The evidence press response to John Walton

(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

As someone who leans towards John Walton’s theory that Genesis 1 is about a cosmic tmeple narrative, I was quite dismayed when I found this article in response to John Walton’s views:

I need help with the whole article, but of particular worry to me is their sixth point:

6. THE BIBLE INTERPRETS THE BIBLE. Walton’s interpretation of Genesis One is founded on references from the ancient near-eastern literature. Though understanding the culture is important it is not as important as the Biblical text itself. Nor is it as important as the context and what other Bible passages say. I am not aware of any biblical or hermeneutical principle directing us to interpret historical text as functions, unless the function is stated in the text. However, the opposite is true — for proper hermeneutical interpretation: the text is to be understood plainly unless there is context or type-of-literature issues leading us away from a plain interpretation. That is a core principle of proper Biblical interpretation. In the book Understand, by Walter A. Henrichsen, he writes, “The literal interpretation in context, therefore, is the only true interpretation. If you don’t take a passage literally all sorts of fanciful interpretations may result.”p.54 In the book Scripture Twisting, by James W. Sire writes, “Esoteric interpretation assumes that the Bible does not mean what it says on the surface.” The author sites Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science as an example of the danger of using the esoteric method of interpretation.

To me this seems somewhat like a way of burying the heads in the sand, by outright ignoring any time the bible says something that concords perfectly with a context in the Ancient Near East. For example we know beyond reasonable doubt that Yahweh’s battle with Leviathan has it’s origins in Ugartic literature, but nevertheless their allegation that we can only interpret scripture with scripture does worry me somewhat when discussing reconciliating genesis with evolution. How would you respond to this, and the rest of their points?

(Matthew Pevarnik) #2

I would argue that this is wrong. Take for example how the New Testament writers used the Old Testament. They broke every single hermeneutical rule in the book… taking things out of context, reading new meaning into the text, etc. They are showing us quite simply that the literal reading of the Old Testament many times is not the true meaning or significance but yet this quote basically calls the New Testament writers esoteric heretics.

I think you are reading the Bible better than they are Reggie. If we really let Scripture interpret Scripture this passage should be included in the discussion of Genesis 1 but psalms like this are swept under the rug by most Christians who have a particular interpretation of Genesis. So I wouldn’t sweat it too much!

(Christy Hemphill) #3

I wonder what the author’s interpretation of Revelation is. It seems to me that some of the same people who wring their hands over all the terrible things ECs do to Scripture when it comes to Genesis have no trouble with people finding some pretty fantastical, non-literal, meanings that are totally unrelated to the rest of Scripture in Revelation. Like “Tony Blair is the anti-Christ.”

(Jay Johnson) #4

Hi, Reggie. Since this seems to be troubling you, I thought my 2c would be helpful. On the Evidence Press article that you linked, the first four points are about Walton’s view that Genesis 1 is about function, not material creation. There are many theologians who disagree with Walton on that point, to varying degrees, but that does not mean they disagree with him on everything. Interpretation is not an all-or-nothing affair. Evangelicals are very prone to throwing babies out with bath water.

Points 5-7 are where Evidence Press rolls out the hermeneutics:

(5.) PROPER BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION IS READING WHAT IS THERE. It is wrong to impose our own agenda on the Bible.
(7.) LACKING HEBREW SCHOLAR 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.

No. 5 sounds strangely post-modern, doesn’t it? haha. Evidence Press takes Walton to task for seeking to reconcile Scripture and science, while the author is certain his own YEC bias does not affect his interpretation at all. Hmmm. Have your cake and eat it, too, anyone?

The best hermeneutical treatment of this issue, in my opinion, is Anthony Thiselton’s book The Two Horizons: New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description with Special Reference to Heidegger, Bultmann, Gadamer, and Wittgenstein. (How’s that for a subtitle?!)

Whenever we read any type of text, we do not come to it with perfect objectivity – an “empty head,” as it were. All of us bring our own personalities, experience, knowledge, and values to the table, and these factors can influence our interpretation, even when we are aware of them. The difficulty, in the case of ancient texts, is not just that the past is too remote, but that the present is too “present.” When we allow our present context and concerns to overwhelm the voice of the past, we fail to hear the text. Rather, that noise filling our ears is merely the echo of our own preconceptions.

If we ignore the historical horizon of the text, subjectivity reigns, and one person’s opinion of the meaning is as valid as the next. The historical horizon of the text itself provides the “control” that prevents interpretation from cartwheeling into the abyss of subjectivity. Our goal, then, is to let the ancient text speak to us with the same shade of meaning that it had for its first audience. What allows us to do this is orienting the text within its proper historical framework, which is exactly what Walton, Middleton, Waltke, and other OT scholars are attempting to do.

With regard to No. 6, the Reformation dictum that “Scripture interprets Scripture” is often misunderstood and misused. J.I. Packer’s influential 1958 book ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God outlined the hermeneutic of the “literal interpretation of Scripture,” which you can find here on the web. Packer begins by saying:

“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. This is what we should expect in the nature of the case, seeing that the biblical books originated as occasional documents addressed to contemporary audiences; and it is exemplified in the New Testament exposition of the Old, from which the fanciful allegorizing practiced by Philo and the Rabbis is strikingly absent. This is the much-misunderstood principle of interpreting Scripture literally.”

Notice what Packer emphasizes as the “necessary starting-point” – the meaning for the original readers. Essentially, what he is describing is the historical-grammatical method of interpretation, which is standard fare for all conservative exegetes, and its emphasis on the historical context of the text and the meaning for its original readers is exactly what Walton is doing, and exactly the opposite of what Evidence Press says that he should not do. In short, even by their own “literal” standards of interpretation, they are wrong about Walton.

Finally, I’ll point out that Packer is dead wrong in his last assertion, that the historical-grammatical method “is exemplified in the New Testament exposition of the Old, from which the fanciful allegorizing practiced by Philo and the Rabbis is strikingly absent.” As @pevaquark pointed out, the authors of the gospels and the rest of the NT certainly did not follow modern methods of exegesis in their use of the OT. They most often used typological interpretation of the OT, which saw Jesus as the key to understanding all of the OT.

Two excellent essays on the NT use of the OT are G.K. Beale’s The Right Doctrine, Wrong Texts: Can we follow the Apostles’ Doctrine but not their Hermeneutics? and Douglas Moo’s The Problem of Sensus Plenior.

Hang in there, brother!

(Phil) #5

Thanks, Jay. That was a great analysis, and definitely taught me something, and helps with putting things into perspective. The comments on post-modernism are insightful.

(Jay Johnson) #6

You bet! Thiselton’s book is actually his doctoral dissertation, so it can be a tough slog at times. If I can make a suggestion for @Reggie_O_Donoghue, I think he would benefit from a good systematic theology. Thiselton just recently published a very good one: Systematic Theology by Anthony Thiselton. As a “newish” Christian, it probably would help to take a step back and see how everything fits together, then come back to these individual issues and reconsider them. You don’t want to get so focused on the details that you miss the big picture. We all fall prey to that from time to time.


Additionally, anyone wanting to understand how the NT uses the OT should be directed to Richard B. Hays Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (1989, Yale University Press) which is the standard work in the field on this, and his more recent Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (2016, Baylor University Press) which has already won many awards.

(system) #8

This topic was automatically closed 6 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.