Thought for the Day

Donald Hagner writes

But no more than Genesis provides details about precisely how God created the world does Revelation provide details about how all things will come to an end.

– Donald A. Hagner, The New Testament: A Historical and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 746.

So, there you go.

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Papers

I have only two major papers to write this semester, one for each seminar. For the NT seminar, I have to write on a particular aspect of the New Perspective on Paul. This is a subject I’ve read on and frankly, it’s a dead horse that has been beaten, resurrected, and beaten again. In fact, many would venture to say that the “new perspective” is not so new anymore. The works on this subject are legion, so I’m trying to narrow my choices based on interest and the volumes I’ll have to work with.

Interestingly enough, I am more excited about writing my OT backgrounds paper. I will be writing on the serpent in Genesis 3, namely how ANE perceptions and depictions of serpents informed how the author of Genesis would have probably understood them and why a serpent was employed in the account. I might address the question “Did the snake really talk?” but only briefly. My interest is less in the historicity of the account and more in the perception of serpents. I’ve been reading through Egyptian, Akkadian, and Babylonian texts (translations obviously!) and various historical surveys and archaeological works and its been a very interesting venture thus far. I’ve only done initial research at this point and have yet to make definite conclusions about some questions I seek to answer, but I very much anticipate where this will lead.

As always, suggested resources are always welcome.

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Lot and His Daughters

I’ve set out to read the bible from beginning to end (though not in a year) just to re-familiarize myself with parts I’d not read in a while and to see the bigger picture of scripture’s story. I’ve also been doing my reading from the Common English Bible as the basis of my review for the CEB Blog Tour (my review I hope to have finished soon). I already inquired as to the origins of Cain’s wife and today’s post concerns Lot and his daughters. In Genesis 19 we read that two of the messengers (presumably two of the three who visited Abraham and Sarah in ch. 18) entered Sodom where Lot greeted them. They initially decline Lot’s request for them to stay at his house, but after some earnest pleading, they accept his invitation. Once they are finished eating, they prepare for bed and here’s the part of the story that’s strange to me.

The men and boys of Sodom surround the house and begin to call out to the visitors to come outside so they can “know them” in a special way (gotta love translators’ choices for such euphemisms). Lot, however, does not wish for them to be involved in such evil acts, so he offers a substitute: his virgin daughters. What is so perplexing about this is that he offers his daughters for the men and boys to do to them whatever they please in the place of total strangers! What is in the world is he thinking? He offers the explanation that these visitors are under the protection of his roof, but what about his daughters? As a dad I can hardly imagine even allowing the thought to cross my mind.

Ultimately nothing happens to them because they were not the object of the men’s desire and the visitors see to it that they are confounded in their pursuit. This also is part of the larger point of the account, namely that the visitors set out to destroy Sodom for its wickedness. Is that the primary point of this little detail, that it shows the nature of the Sodomites’ disposition? John Walton suggests a “subtle alternative” to the offering, namely that Lot was saying he would just as soon have them rape his daughters than he would have them rape his visitors, to whom he has shown hospitality. In doing so, Lot is being rather sarcastic and his offer “is intended to prick the conscience of the mob” (Genesis, NIVAC, 477).

By modern sensibilities this is a grotesquely unthinkable act, but given this is an ancient text, what are we to make of it? Is Walton’s explanation satisfactory? Did Lot have gain some understanding of who the visitors were and perhaps knew that nothing would happen to his daughters? Even so, it’s still an unsettling moment in the story.

Oh Old Testament, how you trouble me!

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Where did she come from?

Cain’s wife, that is. In Gen 4:17 Cain and his wife “know” each other, conceive and give birth to Enoch. But his wife just appears in the story, seemingly out of nowhere. Obviously the biblical writers/editors/redactors don’t always give us the information we would like, but it seems odd not to mention where she came from. I suppose it just wasn’t that important.

What also piques my curiosity is how this issue is handled in light of a literal interpretation of the creation accounts. If Adam and Ever were the only humans created and they only had two sons, then where does Cain’s wife come from? I’m willing to admit my ignorance on this question–I’ve not studied this particular issue.

So, what say ye?

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Ancient Writers?

I’ve made a few comments lately in a group discussion at LinkedIn on the subject of creationist apologetics, namely the call for a certain Christian retailer to carry more titles in that area. I commented about the worldview of the ancient writers and how the cosmology of Genesis reflects that. One gentleman responded by saying

 Ancient cosmology is another method of ‘fitting’ ‘millions of years’ into the obvious and literal meaning of the Scripture

So I commented in response and so on and so forth. His most recent comment befuddled me and I thought I’d get your thoughts on it. Ready?

The root of the problem is that when you begin with the presumption that the Bible was written by ‘ancients’ instead of the inspired Word of God, you get into trouble.

Um, huh??? I don’t know his personal beliefs about scripture (though I think I have a clue), but it seems like a classic case of assuming the biblical writers’ own view of reality had no bearing on the writing of our biblical books.

I don’t know that I’ll continue in the conversation because little will come of it. Neither of us will change our opinion based on a few terse comments, so I’ll probably leave it at that.

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Book Review: The Lost World of Genesis One

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John H. Walton

IVP ǀ Amazon ǀ CBD

Many thanks to Adrianna Wright at IVP for this review copy!

I was very excited to see Walton’s book would be available this year, and even more so when I received a copy for review. There are two reasons I was anxious to read this book. One, I have become disenchanted with my original understanding of the creation account of Genesis 1 (namely, the literal six-day creation view) and, two, I have become weary of the incessant debate between evolutionists and ID advocates. These two issues meet head-on in Walton’s book as he makes a case for understanding the creation account of Genesis one in terms of function, not material creation, and how this plays out in the ongoing evolution/ID debates, particularly with reference to public education.

Walton arranges the book into eighteen propositions, successively building his case for function-oriented creation in Genesis 1. Each chapter (proposition) is relatively short, which makes for easy reading, but is substantial enough that Walton’s thesis is adequately argued. In propositions 1 and 2, Walton orients the reader to a proper setting in which to read and interpret Genesis 1 and discusses the way Genesis’ creation account would have been understood in its original time and culture. Propositions 3-7 deal primarily with textual matters concerning the various acts of God’s creative work in Genesis 1. Propositions 8 and 9 focus on the concept of the cosmos as Temple, seeking to provide a synthesis of the argument thus far. Proposition 10 argues specifically against Genesis 1 as an account of material creation. Propositions 11 and 12 are essentially a discussion of the positives of the view articulated in the book, as well as a brief address of competing views of Genesis 1. In propositions 13-18, Walton discusses his view of Genesis 1 in relation to science, with the final proposition focusing on public education and the ongoing evolution/intelligent design debate.

Overall, Walton does a fine job of articulating an interpretation that could easily consume twice or three times as many pages.[i] Walton’s knowledge of the Ancient Near East is obvious, though certainly condensed for this work, and his exegetical ability is clearly seen. However, given the scope of the book, I was a little disappointed that there was not ample space for more thorough discussions of various aspects of this interpretation of Genesis 1, particularly the exegetical discussions (see below).

There were a couple of negatives concerning this book. First, I find that Walton is somewhat repetitive concerning the thesis of the book; if you got to the end of this book and couldn’t remember what it’s primary argument was, it wasn’t for lack of stating it! Second, as with any book of this length (considering the weight of such a topic), there are some sections that I would have liked to have had more interaction with sources and more detailed analysis of varying viewpoints. Though I believe Walton is very skilled in his exegesis, I also wanted more detailed discussion of the various scriptures he cited in defense of his argument.

These two points aside, my opinion of the book is decidedly positive. One of the more appreciable aspects of the book is Walton’s dealing with sensitive nature of the issue of origins, an issue that is often guarded by dogmatic antagonists from both biological evolution and ID camps. Though not all advocates for either position could or should be categorized in this way, they are the ones who usually get the most attention. Essentially, Walton believes both sides to be in error (generally speaking) regarding their posturing for a place in the classroom. He rightly argues that both theories (as well as others) should be taught in the classrooms, so long as each theory’s metaphysical assumptions are held in check.

He rightly acknowledges that proponents of biological evolution enjoy the dominant position at present, but that this should not be a threat to Bible-believing Christians. Given his interpretation of Genesis 1, he concedes there is at least open the possibility of biological evolution as a means of God’s creative work (though he is not convinced of this and does not advocate the theory). Rather than being a threat to faith, Walton views this as an opportunity to find common ground on the discussion of origins, because Genesis 1 is essentially irrelevant to this matter. This approach to Genesis frees the Christian from using Genesis to defend something it does not address.

In summary, I think Walton’s book is a much-needed contribution to a discussion that is polarizing for the many involved. It hearkens the reader of Genesis 1 to shed his/her contemporary spectacles and view the text through the lens of those to whom it was written, to read Genesis 1 as a ancient cosmology, not a paradigm of modern science. Walton says,

“Through the entire Bible, there is not a single instance in  which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture. No passage offers a scientific perspective that was not common to the Old World science of antiquity” (p. 19).

To understand what the text means to us, we must first understand what it meant to them, and if you are seeking to understand better Genesis 1, I highly recommend this book!

Memorable quotes:

“One of the sad statistics of the last 150 years is that increasing numbers of young people who were raised in the environment of a biblical faith began to pursue education and careers in the sciences and found themselves conflicted as they tried to sort out the claims of science and the claims of the faith they had been taught. it seems to many that they have to make a choice: either believe the Bible and hold to a young earth, or abandon the Bible because of the persuasiveness of the case for an old earth. The good news is that we do not have to make such a choice. The Bible does not call for a young earth. Biblical faith need not be abandoned if one concludes from the scientific evidence that the earth is old” (p. 96)

“Divine intention must not be held hostage to the ebb and flow of scientific theory. Scientific theory cannot serve as the basis for determining divine intention” (p. 105)

“The most respectful reading we can give to the text, the reading most faithful to the face value of the text—and the most ‘literal’ understanding, if you will—is the one that comes from their world not ours” (p. 106).

“In the functional view that has been presented in this book, the text can be taken at face value without all of the scientific gymnastics of YEC” (that is, Young Earth Creationism; p. 109)

“That is precisely what we are proposing as the premise of Genesis 1: that it should be understood as an account of functional origins of the cosmos as a temple” (p. 84).


[i] As noted here, Walton does have more detailed treatment of the thesis of this book slated for publication sometime in the near future, entitled Genesis One as Ancient Cosmology, from Eisenbrauns.