A review of The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John H. Walton

The first verse of the first book of the Bible teaches, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) and the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews asserts, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 11:3). Throughout history, the church has held that such statements from Scripture provide the basis for the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing). The first line of the Apostles’ Creed reads, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth”, and the first line of the Nicene Creed, “We believe in one God … maker of heaven and earth and everything that is, seen and unseen.” The Shorter Westminster Catechism states, “The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing.”

According to Walton, however, this view of Genesis is wrong, and the church has misunderstood its real meaning for many centuries. The first book of the Bible, he argues, does not provide an account of material origins, but functional origins. The ancients, he maintains, thought of existence in terms of function in society and culture, and, in their view, true existence is not even achieved until people and God are there to benefit from these functions (pp. 27, 36). The Genesis account, he claims, refers to a literal seven day period in history, sometime after the material creation, when God assigned the cosmos its real intended functions, prior to his taking up residence in it as his temple. So, according to Walton, the Creation Week should be understood as follows. On Day 1, God’s command, “let there be light”, and his “separating” light from darkness inaugurated temple time. The expanse (sky), ordained on Day 2, is established as the space in which his people live and would function in the new order to control rainfall and irrigation for their benefit. On Day 3, God separated the waters on the earth so that plants could grow on the dry land, providing us with food. On Day 4, the “lights in the sky” were dedicated as separators of day and night and markers of seasons, days and years. On Day 5, the roles of fish and birds are assigned their temple function, this being to fill the waters and fly in the sky. Similarly, on Day 6, the terrestrial creatures are ordained to reproduce and fill the land. Man is brought into being as a spiritual creature, carrying the image of God, and his function is established, to exercise dominion over the earth under God. Finally, on Day 7, God’s resting from his work should be understood as his taking up residence in the cosmos, thus making it his temple. Hence, the seven days refer to an inauguration ceremony where God’s temple is “created” and made functional (pp. 87–88)….

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