Lost World of Genesis One: John H. Walton, American Evangelicals and Creation

Mar 9th, 2012 | Category: Book Reviews, Featured
By Dr. Andrew Steinmann

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.  John H. Walton, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009, 192 page, Paperback, $ 16.00.

For almost eighty years the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has publically declared its belief that God created the world as narrated in Genesis, stating,

We teach that God has created heaven and earth, and that in the manner and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially Gen. 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty creative word, and in six days. We reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture. In our days it is denied or limited by those who assert, ostensibly in deference to science, that the world came into existence through a process of evolution; that is, that it has, in immense periods of time, developed more or less of itself. Since no man was present when it pleased God to create the world, we must look for a reliable account of creation to God’s own record, found in God’s own book, the Bible. We accept God’s own record with full confidence and confess with Luther’s Catechism: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures” (LCMS 1932).

This belief is part of a doctrinal statement of the Synod, and all of its members are expected to “honor and uphold” this belief (LCMS 2010, Bylaw 1.6.2 (7) and (10)). Thus, the LCMS and its members have for the better part of a century found common ground with American Evangelicals who also have traditionally affirmed that the opening chapters of Genesis portray God’s creation of the world, and often members of the LCMS and other confessional Lutheran bodies have seen themselves part of a larger stream of American Christianity that affirms the truthfulness and accuracy of the Genesis creation accounts. LCMS members have felt comfortable in using some materials on creation that stem from Evangelical sources, viewing them as generally trustworthy on this subject, though understanding that many of the doctrinal positions affirmed by Evangelicals are contrary to a Lutheran understanding of the Gospel.

This comfort, however, may prove to be more and more deceptive as time passes. This is because there are a growing number of American Evangelical scholars who are seeking ways to accommodate Evangelical beliefs with “respected” academic positions in Biblical Studies (i.e., higher critical approaches) as well as in the humanities and sciences. Some of this movement of Evangelicals to chase after the respect of the world has been resisted within the wider Evangelical movement in the United States, but there is a growing comfort among Evangelical scholars for positions that they formerly would have rejected. While this, no doubt, would come as a surprise to many Evangelicals in pulpits and pews on Sunday morning, it will certainly begin creeping into the broader Evangelical movement as new pastors are trained by these scholars. The accomodationist views of these scholars—especially views that allow for evolutionary theory of origins of life—appear to be here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. These Evangelical scholars are not seeking to be unfaithful to the Scriptures. They are seeking instead to reconcile Scriptures to the current Zeitgeist in what they perceive to be a faithful way. However, the motivation to accommodate the world often pulls them in directions that leave the Scriptural message distorted in order to make it palatable to broad secular currents in society.

More importantly for Lutheran educators—be they teachers, DCE’s, pastors, or deaconesses—this development means that there will need to be more caution than ever when picking up Evangelical materials on the topic of creation. While it is impossible to explore all of the positions newly advocated by some Evangelicals on creation in this short article, I would like to examine one recent book aimed at a lay audience by an Evangelical scholar to advance his accomodationist views. This can serve as a cautionary tale for Lutherans who may naively assume that all Evangelicals are “on our side” when the topic of God’s creation of the world is brought to the fore.

American Evangelical Scholarship in Recent Years

Evangelicals on the whole are defined by four chief assumptions, some aspects of which are compatible with Lutheran doctrine: the need for a personal conversion experience, a high regard for the authority of the Bible, an emphasis on the saving work of Jesus, and the need to share the Gospel with the world. In academic circles evangelicals are often more narrowly defined by their commitment to Scriptural inerrancy and authority and to basic articles of Christian doctrine, such as the Trinity. In fact, the leading American academic organization for Evangelical scholars of Scripture and religion, the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), requires just that type of commitment. It asks its members annually to affirm that “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.” In this sense Missouri-Synod Lutherans could be identified as “Evangelicals,” and, indeed, more than a few LCMS scholars are members of the ETS.

One trend that has become evident among one wing of Evangelical scholars in recent years is the aforementioned tendency to effect an accommodation between the Bible and worldviews of non-Evangelicals. These worldviews encompass such diverse items as higher critical interpretations of the Bible, various theories in science, and broader societal attitudes on ethics and morality. On the topic of creation this means offering interpretations of the Scriptures that allow a more congenial alignment of Genesis and other parts of the Bible with current scientific consensus. In effect, these scholars want to move Evangelical views of the meaning of Scripture toward an interpretation of Genesis and other biblical passages that is comfortable with current evolutionary theory while simultaneously seeking to maintain a high view of Scriptural authority. The question that is often ignored or minimized is whether such accommodation will have unintended consequences for Christian doctrine, especially the Gospel.

John H. Walton and the Lost World

In 2009 John Walton of Wheaton College, a well-respected Evangelical institution of higher education, published The Lost World of Genesis One. This book is a popular version of his more scholarly Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology. Lost World was published by Intervarsity Press, a well-known moderate Evangelical publisher. Its cover contains endorsements by Bruce Waltke and Tremper Longman, high-profile Evangelical Old Testament scholars. This might make the book seem to be what we have always expected from Evangelicals writing about creation.

A closer look, however, reveals that Lost World also has an endorsement by Francis S. Collins, director of the Human Genome Project. Collins is a scientist who advocates for a rapprochement between religion and modern science, especially evolutionary theories of life’s origins. As many LCMS Christians are aware, this type of rapprochement is always an accommodating and compromising of the Scriptural statements about creation toward the current evolutionary theories, and never involves scientists accommodating to anything unless one includes some vague statements that there may be a God, and he may have somehow guided the evolutionary process. Thus, Lost World is not only about the creation account in Genesis 1, it is also about finding a way to accommodate Genesis to contemporary evolutionary thinking by defanging Scripture. In this way the Bible it is not a threat to bite those who want simultaneously to uphold the authority of the Scriptures and the theories of modern evolutionary science. (This is not an explicitly stated goal of Lost World, and is at least partially—but not completely—denied; Walton 2009, 170). [It should be noted that for the purposes of Lost World and for this article, Gen 1 is shorthand for the seven-day creation account that is set forth in Gen 1:1—2:3].

How does Walton go about finding the “Lost World” of the text—the way to read the text of Genesis 1 in its supposed ancient context, thereby making it palatable for modern sensibilities? While the book contains many propositions (it is organized around eighteen propositions), there are four basic elements upon which it is built, each one of them is questionable when examined closely.

Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology

Walton is well-published in the area of comparative studies of Ancient Near Eastern texts, and it is from this perspective that the subtitle of his book is derived. He is well aware of the dangers of the comparative approach as applied to biblical interpretation (Walton 2009, 12–14), since such comparative studies can be used to deform the biblical text as it is injected into the world of the pagan texts of the Ancient Near East. However, Walton also knows—quite correctly—that Israel lived in the context of the ancient world around it, so that there are significant shared cultural assumptions between Israel and its pagan environment.

This is nothing remarkable in and of itself. However, it becomes questionable when Walton attempts to go from a key assertion about Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts to the account in Gen 1. The argument is as follows (Walton 2009, 23–37): Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts, whether from Egypt, Mesopotamia, or the Levant, do not depict the creation of matter. They begin with matter as pre-existent and then relate how the gods made that matter into a created, orderly world. Thus, they are functionally oriented because the gods do not bring matter into being—in fact some gods themselves are brought into being by the first gods or by the more prominent and powerful gods of the pantheon. The gods simply bring order and function to the physical matter that already exists. Thus, Walton reasons that Genesis 1 also must be proceeding in the same manner: it should not be understood as speaking about bringing matter into existence, but about God giving order and function to matter that is already logically assumed to be in existence before the second half of the first verse of Genesis. Therefore, critical to Walton’s approach is a rather sharp division between material and function. Genesis says a lot about function, but nothing of consequence about the material side of creation.

This is not to say that Walton denies that God created matter—he affirms that God created it, but denies that Genesis has anything to say about how that came about (Walton 2009, 169). Moreover, while he does not see this approach as a “dodge to accommodate evolution,” he nevertheless affirms that his approach is congenial to evolutionary theory (Walton 2009, 169–170). Thus, dinosaurs and hominids that have been found in the paleontological record may have been part of the world before the seven days of Gen 1. They simply and lived and died before the account of Gen 1:1b opens.

There are several problems of moving from pagan creation accounts to Genesis in this manner. First of all, there is a reason why the pagan accounts assume that matter is pre-existent: because in pagan thought matter is in some way intimately connected to and even part of the divine. Thus, the sun is not simply an object in the sky that gives light and heat to the earth, the sun is a god. It may be the Aten, the solar disk, and an aspect of the god Ra in Egyptian belief. Or it may be Shamash, the sun god of the Mesopotamians. Dagon is not simply the grain god (Judg 16:23; 1 Sam 5:2-5, 7; 1 Chr 10:10), he animates the grain and is intimately attached to it.

Contrast this to the God of Israel who is apart from a material world, a world that was not pre-existent, but brought about by his creative acts (e.g., Isa 44:24; cp. John 1:3). For Israel and its theological system, matter cannot be pre-existent. However, pre-existent matter was part-and-parcel of the belief system for pagans. Thus, it is not a simple move from the pagan myths and their presumption of pre-existing matter to the biblical text. However, as we will see, this move by Walton colors the other three basic elements of his treatment of Gen 1.

A second problem with Walton’s approach is his proposing a dichotomy between God’s creation of the material world and God’s giving order and function to the world. He never demonstrates that the ancients in the Near East in general or Israel in particular made such hard-and-fast distinctions. Would they have thought of a material item and its function as separate categories? Even those of us living in a post-modern world often do not think in such terms. For instance, when we think of a clock do we normally think of or contemplate its function to indicate the passage of time apart from its material existence? Do we usually envision a clock merely as function without also envisioning a clock dial or digital readout—a very real physical part of the clock? In fact, the two are so closely connected that an icon for the clock function on many smart phones is a clock dial.

Moreover, while some sections of Gen 1 focus on the functionality of the things God created—such as the sun, moon, and stars functioning as lights and as indicators of the passage of time (Gen 1:14–19)—not everything in Gen 1 is treated this way. This became obvious on the afternoon of November 21, 2011 at the recent Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. I attended a session entitled “Wrestling with Gen 1: The State of the Question and Avenues Moving Forward.” This session featured a panel discussion with authors of four recent books on Gen 1, three of them critical scholars. The fourth was John Walton. Walton’s functional approach to Gen 1 was challenged by one of the panelists who asked him, “Explain how the great sea creatures [Gen 1:21; Hebrew hattanînim haggedōlîm] function.” Walton offered a few words but essentially did not answer the question, because the text of Gen 1 does not offer any functional explanation of these creatures. Clearly the creatures are material—they have bodies—and they are created (without explicitly mentioning any prior-existing matter from which they were made). Thus, while functionality of items in God’s creation is often brought to the fore in Gen 1, the text itself does not indicate that all created items are to be understood strictly or even primarily in functional terms.

Finally, Walton’s views creatures as having existed in some period before the seven days of Gen 1. They lived and died (presumably evolving new life forms over time; Walton 2009, 169). This runs counter to the Scripture’s unequivocal claim that death did not enter the world until the fall into sin by our first human parents—Rom 5:12–15. One possible reply that might be that in Rom 5 Paul is speaking only about human death, not the death of animals. However, there are several other Scripture passages that imply that death came into the world for all living creatures, every “breath of life” (Gen 1:20, 24, 30; 2:19; 9:12, 15–16; Ezek 47:9; Hebrew nefesh ḥayyāh). For instance, eating animal flesh was not granted to humans until after the flood (Gen 9:3; cp. Gen 1:29), because death was not the original intended order for the created world. Moreover, Adam’s fall brought the effects of sin not simply on himself and his human offspring, but on all creation (Rom 8:20–23). Presumably, the fall brought death also to animals. This is seemingly confirmed in the eternal kingdom of God where God’s good and righteous created world order will prevail. There will be peace among the animals. There will be no prey and no predator, for all animals will all eat only vegetable matter (Isa 11:6–7; 65:25). This is a return to the original created order where only plants supplied food for every animal (Gen 1:29-30). Clearly death is the result of sin, and therefore there could be no death before Gen 3.

The Hebrew Verb Root bārā’ as Create Functionally

Another major element in Walton’s argument is that the Hebrew verb root bārā, traditionally translated create, denotes functional creation. That is, according to Walton it means something like assign a function to something. The way that Walton arrives at this is illustrated in a table of the 34 occurrences of bārā’ from Gen 1:1 through Isa 45:18 (Walton 2009, 42). (There are an additional 13 occurrences from Isa 48:7 through Mal 2:10 that are inexplicably not listed.) The table lists the created item (the direct object of this verb) which Walton then summarizes (i.e., cosmos, 10 times; people in general, 10 times; specific groups of people, 6 times, etc.). In addition, there is a column containing comments, many of which point out when the context mentions the function of the created item. From this Walton appears to argue that bārā’ denotes the functional meaning for which he advocates. However, a close examination of the table reveals that there are at least as many uses of this verb where there is no function assigned to the created item. Moreover, as I have already noted, the creation of the great sea creatures at Gen 1:21, which is denoted by the verb bārā’, is not easily explained in purely functional terms.  This is true in several other places in the Old Testament where this verb root occurs, casting more doubt on Walton’s contention about this verb’s meaning than his discussion in Lost World would lead one to believe.

Walton then proceeds to argue against those whom he claims understand bārā’ as meaning something like bring into material existence (Walton 2009, 43–44). Moreover, he claims that these scholars (or at least some of them) assert that bārā’ denotes creatio ex nihilo, creation from nothing. To the non-specialist this argument may seem persuasive, but it essentially a straw man argument.

Deconstructing Walton’s Straw Man

First of all, it has long been acknowledged that some of the grammatical direct objects of bārā’ were not material but immaterial: a pure heart (Ps 52:10; [Heb 52:12]); darkness and adversity (Isa 45:8); fruit of the lips (Isa 57:19). Thus, no serious scholar holds that bārā’ denotes only creation of matter or material objects or that it denotes material creation in contrast to their function.

Secondly, some of the almost 50 occurrences of bārā’ denote creation from something that already existed: Jacob/Israel (Isa 43:1, 15; 45:17); Jerusalem and her people are created to be a joy (Isa 65:18, twice); the Ammonites (Ezek 21:30, symbolized as a sword). Thus, once again no serious scholar holds that bārā’ in and of itself denotes creatio ex nihilo. Instead, the general consensus is that bārā’ denotes bringing something into existence. For instance, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says that “bārā’ emphasizes the initiation of the [grammatical direct] object” without asserting either exclusively material creation or creatio ex nihilo. (Harris, Archer, and Waltke 1980, entry 287a). While the description of the initiation of an item that is the direct object of the verb bārā’ may include some information of the item’s intended function and may even at times focus upon that function, that does not mean that this verb denotes a “functional creation” as opposed to material creation. There are times when material creation, however, appears from context to be entailed in the meaning of bārā’ and highlighted in the context: the creation of various plant species that were planted (Isa 41:19–20); the heavens which God stretched out (Isa 42:5); the heavens and the earth which were formed (Isa 45:18).

What ought we to conclude, then, about the meaning of the verb bārā’? First, this verb is clearly a theological term, since God is always the grammatical subject of the verb, the initiator of the item created. The verb denotes initiating something in only a way that God is able to do. Second, this verb root denotes the initiation—creation—of both material items and non-material items by God. Finally, whether bārā’ implies creation from something that already exists or creatio ex nihilo must be determined from context, since neither is inherently part of this verb’s denotation.

The upshot of this is that Walton, who has insisted on a sharp dichotomy between material creation and functional creation, has interpreted the evidence for the meaning of bārā’ by selectively focusing on the evidence that favors his dichotomy while downplaying evidence that would cast doubt on his theory. In essence, Walton has set up a false dichotomy and then forced the evidence into this dubious scheme.

In Genesis 1 Bārā’ Highlights New and Unique Items As They Are Created

This false dichotomy should have been clear had Walton paid attention to where the verb root bārā’ occurs in Gen 1. It is used only four times: Gen 1:1, 21, 27; 2:3. Why does the verb occur only in these four places in the creation account? A close observation of the flow of Gen 1 reveals that bārā’ is only used to denote God’s initiating something new and novel. [The following observations are not unique to me, they have been stated in similar ways previously by other scholars—both Christians and Jews; Matthews 1996, 156; Sarna 1970, 10].

In Gen 1:1a God brings everything (“the heavens and the earth”) into material existence. The verb highlights the new and unique nature of the universe. Nothing new or unique, with the possible exception of light, is brought into existence through Gen 1:1b–19 on days one through four. Instead God reshapes and refines what he had created at the beginning. Even the plants, which from a modern scientific viewpoint might appear to be the first creation of life, are not something new in and of themselves. They are simply brought forth by the ground; they sprout from the earth (Gen 1:11–12). The verb bārā’ is not used once for all of this activity of God. Either God speaks and it happens, or God makes things (Gen 1:7, 16). The verb translated make is the Hebrew verb root ‘āśāh, the common verb for denoting make or do. Unlike bārā’, the root ‘āśāh is not confined to God’s activity, since humans are frequently the grammatical subject of this verb. Thus, it does not denote any special activity unique to God and does not highlight any special creative activity to bring forth something noteworthy in Gen 1.

However, activity on the fifth day is highlighted once again by the use of the verb bārā’. God says “Let the waters swarm with a swarm of the breath of life…” (Gen 1:20). Then the very next verse notes, “God created the great sea creatures and every breath of life that moves….” This breath of life (nefesh ḥayyāh) is new and unique. It is what characterizes the sea creatures and birds created on this day and contrasts them with what came before. God’s creative activity makes life.

It is interesting to note that the Hebrew verb root mûth, “to die” is something of which animals and humans are capable of in the Old Testament, but plants are not. Plants wither (Job 8:12; 18:16; Ps 1:3; 37:2; 102:11; Isa 40:24; Jer 12:4; Ezek 17:9-10; 47:12; Amos 4:7; Nah 1:4) or fade (Ps 37:2; Isa 64:6), but they do not die. The only exception to this is found at Job 14:7–9 where the stump of a tree can “die” in the ground but yet bring forth shoots when stimulated by water. However, this is used in direct comparison to humans who die without hope of such regeneration by the earth after death. It would appear that the use of death for a tree stump in this passage is intentionally hyperbolic and ironic and not intended to be understood as a normal death that only those with “the breath of life” can experience.

Thus, at Gen 1:21 the use of the verb bārā’ highlights the bringing forth by God of something that did not exist previously—animate life. Unlike the actions of God on days two through four, on day five God creates in the sense that he does not simply shape and organize but actually brings something new into existence (i.e., the “breath of life”).

The same type of creative activity takes place on the sixth day with the creation of humans. God says, “Let us make [root ‘āśāh] man in our image, according to our likeness…” (Gen 1:26). The next verse says, “So God created [root bārā’] man in his image. In the image of God he created [root bārā’] him. Male and female he created [root bārā’] them.” This threefold use of bārā’ highlights the new and unique created aspect of humans that God created: the imago dei, the image of God. Although humans have the “breath of life” (Gen 2:7), they are separate and unique from other animate life in that God created them to have his image, and the verb bārā’ highlights once again the activity of God in creating something new and unique—a creature that bears his image. Man is both made and created—demonstrating that there is semantic overlap in these two verbs. However, the overlap also points to the contrast between their semantic fields and allows us to see that in Gen 1 bārā’ is reserved for the initial making of something that previously did not exist in any form.

Finally, at Gen 2:3 we are told that God ceased from creating, a statement that could not be made until this point, because as late as day six he was still bringing forth something new that had not previously existed. Thus, had Walton explored where the verb bārā’ is used in Gen 1 and in what connection, he would have seen that it is not highlighting functionality but initiation and uniqueness.

Genesis 1:1 as a Summary to the Seven Days of Creation

Still another major element in Walton’s argument is that Gen 1:1a is essentially an introductory summary of Gen 1. He paraphrases this verse as “In the initial period, God created by assigning functions through the heavens and the earth, and this is how he did it.” (Walton 2009, 46).

Key here is Walton’s understanding of the first word in Genesis, Hebrew berēshith—traditionally translated “in the beginning”as a period of time, not a point in time. Walton points out that when this word is used elsewhere (Jer 26:1; 27:1; 28:1; 49:34) it denotes not the first point of time in a sequence, but an initial period of time. This can be seen clearly at Jer 28:1 where “the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah” is more specifically defined as during the fifth month of his fourth year on the throne. (Zedekiah reigned for a decade).

Moreover, in accord with this, when the word rēshith, “first,” is used of material items, it often means the first portion of something, not the very first example. For instance, it can refer to the first portion of the harvest, the firstfruits (Lev 2:10; 2 Chr 31:5). At Gen 10:10 it refers to the first cities that were part of Nimrod’s kingdom.

Thus, Walton’s contention that “in the beginning” (berēshith) means something like “in the initial period” is correct. However, he offers no proof that the “initial period” to which this word refers is the entire seven day period of Gen 1. In fact, I would contend that the initial period is later defined in Gen 1:5 as “one day,” the first day of creation. (Gen 1:5 does not say “the first day” as in most English translations, but “one day,” yôm ’eḥād. See Steinmann 2002 and Steinmann 2011.) This is signaled by the fact that Gen 1:1 is tied to Gen 1:5 by a series of conjunctions that runs consecutively from Gen 1:1b to Gen 1:5 : “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was an empty wasteland and darkness was over the face of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters and God said…and there was light…and God saw…and God separated…and God called…and the darkness he called…and there was an evening and there was a morning: one day.” The sequence is not halted until the abrupt phrase “one day” brings it to an end. In Gen 1:1a this period could not be called “day one” because until the account of the creation of light and the resultant evening and morning there was no “day.” It could only be called “the beginning period” until the creative work of the first day was completed. The initial period in which God created the matter that makes up “the heavens and the earth” is the first day.  This creation was ex nihilo, but this is determined by context and not solely by the occurrence of the verb bārā’. Clearly this creation includes both the creation of matter and the beginning of making it functional through the creation of light. Once again we can see that no dichotomy between material creation and functional assignment is intended by the text of Genesis.

Genesis Is Not About Science

When Walton turns to comparing origins of the world in Gen 1 to current scientific views of origins he effectively severs the two from each other. Gen 1 is not about the origin of matter, it is only about the origin of functions in God’s ordering of the world (e.g., Walton 2009, 114–118). Therefore, Gen 1 is not necessarily in conflict with current scientific accounts of the origin of the material world and of life. We can quit struggling with scientific worldviews of origins because they do not need to be construed as inevitably conflicting with Scripture. We can “have our cake and eat it, too.”

However, Walton’s attempted rapprochement of Genesis and modern scientific accounts of the origins of the world are based on highly questionable reasoning about Gen 1. The easy peace that Walton makes is more mirage than substance.

Conclusion

Certainly it would be tempting to circumvent the creation/evolution controversy by simply stating “Genesis is not about science.” In some sense this is true: Gen 1 (or Gen 1–3 for that matter) is not a scientific treatise, and this is the wedge that Walton attempts to drive between Genesis 1 and scientific theory by supposedly rediscovering a “lost world.” His is not a simple and naive approach. It is a sophisticated and sincere attempt to wrestle with Gen 1. However, it is driven more by Walton’s assumptions (and perhaps desires) than by the text itself.

For the Christian, while the Bible is not a scientific textbook or a textbook about psychology or sociology or mathematics, that does not mean that one can dismiss as irrelevant statements it makes that have a bearing on the physical sciences, social sciences, or mathematics. Christians who are consistent in their faith in God and his Gospel will affirm that when the Scriptures touch on these subjects, even if only tangentially, the Scriptures are true no matter what current theory in the humanities and sciences might hold. For Christians, and especially for confessional Lutherans, the Scriptures are the trustworthy rule and norm of faith because of and for the sake of the Gospel. This cannot be compromised without compromising our salvation, not even when science seems to hold that the Scriptures are in error. Ultimately the Gospel is at stake.

On the other hand, we affirm that the sciences and humanities are useful pursuits and ought to be valued so long as we do not have to compromise the teachings of God’s Word in order to affirm current thought and trends in these disciplines. In essence, trying to accommodate the Scriptures to theories in the sciences and humanities is like trying to hit a moving target. The theories inevitably will change and develop—often for the better. However, God’s Word and its teachings are unchanging and eternal, “firmly fixed in the heavens” (Ps 119:89).

Unfortunately, there is a growing movement in American Evangelicalism to mold the Scriptures into the image of the world as portrayed in contemporary scientific consensus. Walton’s book is only one example of this. Early in 2012 there will be another attempt to do this by Peter Enns, a self-identified American Evangelical who works for the BioLogos Institute founded by Francis S. Collins. Enns’ book will be published by a traditionally conservative Evangelical publishing house—Baker Book House. Having seen an advanced copy of this book and its advance publicity by its publisher, it appears to me to be another attempt by an American Evangelical to “reinterpret” Scripture to make it compatible with modern scientific accounts of the origin of matter and of life. This trend among some American Evangelical scholars, though well-meaning, is ultimately detrimental to the Gospel. While in the past LCMS teachers, DCEs, pastors, deaconesses, and laypersons have been able to ally themselves with Evangelicals on any number of issues relating to God’s Word, we must now be more selective and cautious when encountering contemporary writings of Evangelical scholars not only on the topic of creation, but also in other areas where we may have found common cause in the past.

References

Enns, Peter, 2012. The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins. Grand Rapids: Baker, forthcoming.

Harris, R. Laird, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, 1980. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Chicago: Moody.

LCMS 1932. A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod. St. Louis. (http://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=958).

LCMS 2010. 2010 Constitution, Bylaws, and Articles of Incorporation as amended by the 2010 LCMS Convention, 10-17 July 2010. St. Louis: The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. (Also known as The 2010 Handbook)

Matthews, Kenneth A. 1996. Genesis 1—11:26. The New American Commentary 1A. Nashville: Broadman.

Sarna, Nahum 1970. Understanding Genesis. New York: Schocken.

Steinmann, Andrew E. 2002. “ ’ḥd As an Ordinal Number and the Meaning of Genesis 1:5,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45: 577–84.

Steinmann, Andrew E. 2011  “Night and Day, Evening and Morning,” The Bible Translator, 62: 154–160.

Walton, John H. 2009 The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Downers Grove: Intervarsity.

Walton, John H. 2011. Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

Author Information

Dr. Andrew Steinmann is Professor of Theology and Hebrew at Concordia University Chicago. he is the author of several books on the Old Testament and Hebrew and Aramaic grammar. He may be reached at  Andrew.Steinmann@CUChicago.edu.

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