The Lost World of Genesis One is lost on me

Read time: 8 minutes

I have finally got round to reading John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, and I have to say, I don’t see it.

Walton’s central contention is that what we have in Genesis 1 is an account not of the creation of the material cosmos but of the inauguration of the world as a temple for the creator God. He does not deny that the world is God’s material creation as a matter of theology, only that this is not the message that the author of the passage was trying to get across. In the context of the debate about origins there is an immediate benefit: we no longer need to map the chronology of Genesis 1 against scientific accounts of the formation of the universe and the emergence of life:

In summary, we have suggested that the seven days are not given as the period of time over which the material cosmos came into existence, but the period of time devoted to the inauguration of the functions of the cosmic temple…. (91)

This idea that the cosmos is depicted as a temple seems to me to have become quite commonplace, particularly for narrative theologians. J Richard Middleton, for example, has a section on “Mediating God’s Presence in the Cosmic Temple” in his book A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (46-49).

I have always been wary of it because I suspect it is part of a broader strategy to shift the emphasis away from the story of YHWH and Israel to a larger and more modern story about God and creation. Still, having read Walton’s book, I am surprised at how flimsy the argument is.

Walton claims that in the ancient world everyone knew that when a deity rests, he rests in a temple. So when it says that God finished the work of creation on the seventh day and “rested”, we are to understand this as a reference to the cosmos as a temple. This “rest” is not God putting his feet up after six days of hard work. It is a “settling down” after a crisis has been resolved; it is a return to the “normal operations of the cosmos” (72). The word for this new state, according to Walton, is měnûḥâ, the verbal form of which is found in Exodus 20:11: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested (wayyānaḥ) on the seventh day” (Ex. 20:11).

Now, to start with, I don’t see how “rested” in this context means “returned to normal operations”.

In Exodus 31:17 Moses is told that “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested (šāḇaṯ) and was refreshed”. Likewise, the people of Israel are told: “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest (tišbōṯ); that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed” (Ex. 23:12). Surely here rest on the seventh day is just that—rest and refreshment after a period of work. The detour by way of Exodus 20:11 gets us no further. In Genesis 2:2 we are only told that God “ceased” (šāḇaṯ) from his work.

A more substantive argument is drawn from the account of the founding of the temple in Psalm 132, where the temple is described as the “resting-place” (měnûḥâ) of the Lord. So Walton concludes:

After creation, God takes up his rest and rules from his residence. This is not new theology for the ancient world—it is what all peoples understood about their gods and their temples. (73)

But the argument is flawed. What the Psalm describes is not the rest of God after a period of creation but the rest of God after a period of wandering or homelessness. David says that he will not rest until he has found a “dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob” (Ps. 132:5), a resting place not for God only but also for “the ark of your might” (132:8). God has finally chosen Zion as his “resting-place for ever” (132:14). The language reflects the journeys and insecurities of the period of the tabernacle and the vulnerability of the ark of the covenant. There is no reason to impose this quite different narrative about the Mighty One of Jacob on the creation account.

Walton claims to have found further support for his argument in the story of Israel’s coming to rest in land:

But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety. (Deut. 12:10)

But it can hardly be said that this rest “allows life to resume its normal routines” (73). There were no “normal routines” to resume, only nomadic life in the wilderness, harried by enemies. The final inheritance of the promised land constituted not a return to normality but an end to the hardships of the exodus. As with Psalm 132, it is rest at the end of an arduous journey, not cessation of work at the end of creation.

The other major type of evidence that Walton cites in support of his thesis is the supposed close association of temple and cosmos in ancient thought. Again, the argument is suspect.

To be sure, the construction of a temple for the gods is anticipated in the creation stories, but this does not mean that the cosmos was conceived as a temple. It may have been the case that ancient temples were “considered symbols of the cosmos” (78) or as the world in microcosm, but that doesn’t make the cosmos a representation of the temple or a temple in macrocosm.

Walton says: “From the idea that the temple was considered a mini cosmos, it is easy to move to the idea that the cosmos could be viewed as a temple.” But whether or not the move was easy, he provides no evidence that the ancients actually made it.

To find pointers to the cosmos in the description of the tabernacle or temple is not the same as finding pointers to the temple in the account of the creation of the cosmos.

In fact, it rather appears that temples were needed precisely because the cosmos was not itself a temple. Walton quotes from a prayer about the founding of Eridu, noting that “the absence of a temple was sometimes part of the description of the precosmic condition” (77). But the line “No holy house, no house of the gods, no dwelling for them had been created” suggests that the world did not itself provide a house for the gods. If a temple for the gods was planned from the start of creation, it was because heaven and earth in themselves did not constitute an appropriate dwelling place. If the temple of Etemenanki was the “House of the Foundation Platform Between Heaven and Earth”, it was because heaven and earth were felt to be remote from each other rather than an integrated cosmic temple.

Perhaps, as Josephus suggests, the three-part structure of the tabernacle was intended to serve as an “imitation and representation of the universe”:

When Moses distinguished the tabernacle into three parts, and allowed two of them to the priests, as a place accessible and common, he denoted the land and the sea, these being of general access to all; but he set apart the third division for God, because heaven is inaccessible to men. (Jos. Antiq. 3:180-81)

But to find pointers to the cosmos in the description of the tabernacle or temple is not the same as finding pointers to the temple in the account of the creation of the cosmos. If the temple is “cosmic” in its design, it is because it is the dwelling place of the creator God in the midst of his people. But the Jerusalem temple is the cosmos in microcosm, not the cosmic temple in microcosm.

As far as I can see, Walton provides no direct evidence from Genesis 1 that the creation story was written with the structure or purpose of the temple in mind. The cosmos is not described as a holy dwelling place for the creator. Humanity is created in the image of God with a view to subjugation and rule, not as a priesthood. The earth is a place for procreation and industry, not for worship. The heavens are not said to be the throne of God, the earth is not his footstool.

Walton regards Isaiah 66:1-2 as the clearest example of the association of cosmos and temple in the Old Testament:

Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD.”

He thinks that we can see here “the elements of a cosmos-sized temple, a connection between temple and rest, and a connection between creation and temple” (82-83). But the passage is part of a polemic against Jewish complacency and the corruption of the sacrificial system: “He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man…” (Is. 66:3). We cannot draw broad conclusions about Jewish cosmology from such a rhetorically loaded text.

YHWH asserts his transcendent sovereignty and power as creator, but there is no reference back to Genesis 1. The questions “what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?” evoke the other narrative of Psalm 132—David’s quest for a permanent resting-place for the ark. At issue is simply the question of whether the Jerusalem temple is fulfilling its purpose.

It seems to me, therefore, that there is a one-way flow to the biblical argument about the relation between cosmos and temple. The temple is, in certain respects, like the cosmos; it represents or symbolises the cosmos—for the simple reason, presumably, that it is the place where the creator God dwells in the midst of his people. So we find the temple described in creational terms.

But the statement cannot be reversed. The Old Testament does not say that the cosmos is or is like a temple. We do not find creation described in temple terms.

I wish you would quit polling holes in my intellectual furniture. My worldview is taking a beating. I had thought this useful way of understanding Genesis 1 but now I need to examine the issue.

There’s been some discussion about this with regards to the Baal Cycle.

There are interpreters (Fisher, Levenson) who see in Baal’s construction of his palace the creation of the cosmos. They sometimes compare this to similar passages in the Old Testament. There is debate, though, over whether the shared imagery between building Baal’s palace and building the cosmos means that they are the same thing, or whether it is a way to invest Baal’s palace with cosmic significance.

On the biblical studies side of that discussion Meredith Kline also brings up the parallels with the Baal Cycle in Kingdom Prologue:

@Philip L Ledgerwood:

Interesting, Phil.

I don’t know much about the Ba’al Cycle, but it looks to me as though the palace of Ba’al is one among the many houses of the gods of the region, which would rule out the identification with the cosmos.

‘ “But, see there is not a house for Ba’al
like the gods, no court
like the sons/children of `Athirat….

Quickly his mansion/house is built,
Quickly is raised/erected/the uprearing of his palace.
Men go to/They [bring] from Lebanon (and) its trees/for (its) wood/timber,
To/From Siriyon (and/for) its choicest/precious cedars.
They do [–—] Lebanon (and/for) its trees/timbers
(To) Siriyon (and/for) its choicest/precious/finest cedars.

But maybe there’s more to it than that.

Kline, I notice, struggles to demonstrate the presence of architectural imagery in Genesis 1 (“barely suggested”) and relies instead on Job, Proverbs, Isaiah and the Psalms (26-27).

He quotes Psalm 11:4:

The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.

But the image here is of a temple in heaven, not of the heavens and the earth as a temple.

I couldn’t find his discussion of the Ba’al Cycle.

@Andrew Perriman:

I don’t know much about it, either. I was just aware of the discussion because I just finished a book about Ugaritic sources and what they may tell us about early Israelite religion. I also vaguely remember reading something about early-ish Jewish cosmology making Jerusalem the center of the known universe with some consonant equivocation between cosmological language and Temple language. Once again, the emphasis would be on the prominence of the Temple as opposed to defining the cosmos as a Temple.

@Philip L Ledgerwood:

To illustrate the debate about creation and temple in the Baal Cycle…

In The Ugaritic Baal Cycle: Vol. 1 Mark Smith notes Fisher’s argument that the palace of Baal “constitutes a microcosm of the whole world or cosmos” and draws a comparison with Psalm 78:69:

He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever. (77)

He then switches to Levenson:

Levenson… observes that creation and temple-building in biblical texts such as this one serve as a “homology” which interpenetrate descriptions of one another: creation can be rendered in terms of temple-building and vice-versa.

But Smith raises basically the same concern about this “homology” argument as I do about Walton’s claim that it is an easy move from the idea that the temple was a mini cosmos to the idea that the cosmos is a temple.

For the interpretation of the Baal Cycle, it is important to determine the significance of the “interpenetration.” While the Ugaritic passage evokes cosmic dimension and importance by drawing on cosmic imagery, this usage does not indicate that the building of Baal’s palace constitutes an act of the creation of the cosmos.

Thank you for this post. It’s a difficult thing to question the proposals of trained scholars like JHW. However, I found myself wrinkling my nose at his supposition of what the original audience would have been interested in. It seems he simply switches one form of concordism for another; he wants the text in concord with life: time, food, and whatever else the others were. Here’s my take. All of scripture is apocalyptic: it reveals. So, Genesis 1 reveals the heilsgeschichte of torah. Day7 is the Sabbath of Heb 4. Days 1-6 are the ages “appointed” by the Son (Heb 1). It seems to me the best approach for a uniform perspicuity.

@Travis Finley:

Hi Travis,

I don’t think he was trying to make the text concord with life directly but with the supposed structure of the temple, which corresponds to the organisation of the cosmos.

I’m afraid I don’t go with your “salvation-historical” reading. Yes, the author of Hebrews may have made some sort of typological or analogical use of the creation account in order to make his point about perseverance. But that has to do with how we read Hebrews, not with how we read Genesis. I think we have to establish and safeguard the historical reading of the passage before anything else. But that’s just my hermeneutic.

@Andrew Perriman:


I didn’t get the impression JHW saw the days of forming and filling as implying anything temple related. When I spoke to him, he basically confirmed his association with temple to Day7. His explanation of the days appeared to me to be predicated upon a natural referent in those days: Day 1 had to do with time; Day 2 weather; Day 3 food. Seems pretty concordist to me and by that I mean wanting to relate the text to the physical.

The history of salvation is Genesis-Revelation. It’s all apocaplyptic; that is, it reveals. From the beginning God reveals his labor of love to bring about the telos of the Torah: Sabbath. That is precisely what Paul means in Heb 4. Failure to move into the future/present Kingdom of God in Christ is what the whole previous story was about. The Son is the one through whom the “ages” were appointed. What ages? Those delineated as days 1-6 with the eternal kingdom culminating the work of the Father.
Thanks for the exchange.

@Travis Finley:

I quoted this in the post. Doesn’t it point to a much closer correspondence between the days of creation and an inauguration process?

In summary, we have suggested that the seven days are not given as the period of time over which the material cosmos came into existence, but the period of time devoted to the inauguration of the functions of the cosmic temple…

@Andrew Perriman:

I’m dubious. How do time (Day1), weather (Day2), and food (Day3) relate to a temple text? JHW doesn’t explain that. As I say’d, I asked him when the text becomes “temple text” for him and he say’d Day 7. I can go back to my podcast but I’m sure that’s what he say’d.

My hermeneutic ultimately depends upon a primacy of the uniformity of scripture; that is, the reader ought to be able to interpret the meaning of the text from the primary text itself, rather than extra-biblical. And the Deutero-history and prophets are that primary text. If you don’t know what Gen 1 is about, read the texts from which it stems. So, if we consider the heilsgeschichte which is the kingdom of God wherein he accomplishes his glorification of man through Jesus and does this through the guardianship of the Torah, then Genesis 1 seems at home.

Heaven and land are covenantal stoichaeia (people and temple)
tohu wa bohu is tumult and chaos of humanity (Jer 4:23)
Darkness is that^^ into which Light must come, etc.

The days, therefore, are the ages (Heb 1) of that story. Most take Genesis as the basis from which the prophets derive their language (darkness, light, sea, land, beasts, man, Sabbath). I tend to think it’s the reverse. Genesis was written out of the milieu of the exile and captivity and since Israel already knew who she was (heaven and earth) and that her days were propagating the future (Day7), Genesis 1 is that story. The Garden scene in 2 then makes a perfect bedfellow to passages like Ez 28.

@Travis Finley:

I get what you’re saying. But I don’t see why the exilic community in Babylon wouldn’t have wanted to construct its own cosmogony as part of a wider programme of idelogical self-preservation. After all, it is a central plank of the Jewish polemic against the Babylonian gods, notably in Isaiah 40-55, that they did not create the world and its inhabitants. Clearly the prophets are not arguing that Bel and Nebo did not create the covenant people.

Also, while there are some obvious parallels with the exile experience, the creation account runs through to the flood, Babel, and the calling of Abraham. By your account it becomes a story that swallows its own beginning.

@Andrew Perriman:

I suppose I would say, let Isa 40-55 do that. That’s not what Gen 1 is implicitly for. And your statement, “Bel and Nebo did not create the covenant people,” actually implies too much. Deuteronomy is replete with the warning not to go after false elohim bc Yahweh is Israel’s Elohim. So, that might/could actually be the case: “Stick to the plan, folks, do not veer off the path for another elohim’s crazy schemes. Yahweh is your Elohim and he created you, not those other knock-offs.”

Gen 1-11 only swallows its own beginning if its read through a certain lens. If—if—Genesis 1 is eschatological, then that changes the lens and the swallowing up doesn’t follow. I really like V Philips Long in his introduction to The Art of Biblical History. It changed the way I looked at Genesis 1 for the first time. If Genesis 1 is parable, a dark saying, and its wisdom is heilsgeschichte then, there really is no problem bc each of the subsequent stories are that as well. It’s the same history but depicted in other dark sayings. Genesis 1-11 is Beethoven’s 5th and Gen 1 is the opening four note motif.

Thanks again for the correspondence.

@Travis Finley:

There’s a glaring “implicitly” and a lot of “ifs” in that statement but no good literary reason—that is, nothing actually in the text—to think that Genesis 1 is eschatology rather than protology. It’s no more convincing than Walton’s claim that the passage describes the inauguration of the existing creation as a cosmic temple. It’s not constructed as a salvation-historical parable, it’s not framed as a parable, it has none of the features of Old Testament parables, there are no comparable “creation” parables that describe the formation of a people in the literature of the ANE as far as I’m aware (which isn’t very far, admittedly, but it’s the sort of evidence that might lend some credibility to your argument). And critically, whoever was finally responsible for the shape of the book of Genesis thought that the passage belonged before the flood, Noah, Babel and the summons of Abraham to be the beginning of a new creation in microcosm.

Happy to correspond.

@Andrew Perriman:

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I wouldn’t question my tradition if the text didn’t drive me in that direction. Sensus plenoir includes sensus fabulae. And so I challenge your premise that there is “no good literary reason—that is, nothing in the text—to think that Genesis 1 is…” what I suggest it is. And what I’m suggesting is nothing less than typology. I’m just cutting out the middle man which seems to be requiring the text to be something it is not: historical ante typological. Who says that’s the rule?

How much evidence would suffice for you to “see” that the text is meant to be read with eyes squinting (>.) at the text, investigating it as a dark saying, a proverb? I suggest this eensy-teensy indication: the moment (when reading the text), the moment, you begin to think or wonder, “What does this mean;” the moment you feel constrained to excuse the text for its “appearing” to say one thing for another is the moment you are being “told” by the text that there is more going on here than faubla nuda. Is there anything in the text you feel you must offer as way of explanation bc to take it str8FWD is awkward?

What we have here is fabula theologica, the sensus fabulae. For instance, Day 1. Day 1 cannot be physical light bc Day 4 is three days away. Now, Walton will say it is physical sunlight bc he’s reading it “functionally.” However, Jordan and Kline read it as the “shekinah.” And why do they do that when the reader would naturally take it to refer to what it implies: daylight? They do it bc a concordist view is unnatural and they feel constrained to offer an alternative. So, per my indication, the minute you offer an explanation of what this “light” is because it cannot be what makes sense of the sensus plenoir, you are venturing into my argument which is, “this” is not about “that.”

I’m dead set on the uniformity of scripture; and, thereupon, the ANE takes a back seat. So, the text is primary for me. Readers of the text ought to be able to discern its meaning in and of itself. And I know you don’t deny that just as I don’t deny the value of ANE and 2ndT. But I’m asserting that the text itself shows us from the start that it’s fabula theologica.

Here is where I am:

The audience (and this is scribal, not popular) would have known what the text was about bc they were the primary audience. Israel was the “heavens and land.” That this is so is indicated by (at least) Isa 65. I see the prophets as the fulcrum of the chiasm [>] of fabula tota: Revelation 20-22 is about Isa 65 is about Gen 1.

“In the beginning;” the beginning of what? (James Jordan suggests “berith” is akin to “first fruits” and this has rich eschatological implications which even he doesn’t tease out. He seems only to offer it as a foil to Sailhamer.)

“At the first” implies a “last,” an end. What is the end? Day 7, the Sabbath which is the cessation of the torah and the beginning again in new creation.

God began the work ( from which he did not rest until all was fulfilled, John 5:17 [ That the Father is ‘working’ until now ought to be the biggest clue for us to catch] ) of “heaven and land” as a solution to “tohu wa bohu” of the land (Jer 4). Israel becomes a microcosm of humanity and is to be the “appointed/bara-ed” Light shining in the darkness (John 1, 3). “Dusk to dawn” is a textual clue that concordism is not intended. No one measures one’s day from evening to morning. First of all, from a literal stand point that time frame is only 12 hours, not 24. So the merism is eschatological which means history is moving from darkness to light. Second, Daniel uses this imagery to speak of the “time of the end”(Dan8). My contention is that both Genesis and Daniel are speaking in uniformity. “Evening to morning” according to Daniel “refers to many days from now.” Which days? The time of the end. What end? The end of days? Which days? The last days? Last days of what? Last days of Israel’s torahed life (Deut 4:30; 32:28).

Doug Overmyer | Wed, 01/04/2017 - 16:32 | Permalink

“The Lost World of Genesis One” is the non-scholarly layman’s treatment of Walton’s “Genesis 1 is Ancient Cosmology.” It’s admittedly an overview. Walton rushes through the summary of his deeper work to get at the heart of the issue in among many Christians in the West: the Creation/Evolution debacle.

If you found the theological or cultural arguments of The Lost World unconvincing, then please, read the scholarly treatment, where he obliterates the objections in this post.

@Doug Overmyer:

Well, that’s a fair challenge. But I would still expect a popular summary statement to be more convincing. You’d think the strongest arguments would be there in sufficient detail to be testable. As far as I can see, the passages don’t do what he says they do. Surely there can’t be that much of a disjunction between the scholarly and the lay works?

Perhaps I’m missing something—and I would happily be proved wrong—but it seems extraordinary to me that the case can be made without providing a single instance from either the biblical or other ANE cosmogonies of the use of temple terminology in the account of creation—other than the statement that God “rested” on the seventh day.

But your mention of the creation/evolution debate is perhaps significant. I couldn’t help thinking that a polemical motivation (one with which I have great sympathy) has led to an over-reading of the passage. Personally, I don’t see what is wrong with just reading Genesis 1 as ancient cosmogony.

@Andrew Perriman:

Yeah, perhaps he wanted to address too much in this while keeping it short.

Admittedly, I came to Walton after reading Levenson’s “The Temple and the World”, and other Temple cosmology arguments, which had sort of shattered some of my preconceived ideas about Gen 1, so I was already primed for Walton’s argument. But I wanted more (as you state in the post), and so went on to “Genesis 1 AS Ancient Cosmology” (misstated the title above).

peter wilkinson | Thu, 01/05/2017 - 16:32 | Permalink

Andrew — I wonder if, inadvertently, you are providing fuel for the proponents of salvation history in your main criticism of Walton. It’s arguable that the Temple was created because it was evident that God was not residing in his creation quite as might have been desired. His universal right to rule became seen as a fact, but his universal manifest presence was less evident. He appears on unusual occasions, to particular people. The Temple reflected this reality.

From this viewpoint, the Temple reflected the purpose for which creation was properly and rightly designed. Eden was the birthplace of intimate friendship. It became the symbol of distance and internal exile in creation. The end of the Temple and the universal outpouring of the Spirit (multiple temples of the Holy Spirit in God’s people worldwide instead of one Temple confined to Jerusalem) were steps towards the recovery of creation’s purpose. That purpose will be completed when heaven and earth are united — Revelation 21:3; and when there is no Temple in the New Jerusalem — Revelation 21:22.

I’m not drawing out Walton’s argument. It’s a long time since I read the book. I’m simply helping things along theologically, as it were. There isn’t a one way flow from creation to temple but not vice versa. The fulfilment of the story in its later stages sheds light on the earlier part of the story. We need to read backwards as well as forwards — just as Jesus did in his exposition of the scriptures (eg Luke 24:27).

@peter wilkinson:

It’s arguable that the Temple was created because it was evident that God was not residing in his creation quite as might have been desired.

Is that a biblical argument? I can’t think of anything in the story prior to the construction of the ark of the covenant that would suggest that the creator was not resident in his creation but should have been. Pillars of fire and cloud, ark, tabernacle, and temple are all signs of God’s presence with his people, but what are the signs of his absence from creation? Does the exclusion of Adam and Eve from the garden entail the exclusion of God from his creation? Where in the Bible do we find Eden treated as “the symbol of distance and internal exile in creation”?

Isaiah repeatedly affirms the sovereignty of the God who sits above the circle of the earth, etc. Does he ever suggest that this conception is inadequate?

When the Old Testament speaks of the glory of God filling the earth it is in the sense that the nations acknowledge the glory of the God of Israel. I don’t think it presupposes the notion that the whole earth is the temple of YHWH.

“Temple” remains a sign of God’s presence in his Spirit-filled people, as you point out. But where’s the salvation-historical argument in that? There is no “recovery of creation’s purpose”. The old creation flees away, all the dead are raised to a new resurrection life, and a new creation appears.

It’s not quite true that there is no temple in the new creation. First, there is the city of God, which is the city of God’s presence and rule in the midst of his people, and “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev. 21:22).

I don’t see how this changes or sheds any different light on the basic cosmogonic reading of Genesis 1. Creation is not presented as a temple.

@Andrew Perriman:

I think it is quite a good argument. History as presented in scripture as well as in our own experience tells us that God is not as manifestly present in creation as many would long for, or think desirable. Rather, creation as we experience it in human history reflects something different. However, my summary is no less than exactly what scripture describes as regards God’s temple throughout the earth, and the ultimate trajectory of this process. Scripture must be interpreted backwards as well as forwards to understand its significance. Just as Jesus encouraged his disciples to do. Walton’s account is not without weaknesses, but broadly, he’s pointing us in the right direction.

@peter wilkinson:

But where’s the evidence? Where does scripture speak of “God’s temple throughout the earth”? Are you sure you’re not imagining it?

@Andrew Perriman:

I’ve already provided the evidence (for a worldwide temple). It’s just basic Christianity. The church, ie God’s people, throughout the earth, now forms the temple, as God’s dwelling place, in place of the Jerusalem temple. The future is for a city (the new Jerusalem) in which there is no physical temple, “because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple”. This simply elaborates the earlier statement in the chapter which speaks of the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven (ie the church), and God’s dwelling place being with man (ie in the church). This vision, which is already part of the now (eg Hebrews 12:2), modifies considerably our understanding of the OT temple, and also the destiny of creation (eg Romans 8:19-25; 1 Corinthians 15:28). Am I missing something?

Happy New Year, by the way.

@peter wilkinson:


Don’t want to pile up on you, but I have to agree with Andrew.  The way I see it, Eden was the original Temple on earth where God and his divine council (both His heavenly members [holy ones Ps. 82], and earthly members (Adam and Eve]) would meet.  After this it was the various physical temples, which would eventually be replaced by the Church (the New Jerusalem) as you pointed out.

With that said, I think Walton’s work is huge!  His recognition that Genesis is not a physical account, but a functional account is important and spot on (I think).  His problem was he still tried to apply it to the physical, which led him to his current position.  I think what drove him there, whether he knows it or not, was his eschatology.  If you have a physical end in view when you approach Rev 21-22 you’re forced to have a physical beginning as well since Revelation’s “first heaven and earth” (Rev 21:1) is a clear reference to Genesis 1’s Heaven and Earth. So, what was he to do?  He recognizes that Genesis isn’t a physical account but at the same time he has to tie Rev 21 and Genesis 1 together.  His solution is his Temple concept.  I disagree like Andrew.   I can’t find where creation is presented as a temple.  If it were, He would have had two temples at the same time (the earth and the temple in Jerusalem) until the Church came into being. Well the Church came in the first century and the old temple was destroyed.  If the earth was also a temple, why wasn’t it destroyed right along with Jerusalem’s physical temple in the first century?

peter wilkinson | Sat, 01/07/2017 - 10:52 | Permalink

In reply to by Rich


Because I like speculating, and sometimes without a shred of specific evidence to back it up, I suppose you could say that if Walton is right about Genesis 1 (and I’m not saying he is), then the creation temple lost its original purpose in Genesis 3, and the Jerusalem temple was part of the recovery process. The only possible substantiation of this is reading backwards from Revelation 21 (and other NT verses already cited) as the endpoint of a supposed trajectory. This puts me at odds with Andrew, who rules out reading backwards, and yourself, who I guess preteristically regards Rev 21 as a fully realised reality, and Genesis 1, reading backwards, as a metaphor for a spiritual reality, probably to do with Israel’s history rather than a cosmogenesis.

@peter wilkinson:


Yes, I would say the Temple (Eden) did lose its original purpose in Genesis 3.  Of course the Jerusalem temple was not the beginning of the recovery process.  There was the Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle, the first Temple and then the second Temple finally the Church, which has no end.

About reading backwards.  I’m not against reading backwards a little, it just shouldn’t be the standard mode of operation.  Certainly when something in the OT is not clear, we can bring some light to it very other texts.

Genesis, as a material creation account, has been a point of conflict for a very long time with good reasons.  It just doesn’t work, period.  it’s completely out order to be a physical account.  There is no getting around it.  Christendom has tried for a very long time to make it work with some of the most ridiculous work arounds anyone’s ears can stand to listen to.  Yet, people buy’em because they’ve 1) never had an alternative and 2) because of a distorted Eschatology — if you have a physical end in Rev. 21-22, then you have to cling to a physical beginning in Genesis 1.

I do read Rev. 21-22 preteristically.  Once I realized the end wasn’t a physical destruction of the universe it forced me back to Genesis.  I had to rethink it.  I wasn’t alone either.  Many understood this as well.  We started down this road many years ago.  See Tim Martin’s book, Beyond Creation Science (written 15 or so years ago).  While the concept has progressed (in my mind atleast) due to further study of ANE, the DSS and other Pseudepigrapha texts, the overarching concept, I think, is dead on.  Of course no one back then wanted to listen, but now some scholars (such as Walton) are suddenly starting to realize it’s not physical either and writing books about it.  And of course now suddenly people are willing to entertain new views on Genesis, a little.  People still just can’t let go of the physical.

as a metaphor for a spiritual reality, probably to do with Israel’s history rather than a cosmogenesis.

That’s not entirely correct but moving along the correct lines.  It does have to do with Israel’s history (how can anyone deny that when Jesus’, who is Israel embodied, ancestry is tied all the way back to Adam?), but Israel’s history is connected to man’s history.

If Adam was taken out from among mankind (I believe even Pete Enns, certainly Walton, sees Adam as not being the first human being to exist) and brought into fellowship with YHWH on behalf of mankind (YHWH’s priest and part of YHWH’s earthly divine council) and this event was the forming a cosmos (a heaven and earth), which includes mankind in general because YHWH is reaching out, and working in relationship to mankind via his priest Adam (Israel’s beginning), what does one call it?  Since YHWH entered into a (covenant) relationship with Adam, one might call it Covenant Creation. So, while it has to do with Israel’s history, it’s also a cosmogensis, the (functional) creation of a cosmos that establishes YHWH’s relationship to mankind via his priest.  It’s just not a physical cosmogenesis.  That probably wasn’t a very good overview, and could be stated much better, but it was a stab.  I’m certainly not as articulate with words as Andrew.

peter wilkinson | Tue, 01/10/2017 - 11:24 | Permalink

Just before the lost world of Genesis 1 is lost forever as it sinks below the horizon of our vision into the nether world of historic Postost articles and comment threads, a couple more observations.

Having picked up and reread Walton’s book, I think you are broadly right in saying there is nothing in the Genesis 1 account itself which directly leads us to think of it as describing a temple inauguration. I also think there is rather more in the account to suggest the material origins of the world than Walton allows. However, I’d make the following observations on your commentary.

I do find your rejection of an association of the cosmos with the Jerusalem temple rather too finely spun. If the Jerusalem temple is designed to reflect the cosmos, then it’s not a false argument to suggest that the cosmos is like the temple. If the cosmos was not like the temple, then the temple itself was falsely representing the cosmos. The association goes both ways.

When Isaiah suggests an association of the cosmos with the temple in Isaiah 66:1-2, it is not necessarily restricted to the immediate rhetorical purpose of the prophecy, namely an invective against complacency and corruption. There is no reason why more universal realities should not be asserted in the context of an immediate and more local issue.

I also do not think it is invalid to draw a trajectory of sorts from the endpoint of Revelation 21:2 and 22, and Revelation 22:3. The key words here are new Jerusalem, throne, temple and glory. The new Jerusalem is both a present reality (the church — Hebrews 12:22), and the future condition of creation (new heaven and new earth — Revelation 21:1). As far as the temple is concerned, there is no physical temple in the new Jerusalem, because the people of God have become the temple. The city itself, as the people of God, the new Jerusalem, is the temple, in intimate relationship with The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. This broadly reflects the association of church and Jesus as built together into a temple elsewhere in the NT.

This then leads us to reflect on the history of the temple itself, which is closely connected with the glory (kabod) of God, as the place where the presence of God as glory would reside. The history of the glory of God, and its meaning, is worth a separate thread in itself. I think you suggest that its meaning is somewhat less than is the case when you say “When the Old Testament speaks of the glory of God filling the earth it is in the sense that the nations acknowledge the glory of the God of Israel”. The temple as the dwelling place of God’s glory, his manifest presence, is accompanied in the OT by an expressed longing and prediction that this presence would fill creation — Numbers 14:21, Habakkuk 2:14, Psalm 72:19, Isaiah 40:5.

Then there is the prophetic narrative of Ezekiel, of the glory departing from the temple, and its future return. The issue has always been whether the return actually took place in the old dispensation, and if not, what its eschatological return would or did entail.

This may seem a long way from Walton and Genesis 1, but the issues raised in the rest of the biblical narrative concerning temple and creation are not — especially if the Genesis account was drawn up during the exile, when these issues, the temple question especially, were a subject of profound reflection.

There is more that could be said, but I just return to one of your points. You say that the the observation of the Jewish Sabbath is unconnected with an idea of the seventh day ‘rest’ as when God “returned to normal operations”. But Walton develops this by arguing that the sabbath was a day when man ceased from his own labours as a reminder of his dependence on God, who was always at work, in the sense of attending to the well-being of His creation. The work from which God ceased was the work of creation. He didn’t need to cease because He was tired, or needed to be refreshed.

Likewise, I don’t think it is true to say that the ‘rest’ envisaged in Psalm 132 is “the rest of God after a period of wandering or homelessness”. The ark of the covenant had been in one place for many years when David set about making plans for the temple. The “resting place for ever and ever” is much more than a rest after wilderness wanderings, but a vision of a social condition which accompanies the rest — Psalm 132:15. It looks beyond the immediate times, even the subsequent setting up of the temple in Jerusalem. This future vision is suggested by OT prophecy of a rather more distant future (Psalm 132:13-15 — Isaiah 2:1-5) and the suggestion in the NT of a trajectory of the meaning of Mount Zion which includes the church (Hebrews 12:22), and also the future dimensions of Revelation 21-22.

I think there is more in Walton’s Lost World to cause us to pause and take note of than you allow, especially when the whole history of the temple, and its metamorphosis in the New Testament, is taken into consideration.

Casey | Fri, 01/13/2017 - 22:51 | Permalink

Good thoughts on Walton’s thesis. While many acknowledge the relationship between the temple and the cosmos in the OT and ANE literature, to my knowledge Walton’s main thesis has not been widely embraced in full, though many do recognize contributions.

But specifically in regard to this:

“The cosmos is not described as a holy dwelling place for the creator. Humanity is created in the image of God with a view to subjugation and rule, not as a priesthood. The earth is a place for procreation and industry, not for worship.”

As I understand it, Temple inaugurations often included (climaxed?) with the placement of the deity’s image within. Without disputing the vocation of humans as vice-regents as a primary mode of image bearing, the parallel with images/idols of the gods in their Temples seem valid. It possibly also says something about hand-made images of God. And though Genesis 2 is a different account, I think a strong case can be made that 1 and 2 be read together and as compliments, at least theologically. In Genesis 2 and 3 the priesthood of humans in God’s Eden-temple is readily defended as well.


Casey, thanks for this, but…

Where is the evidence that temple inaugurations culminated in the placing of the deity’s image in the temple? I don’t recall anything from Walton’s book.

If Genesis 1 was intended to evoke the construction, structure or inauguration of either the Jerusalem temple or other ANE temples, why are there not much clearer linguistic or imagistic pointers in the text? In fact, why are there no pointers at all? As we have it, Genesis 1 connects the image not with priestly activity in the temple cult but with dominion over the natural order.

The climactic moment in the building of Solomon’s temple was the installation of the ark of the covenant (1 Kgs. 8). There is obviously no suggestion that an image of the deity is involved. The point is rather that God himself takes up residence in his temple—so once the ark has been installed, the “glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kgs. 8:11). If this was in the background to Genesis 1, there would have been no “image”; we would have had instead some statement to the effect that the glory of the creator God filled the earth. We don’t, because that’s not what the author was trying to say.

Genesis 5:3 seems to me to weigh strongly against the idea that “image” and “likeness” in 1:26-27 connote temple images: “When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” Isn’t the thought much more like Luke’s genealogy of Jesus which goes back to “Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Lk. 3:38). Cult images have nothing to do with it.

Finally, I don’t think that Eden is depicted as a temple any more than the cosmos is. Eden is a garden that needs cultivating. Adam and Eve are expelled from it. These are not temple themes. From the exilic perspective Eden perhaps corresponds to the land from which disobedient Israel is expelled. But in this story the temple is destroyed. Eden is not destroyed. Adam’s family does not perform a priestly function until they are outside the garden (Gen. 4:3-4).