful if you’d let me further pick your brain and ask for some more clarification on what you mean about the prodigal son.


        1. I can see your point, Mitchell, but having read a bit of Walton’s work, I don’t think he is doing it, although perhaps he does base his entire view on the Sabbath. As we saw today, however, he is not alone.

          You could never take up too much time.

          Example. In our culture today, it is nothing to see an old man running, or to see calf muscles. Yet, in the culture of Christ, to see an old man run was humiliation. Further, a man’s calf-muscles were considered seeing the person naked. So, The Father, sees the son, and in front of the entire world, he humiliates himself to show the watching eyes that he has accept the son. More to it, of course, but if we don’t try to understand the original intended reception, we miss a lot.

          As I would teach my Sunday school class. The characters in the story are plenty. The father, the sons, the audience/town folk, the father’s works, the father’s friends, the foreign farmer, etc… There is the widely know fact that the son essentially ‘killed’ the father with his words when he asked for his inheritance, if not the older brother as well. In their culture, the eldest son received the inheritance only upon the death of the son.

          I ramble, but the Cross as the humiliation of Christ in which He suffered shame, stripped of everything, is seen in this story when the Father ran.

          For me, this is why I look first to the original reception.

  3. I’ll defer to your understanding of Walton’s work. And perhaps he is right in so emphasizing the Sabbath, which is intimately connected to the Genesis 1 creation tale and even gets used in a major way in Hebrews 4. Sometimes I wonder if we as Christians have let the issue of whether or not to observe a Sabbath get in the way of the theological significance of the Sabbath.

    And that is a beautiful insight into the story of the Prodigal Son, and I think it provides a good way for me to explain what I see as the role of original reception in understanding the text. Any reader, in any culture and at any time, can see the essential forgiveness and morality conflicts that the story is about. However, there are things that original reception will allow us to see in the text that we might not have otherwise.

    I commend your looking first at original reception, but I take an almost opposite approach. I try to isolate the things that are universally recognizable in the text regardless of the reader, and only after that do I try to see specific details of original reception, because I’m not confident that we can always know for certain what was going on in the original listeners minds, nor even, sometimes, who the original listeners would have been.

    That said, I’m not sure the two methods are all that different when we boil them down to their essentials.

    1. I think above all else, the most essential thing is to let the text speak for itself, and not apply our own contexts, cultural or otherwise to it.

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