The Lost World of Genesis - Dr. John Walton
Dr. Chip Bennett: Good evening, everybody. How is everybody? Come on. I know it’s Wednesday evening, but you can do a little better than that. Come on. Well, you are in for a treat. Dr. John Walton is here. We’ll be continuing what we’ve been doing for years, which is our academic series. There are a couple of things that I really need to stress. This evening, and evenings like this, are something that I wanted to do a long time ago, which is to sort of bring great scholarship into the local church. It does not mean that the people who come, I agree with everything they say, and it doesn’t mean that the church is necessarily endorsing everything that they say.
But that being said, you’re in for a treat because Dr. Walton not only is probably the best Genesis scholar of our generation, but he is a wonderful human being. He spent the last couple of days here. He’s poured into our staff. I’ve just sensed the genuine humility of this individual. And somebody who’s got the degree, the credentials, the study, and all of the things that he’s done and the books that he’s written, it’s usually rare to find someone with the demeanor that he has. What he’s going to do is what I always felt like needed to be done, but I didn’t know how to do it. I grew up in a tradition where there was, really, only one way in which I could see or interpret or understand the book of Genesis. I felt like I was always in conflict with everything, and I didn’t know what to do because I knew the Bible was the Word of God, but I also knew that it seemed like it didn’t always fit into what was going on. When I came across John Walton, which probably would’ve been back in 2011, I remember I went, “Wow. This is a whole other paradigm of being able to look at this book.”
And it really helped me in many ways. So, what I want to say is that nobody here wants to try to keep you from reading Genesis the way you read Genesis, or anything else, but knowing that about 80% of the young people in America, when they go off to the university, find their faith in crisis because of the way they look at Genesis or the way they’ve been taught Genesis, I think this is a wonderful conversation to have, and you couldn’t have it with anybody who understands the languages in the ancient near east any better than John Walton.
So, what I want you to do is I want you to sit back, and I want you to really listen to what he has to say. Some of you are going to find yourselves wanting to put defenses up, or you’re going to say, “Yeah, this is not what I’ve heard before.”
It’s okay. Nobody’s going to make you get a tattoo of John Walton when you leave. Okay? We’re not doing that at all. But what we do want to do — and it’s part of what I want to do, as a pastor. I want you to get the best scholarship that we can possibly bring here, to Grace, so that you can interact with it. It doesn’t mean you have to employ it, it doesn’t mean you have to accept it, but I do want you to at least listen to this. What I know is this: For churches across America, one of the things that many people say is that churches are unwilling to have the tough conversations. They’re unwilling to talk about things that are sensitive. Unwilling to talk about things that challenge people. I think you all know me well enough to know that I’m not scared, by any stretch of the imagination, to get after it. We can talk about whatever subjects we want to talk about. We can deal with them because I want church to be a safe space for everybody. And even somebody who’s not a believer, who maybe doesn’t think that there’s any way they could believe in God because they think that this is the only way you can read Scripture. I want to reach everybody from the unchurched to the person who’s been in church for their entire life.
So, you’re in for a treat. I hope that you are ready to go back into the ancient world and to be really given — I think you’re going to be given some categories that are going to blow your mind. I think you’re going to walk away, going, “Where has this been my entire life?”
And some of you will walk out, going, “That was terrible and everything else.”
God bless you. We love you. Anyway, let’s bow our heads and pray, and then we’ll get Dr. Walton out.
Father, I thank You so much for the opportunity to do these things. Every time we gather like this, I can’t help but think about the fact that we’re a part of a tradition that’s thousands of years old. Very, very few people have been able to meet in a building like this, with A/C, with LED walls, with microphones that work, with coffee. All of these things. We’re fortunate. Lord, we are blessed. I pray, Lord, that we would never forget that to whom much is given, much is required. I pray, Lord, that we would really grow, here at Grace. That we would grow people who love God’s Word, who love the study of God’s Word, who are willing to lay everything at the feet of what this text says so that we can learn more about You and we can learn Your ways so that, Lord, we can live underneath Your kingdom rule.
So, Father, I pray that, this evening, You would speak to us. I pray not only for those here, but those watching online, that this would be a wonderful night. I pray it’d be a night of learning, a night of being challenged, a night of maybe thinking through some things a little bit differently. And I pray, Lord, that You would use Dr. Walton to do some wonderful things for our church, and to give people some categories that maybe they didn’t even know existed. So, Lord, we give You praise, we give You glory, we give You honor. In Jesus’ name, and all of God’s people said, “Amen.”
Come on in, everybody. I know some people are waiting. Come on in. Would you all, at least, join me here in giving Dr. John Walton a big round of applause in bringing him out? You’ve got it man.
Dr. John Walton: I’m so happy to see y’all, to see you here. I’m excited about what we’re going to talk about. My job is to put information on the table. Your job is to think. To hear and to think. Maybe to think some thoughts you’ve never thought before. So, we’re going to work together to try to understand God’s Word better. You see, I’ve been on a quest my entire career. I’ve been on a quest to find out what it means to be a faithful interpreter. That’s our stewardship. As we have received God’s Word, we want to receive it and be faithful. And I want to know what that looks like. I want to know how it works. I want to know how to be a faithful reader of God’s Word.
So, I’m going to share with you some of the things that I’ve learned that I think help me. Maybe they’ll help you, too, as we think about how we can read God’s Word better every day.
Are you with me? We have to start with how we think about the Bible. What it is. What we do with it? How do we approach it? How do we get God’s message and not have that all blurred by our own messages? How do we ensure that purity of God’s message? It starts with recognizing something about the Bible, a quality that it has, which is the word “authority.” You might use lots of other words. There are plenty of words we can use to describe what the Bible is, but it has authority.
And here’s the thing about authority. When we recognize authority, our job is to submit to it. That’s what authority is all about. We submit to it. As we submit to the Bible’s authority, that can move us along to become faithful interpreters. And we show that submission to its authority by holding ourselves accountable. We want to be accountable as we come to the text and try to understand it better. Now, how do we think about this accountability? Well, we’re accountable to the truth claims. We believe the Bible is true. Again, whatever words you use to describe that, the Bible is true. Therefore, it has truth claims to make. That’s what we’re accountable to, as we submit to its authority. And we understand then that those claims are communicated by human instruments that God has chosen.
Now, God could’ve done Revelation dozens of different ways, I imagine, but He chose to use human instruments. Therefore, these human instruments have conveyed God’s message to us. Okay? So, God worked through that doorway, through that portal, those human instruments, to get the message to us. That means if we’re going to get the message, what do we have to do? Go back through that. Our way to get to God’s message is to go through those human instruments that He chose. Therefore, if we want to be accountable to God’s authority in Scripture, we have to be accountable to those human instruments because God’s message is invested in those human instruments.
So, we want to know what their purposes were, what their intentions were. And we don’t do that by psychoanalyzing them. It’s not an issue of what did you think of your mother and what did you have for breakfast. We’re not trying to get into their heads. We’re trying to delve into their literature because they have communicated, and we believe that they’ve communicated effectively. So, we then approach God’s authority and God’s message by trying to understand, as best we can, the message of the authors. Now, I include, in that, the compilers and things of that sort, but I’ll just call them the authors. The human instruments.
So, that’s our accountability. Our ultimate accountability is to God, but it’s worked out at the level of interpretation by being accountable to the human authors. Okay? Are you following the logic here? So, when we think about authority, we understand that God’s purpose is carried out through these human purposes. It’s what he chose to do to make it work. Therefore, His authority is invested in those human authors. That means it’s their intentions that interest us. That’s why I say that the Bible is written for us. It’s written for everybody. It’s for us. It’s God’s message for everyone, but it is not — it is not — not — written to us.
Now, if you struggle with that concept, we could solve it very quickly. I could just grab my Hebrew Bible, hold it out to you, and say, “Go ahead and read.”
You’d say, “Well, it looks like chicken scratch to me.”
Well, that’s the language God wrote in, and since it’s not a language that most of you know, you know it’s not written to you. It’s written to a different audience that spoke a different language, at a different time, in a different culture. So, that means that the message is for all of us. It transcends that culture, but it’s bound into that culture. That means that if we’re going to understand it, we have to — here’s the hard word — work. Right? This is going to take a little effort on our part. But isn’t God’s Word worth it? So, a little bit of effort on our part.
Now, the way I express this is by using a metaphor that I refer to as the cultural river. We have to immerse ourselves in their cultural river. So, let’s talk about cultural river for a moment, just to get this idea in our minds. Let’s start by talking about our particular cultural river. Now, various words are coming up on the screen that give some definition to some of the currents — do you like that? Currents in the river. Some of the currents in our cultural river. And you’ll recognize all of these things. Some of them are things that you say, “Yes. That’s us. That’s me. That’s what we are, and we love being the way.”
But you’re going to look at others and you say, “Well, I didn’t like that one. I’d rather not do that.”
You know? That’s how a cultural river is. A cultural river doesn’t suit itself to any of our individual preferences. It’s just this is what we live in, for good or ill. So, there are some of these aspects that you might say, “I don’t like that and I want to resist it.”
You know? Maybe you’ve decided that consumerism is a plague in our culture. Maybe one Christmas time you decided, “We are going to take a stand against this. We are not going to be consumers. We’re going to do Christmas differently. Gather around the manger, kids.”
You might decide to resist it, and even if you succeed, it doesn’t change the fact that the cultural river is the cultural river. We live in a consumer culture. So, this is the conversation that we are in. Everything that we talk about is, in some way, derived from or contingent on these elements of our cultural river. You can’t have a conversation about something serious without orienting to this cultural river. Does that make some sense to you? Okay.
So, we could put lots of other words up here. A cultural river is immense. Now, the point I want to make, for tonight, about this cultural river is that the authors of the Old Testament, the Israelite authors of the Old Testament, to whom we are accountable, remember, know nothing of this cultural river. These words wouldn’t make sense to them, even if we translated them into Hebrew. The ideas would be totally foreign to them. They would have no idea what these things were about. That means if we are trying to hold ourselves accountable to their intentions, we don’t dare try to slip our cultural river in between the lines. We don’t expect to go to Proverbs and find verses about social media. We don’t expect to go into Kings and find discussions of monarchy versus democracy. We don’t expect to go to Deuteronomy and find discussions of market economy and capitalism. And we shouldn’t expect to go to Genesis and find discussions of science. It’s not their cultural river. And we dare not impose our cultural river on the text because when we do so, we are imposing something foreign on the text. And when we do that, we change it. That’s not accountability. That’s exploitation.
So, this is something we have to be very careful about. They don’t know this cultural river, and they’re not talking about this cultural river. So, what does their cultural river look like? Well, let’s talk about it a bit. Not too long, but some words are coming up on the screen again that give some of the ideas of things in their cultural river. Now, some of these, you would say, “Well, I know those words. Kingship. I know what kingship is.”
Well, you know what you think about kingship today. By the way, none of it’s very good. Right? But when they thought about kingship in the ancient world, they didn’t think that. They knew they had some bad kings, but their idea of kingship was an idealistic one that was benevolent, that was important to structuring society. We talk about how important it is to have law and order. For them, the king represented law and order. So, kingship, in the ancient world, is not the same kind of thing that we think about as kingship today. We might think we understand idols. Well, not really. Not the way they think about them. So, they’ve got their cultural river. They don’t know ours, and we are largely uninformed about theirs. But if we’re going to be accountable to the intentions of those authors, we have to make the trip out of our cultural river, across and into their cultural river. It’s hard. It’s not intuitive. It doesn’t come easily. You can’t just pray about it and get there. We have to try to understand their cultural river. Otherwise, we won’t even know what we’re being accountable to.
Now, at this point, some of you are getting a little nervous. You said, “I just want to read the Bible as it is. I want to get up in the morning, take my cup of coffee, sit in the sunroom, hear the birds twittering, open up the Bible and let it wash over me with God’s Word fortifying me for the day. I just want to read the Bible as it is. Well, good on you. That’s — yeah. That’s good. That’s good. But think about it. Reading it as it is usually means reading it from our own cultural river. So, if you’re not thinking about it, what’s going to be your default? Your default is your own cultural river. We can’t help it. That’s what it is. That’s why it’s our cultural river. It’s this whole set of our defaults. So, if you’re just reading it as it is, without thought, without working through it in some sense, you’re going to be imposing something foreign on the text, which is going to hamper our ability to be accountable to the authors’ intentions.
And here’s the reason. Reading instinctively is not reliable. You say, “But wait. I mean, that’s what I like to do.”
See? I’m already stepping on all your toes. I’m just wandering through the aisles, stomping on everybody’s feet. I’m sorry, but this is the task before us. Reading instinctively doesn’t mean it’s always wrong, by the way, but it’s not reliable. Again, because our cultural river gets in the way. What are we to do? How can we overcome this? If we’re going to be accountable to the authors’ intentions, literally — now, by “literally,” let’s be careful here. You can’t read the text more literally than by reading it along with the author. When we read literally, we’re saying that we want to track with the author. Read it the way he intended us to read. That means if he’s using metaphors, we should read them as metaphors. We don’t read “God is a rock” and say, “Sedimentary or igneous?” Right? We read it as a metaphor. We don’t read a parable and say, “I’m going to go find that good Samaritan and interview him.”
No. We read it as it’s intended. If a word means something to them, like a king for instance, and it means something different to us, reading literally means we’ve got to read it with their definition, not our definition. Reading literally means reading it the way they intended us to read. Again, this is all part of our accountability to these authors. So, we have to start delving into the Bible in the ancient near east because the ancient near east is the cultural river of ancient Israel. They didn’t exist in a vacuum. They existed in a world. A world of thought, a world of ideas, a world of concepts. Certainly, God was trying to draw them out, on certain points, to get them to think differently than people around them. But that’s only on a small percentage of things. They still thought much more like an Egyptian or a Babylonian than they thought like us. They don’t think like us. You saw our cultural river. They think very much like Babylonians, although there are some places God says, “Don’t think like Babylonians.”
But that doesn’t change everything. So, in that sense, we have to think about what we’re doing as we understand these authors’ intentions as they are situated in this ancient world. So, I would suggest to you that they are embedded in that culture. That’s their defaults. That’s their cultural river. That doesn’t mean that the Bible is simply derived from some ancient piece of literature, and they copied it down, changed the word to “God,” “Yahweh,” or whatever. We’re not talking about indebted to pieces of literature. Sometimes people make the claim, who don’t think highly of the Bible, that the Bible is just borrowing ancient mythology and reworking it. That’s not what we’re talking about here. So, we’re not talking about being indebted to literature. We’re talking about being embedded in culture.
So, in that sense, to understand the ancient near east is not importing something foreign or imposing something on the biblical text. People have said that to me.
“Why do you keep imposing the ancient world on the biblical text?”
And I’m thinking, Okay. If I said something like, “The Hebrew word means such-and-such,” would you say, “Why are you imposing Hebrew on the biblical text?”
No. You can’t impose Hebrew on the biblical text. It’s — I’m sorry — in Hebrew. It’s the same thing with culture. You can’t impose the ancient culture on the text. Israel is part of this ancient cultural river, and we want to try to understand what impact that has on our interpretation.
So, the reason we use ancient near eastern literature is because it can prompt us to think differently, to think outside of our cultural river, to recognize differences, to help us say, “Oh, I was thinking about social media. I guess I’d better push that aside and try to think how they’re thinking.”
Now, some people would say, “Have we really gotten enough ancient near eastern literature to be able to do this?”
Over one million texts dug out of the earth in the last 120 years to 150 years. Over one million texts. We’ve got a lot. I mean, it’s not everything. It doesn’t mean that, even if you read them all, you could think like a Babylonian. But we can understand. We can walk like an Egyptian, of course. But we can understand a lot more because this literature informs us and, at least, gives us enough to recognize some of the places where we are making assumptions that we shouldn’t make. So, these texts provide windows to how people thought in the ancient world. By reading them, we can avoid anachronism; avoid putting our ideas in there. Okay? So, it doesn’t matter to me if it’s a piece of mythology. That doesn’t mean that I’m saying the Bible is mythology, but pieces of mythology tell us how they were thinking about any number of different things. Therefore, I want to read their mythology. Not because I’m going to convert to Marduk, the Babylonian god, but because I want to understand their world.
So, that’s what we’re about. Now, when we turn to Genesis 1, that leads us to ask a question. How do they think about creation? Do they think about it the same way we do? When we talk about creation, lots of times we have science flooding our minds. Whether it’s Big Bang, questions about evolution, whether it’s genetics, or whether it’s whatever, we can’t hardly think about creation without thinking science thoughts. But of course, science is in the currents of our cultural river. So, that can’t be our first approach. So, when I ask what kind of creation account is this, maybe some of you are saying, “Are there options? Are there alternatives?”
Yes. Yes, there are. And you’ll never find them if you don’t ask. So, the Hebrew word “bara” — there I go imposing Hebrew on the biblical text again. No. The Hebrew word “bara” is what we translate “create.” What does it mean when they say that? What do they think about creation? They’re not thinking Big Bang cosmology. They’re not thinking evolution or not evolution. What are they thinking? How do we figure that out? So, imagine that you are going to a play. You get tied up in traffic. There’s an accident on the freeway to Tampa. You can’t find a parking spot. So, you end up walking in late. As a matter of fact, you barely find your seat and the lights come up for intermission.
So, you turn to the people around you and you say, “How did the play begin?”
Well, they’re very helpful. They’re very, very sympathetic about your plight here. So, they help out. The first one says, “Oh, well, this script was written in the 1930s. It was a very important Scripture.”
You say, “No, no, no. I don’t want to know about the script.”
The person says, “Well, that’s how the play began. Somebody wrote a script. You can’t have a play without a script. This is not an improv show.”
You say, “I get that. I get that, but that’s not what I’m asking.”
Now the next person chimes in and says, “Oh, this stage was constructed by a certain construction company. They really had this kind of plan.”
You say, “No, no. I don’t care about the stage.”
They say, “Well, you can’t have a play without a stage.”
Then another person chimes in and says, “Well, let’s talk about the set. This set was designed, particularly for this play, to put it in this kind of modern scenario, in this black-box theatre.”
“No, no. I’m really not asking about the set.”
“Well,” they say, “you can’t have a play without a set. You must be talking about that.”
You say, “No, no. That’s not it.”
Well, they’re not done yet. The next person steps up and says, “The cast. That’s it. This play is all about the people that are in it. This cast was chosen by — and they tried to get young talent.”
“No, no, no. Please. Thank you, thank you. Thank you for all your help, but that’s not what I want to know.”
“Well,” they all claim, “you couldn’t have a play without these things, so you must be asking that question.”
Finally, you say, “No. Will you please tell me what’s happened since the curtain opened?”
Now, are you picking this up? Do you see what’s going on here? Which answer is the right answer? All of them are right answers. None of them are wrong. None of them are giving false information. They’re all right answers, but they’re different answers. They aren’t competing truths. They’re all true. You can answer the question any number of different ways. You could tell the story any number of different ways. We have students over at our house a lot. Sometimes we’ll be sitting there in the living room, and they’ll say, “So, Dr. Walton, how did you meet Mrs. Walton?”
When that happens, my wife and I quickly exchange glances because we know what’s going to happen here. We tell the stories differently. Depending on the night, I’ll leave out some things and put in other things. If you split up the students and put them in different rooms with my wife giving the story to one and myself giving the story to the other, they’d get together and say, “Did they ever really meet?”
Right? You can tell this story differently. And neither of us think that we’re telling this story falsely. We’re not making things up. That’s kind of how stories go.
In Genesis 1, the Israelites are asking the question, “How did the world begin?” They’re giving their answers that God has given them, but those answers are tied into their cultural river. The things that interest them. They’re not anticipating us. They’re not trying to answer our question about how we would describe how the world began. They’re addressing an Israelite audience, in an ancient world, with those concerns that were present in that culture. They’re going to answer the question much more like a Babylonian or Egyptian would. Different theology. It’s not the Babylonian god. It’s not the Egyptian god. It’s the Israelite God who created. But their ideas about what creation is are going to be like an Egyptian or a Babylonian, not like us. How did the world begin? Let’s try to hear their story because if we’re going to be faithful interpreters, we have to hear their story in their terms.
So, how did they think about the world? We tend to think of the world in what I might call a bipartite or dualistic way of thinking. You may or may not resonate with those words, but we think of the world in terms of good and evil. There it is. Dualism. Bipartite. Good or evil. And we think about things as good or things as evil, and we try to categorize things. Some things, we have trouble categorizing, but that’s kind of how we tend to break down the world. Not everyone’s always thought that way. That way of thinking developed a little bit after Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic period as they did a remix of Zoroastrianism in Persian culture. Dualism developed at a certain time, and it was after the Old Testament. The Old Testament didn’t think in dualistic terms. And if we tried to impose a dualistic thinking on the Old Testament, cultural river problem. They thought in a tripartite system. In a tripartite system, there’s not just good and evil. The distinctions are not of a moral nature. They tended to think, first of all, of non-order. Sometimes it’s called chaos. It’s not evil, but it’s not ordered. Just like the word says. So, it’s not organized, it hasn’t been brought into a functioning scenario, so “non-order.” Genesis 1:2 describes it.
“Now the earth was [tohu va-Vohu]…”
That’s the Hebrew term. Now, that’s not “tofu.” Okay? That’s also non-ordered, but never mind. So, “tohu” describes things that aren’t ordered yet. That’s what Genesis 1:2 describes. A non-ordered scenario. Every creation text you find in the ancient world, across Babylon, Egypt, anywhere, they all do that. They start with non-order, with things that aren’t the way they ought to be. And then what happens is creation is the ordering process. For them, creation is not so much a manufacturing process, physical objects rolling off the assembly line. Okay? For them, the major element of creation is this ordering, putting things together, so that they work the way they’re supposed to, so that they fit into the purpose that the creator has for them. Now, even though the Israelites had a different creator than the Egyptians or the Babylonians, they still thought this same way, that ordering was the most important idea. That’s their cultural river.
So, they think about this ordering. That’s what the seven days in Genesis 1 is about. We’ll talk about that more in a minute. Okay? So, order is something that’s established by the gods, or if the gods delegate humans to that task — which they do. That’s what “image of god” is. Then this working to bring about order is what’s going on. Humans are therefore involved in the creation process. God tells the people in His image to subdue and rule. That’s order bringing process. So, there are image-bearers, and that makes them order-bringers. Okay? All these highfalutin terms.
Anyway, image-bearers and order-bringers. So, here’s the thing about order. It devolves. If you don’t keep up with it, it falls apart. Now, I’m not talking about laws of entropy. I’m talking about your teenager’s bedroom. Oh, sorry. If you don’t keep up with it, it falls apart. You know? The laundry doesn’t do itself. And even if you’ve got a dishwasher, you still have to load it. Otherwise, things just pile up. Order has to be sustained, else it devolves to its natural state, non-order.
So, we have non-order — we’re talking about our tripartite structure. We have non-order, we have order, and then we have, let’s see, disorder. Disorder is disruptive. Disorder operates within an already ordered system. Non-order is outside the ordered system. Disorder operates within the ordered system to peck away at it. Disruptive. In the ancient world, they thought of the world in these three categories. Not good and evil. Now, evil could be a sort of part of disorder, or it could be part of chaos, I suppose, although it’s not really of a moral nature. It was good, in their minds, to be ordered. In fact, I would suggest that’s exactly what Genesis 1 says when it keeps saying, “It was good, it was good, it was good.”
It’s not saying, “It was morally perfect,” or, “Wow. What a great designer I am.”
It was good, meaning it was functioning the way it was supposed to function. It was ordered to carry out its purposes. God’s purposes. It’s a different kind of creation story than we would write. But that’s okay. It’s a good one. It helps. So, this is in contrast to the bipartite moral system that is default for us, and it changes how we read. For instance, that means that the beginning is not a state of perfection. Th beginning is a state of non-order. Then God brings order into it. By the way, that doesn’t dissolve non-order. Non-order is most evident in the sea and darkness. That’s why they’re both there in Genesis 1:2. The sea and darkness. When God’s done the seven days, is there still sea? Yep. Is there still darkness? Yep. But He has brought order into it. It’s a different model for thinking, but we have to think their model, not ours, if we’re going to be accountable to them. Okay? Are you following the logic and how this holds together?
So, when we’ve got this in mind, what are some of the claims that we find in Genesis 1? What’s it talking about? If it’s not talking about science and it’s not operating on the level of our cultural river, then what’s this new story, this account of creation the way they think about it? Well, let’s take a look at some of the claims then. First of all, the whole creation account is talking about role and purpose in an ordered system. In this text, they’re not interested in the material world. They’re aware of it, of course. And if you got them to think about it and said, “Okay, let’s think about the material world. Let’s take this tree here. Did God create this material object?”
They would say, “Well, yeah. Of course.”
But they’re not going to frame their story talking about material objects. It’s like if somebody asked you about, say, your laptop — “Tell me about your laptop.”
You wouldn’t say, “Well, there are amazing chemical polymers in that casing. You can’t believe how that…”
No. You wouldn’t talk about polymer. Apologies to any chemistry geeks here. Okay? You’d talk about your apps and your operating systems. Right? How it works. What its purpose is. How it functions for what you do with it. These aren’t mutually exclusive ideas, but one’s more important to you than another. If you’re getting oriented to a new job and they’re kind of explaining to you what this new employment context is going to be, you’re not going to expect them to pull out the blueprints of the building and tell you about the history of its construction. You’d much rather see the organizational chart of the company to know who you’re responsible to and who you report to. So, these are not mutually exclusive things. It’s a matter of interest. What do you care about? In the ancient world, they cared, deeply, about order. It was probably the highest value in the ancient world. And that’s true for Assyrians, it’s true for Hittite’s, it’s true for Israelites.
So, when they talk about creation, bringing something into existence, they want to talk about order. They don’t really care to talk about material because when they think about existence — here’s the one to pop your brain here. When they talk about existence, they’re talking about things that have been incorporated into the ordered system. Something exists for them when it has its role and purpose in an ordered system. We don’t think of existence that way. We think of existence in material terms. That’s our cultural river. But in the ancient world, they would talk about the sea as being non-existent. Really? Splash, splash. Swim, swim. What do you mean non-existent? The sea was not part of the ordered world, so it’s non-existent. They would talk about the desert being non-existent. Wow. They think differently than us.
My point exactly. They think differently than us. And this doesn’t have to do with theology. This isn’t whether you worship idols or not or believe the mythology. This is about how they thought about the world. And if they’re talking about order, and creation as bringing order, we need to read their text that way. And if we try to bring in a material perspective with science undergirding it, we’re imposing something foreign on the text and we’re not being accountable to the authors. We are, therefore, undermining the authority of Scripture, and we are not reading it literally because that’s not what the author intended, and we are not carrying out our task of being faithful interpreters. Ouch. I know. I’m kicking myself in the shins, too. We have to be driven by sound method.
So, for me, it’s helpful to think in these terms. Instead of calling Genesis 1 an account of cosmic origins, because I know that the minute I use the word “origins,” my brain starts cranking science. Well, no, that’s not really what they’re getting at. For them, this is a story about cosmic identity. What is the cosmos? Let’s construct a vision statement for the cosmos. What is it? What’s it all about?
You see, again, that’s a very different story. How did the play begin? What story are you going to pick? Theirs. Even when we look at a word like “to make,” you say, “There you go. There’s physical.”
Really? Do you think so? Our English word “make” can be physical, but what about the Hebrew word that it’s translating? What’s intriguing is that — this is one of the most common verbs in the Hebrew language. When beginning Hebrew students learn Hebrew, they say, “Okay. This word is ‘asah’.”
“Asah” means to make or to do. You say, “Wait. Those are really different things. Making and doing are two very different things.”
And then if you start looking at a concordance as to how this is translated in any translation, you’ll find 20, 30, 40 different English words used for this Hebrew verb. To provide. To prepare. Any number of different things. What does this word mean? See? We have to think of how the author is using the word. What holds all of those ideas together is the issue of agency. When Hebrew uses this verb, they are not suggesting something material or not material. They’re not even talking about materiality. When Hebrew uses this verb, it’s talking about agency. It’s identifying an agent. Whether they’re doing or making or providing or preparing doesn’t matter. They’re identifying an agent, not a physical process. So, when Day Four says that the Lord God made the great lights, we read that and we say, “This is where God manufactured these objects — the Sun, Moon and stars.”
But see, all that we’re reading into that, not only are we reading a material process into it, but we’re also assuming that, in the ancient world, they knew that the Sun, Moon, and stars were objects. They didn’t. People might say, “Well, why doesn’t it say that God created the Sun, Moon, and stars?”
Well, because they’re talking more explicitly. God made the lights because that’s what they are. They’re lights. And then it talks about their functions for signs and seasons and days and years. God setup lights to regulate that. Israelites aren’t thinking He manufactured these objects. They don’t even know they’re objects. Thinking the way they think.
So, here’s another illustration that might help you. Building a house is an act of creation, in some ways. But likewise, making a house a home is an act of creation. Let’s compare them for a minute. When we talk about building a house, in our modern, cultural river, that’s sort of how we would think about creation. Creation is a house story for the cosmos. Right? And when we think about building a house, of course, our house’s foundation, the walls, the roof, the electricity, and the plumbing. The house. That’s an important step. That’s an act of creation, of manufacturing a physical object. That’s one way to think about it. But in a house story, science provides the plot. That’s how we talk about the house story of the cosmos. Science provides the plot. So, a house is what you live in. That’s an important thing.
But now, let’s consider the different story, the home story. In the ancient cultural river, the home story is the creation story because they’re talking about organizing and ordering. When you first move into a new place, you’ve got stuff you want to paint, and you’ve got things you want to fix up. More than anything else, you’ve got boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes that are all packed up and nothing’s functioning. Right? Those things are in boxes. They’re not doing anything. So, you spend time unpacking the boxes. All those boxes are non-ordered. They’re not evil, no matter how it feels. They’re not evil, but they’re not ordered. Nothing in those boxes is working. You unpack them, you organize the home, you make it your home. You decide what’s going to be in which room and how each of those rooms is going to function.
We had, in one house we were in, something that was built to be a dining room. We said, “We don’t need a dining room. There’s a good eating kitchen, so we’re going to make that a den or an office.”
We decorated it like a den, and we used it as a den. We created a den because we didn’t want a dining room. You make a home. When people are trying to pick out a new place to live, they’ll visit these places. A realtor takes them around and lets them in. So, there’s the family. In my family, my wife will go looking at the foundation and the electricity and the plumbing. I’ll be looking room to room, saying, “How are we going to use this room? How are we going to use this room? What furniture are we going to put here?”
And the kids will be running around: “Which room’s mine? Which room’s mine?”
Right? The home. What I’m doing and what my kids are doing isn’t about the house. It’s about the home. House or home. They’re both creation stories, just like with the play. How did the play begin? They’re all good. Okay? In a home story, theology provides the plot. If you think of creation as a home story, purpose, that provides the plot. Home is where your story comes to life. Okay. Full transparency. I got that from a real estate commercial, but I really like it.
See how home is different than house? Now, you could say, “Well, you can’t have a home if you don’t have a house.”
Well, in our country, that tends to be so. I was traveling overseas. I forget which country I was in. I had to work through a translator. I was doing this “house/home,” and they said, “We don’t have different words because we would never think of the house in different terms. The home has to do with family. It has to do with community. So, we don’t have words that can do that.”
I said, “Way to ruin a good illustration. Sheesh.”
A home resolves homelessness. It’s a different thing than a house. Did you ever hear people talk about houselessness? So, which is the most important story? Well, I guess you could make a case either way. But for the Israelites, home story is a way more important story. And it’s a creation story, and that’s what they’re going to tell. The home story. It’s not a competing story, it’s just a different story. Are you following this idea of thinking differently, trying to track with the author to think his thoughts, to understand his intentions? To do that, we have to delve into their culture.
I’ll speak very briefly on the image of God. The image of God is also something that we don’t understand. We think about the image of God, first of all, individually. We talk about each person is the image of God. That’s not what the Bible says. The Bible says humanity is the image of God. The image of God is corporate, not individual. It’s sort of like the New Testament idea of the body of Christ. None of us would say, “I am the body of Christ.” No. We have a part to play. We’re participants. We’re contributors to the body of Christ. The body of Christ is all of us together. That’s what image of God was in the Bible here. The image of God. Now, that was different in Israel than it was in Mesopotamia because, in Mesopotamia, the king was the image of god. That’s it. The only one. It’s the king.
The Bible does it differently, but it doesn’t have a different understanding of image. It has a different application of it. So, we have to understand what they think about with image. They didn’t think about the image of something physical.
“I look like God. God has a nose. God has opposable thumbs.”
It’s not what you look like. It’s not even, “God thinks, and I think.”
They thought in different terms. They thought of the image of God as referring to our corporate function. That is, we are image-bearers and order-bringers working alongside of God. We’re in His image in that we have been given a task. A God-like task: Bringing order. So, it’s not something physical, it’s not something psychological, it’s not something physiological, it’s not something in appearance. It’s in our commission, in our task that we were called to do. And it’s an identity, then, that we have, and we only have it because God gives it. So, we are the image of God, corporately, because He says we are. And because of that, we can stand as substitutes doing His work in the world as His vice-regents, representing His presence, bearing His essence. This is what images were about in the ancient world. So, we’re using their ideas. You can see this is nothing about mythology or borrowing pieces of literature. It’s just trying to understand how they thought. As image-bearers, humanity is an order-producer, an order-bringer.
So, this would lead us to think about this creation account, the seven days of creation, as days of order-bringing because that’s how they understood creation in the ancient world. Now, another place we get thrown for a loop a little bit is in this idea of rest. We get to Day Seven and God rests. So, why would God need to rest? He doesn’t get tired. He doesn’t need downtime. What’s this about? I don’t get it. See, when we try to parse that out from our own cultural river, it makes no sense whatsoever. Therefore, what we typically do is ignore. Right? Like when the notifications pop up on your screen. Ignore. Because we don’t know what to do with it. We say, “That’s just a Jewish festival or something.”
And we miss the whole thing. Let’s think about what resting has to do with creation, order-bringing. For that, we have to understand rest in the ancient world. We have to understand divine rest in the ancient world. In the ancient world, gods rest [drumroll] in temples. The minute an ancient Israelite hears about God resting — bing! Temple. It doesn’t have to have the word temple. If God is resting, temple. It’s intuitive to them. Is it intuitive to us? Absolutely not. We were just confused. Temples are constructed for deity to rest in. Temples were not built like churches, today, for people to come together in worship. Temples were not churches. They were not synagogues. Temples were the residences of the deity, the place from which he ruled. Temple is the command center of the cosmos.
So, when God rests in a temple, He does not rest on a bed, He does not rest in a hammock, He does not rest in a recliner. I love to rest in a recliner, but He does not rest in a recliner or a futon. What does God rest on? A throne. God rests on a throne, and His rest is His rule. Well, I didn’t see that one coming, but we could’ve if we paid a little more attention to the Bible.
Psalm 132:7: “Let us go to his dwelling place,”
“…let us worship at his footstool, saying, ‘Arise, Lord, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. […] the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling, saying, ‘This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will set…’” — yeah.
Say it: “‘…enthroned,’”
Look at these seven days. God has brought the whole cosmos into order the way He wants it, the way that it works, the way He wants it to. It was good. He has brought order into the middle of this non-order, and He has ordered it to His satisfaction. On the seventh day, He sits down on His throne to rule. You don’t want to skip Day Seven. That’s what the six days are all about. But in our confusion and not knowing that this rest thing is all about, we talk about the six days of creation. Really? You’re going to cut out Day Seven? See, people are kind of the climax because God is going to be in relationship with them, but rest is the climax of the account. God on His throne. That’s the big reveal at the end. And the Israelites are going to differ with the other nations about who’s on the throne and whose temple it is. God’s going to tell them it’s Him, their God, but that doesn’t change how they think about temples, rest, God’s rule in the world, and order and purpose. They think just like people in the ancient world do.
Rest, properly understood, is the main goal of creation. God’s rest. Resting expresses having control over an ordered system. Rest conveys stability and security. When God says to Israel, “I’m giving you rest from your enemies,” He’s not talking about naps. He’s not giving a chance for pickleball. He’s talking about stability and security in an uncertain world. When Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden. I will give you…” — naps?
No. “I will give you rest.” What is that? The stability of the kingdom. “Even though your life is in shambles, even though you’ve got trouble, trouble everywhere, come to me. I will give you rest and a kingdom perspective that will transcend the troubles of your life.”
And we miss it. Rest is engagement, not disengagement. Totally contrary to our intuitive reading. That’s why I say things like our instincts are not reliable because we’re stuck in our cultural river. So, the rest God gives resolves unrest. That one actually works in English. I love it when it works in English.
So, now we’re ready to think about the seven days. So, lots of you know the problem. What’s this “seven days” thing all about? “Day” suggests that it is a 24-hour period, and there are all kinds of arguments about that. Are the days of Genesis day-ages or 24-hour periods? It gets all into the question about the age of the Earth. Okay? Everybody wants to discuss the age of the Earth. What’s the biblical view of the age of the Earth? Right? You know there are arguments out there. But now we have a different way to think about that question because now we want to know, “What are the writers of Scripture thinking when they talk about seven days?”
We’re accountable to their intentions. We can’t afford just to read our questions and read our answers. Right? Are you following this methodology? We’re accountable to them. What are they thinking when they’re talking about seven days? So, let’s talk about temple-building since God’s resting evokes this imagery of temple. So, think about Solomon. He spends seven years, the Bible tells us, building the temple. Okay? So, the day it’s finished, there’s the temple, the construction is all cleared away, and a beautiful building sits in front of you. There it is. Is it a temple? No, because God’s not in it. It’s ready to be a temple. It’s been built to be a temple. It’s prepared to be a temple, but it’s not a temple. How does it become a temple? That’s important to us because we’ve talked about Genesis 1 as God setting up something that’s going to be like a temple. How does it become that? Well, the Bible tells us. They have an inauguration celebration where it will begin functioning like a temple, and the people will be installed in their offices, and the furniture will be brought in. They’ll organize it and order it so that it can function as a temple. And God will enter in and take up His throne. They have this celebration that’s going to transition it from a building, a material, physical structure, into something with purpose, value, and order as God dwells there, on His throne, in His place.
Here’s the catch. Here’s the kicker. Are you ready? It’s a seven-day ceremony. Seven days. Tabernacle: Seven days. Ancient near-eastern temple inaugurations: Seven days. Seven days says something to them. Temple context, God taking up His rest. Ordering the cosmos and the place of God’s rule of the cosmos: Seven days. In which case, it has nothing to do with the material cosmos. It’s a home story, not a house story. The seven days aren’t about the age of the Earth. They’re about this becoming God’s throne in the world. If seven days is like a temple inauguration, then objects are not necessarily being made in those seven days. That would be a material account, which is a legitimate account to tell, but if it’s not the one they’re telling, we don’t want to do that. If the days are concerned with bringing order rather than making things, then the seven days has nothing to do with the age of the Earth. The age of the Earth question is a house story question. If this is a home story, then the seven days has nothing to do with the age of the Earth. In which case there is no biblical view of the age of Earth. Remember, I’m not trying to gain converts. I’m putting information on the table.
Now, let’s take a minute then — I’ve got one more slide. Let’s take a minute to talk about how this speaks to us about science and Scripture. How can we start to navigate? In this world, lots of people tell us there’s a war going on. Science and Scripture are in conflict. People are told, “You’ve got to choose. You’ve got to choose. Are you going to believe science or are you going to believe the Bible? You can’t have it both ways.”
It’s a warfare mentality. How does what I’ve talked about here affect that question? That’s what we want to explore, just for a minute. So, as we think about science and Scripture, I want to make a couple observations. I’ll flesh them out and that’ll just set the stage to where we’ll be able to kind of discuss those things further.
First of all, it’s very clear. Whether it’s house story or home story, God is the creator. God is the creator of the house. God is the creator of the home. God is the creator of everything, in every way. No matter what you believe about the way creation took place or the time it took place, there’s no question in the Bible, there’s no question in my theology, and probably no question in yours: God is the creator. Okay? So, we affirm that, but that still leaves lots of things unclarified. Where do we go from there? What else do we find out? I would say that when we’re talking about a home story, order, function, image of God and purpose, we find out that the Genesis story is a story of God’s history with us. It’s not a story of human history. It’s not trying to tell our story, it’s trying to tell His story. That’s a mistake that I think we often make with the Bible. We read everything thinking, “It’s my story.” Not mine. Yours. Whoever’s reading it. Our story. Maybe we need to turn that around a little and recognize that God is telling us His story. We need to find our place in His story. Here’s the hard truth: It’s not about us. It’s about God. Now, here’s a distinction I would make: Agency is more important than mechanism.
Let me explain that. When the Bible talks about God as creator, it’s making a very clear and firm statement about agency. Point number one: God is the creator. So, it’s making very clear statements about agency. But you read this home story, and even if you were trying to read it as a house story, you’ll see that it says very little about mechanism. How did that work? What did it look like? How did He do it? The Bible doesn’t really care about mechanism. The Israelites wouldn’t think they knew anything about mechanism, and they didn’t receive and revelation about mechanism, and it’s not a story about mechanism. Agency, not mechanisms.
Here’s the contrast: Science is all about mechanism. That’s what science does. That’s what science is. It helps us understand mechanisms, and it has all kinds of mechanisms that it suggests. Again, whether we’re talking about Big Bang cosmology, evolutionary theory, or DNA and genetics, all kinds of things to say about mechanisms. But science has nothing to say about agency. It can’t. Science can’t speak to agency. They can’t even assume there is an agent. That’s not science anymore. So, we’ve got this very interesting contrast that the Bible cares deeply about agency and has a lot to say about it, but it doesn’t have anything to offer on mechanism. Whereas science is all about mechanism and doesn’t have anything to say about agency.
Given that, if you accept that premise — and maybe you’d argue with it, but if you accept that premise, how can there be a war? We’re talking about different things. Science and the Bible can’t conflict on mechanisms if the Bible is not offering one. Science and the Bible can’t conflict on agency if science can’t talk about it. It kind of dissolves the warfare idea because it recognizes what each one is doing.
Now, here’s an interesting one. God has made us to be more than what He made us from. You know how people have different views? I’m sure we have a wide variety of views here. Did God make humanity from a pool of amino acids? Did God have humanity evolve from a line of primates? Did God make humanity from a pile of dust as He worked with His hands? What are we made of? No matter what it is, God made us more. God made us more than a puddle of amino acids. God made us more than a line of primates. God made us more than dust from the ground. It’s interesting. Some people say, “You can’t tell me my ancestors are monkeys.”
Apparently, they’d prefer to be dirt. I don’t know. I can’t always follow the logic. Maybe I’m just dense. But whatever it is, it’s the work of God that makes us more than whatever He made us from. And that’s God’s way. He tells Israel, “Your father is a Hittite, your mother is an Amorite. Abraham, your ancestors were wandering Arameans.”
God drew Israel from non-distinct ethnic stock that had nothing to really commend itself, and He says, “You’re my people.”
And they’re not just kind of mixed ancestry anymore. They’re the chosen people of God, and God made them more than what He made them from. God has taken each of us. As Paul says, some of you were murderers, some of you were adulterers, and some of you were thieves. You were people fallen in your sins and your decadence. What happened? God took your hand, raised you up, embraced you as His children, and said, “You are mine.”
God made each one of us, and all of us, more than what He made us from. That’s the message of the Bible. This is what God does. Whatever model of creation you happen to think works with the text or accountability, realize the end result is not what we started as. God made us more. That’s the story of creation. That’s the story of election. That’s the story of salvation. That’s the story of our relationship with God. Not as a pile of dust or a nondescript primate or a pool of amino acids, but as God’s people. Let’s not get hung up on the wrong things. All humanity traces its identity to Adam. Work out the genetics however you will. That’s a mechanism. Again, the point is clear who God has made us to be.
So, when we think about Bible and science, I’ve got one line for you that I hope you can take home with you, think about, and ponder. The war is over. In fact, there never was one. Let’s learn the discipline of tracking with the authors, of getting into their cultural river as best we can and trying to be faithful interpreters as God leads us to be. Thank you very much.
Dr. Chip Bennett: Alright. So, we’re going to do some Q&A. We’ve got some stools coming out here, I think. Did you at least get challenged a little bit by Dr. Walton? Okay. Good, good, good. So, what I’m going to do is, because this is the best thing I can do, I want to ask the questions of Dr. Walton that I know you’re thinking. People online have done this. This is the part where you want to listen. This is fresh from online, too.
Dr. John Walton: I can smell it.
Dr. Chip Bennett: And I know there are many people in here that are thinking this. Aren’t you just undermining thousands of years of Christian tradition? If the cultural river thing is true, then for hundreds of years people have not been able to rightly divide the Word of God. This is troublesome because you’ve just made the Bible only accessible to elite scholars. So, aren’t you undermining thousands of years of Christian tradition? Hallelujah. Go for it.
Dr. John Walton: Guilty as charged. Shouldn’t we use every tool that God gives us to try to understand the Bible? I mean, to undermine would be to suggest that their theology is all wrong because that’s what they were doing. Theology. I’m not disagreeing with the theology. God is creator. You know? It’s not a disagreement of theology. It’s bringing more clarity to our understanding. I think any of the early Christian writers, any of the reformers, would want to do that. If they had ancient near eastern texts available, they’d be diving right in. We want to use every tool possible. This isn’t an issue of elitism because, if that were so, I’d be hoarding it and lording over you. But I’m not. I’m sharing it and trying to give it to you. That’s not an elitist mentality. It’s a “let’s all make progress together” mentality.
I’m grateful that God has given me the opportunity to study things that lots of people don’t have the opportunity or time to study. That doesn’t make me any better. It just means that now I have some responsibility, some obligations to the rest of the people who haven’t had a chance to study those things. As I carry out that responsibility, I do things like this. I lay it out and make it available. So, that doesn’t make me any big thing. You use your gifts, talents, and passions to do the work of God as the body of Christ, serving the body of Christ, and, surprise, academics can do that, too. So, that’s how I would view my calling. So, it doesn’t wipe out. It supplements. It gives greater clarity. Sometimes, of course, it brings some disagreement. But remember, the early Christians writers disagreed with each other all the time. I mean, it’s not like there’s a monolithic way of thinking back there. It just wasn’t like that. Were Calvin and Luther dismissing 1,000 years of Christianity history by doing the Reformation? I don’t think we usually think of it that way. We’re Protestants. So, that’s how I would respond.
Dr. Chip Bennett: Fair enough.
Dr. John Walton: Come on over, Chip.
Dr. Chip Bennett: I don’t know why they socially distanced us. So, real quickly, just so that everybody knows, you teach at Wheaton College.
Dr. John Walton: I do.
Dr. Chip Bennett: Wheaton College. Conservative, evangelical school?
Dr. John Walton: Yes.
Dr. Chip Bennett: What did they ask you to sign about biblical authority?
Dr. John Walton: Biblical inerrancy. Yep. I sign that statement every year.
Dr. Chip Bennett: So, this idea that Dr. Walton is somehow this sort of whatever…
Dr. John Walton: Off the grid.
Dr. Chip Bennett: He’s just — yeah. I don’t know. They have a lot of names for you. But I think it’s important. What languages do you know?
Dr. John Walton: Well, I’ve studied about eight or nine of them. Yeah. So, Acadian, Ugaritic, Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, German, French.
Dr. Chip Bennett: This is a man who has studied these texts. I’m not talking about just thinking about it. He’s read them. He’s studied them. He’s put time into this. The reason I think this is fascinating to me is because I grew up in a tradition that only had one way of looking at this particular text. And this is my next question because I think this is important that they hear this. Aren’t you just trying to make the Bible match up to science?
Dr. John Walton: No. You know, I’m a Bible person. I’m not a science person. I don’t throw that out as an excuse. It’s just my expertise and my interests are concerning Bible. If, tomorrow, we woke up and the headlines blared, “Evolution has been proven wrong. We were wrong all along and that’s not what we’re going to think anymore,” my lecture tomorrow night would be no different than what I just gave. It’s not based on accepting a particular scientific point of view. It’s based on trying to read the Bible well. So, no. This is not just an excuse to defend a scientific model. It’s an attempt to be a faithful interpreter of the text.
Dr. Chip Bennett: It’s important, I think, for everybody hearing this. You do believe God created the world in a material way. Creation ex nihilo.
Dr. John Walton: Absolutely.
Dr. Chip Bennett: You don’t believe that Genesis 1 is telling that story.
Dr. John Walton: Genesis 1 is not that story.
Dr. Chip Bennett: Do y’all understand what he’s saying there? He’s not saying God didn’t create in the sense of the way we think of creation. He’s just saying Genesis 1 is not that story. In the way that we’ve read it, he’s saying that we might need to reread it.
Dr. John Walton: You know, back to how did the play begin? Right? I mean, all of those are true. There’s a script, there’s a stage, there’s a set, there’s a cast. There’s a material world and God’s the creator. But again, we have to ask what story they are telling, and that’s what I’m trying to do. It’s a literary question, not a theological question.
Dr. Chip Bennett: How should we understand biblical rest in today’s society?
Dr. John Walton: Well, with the understanding that I presented of God’s rest being equated with stability and rule. God’s rule, His engagement in the ordered cosmos to sustain order. If that’s His rest, then what does He call us to for those who would observe the Sabbath? In the past, we’ve usually thought in terms of imitating God. God rested, we rest. And if we think God took time off, we have to take time off. So, we’ve thought of imitation, and I think that’s the wrong concept. Or at least not the best one. Instead of imitating, think about participating. That is, when we stop trying to order our own lives six days a week, stop trying to bring order on our own, for ourselves, six days a week, we’re going to cease that for a day and recognize Him as the source of order, as the center of order, as the one who’s really responsible for ordering our world. Sabbath observance would mean seeing that day as a way to participate in His kingdom and His ordering. Now, certainly, we should have that mentality all the time, every day. You know? But you could say that of anything that we do to remember. When we take Communion and we remember that Christ died, well, shouldn’t you do that every day? Sure. Do you only do it once a month, once a week, once a whatever? No. But still, the idea is that you remember. It’s a jog for our attention to say, “I’m not in charge. I’m not responsible for the ultimate order in my life. It’s You that matters, it’s Your kingdom that matters, and I want to be a participant in Your rule.” That’s what Sabbath observance is about.
Dr. Chip Bennett: They like your rest stuff. They may not like the rest of it, but they like that rest part. You saw that? But not the rest of it.
Dr. John Walton: Yeah. I got it. I was right with you.
Dr. Chip Bennett: So, how do we understand the violence in the Old Testament? Isn’t the God of the Old Testament different than Jesus in the New Testament?
Dr. John Walton: As I understand it, Jesus is the God of the Old Testament.
Dr. Chip Bennett: That’s right.
Dr. John Walton: Incarnate. So…
Dr. Chip Bennett: That was a heresy, wasn’t it?
Dr. John Walton: Yeah, yeah. Unless we’re going to think I’m some kind of internal conflict of interest.
Dr. Chip Bennett: I know. But people, they think this way.
Dr. John Walton: You know, you have to recognize that Jesus had His moments of being quite stern, quite harsh. Even in the Church, we have Ananias and Sapphira. We have instances where God holds people accountable for their hypocrisy, God holds them accountable for their behavior, and there are consequences. In the Old Testament, instead of having three years’ worth to look at, like in the New Testament, we have 3,000 years. And as God holds His people accountable, holds other people accountable, we expect to see that there are some consequences. That doesn’t make God a violent God. Some of the things that we have trouble with in the Old Testament — the conquest under Joshua. There are some cultural river things there that we miss and that we need to understand better. This is a problem. When we ignore the ancient cultural river and impose our own, we end up bringing dishonor to the name of God. That’s what happens. We say, “This looks like genocide to me. God’s a problem.”
And, suddenly, it’s God who’s the problem. You know? Anytime I see, in Scripture, something that doesn’t make sense to me about God, my first assumption is I’m the problem. I’m not reading right. I’m missing something. I need to think harder. I don’t immediately say, “God’s the problem.”
He kind of gets the benefit of the doubt, and that’s an understatement. So, certainly we see God assessing consequences to bring about justice in the world. No surprise. If He didn’t didn’t do anything, we’d criticize Him for that. How come God lets all this injustice exist? People say that today. Why doesn’t God wipe out these unjust despots? Right? We can’t have it both ways. Why doesn’t God judge these violent people? And then, when He does, “Oh, God’s such a violent God.”
You can’t have it both ways.
Dr. Chip Bennett: When you say the Bible isn’t written to me, then how can it be God’s Word to me?
Dr. John Walton: It’s God’s Word for us. That’s the “for us/to us” distinction. Again, the Israelites did not have us in mind as Israelites wrote to Israelites — through the power of God’s Spirit, of course. But as Israelites wrote to Israelites, they were writing to a specific audience, in a specific time, in a specific culture. Those Israelite authors, even though they are empowered by God’s Spirit, are not writing to me. They’re writing for me because it’s God’s message. But again, we have to go through the proper steps of getting to their cultural river so we can understand what it means to them in order to make this step well, concerning what it means for us.
Dr. Chip Bennett: Well, we are a little over time now. Here’s what we’re going to do. If you would like for me to bring Dr. Walton back again to do more in this, would you clap so that I know you’d like it?
Dr. John Walton: That’s a setup. That’s a setup.
Dr. Chip Bennett: Is that a setup?
Dr. John Walton: I mean, how can they not clap? You know? You didn’t really give them a choice.
Dr. Chip Bennett: We will both stay after, a little while, and if you want to come up and ask some questions, please do. Dr. Walton has numerous — I wanted to say a plethora — numerous books that are available. You can get them on Amazon or whatever else. They’re great books. They’re challenging books. I think it’s wonderful that we can have this dialogue. For me, the most important thing — and as the pastor of the church, this is something that I strive to do regularly. I want us, as Christians, to realize that we can have charity in areas, maybe, that we don’t see eye-to-eye on certain things, and still understand that we still fall under the fact that we believe Jesus died on the cross and rose again on the third day, and we’re brothers in the Lord. I want people to be exposed, as Christians, that there are other ways to think about this. There are Christians that give up their faith over these issues, and there’s not just one way to read this and be a Christian. You’ve got people online that are disagreeing with that.
“This guy can’t be a Christian. He can’t really believe in the Bible. There’s no way.”
But this is the power of systems that we get. When we get locked into a particular way of seeing something, or whatever else. It’s incredible. And I see this on social media because we have a large following on social media. I’ll break out a text and say, “Here’s the context,” and lay out the context. I’ll have people say, “You’re a heretic. You’re not a Christian. You’re all this stuff.”
I’m thinking, “My goodness. How in the world am I not a Christian?”
You know? But what I want you to know is this is a good man. He spent two days here with our staff. Humble man. He loves the Lord. I think he deserves one more good round of applause for his work. We will bring Dr. Walton back at some point. We’ll talk about other things in Genesis because he’s got some really cool things to say about other stuff. Again, challenging things. Are they always correct?
Dr. John Walton: I try my best.
Dr. Chip Bennett: Like you said, you’re not looking for converts. You’re just looking to get some data out there, and I think that’s great. So, let’s close in prayer and we’ll get out of here.
Father, we thank You so much for this opportunity to be able to do what we do. Thank You for John. Thank You for his heart. I thank You for his commitment to Scripture. Lord, he is really committed to the text and what the texts say. Regardless of what it shatters or whatever it leads him to, he is a true lover of Your word and wants to understand it in the best way that he can. I pray that everybody here, and those online, who maybe have questions or concerns or maybe think whatever, Lord, I just pray that they would be able to back off for just a moment. Nobody’s trying to deceive anybody. Nobody’s trying to hurt anybody. We’re just trying to understand Your Word better. The history of Christianity, Lord, as You know more than anybody, is replete with moments in history where there were better understandings and better ways to see things that shattered certain things that people had thought for many, many, many years. Lord, we should be open to whatever Your Word really says. We want to know what that is.
So, Lord, we love You, we thank You, we praise You. We, once again, are humbled and honored that we get to spend time doing this because many, many people in this world do not have the luxuries that we do, and we’re grateful. In Christ’s name we pray, amen.
Before you leave, remember this: Coming to church on Wednesday night does not give you a pass to not be here on Saturday or Sunday. So, we’ll see you in church on Saturday or Sunday. God bless everybody.
Dr. John Walton: Thank you all.
Dr. Chip Bennett: Have a wonderful evening. We’ll hang out a little bit, if you want to talk.