Something Fresh on Genesis

Last week in New York I met John Walton, a Wheaton College Old Testament professor who has a new way of reading Genesis 1-3. My initial response to his theses was mild skepticism. Too often when somebody claims that they see something in the Bible in a whole new way, the result is idiosyncratic or crotchety—interesting, but not particularly convincing or helpful.

As I listened to Walton, though, I grew increasingly appreciative. He’s a thoroughly conservative reader, taking the text with dead seriousness and not overruling anything from a modern sensibility—“We now know.” He reads Genesis in a very unfamiliar way, but in a way that fits into and fills out the rest of Scripture. It avoids “modern” controversies and fits an Ancient Near East context.

Briefly, he sees the first chapters of Genesis as speaking of the earth as God’s Temple. The “action” is the establishment of that Temple as a place for God to live, and human responsibility to serve God in that Temple. It’s not a material history of the earth, Walton says, but a “spiritual” history. (My word, not his.) It sets the stage for everything that comes out in the rest of the Bible.

He lays out the details on Genesis 1 in his book The Lost World of Genesis One. I haven’t read this yet. In the talk I heard and the subsequent discussion, he built on that material into Genesis 2. Very, very interesting stuff. I thought you might like to know.

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4 Responses to “Something Fresh on Genesis”

  1. Bill Reichert Says:

    Very interesting, Tim. Do you know how does Professor Walton reconciles his conclusion with the NT teaching that the church is God’s temple?

    • timstafford Says:

      Briefly, he reads Genesis 2-3 as the abandonment of the Temple by its priests (humanity) who refuse its calling. Thus “the fall.” The rest of the Bible is the story of God reestablishing his Temple rule…. where there is order and peace. Thus, the OT Temple is a kind of new Eden, and so are the people of God. And thus the rule is expanded into the Kingdom of God. The terminology changes, but I think you can trace it in a fairly straight line.

      Truthfully, I need to learn more about this before I spout it. But this is the rough outline I got.

  2. Michael P. Says:

    Quite interesting. Walton’s interpretation reminds me of some similar ideas in a book by Peter Leithart entitled _A House for My Name_. In that book, Leithart surveys and frames the OT using the metaphor of God building himself a house. Thus, in Genesis 1, God builds himself a three-story house, and Leithart posits that this three-storied house is alluded to in various ways throughout the Scriptures. It’s a good read that you might want to check it out.

  3. David Graham Says:

    Maybe John Walton should collaborate with Simon Conway Morris on a book?

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