Last week, we featured a video of Scot McKnight’s plenary lecture at our BioLogos conference, titled “Adam and the Scientists.” McKnight was not the only presenter to talk about Adam, science, and Scripture. Old Testament scholar John Walton has become one of the key voices in the evangelical conversation about science and Scripture since the publication of The Lost World of Genesis One. Walton’s latest book, entitled The Lost World of Adam and Eve, applies his insightful approach to scriptural interpretation to the controversial issues surrounding human origins. Walton shared his perspective on Adam and Eve at the BioLogos conference, showing how modern Christians often radically misunderstand the intent of the Genesis account in its original context. In so doing, Walton reframes the conversation about science and the Bible and opens up room for fresh dialogue between the two.
Below is the video of the presentation, followed by timestamps for each of Walton’s main points.
- [00:45]: The Bible is God’s message for us, but not to us. Its message transcends culture, but form is bound to culture. The Bible does not deal covertly with advanced scientific issues.
- [03:30]: How do we responsibly use ancient near-east historical materials to help us interpret the Bible? These materials don’t dictate the meaning of the text, but they prompt us to look at it in different ways.
- [04:50]: Walton’s overview of his approach to the intersection of the Bible and science. To ancient Israelites, God did everything, so there’s no real divide between natural and supernatural. This has implications for many origins issues.
- [11:30]: What is Genesis 2? A recapitulation of Genesis 1? A sequel to it? Walton argues that Genesis 2 is not an expansion of Genesis 1, but a sequel. This changes how we see the Bible’s claims about human origins. It also resolves some persistent issues with the more traditional reading of those chapters.
- [17:30]: Walton argues for an “archetypal” interpretation of Adam and Eve, which is neither rigidly historical nor totally figurative.
- [20:00:] What does it mean to be formed from dust? How can references to Genesis in the rest of Scripture help us to understand the meaning of this cryptic phrase, and what does it say about who (or what) Adam and Eve were?
- [27:22]: What does it mean that Eve was made from Adam’s rib? Walton shows how “rib” is actually a bad translation of the Hebrew word, and a better translation helps us understand the relationship between Adam and Eve.
- [35:45] What is the significance of the roles given to Adam and Eve? Priestly roles, which are archetypal and representative.
- [40:44] Summary of Walton’s viewpoint, addressing theological and scientific issues arising from the evolutionary creation perspective. Walton urges listeners to separate out the historical, biological, and theological issues, instead of bundling them. “The truth is bigger than an event here.”
- [43:10] Walton offers an evolutionary creation model for sin and death, drawing on a distinction between non-order and disorder. What was lost in the Fall was not immortality but the hope of a cure for death. But through the work of Christ, our access to the “Tree of Life” is restored.
Concluding thoughts: I was first introduced to John Walton’s ideas while in seminary, and they helped to revolutionize how I read Genesis. Reading Genesis after Walton’s books was like watching The Sixth Sense for the second time. Suddenly, the ancient context of the biblical origins account was blindingly (and beautifully) obvious, and I’ve never recovered from the shock. Walton’s mission to read Genesis in fresh ways also resonates with my own evangelical convictions. Walton has helped teach me that a “high view” of the Bible entails a regular re-examination of our own interpretations with the expectation that the biblical text has more to say than we give it credit for.
I don’t agree with everything Walton says, and he’s not the “official” Old Testament scholar of BioLogos, but he is certainly one of the most important voices on Genesis and science in recent memory. No matter what you think about Genesis and science, you need to listen to John Walton and consider his ideas.
Further reading on this topic:
- Were Adam and Eve Historical Figures? (Common Questions page)
- Denis Alexander, How Does a BioLogos Model Need to Address the Theological Issues Associated with an Adam Who Was Not the Sole Genetic Progenitor of Humankind? [PDF]
- Deborah Haarsma, Interpreting Adam: Introduction
- Loren Haarsma, Why the Church Needs Multiple Theories of Original Sin
- Daniel Harrell, Adam and Eve: Literal or Literary?
- Alister McGrath, What Are We to Make of Adam and Eve?
- David Opderbeck, A “Historical” Adam?
- Robin Collins and Ted Davis, Evolution and Original Sin by Robin Collins (series)
- Daniel Kirk, The Historical Adam and the Saving Christ (series)
- Jim Stump, NT Wright and the Historical Adam: Reviewing “Surprised by Scripture” (Part 2)
- Benno van den Toren, Not All Doctrines Are Equal—Configuring Adam and Eve
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/ecf-conference-video-feature-investigating-what-the-bible-claims-concerning