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Addressing Lydia McGrew’s Criticisms Of The Lost World Of Genesis One

Dr. Lydia McGrew is an analytic philosopher who has published copious amounts of written, audio, and video content. I want to make it clear from the outset that I respect Dr. McGrew and have found her material concerning the historical reliability of the gospels to be very helpful. I wholeheartedly put my stamp of approval on her books such as “Hidden In Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences Between The Gospels and Acts”, “The Mirror Or The Mask: Liberating The Gospels From Literary Devices”, and “The Eye Of The Beholder: The Gospel Of John As Historical Reportage”. All three books have made me several times more confident that the gospels are accurate, trustworthy sources concerning the historical Jesus, and that they are immensely valuable in Christian Apologetics. [1]Especially in historically establishing the historicity of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Dr. McGrew dubs her approach “The Maximal Data Approach”. This is most likely to contrast it … Continue reading. I don’t want the reader to think that I am one of those anti-Lydia people. Not at all. This is just an area of disagreement we have with each other.

I’ve been asked by several people over the past couple of years to give my thoughts on Dr. McGrew’s critique of the thesis set forth in John Walton’s popular book “The Lost World Of Genesis One” and his scholarly book “Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology” since they have followed my ministry and know that this is the view I myself hold.

In a nutshell, the view is that Genesis 1 is not about material origins. It’s about God ascribing function to everything over 7 days. The 7 days represent days of inauguration, God inaugurated the universe as His cosmic temple. After installing images of himself, He proceeded to dwell in His temple as was typical of Ancient Near Eastern deities, (Genesis 1:26, Genesis 2:2). The view is supported by the Ancient Near Eastern context; when creation myths in other cultures are examined, you can see that they have more of a focus towards functions than materials. They are more concerned with why everything exists, rather than how and when everything physically came to being. But, of course, just because ANE peoples’ outside of Israel believed something, that doesn’t mean Israel did, which is why looking at the biblical text itself is important. Looking at what is made each of the days, the original Hebrew, and so on, one can see that Genesis 1 likewise also is focused on functions (i.e God created object X to serve purpose Y) rather than how God physically manufactured everything, and how long it took him. The temple inauguration aspect is likewise supported by various pieces of biblical and extra-biblical ANE evidence.

I took the time to explain this view not only for the sake of readers who may not have read my past material but also because McGrew herself seems to be unsure that she’s understood Walton correctly. She writes “A major difficulty is that Walton’s view concerning the meaning of Genesis 1 is so unusual that it is difficult to be certain exactly what that view is.” [2]Lydia McGrew, “Review Of John H. Walton’s ‘The Lost World Of Genesis One’, What’s Wrong With The World, March 12th 2015 — … Continue reading Well, hopefully, my this paragraph (not to mention the rest of this article) explaining the view will clear things up. However, so as not to reinvent the wheel, I will sometimes assume the reader has some background knowledge of this view. If you don’t, I recommend either reading Walton’s books, or my previously written material on this same view such as my essay “Genesis 1: Functional Origins, Temple Inauguration, and Anti-Pagan Polemics”.

How Could Things Have Existed Without Having A Function?

With reference to the time prior to the Genesis 1 week, Walton says,

“The material phase nonetheless could have been under development for long eras and could in that case correspond with the descriptions of the prehistoric ages as science has uncovered them for us.” [3]John Walton, “The Lost World Of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and The Origins Debate, IVP Academic, pp. 97-98

“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.” [4]ibid, p. 98

Dr. McGrew comments on these passages, saying; \\“Walton states that, in the seven literal, 24-hour days of the creation week, God ‘established function’ and ‘installed functionaries’ for the created order (chapters 5 and 6). This is extremely difficult to understand in the light of his insistence that Genesis 1 is not about material origins. Walton makes a strong distinction between material origins and functions. It is difficult to know precisely what he could mean by establishing functions for things like sea creatures, the sun, the plants, etc., when this has nothing to do with bringing those entities into physical existence or making any physical change concerning them. He states that in the ancient world it would be possible (p. 26) for something already to exist materially but not to exist significantly in the sense of “having a function” and appears to want to apply this analysis to his account of the Genesis week.”\\ [5](Lydia McGrew, “Review Of John H. Walton’s ‘The Lost World Of Genesis One’, What’s Wrong With The World, March 12th 2015 — … Continue reading.

Technically speaking, one could hold to the view that functions were assigned when the material things were fashioned. From a strictly exegetical and theological perspective, one is not commited to saying that God created things over billions of years, and then after a huge amount of time had passed, decided to ascribe functions to things. Agreeing with Walton’s thesis would only commit one to saying “Genesis 1 is not about material origins, it’s about ascribing functions.” However, people like Professor Walton as well as myself love to use this view as an apologetic for the biblical allowability of Theistic Evolution. And as Theistic Evolutionists, we need to seriously deal with this objection.

It’s important that we understand what Walton means by “Functions”. He does not mean that the sun is functioning because it’s burning hydrogen and helium and sending out rays, for example. Functions here are anthropologically oriented functions. Put another way; things are “functioning” when they are serving the crown of God’s creation; humanity. We can see this, for instance, in Genesis 1:14-19, we read “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so. God made the two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the fourth day.” (Genesis 1:14-19, NIV, emphasis mine in bold) Walton points out in his book that the Hebrew word for “seasons” here doesn’t refer to winter, spring, summer, and fall, but to religious festivals. [6]John Walton writes “Again we point out that these are not scientific functions but human-oriented functions. In this regard it should be noted that the fourfold description of functions (signs, … Continue reading Thus, when humans weren’t created yet (when we were just a bunch of dumb apes running around covered in fur and eating bananas), these things lacked that function.

We can also see this human-centered functionality view in “The Egyptian Instruction of Merikare” which says:

Well tended is mankind—god’s cattle

He made sky and earth for their sake . . .

He made breath for their noses to live.

They are his images, who came from his body . . .

He made for them plants and cattle,

Fowl and fish to feed them . . .

When they weep he hears .“ (emphasis mine in bold)

Notice the strong functional orientation in The Egyptian Instruction Of Merikare. Over and over again functions are emphasized. He made this for that, and this for that, and this for this purpose. Moreover, the functions are explicitly stated to be for the benefit of mankind.

So, again, with this understanding of what it means for something to be given a function, it isn’t bizarre to think of things persisting for millions of years without them. With no humans, there are no functions.

I can appreciate the weirdness such thinking poses to our modern Western 21st century thinking. Indeed, when I first read Walton’s book, I wasn’t convinced until I read it a second time and realized I had misunderstood a lot of what he was saying. [7]Aside from aiding in the memorization of information for people with learning disorders like myself, this is just another reason why it pays to read a book more than once. Therefore, I’ll present an illustration to help McGrew and others who read this.

Suppose a construction worker gets in a time machine and goes back to the year 3,000 BC. Suppose he takes some wood from a tree and makes a cabin. It’s empty, no furniture, no one is living in it. An ancient might ask the construction worker “Aren’t you going to finish creating this home?” The building is, from a material ontology, already finished. But from a functional ontology, it isn’t finished until the cabin begins to function as a home for residence. The hypothetical ancient’s question might baffle our time traveling construction worker. “What are you talking about?” he may ask. “There’s nothing left to build. It’s ready to be lived in.” “But no one is living in it. You have a house, but not a home.” After some dialogue, the construction worker from the future puts a bed in the house and some lamps to light up the place after dark. The ancient comes in one night and looks around at what he’s done with the place. “Now you’re finished creating the home”.

In a different scenario, a home decor team might arrive in the time machine and set up a pre-existing cabin to be lived in. Perhaps the cabin had been sitting there for hundreds of years prior to the decor team setting it up, and having someone begin living in it. In this ancient person’s mind both the construction worker and the decor team “created” a home to live in. The former introduced both the material and the functions, the latter played no part in the house’s material formation but did provide the necessary functions. The construction worker might introduce the physical form of the cabin and the functions at the same time, or there might be gap. But without it serving the purpose of housing a human, it is, in the ancient’s mind, “Non-existent”. Whether it has physical form or not.

Walton Does Not Answer The Question Of What An Observer Would Have Seen Prior To The Creation Week

Dr. Lydia McGrew writes \\”Walton explicitly dodges and refuses to answer the question of what an observer would have seen in those seven literal days when he includes that question in his FAQ (pp. 169-170). (One wonders in that case what the point was of including the question in the FAQ.) However, he seems to answer the question on pp. 97-99 by implying that an observer at least up to the time of the creation of man (about which he says little in this book) would have seen nothing but the world continuing to exist physically (the sun shining, the animals living, the plants growing) as it had been for whatever previous aeons had passed. Having just said that everything would already have been physically in place, possibly for a very long time, prior to the Genesis 1 week, he continues a metaphor he has been using of a college campus:

‘The observer in Genesis 1 would see day by day that everything was ready to do for people what it had been designed to do. It would be like taking a campus tour just before students were ready to arrive to see all the preparations that had been made and how everything had been designed, organized and constructed to serve students.’ (p. 99)”\\ [8]Lydia McGrew, “Review Of John H. Walton’s ‘The Lost World Of Genesis One’, What’s Wrong With The World, March 12th 2015 — … Continue reading

McGrew then goes on to say that she is not saying Walton’s view is that the world was physically chaotic or frozen in time as many have interpreted Dr. William Lane Craig to be saying in his critiques of Walton. Very good, for that is not what Walton was saying. Nevertheless, I think that was an attempt at a reductio ad absurdum on the part of Dr. Craig. The idea that the world was physically chaotic contradicts the scientific evidence of what transpired billions of years prior to the evolution of humans, and the idea that everything was just frozen in time is bizarre. Yet if these things weren’t the case, how could it be that things existed without having a function? Well, again, as I said in the aforementioned subheader, the function Walton asserts is anthropologically oriented function.

McGrew then goes on to say that Walton’s book is radically unclear. She says \\“it is difficult to figure out what Walton means by God’s establishing functions and installing functionaries in a sense that has nothing to do with material origins! Perhaps the most charitable thing to do would be to throw up one’s hands and conclude that the book is radically unclear. What could it mean for all the plants already to be growing, providing food for animals, the sun to be shining, etc., but for these entities nonetheless to lack functions prior to a set of specific 24-hour days in a specific week?”\\ [9]ibid — Well, hopefully this article sheds light on that. However, I and many others seemed to have understood what Walton said perfectly! I think the confusion lies in the fact that they keep reading the word “function” and think of it as like a car functioning because the engine is running, rather than in the car functioning because it is serving the purpose of carrying its owner to where they needs to go. On an ANE understanding, cars in a junkyard would not “exist” even if they yet hadn’t been squished into cubes. Even cars with perfectly good engines would not exist if, say, some apocalyptic scenario happened and eradicated humans from the planet. Because their function (i.e serving as vehicles to get people to and from diffferent places) would have been removed, so would their existence.

Dr. Lydia McGrew then goes on to briefly summarize what she believes to be Walton’s view. I think she more or less hits the nail on the head here, but as I’ve already demonstrated, she is operating with a different definition of “functions” than what Walton uses, and that’s why the view seems to her to be incoherent. Import the definition Walton uses, and her brief summary of the function aspect of the thesis is, it seems to me, non-problematic (except for something concerning Day 4 which I’ll get to later). But her misunderstanding of the way Walton uses the term “function” is what leads her to call the view “A truly strange notion”. [10]ibid

Walton’s View Is Too Restrictive?

Dr. McGrew says that she suspects that fans of Walton’s book don’t realize how restrictive it is, and possibly take it be endorsing “a more moderate framework hypothesis”. No, actually, we don’t. We realize The Functional Origins/Temple Inauguration is its own thing. And the idea that God decreed functions for his creation over a literal 7 day period that took place sometime in the distant pass, right at the arrival of humanity, is a possible view for one to hold. However, it is not completely necessary to hold that God literally uttered these words over a 7 day period. One can combine the view Walton defends with a Framework Hypothesis. It is not itself a version of The Framework Hypothesis, but neither is it incompatible with it. Walton himself says this on page 112 of his book. He writes; “For those who have in the past adopted the framework hypothesis, the theory proposed in this book does not require them to discard that interpretation, but only to accept the functional perspective alongside it. This does not require replacement, but would add value.” [11]Walton, John H.. The Lost World of Genesis One: 2 (The Lost World Series) (p. 112). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

And one can also affirm, as I do, that one of the aims of Genesis 1 is to take potshots at the creation myths of that era, showing Yahweh to be the one true Creator, not Baal or Marduk. This is the view I defend in my lengthy essay “Genesis 1: Functional Origins, Temple Inauguration, and Anti-Pagan Polemics” ))

At this point in the article, McGrew responds to the positive case made for this interpretation. In this section, I will explain why I don’t think her counter arguments work.

A Light Counter-Argument

One of the arguments that Genesis 1 is not about material origins comes from the fact that some of the days of creation describe God creating things that, from an ancient understanding, are not material. For example, in Genesis 1:3, God says “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.” (KJV) God does not call the light “light”. He calls the light “day”. He then goes on to separate light from darkness. Well, whether in ancient times or in modern times, we know that light and darkness are opposites. They cannot exist in the same place at the same time. They can’t be physically together, so how can they be physically separated? The best explanation is that the biblical author is employing a figure of speech known as Metyonymy (calling one thing as though it were another, closely related thing). God called the light “day” because what he has is the creation of the period of light, and this period is separated from the period of darkness. If there was only a period of light, then the way to separate them is to cause the periods to alternate. Ergo, what we have here is the creation of time.

McGrew is not impressed with this argument and says “First, even if we took the word “light” throughout verses 3-5 of Genesis 1 to refer to a period of light, and even if we took the entire description of day one to refer in this sense to the “creation of time,” this would prima facie be an act of material making on God’s part for the very reason that Walton himself gives–namely, that on earth one part of the basis of time measurement is the alternation of periods of light and darkness.

She goes on to say “Hence, even saying that this entire passage is about God’s bringing about periods of darkness and light on earth is prima facie a statement about God’s doing something material. Here we encounter Walton’s extremely strange, sharp division between ‘material’ and ‘functional.’ In the real world, material structure and the function of the material world go together.”

Dr. Lydia McGrew seems to be making the same mistake that Dr. William Lane Craig has made in his critique which I responded to here, namely if the text refers to something material (In Craig’s examples, he cited plants, animals, and humanity) then it must be describing material origins. Just because the object of creation is a material thing, that doesn’t mean the material manufacturing of that thing is what is in view.

The argument that Walton has made [12]and I have repeated whenever I myself defended this view is that if you say that Genesis 1 is a material creation account, then you have a problem because light was not physical in the ANE understanding. We today know that light is physical, that it’s composed of photons and wave particles and the like, but the original readers of Genesis didn’t. In their minds, if it wasn’t solid if it couldn’t be grasped, it wasn’t physical. And light is certainly not solid like a rock or a tree. And even today, we realize darkness is not a physical thing. So if you say that the focus of God’s creation was light (or the sun) on Day 1, then you have to say God didn’t make anything material. Of course, you could always import our current scientific understandings of light into the text, but then you would have abandoned reading the text according to its authorial intent. Moving on to look at the metonymous uses of “light” and “darkness”, I think it is quite clear that God is creating time on Day 1, not light itself. However, time was not a physical thing according to the Ancient Near Eastern mindset either. They were not having debates over the so-called A Theory and B Theory of time. Depending on where you fall in this debate, time could be a material part of the universe, but they weren’t. To them, a material thing was a solid thing, and the day-night cycle isn’t solid!

So, if you define material according to our modern 21st century Western notions, I think McGrew would be right in saying that in setting up the day-night cycle, God would be manufacturing something material. But again, if we’re to read the text the way Moses and his hearers would have, we need to see things the way they did. To import meaning into the text that would have been foreign to the original audience is eisegesis. This is a mistake I see Walton’s critics make time and time again; they impose their own modern understanding onto the text. I get it; it’s difficult to not do that. We are all accustomed to thinking a certain way and it can be difficult to step outside of your own mindset. But we still must make every effort to “think like an Israelite” as the late Dr. Michael Heiser has said. [13]He not only says this a lot, but this is actually the title of an entire series of presentations he gave which Houseform Apologetics has uploaded to their YouTube channel. I think it’s a 3 part … Continue reading So, although the rotating Earth (or the sun in motion across the sky in ANE thought) is a material process, time is not. Time is not material. It’d be like saying time must be material because a clock is. A clock is just how we measure time. In ancient times, the rising and setting of the sun was how you knew time was passing. So if you agree with Walton and I that it is time which is created on Day 1, then what you have is a function being established, and not a material thing.

The Earth Was Without Functions

Dr. McGrew then says that “When asked why Genesis 1 could not be about both functional and material creation, he gives two reasons why he believes that it is not. I recognized these as corresponding to things he says in the book, but I find his statements of these points clearer in the interview, so I will use that version here. He says that if Genesis 1 were about material origins, we would ‘expect that it would start with no material, but it doesn’t. The material’s already there when it starts in verse 2.’ Here Walton is referring to the statement in verse 2 that the world was formless and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep. I am not particularly inclined myself to hold out for taking that verse to be a reference to the absence of all matter. In fact, when I read the book but had not heard the interview I was puzzled as to why Walton made such a big deal out of arguing that that verse implies a disorderly but material state. What was the point? Now I realize that he wishes to argue that if the chapter were about God’s making things materially the chapter would start with a state of absolutely no matter–a materially empty universe, or no material universe at all.

For the life of me, I cannot imagine why we would expect this. In fact, the text works extremely well if we take it that verse 2 describes a state where there is matter, but where there is no life (for example), no ecosystem, no dry land, etc., and the subsequent verses describe God’s materially bringing these things into existence.”

First, let me say that here is an area of disagreement between Walton and myself. In his book, Walton argued that Genesis 1:1 is rightly translated as the independent clause “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and says that it. is pretty much a summary of the entire chapter, more like a book heading. It’s like Moses is saying “In the beginning, God created the universe. Now let me tell you how he did it.” If this interpretation is correct, it would indeed mean that Genesis 1 starts off with material already there. You would have the dark Earth covered in water. Now, as I have argued in prior blog articles, I am inclined to agree with scholars like Ben Stanhope and John Sailhammer that Genesis 1:1 is a dependent clause, not an independent clause. And I think this makes the functional origins view stronger than conceding that Genesis 1:1 is an independent clause. Nevertheless, McGrew is responding to John Walton, not me or Ben Stanhope. Nevertheless, Walton is still on board with us in saying the account begins with material. And if this were an account about material origins, why wouldn’t it begin with no materials? Typically, Genesis 1:1 is interpreted to be the origin of matter, energy, space, and time, [14]See, for example, Hugh Ross’ books “The Creator and The Cosmos” and “Navigating Genesis” where Dr. Ross takes Genesis 1:1 to be a reference to The Big Bang., but if either Walton or Stanhope are correct, it’s not. Ergo, verse 1 can’t be the explanation of where the watery Earth came from in verse 2. It’s just there at the start of the story.

I for one think that this is a great point! Dr. McGrew seems to be moving the goalposts by saying essentially “Well, what if it’s about creating life or an ecosystem? Then it would make sense for there to be matter, but no life and no ecosystem).”Yet, typically, both Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists alike haven’t taken Genesis 1 to be about merely the creation of animal life and/or a stable ecosystem, but about the creation of everything! Specifically, the material manufacturing of everything. Walton’s argument is aimed at that presupposition, and I think it succeeds in undermining it. Now, I will be transparent in saying that I don’t know what interpretation of Genesis 1 Lydia McGrew holds. I have only read her work on the reliability of The New Testament as of the time of writing this. I don’t know if she’s a Young Earth Creationist, a day-ager, a Framework Hypothesis person, or what. However, I will say this; if she wants to assert that Genesis 1 is about the material manufacturing merely of biological life forms and/or a stable ecosystem, then Walton’s argument indeed doesn’t undermine that supposition. But again, this seems to be moving the goalposts. The traditional claim is that Genesis 1 is about the creation of everything. Walton argues “Well, if that were true, we’d expect the account to begin with nothing.” and he thus should score a goal. But then McGrew moves that goalpost by saying essentially “Well, maybe it isn’t the creation of everything, but just life forms. That could be. Why couldn’t that be the case, Dr. Walton? For the life of me, I don’t know how you came to the conclusion you did”

The point is made all the more forcefully when you consider what the sea represented in ANE thought. But for the sake of not making this article longer than it needs to be, I won’t get into that here. I just recommend reading my previous articles on Genesis 1.

Days 2 and 4 – The Firmament and The Celestial Bodies

This part of the article removed any doubt in my mind about whether McGrew was making the same mistake as Craig. McGrew repeatedly points out that the firmament (she leaves open exactly the nature of what that was) is “a part of the material order”. She then says “Walton states that day three has ‘no statement of any creation of any material component,’ but in actuality day three describes God’s bringing dry land into existence out of the sea and God’s calling upon the earth to bring forth plants. These are of course “material components” of the world in any normal sense of that phrase…”

But again, that the thing being bara-ed is a part of the material universe does not mean that its material manufacturing is necessarily in view. That is a non-sequitur. She also seems to have missed the “pick your poison” type of argumentation Walton uses in bringing up the physical nature of the firmament. What Walton basically argues is that if you want to say that Genesis 1 is about the material origins of all things, then you’re faced with a quadrilemma when it comes to day 2. You can

1: Eisegete our modern understanding that the sky is not solid into the text.

2: Affirm that God actually made the sky a transparent dome that holds back cosmic waters,

3: Argue that the ancients actually believed the sky was of the same nature as we do (i.e empty space).

4: Affirm that Genesis 1 is about functional origins, not material origins.

Option 1 is not tenable for the simple reason that it is illegitimate to read things into a text. We are to read things out of the text. We are to engage in exegesis, not eisegesis. Yet even if you disregard the proper rules of hermeneutics, you still run into a problem; if the sky is just empty space, then you’re faced with the odd notion that God didn’t make anything on Day 2. As soon as God created our planet, there would have been a sky of some kind. You cannot have a planet without a sky. What does it mean to say the Earth was present on Day 1, but the sky wasn’t there until 1 day later? That makes no sense. Option 2 is not tenable because we know without a shadow of a doubt (due to overwhelming scientific evidence) that there is no solid dome sky. Option 2 requires you to hold to a scientifically nonsensible notion. Option 3 is the option William Lane Craig prefers, however, Ben Stanhope has written an excellent article refuting Dr. Craig’s attempts to say that the ancients believed the sky wasn’t solid. His article is titled “A Response To William Lane Craig On Hebrew Cosmology: Here’s Your Evidence”. And again, even if Craig were right, I already explained why that would be problematic for the material creation advocate. That just leaves option 4, which is basically to concede the entire argument.

So, the argument is “If Genesis 1 were about material origins, we’d expect God to be creating material things in a material manufacturing process. Yet, Genesis 1:1 is either a “title” or a dependent clause, meaning no material is made in this verse. Genesis 1:2 has a watery Earth already present, and then God creates time (which wasn’t material on an ANE understanding) or he creates light (again, not material). Then He goes on to make a non-physical sky, or he makes something we can empirically prove does not exist. 2 Days into the creation account the material ontology typically presupposed falls flat on its face. Wouldn’t this account make more sense if it were just bout functions as John Walton supposes?

Now, Day 4 presents another problem for the material origin advocate. “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so. God made the two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the fourth day.” (Genesis 1:14-19, NIV, emphasis mine in bold)

God is installing functionaries that carry out their own functions delineated in the first 3 days (Time, Weather, Food). The text offers no material nature of the celestial bodies. All it says materially speaking is that they exist in the heavens. This is not problematic if this is an account of functional creation. The function of the heavenly bodies is clearly stated. The purpose of the sun, moon, and stars are to mark time “seasons, days, and years”. Again, I want to remind you that by “function”, I do not mean a scientific function, but an anthropologically oriented function. That is to say, function in related to how the created things serve humanity.

Remembering that Ancient Near Easterners did not view the stars as material entities, and taking note of the blatant function-oriented view of this passage seems to make more sense on the interpretation that Genesis 1 is not about material origins, but functions. Now, sandwiched in between days 2 and 4 is day 3 which involves the creation of seed-bearing plants. I almost always sandwich this day in this way because, read in isolation from the rest of our exegetical case, Day 3 very well could be describing the material origin of trees (in addition to its stated function). But I’m sure McGrew knows that responsible exegesis requires interpreting verses in their contexts. So, if the rest of the account strongly supports a functional view (and it does, as we’ve seen), then we should let that inform how we read Day 3 in Genesis 1:11-13.

Day-Night Cycles Before The Sun and Moon Were Given Their Functions

Dr. McGrew writes \\“A famous crux in the interpretation of the chapter concerns the question of how there could be night and day (day one) earlier than the making of the sun (day four), and various solutions have been proposed. Walton’s idea that God made a physically invisible and indetectable decree about the daytime on a literal day one but waited to make such a purely non-physical decree about the sun until literal day four hardly seems to be an improvement on other solutions. E.g. That, during the period represented by day four, God caused the sun and moon to be clearly visible by clearing away atmospheric debris.”\\ –

This is a fair point, and I think that this is one reason why fusing Walton’s ideas with a Framework Hypothesis seems sensible to me. Walton himself says his views can be a part of a Framework Hypothesis on page 112 of The Lost World Of Genesis One. I for one think the purposeful literary arrangement was a part of the author’s intent. In prior articles discussing this interpretation, I have said that I think the sun and moon weren’t created until day 4 for polemical purposes, [15]In my essay “Genesis 1: Functional Origins, Temple Inauguration, and Anti-Pagan Polemics”, I wrote; “Have you ever wondered why the text on Day 4 calls the sun and moon … Continue reading and humans are the last thing to be created because that was typically the final touch in Ancient Near Eastern practice in preparing a temple for a deity to dwell in. The idol would be installed, and then the deity would dwell. God creates images of himself, and then He comes to dwell in His cosmic temple. Thus, the ordering of what is created on what day is not random nor is it meant to correspond to the fossil record (as someone like Hugh Ross tries to argue). It’s literary. I’ve come to conclude that Genesis 1 is a beautiful multi-faceted diamond of a text. It is just an extremely theologically rich passage! It does so much in the span of a single page!

Now, again, as I said earlier, one could adopt the view that God uttered what functions each thing would possess, in time, over a literal passage of 7 days on Walton’s view. But if one finds this idea problematic because of, say, day and night being established 3 days before the sun and moon are created, Walton’s hypothesis doesn’t fall. You would just need to incorporate Walton’s view into a type of Framework or Poetic interpretation and the absurdity vanishes. Which one does John Walton himself adopt? I am not sure. All I can say is that this isn’t necessarily a problem for the view he proposes.

Stars Are Part Of The Material Realm!

McGrew then writes “His argument for this concerning the stars is that they believed that the stars were engraved on the sky and did not realize that they were suns that were farther away. But even leaving unquestioned this description of ancient cosmology, that is not an argument that they did not understand the stars to be part of the material world. An engraving is part of the material world! It is only by taking “objects” in an oddly misleading sense that Walton gets from “the ancient Israelites thought the stars were engraved on the sky” to the conclusion that the ancient Israelites would not have thought that the making of the stars in day four was about God’s causing material things to happen!”\\

Again and again, Dr. McGrew makes the mistaken inference that if the object is either a material thing itself or if it’s “part of the material world”, then Genesis 1 must be about the material manufacturing of the object in question.

If Walton is correct, something could have material form, but still not exist unless it is given function in an ordered system. And if the function is primarily concerned with serving his image bearers, then until the latter exist (and here I’m using “exist” in a materially ontological sense), the former cannot serve that function.

Dr. McGrew wrote \\“Walton’s treatment of the sun and moon is similarly confused. He states in the interview (around minute 27) that the ancient Israelites thought the sun and moon were lights and that other ancient peoples thought they were gods. Therefore, he concludes that they could not think that God’s making them was God’s making “objects” because they “didn’t know” that they were objects. This gives the impression that all ancient peoples thought that the sun and moon were utterly outside the material realm (whatever that could possibly mean).”\\ —

Yes, Ancient Near Easterners did think the stars were gods, not big balls. of burning gas. [16]See William Derham, “Astro-theology: or, A demonstration of the being and attributes of God, from a survey of the heavens,” printed by W. and J. Innys, 1721, Jan Irvin, Jordan Maxwell, Andrew … Continue reading I would disagree with Walton in saying Israel did NOT believe that, because we can actually see evidence to the contrary in some biblical texts. For example, in Job 38:6-7, God asks Job “On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (ESV). Here, we have a Hebraic Paralellism. The “morning stars” singing together and the “sons of God” shouting for joy likely refer to one and the same thing. Then we have Deuteronomy 4:19–20 19, which says “And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that Yahweh your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. But Yahweh has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.” Moses warns Israel not to be drawn away to worship the stars, which wouldn’t make sense unless they believed the stars were divine. While this is not the place for such a discussion, talk of God “alloting” the host of heaven to the outside nations is part of an entire metanarrative that the late Old Testament scholar Michael Heiser calls “The Deuteronomy 32 Worldview”. I go into this in my article “Genesis 10-11: The Tower Of Babel, The Fall Of The gods, And The Deuteronomy 32 Worldview”.

Tangent aside, whether they were mere lights or gods, they are still not material entities. McGrew is utterly mistaken in saying that this entails that the stars were beyond the material world. You have to keep in mind Ancient Near Eastern Cosmology. They held to a flat Earth with a solid form sky that held back cosmic waters and which was supported by pillars. The heavens were in three tiers; the first heaven was the sky where the birds fly, the second was where the sun, moon, and stars were, just under the dom, and the third heaven was above the cosmic waters. This was where God was. In their thinking, Heaven and Sheol were both parts of the universe. They literally thought the abode of the dead was at the bottom of the world. So even if something wasn’t material, it still would have been a part of this cosmological system. For scholarly references on this, see the footnote. [17]Ben Stanhope, “The Solid Sky Dome Of Biblical Cosmology and The Ancient Near East”, June 19th 2018 —, All of this information can be … Continue reading

She also says that saying the stars were just lights doesn’t show their immateriality anyway. “A lamp is a material thing”. She says. This is quite odd. A lamp is not reducible in identity to light. A lamp is a source of light. I’m not even sure if she had ancient lamps or modern lamps in mind. But it doesn’t really matter because, as I said earlier, if you couldn’t touch it, it wasn’t “material” in an ancient understanding. So they’d realize either lamp is physical, they’d either recognize the fire or light bulb is physical, they would just not think the light produced was physical.

Attacking The “Home Story” Analogy

In this part of the article, I see Dr. McGrew mistakenly take an analogy that Walton used in his interview with Nick Peters on The Deeper Waters Podcast and treats it as an argument! This is deeply mistaken as Walton doesn’t use the whole “House Story VS Home Story” illustration to prove his point, but to help the reader understand his point. If Dr. McGrew finds the analogy unhelpful, then one can use another analogy. However, I’m not even sure this illustration fails. The analogy had a house already built before the family decided to move in. You filling it with your stuff isn’t actually contributing to the material manufacturing of the house itself. Yes, moving your 50 boxes of books into your study is material activity inside the house, but it’s not material creation of the house itself. Nevertheless, When all is said and done, the house starts to function as a home, and thus not only exists in a material ontology but a functional ontology as well. Now, perhaps McGrew would respond that this is a bad analogy because in Waltron’s view of Genesis, God doesn’t do anything but decree functions whereas a lot of furniture shuffling is involved in the analogy. Very well, but one must keep in mind that all analogies break down at some point. I don’t think this one difference is enough to render the analogy non-useable. And even if it were, we can just look for another analogy.

Perhaps we could use the restaurant analogy. Not only does the building exist, but all of the food ingredients are stocked and all of the tables and chairs are set up. Everything material is in place. All that needs to happen is for the ower to open it up for it to begin functioning as a restaurant.

An Uncharitable Attitude Toward Walton As A Scholar

Up to this point, I found McGrew’s critique to be fallacious, yet still fair. Walton’s hypothesis is indeed unusual and is a minority position. What’s interesting is that she doesn’t address the Temple Inauguration aspect which is even more strongly supported by the biblical and ANE evidence, and is also more widely accepted by Old Testament Scholars; such as Michael Heiser, Ben Stanhope, and J. Richard Middleton, to name a few. However, one can infer that she disagrees that Genesis 1 is a “temple text” or not given her remark that she can find no redeeming qualities about the book.

However, at this point, McGrew says that Walton often doesn’t support his arguments about the ANE mindset and is “an unreliable guide” to Ancient Near Eastern studies. I won’t comment on the natural/supernatural distinction Walton speaks of in his book as I’m not quite sure he gets it right that ANE peoples’ had no distinction between naturally occurring events and things the gods did. I will say, however, that Dr. McGrew is being quite uncharitable here. Walton definitely does support the claims he makes about the Ancient Near East. Granted, he could cite more sources for some of his claims in The Lost World Of Genesis One, but I think Walton preferred not to bog down the reader because this is a popular book written for the average Joe. Still, I think he could have relegated a lot of sources to footnotes or appendices. In any case, McGrew should read his scholarly work “Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology” where he cites many sources, quotes ancient sources, appeals to other scholars, and so on and so forth. It is a much more rigorous defense than any of his popular books on the subject. He also backs up a lot of his claims in his book titled “Ancient Near Eastern Thought And The Old Testament” which McGrew says she has read.

One reason I think he doesn’t do so more frequently in “The Lost World Of Genesis One” is that some of his assertions are just taken for granted among those in his field, such as the sky being a solid dome. The only people I have heard disagreeing with this are pastors, theologians, lay apologists, et. al. I don’t need to provide footnotes when I assert that “George Washington was the first U.S President” because that’s taken as common knowledge among Americans. Moreover, McGrew basically is subtly accusing Walton of just pulling things out of his rear. I’ve not heard any Old Testament scholar disavow Walton for such quackery, even when they disagree with some of his conclusions, which makes such a character attack prima facie implausible. David Tsumura, Richard J. Boukhan, Richard Averbeck, nor Noel Weeks accused John Walton of being a bad scholar and an “unreliable guide” to The Ancient Near East, and these men have all written their own critiques of Walton’s book!

If John Walton were prone to just make stuff up, would he really be as highly esteemed among his peers as he is? The NIH don’t typically consider witch doctors to be their peers. Disagree all you want, but it doesn’t seem fair to subtly imply that Walton is intellectually dishonest with the data. Why not just say that he has misinterpreted the data as some of his other critics have? Why attack his integrity as a scholar?

Another part of her critique that I find unnecessarily critical is that she explicitly says that The Lost World Of Genesis One has no redeeming qualities. She explicitly cannot find a single good thing to say about it. Maybe this is just hyperbole and she doesn’t literally mean that the entire thing is garbage. But I can name at least one redeeming quality about this book even if I disagreed with both the functional creation AND temple inauguration aspects of the book ; it’s insistence on abandoning concordism and interpreting Genesis 1 in its Ancient Near Eastern context. If nothing else, I think this is a good thing. We should read The Bible the way it’s original author and audience understood it. Even if you don’t think Walton succeeded in getting at the ancient understanding of Genesis, his insistence on looking at the text the way they did is to be commended.

Summary and Conclusion

The little coffee cup at the top shows me a 52-minute estimated reading time for this article. There is a lot more I could say regarding Lydia McGrew’s criticism, but to keep this article from being longer than it already is, I’ll simply give some final thoughts concerning her critique. Some of her arguments concerning gods materially making humanity have been dealt with in other blog posts responding to other critics. Rather than rehash that material here and make a 52-minute article even longer, I would recommend the reader just peruse my massive library of articles defending the Functional Origins/Temple Inauguration view where some of these critiques have been dealt with.

I have not found McGrew’s critique to be convincing enough to warrant abandoning The Functional Origins/Temple Inauguration view. Lydia McGrew admits that she was not entirely sure whether she understood what Walton was saying, and much of her critique reflects that. Much of her critique misunderstands what Walton means his his terminology. For example, by “function”, McGrew clearly thinks of it in terms of the sun functioning because it’s burning and shining rather than serving humanity (i.e an anthropologically oriented function). She also committed the goal post-shifting fallacy when it came to Walton’s argument from Genesis 1:2; that if this were an account of material creation, we would expect it to begin with no material. She also repeatedly makes the mistake of thinking that because the subject of the verb bara is material, therefore bara must be referring to the material manufacturing of that subject. This is a non-sequitur. The core of her counter-argument seemed to have been wholly on pointing out that X, Y, and Z were part of the material universe, which says nothing about whether the material manufacturing of these material objects (some of which weren’t material anyway) is in view.

What legitimate criticisms there are here only go so far as to suggest that one must slightly modify Walton’s view. For example, her argument that it’s incoherent to say the function of time was established on Day 1 when the things governing time weren’t decreed their functions until Day 4. This is easily resolved by incorporating Walton’s view into a non-literal creation week such as the Framework and Poetic interpretations do. But you can still say that Genesis 1 is about functions, not material origins, and God establishes the universe as His temple in a 7-day period.

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1 Especially in historically establishing the historicity of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Dr. McGrew dubs her approach “The Maximal Data Approach”. This is most likely to contrast it with the approach developed by Drs. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona which they have dubbed “The Minimal Facts Approach”. So the choices are broadly a minimalist VS. Maximalist approach to establishing the truth of Jesus’ deity, death, and resurrection. Contra McGrew, I find that both approaches are valuable and have their place. But I must say, my 8-month study of the reliability of the gospels has made me much more favorable towards a Maximalist Approach. If you’d like to read my own in-depth defense of a Maximalist case, I recommend reading my 11-part blog post series “The Case For The Reliability Of The Gospels” — I also read all of the blog posts in this series aloud on The Cerebral Faith Podcast, episodes 149 to 159. The Cerebral Faith Podcast can be listened to here –>
2, 8 Lydia McGrew, “Review Of John H. Walton’s ‘The Lost World Of Genesis One’, What’s Wrong With The World, March 12th 2015 —
3 John Walton, “The Lost World Of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and The Origins Debate, IVP Academic, pp. 97-98
4 ibid, p. 98
5 (Lydia McGrew, “Review Of John H. Walton’s ‘The Lost World Of Genesis One’, What’s Wrong With The World, March 12th 2015 —
6 John Walton writes “Again we point out that these are not scientific functions but human-oriented functions. In this regard it should be noted that the fourfold description of functions (signs, seasons, days, years) are pertinent only to humans. The one that may seem not to belong is ‘seasons’—but here we must not think of seasons like summer and winter. The Hebrew word when it is used elsewhere designates the festival celebrations that are associated with the sowing season, the harvesting season and so on.” – Walton, John H.. The Lost World of Genesis One: 2 (The Lost World Series) (p. 64). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
7 Aside from aiding in the memorization of information for people with learning disorders like myself, this is just another reason why it pays to read a book more than once
9, 10 ibid
11 Walton, John H.. The Lost World of Genesis One: 2 (The Lost World Series) (p. 112). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
12 and I have repeated whenever I myself defended this view
13 He not only says this a lot, but this is actually the title of an entire series of presentations he gave which Houseform Apologetics has uploaded to their YouTube channel. I think it’s a 3 part series which can be viewed by clicking here, here, and here.
14 See, for example, Hugh Ross’ books “The Creator and The Cosmos” and “Navigating Genesis” where Dr. Ross takes Genesis 1:1 to be a reference to The Big Bang.
15 In my essay “Genesis 1: Functional Origins, Temple Inauguration, and Anti-Pagan Polemics”, I wrote; “Have you ever wondered why the text on Day 4 calls the sun and moon ‘Greater Light’ and ‘Lesser Light’? Why doesn’t the author simply call them ‘sun’ and ‘moon’? There were Hebrew terms for the sun and moon (they are “שֶׁ֚מֶשׁ (meš)” and “וְיָרֵ֖חַ (wə·yā·rê·aḥ)” as in Joshua 10:12), so why not go with those terms instead of “הַגָּדֹל֙ (hag·gā·ḏōl) הַמָּא֤וֹר (ham·mā·’ō·wr)” and “הַקָּטֹן֙ (haq·qā·ṭōn) הַמָּא֤וֹר (ham·mā·’ō·wr)”? I think, as Tony Shelter and Michael Jones do, that the reason the author doesn’t label them is that the Hebrew names of the sun and moon were similar to the names of gods in pagan religions that were identified with those terms. It was not uncommon in religions outside of Israel for the sun, moon, and stars to be identified with the deities who controlled them, or even to be thought of as the deities themselves.

This is also why the creation of the sun, moon, and stars isn’t mentioned until the creation account is almost halfway over. They aren’t mentioned until day 4, even though they are, as seen earlier in this paper, the functionaries that carry out the function on Day 1. It would make sense to mention the creation of the functionaries and functions on the same day…that is, unless you wanted to get a point across. The sun, moon, and stars — gods to the pagans — aren’t mentioned until after the halfway point in the creation narratives, and even then their names aren’t mentioned. What a spit in the eye to those who worshiped these celestial bodies as deities!

16 See William Derham, “Astro-theology: or, A demonstration of the being and attributes of God, from a survey of the heavens,” printed by W. and J. Innys, 1721, Jan Irvin, Jordan Maxwell, Andrew Rutajit, “Astrotheology and Shamanism”, Book Tree, 2006, ISBN 978-1-58509-107-2. H. Niehr, “Host of Heaven,” Toorn, K. van der, Bob Becking, and Pieter Willem van der Horst. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible DDD. 2nd extensively rev. ed. Leiden; Boston; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999., 428-29; I. Zatelli, “Astrology and the Worship of the Stars in the Bible,” ZAW 103 (1991): 86-99.
17 Ben Stanhope, “The Solid Sky Dome Of Biblical Cosmology and The Ancient Near East”, June 19th 2018 —, All of this information can be checked out in Kyle Greenwood’s book “Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible Between the Ancient World and Modern Science,” Part 1 of Greenwood’s book walks through each “tier” of the ancient universe, from heaven to earth to sea to underworld. He presents historical and archaeological evidence from the world of the Bible—the “Ancient Near East”—and shows how this cosmology influenced the biblical writers. This ancient understanding of the cosmos is not only talked about in “Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible Between the Ancient World and Modern Science,” by Kyle Greenwood, but also in “The Lost World Of Genesis One, Ancient Cosmology and The Origins Debate” by John Walton, “Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology” by John Walton, “The Firmament and The Waters Above”, by Seely P, in the Westminister Theological Journal, 54, 1992, pages 31-46, and “The Unseen Realm: Recovering The Supernatural Worldview Of The Bible” by Michael S. Heiser. There are also many BioLogos blog posts on Ancient Near Eastern cosmology at such as “Ancient Science In The Bible” by Denis Lamoreux, and “The Firmament Of Genesis 1 Is Solid, But That’s Not The Point.” by Peter Enns. Click the hyperlinks to read those blog posts. These men are highly qualified to speak on this issue. Kyle Greenwood’s author information on Amazon says “Kyle Greenwood formerly taught Old Testament and Hebrew at Colorado Christian University, and is currently an associated faculty of Old Testament at Denver Seminary. He is an active member of several professional societies, including Society of Biblical Literature, Institute for Biblical Studies, and American Scientific Affiliation.” John Walton is an Old Testament professor at Wheaton College. And Michael S. Heiser’s author information on Amazon says that Heiser “is a scholar in the fields of biblical studies and the ancient Near East. He is Scholar-in-Residence at Logos Bible Software. Mike earned his Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Semitic Languages at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2004. He also earned an M.A. in the same field at Wisconsin, along with an M.A. in Ancient History from the University of Pennsylvania (major fields: Ancient Israel and Egyptology).”

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