A Critical Review of “The Lost World of Genesis One” by John Walton

In John Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis One, he puts forward a claim that the Genesis account was about Functional Origins rather than Material Origins. He claims that all of the material was already existent, and that God merely provided function to this creation. By Dr. Walton’s account, Genesis 1 is more like a “Temple text” (A text about establishing a temple) than a “Creation text”. According to Walton, nothing was materially created, but instead given function. However, how well does this hold up when viewed in light of the actual text of Genesis 1?

Genesis Implies a Material Creation

Walton begins with confusing the definition of the words for “created” and “made” as they appear in the original Hebrew of the Genesis account, saying that they don’t necessitate a material creation. Even if one were to concede this confusion, as well as his point about “without form and void” being better translated as “functionless”, one would notice an issue with this Functional View with other portions of the text. Genesis 1:9 (ESV) says, “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so.” (Emphasis added). How does something appear without an actual material creation? This continues into verses 11 and 12, which say, “And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” If the plants weren’t sprouting from the ground before, but were after, then something materially changed. Further issues with Walton’s view can be found in Genesis 2. While it may be true that the words translated as “created” and “made” don’t necessitate material creation, the words translated “form” in verses 7 and 8 do, as does the word translated as “form” in verse 19. This word, transliterated yatsar, is closely associated with pottery. From this, one must concede that, at the very least, the animals and humans were materially created.

The Inconsistency of Dr. Walton’s View

Furthermore, the idea of these things all existing before function is hard to reconcile with itself. If the birds previously existed in the air, then their bodies must have been functioning, as with the fish in the sea and the animals on the land. The biological functions in these animals – as well as the plants – must have existed, or else something was materially created. Despite being insistent in the first six chapters that this must be an account of functional creation, in chapter 10 he even concedes that functions may have happened prior to the creation, saying, “There would be no reason to think that the sun had not been shining, plants had not been growing, or animals had not been present. These were like the rehearsals leading up to a performance of a play. The rehearsals are preparatory and necessary, but they are not the play.” However, even though it is the logical conclusion to proposing that the material predates the functional, this is a very self-contradictory claim. I consulted other reviews to see if they could make sense of this nonsensical view, and one concluded that the most charitable way to handle this was to just throw your hands up and say it is too unclear to interpret. It simply cannot be reconciled with earlier claims about the function of the celestial bodies (among other things) providing light or the function of dry land being to provide vegetation. If those functions were provided on the 3rd and 4th days, but it was somehow possible for the plants to grow or the sun to shine, then what actually changed during creation?

The First Day

His concept of the first day is equally confusing. He somehow finds this need to restate “Light” as “Period of Light” and then as “Time”. However, nothing in the text seems to indicate that we should assume “light” means “time” rather than “light”. If the passage was referring to the creation of the function of time, why would the text say “light”? Furthermore, if time was created on the first day, how can any period of time (I.e. the millions and billions of years that Dr. Walton makes way for) possibly have happened? How can time pass before time is created? The only way to reconcile this is that time must have existed prior to the first day, which makes me refer back to the question: what actually happened during that first day?

Science Cannot Be Taught Neutrally

Finally, Dr. Walton tries too hard to separate science from theology. He advocates that we detach teleology (the study of purpose) and theology entirely from science, especially when teaching it in Public Schools. He falsely presumes that it is even possible to teach neutrally, and fails to realize that science can in no way be separated from theology. To study God’s creation and how it works depends upon God. In fact, any proposition that claims truth is reliant on the fact that truth is absolute, which in turn is dependent upon the One who is the standard of all truth. What Dr. Walton doesn’t take into account is that all truth is God’s truth, and none of it can be separated from Him. This is especially true in light of the fact that God upholds the universe, something that is especially emphasized in chapter 14 of Dr. Walton’s book. Furthermore, we are assured in the Scriptures that neutrality does not exist. Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:30 (ESV), “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” We are also given the inverse in Luke 9:50 (ESV), “For the one who is not against you is for you.” It is made abundantly clear that neutrality simply is not a thing. You are either with God or against Him. By purposefully omitting Him and refusing to give Him praise for His creation, education would be aligning against Him. Neutrality cannot be accomplished, and creation cannot be separated from the Creator.

Though the book may appear convincing on the surface, diving down and critically examining it reveals many flaws. If we test it against the Scripture, we find that the two have many points of contention, and when the infallible word of God conflicts with the fallible words of man, God’s word wins every time. As John MacArthur said, “If all mankind were to agree that God had been unfaithful to His promises, it would only prove that all are liars and God is true.” The author wrote intelligently, but his views do not stand the test of Scripture.

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