Every once in a while you read a book that forces you to shift your perspective. Walton’s scholarship does precisely that. In The Lost World of Adam and Eve, he picks up and carries forward the work he did in The Lost World of Genesis One.
Walton’s main claim: the creation account of Genesis 1-3 is not a story about material origins—it’s a temple story of functional origins. The ancient Hebrew people who first heard the creation account of Genesis would not have assumed creatio ex nihilo. Instead, they would have read the scripture as a description of God organizing his home with us. (Walton states clearly that there are other passages that support the doctrine of ex nihilo. Genesis 1, however, makes no such claim.)
Walton’s work is meticulously organized with each chapter arguing for a specific proposition. Here are some of the key insights that struck me:
- Genesis 2 should be read as a sequel to Genesis 1, not an expansion of the creation of humans on the sixth day. A key factor here is the insight that ‘ādām in Hebrew can be read either as “humans” or as the proper name, “Adam”.
- Adam and Eve were specific people chosen by God to expand his rule and reign throughout the world. Walton argues that ancient readers would have assumed there were other humans outside the garden. This explains who Cain might have fled to.
- The Serpent in the creation story would have been understood as the chaos creature of non-order. Think of the Rahab figure from Job.
- When Adam and Eve capitulated to the serpentine chaos creature, they set themselves up at the centre of creation which allowed disorder to run free in God’s newly ordered world.
If you just read that list and want to argue why he can’t be right, I encourage you to read the book first. Walton is meticulous in his arguments. While he does believe that there is a historical Adam and Eve, he insists that the Bible does not claim that all humans descended from this couple alone.
In the end, Walton notes how essential a proper reading of Genesis 1-3 is for the next generation. We can choose to understand it the way we were raised and stand boldly for our faith in the face of mounting scientific evidence. In an impassioned moment, Walton suggests a better way:
Think, then, of our children and grandchildren. When they come home from college having accepted some scientific understanding about human origins that we do not find persuasive, are we going to denounce them, disinherit them and drive them from the doors of our homes and churches? Or are we going to suggest to them that there may be a way to interpret Scripture faithfully that will allow them to hold on to both science and faith? Can we believe that such a path does not represent a compromise that dilutes the faith but rather one that opens new doors to understanding that the next generation may find essential even though we find ourselves paralyzed on the threshold? (210)
The Lost World of Adam and Eve is an important work that will challenge and inspire believers who are committed to the authority of God’s Word.
—John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015).