Recently, more than one person has suggested John H. Walton’s book, The Lost World of Genesis One, to me as a method of properly understanding the context of Genesis 1 and 2. So I bought and downloaded it to my Kindle. There are good things about Walton’s book; other things, not so much, particularly his attacks on concordism (day-age old-earth creationism) in the very first chapter.
I’m going to start this blog with a summary of the book by a research and conservation biologist named Rick Gerhardt: “…John Walton offers what he calls the “cosmic temple inauguration” interpretation of Genesis 1. As Walton sees it, the original readers of Genesis, like the people of other ancient Near Eastern (ANE) civilizations, saw the world in functional–and not in material–terms. Therefore, when reading the first chapter of Genesis, we ought to understand it not as describing the material origin of the universe and earth (as has always been done), but rather as God’s giving function to an already-existent matter during a concrete (solar or human) 7-day week.” (1)
In Proposition 17 of Walton’s book, he summarizes the themes of The Lost World of Genesis One: 1) The world operates by Yahweh’s design and under His supervision to accomplish his purposes. 2) The cosmos is His temple. 3) Everything in the cosmos was given its role and function by God. 4) Everything in the cosmos functions on behalf of people who are in His image. For the most part, I do not disagree with Walton’s conclusions, although I am reminded of King Solomon’s statement in 2 Chronicles 2:6 (“But who is able to build a house [temple] for Him, for the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain Him?”), but that will be addressed another time.
Now let’s look at the first issue Walton has with concordism:
“Some Christians approach the text of Genesis as if it has modern science embedded in it or it dictates what modern science should look like. This approach to the text of Genesis 1 is called ‘concordism,’ as it seeks to give a modern scientific explanation for the details in the text. This represents one attempt to ‘translate’ the culture and text for the modern reader. The problem is, we cannot translate their cosmology to our cosmology, nor should we…If we try to turn [ancient cosmology] into modern cosmology, we are making the text say something that it never said. It is not just a case of adding meaning (as more information has become available) it is a case of changing meaning. Since we view the text as authoritative, it is a dangerous thing to change the meaning of the text into something it never intended to say.” (2)
Wow, this is a serious charge leveled at old-earth, day-age creationists–that we are supposedly trying to change the meaning of the text! But that statement is very far from the truth. We, as a body of old-earth believers, desire to use scientific findings, whether ancient or modern, to verify the truths of the Genesis 1 and 2 accounts, for not only our own spiritual and intellectual benefit, but also to be able to share these truths with others, some of whom may be non-Christians. How is Walton so certain that Genesis 1 and 2 has nothing to offer for modern cosmology, and vice versa? The Bible does not compartmentalize science away from faith; Job 38-41, Psalm 19: 1-6 and Psalm 104 are Scriptural examples of interfaces of science and faith. “[I]nnumerable things in the Bible,” writes Professor David Snoke, “are open to scientific investigation. We are all familiar with archaeological digs that seek to confirm facts recorded in the Bible; biologists have also looked into the flora and fauna described in the Bible. Looking to line up geology and cosmology with the Bible is no different.” (3)
Walton, again: “Another problem with concordism is that is assumes that the text should be understood in reference to current scientific consensus, which would mean that it would neither correspond to last century’s scientific consensus nor to that which may develop in the next century. If God were intent on making His revelation correspond to science, we have to ask which science. We are well aware that science is dynamic rather than static. By its very nature science is in a constant state of flux…So if God aligned revelation with one particular science, it would have been unintelligible to people who lived prior to the time of that science, and it would be obsolete to those who live after that time. We gain nothing by bringing God’s revelation into accordance with today’s science. In contrast, it makes perfect sense that God communicated His revelation to His immediate audience in terms they understood.” (4)
There is nothing wrong with that last sentence. But the charges that God would had to have addressed a certain branch of science in order for concordism to be true, and that God would have to “align revelation with one particular science,” are nonsense. Yes, some trends, certain scientific theorems, certain astrophysical concepts, some biological notions have been utterly disproven. However, a myriad of theories and principles in all branches of science continue to be scientifically proven time after time.
Walton goes on to write: “Through the entire Bible, there is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture. No passage offers a scientific perspective that was not common to the Old World science of antiquity.” (5) I’m concerned about that statement ‘there is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture.’ Is that really true? When King Solomon prayed to God for wisdom and knowledge in 2 Chronicles 1:10, God not only bestowed these favors to Solomon, but also gave the king wisdom in botany and biology, as recorded in 1 Kings 4:33-34: “[Solomon] spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even to the hyssop that grows on the wall; he spoke also of animals and birds and creeping things and fish. Men came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.” While Daniel and his friends were held captive in Babylon (as part of the Babylonian captivity of Israel), it is recorded that “God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom” (Daniel 1:17) Why wouldn’t the understanding of natural sciences of that time have been part of their newfound knowledge? And how can we presuppose that some of that scientific knowledge wasn’t brought back to the land of Israel after the Israelites were returned to their land by Cyrus?
One serious problem with discarding concordism/day-age interpretation of Genesis 1 is that we lose a tool to help evangelize those who do not believe in Christ. “A good deal of effective apologetic material,” writes Rick Gerhardt, “is lost if one denies that Genesis 1 claims a material beginning to the universe. With the discovery of evidence for that beginning (the empirical validation of Einstein’s theories of relativity and of a big bang model for the origin of the universe), many astronomers, physicists, and others have turned to Christ, recognizing in the conclusions of their science support for the opening claim (understood in a material sense) of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.” (6)
So here is my conclusion: I think there is a certain amount of validity to what Walton calls the “cosmic temple inauguration” perspective of Genesis 1, and that Genesis 1 and 2 were also meant as the Biblical alternatives to pagan cosmologies from the nations surrounding Israel in that era. However, as a general rule, I still find myself following the concordist/day-age interpretation. While it is true that the original Hebrew audience might not have been too concerned about the chemical composition of the thick cloud layers which surrounded the Earth in its early history, it should not negate trying to scientifically prove the veracity of the Genesis 1 and 2 accounts in this present time.
(2) Walton, John H. The Lost World of Genesis One, Intervarsity Press, 2010, p. 16-17
(3) Snoke, David. A Biblical Case For An Old Earth, Baker Books, 2006, p. 116
(4) Walton, p. 17
(5) Walton, p. 19