Friday, February 20, 2015

Ancient cosmology

Into the noise of rancorous debates on the merits of various interpretations of Genesis and Christian views on origins, The Lost World of Genesis One hits the “reset” button, restarting the conversation on the Bible’s own terms. Even if one does not fully agree with all of Walton’s propositions, his reorientation of the basis for interpreting Genesis is refreshing, and essential.
Walton’s first “proposition” is that when we read Genesis 1, we are encountering ancient cosmology, not modern cosmology. The ancient cognitive environment of Genesis is not something we should be wary of or ignore, nor is it a mere accident of history that Genesis was written from this standpoint; it was the free and wise choice of God to reveal his authoritative Word in the manner that he has. As the remainder of Walton’s book makes clear, this recognition has significant consequences for how we understand the Bible’s teaching on creation, ultimately enabling us to see both the Bible and modern science with greater clarity and understanding.
Walton’s primary focus in the Introduction and first three “propositions” is to differentiate the manner of speaking encountered in Genesis 1 (and throughout the ancient Near East) with the way we typically think about the origins of the universe and life today. Specifically, when we think of existence, origins, and creation, we usually think in material terms, thereby framing the topic in a scientific manner. In contrast, Genesis 1 speaks the language of ancient cosmology, where existence is defined in terms of having an ordained function within an ordered cosmos. Genesis 1 is therefore concerned with functional origins, not material origins. Though this way of thinking of origins may seem radically foreign, Walton gives several helpful examples of modern things (such as a theatrical play, a computer, or a curriculum) whose creation we primarily think of in similar functional and non-material terms.

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