The Lost World of Genesis One

Today I finished John Walton's very thought-provoking book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Walton proposes a somewhat unique way of reading Genesis chapter 1, that is likely to be extremely comforting to some Christians and extremely unsettling to others. Sam Storms called it "the most controversial book" he read in 2009, and "one of the most challenging as well."

I won't venture a review on the book yet. I'm still reading critiques and want to discuss it further with some of my friends who are scientists. But here's a summary of Walton's proposal, in his own words:

“The position I have proposed regarding Genesis 1 may be designated the cosmic temple inauguration view. This label picks up the most important aspects of the view: that the cosmos is given its functions as God’s temple, where he has taken up his residence and from where he runs the cosmos. This world is his headquarters. The most distinguishing feature of this view is the suggestion that, as in the rest of the ancient world, the Israelites were much more attuned to the functions of the cosmos than to the material of the cosmos. The functions of the world were more important for them and more interesting to them. They had little concern for the material structures; significance lay in who was in charge and made it work. As a result, Genesis 1 has been presented as an account of functional origins (specifically function for people) rather than an account of material origins (as we have been generally inclined to read it). As an account of functional origins, it offers no clear information about material origins. The key features of this interpretation include most prominently:
  • The Hebrew word translated ‘create’ (bara) concerns assigning functions.
  • The account begins in verse 2 with no functions (rather than no material).
  • The first three days pertain to the three major functions of life: time, weather, food.
  • Days four to six pertain to functionaries in the cosmos being assigned their roles and spheres.
  • The recurring comment that ‘it is good’ refers to functionality (relative to people).
  • The temple aspect is evident in the climax of day seven when God rests – an activity in a temple.
The account can then be seen to be a seven-day inauguration of the cosmic temple, setting up its foundations for the benefit of humanity, with God dwelling in relationship with his creatures.” (p. 162-3)

Whatever the ultimate verdict is on this book, I think it's an important one for believers concerned with the relationship between science and Scripture to read.

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