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« Biblical Studies Carnival XXIX | Main | The Goal and Purpose of Genesis 1: John Walton Responds »


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David E. S. Stein

John, it’s not clear to me that you have given Prof. Walton his due. You haven’t mentioned that he details his arguments in at least two books. One is his 2001 book _Genesis: from biblical text ... to contemporary life: The NIV application commentary_. I perused the opening chapters and found them worthy of serious consideration. The other is his 2006 book _Ancient Near Eastern thought and the Old Testament: introducing the conceptual world of the Hebrew Bible_. I admire his serious effort to parse Genesis 1 in light of the conceptual framework of the ancient Near East.

Bob MacDonald

drulogion (e.g. here) has been writing about Genesis 1 - personally I think the BR) verbs are significant - there are exactly 7 - I love your note about the double accusitive - but I would not go for the extreme of the qal usage - at least not yet. I can barely spell qal!

I wonder if you saw my brief conversation with hashem here


You're right, David, I need to add the requisite bibliography. Walton's basic premise, that the book of Genesis must be read against its ancient Near Eastern context, is certainly commendable.



no, I didn't see your post on the name. Thanks for the heads up.

Alan Lenzi

About this statement: "it’s not clear to me that you [John] have given Prof. Walton his due. You haven’t mentioned that he details his arguments in at least two books."

The books in which he has discussed this new idea are either popular or student-level treatments. And they are by no means detailed lexicographical treatments. In other words, he's presenting completely novel ideas to the most novice of audiences. This is not appropriate scholarly practice, especially when you want to redefine a very important Hebrew verb so as to read an incredibly disputed text in a thoroughly idiosyncratic manner. I think John's been pretty generous, honestly.

It seems to me that if Walton were serious about arguing his case, he'd present the idea fully researched in a critical scholarly forum. I have a feeling he's short-circuiting that route because he knows his ideas are too idiosyncratic to ever see print.


You have very high standards for scholarship, Alan, and I commend you for it. Scholarship is full of idiosyncratic proposals, of course, peer-reviewed or otherwise.

Alan Lenzi

I don't have a problem with thinking outside the box. And I'm not even against idiosyncracy. We could all use some fresh perspectives and new takes on old issues. I'd like to think I may produce a novel notion or two in my career. My real problem here is that Walton is arguing his ideas in a forum intended for people who can't really assess them (NIV Application Series and the Baker Book, which is clearly geared for college students). So you get guys like Beidler taking Walton's view as the typical ANE scholar's view. And that's simply not the case.

ElShaddai Edwards

If Walton does not represent the "typical ANE scholar's view" of Genesis within historical-critical study, then can you recommend a different primer that is appropriate for a non-scholar? Perhaps something along the lines of Walton's "Ancient Near Eastern thought and the Old Testament" that Rabbi Stein mentioned.

Also, a link to another presentation by Walton, at Calvin College, has been posted in the comments of my original post on this topic.

scott gray


i think part of the problem has to do with three words that are conflated, which are often used as synonyms to some degree, but which have distinctive understandings (at least in english)--purpose (or purposefulness), use (or usefulness), and function.

i think that we assume purpose where there is only usefulness, purpose where there is only function. in english, some of this is evident in 'cow' and 'beef,' 'pig' and 'pork,' and maybe 'dog' and 'canine.' this is why i think there is the focus in the genesis 1 story on adam's naming of everything--he is showing the 'purposefulness' of the thing named in the name itself. again, i'm speculating here; my hebrew won't stand up to any further proof of this speculation.

when we say 'god created' we imply 'god created for a purpose.' at the root of the argument over creation is whether the creation of the natural and supernatural is 'purposeful' or not. things become problematic when we extrapolate further and say 'everything was made for a purpose.' bad enough when applied to things, worse still when applied to abstract constructs like 'evil.'

'sawdust' is useful, but has no purpose. and i find malaria and black plague micro-organisms to be neither useful or purposeful.



Peter Kirk

But ברא Qal occurs with a double accusative in Gen 1:27 (fashion the human into male and female) and Isa 65:18 (fashion Jerusalem into a joy). Creatio ex nihilo is not described in these cases.

I disagree. It is clear from the context in both cases that God is creating the human ex nihilo and also the new Jerusalem, as part of the new heavens and the new earth, ex nihilo. The double accusative implies that the thing created ex nihilo will have certain characteristics, not that something already in existence will be changed to have these new characteristics. Genesis 1:27b is not just about the division of 2:21,22.

Robert Holmstedt

John (and others),

To be fair to Walton you should really read his NIV Application commentary and even perhaps email him. I've been teaching Genesis 1 along his lines for about five years now, not so much because of his commentary (although I have now read it), but because about six years ago I happened to ask him about it while visiting Wheaton one day. He walked me through his lecture on this topic, I did quite a bit of further research on my own, and decided he was probably right.

On ברא, he makes the point that it never presumes the initial manufacture of the substance used to get to the end product. Thus, ex nihilo does not fit. If I remember correctly, he asks his reader to consider the English word 'create': it is used of an artist 'creating' a masterpiece, which does not suggest that the artist manufactures the paint, stone, or whatever material or medium used. He also addresses עשׂה at some point in his commentary and suggests that, while it (in contrast to ברא) does denote manufacture in many cases, other cases reflect an overlap with ברא in the sense of 'appointing' or 'ordering'. Again, he's pretty thorough in his word study -- moreso than I think you've given him credit for.

Finally, his views of Genesis 1 as a whole should not overlooked. He compares the 7-day structure to temple dedication ceremonies. He argues that the 3 days of 'dedicating' ('separating' in Gen 1) the physical space followed by 3 days of 'dedicating' (ברא 'appointing') functionaries to fill that space and then the 1 day of God 'inhabiting' ('taking his rest') mirrors the essential pattern of dedication ceremonies (Walton notes the 7th month of Solomon's temple in 1 Kings 8:65, Ba'al's palace in the Ba'al Cycle, and the Temple for Ningursu in the Gudea Cylinder; I found also that this corresponds nicely with the installation of the high-priests for Emar's storm god, although Walton did not mention that text.)

Thus, the Genesis 1 uses 'creation' imagery to describe the dedication of Yahweh's cosmic temple, with humans as the veritable priests and caretakers. It's a powerful image, if he's correct. And it accounts for the 1-4, 2-4, 3-6 topical alignment that has long been noted. It also nicely allows one to take the 7-day structure as literal, since it refers not to manufacture but to ordering on a ritual level. (This last point is a non-issue for me, but it's important for some folks.)

As for the comments on publishing in peer-reviewed contexts, my guess from various chats with John that he simply does not see this as his primary audience anymore, especially at this point in his career. And although I bow to the gods of the tenure process and publish almost primarily in the recognized media of the great academy, I can see why Walton might not see the need, particularly in light of his opinions of said great academy. More to the point, ideas should be evaluated by their substance rather than their print venue.

Always provocative and enjoyable!


Thanks, everyone, and Rob Holmstedt in particular, for commenting here.

I will email John Walton. I'm sure he's a great guy, and perhaps he will enjoy going back and forth with readers on the theses he presents.

This short post focussed on one aspect only of Walton's thesis - the part that is getting a lot of play on blogs and which I was asked to address by ElShaddai. I agree with Walton that bara does not imply ex nihilo, but find 'appoint, ordain' as a translation of bara unconvincing. But I hope to find the time soon to ponder all his arguments with greater leisure.

ElShaddai Edwards

Thank you, Rob, for the much more thorough summary of Dr. Walton's overall position than I could give John. I do urge anyone who hasn't watched his presentation (link on my blog, which is listed in the original post above) to do so - I plan to watch again soon.

Mike Heiser

If John Walton and others want to really take the Genesis account "on its own terms" why not do (and affirm) the obvious: that the Genesis cosmology conforms to the typical ANE cosmology and is thus pre-scientific - round flat earth; solid fixed dome over the earth; dome supported by pillars; Sheol underneath with its own pillars holding up the earth above; windows in the dome for water; the waters = one sea (because the waters surrounded the round flat earth); etc. The reason this isn't done is because evangelicalism has wrongly perpetuated the idea that an accommodationist view of inspiration isn't "biblical." Witness Wayne Grudem's treatment of it in his theology textbook - very poorly reasoned caricature of the issue. I guess we can call John Calvin an errantist. And if the response is "all that language is poetic" (as in the writers not affirming the content), that just moves the goalposts, since all the views of creationism want to define what is to be taken literally and non-literally (it's just that the lists don't agree). Why not do more than pay lip service to contextualizing the OT and go full-bore on the literalism--affirming a pre-scientific cosmology as an example of God condescending to tell ancient people that he (not some other flunkie deity) is the Creator? God ALWAYS condescends to us in some way in revelation. Were God to reveal to Stephen Hawking exactly (scientifically) how he created, it would as much of a waste of God's time (so to speak) than if he had done that to any of the biblical writers. This is all another example of refusing to affirm the obvious so as to protect a point of doctrine articulated from an Enlightenment perspective.


I listened to Dr. Walton's presentation at Wheaton, but I was not convinced by it. I actually find Holmstedt explanation of Walton more useful. I will definitely give it more thought. In any case - thanks for posting this. After all - you are tackling one of those texts that together with 2 texts from Ezekiel and Song of Songs is supposed to be tackled only by the more mature :)


Hi everyone,

this is turning into a nice discussion, with a fine variety of views represented. I am hoping G. M. Grena will show up and present a YEC perspective. If a heavy weight like Chris Heard shows up, watch out. I will be posting comments received from John Walton soon.

ElShaddai Edwards

Thanks for posting Dr. Walton's reply, John. It is fascinating to observe this level of discussion.

Alan Lenzi

I said earlier: It seems to me that if Walton were serious about arguing his case, he'd present the idea fully researched in a critical scholarly forum. I have a feeling he's short-circuiting that route because he knows his ideas are too idiosyncratic to ever see print.

As Prof. Walton says, he will present his views in a forthcoming monograph. I obviously spoke without knowledge and too harshly.

Andrew Vogel


That is exactly what Walton does... I suggest you read the book, it really is a helpful read.


I think you have a thorough understanding in this matter. You describe in detail all here.

Jonnathan Molina

Dr. (Michael) Heiser is familiar with the book, Andrew. He is utilizing it as the text book for one of his online classes, in fact! I own it and love the "novel" point of view yet respect the hesitancy shown by the language gods here (I, myself, being not a even a fetus). I think Dr. Walton's pov must be weighed on the totality of his presentations (discussions, monographs, books, commentaries, etc.) and not just on the novice-level book that has popularized the view, though, apparently, not among scholars. Humble reader...I am in awe of all this wisdom!


I think you are not quite right and you should still studying the matter.

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however, argues that Genesis 1 is concerned only with the assignment of
functions to things. He suggests that the Hebrew verb ברא, translated in
the past as ‘create,’ with the object of the thing created following, means instead
to ‘e

G. Kyle Essary

I think the above comment is spam-generated, but gets the basic gist...before it falls apart at the very end. Interesting!


I liked your site, you are very interesting to write. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


I liked your site, you are very interesting to write. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Mitchell Powell

Dr. Hobbins,

Above, you condensed the message of Genesis 1:

“You say the universe, and humankind’s place in it, is the result of a struggle between immoral and amoral deities the end-result of which is not favorable to humankind at all; I say that a single all-powerful God created a universe that is good and reflects well on its Creator, who made it as a habitat for humankind, the object of his blessing.”

That, I believe, is the first time I have ever understood a non-literalist view of Genesis 1 that makes sense to me. Almost always it appears that any non-literalist view of Genesis 1 is pitched in a condescending way (it's an ignorant book from an ignorant time), in an almost laughably compromising way (e.g. Hugh Ross's Creation and Time), or so vaguely that I can't even understand what's being said. But you said something that was not only comprehensible, it also (at this late hour of night/morning) seems to explain a great deal not only about Genesis 1, but also a lot of things in Genesis better than the view I hold (held?).

I recently took a course in Ancient Mesopotamian mythology, and couldn't help but vaguely feel that the story of Noah was some sort of "answer" to the world of Utnapishtim/Atrahasis/Ziusadra. Perhaps that's exactly what it was.

Thank you for that.


Hi Mitchell,

I think biblical literature is polemical by nature. As I understand it, it offers a compelling alternative view of God and the world relative to proposals on the ground then, and on tap now.

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It seems to me, as it has seemed to just about everyone up until now, that the opposite is the case.

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    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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    Copyright © 2005 by John F Hobbins.