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Lost World Of Genesis One, The Paperback – Jun 1 2009
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"John Walton's expertise in the Ancient Near Eastern sources enables him to shed a flood of new and unexpected light on the deeper meaning of Genesis 1. The Creator, Genesis is saying, designed heaven and earth as a great temple with the intention of coming to live in it himself--and the sabbath isn't just a nice break after the work is done, but the moment when he takes up residence in the world he has just made. The implications of this resonate right through the rest of the Bible. This is not just a book to invite 'creationists' to think differently; it is a book to help all Bible students read the whole of Scripture with fresh eyes."--N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham
"Professor Walton seeks to describe clearly and with ruthless honesty the nature and purpose of the biblical text in Genesis that is juxtaposed to the claims of modern science and scientism in the current debate over origins. His work will be welcomed by all those who seek to render to both the Scriptures and modern science the authority appropriate to each--while at the same time avoiding false or unnecessary stands on either side."--Shirley A. Mullen, president, Houghton College
"John Walton offers a compelling and persuasive interpretation of Genesis, one that challenges those who take it as an account of material origins. His excellent book is must-reading for all who are interested in the origins debate."--Tremper Longman III, author of How to Read Genesis, and Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College
"Every theologian, every pastor, every Christian in the natural sciences, indeed, every Christian who loves the Bible must put aside all other reading material this minute and immediately begin to absorb the contents of John Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One. Walton closely examines Genesis 1 in light of ancient Near Eastern literature and offers a compelling case that the creation account is far more concerned with the cosmos being given its functions as God's temple than it is with the manufacture of the material structures of the earth and universe. In the process, he has blown away all the futile attempts to elicit modern science from the first chapter of the Bible."--Davis A. Young, Professor Emeritus of Geology, Calvin College, and coauthor of The Bible, Rocks and Time
"Walton's cosmic temple inauguration view of Genesis 1 is a landmark study in the interpretation of that controversial chapter. On the basis of ancient Near Eastern literatures, a rigorous study of the Hebrew word bara' ('create'), and a cogent and sustained argument, Walton has gifted the church with a fresh interpretation of Genesis 1. His view that the seven days refers to the inauguration of the cosmos as a functioning temple where God takes up his residence as his headquarters from which he runs the world merits reflection by all who love the God of Abraham."--Bruce Waltke, professor of Old Testament, Reformed Theological Seminary
"This book presents a profoundly important new analysis of the meaning of Genesis. Digging deeply into the original Hebrew language and the culture of the people of Israel in Old Testament times, respected scholar John Walton argues convincingly that Genesis was intended to describe the creation of the functions of the cosmos, not its material nature. In the process, he elevates Scripture to a new level of respectful understanding, and eliminates any conflict between scientific and scriptural descriptions of origins."--Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and author of The Language of God
"Walton [brings] a fresh perspective that enlightens, enriches, and honors the biblical text. . . I recommend the book to anyone interested in the origins question and look forward to seeing how these ideas shape origins discussion of the future."--Sean M. Cordry, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, September 2010
"It will challenge many to hink about Genesis in the way Christian scholars have been championing for many years now---as an ancient document, speaking to people with an understanding of the world very different from our own. Hopefully, it will open the doors to a conversation that is long overdue."--Douglas J. Becker, Themelios, November 2009
"An interesting read. Well worth putting in church libraries."--Church Libraries, Winter 2009-10
"It will challenge many to think about Genesis in the way Christian scholars have been championing for many years now---as an ancient document, speaking to people with an understanding of the world very different from our own. Hopefully, it will open the doors to a conversation that is long overdue."--Douglas J. Becker, Themelios, November 2009
About the Author
John H. Walton (PhD, Hebrew Union College) is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament; Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context; Covenant: God s Purpose, God s Plan; The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament; and A Survey of the Old Testament.
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Top Customer Reviews
The truth is, Genesis was never written to answer questions about the age of the earth, the scientific mechanisms God used to create the world, or even the origin of material creation at all. Those are OUR questions - we live in a modern (or post-modern) world where we have had generations of enquiry into scientific matters, and we (as Christians) want to know which model of origins the Bible agrees with …… but it doesn't even address these matters, because, as I said those are OUR questions. Those questions would not even have entered the minds of the original writers and readers of Genesis. They had totally different questions and THIER questions had to do with how they understood God and the world from the perspective of THEIR culture and background, not ours. That seems so obvious that it shouldn't have to be mentioned, and yet with todays especially-narrow-minded versions of fundamentalism, so many people seem to think that Genesis is a science book that God gave us to know the exact mechanisms (7 literal days etc) that he used to create the universe.
John Walton has not only pointed out that Genesis 1 was written to answer THEIR questions and not OURS, he has shown what their questions were; he introduces us to the cultural and religious world of the Ancient Near East, and all of a sudden, Genesis 1 begins to make sense.Read more ›
Overall this was a very refreshing read and rather affirming. I think Walton offers a fairly good stance toward integration.
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In a nutshell, here is Walton's proposal: Genesis 1 was not intended to give us a scientific understanding of the material origins of the universe. Instead, the seven days of creation are a cosmic temple inauguration ceremony that describe the functional beginning of our world.
If your eyes have already glazed over after reading that summary, then consider his illustration about a college. At what point is a college created? Is it when the buildings go up? Or when the students and faculty arrive on campus and classes begin? Or when the commencement ceremony begins?
Walton's proposal is that Genesis 1 does not give us a narrative of when matter began to exist. The narrative concerns functional origins: when the world began to function the way God intended for human creation to flourish.
"I believe that people in the ancient world believed that something existed not by virtue of its material properties, but by virtue of its having a function in an ordered system." (26)
In case some might wonder if Walton is denying the doctrine of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing), he clarifies:
"I firmly believe that God is fully responsible for material origins, and that, in fact, material origins do involve at some point a creation out of nothing. But that theological question is not the one we are asking. We are asking a textual question. What sort of origins account do we find in Genesis 1?" (44)
Walton's view could be classified as a highly sophisticated version of the older Gap theory (that there is a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2). It differs from the Gap theory in that Walton argues for a functional understanding of "create" all throughout the passage.
But it resembles the Gap theory by leaving room for a large span of time and material development that does not hinder the seven day creation process that occurs as the cosmic temple inauguration.
I appreciate Walton's careful treatment of the text. He refuses to get bogged down in trying to reconcile the ancient text with modern scientific understanding:
Taking the text seriously is not expressed by correlating it with modern science; it is expressed by understanding it in its ancient context." (111)
Walton's proposal has much to commend it. I have never been fully persuaded by the Day-Age theory (that the days in Genesis 1 refer to long periods of time) or by the Young Earth view (that the seven days took place in sequence ten thousand years ago). Walton's proposal offers the best of both worlds (inerrancy and science). The Day-Age and Young-Earth theories have never been completely convincing to me because it always seems like people are trying to read more out of the text than is there. (It reminds me of how so many interpreters tackle Revelation.) I am impressed by the way in which Walton seeks to deal seriously with the biblical text, regardless of the implications.
Yet, I have unresolved questions regarding this view. In the end, I have two main concerns.
1. This is a novel interpretation. That is, it has not been a primary interpretation throughout church history. I would be interested to know how ancient Jewish scholars commented on this text.
From my admittedly limited research, I see that many in the ancient world did indeed consider this text to be about material origins. Ancient commentaries do not, of course, change the biblical text. But it does soften the brunt of Walton's proposal, which argues that virtually all the ancients thought of creation stories in the way he proposes.
2. The implications of Walton's proposal may create separate spheres of knowledge. The desire to leave science and theology in separate spheres seems like a good way to keep controversy at bay.
Of course, science and theology impinge upon one another, as Walton would surely agree. Still, I am not sure that saying the Bible does not speak at all to the "how" of material origins is a resolution of the issue, but merely a way of relegating the origins discussion to the peripheral.
Asking "Where did we come from" is never a peripheral issue, as Walton would also admit. But I wonder if his proposal might lead some to the quick conclusion, "See? Who cares whether or not we evolved?" (And I do not find evolution to be persuasive as a model, even when it is of the theistic variety.)
John Walton is a recognized evangelical OT scholar. He is the co-author of one of the most respected evangelical OT Introductions in print. I am thankful for his commitment to the truthfulness of the biblical text. His interpretation is novel, but his research is impressive. The Lost World of Genesis One deserves further reflection and discussion. I look forward to seeing where the conversation leads.
Entering onto this stage full of lab coats is now eminent Old Testament scholar John Walton who brings his expertise as a contextually informed exegete to the table. I had something of a hint that we would see a book of this nature after reading his thoughts on the first few chapters of Genesis in his commentary some time back. Happily there is no more need for waiting.
In this work Walton's thesis consists of a series of propositions that culminate with the contention that the creation account of Genesis is a description of the universe's construction as a temple of God. Throughout the course of the book Walton makes a couple of salient points that relate to the "Origins Debate". First of all, we should keep in mind that there is little if no basis in thinking that God would intend to communicate "scientifically correct" statements via the creation account. For (1) there is no statement in the Bible that conveys a scientific truth that the biblical writers would not have already known. (2) There are statements in the Bible that convey cosmological and physiological notions that simply do not comport with science. "Domed cosmology" and the additional notions it contained is clearly without scientific merit. Another example Walton cites is that some of the words translated as "mind" in English actually mean entrails in the Hebrew. Why? Because people in those days simply thought that emotions and feelings derived from these parts of the body. As Walton points out, God obviously didn't correct them on the matter, and no one today would try to argue that we should seek to justify or explain that the source of our emotions is the digestive tract (granted I feel quite miserable when I've eaten something that does not agree with me)! And yet this is exactly how people approach the creation account.
Secondly, Walton demonstrates that the ontology of the creation account is not material but functional. He explains the difference between these two senses by comparing a chair and a corporation. He notes that the former is typically considered to be brought into existence (or created) by the nature of its material status. But as the example of the corporation shows, something can also be created in the sense that it is given a certain function. In his words, "In a functional ontology, to bring something into existence would require giving it a function or a role in an ordered system rather than giving it material property" (26). Of course the entities created in the creation account are material entities, so it is often presumed that Genesis must be manifesting material ontology. Yet as Walton goes on to explain with the contextual evidence of ancient Near Eastern creation accounts, and through an assessment of Hebrew words like "bara", such an assumption is, in the end, spurious.
This book should be required reading for anyone, whatever their predispositions in the origins debate, who wishes to understand the true meaning of Genesis one. If there are any criticisms to be proffered, it is that on rare occasion it does not seems that Walton himself avoids slipping into residual, quasi-concordist tendencies by seeking to apply the story of Genesis one to "what really happened". In the FAQ, for example, he proffers the possibility that dinosaurs and fossils existed in the prefunctional cosmos stage of Genesis one (169). This is a trivial criticism, however, and on the whole he is otherwise quite clear in saying that to ask "what really happened" in the historical and scientific sense is to ask something of the text it cannot provide.
To be sure there is a bit of irony in all of this. If Walton's scholarship is right, and I think it more or less is, we are forced to say that all sides have been wrong in taking the scalpel to the text and seeking to justify their view because of this or that word, or this or that phrase. It can no longer be about the definition of "yom" and how much time you can or cannot fit into it. And it can no longer be about finding a scientific cosmology that allows the day and night to exist before the sun in some convenient fashion. And although many of us who have worked hard to travel such roads will find it hard to turn around and go back, it is time for us to accept that they lead to false destinations. It is time to change our perspectives and see that Genesis speaks to its intended audience on an entirely different wavelength than what we are accustomed or want it to. It is time to accept the Bible on its own terms.
John H. Walton approaches the first chapter of Genesis from a literary and historical context, rather than a scientific one. His idea is simple: read Genesis one through the eyes of the audience it was intended for: the ancient Israelites. This involves an intricate understanding of the culture of ancient Israel.
Walton says that the account described in Genesis one is actually a description of God forming a cosmic temple in which he will dwell, a literary device that was common in ancient Near East creation accounts. Walton's theory is that the creation account we know so well is not an account of material origins, but rather functional origins. Genesis one is describing God creating order out of chaos. It would have been assumed in the ancient world that God created everything material. It was important that the Israelites know that it was God(Yahweh) that gave order and function to all.
Walton's book is a bit tedious to get through, but his ideas and thoughts are brilliant. The thinking he prescribes in his book causes a radical shift in attitude about numerous ideas. If one subscribes to them, there is no longer a need to argue over young earth/old earth or evolution. The Bible and science collude like no other theory. This is definitely a good read.
I'll admit that I approached this book with a lot of skepticism. Any time someone claims to have discovered a new (or, in this case, lost for millenia) way to interpret Scripture, my first reaction is to doubt the "new" interpretation. Though I believe Scripture to be authoritative and inerrant, I have great respect for the theologians, pastors, and scholars throughout Church history who have come before us. Though not everyone in history has come to the same conclusions (far from it!), I found it difficult to believe that someone today could have uncovered an entirely new approach to something as important as the account of Creation in Genesis 1, which every scholar for the last several thousand years has missed.
That said, Dr. Walton's arguments are quite compelling; much more so than I anticipated. His basic proposition is that Genesis 1 is NOT an account of material origins at all, but of "functional" origins. He argues that, because in the modern world (even as far back as in Jesus' day) we think of the word "create" in terms of physical manufacturing, we read that ontology into the Genesis 1 account. However, Genesis is an ancient document, written for an ancient audience which, according to Walton, did NOT have the same understanding of "create". In the ancient world, creation (the Hebrew word "bara") had to do instead with the assignment of function. Thus, Genesis 1 is the account of God giving function (specifically, "anthropocentric" functions designed to make the world suitable to human life) to an already materially-existing world.
The author does, however, affirm God's physical creation of the world ex nihilo (out of nothing), which was something I did not expect him to say. His argument is not that God was not the material/physical Author of creation, only that Genesis 1 is not that account.
Walton calls his view the "Cosmic Temple Inauguration View", because he contends that the language of Genesis 1 is similar to the language used to describe the inauguration of other temples, both in Scripture and in other documents of ancient cosmology (Egyptian, Sumerian, etc). One example he gives is Solomon's temple, contrasting the building of the temple with the creation of the temple. We can read the account of the construction of the temple in 1 Kings 6-7, which took 7 years. However, the physical building didn't "become" a temple until the temple was inaugurated (with a 7-day feast) and God came to dwell there. In Solomon's prayer of dedication in 1 Kings 8, he tells of the various functions of the temple, and that language finds parallels in the Bible's first chapter.
In the ancient world, Walton explains, temples didn't have function until a deity dwelt there. Furthermore, a deity's power was thought to be restricted to the place where his/her temple was located. It follows, then, that Genesis 1 gives the account of the entire cosmos being the temple of the one true and living God. He has assigned function to all that is, and his power is absolute throughout the universe because the cosmos is his temple. Walton sees confirmation of this in other OT passages, such as Isaiah 66:1-2, which speaks of heaven as God's throne, and earth as his footstool.
Much of the book is devoted to addressing the topic of evolution. Walton stresses that his book is not intended to support biological evolution, though many will undoubtedly read it this way. His point is that if his interpretation of Genesis is correct, there is no reason on theological grounds to reject biological evolution as a method; science should be able to speak for itself without being forced to fit into perceived biblical restrictions that aren't there. He is careful to describe several very nuanced positions, such as differentiating between "methodological naturalism" and "metaphysical naturalism". The first is a biological process that may or may not be substantiated by scientific study, but would not necessarily conflict with biblical teaching if found to be true (though he does appear to hold out Adam & Eve as historical figures who, as the first humans, were specially created in God's image and did not evolve; this point was a bit unclear to me on my first reading). Most modern scientists, though, subscribe to "metaphysical" naturalism (what most people think of when hearing the word "evolution"), which begins with a presupposition that the universe is "dysteleological" -- it has no ultimate purpose. This, says Walton, is NOT science but faith, and is not compatible with Scripture.
Along the same lines, Walton does not estimate age of the earth, because he believes the Bible does not address the issue. I have become increasingly unwilling to be dogmatic about the earth's age myself, but this is bound to be a problem for readers with strong convictions on this particular issue.
The book's greatest strength, in my view, was a distinction Walton makes between exegesis and theology:
"Even if the reader is not inclined to adopt the proposed interpretation of Genesis 1, his or her theology could still be greatly enhanced by the observations offered here by embracing a renewed and informed commitment to God's intimate involvement in the operation of the cosmos from its incipience and into eternity. We all need to strengthen our theology of creation and Creator whatever our ciew of the Genesis account of origins. Even though it is natural for us to defend our exegesis, it is arguable even more important to defend our theology."
He goes on to list four theological affirmations that are expected of us once we come to see that God's role as Creator is more than simply the "builder" of everything; He is also the ruling sustainer of the cosmos. Each of these ought to be able to be affirmed by Christians of all different exegetical persuasions, and I agree that this book was helpful in focusing my attention more on these ongoing aspects of God's creative work:
1.The world operates by Yahweh's design and under his supervision to accomplish his purposes.
2.The cosmos is his temple.
3.Everything in the cosmos was given its role and function by God.
4.Everything in the cosmos functions on behalf of people who are in his image.
In comparing his view to other views (including Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, and the Framework Hypothesis), the Cosmic Temple Inauguration View comes across as a "miracle" interpretation, offering answers to the problems offered by the other views. It certainly seems to "work"; that is, it is internally consistent. Personally, though, I'm not interested in whether something "works". I want to know if it's true, and here I'm just not sure I can come to full agreement with John Walton.
Perhaps it's just because material ontology is so engrained in my thinking, but I am not fully convinced by Walton's claim that Genesis 1 is about only functional and not material origins. Unfortunately, my knowledge of science, ancient cultures, and the Hebrew language are insufficient to allow me to do much more than rely on other experts in such fields to interact with Walton, and see whether his research can be refuted or corroborated. And so it is with great interest that I will watch the ongoing dialogue between theologians and other intellectuals more knowledgeable than I that will inevitably crop up in response to this book.
In the meantime, I highly recommend reading this book yourself. At the very least, it will give you plenty to think about!
Next, Walton argues that ancient cosmology is primarily concerned with function, not with material existence. He briefly surveys some of the ancient Egyptian and Babylonian creation accounts, and notes that in many cases nothing material is actually made. Rather, things are given a function in an ordered system.
Walton argues that the Hebrew word bara, which is translated as "create," concerns function, not material creation. Walton notes that bara occurs about 50 times in the Old Testament, and God is always the subject or implied subject of the verb. No pre-existing materials are ever mentioned in conjunction with bara, causing scholars to conclude that it implies creation ex nihilo. That bara only refers to what God does, never to what man does, bolsters this view; humans can give things a function within an ordered system, but only God can speak matter into existence. Psalm 33:6; 148:5; Rom. 4:17. Nevertheless, Walton insists that bara means the assignment of function, not creation ex nihilo.
Genesis 1:2 states that the earth was "formless and void"--tohu and bohu, in Hebrew. If the earth was really "empty" or "void," as the Hebrew term bohu is translated, then all the plants and animals must have been physically created during the creation week. Walton engages in a lengthy analysis of the word tohu, which means "formless" or "chaotic", but not of the word bohu, which is translated as "void." He argues that because bohu is used only 3 times, and always in conjunction with tohu, then bohu must mean the same thing as tohu. But that doesn't really make sense, and one begins to grow suspicious of the conceit that everyone BW (Before Walton) mistranslated the relevant Hebrew terms.
As we go through the days of the creation week, God seems to be creating things out of nothing: "`Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.' So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind." Walton admits that animals don't have a function; God tells them to "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas," but, if Walton's thesis is correct, they had been doing this already for millions of years.
The human function is to subdue and rule. (Gen. 1:26) Walton notes that Genesis Two seems to describe a material creation of man ("the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being" (Gen. 2:7), but argues that the "Adam" discussed there is an archetype, not the prototype, and that the story is meant to caution man about his mortal nature ("Dust you are and unto dust you shall return" Gen. 3:19), not to describe the physical creation of man. Walton believes that on day six, God gave humans the image of God, by which he means a moral nature, "though it remains difficult to articulate how God accomplished this." He believes that, prior to the creation week, humans were simply animals with no moral accountability. "The anthropological specimens would not be viewed as humans in the image of God. They would not be assessed morally (any more than an animal would), and they were subject to death as any animal was."
Seventh-day Adventists will be disappointed in Walton's rationale for the Sabbath. "In the traditional view that Genesis 1 is an account of material origins," he writes, "day seven is mystifying. It appears to be nothing more than an afterthought with theological concerns about Israelites observing the Sabbath--an appendix, a postscript, a tack on." Walton argues that God did not rest on the Sabbath, in the sense of cessation of labor, but rather transitioned from the extraordinary activity of assigning function to the more normal, day-to-day business of being God in His cosmic temple. Toward the end of the book, he argues that Christians should keep the Sabbath not in imitation of God's rest--because He did not--but to celebrate that God, rather than man, is at the controls. In effect, Walton substitutes his own rationale for the Bible's (Ex. 20:11).
Just as jarring to the Adventist reader will be Walton's argument that the tabernacle is a map of the cosmos. He believes the objects in the courtyard represent the disordered cosmos, the objects in the holy place represent the ordered cosmos, the curtain between holy place and most holy place represents the raqia or "firmament" (which Walton conceives of as a solid structure), and the most holy place represents heaven. Walton makes no mention of the function of the tabernacle in the Jewish economy, nor that it is patterned after a temple in heaven (Ex. 25:40; Heb. 8:5; Rev. 11:19; 15:5), nor of its Christ-centered symbolism, so well studied by Adventists. For him, it is merely a biblical analog of other ancient temples, which, he notes, were often meant to be models of the cosmos.
Walton's larger thesis is that Genesis One "should be understood as an account of the functional origins of the cosmos as a temple." "It is describing the creation of the cosmic temple with all of its functions and with God dwelling in its midst. . . . without God taking up his dwelling in its midst, the (cosmic) temple does not exist." This concept is without biblical context. In the biblical worldview, God dwells in heaven (I Kings 8:43; 2 Chron. 6:30; Psalm 103:9; Mat. 5:45; 23:9), which is an actual place (Acts 1:11; Heb. 1:3; 8:1, 5; 9:24; 1 Pet. 3:22; Rev. 4:1-2). He does not normally dwell in the world that He created in Genesis One (Eccl. 5:2). Scripture also teaches that God is eternally existent (Gen. 21:33; Rom 1:20; 1 Tim. 1:17), yet there is nothing in Walton's thesis to push the creation week (or, rather, the inauguration week) back beyond the 6,000 to 10,000 years indicated by the chrono-genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11. Where had God been living from eternity up until the last few thousand years? It makes more biblical sense that God lived in heaven both before and after the creation week, which is primarily concerned with the creation of this world and the human race, not with finding a home for a homeless God.
Walton insists that his thesis is a genuine attempt to rightly read the text, not an attempt at concordance between science and Scripture, but he seems a bit too pleased with how neatly his reading of Genesis obviates the conflict: Genesis says nothing about the material creation of the earth or the cosmos, hence there can be no conflict between Genesis and any scientific theory of material origins. Almost half of this slim volume is devoted to discussing how his theory solves the problem better than any of the other proposed solutions, such as Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, the Framework Hypothesis, the Gap Theory, Intelligent Design, etc.
Walton affirms that God is responsible for the material origins of all things; he merely demurs that the Bible says nothing specific about those origins. Hence, God might have used survival of the fittest--nature red in tooth and claw-to create the natural world over eons of time. Brushing aside the theodical problems this raises, Walton says we finite humans cannot second-guess God. This might satisfy a "sovereignty of God" Calvinist, but Adventists emphasize the Great Controversy theme of cosmic history, which centers on the vindication of God's character and government, and we cannot afford to dismiss theodicy so casually.
Notwithstanding Walton's frequent denials, this book ultimately is an attempt to resolve the conflict between science and Scripture with a new reading of Scripture. It will not persuade most conservative Christians for a variety of reasons, including that it does not spring from a biblical worldview, but rather from imputing ancient Egyptian and Babylonian concepts to the author of Genesis.
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