Defending the Authority of Scripture with John Walton
In this video, John Walton, professor of Old Testament History at Wheaton College, discusses the content of Genesis 1 and how it should be read.
In my book, I've tried to show that the account in Genesis 1 is not intended to be an account of material origins. If that's so, the Bible has no narrative of material origins and if that's so, then we don't have to defend the Bible's narrative of material origins against a scientific narrative, because the Bible doesn't offer one.
In that case, we can say well, if the Bible doesn't offer us a narrative, we can look to science for the narrative. That doesn't mean that we'll like the narrative that they give us or that we have to agree with it, but they're free to give it their best shot. And that's great. It makes a difference in terms of what you defend.
Now, of course, I believe that the Bible offers us a theology of material origins. That is, there would be no doubt that, whatever there is, God made it. But that's a different thing from saying that Genesis 1 contains the narrative that gives an account of material origins. There's a theology of origins, material or otherwise, that I believe is Biblical, that I believe the Israelites would have understood. That is that whatever exists, God made it; God's responsible.
Now, that's different from saying: what part of the story do we have in Genesis 1? I don't think we have the material part of the story in Genesis 1. So, it's not offering that narrative of material origins. As I write in the book, I call it a narrative as an account of functional origins, how it works. How it works for us, the people that God made this all for. God didn't make it for himself. He doesn't need any of that. He made it for us and then he inhabited it, that's the rest.
He comes into this cosmic temple and he makes it functional for us. That's the account that we have. That's what the Israelites would have looked for. That's what they would have cared most about. That's what has the richest theology behind it. It's not that they're unaware of the material, it's just that they didn't care about it. And so in that sense, when I say what's Genesis 1, Genesis 1 is not an account of material origins. It's an account of functional origins.
And so in that sense, the Bible doesn't have the narrative of material origins. But it does have this underlying theology. In other words, I wouldn't want people to say oh, so you don't believe that God actually is responsible for the manufacture of matter. Of course, I believe that. But that's not the story of Genesis 1.