Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Lost World of Genesis One: A Book Review by C. John Collins

John Walton, Professor Old Testament at Wheaton College, published The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (InterVarsity, 2009), which has as its main thesis that Genesis 1 can be read as a liturgical inauguration ceremony of the cosmic temple. We are grateful that C. John Collins, Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, was found willing to review the book for us, as Collins has contributed significantly to the consideration of Genesis 1-4 from a Reformed perspective. His review is provided in our “collected papers” (see the sidebar); a direct link is here.

An online public lecture by Walton includes much of the book’s content. We welcome your responses to Walton’s book as well as to Collins’s critical review.


Dennis Venema said...

Thank you for posting this review from Dr. Collins. I had the pleasure of meeting him this summer at the ASA meeting and hearing him speak (in the same symposium I spoke in). Will he be available for answering comments on this post?

Dennis Venema
Langley, BC

Reformed Academic said...

Yes, Dr. Collins has indicated to us that he will respond to comments as his time permits.

Noel Rude said...

Part One

One wishes Walton hadn't wandered off into Intelligent Design and the nature of science and thus expose his ignorance--even if it gives him street cred with Francis S. Collins it will reduce standing among supporters of ID. But Walton does have some important things to say in regard to Genesis. I don't think he can be sloughed off as easily as we might think. Modern science does call into question many of the assumptions and interpretations of the past, and I should hope that the overthrow of materialism does not mean everyone blindly return to all the orthodoxy of the past.

The rabbis long ago realized that when God says, "Let there be . and let [it do thus and such]," or, "Let there be . in order to .," that those things generally exist before God has spoken. Thus the earth/land (eretz) that is brought forth and named on the 3rd day was already there in verse 2: "And the land was tohu and bohu. . ." And if the light of the 1st day gave rise to the passage of evening and morning, one assumes the sun and moon predated their assignments on the 4th day. In the second account of creation Adam is the first of all the creatures, which would mean he was brought forth from the dust at least at the beginning of the 5th day when the first creatures were brought forth. It is in this vein that the Gemara cites an interpretation attributed to Elijah the prophet (Sanhedrin 97b; Abodah Zarah 9a): "The words of Elijah were studied: The world endures six thousand years--tohu two thousand, Torah two thousand, the days of the messiah two thousand."

Earth (eretz) is the name God gave to the dry land that appeared on the 3rd day (Gen 1:10): "And God called the dry land Earth (eretz)," which is here understood to be the land of Israel which remained tohu or 'unproductive' (without Torah) until the beginning of the 3rd millennium when God said to Abraham (Gen 12:1), "Get thee out of thy country . . . unto the land (eretz) that I will shew thee." The land was two millennia without Torah before Abraham entered it, and then the two millennia of Torah would transpire until the coming of the Messiah. Thus just as Adam was the first of the creatures, and just as he was there with God to name them as they were brought forth on the 5th and 6th days, so the second Adam (Messiah) was to appear at the beginning of the 5th millennium. Christians think he did, the rabbis said that he didn't "because of our many sins."

I suspect the New Testament plays on such midrashic teachings, as in Colossians 1:15, "Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature." And it has been thought that Ussher had Adam created precisely 4000 years before the birth of Jesus (I haven't seen Saul Leeman's article--any of you able to get it for me?).

Where does Paul root his understanding of the resurrection? I would suggest it's from Adam in Genesis (1Corinthians 15:45-49): "And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul [Gen 2:7]; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy [Gen 5:3], we shall also bear the image of the heavenly [Gen 1:26]."

Noel Rude
Pendleton, Oregon

Noel Rude said...

Part Two

In this review Prof. John Collins defends his interpretation in regard to Genesis 1:1, yet mostly ignores the vast literature on this verse and its controversial nature. Few exegetes today will argue that bəre'shith refers to an absolute beginning. Creatio ex nihilo may be correct, but Gerhard May makes a convincing argument that it is a post-biblical doctrine.

It would be good if Christian exegetes paid more attention to the rabbinical sages, for often they will cite a scholar as responsible for some original idea when said idea was already discussed long ago in the Midrash, Talmud, and/or by the commentators.

Walton (as also Seely 1991) contends that the biblical firmament, which is the subject of the 2nd day in Genesis, really is understood in Scripture as a solid dome. Should Walton be right, even realizing that the firmament has theological ramifications in Scripture, then we have to deal with it. But if he is wrong I want to know--I'd like to take the high road in regard to biblical inspiration.

I agree with C. John Collins conclusion: "Finally, I am at a loss to know exactly what function Walton thinks Genesis 1 played in the life of ancient Israel, let alone what role it should play in the modern church." This is the problem with those who see, rightly in my opinion, that Genesis is highly symbolic. I would suggest that this may be because academic respectability resides in not perceiving in Genesis what the ancients anciently perceived.

Barr, James. 1984-85. Why the World Was Created in 4004 BC: Archbishop Ussher and Biblical Chronology. Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 67:575-608.

Fesko, John V. 2007. Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis 1 - 3 with the Christ of Eschatology. Fearn, Scotland: Mentor Imprint.

Goldstein, Jonathan A. 1984. The Origins of the Doctrine of Creation Ex Nihilo. Journal of Jewish Studies 35 (2), 127-135.

Goldstein, Jonathan A. 1987. Creation Ex Nihilo: Recantations and Restatements. Journal of Jewish Studies 38(2):187-194.

Leeman, Saul. 1977. Was Bishop Ussher's Chronology Influenced by a Midrash? Semeia 8: 127-129.

May, Gerhard. 1994. Creatio ex Nihilo: The Doctrine of "Creation out of Nothing" in Early Christian Thought. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. (Originally published as Schöpfung aus dem Nichts. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1978).

Seely, Paul H. 1991. The Firmament and the Water Above, Part I: The Meaning of
raqia' in Gen 1:6-8. The Westminster Theological Journal 53 (1991) 227-240. Available on line at

Noel Rude
Pendleton, Oregon

Arnold Sikkema said...

Our readers would be interested to note that BioLogos features a response by Walton to a review by Poythress. BioLogos also includes a reference to our review here by C. John Collins.