What do I think of John Walton’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
First off, I wish to thank IVP and John Walton both for this. IVP sent me an advanced copy and John Walton and I have interacted on the book. I consider him a friend and I thank him for his care in discussing these matters with me.
The Lost World of Genesis One was a book that I considered to be revolutionary. It’s the kind of study of Genesis One that I hope will keep going onward. In fact, nowadays, whenever someone asks me about the age of the Earth, I just tell them to read John Walton. For a long time I had been wondering if I had been reading the first chapter of Genesis wrong and trying to think of how it is that an ancient Israelite would have read it. John Walton’s book provided the answer. I was simply thrilled to hear that he had a sequel to the book coming out in the Lost World of Adam and Eve. (Although he tells me that at this point, there are no plans for a Lost World of Noah, but who knows how that could change in the future.)
So in this book, we have a focus largely on Genesis 2-3 and it is meant to address a lot of the questions that come up later, such as where did Cain get his wife? In this book, Walton continues the line he was going down in his previous book and emphasizes the account is not about material creation but it is still about what he prefers to call sacred space. In the past, he had used an analogy of a temple, but sacred space is the path he’s going now, although we could certainly say that all temples are deemed to be sacred spaces, not all sacred spaces are temples.
In Walton’s view, Adam is not so much the first man as he is the archetype. This means that Adam was meant to be the one who would represent humanity. This makes sense since if we want to say it’s a chronological thing and Adam is the first Adam, then what are we to make of Jesus being the last Adam? Chronologically, Jesus is definitely not the last man to have ever lived. Everyone reading this post was born after the time of Jesus. From the position of an archetype, Jesus is the last one. Just as Adam was our representative in the garden, when we get to the New Testament, Jesus is seen as our representative.
Thus, the text would not be seen as having a problem with other people. It’s just that those people are not the subject of the account. If that is the case, then the question of where Cain got his wife is answered. Cain married one of those other humans. It was just that Adam was the chosen representative and he brought the knowledge of sin to the world by his wrong actions. Walton is open to the possibility of there being sin beforehand, but people did not have a law that they were accountable to. When Adam fell, then people had something that they were accountable to and sin had to be dealt with.
Eve in the account meanwhile is made to be an ontological equal. She is not really made from the rib of Adam but from the side. Walton says the language is used of a deep sleep for a trance like purpose. We should not read modern anesthesia into the account. The Israelites were not scientists and God could have just as easily made Adam impervious to any pain. Instead, what it is is that Adam is having a vision of himself being cut in half by God and from that half Eve being made. Thus, quite literally, when Eve shows up, Adam can happily proclaim that he’s found his better half. (To which, I have consulted a number of Hebrew scholars who tell me that the bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh that Adam said when he saw Eve is more appropriately translated as “YOWZA!”)
But what was Adam to be doing in the garden? Adam was to act as a priest. In essence, he was to do what Jesus came to do also according to Hebrews. Unfortunately, as our priest, he failed. Adam was meant to bring order to a world that had non-order in it and even some agents of disorder wandering around, chaos creatures as Walton calls them. This would include the serpent, and while whatever the nature of the serpent was is unclear still, it represents a creature that is opposed to the plan of God and thus a threat. It’s also interesting that Walton points out we are not told where the encounter took place. We just think it was in the garden.
As for the tree, Walton says there was nothing magical in the fruit of the tree and that it could have just as easily been a command to not walk on the beach at night. The question was simply is man going to be faithful to God or not. Man gets to choose. One can easily think of C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra at this point. Walton also argues that Adam and Eve were not created immortal, to which I was certainly thrilled to see that as that was a point that I concluded years ago. After all, if they were immortal, why would they need the fruit in the garden, especially the tree of life, to sustain them at all?
Another bonus in the book is that Walton has an excursus by N.T. Wright on Paul’s view of Adam. It’s hard to think of something more thrilling in academia than to see John Walton and N.T. Wright working together on a project. Walton’s view in fact falls in incredibly well with Wright’s, which is one reason I think it’s simply such an amazing interpretation. It fits in with the whole role of vocation and how we are all now in the place of Adam in the sense that our vocation has not changed from the garden. We are still to rule over the Earth and to take control. That having been said, Walton is clear we are not to misuse what we have been given. None of this belongs to us by nature. It is all God’s. We are just the caretakers of what He has given us.
Along with all of this comes the point that science is no threat to Christianity. Studies in modern genetics are not a threat. Evolutionary theory is not a threat. There’s no doubt that at times science can inform our interpretation. For instance, it would be wrong to interpret Psalm 104:5 in a geocentric way and to have read it that way in the past was a misreading as if the Psalmist was interested in telling us about the relation of the planet to the sun. We definitely need to avoid anything such as science vs. the Bible. If a theory like evolutionary theory is to fall, let it fall for one reason. It proves to be bad science. All truth is God’s truth after all and that includes scientific truths. If we want to know the purpose of our existence, we look to the book of Scripture. If we want to know the how of our existence, we look to the book of nature. It is true in a sense that we can say of everything that is that God did it, but Scripture is not meant to answer the question how. It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of man to search it out. Let’s benefit from both the book of nature and the book of Scripture.