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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The Really Recommended Posts this week have some mixed in that are sure to get your noodle going. Can a doctrinal system which emphasizes free human choice in salvation affirm total depravity? Is the Big Bang model wrong? Would evangelicalism label some of its “favorites” heretics? Do skeptics dehumanize Christianity? These, and more, are questions for you to ponder with this week’s reading choices. Let me know what you thought, and if you liked them, be sure to leave them a comment as well. That’s a major reason why we write–to get your feedback!
Skeptics Dehumanizing Christianity– Does the “New Atheism” affirm equality across lines of religion, culture, and the like? How do some skeptics talk about people of faith in ways which may dehumanize them? Check out this thought-provoking article to read some insights on these and other topics.
Do Arminians Believe in Total Depravity?– One constant point of contention between Arminians and Calvinists (and others like Lutherans) is the notion of “total depravity” and the charge that Arminianism denies it. According to this article (following Roger Olson), Arminius himself affirmed the doctrine. It was an interesting read, but I wonder how consistent it would be with the consequences of Arminianism after all. What are your thoughts?
One Very Misleading Article About Six “Heretics” Who Should Be Banned from Evangelicalism– Recently, I saw an article being passed around on how some prominent figures within Christianity often cited by evangelicals would allegedly be labeled as heretics by contemporary evangelicalism for some of their beliefs. I thought it was interesting, but also clearly mistaken on some of the figures mentioned therein. This article took the time I did not by outlining numerous errors in the argument about “consistency” and evangelicalism.
More Than a Piece of Jewelry (Comic)– The cross is more than a piece of jewelry to hang around your neck. Check out this poignant comment which puts that into perspective.
Selection Bias– The universe isn’t expanding after all! So said a lot of headlines around the web of late. Is that really the case? Check out this article from an astrophysicist explaining some difficulties with this supposed problem with Big Bang Cosmology.
Original Sin Defined
The writers of the Augsburg Confession (found in the Book of Concord) defined Original Sin as the belief that “…since the fall of Adam all human beings who are propagated according to nature are born with sin, that is, without fear of God… [we] teach that this disease or original fault is truly sin, which even now damns and brings eternal death to those who are not born again through baptism and the Holy Spirit” (BOC, 39).
Ezekiel 18:20a states, “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son.”
The word used for “soul” in this passage is the Hebrew word, nephesh. This passage leads to the objection that original sin cannot be true as I have outlined it, because it involves the son inheriting the guilt of the father.
The Question of the Soul: A Metaphysic of Original Sin
Three views of the soul are prevalent in Christianity. All of them presuppose metaphysical dualism. They are:
1) Our soul is constructed just as our physical body: Our soul is a half-and-half combination of the souls of our mother and father.
2) God specially creates each soul for each person when he/she is conceived/born/etc. Alternatively, God has already created every soul for everyone who will ever live, and puts them in a body when one is needed. The main problem with this view is that it would seem that if original sin is true (in the sense I have outlined it above), then God creates sinful souls for us.
3) Our soul is from Adam. There are no new souls for mankind, rather, we all share, in some sense, Adam’s soul.
I tend to favor 1) (now, anyway). But I favor a version of 1) which is not so much a half-and-half combination of souls, but a union of the totality of the souls we inherit. I originally wrote this post for my new site, but an insightful commentator lead me to heavily edit my views here. Just as we become one in the union of sex, so do our souls become one when we conceive a child.
What this means, then, is that the soul we inherit from our ancestors includes the inheritance of the guilt of sin. I must note the distinction here between sins which require action and those that do not. I have been pondering this idea for some time–is it possible to have sins for which we are guilty that we don’t commit? The answer I lean toward is “No”, but that doesn’t preclude original sin. The reason is that through the soul, we have literally participated in the original sin of Adam. When we are told that we have the “Old Adam” in us, this should be taken in a more literal sense than it often is.
We are told by Paul that there is a natural and spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44). These are both the inheritance of our ancestors. In a literal sense, then, there is the “old self” (Romans 6:6) and the Old Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45) which, from birth, enslave us to sin (Romans 6:6). Metaphysically I think this means that our soul has literally participated in, and is therefore held accountable for, the original sin. Original sin is a substantive entity–it corrupts our very nature. This is no mere inclination to sin, but a bondage to sin and a separation from God. It only makes sense to me on a metaphysical level to argue that this sin is inherited through our soul, which, like our body, maintains the union with Adam himself.
So how does this answer the objection from Ezekiel 18:20? Initially, one may argue it seems to purge the passage of all meaning. This is not the case, however. What Ezekiel is referring to is the sin of commission. That is, it refers to a sin which requires an action. Ezekiel is telling us that the actions of the father do not condemn the actions of the son. This does not, however, preclude the original sin in the metaphysical sense in which I have outlined it, because we have each participated in the action which causes original sin.
One final note is required, however. This is again a modification of my original thoughts due to enlightening discussion with my good friend’s comments. We must remember that this stain of sin, this original sin, has passed away for those who have faith in Christ. For, though the passages I quoted above discuss the nature of our original guilt, they immediately turn to salvation which is through Christ. Our New Adam replaces the Old (1 Corinthians 14:42-57), and our enslavement to sin is no more (Romans 6:6-14). Our original guilt, received through our sharing in the action of Adam, and our shared spirit with him, is no more.
The Book of Concord. Augsburg Fortress. 2000.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.