John Walton audio resources on Genesis 1

Recently I've been aware of a strong positive correlation between the phrases "John Walton" and "Genesis One". In order to investigate this further, I've obtained a copy of John Walton's 2009 book, The Lost World of Genesis One. However, since the average gestation time for a book to sit dormant on my bookshelf is around a decade (neglecting brief excursions into removal boxes), I thought I'd try to find some online audio material by John Walton to whet my appetite. Here's what I found (with thanks to the ASA).

(* = my recommended listening, to avoid too much repetition of material.)

First, a few video clips by John Walton over at BioLogos:

(*) Understanding Genesis. We need to think carefully about how an ancient audience would have heard Genesis 1. When they heard about God "resting", they would have immediately thought of a temple, as temples are places where gods rest. So the cosmos is pictured as a temple, with everything in its rightful place, in which God takes his seat in order to govern the world.

On Myth and Meaning. Ancient people genuinely believed their myths and used them to answer the big questions: who are we and how does the world work? (For us, science can function as a kind of "mythology", answering those same big questions.) This way of communicating was part of the "cognitive environment" of the ancient Israelites, so it is no surprise that God's revelation in the book of Genesis sometimes reflects this and has a similar function.

Science, Scripture and the Creation Narrative. Reading science into the Bible or reading science out of the Bible inevitably ends up making the text mean things that it would never have meant to its original audience. Whereas we tend to think about Genesis 1 in terms of material origins, this is not what the ancient Israelites would have been interested in. Instead, the questions in their minds would have been about the function of the creation and about who is in charge of running it.

Now some full-length talks, in chronological order:

Genesis and Cosmology, lecture at a conference on Scientific Cosmology and Christianity at Wheaton College, Illinois, 26-27 March 2003

(52 minutes + 10 minutes Q&A, in-depth.) All of the standard approaches to Genesis 1 assume that creation in Genesis concerns making things. This is not the best way to view the text. Genesis 1 is about God bringing order (functionality) out of disorder (non-functionality). For the original audience, "existence" is defined by having a function, not by having a material structure. "Beginning" refers to the initial period. "Create" refers to establishing functions (not manufacturing things). "Formless and empty" points to a creation not lacking matter but lacking order. Genesis is not interested in the material structures that allow the functions to operate. The details of the days of creation fit with this view (see below). Comparison with ancient literature shows a similar interest in the function of creation rather than the material structure. The cosmos is presented in Genesis 1 as a temple (see below).

Why Didn't God Call the Light "Light"?, sermon at Blackhawk Church, Madison, Wisconsin, 18 September 2005

(45 minutes, more accessible.) We must learn to read the Bible on its own terms. "Creation" is about causing things to exist, but what does it mean to "exist"? For us, we immediately think about physical structure, but this was not something the ancients were interested in. For them, "existence" was a matter of having a function and a purpose. So on Day 1 God called the light "day", not "light", because God was creating a function: time. Then on Day 2 the function in mind is weather, and the text is so disinterested in physical structures that it even uses their incorrect view of the structure of the cosmos (with a solid "firmament" holding back the waters) to communicate its message about function. (Similarly, the Scriptures make no effort to correct the incorrect belief that humans think with their hearts or with their guts, rather than with their brains.) And on Day 3 the function in mind is food. Then Days 4 to 6 speak of functionaries operating in the spheres of certain functions. So what is the whole thing about? This is the seven-day dedication of the cosmos as God's temple, with the functions declared, the functionaries installed and the deity taking his place within that temple.

How Can We Understand What the Bible Really Says, and What Does it Say About Creation?, lecture at Blackhawk Church, Madison, Wisconsin, 24 March 2007

(45 minutes, substantial but accessible.) There is a danger of treating the Bible as a modern text. It is an ancient text, communicated into an ancient historical context, with an ancient language and an ancient culture. God spoke to people using the (not necessarily correct) beliefs they had about the way things are physically structured. God is seen as being involved in "nature" and history, with everything having a goal and purpose. (Case study: intelligent design; ID.) Genesis 1: existence, function, creating, Days 1-6, temple, God's rest (summaries as above). Science is a friend.

Genesis One as Ancient Cosmology, Logos Lecture Series, 23 June 2008

(60 minutes + 22 minutes Q&A, in-depth but gently paced.) Reading Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature helps us to understand how ancient people thought, which helps us to understand the Old Testament. Creation in ANE texts and in Genesis 1: functional origins rather than material, temple, existence (as above). Genesis 1 doesn't tell us about the age of the material earth.

The Lost World of Genesis One, lecture at Blackhawk Church, Madison, Wisconsin, 10 October 2009

(*) Part 1 (49 minutes, accessible). Reading Genesis 1 from an ancient worldview (as above): ANE literature, temple. The "rest" of God, in his cosmic temple on Day 7 and throughout the Bible, is linked with his rule being established and order prevailing over chaos. The temple is a "micro-cosmos", and this is reflected in its design. Creation in Genesis is revealed in terms of the science of the ancient Israelites: accommodation to their own ways of thinking without revealing any new science to them. Thinking with the heart (as above). Function and material structure, creating (as above). Solomon's temple took years to build (material), but was not created as a temple until the dedication, with the functionaries installed and with God taking his place. It is the same with the cosmic temple in Genesis 1. Days 1-6 (as above).

Part 2 (45 minutes, accessible). The Bible does not tell us how or when God created the earth or the cosmos. Young-earth interpretations of Genesis 1 can be barriers to people believing the Bible, as Bruce Waltke has discussed in an essay. (There are theological problems with accepting human evolution, however.) Young-earth creationism and ID. All of creation has a purpose, but teleology is outside of the realm of science (except in ID). Teleology (its absence or presence) should not be the focus of science education. Science is not a threat to God but an opportunity to discover more about his work. God's "rest" (temple rule) is not something so much to be imitated as to be acknowledged. Implications for the Sabbath.

Initial reflections on all this material...

One of the new things (to me) presented here is the temple imagery shaping Genesis 1. This is excellent stuff, and clearly shows the benefits of exploring the cultural background of the ancient world.

Another new thing (to me) is the discussion about what the ancient people believed about the nature of reality. On this matter I'm a little confused. On the one hand, it seems that the ancients had almost no interest at all in the creation of material structures, so that asking Genesis 1 to tell us about these things is asking questions that it was never intended to answer. But then, on the other hand, they apparently had (incorrect) beliefs about the material structure of reality, believing that there really was a solid dome up there in the sky, and believing that we really do think with our guts and hearts. So they clearly had some interest in material structures. How are structure and function related, and does this distinction apply equally outside of Genesis 1?

Finally, one can get the impression that a different interpretation of Genesis 1 can remove all or even most of the apparent conflict between science and the Bible regarding origins. This is far from the case: see my report on the Creation or Evolution discussion from June.

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