On a Lost World

In my continuing quest to study the interface between science and theology, my need to learn more about the interpretation of the Book of Genesis led me to another series of books. Thanks to the booklist at Biologos, I started with The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, by Dr. John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College (the school from which Billy Graham graduated).

The paperback book is short (192 pages includes notes and an index), and organized into 18 propositions – the individual themes that organizes the content. The book is easy to read and understand, thus a good read for anyone generally interested in the topic or those struggling with the science-theology conflict centering around Genesis , including pastors, science teachers, and laypeople. It serves to stimulate thinking while serving as a starting point for further study of Genesis regarding origins.

On several occasions, Dr. Walton openly challenges the meaning of “taking the Bible literally” when it comes to determining the meaning of ancient literature as Genesis. He challenges studying the text through the eyes of the modern age, including today’s knowledge of science, thus emphasizes that in order to gain a literal understanding, one must do the following:

  • Read the text in the context of the times
  • Translate words based on their use, grammar, syntax, and understanding of the times the author wrote the text
  • Determine the author’s intent and what the audience would be understand
  • Identify any significant events of the time for context

One of the key to Walton’s discussion is around the Hebrew word bara. Meaning create, Walton continually provides two meanings: to create something new (a material look), and to create order (a functional perspective). Walton also examines Hebrew words meaning day, earth, Sabbath, humanity, and a few others, and intertwines his propositions into an interesting collection.

Instead of providing specific details about Dr. Walton’s conclusions, I will simply recommend The Lost World of Genesis One for study and discussion as his perspective is interesting and engaging. Meanwhile, for me, it is on to Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns.

Text’s background at Biologos

Book at Amazon

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15 thoughts on “On a Lost World

  1. My brother-in-law is a theological student, who speaks ancient Hebrew, Latin, Greek, and about a dozen others. We’ve discussed the books of the Bible as history, and found 3 basic problems. The first problem most people encounter is that they use the King James version of the Bible. This is HEAVILY “modified” from the ancient Greek and Hebrew. The second problem is poor translations from the ancient languages into English (something you touch upon). Third, and my pet peeve with history, is people reading a text, written (depending on the book) between 16 and 19 centuries ago, with modern eyes (which you also touch upon). In my military history world, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima is a perfect example. People today cannot picture how we could murder thousands of innocent Japanese civilians with such a horrific weapon. 66 years ago, we viewed the Japanese people as little buck-toothed, thick-glasses-wearing monkeys, with limited intelligence and questionable humanity. Temporal mindset is everything when studying history, religious, military, or whatever subset.

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    • John,
      You hit an some key issues on the topic. As I’ve said before, in a trip to one of the major bookstores I counted 17 different versions of the Bible. Let’s face it … each of them is biased based on their translation, … and too boot, even more so if it provides interpretation & commentary. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. John Walton’s book is very good, especially his discussions on Biblical interpretation and his thoughts on the interaction between science, the Bible and faith. I too, highly recommend it.
    His most important point, and the idea is crucial, is that Genesis is not about science. Genesis is not about science. It can’t be said often enough.

    Genesis is not about science.

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    • Nancy,
      Receiving your endorsement on this means a lot, but I also know your stance on the issue. 🙂 Your statement is profound, so I will add it one more time: Genesis is not about science. Thanks for commenting.

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  3. Wow, Frank. You got me to listen to a religious person. Not bad. 😉

    Genesis…the creation is one of my favorite stories. There is a drive for human beings to get to the bottom of their own story. The Navajos have a tradition of the First Man and First Woman. The Greeks idea for the first mortal man (like we’re mortal today) starts maybe with Prometheus (eek, his judgment and immortality sucked, he had to eat his own liver). Then Pandora as an Eve. Prometheus’ son Deucalion who survived the Great Flood seems more like Noah and an Adam fused. The Hindus believe the first mortal man was Ikshvaku and that Vishnu will soon come reincarnated as a mortal man to usher in a judgment and paradise. I love these stories, and I love the appearance of these cultures all attempting to be on the same page of the human story.

    As a kid who believe in both evolution and the Bible version of Creation, I imagined a herd of humans where a couple got kind of smart. So, God made a Garden for them as a sort of University education. In college I decided the Fall of Man was the ascent of Man because life in a perpetual Paradise is not conducive to growth…which fit to a theme in my Catholic upbringing: suffering is a teacher.

    Okay. Enough blah, blah, blah. Thanks for the chance to think about it. 😉

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    • Melissa,
      Great comments to this post. I know a guy (who has a PhD in Old Testament studies) who thinks Hollywood should get ahold of the Babylonian creation story (Enuma Elish). Now there’s a twist on ancient creation that people wouldn’t expect! Nonetheless, there are MANY creation stories throughout the world that can help anyone understand, especially by putting it in context of life in the ancient times.

      I done much reading the past several years, starting when I saw “interesting” comments associated with Darwin’s 250th birthday. But I’ve been reading the scholars, thus not relying on Time, USA Today, Newsweek, etc … but texts and essays from many of the leaders in the field of science and religion’s interchange. Tis’ been interesting and rewarding. I invite you to see some of my other posts on the topic in the Religion and Science category.

      Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Hi Frank!

    Appreciate the interesting and thought-provoking content you shared. I thought the Book of Revelation was hard to decipher, and now you have opened my eyes to the importance of interpreting Genesis too, which, in some respects, may actually be helpful to understanding some of the mysterious content in the last book of the Bible. Thanks for a great read and accompanying video as well.
    Off to get my “Opinions in the Shorts” fix–Woohoo!!!

    Have a great week, my friend. Carpe Diem!!!

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    • Al,
      I firmly believe that much of the Bible must be understood in the context of the time it was written. Of course that doesn’t mean it lacks credibility in modern times. But Genesis 1-11 makes more sense in that context. As fellow blogger Nancy states, Genesis is not about science. Glad you enjoyed the post.

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  5. This sounds like a fascinating book. Thanks Frank! I’m interested in this topic even though: 1) I only pretend to be a scientist and 2) I am not a church lady.

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    • Elyse,
      The topic fascinates me. My interest perked up in 2009, and have read lots of material since then … Lots! Hence why I have so many posts in the “Religion and Science” category (including other book reviews). Given the press the topic gets, it remains an interest to many. However, the media covers the battle between the extremes, thus the range in between gets minimal (if at all) coverage. Thanks for reading.

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