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We at the Jesus Creed blog, both Scot and RJS, have already invited one and all to enter into a conversation and discussion about John Walton’s (professor at Wheaton) new book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Today is our first day. We anticipate 18 posts, one for each chapter…
Post one concerns this claim by Walton: “Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology.”
What happens to Genesis 1 and the faith-science debate when Genesis 1 is seen as ancient cosmology? Do you find a struggle at your local church or in your own mind with the claim that Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology?
Seems fair enough — and once you keep this point in your head things begin to change. The exciting thing for me about Walton’s book is that he’s holding firm to a text in historical context and not shying away from building theology — the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrine of creation, etc – on the basis of that text in historical context. Furthermore, he’s unafraid to speak into the mess that evangelicals got themselves entangled into when it comes to creation science. Walton is asking one simple question: What did this text mean in its context? (He’s got a “that was then but this is now” approach.)
Walton argues Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology … Ancient Israelites “did not know the stars were suns; they did not know that earth was spherical…. They believed that the sky was material (not vaporous…” (16). Most importantly, “And God did not think it important to revise their thinking” (16).
The approach of concordism, which tries to show that Genesis 1 fits modern science, runs into two problems: (1) we cannot translate their ancient cosmology into our cosmology for we will then be trying to make it say things it didn’t say and (2) it assumes that we should read Genesis 1 against modern science, but which modern science? Science is always shifting. He makes this powerful claim on p. 19: “There is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture.”
“God communicated his revelation to his immediate audience terms they understood” (17). Cosmic geography, which is what Genesis 1 is about, is “culturally relative” (18). He uses the example of Israelites thinking people thought with their “intestines” and not just “mind.”
The best way to approach Scripture then is “We must take the text on its own terms — it is not written to us” (21). “Its message transcends the culture in which it originated, but the form in which the message was imbedded was fully permeated by the ancient culture” (21).