I follow your work here at Cerebral Faith and I really appreciate your research and output of work!! With that said I’ve been particularly following your take on the work of John H. Walton and his stance on the Biblical Creation account i.e. “Functional Creationism”/ The Cosmic Temple Inauguration view. I myself lean toward an Old Earth theistic Evolution view but I find myself very skeptical of Walton’s Functional Creationism interpretation.
I admittedly have not read any of Walton’s books yet but I’ve been listening to lectures form him and reading numerous articles of critiques and responses for and against his account of the Genesis creation narrative. I’ve heard William Lane Craig on the matter and followed your recent indirect exchange with him on it and I listened to episode 39 of your podcast on The Cosmic Temple Inauguration view with the intent to continue listening to the subsequent podcasts you’ve put out and I have to say so far i’m simply not convinced.
My question is why do you find it so persuasive? as far as I can tell it would admittedly achieve three very enticing apologetic effects:
- Age of the Earth. it would easily allow for an old Earth and would even safe guard the Biblical creation account against any theories of an eternal universe
however unlikely a discovery that seems to be from the scientific community currently
- it would side step biological evolution completely if the Genesis account doesn’t even come close to
being in tension with the material origins of the universe in intent.
- A literal Creation week (functional)
Because of these three points I find myself almost wishing I could adopt the FC/CTI view but I can’t’ help but see it as a synthesized paradigm that when laid over the Genesis narrative happens to go far in explanatory power. in a sense, it reminds me of “Gap Theory”
(God created world 1 then for whatever reason it fell into disrepair so God created a new world, world 2 in which we find ourselves superimposed on the remains of world 1) BOOM! you have evidence of an old Earth and a literal creation account in Genesis. I can’t help but feel Gap Theory and Functional Creationism are squarely in the real of Concordism.
To ground FC/CTI I would really need John Walton to make a historical case that this is the way Ancient Near Eastern cultures would have viewed the world. that’s really where the burden of proof lies in the face of what seems like straight forward material creation accounts. Walton attempts to do this by presenting internal textual reasons to think the author of Genesis viewed the world primarily functionally and externally by presenting other ANE texts like the Enuma Elish. but it seems to amount to “look you can lay this interpretive grid on both of these texts with approximate results”
a few brief examples:
Textually Internal: “Light isn’t a physical concept in the Genesis account” it still has an Ontologically positive existence. in another words if you light a match in a pitch-black cave you’ve brought “something” into being as opposed to the “nothing” of darkness (absence of light). I can’t believe ancient near easterners wouldn’t observe this distinction.
“Concepts like North, East, West and South are abstract and not material things to be ‘created’ in the material sense”
the concept of direction in this sense inherently entails physical location as does a clean heart (physical agent with a repaired and renewed interpersonal relationship with God) etc.
Textually External: The Enuma Elish explicitly involves things coming into being and being named, “gaining a function” if you will.
to conclude I can see why Intelligent people like yourself and Michael Jones of Inspiring Philosophy would hold to a system with such far reaching explanatory powers but how can one ground it historically and textually?? again thanks for your inspiring work as an apologist for the Faith.
In Him, Chester.
First of all, let me just thank you for following the work of Cerebral Faith. I hope to continue to put out great content to equip fellow believers like you to defend the faith with an increasingly secular culture. At least here in western society anyway. Christianity is booming in Eastern cultures. Anyway, as far as wanting the FC/CTI view to be true in order to adopt an old earth and evolution, I would recommend that you look at other views of Genesis as well. While I personally find The Cosmic Temple Functional View the most persuasive, the most likely meaning Moses had in mind as he was putting pen to papyri, nevertheless there are a MYRIAD of differing interpretations out there, most of which would accommodate an old earth and even evolution. Some view Genesis as simply stating THAT God materially created everything, but wasn’t concerned with how, when, or in what order he made everything. Rather, Genesis 1 was an apologetic against pagan cultures who had their own creation myths. On this view, Moses was saying “No, Marduk didn’t crush the heads of the chaotic sea monsters (Tiamot/Leviathan), Yahweh did!” and things of that sort. This seems to be the interpretation put forth in Johnny Miller and John Sodon’s book “In The Beginning, We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 In Its Original Context”. As I say in an upcoming podcast episode, I do think there’s a polemical element of Genesis 1, but I don’t think bashing pagan creation myths was the only agenda Moses had in mind. I would disagree with John Walton who disavows the polemical view, but I would also disagree with those who say it’s ONLY a polemic; an Israelite parody of the Ugaritic and Babylonian creation stories. I think Moses was describing God inaugurating the universe as His cosmic temple and assigning functions to everything on each of the 7 days (in accord with Walton), but ALSO made it a point to take jabs at the pagans while he was at it (in accord with Miller and Sodon). I think it’s both/and, not either/or. In fact, just by saying that the entire cosmos is God’s temple would be the ultimate polemic against other gods, for Moses would basically be saying “Your gods are localized, living in man-made structures you had to build for them. But our God has the entire cosmos as His temple and He made it Himself!” What better way to assert the superiority of Yahweh? Especially since The Gudea Cylinder (2125 BC) speaks of a seven-day temple dedication and Ugaritic Texts (KTU 1:4:VII 16-40) speak of Baal completing his cosmic temple in 7 days. Moses is like “Nuh uh. The universe is not the temple of Baal! It’s the temple of The Lord!”
If you don’t find the CTI compelling, look elsewhere. Deborah and Loren Haarsma have an excellent book surveying various different views on Genesis called “Origins: Christian Perspectives On Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design”.
But I don’t think there is a need to look elsewhere. Thus, I’ll explain some more of why I find this view persuasive.
Ancient Near Eastern Texts Present Creation In Heavily Functional Ways
You wrote \\“To ground FC/CTI I would really need John Walton to make a historical case that this is the way Ancient Near Eastern cultures would have viewed the world. that’s really where the burden of proof lies in the face of what seems like straight forward material creation accounts. Walton attempts to do this by presenting internal textual reasons to think the author of Genesis viewed the world primarily functionally and externally by presenting other ANE texts like the Enuma Elish. but it seems to amount to “look you can lay this interpretive grid on both of these texts with approximate results”\\ — That’s exactly right. A major argument in favor of the functional origins view is that Ancient Near Eastern peoples’ considered a thing to exist when it had a function in an ordered system, not simply by means of possessing material properties. So, for example, on their thinking my computer exists not simply by being a physical composition of electronic parts connected together, but because it works for me. It enables me to write blog posts on Cerebral Faith (like this one), to record podcast episodes, to stream movies and television shows, play DVDs, and even video games. It’s functioning AS a computer. Now, if the computer short circuited for some reason (God forbid!) then it would no longer carry out all of the aforementioned functions. Thinking like an ANE person, I would say that my computer doesn’t exist anymore. Now, someone thinking in terms of a material ontology would say “What do you mean? Sure, it’s broken, but it still exists. There’s the screen, the cords, the keyboard, etc.” To an ANE person, this response would be unintelligible.
Now, the question is, did ANE peoples really think of existence in terms of function in an ordered system? Or did they think of it as we do? If the former is the case, that makes the likelihood of Genesis 1 being about the assignment of functions very probable. Functional Interpretation of Genesis 1 would then fit the cultural context.
The Egyptian Papyrus Insinger is from the Ptolemaic period. Although the manuscript comes from the first century after Christ, the material within the manuscript dates much earlier, to either the second or third century before Christ. Approximating closely to the climax of this document, the document describes eighteen lines of the creative handiwork of the god.
“He created light and darkness in which is every creature.
He created the earth, begetting millions, swallowing them up and begetting again.
He created, day, month, and year through the commands of the lord of command.
He created summer and winter through the rising and setting of Sothis.
He created food before those who are alive, the wonder of the fields.
He created the constellation of those that are in the sky, so that those on the earth should learn them. He created sweet water in it which all the lands desire.
He created breath in the egg though there is no access to it.
He created birth in every womb from the semen which they receive.
He created sinews and bones out of the same semen.
He created going and coming in the whole earth through the trembling of the ground. He created sleep to end weariness, waking for looking after food.
He created remedies to end illness, wine to end affliction.
He created the dream to show the way to the dreamer in his blindness.
He created life and death before him for the torment of the impious man.
He created wealth for truthfulness, poverty for falsehood.
He created work for the stupid man, food for the common man.
He created the succession of Generations so as to make them live.”1
The boldface underlined portions highlight whenever Insinger describes functions or the assignment of purpose. You can see that the specification of functions is stated explicitly and repeatedly all throughout this text. The Egyptian Papyrus Insinger doesn’t describe how or when the god made all of these things. No physical process is mentioned. All Insinger says repeatedly is “He made this for that. He made this to carry out this purpose. He made these things for these reasons, this for that and this for that.” The author doesn’t care to explain to the reader how or when the things in question were made. The author wants to tell the reader why the god made these things. And as you can hopefully see, this isn’t an interpreted grid laid over the text as you implied in your e-mail. This is derived from the text itself.
The Egyptian Instruction of Merikare 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 .“2
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.
Assyrian Kar 4 says:
“After heaven was separated from the earth, its firm companion, so the mother goddesses could live there;. after building up the earth to make the ground firm, when the designs were made firm in heaven and earth to establish levee and irrigation ditch in good order. …the great gods, the Anunna, the great gods, sat down in a lofty dais … Enlil himself deliberated.”
Once again, no interpretive grid needs to be laid over these texts. Both The Egyptian Instruction Of Merikare and Assyrian Kar 4 are very heavily function-oriented. Moreover, none of these accounts look like an episode of “How It Was Made”. They don’t appear interested in answering that question. They appear to be interested in answering the question “Why were these things made?”. In other words, they’re concerned more with the “Why?” question than the “How” and “When” questions. If they were interested in answering the latter questions, they ought to have gone in more detail, wouldn’t you think?
John Walton, in his book “The Lost World Of Genesis One”, outlines these functional features as follows. John Walton writes:
“• Lines 1-24 show Marduk organizing the celestial sphere: stars, constellations, the phases of the moon.
• Lines 25-45 are not represented in many of the translations included in the major anthologies of ancient texts. Even in their broken form, however, their basic content can be discerned.’ In 38-40 Marduk makes the night and day and sets it up so that there is an equal amount of light hours and night hours over the course of the year. On line 46 he fixes the watches of night and day. These creative activities have to do with organizing time.
• Lines 47-52 are more legible and deal with the creation of the clouds, wind, rain, and fog, and appointing himself to control them. Here the functions that concern the weather are created.
• Lines 53-58 tell of the harnessing of the waters of Tiamat for the purpose of providing the basis of agriculture. It includes the piling up of dirt, releasing the Tigris and Euphrates, and digging holes to manage the catchwater.
• Lines 59-68 conclude with the transition into the enthronement of Marduk and the building of his temple and the city of Babylon-the grand climax. It is no surprise that a creation text should ultimately be about the god who controls the cosmos and about the origin of his temple.”3
As you can tell, I didn’t quote the Enuma Elish. I quoted John Walton’s summary of it. You may be wondering why. The reason he doesn’t directly quote from Enuma Elish (and neither do I) is that it’s a very, very long account. However, if you’re interested, the entire epic can be read on Ancient History Encyclopedia’s Website. Click here to read it.
These are but a small handful of texts I could quote from that show that those in The Ancient Near East considered creation as assigning things function within the ordered system which is the universe.
The Creation Texts In The Rest Of The Old Testament Are Functionally Oriented
Although I no longer share Hugh Ross’ approach to biblical interpretation, I do agree with him when he says that our interpretation of Genesis 1 needs to be informed not just from the text of Genesis 1 itself but also from the other biblical passages in The Bible that talk about God’s act of creation. We need to look at other creation texts in The Bible to see whether they have a more materially focused ontology or a functional ontology.
Virtually all commentators agree that Psalm 104 is a creation psalm. Since that’s the case, it will be useful in helping us establish whether creation should be thought of in terms of function or material manufacturing. This is letting scripture interpret scripture. Verses 10-23 of Psalm 104 say “He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.“
Here, it’s evident that the Psalmist focuses on the function of the spring water. God made the springs for the purpose of flowing into the ravines and between the mountains to quench the thirst of various animals. Verses 14-15 say “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate— bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.”
Once again, function is the focus here as you can see from the boldface underlined text. The psalmist wasn’t concerned with the physical process by which God made all of the things mentioned, nor was he concerned with how long or how long ago the physical process took place. Once again, I think it’s false to say that it “amounts to ‘look you can lay this interpretive grid on both of these texts with approximate results'” This is read out of the text, not into the text.
“The trees of the Lord are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the junipers. The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the hyrax.” (verses 16-18).
Here, while no function is stated in terms of “God made X for the purpose of Y” as it was in the preceding verses, you do have function implied. It’s implied that the reason God keeps the trees of Lebanon well-watered is so the birds have a nest, the storks have homes. The mountains and crags are for the purpose of goats having a place of refuge.
“He made the moon to mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl. The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens. Then people go out to their work, to their labor until evening.” (verses 19-23)
Here, the function is again explicitly stated, and it is stated in such a way as to echo Genesis 1:14-16!
“Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter.” (Psalm 74:16-17)
Notice also that all of these creation texts have a consistently running theme: the installation of time, weather, and food.
Psalm 104:2-4 – Weather.
Psalm 104:10-15 – Food.
Psalm 104:19-23 – Time.
Enuma Elish, Lines 1-45- Time.
Enuma Elish, Lines 47-52 – Weather.
Enuma Elish, lines 53-38 – Food.
Enuma Elish, Lines 59-68 – Temple Installation.
Day 1 – Time
Day 2 – Weather
Day 3 – Food.
The Opening Of The Creation Texts Open With A Symbol Of Non-Order
In Ancient Near Eastern thinking, the sea was a chaotic world, a world of non-order, a crazy place. In Enuma Elish, the symbol of chaos is the goddess Tiamat who personifies the sea. As Old Testament Scholar Michael Heiser wrote “In the ancient world, the original (‘primordial’) chaotic conditions of creation were often portrayed as a monstrous dragon. This is reflected in stories from ancient Babylon and Israel’s closest neighbor, Ugarit (ancient Syria, just north of Israel). In the literature of ancient Ugarit, the god Baal battles Yamm, who is portrayed as a chaotic, churning sea and a terrifying sea dragon named Tannun or Litanu. These terms are equivalent to the Hebrew words in Psalm 74:13–14: ‘You divided the sea (ים, yam) by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters (תנינים, tanninim) on the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan (לויתן, liwyatan).’”4
What we can infer from the fact that in ANE thinking the sea equaled a condition of chaos is that since the state of the world is chaos (sea) prior to all these gods doing their acts of creating, then creation would be bringing order out of chaos. It would be assigning function to a world that has no function. It would be to impose order on a non-orderly realm. Every single creation myth in the ANE emphasizes sea at the very beginning of the text, prior to the gods beginning to “create”.
What’s especially noteworthy is that all of these creation accounts never explain where the sea came from! The texts begin with the sea already present. If Enuma Elish, The Founding Of Eridu, and Genesis 1 were accounts about material origins (how and when all the material stuff of the universe came into material existence from material non-existence), then shouldn’t some explanation of where the sea came from be present in these texts? Shouldn’t the texts depict the gods materially bringing the sea into existence? Alas, they do not.
Genesis 1 might be an exception if a compelling case could be made that Genesis 1:1 is an independent clause rather than a subordinate clause, but as I argue in my original blog post on this topic “The Cosmic Temple View Of Genesis One” and in my blog post “Evaluating Dominic Stantham’s Review Of The Lost World Of Genesis One”, there’s good reason to believe that Genesis 1:1 is a subordinate clause rather than an independent clause and thus should be translated “When God created the heavens and the earth” rather than “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”. In this case, the account depicts a material sea already existing when God shows up (so to speak) to start creating. Where did the sea come from? No explanation is given. But isn’t this supposed to be an account explaining how and when all material things came into being from material non-being? Makes you think.
Jeremiah 4:23-27 Uses Creation Language In Reverse
Jeremiah 4 is about the prophecy of the Babylonian Exile. In verses 23-27, Jeremiah uses exactly the same kind of language that Genesis uses to refer to the desolation of Jerusalem, and describes it as a sort of de-creation. The text says “I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone. I looked at the mountains, and they were quaking; all the hills were swaying. I looked, and there were no people; every bird in the sky had flown away. I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert; all its towns lay in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger. This is what the Lord says: ‘The whole land will be ruined, though I will not destroy it completely. Therefore the earth will mourn and the heavens above grow dark, because I have spoken and will not relent, I have decided and will not turn back.'”
“The earth was formless and empty” The Hebrew term here is Tohu Wa Bohu, the same term used in Genesis 1:2. Now, does this mean that the entire planet ceased to exist in a physical sense? That the world was nothing but a water ball as is commonly assumed in Genesis 1:2? Of course not. Moreover, no one interprets this text as saying the sun and stars and popped out of existence. We certainly know that humanity did not vanish from the face of the Earth when The Babylonian Siege occurred. What Jeremiah is clearly saying is that when Babylon destroys the city of Jerusalem, it will no longer be a fully functioning society. Chaos and disorder will reign, just as it reigned in Genesis 1:2.
Arguments Against It Being Both Material and Functional
John Walton states near the beginning of Proposition 10 of his book that “One of the most common questions about this view comes from those who are struggling with the worldview shift from material orientation to functional orientation (a difficult jump for all of us). In a last effort to cling to a material perspective, they ask, why can’t it be both? It is easy to see the functional orientation of the account, but does the material aspect have to be eliminated altogether? In answer to this question, if we say that the text includes a material element alongside the functional, this view has to be demonstrated, not just retained because it is the perspective most familiar to us. The comfort of our traditional worldview is an insufficient basis for such a conclusion. We must be led by the text. A material interest cannot be assumed by default, it must be demonstrated, and we must ask ourselves why we are so interested in seeing the account in material terms.”5
I think Walton makes a valid point. If ANE text after ANE text after ANE text, both extra-biblical and biblical show a concern with functions and purpose and seem relatively unconcerned with the material manufacturing processes if at all, then the burden of proof lies on those who insist that it’s both functional and material. Arguments have been given for the former, but most proponents of viewing Genesis 1 as material origins just assume the latter with no argument given.
That said, we can go a step beyond merely putting the proof on you to show that the account is materially focused alongside function. We can give arguments to show why a material-and-functional interpretation is problematic.
Reason 1: Light wasn’t considered material in ANE thinking, so if material origins is what Genesis is about, nothing is really made on Days 1 and 4.
Reason 2: John Walton writes that “Day two has a potentially material component (the firmament, rāqîʿa), but no one believes there is actually something material there—no solid construction holds back the upper waters. If the account is material as well as functional we then find ourselves with the problem of trying to explain the material creation of something that does not exist. The word rāqîʿa had a meaning to Israelites as referring to a very specific object in their cosmic geography. If this were a legitimate material account, then we would be obliged to find something solid up there (not just change the word to mean something else as concordists tend to do). In the functional approach, this component of Old World science addresses the function of weather, described in terms that they would understand.”6
Reason 3: If this were a material account, then an explanation of when and how God materially manufactured the seas should be given, but there is no explanation of when and how God materially manufactured the seas, therefore, this is probably not an account of material origins. Remember Genesis 1:1 is most likely a subordinate clause, meaning God’s first creative act isn’t until verse 3!
Reason 4: If Genesis 1 is about material coming into being, then since Jeremiah 4 uses the same terminology, to be logically consistent, we’d have to say that Jeremiah 4 is about material going-out-of-being. Yet Jeremiah 4 is clearly about Jerusalem being rendered non-functional as a society.
With regards to point 1, you wrote \\“Textually Internal: ‘Light isn’t a physical concept in the Genesis account’ it still has an Ontologically positive existence. in another words if you light a match in a pitch-black cave you’ve brought ‘something’ into being as opposed to the ‘nothing’ of darkness (absence of light). I can’t believe ancient near easterners wouldn’t observe this distinction.”\\ —
I see your point. God could give a positive existence to something that isn’t material in nature. That’s true. But my point about light not being physical is really more a side note. As I have said in previous writings on this subject (and as Walton has said in The Lost World Of Genesis One) the point of day 2 (and also day 4) is about the creation of time. Time isn’t a material substance, and it wasn’t a positive substance in ANE thinking. The whole point of God saying “Let there be light” and dividing light from darkness, and naming them “day” and “night” respectively is to establish the function of time. Day 4 is God decreeing the functionARIES that carry out the function on day 1.
The point of stressing that the celestial bodies aren’t material in ANE thinking is to respond to people like William Lane Craig who essentially make the argument that if the verb bara is connected to a material object, then it means material creation.
You wrote \\”‘Concepts like North, East, West and South are abstract and not material things to be ‘created’ in the material sense’ the concept of direction in this sense inherently entails physical location as does a clean heart (physical agent with a repaired and renewed interpersonal relationship with God) etc.“\\ — Sure, The things that are to the north and to the south are physical. South Carolina is certainly a material place to the south of North Carolina. However, directions themselves are not material objects. There is no material thing called “south”. There are just things that exist south of something else. Indeed, directions like north and south aren’t even absolutes. They’re only relatively true. Relative to New York, both North and South Carolina are to the south. But relative to Florida, these states are to the north. Psalm 89:12 doesn’t speak of things in the north and south, but of the north and south themselves. The text says that God created them despite not being material objects, hence “bara” does not always have to refer to material creation.
The same goes for David’s heart. There was certainly a physical blood pumping organism in David’s chest that David believed was the seat of emotion, but in asking God to “Create in me a clean heart” David was asking God to reorient David’s emotions, desires, passions, and inclinations, to moral goodness instead of moral evil. God was asking David to change him into the kind of person who didn’t commit sins like the kind he committed in 2 Samuel 10-11. In answering the prayer, God doesn’t bring anything into being (material or immaterial). Instead, he just sanctifies David. This is assigning a new function. An analogy can be made to how we become new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). When I was born again in September of 2009, God didn’t bring any new object into being from non-being. The Holy Spirit indwelled me and changed me on the inside, and I became a devout follower of Christ. But nothing new literally came into being. The total number of atoms in the cosmos didn’t slightly increase when I was regenerated.
I hope you can see that there are very good reasons to hold to the functional origins or Cosmic Temple Inauguration view of Genesis. I encourage you to read my other blog posts on this website about this interpretation, but most of all, I encourage you to read John Walton’s books where he talks about this in more detail. The Lost World Of Genesis One and The Lost World Of Adam and Eve are books in which Walton talks about this book in the most detail on the popular level. His book called Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology is a book in which he talks about this in the most detail on the scholarly level. which is a more scholarly version of The Lost World Of Genesis One.
I don’t blame you or others for being slow to accept this interpretation. It is so counterintuitive to the way we’ve been taught to think about existence and creation in general (and counter to what we’ve been told Genesis 1 is saying). But I have looked at many critiques of this view by many different scholars and theologians and no one has come up with a sufficient refutation.
1: Translation from Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature (Berkley: University Of California Press, 1980), 3:210-11
2: John H. Walton. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Kindle Locations 383-395). IVP Academic. Kindle Edition.
3: As cited in John Walton’s “The Lost World Of Genesis 1”
4: Michael S. Heiser, “Slaying the Sea Monster of Psalm 74”, Academic Editor, Bible Study Magazine — https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/slaying-the-sea-monster.html