Nerd Post Alert
From John Walton’s book The Lost World of Adam and Eve (IVP: 2015), pp 26-27.
The biblical account begins with Genesis 1:1, which is not a description of any actual activity of God. Alternatively, it is widely recognized that Genesis 1:1 serves as a literary introduction to the subject matter that the chapter is going to discuss, stating the activity that God will be involved in. The main supporting evidences for this conclusion are (1) the fact that throughout Genesis sections begin with a literary introduction (Gen 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; etc.) and (2) the literary form of the account, concluding with a statement that on the seventh day God completed his work (Gen 2:2). This work was the work of creating…Thus, God’s creating of the heavens and the earth took place in seven days. Genesis 1:1 is outside the seven days, so we know that Genesis 1:1 tells the reader what is going to happen in the seven days.
Walton goes on to support this by comparing Genesis to alternative ancient cosmologies and going through a fairly in-depth (but still reader friendly) exegesis of the days of Genesis with the question, “What does ‘create’ mean? Walton’s answer is that in the ancient creation texts, “create” had very little to do with material origins but with functions and ordination (and if you read those texts, you’ll see that he’s right). The question is not of material origins but as to how order came about. It is not about “making” the world ex nihilo, it is about making purpose to the world.
But back to the main point, it’s critically important to realize that Gen 1.1 is not a scientific statement about origins of the universe. Now, I personally think the Big Bang has a lot going for it (meaning, I’m convinced of it) and I also think along with my fellow apologists that Big Bang cosmology says something about God (namely, that there must have been a “banger”). The Kalam Cosmological Argument is fairly persuasive to me from a philosophical point of view. Thanks William Lane Craig for your work there–oh, and the Muslim apologists that developed it before you! But while all that’s good, we can’t read that back into the first verse of the Bible. It’s a temptation because of what modern science has shown us (and God knows that I’ve used that verse numerous times in the past for this reason). But is that what is going on in Genesis 1.1 from a textual point of view? Walton’s answer, and I agree with him, is “unfortunately, no.” This is a preface. The book end that is opposite the book end at Gen 2.2. It reads like those stories that give you the ending before they give you the beginning.
What are your thoughts? And what sort of pastoral implications does this distinction make?