I recently wrote a blog post called “The Cosmic Temple View Of Genesis 1” which defends an interpretation that says that Genesis 1 is not an account of material origins, but of functional origins. That is, it’s not about God physically bringing things into being from non-being, but about ascribing functions to already existing things. This is what people in the Ancient Near East understood creation to be about. They understood the existence of a thing in terms of how it functioned within an ordered system, and therefore since the definition of creation is to bring something into existence from non-existence, creation is to bring something from non-order to order. Additionally, the days of Genesis are 24 hour consecutive days, and during these days God not only assigns everything its function, but the assigning of function inaugurates the universe as God’s cosmic temple.
This view of Genesis 1 has been defended by Professor John Walton in his books The Lost World Of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and The Origins Debate, The Lost World Of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and The Human Origins Debate, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and The Old Testament: Introducing The Conceptual World Of The Hebrew Bible, and Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology. I have written blog posts responding to criticisms of Walton’s thesis from William Lane Craig (see here and here) and Hugh Ross (see here). In this blog post, I will respond to Jim Bendewald’s objections which he lays out in his blog post “7 Reasons John Walton Is Wrong On Genesis 1”
Objection 1: Not Functional Elsewhere
Bendewald writes “In his Genesis commentary (The New NIV Application Commentary: Genesis) Walton says the function for the fourth day creation of the sun, moon and stars is to provide the function of a calendar. “
It is true that the focus on day 4 is functional rather than material. “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so.” (Verse 14, emphasis mine). The purpose of the sun, moon, and stars are to mark time “seasons, days, and years”. Again, I want to remind my readers that the term “function” here is an anthropologically oriented function, not a scientific function. By this, I mean that the sun, moon, and stars, are now functioning FOR humanity. But, obviously, they were functioning in a material sense prior to the events of day 4. The sun was a burning ball of gas producing light and heat prior to this, but it wasn’t doing those things for the benefit of humanity.
I think this is what Bendewald means when he says the stars were set up to establish the calendar. I don’t know if Walton uses the term “calendar” specifically in The New NIV Application Commentary: Genesis or not, since I haven’t read that book yet, but to describe the sun, moon, and stars serving to mark “sacred times, and days, and years”, we could appropriately say that God established the calendar. On this view, day 4 concerns the installation of functionaries which will carry out the function established on day 1 (i.e time = separating day/light from night/darkness).
Bendewald objects, however, that “But the function concept does not hold up in other OT passages. For example, stars in other OT passages do not represent a “calendar” function; they are seen as material objects.” and goes on to quote Genesis 26:4 “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed;” and Nehemiah 4:21 “So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared.”
Bendewald says “Obviously the early Hebrew people saw the stars and understood them as material objects otherwise the concept of counting the stars would have no meaning. If the stars are material in other parts of the OT why not include them as material in Genesis 1?” but the argument of Walton was that the ancients most certainly would NOT have understood the stars (or the sun and the moon for that matter) as material objects. In a BioLogos blog post, Walton writes “When we reach Day 4 we immediately encounter the functional emphasis in which it is the calendar that is important as verified in the list of functions (signs, festivals, days, and years) in Genesis 1:14. If God were making the sun physically, its importance for light, heat, and energy that life on earth needs to survive should have been emphasized. God ‘makes’ the sun, moon, and stars by giving them their functions—that is what the text says. It should furthermore be observed that we have no reason to believe that the ancient Israelites thought of the sun, moon, and stars as material objects. For example, they did not know that the moon is a rock in orbit reflecting the light of the sun. They didn’t know that the sun is a burning ball of gas. The narrator even calls the objects lights, not even providing them with physical form. We cannot begin by assuming that they knew that what we call the celestial bodies were objects. In the vast information from the ancient world, no hint is found to support their materiality…” 1
We know today that the sun is a large burning ball of gas that converts elements in its interior 93 million miles from Earth, that the moon is a large rock orbiting our planet, and the stars we see at night are suns like ours very far away. But the ancients did not have the scientific knowledge that we have today. They considered the celestial bodies to be what the text calls them; “lights”. They didn’t know about photons and particles. For them, if they couldn’t physically grasp it, it wasn’t physical.
Bendewald’s only argument that they did consider them material is that they were able to count them (implied in God’s statement in Genesis 26:4), which isn’t a very strong argument. Dreams aren’t material, but I can clearly count the number of dreams I had last night. The laws of logic aren’t material, but they can clearly be counted. There are at least three; the law of non-contradiction, the law of identity, and the law of excluded middle. The Trinity isn’t material, but we can count the persons; (1) Father, (2) Son, (3) Holy Spirit. Being able to count something is by no means an indication of something’s materiality.
Moreover, even if the stars were considered material, that would not at all necessarily entail that God’s making them on Day 4 involves a material manufacturing process. No one thinks that fruit trees are immaterial, but Walton and I believe that, based on the context of the rest of the creation account, the cognitive environment of a functional ontology in the Ancient Near East, and other factors, that day 3 is not talking about the material manufacturing of land and trees, but describing God decreeing what their functions will be (i.e for food).
“And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry ground ‘land,’ and the gathered waters he called ‘seas.’ And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation [i.e the function of the land is to produce vegetation]: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ [i.e The function of the seed-bearing plants and trees are to produce food]. And it was so [i.e The land functioned exactly as God commanded it to]. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the third day.” (Genesis 1:9-13, NIV)
While you could see this as God creating THE very first trees and plants on land masses that emerged from the sea for the very first time, another way to look at the events of day 3 is for God to declare what the functions of the land and trees will be; i.e to produce food for living creatures. Trees sprouting from the ground and bearing fruit is a regularly occurring process, not something that happened only once thousands or billions of years ago. While land and trees and material, we need not see the events of Day 3 as the very first land masses and the very first trees being manufactured for the very first time. So, even if we conceded the point to Mr. Bendewald that the ancients considered the sun, moon, and stars to be material, that would not rule out the interpretation that function assigning is the sole focus of day 4.
Objection 2: The OT Often Refers To The World As Material
Bendewald quotes Exodus 14:22 and Numbers 29:6
“The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left” – Exodus 14:22
“besides the burnt offering of the new moon and its grain offering, and the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings, according to their ordinance, for a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD . .” – Numbers 29:6
Bendewald then writes “In the above verses we see that the Hebrews understood sea, land, waters and moon as material objects. In fact it would be disfunctional to not be able to relate to material things as material. Since the Hebrews understood and appreciated the material world in other OT passages why not Genesis 1-11? “
Again, neither Walton nor any other Old Testament scholar would think that the Israelites to consider the cosmos as non-material. What is disputed by Walton is whether they cared about where the material came from. Did the ancients and does the author of Genesis mean to recount how things materially came into being or were they more concerned with recounting how all things functioned in an order system? Were the ancients asking how and when the material came into existence in a material sense or were they asking why things were created? Based on an analysis of Genesis in the original language, how Bara and Asa are used in other places in The Bible, and based on the ANE cognitive environment demonstrated by various creation myths of that time, Walton and I believe that it is the latter, not the former.
Obviously, the ancients knew things existed materially, but that was not their focus. See my blog post “The Cosmic Temple View Of Genesis 1” for more information.
Bendewald then says that “Walton says that he interprets the creation days to be functional so that he can make Genesis ‘harmonize with modern science’. (The New NIV Application Commentary: Genesis, p. 81) In doing so he is skewing the interpretation of Genesis 1 to mean functions instead of material creations. That goes against another fundamental rule of biblical hermeneutics — we are not to insert our worldview or bias into the interpretation.”
Again, I have not read The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis, so I don’t know what Walton says there, but in his Lost World Of Genesis One and The Lost World Of Adam and Eve, he explicitly states that he is not trying to force the text to fit with modern science. He says that he is interested in getting at the author’s intent. That is why there is hardly any discussion of scientific evidence for an old universe or for evolution in his Lost World books. He looks at the Hebrew verbs, the biblical text, and the ANE literature, and argues from them that a functional origins view is what Genesis 1 is saying. You can doubt his motives, but that doesn’t alleviate one from having to deal with the arguments.
Walton does say that his interpretations resolve any conflict between evolution and The Bible, but I think he sees this as simply icing on the cake.
And whatever John Walton’s motivations are, I cannot say. I can only say what he says his motivations are and take his word for it. Nevertheless, I do know with certainty what my motivations are. My motivations are indeed to get at what the biblical authors are actually saying, and if that contradicts what modern science is saying, well so much the worse for modern science. The Bible is my ultimate authority, and I must believe what it says.
Objection 3: FOR Goodness’ Sake.
Jim Bendewald quotes Genesis 1:14-15 and Genesis 1:29-30 and says “These verses in Genesis 1 specifically state functions. So when the author (through the inspiration of God) wants to tell us of a function he does so plainly by using the word “for” to indicate the function. Therefore, it is logical the rest of Genesis 1 is describing material creation. This point alone should raise very large red flags for any student of the Bible in regard to Walton’s interpretation of Genesis 1.”
The argument here is that if the word “for” is absent, we should assume material creation and not functional creation. This is a pathetically weak argument. For one, if Walton is right (and I believe he is) that the ANE cognitive environment was primarily (almost exclusively even) functionally oriented, then they wouldn’t have needed the word “for” to alert them that function was the purpose. They would be thinking in terms of functional creation anyway.
Objection 4: Functions and Symbols Are Interpreted
Genesis 1:3-5 “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”
Bendewald writes “How do we know that the function is time as Walton tells us? Maybe God is more concerned about light & darkness and day & night rather than time? After all that is what the passage states. Also, the people didn’t wear watches back then. To make light and darkness to mean the function of time is to impose our cultural interpretation on the passage.”
This is just downright silly. First of all, the creation of light cannot be interpreted as an act of material creation if for no other reason than that the ancients did not consider light to be a material sort of thing (see above). They had no knowledge of photons. For them, light did not consist of anything physical. Therefore, the author of Genesis could not have meant that when “God said ‘let there be light’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3) that anything physical came into existence.
But, moreover, it is interesting that God does not call the light light nor does He call the darkness darkness. He calls the light “day” and the darkness “night” (verse 5). Why is this? “Light” and “day” are not synonyms, even in Hebrew. Professor John Walton argues that the figure of speech known as “Metonymy” is being employed here. Metonymy is a figure of speech that substitutes the effect for its cause, mentioning the cause instead of the effect. “Light” is substituted for “Day” and “Darkness” is substituted for “Night”. What God is referring to is the period of light and the period of darkness (i.e daytime and nighttime), not light and darkness themselves, since day is not synonymous with light and darkness is not synonymous with night. What reason would God have for being “concerned about light and darkness and day and night” unless time was the focus? This is further supported by what Genesis says in verse 4, the verse immediately preceding verse 5 “God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness”. If the author is intending to talk about actual light and darkness rather than periods of light and darkness, then we have a problem. Darkness and light cannot be joined together. They can’t co-exist. Since they can’t be together, they cannot be separated. Now, if it’s the period of light and the period of darkness (time) that scripture is talking about, then Genesis 1:4 makes a lot more sense. What God separates is the period of light and darkness, not physical light from physical darkness.
From looking at scripture alone, we can see a good basis for affirming that God created a function on day 1, not anything material. Instead, he establishes a function; time.
What Bendwald’s rebuttal amounts to is “That’s just your interpretation.” Ok, but why is this interpretation false? He doesn’t give a reason, unless “people didn’t wear watches back then.” is supposed to count, which I don’t see how it could sense people knew how to tell time long before the invention of watches. They monitored the position of the sun in the sky, or they used sundials. Surely Bendewald isn’t suggesting that before clocks and watches were invented, people had no way to keep track of the time! That would be silly.
For DAY 2
Genesis 1:6-8 “Then God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.”
This passage speaks of an expanse and separation of waters and heaven. Bendewald says that this passage doesn’t mention rain, clouds, snow, or anything of that sort, and therefore Dr. Walton is not justified in seeing Day 2 as the establishment of a weather system. Bendwald said that “It would be a more plain and logical interpretation of the passage to say that the expanse is simply talking about material water and not the function of weather.”
This objection shows extreme ignorance of Ancient Near Eastern cosmic geography.
The ancients believed the Earth was flat, covered by a solid dome, and this solid dome was held up by something (mountains, or ropes, or gods, depending on the people group) and there waters above this solid dome and waters below it. They realized that water sometimes came down (i.e rain), so they reasoned that there must be windows in the solid dome that occasionally open and shut.2 ySo when Genesis talks about God establishing the firmament on day 2 (Hebrew, rauqia), it is referring to this solid dome. The solid dome holds back the waters, but occasionally windows open to let rain fall down. So, an ancient Hebrew would have definitely seen the event of day 2 as the establishment of weather.
Objection 5: PROPER BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION IS READING WHAT IS THERE.
This entire section basically attacks John Walton’s motives for holding the interpretation of Genesis that he does. This section is basically one big ad hominem. Nothing in this section of the article refutes anything that Walton said.
Objection 6: The Bible Interprets The Bible
Bendewald said, “Walton’s interpretation of Genesis One is founded on references from the ancient near-eastern literature.” — It’s not founded on the ANE literature. It’s founded on the biblical text. The ANE literature only serves to reinforce the functional interpretation. I’ve defended the functional interpretation in conversation before using scripture alone.
“Though understanding the culture is important it is not as important as the Biblical text itself.” — Neither Walton or I would disagree with that.
“Nor is it as important as the context and what other Bible passages say.” — Again, no disagreement here.
“I am not aware of any biblical or hermeneutical principle directing us to interpret the historical text as functions, unless the function is stated in the text.” — Well, the cultural context hermenuetic immediately comes to mind. As for functions being in the text, I’ve already gone over those here and in my blog post “The Cosmic Temple View Of Genesis 1”.
Bendwald then goes onto complain that it’s not a literal reading of the passage as though that’s a good rebuttal.
Objection 7: Lack Of Scholarly Support
“I have not found any well-known largely published Hebrew scholars supporting Walton’s view. There are well-known Christians supporting the function view of Genesis 1-11 but I haven’t found any well-known Hebrew scholars. If the theory offers sound theology Hebrew scholars should be lining up to support it.”
This is an obvious example of the ad populum fallacy, also known as The Bandwagon Fallacy. Truth is not a majority vote. It doesn’t matter how many Old Testament scholars support it or reject it. What matters is where the evidence points. What matters are how good or how bad the arguments for The Functional Creation/Cosmic Temple Inauguration view are.
I wonder what Bendewald would say if I argued “I have not found any well-known largely published scientists supporting Bendewald’s view of origins. There are well-known Christians supporting a young earth, but I haven’t found any well-known astrophysicists, geologists, biologists, geneticists, etc. who support it. If young earth creationism offers sound science, scientists should be lining up to support it.”
Jim Bendewald of EvidencePress.com has not successfully refuted The Cosmic Temple Inauguration View of Genesis 1. Bendewald concludes his article with an assertion that the account is not about God fashioning the universe as a temple for Himself, but he only asserts this and doesn’t interact with Walton’s arguments on this point at all. He also goes on to say that if God used evolution to create, he would be inept and weak. First of all, The Cosmic Temple Inauguration view is independent of whether evolution is true or false, so I wonder why he brings it up. But secondly, I completely disagree. Evolution makes me only more in awe of God. The words of Charles Kingsley comes to mind as I ponder on God’s use of evolution; “–We knew of old that God was so wise that He could make all things; but behold, He is so much wiser than even that, that He can make all things make themselves.”3 A God who can create all animal life ex nihilo is awesome. A God who can take a single-celled organism and make that into a fish with legs and then bring about all of the diversity of life is even more awesome, in my opinion.
1: “Material or Function in Genesis 1? John Walton Responds” By John Walton on April 3, 2015 — https://biologos.org/articles/series/reflections-on-the-lost-world-of-genesis-1-by-john-walton/material-or-function-in-genesis-1-john-walton-responds?fbclid=IwAR2tH7pVGjPb6xMxtWNR3HHww1wb4xS-sb6Z5aCzxQ3Me134yZH9s68jVtk
2: 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 BioLogos.org 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
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
(major fields: Ancient Israel