David Johnstone

Notes on “The Lost World of Genesis One”, by John Walton

December 22, 2009

I’ve just finished reading The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, by John H. Walton. Walton is a professor of Old Testament and, judging by one of his other books that I have, is an expert on Ancient Near East thought.

In The Lost World of Genesis One, Walton presents and cogently argues for a novel interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis: Genesis 1 talks about functional origins, not material origins. Walton appears to make a very strong case for his view, so I look forward to seeing the scholarly reaction to this work. The arguments in this book go beyond everything I can remember reading — it appears that nobody has ever thought that Genesis 1 was talking about anything other than material creation. I’m also looking forward to some solid critical reviews of this work, especially from a young earth creationist perspective (which, in a way, appears to have “the most to lose” if this proposed reading of Genesis 1 is correct). There are quite a few reviews for this book online, with the vast majority being very positive, and I’m yet to read anything resembling a good negative review (I want something more than “this book supports evolution; therefore, this book is wrong”). While this book is written for a popular audience, a more scholarly version of this book is coming out soon, called Genesis One as Ancient Cosmology.

Anyway, here are my summary notes on the book. Each chapter argues for a single proposition, with the first eleven arguing for the interpretation, while the remaining chapters discuss related issues. There is a brief FAQ at the end. This definitely isn’t a substitute for the actual book, but hopefully this gives a reasonable summary of what it says.

Proposition 1: Genesis 1 Is Ancient Cosmology. Genesis 1 is an ancient cosmogony for people with a very different worldview to us. To understand Genesis 1 properly, both the words and the worldview must be understood, and translating the worldview is much more difficult. The Bible should not be understood concordistically — the Bible never teaches “new science”. The heart is spoken of as the seat of emotion — in the Bible, this is physiology, not a metaphor (see also biblical usage of the word “kidney”). In ANE thought, there was no such thing as “natural processes” as opposed to divine activity… continue reading


The doctrine of Scripture in Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology”

December 21, 2009

To continue the theme of my last post, here’s a summary of what Wayne Grudem has to say about the doctrine of Scripture in his Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. I’m focussing on what Grudem says about the authority, inspiration (although Grudem doesn’t use that word) and inerrancy of Scripture. I’m doing this so that I understand and remember more of what I read (so my primary intention isn’t that somebody can come along and know what Grudem says — although I certainly hope that that can happen if anybody reads this).

Grudem’s Systematic Theology is divided into seven parts that systematically explain the doctrines of Scripture, God, man, Christ and the Holy Spirit, the application of redemption, the church, and the future. Each of these parts is divided into a number of chapters, and in this, I am obviously going to be looking at the first part on the doctrine of Scripture.

The Doctrine of the Word of God

The Word of God

The “Word of God” can refer to a number of different things. Namely, it can refer to Christ as a person (John 1) or God’s speech. God’s speech can refer to: God’s decrees (such as God’s speech in Genesis 1); God’s words of personal address (such as God’s speech to Adam in Genesis 2); God’s speech through human lips (such as that of the prophets); and God’s written word (the Bible). The focus of the rest of this is on God’s written word.

The Canon of Scripture

The canon of Scripture refers to which books belong in the Bible, and which books don’t belong. There are many reasons to believe that the “canon of Scripture today is exactly what God wanted it to be, and it will stay that way until Christ returns.” (p. 68)

The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority

The entirety of Scripture is the Word of God. Although written by a number of humans over a long period of time, God claims the words of Scripture as his own. Scripture therefore comes with the authority of God, and thus cannot be challenged and must be obeyed. This is what Scripture teaches about itself, and we believe it.

It is impossible to prove that Scripture is true by appealing to a higher authority (such as historical… continue reading


The inspiration and interpretation of Gods Word, with special reference to Peter Enns

December 20, 2009

I found out that I have access to The Westminster Theological Journal because my university library has an institutional subscription to it. I’ve just finished reading through a two-part article titled The Inspiration and Interpretation of God’s Word, With Special Reference to Peter Enns, by James W. Scott. The first, in the Spring 2009 edition, is Part I: Inspiration and its Implications which explains the doctrine of inspiration, and the second, in the Fall 2009 edition, is Part II: The Interpretation of Representative Passages which looks at how a number of difficult passages a dealt with in light of the doctrine of Scripture. What follows in this post is a summary of the two papers. My goal is to fairly and accurately summarise the content of the papers, without commenting on the validity of the views expressed or the correctness of the characterisation of other views that are interacted with.

Inspiration and its Implications

This document aims to explain the doctrine of inspiration and its implications for the interpretation of the rest of the Bible. Peter Enns’s ideas, as set out in Inspiration and Incarnation, are to be strongly criticised. Peter Enns was a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary — “traditionally a bastion of uncompromisingly conservative Reformed scholarship” — but was suspended in 2008 due to his views on inspiration and subsequently left the seminary. Enns’s idea (see also this) is that inspiration is analogous to incarnation, so like Christ, Scripture is both fully divine and fully human. Enns focuses on the human side, which means that “God, in order to communicate effectively with ancient peoples, adopted their ways of thinking, their worldviews, and their ways of interpreting Scripture … As a result, Scripture contains mistaken ideas, discordant teachings, and (in the NT) attributions of meaning to the OT that was not originally there.” (p. 130)

Methodology

There are two ways to develop a doctrine of Scripture. You can look at what it says about itself in didactic passages like 2 Timothy 3:16 (“All Scripture is God-breathed…”) and develop a doctrine of Scripture from that — what the Bible claims to be. Alternatively, you can evaluate the entirety of the Bible (the facts or phenomena of Scripture) and develop a doctrine of Scripture from that — what the Bible actually is. The difficulty is that what the Bible claims about itself does not always easily match the apparent facts of… continue reading


Spurgeon on evolution and the age of the earth

December 17, 2009

Here’s something that I suspect most people don’t know: Charles Spurgeon had no issues with the earth being very old and countless generations of beasts living and dying before mankind appeared. From a sermon on unconditional election, preached on September 2, 1855:

Can any man tell me when the beginning was? Years ago we thought the beginning of this world was when Adam came upon it. But we have discovered that thousands of years before that God was preparing chaotic matter to make it a fit abode for man, putting races of creatures upon it who might die and leave behind the marks of His handiwork and marvelous skill before He tried His hand on man.

Now Spurgeon was no friend of biological evolution. From a sermon preached on August 31, 1890:

If any of you shall live fifty years, you will see that the philosophy to today will be a football of contempt for the philosophy of that period. They will speak, amidst roars of laughter, of evolution; and the day will come, when there will not be a child but will look upon it as being the most foolish notion that ever crossed the human mind. I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet; but I know what has befallen many of the grand discoveries of the great philosophers of the past; and I expect that the same thing will happen again.

(See also this or this or this or this.) Even though he strongly opposed evolution, he evidently did not think that “death before the fall” is a problem for a correct understanding of the Bible and redemptive history.


Evolution, chance, and the sovereignty of God

December 12, 2009

I was reading this book review of Science & Christianity: Four Views, and amongst other things, I noticed that, especially in the discussion of evolution, there is a very definite distinction made between God’s interaction with the world and natural processes. That is, God does some things, but other things naturally happen.

I have seen the idea of biological evolution criticised a number of times based on this way of thinking — evolution is a natural process that is guided by chance and is therefore opposed to the belief that God created the world. Louis Berkhof says this in his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem also says this in his Systematic Theology, the author of the aforementioned book review assumes it, and I have seen this argument expressed in many other places.

However, to me, this argument does not seem valid if one accepts the doctrine of the sovereignty of God as it is commonly understood in Reformed theology. If God is sovereign, then chance events — like the rolling of a dice (Proverbs 16:33), or the random errors that occur in DNA replication — are not really random from God’s perspective. In fact, God is in complete control of it all, and everything is happening according to his sovereign will. Natural processes are one of the things that God does.

Consider the weather. The Bible is quite clear that God is in control of the weather (Psalm 42:7; Psalm 135:6-7; Psalm 148:8; Jeramiah 10:13). But we also know that the weather is a natural process. We know about the hydrological cycle and meteorologists are able to predict the weather with some success (the atmosphere is a chaotic system which makes it very hard to predict, but that is beside the point). The point is: the weather is a natural process, but this does not mean that God is not in control of it.

As an aside, this is something that the peoples of the Ancient Near East kind of got right (still wrong, but for different reasons). According to John Walton in his book Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, “the term ‘natural world’ would be meaningless or nonsensical to them. There was nothing about the world that was natural. There was no purely natural cause and effect, no natural laws, no natural occurrences…” The gods, according to ANE thought, directly controlled everything that happened… continue reading


First post

November 17, 2009

So here it is. This site is only partially complete so far. Image galleries coming soon (I have them working – I just need to get some images together to put in them), and I have plenty more ideas of things I can do with this site.

As for this blog, I plan on writing about stuff that is on my mind, and the content will probably vary a bit (in all important metrics: topic, quality, interest etc.), but that’s okay. I think it’s likely that I’ll write about what I’m reading at the time (after all, I should be thinking about it), so here are a few books that I am reading now or have read recently:

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