John Walton offers some important reminders in this video with regard to how we should approach a reading of the book of Genesis. Walton says that first and foremost, we have to approach Genesis for what it is, which is an ancient text. While it is a text that is written for us—in the sense that it was written for all people in all times and places—it was not written to us. That is, it was not written in our language or with our culture in mind.
It was written to an ancient audience, therefore if we want to get the best benefit of the text, we need to try to get into that context and think about what the author meant and what he might have been trying to communicate.
According to Walton, Genesis 1 is really the first place to begin such a reading. He asserts that in order get the idea of what the 6 or 7 days is all about, we have to try and understand what this would have meant to anyone (Israelite or non-Israelite) in ancient world. We need to understand that the part of the narrative when God rests on the seventh day is a very important element of it.
One thing that we probably don’t pick up on, Walton observes, is that when God is said to “rest”, the writer is making a reference to the temple—one that the original readers would have immediately understood. In ancient times, the temple and the cosmos were blended into one. Thus the temple isn’t simply a place of respite or worship, rather, it is the place from which the cosmos is run. As such, on the seventh day, after the cosmos is organized, God takes up his “rest” in this cosmic temple and starts running it. So the first chapter of the Bible is about the temple—the cosmos.
John Walton, in his book , The Lost World of Genesis One, has done the evangelical community a great service. He has shown that the first chapter of the Bible is not a story about how the material came into existence. Rather it is about how the material came to take on its function within God’s temple (the cosmos). If we look to it for scientific statement, Walton says, we are asking it to say something it was never intended to say. We had two earlier posts on this book. Consider referring back to them and then commenting below. Do you think that Walton’s approach will prove helpful to the evangelical church?
Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.
John Walton is a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois and an editor and writer of Old Testament comparative studies and commentaries. Throughout his research, Walton has focused his attention on comparing the culture and literature of the Bible and the ancient Near East. He has published dozens of books, articles and translations, both as writer and editor, including his latest book The Lost World of Genesis One.