Dr. John Walton on Genesis and Science

“Are we reading the book of Genesis as if God has sort of subtly placed scientific information there for us to read 2000, 3000, 4000 years later as modern people?” asks Dr. John Walton. “Or are we supposed to read it as an ancient book? I’m inclined to think the later; that God was talking to them at the level of what they understood. And so we have to think the way they thought.”

In this segment from his course on Genesis, Dr. Walton goes on to explain how ancient people viewed God and the scientific world and how those views contrast with modern views today.

Continue learning with the two-course Genesis Bundle, featuring Old Testament experts Dr. John Walton and Dr. David Baker.

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Faithlife Staff
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  • I cannot treat the Bible as an ancient text, as though it were just some other ancient text by which we use our own cultural understanding of the text before us. I can do this with Chaucer or Plato, but the Bible is a different book which excels and is preeminent above all other books. It His holy inspired Word. It should be treated differently.

    Primarily, the Bible is an inspired text given by God to all people. Yes, there are different cultures involved over the centuries, but it is still His word. When we start bisecting the scriptures by our own understanding and not by comparing scripture with scripture, then we have set ourselves up as God in judging how the scripture should be interpreted.

    Our Lord Jesus Christ quoted and verified the authenticity of numerous OT scriptures. If He places His imprimatur on the books of Moses, I will accept His commendation rather than that of some 21st century “scholar”.

    What Dr. Walton has presented is a view of the OT scriptures from his viewpoint bathed in modern understanding and use of textual criticism.

    Read some other scholars who hold a different viewpoint if you wish to truly delve into the authenticity and reliability of scripture.

  • To think about Genesis as Dr. Walton explains is not to undermine the authority or reliability of scripture. All he is advocating is meeting the Bible on its own terms. Yes, the Word of God is relevant to all cultures, but the original context is an ancient one. So, a proper and full understanding of Genesis can really only be accomplished by taking into account the worldview of the ancients and what Genesis would have meant to them.

    One thing we should actually guard against is importing modern scientific categories onto the scripture; this is exactly what we do when we expect Genesis to speak about very particular issues of modern science. This is one way that we can actually dilute the message of the Bible by ignoring its literary qualities. It also tacitly acknowledges modern scientific principles to be on par with truths from scripture. This is not to say that there is no overlap between the truths of Genesis and modern science, but we can only take things to far without making the text say things that are totally out of line with its original context. Sure, original context won’t cover all of the meaning that a Biblical text can convey, but it is usually foundational to its meaning. Evangelicals do this often for other parts of the Bible; I do not see why it’s different when speaking about Genesis.

    Yes, we should read other scholars and get other opinions on these issues. But let’s try to understand what Walton is saying without immediately charging him with undermining the Bible.

Written by Faithlife Staff