John H. Walton is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois and author of this book: The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (2015)—an IVP Academic publication. This is Walton’s third book among the “Lost World” series he has written, including The Lost World of Genesis One (2009), The Lost World of Scripture (2013), and The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest (2017). His research focuses primarily on interpreting the Old Testament in light of the cultural context of the Ancient Near East—which I will refer to as ANE for the remainder of this review. As such, his teachings take a turn from the common approach and unveil literary components essential to creation narratives and their interpretation.
For those unfamiliar with Walton’s work, calling him an expert in the field is an understatement. He has given lectures on behalf of biologists, and written several books, articles, and commentaries; all of which have been successful contributions to evangelical scholarship. If my praise does not sell you on the this book’s credibility, then surely N.T. Wright’s contribution on its behalf (p. 170-180). Needless to say, I would thoroughly enjoy a debate between Walton and someone (other than Ken Ham) debate valiantly over this book’s subject matter. Whether or not that happens, whoever steps forward attempting to discredit the cultural and textual arguments presented in The Lost World of Adam and Eve better be prepared, because they are in for quite the challenge.
I need to clarify something before proceeding, and it addresses those who will read the book’s title and assume that “Walton’s a heretic!”, “This book supports evolution!” or my personal favorite “This is the same liberal agenda that took prayer out of our schools!” Before you write the book off entirely, let me assure you that this is none of the above is Walton’s intention. He argues that if we set aside our modern scientific questions and get inside the text of Scripture, it is understood as an act of communication within its ancient cognitive environment: it’s literary, cultural and historical context. Once scriptural traditionalism and modern science are removed from our Bible study methodology, the reader will see that the text of Genesis 1-3 does not require Christians to deny an old earth view, nor do they reject evolution to be God’s method of creating he initiates. As Walton demonstrates, these early chapters of Genesis known as the creation narratives focus on God’s ordering of the cosmos, assigning functions, and its inhabitant’s roles. He states, “We are not compelled to bring the Bible ino conformity either with its cultural context or with modern sciene, but if an interpretation of Genesis, for example, coincides with what we find as characteristic of the ancient world or with what seem to b sound scientific conflusions, all the better” (p. 14).
Digging into the content of the book, Walton’s method for each proposition is to identify a common assumption of the text from which he applies exegetical analysis through an ANE lens. To my dismay, his propositions demonstrate why many of these assumptions are inaccurate as a result of cultural conditioning, inaccurate interpretation, and at points, unapologetically dogmatic. Simply put, Walton develops what he refers to as an “archetypal approach” progressively with each chapter. He uses this approach to re-evaluate the common assumptions I mentioned prior.
Propositions 6-10 made up my favorite section of the book. These chapters were devoted to the second creation account (Gen 2:4–24) and why the archetypal approach provides a solution to the problems that common assumptions have created. For example, it is commonly assumed that Genesis 2:7 is a recapitulation Genesis 1-2—a more detailed account of day six (p. 64). Walton expresses understanding for why this is easily assumed, but follows with showing the reader the larger problems this can create, such as the sequence. God created animals before humans in Genesis 1, but created Adam before animals in Genesis 2. If this is a recapitulation, meaning it is more concerned with historical order, then what does one make of this conundrum? As Walton goes to show, these are archetypal claims and not claims of material origins; forming of humans in ANE accounts is archetypal, so it would not be unusual for the Israelites to think in similar terms (p. 66-67). His conclusion is that these verses should be viewed as a sequel rather than as a recapitulation of day six in the first account which we see in Gen 1:1–2:3 (p. 68-69)
This is a hot topic for many and discussions about it often generate more heat than light, unfortunately. Walton provides a needed solution for a timeless discussion about human origins that Christians need to participate in if they haven’t already. This book is a valuable catalyst to that discussion and I hope many will see this as well, because I think all would agree that this topic tends to not be a safe discussion point among circles of theological conversationalists. It shows that the tension created between modern science and scriptural authority is neither necessary nor accurate for our interpretation of Genesis 1-3. This assumed dichotomy develops when advocates from either camp become militant extremists-
Biblical hermeneutics are usurped by a “traditional” interpretation of scripture
Science accepts untested theoretical proposals as sufficient conclusions without evidence.
As Christians, we should encourage healthy speculation and open our doors to discuss hot button issues such as this in a way that is honest and respectful of those with differing views. We need to continue to pursue truth together even when we are faced with polar opposite views. Walton summarizes this with excellence and transparency about how this injustice has negatively affected the conversation.
“Whenever we misrepresent what the Bible says by positioning it as being in conflict with science, we force people to make a choice. Certainly we make a choice when we affirm that God is the Creator, but when we tell the young people reared in a Christian faith that there is a war between science and faith that if they accept certain scientific conclusions, they will be abandoning the Bible, they often believe us. Then, when they are confronted with a very persuasive presentation of an old earth or a case for common ancestry from the genomic record, they decide that the Bible must go. Not because they no longer believe in Jesus, but because they have been taught that believing in an old earth or believing some form of evolutionary theory is not compatible with believing Bible” (p.209).
For those of you who listen to audiobooks, The Lost World of Genesis One is also available on audible. Don’t have audible? Start your free trial today by clicking below. The first two books are free!
Disclaimer: I received this book from IVP Academic for the purposes of providing an unbiased review. All views are my own.