Does God want us to learn about him and his ways?
Is creation off limits? Is God hiding his means and methods from us? Or, are his ways open for us to discover (to the limits of our abilities)?
I believe that God wants us to learn as much as we can, including how and why the world works—the world we live in and are a part of.
The creation account in Genesis has often been a battle ground where science and religion seem to meet. As a technical person, I have also found the creation account frustrating. However, the conflict and difficulty may be of our own making and unnecessary.
Reading Scripture Wrong
I recently finished reading The Lost World of Genesis One by John H. Walton. In it he presents significant evidence to support his assertion that we are reading Genesis wrong.
Typically we approach the creation account with our limited scientific knowledge in mind, reading it with a concordist perspective—trying to match scriptural descriptions of creation with generalized cosmological events.
Unfortunately, this perspective is not honoring the intent and context of the writers, we are missing the message that they were trying to convey.
The principle problem is that, “The Old Testament … was written to [ancient] Israel … it was not written to us. … It is in a language that most of us do not understand.” (pg 7)
Walton is not speaking merely of words, which can be translated to some extent, but the cultural context is nearly impossible to translate. Therefore, “Rather than translating the culture … we need to try and enter the culture” (pg 9) in order to understand the language of Genesis.
Through a series of propositions (chapters), Walton uses the following hermeneutics (how Genesis 1 should be viewed) to re-examine the creation story.
- Ancient Israelites were products of their time, just as we are of our time.
- Their world view differed drastically from ours.
- Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology, not modern science.
- Genesis 1 should be respected for what it meant to the people to whom it was given rather than what it says to us now.
This leads Walton to the principle point, we (as modern Christians) typically read Genesis 1 from a material perspective—we need to touch, feel, see, hear, or detect something before it is real to us.
In the ancient Near East, material reality was essentially meaningless. Material existence was irrelevant without function or purpose. Walton demonstrates both linguistically and culturally that the creation account in Genesis was one of functional inauguration not material creation.
With this point established, Walton moves through a series of propositions to drive this point home and show how this functional paradigm fits within the scriptural and cultural context of the time and expands the richness and meaning of the creation account as well as other scripture. This functional perspective resolves seeming conflicts with material creation.
For example, one of the conflicts in Genesis is the description of light being created on day one, but the sun is not created until day four. This material conflict is nullified when creation is viewed from a functional perspective of establishing time and space for humans. The role of the sun and planets is less critical and is not directly associated with the space in which humans will dwell, until it is needed for measuring time.
The functional perspective is not totally foreign to us; we still hold onto some functional perspectives in our culture. “Even today we can consider it true that the sky is blue, that the sun sets and that the moon shines” (pg 60) in spite of the incorrect implications.
It should be noted that Walton does not deny God’s hand in physical creation, he only points out that Genesis 1 is not an account of material origins.
Temples and Inaugurations
One of the interesting propositions (especially to an LDS audience) that Walton teases out is the relation between temples and creation.
Ancient temples were built with creation symbolism and were monuments to and recognition of creation and the creator. This correlates to the LDS temple liturgy (endowment ceremony), surrounding gardens, and architectural symbols.
“The garden of Eden is not viewed by the author of Genesis simply as a piece of Mesopotamian farmland, but as an archetypal sanctuary, that is a place where God dwells and where man should worship him. Many features of the garden may also be found in later sanctuaries particularly the tabernacle or Jerusalem temple. These parallels suggest that the garden itself is understood as a sort of sanctuary.” (pg 81)
Another aspect that will be familiar to Mormons is the concept of dedication or inauguration.
Anciently, temple construction was only concluded and a temple was only considered as such after the inauguration celebration and ceremony. The temple inauguration was only complete when the representation of God was placed in the temple. (Similar to Adam and Eve being placed in the garden.) Often this inauguration was commemorated through an annual, week-long celebration.
“Moshe Weinfeld has suggested that Genesis 1 could have served very effectively as the liturgy of such a festival… . In this way of thinking, Genesis 1 would be a recounting of the functional origins of the cosmos as a temple that was rehearsed yearly to celebrate God’s creation and enthronement in the temple.” (pg 90)
Days and Days and Days
Viewing Genesis 1 as inauguration liturgy resolves another issue.
We often hear how “day” in Genesis is a “creative period.” But, this doesn’t fit with the meaning or understanding of the Hebrew word, which is a literal solar day, a 24 hr period. This complicates attempts to read Genesis 1 as material creation with our understanding of physical processes.
But, when Genesis 1 is read as a symbolic temple liturgy, with each day representing a day of celebration leading up to the inauguration (or dedication), the functional interpretation preempts the material conflict.
It is certainly beyond the scope of this post to delve into each of the propositions, that is why there is a book.
For me, Walton has driven home the issue of my own ignorance of scriptural context as well as its importance and value in understanding scripture.
I love Walton’s concluding paragraph. I will conclude with the same.
“We must keep in mind that we are presumptuous if we consider our interpretations of Scripture to have the same authority as Scripture itself. Nobody is an infallible interpreter, and we must always stand ready to reconsider our interpretations in light of new information. We must not let our interpretations stand in the place of Scripture’s authority and thus risk misrepresenting God’s revelation. We are willing to bind reason if our faith calls for belief where reason fails. But we are also people who in faith seek learning. What we learn may cause us to reconsider interpretations of Scripture, but need never cause us to question the intrinsic authority or nature of Scripture.” (pg 167)
Part two: Adam: The Man, The Myth