Featured Reviews, VOLUME 8

John Walton – The Lost World of Adam and Eve [Review]

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A Review of

The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate
John Walton

Paperback: IVP Books, 2015
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Reviewed by Craig Cottongim
It will take some time for the ideas presented in this bravely written book to trickle down into our mainstream thinking, but I hope not too long — our future might depend on it.  Will this book be controversial?  For some, more than likely.  Why will some people wrestle with this book?  It turns many of our commonly accepted concepts about Adam and Eve on their head.  By blasting you with a healthy dose of disequilibrium in nearly every chapter, all the while adhering to the authority and infallibility of the Scriptures, this book challenges many Evangelical beliefs about the Genesis account of Adam and Eve.

The Lost World of Adam and Eve is a follow up book to Walton’s superb Lost world of Genesis One, where he made the case the Creation account was about setting up the Cosmic Temple for God to take up residence and dwell in.  You will not have to read his previous book to comprehend this one.
The subtitle raises a question. The Lost World of Adam and Eve is subtitled, “Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate.”  Walton refuses to engage the scientific community based on technological evidence in this book.  And, he doesn’t take anyone to task who might disagree with the Biblical account of our origins, i.e. Richard Dawkins et al.  Therefore, it’s harder to answer what problems Walton is solving (if you are looking for who Walton is debating) since he doesn’t list clearly the opposing views or opposing groups who debate the Biblical narrative.  Still, his book is valuable and extremely useful to enter the discussion of origins with an eye on the scientific evidence and the Biblical text.
In the introduction of his newest book, Walton will make the case that science isn’t the enemy of faith and scientific conclusions do not pose a threat either.  It’s not until chapter 21 that Walton discusses at any length his understanding of common descent and the role evolution possibly plays in the debate.  Though he makes no effort to employ science in the book or use scientific explanations to back his ideas, he writes, “The fact that some wield science as a weapon against faith is no reason to think that science or scientists are the problem.  The philosophy of naturalism is the problem.”  His goal is to help us read the Text of the Bible, letting the Bible speak for itself, free from the blinders of tradition or cultural presuppositions and to read the Bible without the fear of science disproving the Bible.  His conclusion and summary at the end of the book is powerful and persuasive.
The greatest value of the book was I had to simultaneously open my Bible as Walton shook me out of my complacency with my “knowing” the story.  Each chapter (besides the introduction and the conclusion) is a proposition.  There are 19 propositions in all, with one written by N.T. Wright.  Several times I would read a proposition and say to myself, “No, that’s not right, it can’t be right.” and then as I read on as Walton unpacked his thoughts, I would open my Bible too, and sure enough what Walton said made perfect sense.
The book builds up momentum not so much through stringent interlocking sequential moves, but it’s methodology reinforces itself along the way.  And, the conclusions in some of the chapters refer back to previous chapters which would be distracting if you didn’t already read them.
With a Louis Agassiz style of methodology, Walton looks closely at of the Genesis narrative through the lens of its vocabulary within the literary context and genre, its unique grammar and syntax, at the Ancient Near East mindset and other cultural influences on the original audience, and he harnesses a rich lexical comprehension based on up-to-date research, all to make many convincing points.  Granted, at first blush his points almost all seem counterintuitive.
A few examples might help here of Walton’s ability to make us rethink what we know by raising multiple questions such as: Does Genesis 1 make a case for Creation ex nihilo?  Are the people in Genesis 1 Adam and Eve?  Was Adam really formed from dust and was Eve really shaped out of a rib?  Was the serpent in the Garden when he tempts Eve?  Was Adam a landscaper/farmer or was he a priest in the Garden?  Was our first sin disobedience, or was our real sin wanting to bring order to the world on our own?  You will see quickly this is not a book to skim through to back up or prove points you already believe, it is instead a book to read slowly to shape your ability to think about the text more accurately.
We are cautioned again and again throughout the book against our natural tendency towards eisegesis.  Instead of imposing our ideas on the text, we should rigorously seek to uncover the intended meaning of the text.  By constantly guiding us back to what the text actually says instead of trying to add further details, Walton keeps us true to the text in ways that might make us squirm at first, but eventually they help us settle into the story as God intended it.
Walton affirms the reality of Adam as a real person with a real past, but his thesis is the actual formation of Adam and Eve should be seen as archetypically instead of accounts of the method of how they were uniquely formed.   He clarifies he doesn’t use the word “archetype” in the way it is used in literature, but in the sense where archetype embodies humanity into a group.  Also, though Walton believes they are historical personages, he shows that Adam and Eve are Hebrew names, and the Hebrew language wasn’t on the scene when the first people were created, so, their names could not have been the Hebraic Adam and Eve.
Walton affirms whatever happened in Genesis regarding the origins of humanity, it was God who did it, but the Bible wasn’t explicitly clear on how God did it.  He slightly hints at an acceptance or an openness to Theistic evolution, but he definitely doesn’t push it.  To put things properly in their cultural context, Walton references Egyptian texts, mentions the influence of the Mesopotamians, Sumerians, and Babylonians, and he has one of the most concise and comprehensible comparisons of the Genesis origins narrative to the Gilgamesh Epic.
You might not agree with his conclusions on all the points he makes, but I doubt you will argue with his tactics.  Walton reminds us the Bible was written for us, but it wasn’t written to us.  We are not the original audience, and the text can’t mean what it never meant.  If we want to insist on a literal interpretation, that’s fine, but it must be based on the Hebrew and not the English.  I can easily see this book being helpful in a theology class both in an undergrad as well as a seminary setting.  But where this book becomes invaluable, is in teaching anyone about the proper methods of interpretation (academically or congregationally).

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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