Part 1, Proposition 4 – The Bible contains no new revelation about the workings and understanding of the material world
Here Walton essentially argues that God did not give the Israelites advanced understanding of the natural world; rather, he communicated in language/terms that they understood (49). This is fleshed out in more detail, particularly in Walton’s full-length treatment of Genesis 1 and ancient cosmology; here. Here, Walton (rightly I think) argues “the Bible offers theological perspective about the material world” rather than “naturalistic insight” (50). Because the ancients did not understand the intricacies of how the natural world worked, their descriptions of any such thing recorded in the Bible reflect their state of understanding, thus there is no new scientific understanding in the Bible (51). He further argues that when evaluating claims made in the Bible, one must first determine what kinds of claims they are—theological, cosmological, scientific, historical, etc. (56). Because the Bible is not a science book that seeks to disseminate scientific knowledge, claims made that reflect science in some manner must be understood as “Old World science,” reflective of the culture they depict and not necessarily as corresponding to what is known in the modern world.
Walton provides several sad-but-true examples of how texts from Genesis have been interpreted through history in a way that would be binding in a later culture, e.g., men having one less rib than women, that snakes used to have legs, talk, and eat dust, and the curse of Ham resulting in black people (57–58). These are just a few examples and a brief perusal of the history of interpretation of the Pentateuch would likely yield many more examples (talking donkeys, perhaps?).
This proposition is largely a rehash of his work on Genesis 1 and ancient cosmology, as mentioned previously. If you’ve read either of his works on the subject, then you’ll find little here that wasn’t discussed before. However, this is an important element in the overall scheme Walton is working toward. Despite my own familiarity with this idea, it’s good to reread it, this time in a slightly different context and toward a different end. Where Walton is ultimately going, I think, is toward a methodology that enables interpreters to better understand the culture in which the accounts of the Bible occurred, thus enabling one to better interpret the Scripture. This particular method also permits interpreters to hold to an authoritative text while not having to slavishly adhere to implausible interpretations so as to avoid upsetting some doctrine of inerrancy. I also appreciate Walton’s approach to authorship, namely identifying a person as a book’s “author” is not important—what matters is the authority attributed to any given person with whom a particular book is associated.
“God chose human communicators associated with a particular time, language and culture and communicated through them into that world. The Bible was written to them, not us” (52).
“Given what we have learned about literary production in the ancient world, authorship and the process that led to the final form of the canonical book are simply not as relevant as we have thought to our understanding of biblical authority” (62).
“We cannot be dependent on the “original autographs,” not only because we do not have them, but also because the very concept is anachronistic for most of the Old Testament7 and does not reflect how the books came into existence. Inerrancy and authority are connected initially to the authority figure or the authoritative traditions.” (67).
Αυτω η δοξα