John Walton on Genesis 1

Below is a video from BioLogos in which John Walton is interviewed about the question of understanding Genesis chapter 1. These thoughts might challenge us, especially if we believe Genesis 1 is exact in its literalness. But Walton shares some interesting insights we must consider about this ancient text.

Some of the thoughts that Walton shares are expounded on his book, The Lost World of Genesis One. I have not been able to read it just yet, but I make you aware of the book.

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5 thoughts on “John Walton on Genesis 1

  1. Honestly, I found it a bit humorous that he begins talking about how Genesis (and the Bible itself) is not written to modern day people, but then he goes on to compare the 7th day of God’s rest to the oval office. I understand that it is simply an illustration, but that seems odd and completely unhelpful. I don’t see any grounds for it either.

  2. …I do think that John Walton is spot on that we must approach and interpret Scripture from the eyes of the original hearers and from the perspective of the Biblical author. Doing that is essential to any type of interpretation.

    I just don’t see how he jumps to comparing God’s seventh day rest to the President working in the Oval office. Wouldn’t it be better to see how other Scripture itself (the ones who this was written to) interprets this text?

    I think we can do just that by looking at Exodus 20:8-11. Whether or not you believe that Moses is the writer of the Pentateuch, in this text we have a writer that is interpreting the text of Genesis 1. In Exodus 20:8-11 Moses (whom I believe is the author) is giving instruction related to honoring the Sabbath. In doing so, he refers to the creation narrative in how God takes six days to create the universe and then rests on the seventh day. Moses then moves to directly relate this to their seven day week in that of working six days and resting on the seventh. This was the original audience of Genesis interpreting the days of creation as literal days and the seventh day as a day of rest.

    Isn’t this a better interpretation if we truly are wanting to see it from the eyes of the original audience?

  3. Aaron –

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    Honestly, I found it a bit humorous that he begins talking about how Genesis (and the Bible itself) is not written to modern day people, but then he goes on to compare the 7th day of God’s rest to the oval office.

    I think you would understand this, but what Walton is identifying is that Scripture was not written to us, in the sense that it was not written to us specifically, but written to a specific people embedded within a specific historical context of the ancient near east. That kind of imprint is all over the text of Genesis 1 and the following ‘chapters’ of Genesis. So we have to try our best to interpret through their lens (though that is difficult, no doubt).

    His point in referring to the oval office is not to say, ‘See, it’s the same thing as today and thus this text is specifically written to us,’ as if he is contradicting himself. Rather it’s to try and make a connection with people that are within his culture today. But he is in no way connecting the text as being written specifically to people in modern day America. It’s like if I explained what the word logos means in the Greek context and to first century Jews, all to try and expound on and open up John 1. But I then concluded by giving an example of a word in the Dutch language that really encapsulates my main point, all to explain to modern day Belgians. It doesn’t mean that the John 1 was written specifically to those in Belgium today (though it was written for them). It was simply to illustrate a point that makes a connection with people today.

    I think that is the point Walton is making.

    I think for Walton, whether or not the original author believed in a literal 6-day creation, that is not so much the point. With the text, the author was looking to communicate something bigger, which Walton elaborates on, not to mention that the author was probably quite intent on getting us to the ‘meat’ of the story – Abraham and his family.

    • I’m with you on his “to” and “for” argument. You have to understand the writer and original audience in order to understand how the text applies for today. What I don’t agree with is the conclusion he makes about the interpretation of the 7th day.

      You said, “I think for Walton, whether or not the original author believed in a literal 6-day creation, that is not so much the point.” In my opinion, if you don’t take into account the original intent of the author, then any chance of correct interpretation is impossible… or at least totally speculative and subjective.

      What I was trying to say was, that if you accept that the meaning of a text comes from the author (which I do), then the best way to interpret that meaning is to see how the author himself interpreted it (Exodus 20:8-11).

  4. Aaron –

    You said: What I don’t agree with is the conclusion he makes about the interpretation of the 7th day.

    I think Walton would say the whole text of Genesis 1 is ultimately about moving towards the Sabbath. Other details are there, but it is details to get to that main focus. But I might be misunderstanding him. We would probably do well to read his book, The Lost World of Genesis One.

    You said: In my opinion, if you don’t take into account the original intent of the author, then any chance of correct interpretation is impossible… or at least totally speculative and subjective.

    I agree. But what is possible to note is that there is a ‘larger’ and ‘smaller’ intent or focus on the passage. It’s like when we tell a story – we want to get the details correct and in order, but the major point is the climax-end of the story that is our main focus. So, with Genesis 1, the author might have believed in a literal 6-day creation, but his intent was to communicate something larger in the text, and Walton centres that in his Sabbath explanation.

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