For a start, see my recent review. Over the next two posts, I want to look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of his argument. I would strongly recommend this book to the reader who wants to start an exploration of a literal in context approach.
I have had a few days to think about this book and in doing so, I find that this book is worth a deeper look. While it may not officially be a book review, I feel that we can review his argument on a deeper level without sacrificing too much of the book itself.
I have identified three areas of weakness in which I see that the author’s argument has –
- Is new, and thus, because of the virtue of never having been tried before, it is untrustworthy.
- The use of Sabbath Rest and the Eight Day theology
- The reliance upon the Temple motif with the insistence that Divinity rests in the Temple.
We will explore these three things and leave the discussion open for more.
First, as with any doctrine or interpretation, it must be tested by Scripture. In this case, since the doctrine that God created the world for His purposed is maintained and acknowledged – it is indeed very central to his argument – we must look elsewhere for verification of the interpretation. I would look to Tradition, to either ancient Judaism or to the Church Fathers. (While they are not always the best in interpreting Judaism, they must be included as a link to the Jewish community which produced Romans.) The author provides only creation myths from the Ancient Near East.
The author uses a few Egyptian texts as well as Mesopotamian texts to underscore this interpretation. There can be no denying that the ANE texts are too close for comfort to the Genesis account (this has been explained in different ways), he does show that the texts differ in their goal. While ANE myths center on the gods generally being selfish in their creation, with making things purposed for them, the God of the Hebrew texts constantly creates things which are ‘good’ for humanity. All of creation is for humanity, alone.
The fact that this interpretation cannot be found in history, except by conjecture, is a disability which plagues the entire work. It is not that it cannot be overcome, but as a new interpretation, it quickly becomes a new revelation. As a new revelation it is derived mainly from ANE texts and human reasoning.
Secondly, Walton states that the Sabbath rest, which seemingly has been misunderstood for all these generations, was not merely about rest, but first about letting God have control (because it was on this day which God inhabited the temple) and second about God ending His role as Creator and beginning His role as sustainer. We can actually find this idea in 2nd Enoch, an apocryphal work from around the time of Christ:
And I appointed the eighth day also, that the eighth day should be the first-created after my work, and that [the first seven] revolve in the form of the seventh thousand, and that at the beginning of the eighth thousand there should be a time of not-counting, endless, with neither years nor months nor weeks nor days nor hours. (2EN 33:1-2 OTP)
While I count his idea of the Sabbath as a weak point, the author’s assumption that the Eighth Day is important is dead on. We can find many examples of this (although it is never cited) in the early Church writings from Barnabas to Origen, from Justin to Clement.
Finally, in conjunction with the previous point, Walton builds his entire argument around the idea that the Sabbath is the moment which God assumes His habitation in the Cosmic Temple. It is the author’s statement that the Sabbath is the time when God inhabited the cosmic temple on the Sabbath which is not only the key to his argument, but a rather weak assertion as well.
I quote from page 146 –
What constitutes rest?
Given the view of Genesis 1 presented in this book, we get a new way to think about the sabbath. If God’s rest on the seventh day involved him taking up his presence in his cosmic temple which has been ordered and made functional so that he is now ready to run the cosmos, our sabbath rest can be seen in a different light. (emphasis mine)
The author first wants to assume that his assertion concerning the Sabbath rest is the correct one. Further, Walton wants us to assume that somehow God was not running the cosmos before the first Sabbath. In not considering the rather Jewish understanding of Sabbath in Hebrews, the author would then allow us to assume that the Sabbath rest spoken of in Hebrews would allow us, upon entering into that rest, to become gods.
I would agree with his understanding that the Jerusalem Temple was patterned after heavenly things, but does this add to the author’s comments about the Cosmic Temple? While I believe it does, the author fails to materialize biblical support that the Sabbath in Genesis One is to be seen as God assuming His habitation in the Temple. In quoting Psalms 132, the author misses the clear statement that God’s dwelling place is in (mystical) Zion, assuming that this points, or rather allows him to point, to the fact that one can understand Sabbath, rest and Temple as meaning the same thing as the author would like for them to mean.