October 16, 2017

John Walton: Approaching Genesis as an Ancient Text

In this video, John Walton, Professor of OT at Wheaton College (IL), discusses how we must approach Genesis as an ancient text. Readers must try their best to understand something of the thought-world of people in the Ancient Near East and to read, as much as possible, from their point of view.

One good example of that is grasping the language that portrays “Temple” imagery in Genesis 1-2.

Comments

  1. JoanieD says:

    That was an interesting comparison of the Temple to the Oval Office!

  2. textjunkie says:

    Still not sure how evil and death entered the physical world, though. One of the key uses of early Genesis is it explains why everything dies, affirms that pain and suffering is NOT God’s original plan, and lays the blame for it squarely at the feet of humans. That doesn’t work any more once the story becomes poetry about God’s work in setting up the Promised Land for Israel–then it’s an interesting sociological exercise, but doesn’t set the foundation for the need for salvation.

    Is this world that we live in, with cancers of the sort that killed Michael Spencer, the world that God created and saw was “good”? If not, why not? and when did it change? (was the earth “fallen” before or after this galaxy (http://www2.astronomy.com/asy/default.aspx?c=a&id=2105) was sending out its first light waves?)

    It’s not the culture wars I’m interested in, it’s the question of sin and *physical* death. If it was not human sin that introduced physical death into the world, and all we’re talking about when we talk about the “wages of sin” is spiritual death and separation from God in this world that God created to be ugly and vicious and full of physical pain and suffering already, the whole Christian viewpoint becomes a lot less compelling.

    • As one who tries to look at the natural world as it really is, I can tell you that ALL evidence shows there has always been death. Death is a natural part of mortal existence. This is how we get fossils, and fossil fuels for that matter. When scientists examine fossils they are likely to find evidence of suffering. They may find evidence of injury, or evidence to show that one animal ate another animal. There is no doubt that death predated the arrival of humans on our planet.

      Of course, animals are not capable of deliberately plotting the sadistic murder of another animal. They genuinely kill to satisfy hunger or to gain better opportunities for reproduction. Humans are capable of much more dastardly deeds. Humans are capable of evil thoughts and evil deeds.

      In Genesis 4 we see Cain so consumed with jealousy that he murders his brother. Knowledge of good and evil has led him to (1) Offer gifts to God. (2) Feel pride and envy. Our relationship with God has been perverted. God urges Cain to master his sinful thoughts, but instead Cain allows sin to master him. This is what human have done with our knowledge – our capacity to think about -good and evil.

      This is how the story makes sense to me. As a present day reader I probably can’t grasp all that was understood by the readers of that time. However, this seems to me a story with great significance for how we lead our lives each and every day.

    • With an all-powerful God, can you lay anything squarely at the feet of humans? God could’ve given Adam and Eve a do-over had He wanted. Why would he start making everything die?

      I have never really understood the Christian need for a fall. It is clear to me that humans are full of both good and evil. How it got there, I don’t know. My take is that sometime during our evolution, our consciousness expanded into what we have now, and not only was God revealed to us but we also discovered the benefits of doing bad things to other people.

      • Sounds Jewish to me. 🙂

      • textjunkie says:

        well the nice thing about a fall is it allows us to say both that God is good and God created the universe (which is clearly Not Good), without making God the creator of all the bad things like pain and suffering and physical death.

        Other options include introducing a demiurge did who fouled up Creation, like the gnostics did; or saying no no no, the world is really perfect as it is, it’s just humans who are messed up. But anyone who’s ever had a beloved pet die of old age or sickness knows humans are not the only things that can suffer.

    • Small note Sarah: Recent results from long term studies have indicated that Chimpanzee’s clearly go to war – patrolling, ambushing, killing other chimpanzee’s so that they can enlarge the territory of their own group. So animals can clearly plot the death of others of the same species in ways that would seem very familiar to humans.

  3. “One of the key uses of early Genesis is it explains why everything dies, affirms that pain and suffering is NOT God’s original plan, and lays the blame for it squarely at the feet of humans.”

    But is that really what it says?

    What “death” is the actual consequence?

    “If it was not human sin that introduced physical death into the world, and all we’re talking about when we talk about the “wages of sin” is spiritual death and separation from God in this world that God created to be ugly and vicious and full of physical pain and suffering already, the whole Christian viewpoint becomes a lot less compelling.”

    But does He expect it to remain this way? Is it actually not more compelling to think that He wants us to represent new life, new birth, and His Kingdom that helps heal, and restore? Voices such as N.T. Wright, Tim Keller, etc… charge us to remember this aspect of the “good news”.

    • sorry, this was supposed to be addressed/tied to Textjunkie’s comment.

    • textjunkie says:

      Sure, and that’s actually the brand of Christianity I am most happy with–the one that focuses on restoration and the love of God now, not pie in the sky by and by. However, it’s not a theologically rigorous position, and the whole “Death where is thy sting?” hopefulness of Christianity is gone.
      Physical death you can’t ignore. Spiritual death–lots of folks would argue that doesn’t exist, and certainly is a lot less relevant in the day to day world.

  4. Thanks for posting this video. I also really enjoyed the N. T. Wright videos by BioLogos.

  5. But what is death? What is pain? What is suffering? One animal’s or plant’s or bacterium’s or virus’s or cell’s or planet’s or star’s death or suffering is another being’s source and method and process of feeding and sustaining and reproducing and energizing itself, and vice-versa.

  6. CM,
    Well, I was only now able to view this video. Didn’t realize it was a BioLogos production. No indication of any agenda there, right.

    Well, what can I say? It was only a two minute video. But I’m hoping for meatier stuff in his book. However, if that is what he is going to do, tell us when the text says X it really means Y, behcause, well, it’s an ANE thing. You just had to be there. I hope, I HOPE he is going to provide some documentation for his assertion, when you hear the seventh day, immediately they would think TEMPLE. And when it mentions REST, it means getting down to business.

    I understand that when God rested He didn’t require restoration of His energies, as we do. Yet, much closer evidence, in the text itself parallels this rest with our Sabbath rest. Yes, I’m talking about Ex 20:11 which really IS a commentary on this.

    Thing is, I can very easily show context of “Temple” for Genesis 1, but not by that means. Only thing is, in doing so one also can see that the genre of the text is far from figurative. Well, it’s best I leave things until I’ve read the book really. I was just hoping the video would be more encouraging.

    He’ll need to come up with some solid evidence though, not just this assertion that here’s how a person in the ANE would understand it.

  7. For a much longer presentation, there is a two part presentation by him available at

    http://www.blackhawkchurch.org/resources/event_archive.php

    About 2 hours worth of material

  8. As recommended I have obtained Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One. For some initial observations about the book plese see http://theologica.ning.com/profiles/blogs/good-morning-johnboy