John Walton followed up his book, The Lost World of Genesis One (my review is here), with The Lost World of Adam and Eve, an exploration of Genesis 2-3 and human origins. Walton is the professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College (he had a similar position at Moody Bible Institute previously) and a widely recognized expert on Genesis. I found his first book fascinating; this was one was certainly as well, but also quite provocative in its proposals.
He spends the first few chapters summarizing the thesis of his first book; articulating both the critical need for understanding the culture and ancient writings from the time period Genesis was written, as well as his theories reconciling science and faith in such a way that they can complement one another rather than be at odds. From there he builds a series of propositions regarding Genesis 2-3 and the origins of humanity. He builds off the idea that Adam and Eve are both literal individuals as well as archetypal, he makes the case that the description and creation of the Garden of Eden was language that describes sacred space, or a temple, and therefore Adam and Eve functioned in a priestly role for a possibly already existing humanity from which they were called. Ultimately, God’s creation was about order, an order that Adam and Eve disrupted by eating the fruit and essentially positioning themselves as gods (much like Satan looking at God’s throne and believing He could take it), with Christ’s eventual arrival about restoring order to creation.
While Walton clarifies he is not necessarily espousing this view (a safe statement for a professor at Wheaton), he does argue that there is room to believe what he proposes without compromising scripture or faith. For me, the most provocative proposals regarded Adam and Eve serving in priestly roles together (not one over the other), as well as the idea that humanity had already come into existence over time, from which Adam and Eve were called out of it (as Abraham was called out of humanity to father the Jewish race, and Jesus was called/sent to bring order). He writes, “just as God chose Israel from the rest of humankind for a special, strange, demanding vocation, so perhaps what Genesis is telling us is that God chose one pair from the rest of early hominids for a special, strange, demanding vocation” (p. 177).
Ultimately, part of Walton’s motivation in attempting to reconcile faith and scientific evidence is the reality that one of the more cited reasons for young people and adults leaving faith is feeling forced to chose between science and God. He closes his book with this thought: “Think, then, of our children and grandchildren. When they come home from college having accepted some scientific understanding about human origins that we do not find persuasive, are we going to denounce them, disinherit them and drive them from the doors of our homes and churches? Or are we going to suggest to them that there may be a way to interpret Scripture faithfully that will allow them to hold on to both science and faith? Can we believe that such a path does not represent a compromise that dilutes the faith but rather one that opens new doors to understanding that the next generation may find essential even though we find ourselves paralyzed on the threshold? Let us pray together that we can chart a path of faithfulness and stop the hemorrhaging.” (p. 210)
Overall, Walton’s book is packed with insights, thoughts, ideas and concepts that I will be wrestling with for a while. His expertise on ancient near eastern culture and literature is fascinating. While some of his ideas are more controversial than others, he definitely challenges the reader to look at Genesis, creation, and Adam and Eve with new perspectives. The book is both intellectually challenging as well as approachable to the casual reader. Definitely something worth reading and exploring.