John Walton’s latest book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve is primarily an exegetical attempt to get at what the Bible teaches about Adam and Eve. Walton applies his insights from the Ancient Near East (ANE) to the study of the Bible. Perhaps the central focus of the text, then, is the notion that unlike us, those who wrote the Bible and were its first audience would look not for material origins but rather functional origins and purpose. When applied to the topic of Adam and Eve, this yields a number of surprising conclusions about what the text is intended to mean.
Walton argues that the Genesis creation account does not specifically tell us how Adam and Eve materially came to be but rather is an account of God giving them their functions as the image of God, ushering in order against the chaos. His view is one which sees Adam as archetypical head of humanity rather than necessarily being the first ever human. Adam and Eve were chosen by God to become God’s representatives in the world.
Many intriguing arguments are put forward by Walton once he has established what is the central thesis–that the text is concerned with functional, not material origins. These include reading Genesis 2 as a sequel to rather than recapitulation of Genesis 1, the use of the term “very good” and “good” in the text, the meaning of “formed from dust” and from the rib, the archetypal meaning of Adam and Eve, the real existence of this couple, the priesthood of the couple in sacred space, our role as bringing order from disorder, the “serpent” in the Garden, and more. Each chapter is filled with compelling arguments and sometimes surprising conclusions.
Because the worldview of the ANE was not concerned with material origins, the questions we often ask of the text like “Were Adam and Eve the first humans?”; “Are we all descended from Adam?” and the like are questions which the text is not intended to answer. These are questions from our background, not from the background of the text. Thus, Walton argues that there can be much openness to the answers to these questions. When we come to the New Testament discussions of Adam and Eve, Walton (and the contribution from NT Wright) argue that this is why the notion of federal headship (though not necessarily material/genetic headship) is probably in mind.
Readers who are unconvinced by the notion that we should apply ANE insights to our reading of the text will be challenged to support that claim. Walton cogently argues that although there is not a 1-to-1 correspondence between the worldview of the ANE and the Bible, it is highly questionable to assume that the writers and audience of the Bible would not have been influenced by their background and cultural understanding.
Regarding the science, Walton readily points out that he is not an expert in the area but defers largely to the experts. He applies the exegetical arguments to questions of original sin, federal headship, and the like in the context of modern scientific findings, though he does so in such a way that he retains his commitment to teach what the text does rather than trying to force it to speak of our concerns.
Many (most?) readers will find this book challenging on a number of levels because Walton so readily exposes our presuppositions about what the text should say. Very often Walton simply points readers back to the text to reveal how often we have our expectations bring meaning to the text rather than allowing it to speak for itself.
+Excellent insight into the ANE background of the Old Testament
+Strong exegetical argument with a commitment to understanding the text
+Coherent with the rest of Walton’s thought
+Challenges our presuppositions about the text
-A bit difficult to pin down exactly what his view is of original sin
The Lost World of Adam and Eve is a fantastic work and one which needs to be on the shelf of anyone interested in the topic. It is surprising, challenging, and frequently enlightening. Whether one agrees with Walton or not, this book is a must-read.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book courtesy of InterVarsity Press. I was not obligated to write any sort of review whatsoever. My thanks to the publisher for the copy.
Origins Debate– Read a whole bunch more on different views within Christianity of the “origins debate.” Here I have posts on young and old earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolutionism, and more!
John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2015).
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