Associates for Biblical Research on John Walton and the ANE

I am having trouble with this, can anyone respond to it?

Reggie, in reading over the article, it might be helpful to point us to whatever point you would like to see a response to, as it covers a lot of ground. My initial response is that the article tends to complain about assumptions, when it is pretty much a hot mess of assumptions itself, and gives little or no data to support the views expressed.

I don’t fully embrace all of Walton’s conclusions, but find his work thought provoking and certainly it has expanded my knowledge and understanding of Genesis.

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Some of my thoughts. I’ll quote the article and share some thoughts in between:

The emphasized phrases show Walton is primarily concerned with understanding Genesis 1 in the light of ANE literature.

And unlike the author, I think that is a good thing.

This marks a departure from the time-tested principle of using Scripture to interpret Scripture.

That’s all that Biblical scholars did before the discovery of the ANE, especially writings from the time period. Pete Enns discusses that a bit here: Reading Genesis: Let's be Adult about this, Shall We. - The Bible For Normal People

It forces him to view the ancient Israelites as a typical ancient Near Eastern people, including embracing common cosmological ideas. He apparently does this because the Israelites’ overlapped in time and geography with other ANE cultures.

They were people of the ANE. And the Bible does describe cosmology in ways similar to other people groups. Walton doesn’t do this just because they overlapped in time and geography but because the physical description of cosmology is very similar.

By contending God does not address the initial creation of the material universe in Genesis 1, however, Walton runs into a major problem posed by Hebrews 11:3: “ By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible ” (NIV).

I’m not sure that the author is aware that he is interpreting Hebrews 11:3 and Genesis 1:1 in a modern way, as we don’t actually have any evidence that any of the patristics read Creation Ex Nihilo in an ontological sense until Theophilus of Antioch writing a little before 200 AD. A good discussion of this is found in Chapter 5 of Allert’s Early Christian Readings of Genesis 1.

This understanding of theopneustos is confirmed by the way the ancient Greek writers similarly used the term

In an ironic twist it appears the author of this article is perfectly fine learning of cultural contexts of words and ideas in the ancient world to support his arguments. But for some reason he does not allow the same logic or evidence to apply to how he reads the OT in light of the ANE.

If as Christians we are not willing to question the inspiration of 2 Timothy 3:16 itself, we must wholeheartedly embrace the idea that God is the ultimate Author who superintended the writing and preservation of Scripture—all of it, not some of it—and He was not obliged to accommodate human error in its writing.

In a heroic effort sure to inspire such followers, the author just throws 2 Tim 3:16 at Walton as if Walton is questioning whether or not Scripture is inspired by God. Wow! While I can’t speak for Dr. Walton that is just a little bit dishonest but all too common to dismiss the entire book and any similarities found between the OT and other ANE writings.

If we say Genesis reflects false views of cosmology in common with ANE literature, it cannot be without error. The scriptural definition of inspiration has effectively been set aside.

Another false dischotomy. But that is to be expected as the website itself has a tagline:

A Christian apologetics ministry dedicated to demonstrating the historical reliability of the Bible through archaeological and Biblical research.

Other dishonest tactics used by the author of this article:

  • One wants to be ‘relevant to the secular world’ (are you kidding me? he is accusing John Walton of just wanting to be relevant to the secular world)
  • One sets up an authority outside of Scripture for determining the meaning of a text (which the author ironically himself does earlier as I noted)
  • If you fear looking foolish in the eyes of secular linguists and scientists (who think the earth is billions of years and evolution actually has evidence) then you are in danger of becoming a fool in the eyes of the Lord [no comment]

Aaaand, I’m done. Funny enough Pete Enns also had a blog post summarizing twelve statements made defending the common YEC reading of Genesis:

Funny enough the author of this article uses many of these same tactics word for word and as @jpm notes, any specific claims that you wanted to look at feel free to post on.


Walton runs into a major problem posed by Hebrews 11:3: “ By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible ” (NIV). The straightforward meaning of this verse is that God created all that is seen from what is not visible; for all intents and purposes, from nothing.

So this guy equates invisible with nothing??? Only that which is visible exists? Wow! I guess he doesn’t have much of an education in the sciences.

I will tell you what see when I read the same text. God made that which is physical (that which interacts with light according to the space-time mathematical laws of nature) out of the non-physical (that which is not a part of these space time mathematical laws of nature). This does not mean that I do not believe in creation ex-hihilo. In fact, I often explain the fact that energy eliminates the distinction between action and thing/material, so there is nothing inconsistent with the idea that God’s action of creation is sufficient to provide all the material required for the universe.

But the writer of Hebrews tells us that “by faith,” we understand that God “commanded” the visible universe to come into existence from no visible precursors.

And who was God commanding? I think here is where we see the limitations of the writers who liken God to a king who accomplishes everything by giving commands to those who have the know how to do such things. But is God really so lacking in knowledge and ability that He has to get others to do everything for Him? Magic is a notion derived from the experience of infancy where we simply cry out and someone with the understanding and power responds to alleviate our discomfort and fulfill our needs. But when we are talking about God, there is nobody more knowledgeable or more powerful, and ultimately there is nobody out there to be commanded unless He has made them first.

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From the article:

“Walton is primarily concerned with understanding Genesis 1 in the light of ANE literature. This is confirmed in a blog comment by Walton himself: “I am attempting to understand the text of Genesis as an ancient Near Eastern text—wherever that leads” (2008). This marks a departure from the time-tested principle of using Scripture to interpret Scripture.”

Walton doesn’t depart from time-tested principles of interpreting Scripture. In fact, he is employing the same hermeneutic as Calvin, namely the historical-grammatical method. As the evangelical icon J.I. Packer described it in 1958:

“Scripture yields two basic principles for its own interpretation. The first is that the proper, natural sense of each passage (i.e., the intended sense of the writer) is to be taken as fundamental; the meaning of texts in their own contexts, and for their original readers, is the necessary starting-point for enquiry into their wider significance. In other words, Scripture statements must be interpreted in the light of the rules of grammar and discourse on the one hand, and of their own place in history on the other.”

Packer calls this method “the literal interpretation of Scripture,” which he distinguishes from “literalist interpretation” (i.e., the “plain meaning” of the text in English translation). So, in Packer’s terms, Walton actually is engaged in “the literal interpretation of Scripture,” since it is Walton’s goal to recover, as much as possible, the intended sense of the author and how the original readers would have understood the text. The context of Genesis 1-3 is the literary and cultural milieu of the ancient Near East. Unless we understand that historical context, we cannot understand the original Hebrew audience, let alone the texts that they produced.

The author of the blog also misunderstands the principle that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” As the Westminster Confession puts it: “The infallible rule of interpretation of scripture is the scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture, it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”

In other words, this principle simply means that unclear passages should be interpreted according to clearer passages, not vice versa. Secondarily, it also means that novel interpretations must be weighed against “the whole counsel of God.” For instance, Walton’s interpretation of the “cosmic temple” of Genesis 1 finds support in temple imagery that runs throughout the Bible and ultimately culminates in the “new Jerusalem” of Revelation 21.

The main problem that some evangelicals have with Walton is that he downplays (or denies) creation ex nihilo, which really bothers a few people. I don’t think that debate can be settled by appealing to the “Scripture interprets Scripture” principle.


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