Published: 1 February 2021

The Implications Of Reading Genesis Like An Ancient Israelite

In our Genesis study so far we’ve considered John H. Walton’s ideas concerning the creation account. Walton proposes an interpretation of Genesis 1-2 which he describes as a “cosmic temple inauguration view.” That is, the focus of the seven days of creation is not about how God brought matter into existence, rather it is the inauguration of God’s cosmic temple.

Walton contends, convincingly, that Genesis chapters 1 & 2 do not tell the story of how God brought the Universe into existence ex nihilo (out of nothing). Obviously there was a physical creation, but Genesis 1 is not that story. Instead, it is the story of how God brought order out of chaos by creating the functions which established a habitable place for humans where they could live together with God. In this view, God built a temple (the Universe) where He could dwell with his creation. The “hot spot” of God’s presence was in the garden of Eden where He placed Adam. A temple, by definition, is a sacred space where man and God commune.

As I’ve said before, it is exceedingly difficult for most of us to read Genesis and see what Walton is describing. We are used to reading the creation account in terms of material and physical origins. We expect to see God making matter and forming it into something useful, so that’s what we see. If you’ve been reading along so far, you may be contemplating what the practical implications of a functional (as opposed to material) creation are. Here are a few that come to mind.

It’s pointless to dispute about the age of the Earth

In Christian circles, there is disagreement regarding the age of the Earth. Some say it is 6,000 to 10,000 years old, others say 4.5 billion years old. Both sides argue that the Bible best supports their position. What both sides fail to realize is that Genesis does not offer any clues as to the age of the Earth.

The astute reader will notice that both earth and water were already in existence before God’s first recorded creative act (Gen 1:2-3). This means that God’s creation of matter and the physical world had already taken place before He turned it into a place fit for life. The Bible offers no clues regarding when the physical creation took place.

Some may argue that Gen 1:1 documents the creation of the physical world but in reality it is a literary introduction to the rest of the chapter. We know this is true because Gen 2:1 serves to conclude the seven day account declaring the creative works of the first six days complete. Gen 1:1 and Gen 2:1 are bookends with the text in between telling us what God did.

Some groups defend their particular belief about the age of the Earth so vigorously that they are willing to brand anyone who disagrees with them as heretics. Lines of fellowship are drawn with the opposing sides calling each other’s honesty, sincerity and salvation into question.

Others may point to the genealogies in the bible claiming they are a means of dating the creation. Using the genealogies of the Bible, James Ussher (1581-1656 AD) famously calculated the creation and declared it to have taken place in 4004 BC. Dating using the biblical genealogies is problematic. It is highly likely that these genealogies skip generations and did not serve the purpose we might suppose they do (or want them to). We’ll examine biblical genealogies later in our Genesis study.

The bottom line is that if Genesis is not an account of material origins and the Bible’s genealogies weren’t put there by the Holy Spirit for us to calculate the age of the world, then the Bible does not offer us any clues about its age. It is pointless for Christians to bicker about something the Bible takes no position on.

Church politics

Christians who defend a particular age for the earth (young or old) probably do so because they feel like the Bible compels them to. After all, if you believe your interpretation of Genesis 1 is the only correct one, anyone who disagrees with you surely doubts what the Bible says. A differing viewpoint of the age of the Earth is seen as an attack upon the inspiration of the Bible itself. What is really happening here is that Christians are vesting as much authority in their interpretation as they are the Scriptures. This will always turn out badly.

This mentality can have some very unfortunate consequences in extreme cases. Some Christian leaders defend their particular belief about the age of the Earth so vigorously that they are willing to brand anyone who disagrees with them as heretics. Lines of fellowship are drawn with the opposing sides calling each other’s honesty, sincerity and salvation into question.

This is legalism camouflaged as a defense of the Bible’s inspiration. Like other manifestations of legalism, it demands that in addition to the gospel, our salvation must be accompanied by a certain belief about the age of the world. This is nothing less than the Galatian heresy. When we insist on the gospel plus something else to save us, we have perverted the gospel (Gal 1:6-7).

Most situations probably aren’t that extreme, but your fitness to teach a Bible class or lead in some other way might be questioned if it is found out you aren’t on the “right” side of the issue. There can be a lot of pressure to conform. If you are persuaded by Walton’s view of Genesis 1, expect to experience the displeasure of both the young and old Earth camps. It is ironic that so much controversy has ensued over a topic the Bible doesn’t even address.

Functional origins implies nothing about evolution

Some Christians may be anxious about acknowledging that the Bible doesn’t weigh in on the age of the Earth out of concern that it opens the door for evolution. They reason that if the earth is 4.5 billion years old then it invites people to accept godless Darwinism and all that goes with it.

The truth is that nothing about an old Earth makes the theory of evolution a more compelling idea. Darwinian evolution has serious, serious problems. Science has yet to explain the mechanism for how life could arise from non-life. Unguided chemical processes can’t explain how DNA and the genetic code developed. Random genetic mutations cannot explain irreducibly complex structures. The sudden and abrupt appearance of complex species in the fossil record defies explanation for Darwinists. It has become cliché, but it is true that it takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does to simply believe God created the world!

The odds against evolution are so great, that even 4.5 billion years is not long enough for blind, random chance to produce what we see around us. It is simply impossible. Christians have no legitimate worries about being open to the possibility of an old Earth (or a young one).

What really matters

Whether the world is old or young doesn’t really matter. What Moses wanted his readers to understand is that everything we see was created and made functional by God. He wanted his readers to know that we are God’s image bearers; His representatives and delegates. We were meant to know that God’s ideal was for us to dwell together with Him in His creation (i.e. His cosmic temple). We are meant to know that sin was the result of mankind’s choice and that this literally resulted in the separation of Heaven and Earth. Everything God has done since Eden has been with a view to one day restoring us and His creation to His ideal.