The Lost World of Walton
Why John Walton’s Lost World books are a lost cause.
Published: 14 March 2019 (GMT+10)
John H. Walton taught at Moody Bible Institute for 20 years, and is now Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, Illinois, USA. Recently, he has been busy publishing a string of paperback books, titled The Lost World series. To date, Walton has published The Lost World of Genesis One (2009); The Lost World of Scripture (2014); The Lost World of Adam and Eve (2015); The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest (2017); The Lost World of the Flood (2018); and most recently The Lost World of the Torah (2019). Walton is suggesting, by his series titles, something has been ‘lost’, but what exactly?
Walton is proposing that the traditional, historical understanding of much of the Bible is mistaken. Hence, it is the correct understanding of these things that Walton suggests has been lost—until now. According to Walton, his recent series reveals how these fundamental subjects should be correctly interpreted—which means, in reality, a re-interpretation of Scripture, to accommodate millions of years of evolution into the Bible.
Walton is highly placed and influential, and his books appeal to middle-of-the-road evangelicals, struggling in the area of science and faith. Sadly, he is offering academically attractive, easy-reading reasons not to believe the historical record of Genesis 1-11. And, in that regard, he is promoting a compromised view to a wide audience, making his influence on the church a dangerous one. Therefore, we need to pray for him and those influenced by his writings, and be aware of what is being taught—hence this brief overview of three books that affect the origins debate the most—the Lost Worlds of: Genesis One, Adam and Eve, and the Flood.
Walton’s Lost World of Genesis One
According to The Lost World of Genesis One, Walton has a new way of reading Genesis 1—so new in fact, that no one in the last 2000 years of church history has thought of it—including the Church Fathers1 (who were, to a man, believers in a supernaturally created young earth, ex nihilo, by Divine fiat). According to Walton, evidence unearthed by Ancient Near East (ANE) experts has enabled a new interpretation of the text, specifically the ‘Cosmic Temple’ interpretation, based on what he terms ‘ANE thinking’. However, what Walton thinks of as the typical ANE mind-set has been criticised elsewhere as being “simply false”, based on an over-generalization from very little data.2 And if we need to become experts in the thinking of the ANE and rely upon Walton to tell us how to interpret our Bibles accordingly, then there is a problem. The Reformers’ position3 was always that Scripture interprets Scripture, and that we don’t need the Pope or a priesthood to interpret the Bible for us, and that, by extension, includes biblical scholars like Walton. Biblical scholarship can inform our thinking, but it should not be elevated above Scripture itself.
Walton’s hypothesis revolves around re-interpreting Genesis 1 in terms of functional origins, rather than as a historical account of the material origins of the created universe. And this is Walton’s methodology from here-on-in, to minimize and dismiss the historical, physical realities in favour of spiritual, theological concepts—making his approach similar in some ways to the ancient heresy of gnosticism. But one of the fallacies in Walton’s thinking is that he frequently presents a false dichotomy between the biblical author’s concern with purposes/functions and his descriptions of things coming to exist materially in space-time. Genesis is categorically concerned with establishing both. God clearly establishes the material origins of various objects and outlines their functions within Creation Week.
The way Walton’s theory works out is this: God reveals Creation in terms of an ANE ‘cosmic temple’ which He inhabits, and in which the created order plays its part. Walton reasons that this revelation was given over a period of seven literal days, where God is declaring that Creation is glorifying to Him. The recipient of this ‘revelation’, Walton hypothesizes, could have been Moses, but not Adam and Eve.4 How Walton knows this, we are not made privy to. But a simple reading of Creation days 1 and 3 of Genesis 1 reveals obvious material components—proto earth and the Great Deep—day 1; dry ground, seas, plant life—day 3. Clearly, on day 7 there are no material components created, because God declared Creation perfect and complete, and rested from creating. Walton’s reasoning for separating function from material origins at this point is completely unconvincing as you cannot have the world functioning without it having been materially created.
Not until the Q&A section at the back of the book does the rubber hit the road in terms of what Walton’s theology implies. And, as we shall see, this is merely another attempt to get around the plain meaning of Genesis, so as to make room for deep time and evolution. When it comes to dinosaurs and fossil hominids, he states, “these creatures could be part of the pre-functional cosmos—part of the long stage of development that I would include in the material phase.”5 By this, Walton is clearly allowing for death before sin. His treatment of Paul’s categorical statements regarding death passing to all Creation because of Adam’s sin (Romans 8:19–23) does not even appear in the book, which is a striking omission.
Walton continues: “Since the material phase precedes the seven days of Genesis 1, these would all be relegated to the obscure and distant past. The anthropological specimens would not be viewed as humans in the image of God. They would not be assessed morally (any more than an animal would), and they were subject to death as any animal was. Most did not survive alongside the humans that the Bible discusses, and others would have died off early”.6 Walton’s statement is both bad theology and bad science, allowing for death of creatures that are essentially indistinguishable from modern humans prior to the Fall. Furthermore, Walton’s dismissive moral assessment of these human ancestors implicitly allows for violence, deceit, murder, rape, theft and so-forth, all before sin entered the world at the Fall, a truly bizarre and un-Biblical position to take.7 These “anthropological specimens” he is vaguely referring to, would include Neanderthals, which showed every evidence of being fully human, who lived with, interbred with, and died alongside ‘modern’ humans.
The real thing lost in Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One is his commitment to Genesis as history. All the ramifications of allowing for millions of years of evolution and its process of death, bloodshed and suffering before the Fall, contradicts the plain message of Paul and the clear teaching of the Lord Jesus, who placed mankind at the beginning of Creation (Mark 10:6).
Walton’s Lost World of Adam and Eve
In a similar vein, Walton continues his catalogue of errors within his follow up work, The Lost World of Adam and Eve. The issues he covers are of fundamental importance to our understanding of not only Genesis, but the Gospel itself.
Walton continues his either-or thinking from The Lost World of Genesis One by denying that the account of Adam and Eve’s creation is about material origins. Because of his false dichotomy, he concludes that the account is only about functional origins. In particular, he sees the creation of Adam from dust and Eve from Adam’s rib as purely archetypal. He admits that Adam and Eve could have been historical people, but maintains that both Genesis and Paul treat them as archetypes, primarily representing humanity. However, Paul and the early church were clear in their thinking regarding Adam as the first formed man, (the proto-plast).
Regarding Eve being formed from Adam’s rib, again Walton brings his hermeneutical cunning to bear in order to separate the physical from the theological. His dismissal of the physical reality is just that, a glib dismissal. He reasons that Adam did not think Eve had literally been taken from his side when he said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). Walton states, “More than a rib is involved here because she is not only ‘bone of his bone’ but also ‘flesh of his flesh’.” This is such shockingly poor logic, as Scripture does not limit Adam’s operation to extracting just a dry bone. The text actually states that God “caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh” (Genesis 2:21). Flesh was evidently involved, which is why Adam said what he said. Regarding the rib itself, Walton notes that the Hebrew word employed can be used to mean different things in Scripture (depending on context), but generally refers to a ‘side’ of something. Having concluded the word means different things in different contexts, he then forces a false dilemma on the reader: “On the basis of Adam’s statement, combined with these data on usage, we would have to conclude that God took one of Adam’s sides—likely meaning he cut Adam in half and from one side built the woman.”8
Walton clearly wants the reader to conclude that this is all symbolic language, not to be taken literally! Obviously, taking a ‘whole side’ from Adam would necessitate his quick demise, whereas the removal of one rib is not an unreasonable thing for the reader to grasp. Those familiar with modern medicine know that the rib is the only bone in the human body that can re-grow, and so was no great permanent loss for Adam.
But Walton sees the whole episode as visionary, and tries to make the ‘deep sleep’ of Adam into a revelatory experience, and therefore not a statement “about the material origin of woman.”9 However, even here, Walton fails to grasp that the revelation came when Adam awoke and saw Eve with his eyes, not during his sleep. It was only when Adam awoke that he proclaimed: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man..” (Genesis 2:23). And as the text tells us what God did, He obviously conveyed this to Adam and Eve, which is why marriage is based on the revelation of what God actually did, rather than a ‘vision’ that had no basis in reality.
In arguing away from the plain reading of Scripture, Walton makes some bizarre statements. For instance, he argues Genesis 3:20’s phrase, Eve was “mother of all living,” should not be taken literally as a biological statement that we are all genetically descended from Eve. Why? Because “living” as Walton reasons, “is a word that can refer to all creatures, yet all animals are not biological descendants of Eve.”10 This is a blatant equivocation fallacy (calling two different things by the same name). The context of Genesis 3:20 is obviously referring to all living people, not the sum total of all living creatures.
Regarding the genealogies of Genesis, which link Adam to Christ in Luke 3:23–38, Walton asks if the hermeneutical issues really demand that Adam was the first man, and if theology is really being built on that concept, or if, instead, God simply used the Israelite’s “contemporary concepts as a framework for communication?”11 Walton’s question, though, is divisive, as it implies God is being deceitful with the Israelites. Regarding these “contemporary concepts” that the Israelites would understand, God clearly communicated in the Bible that He chose Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans (Genesis 11:31; 12:1–5), and that He chose Israel from the nations (Deuteronomy 14:2). So, if God chose Adam and Eve from an existing population, as Walton suggests, the idea of choosing would be a ‘contemporary concept’ already familiar to Israel, and if that was indeed what God did, surely He could have communicated that simple concept to Israel. But the concept of God’s choosing Adam and Eve from an existing population is not only completely absent from, but contradicted by the Creation account. In suggesting God perpetuated a false idea in the minds of ancient Israelites, merely to accommodate them, and then proceed to build theological ‘truth’ based on their miscomprehension of history—is surely to charge God with duplicity and deception. This is a very serious charge, which Walton skips over much too easily.
There is much more that could be said about Walton’s take on the Genesis account of Adam and Eve’s creation, but space does not permit. Suffice to say this work is a subtle, but full-frontal attack on the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. As such, it must be rejected by the evangelical community as a dangerous work of false teaching.
Walton’s Lost World of the Flood
In The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, theology and the deluge debate, (2018), Walton teams-up with Tremper Longman III. Together, they try to persuade evangelicals to abandon the biblical Flood as a literal global event in favour of a local flood. Although they argue Noah’s Flood was an historic event, the Bible, in their opinion, does not give us a description of that event, but only a description of its theological importance. In fact, what they propose is a direct contradiction of what Christ and the New Testament writers plainly taught. For instance, Jesus clearly taught the universal scope of Noah’s Flood, stating that the Flood came and “destroyed them all”, referring to all those not on the Ark (Luke 17:26–27). Also, the New Testament writers (Hebrews 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5) all, without exception, treat the Flood as historical and universal in scope, judging the whole earth and all of humanity, except for those preserved by the Ark. Remarkably when one turns to the Scripture index at the back, two of these essential texts do not even appear (Hebrews 11:7 and 2 Peter 2:5)!
Although the authors recognize that Genesis does describe a global catastrophe (listing all seven reasons given in the account as textual proof)12 they deny that the Flood was in fact global—rather they claim that it was only local. Furthermore, because they are committed to the ‘out of Africa’ model for human evolution,13 in their thinking, there never was a time when humanity was concentrated in one place so that a local flood could wipe them out. This means, for the authors, there were people that survived the ‘flood’, something clearly contradicted by the NT scriptures. The authors at this point expose their a priori commitment to the authority of evolution, rather than the authority of Scripture. They demonstrate what a low view of Scripture they really have: “The Bible describes a worldwide flood, yet absolutely no geological evidence supports a worldwide flood”, which in a previous sentence they admit leads one to conclude that Scripture contains “from our twenty-first-century Western perspective … an error or at least a contradiction.”14 However, because of Longman and Walton’s position that Scripture is not concerned with the material aspects of the Flood, he maintains that to conclude the Flood was global or local is equally erroneous. His position is fallacious, as chapters 6–8 of Genesis are taken up with specific details describing the global Flood in material terms.
Longman and Walton spill much ink in their criticisms of creationists, which read like the tired old canards usually raised by atheists—but it is sad when they come from those who claim to be fellow believers. For instance, they think that the description of Noah’s Ark in Genesis 6:14–16 cannot possibly be anything other than ‘hyperbole’ because ancient ships were never that big.15 However, they seem oblivious to the evidence for the massive Chinese wooden treasure ships and other large ships of antiquity, which demonstrate that wooden ships comparable to the size of Noah’s Ark are feasible. For Walton, the Ark’s description, along with the Flood itself, is simply ‘hyperbole’, and according to him the original readers would have read it that way; but how they know this is not explained.16 Longman and Walton have mythologized the boat, and therefore missed the point of Scripture as a reliable witness of historical truth.
Stephen O. Moshier (Wheaton professor of Geology and BioLogos blogger)17 wrote ‘proposition 15’18 which maintains that there is no geological evidence for the Flood, and that the vast majority of geologists do not accept Flood geology.19 However, consensus has never been a good gauge of truth, as the history of science has demonstrated many times over. There is a long list of failed scientific paradigms, at one time held by the majority. Moshier’s chapter is a treatise on uniformitarian thinking, assumed at the outset. Moshier was not present to directly observe any of the geological processes he believes in but, a priori, views everything through the lens of ‘the present is the key to the past’. This is applied vigorously to his sweeping critique of Flood geology, that nothing observed today can explain the amount of water produced during the Flood from rainfall or subterranean sources.20 However, the Genesis account does not describe the events of Noah’s Flood in terms of anything like what we observe today.
Moshier’s critique of mainstream creationist explanations for the Flood involving catastrophic plate tectonics (CPT) is ignorant and disingenuous, claiming that “physical constraints and mechanical properties of the earth’s crust” are “ignored.”21 This is simply not the case, as Dr John Baumgardner’s TERRA computer modelling (which became a standard geophysics industrial software package), solved for multiple physical constants, properties and energy conservation, in order to model the formation and movement of tectonic plates during the Flood. However, Moshier does not acknowledge or engage with Baumgardner’s evidence, whose name does not even appear in the footnotes.22
Moshier raises a series of five straw-man arguments23 which he then proceeds to demolish, as if offering proof of the weakness of Flood geology. The following is a brief response:
- Moshier says that Flood geologists explain seashells on tops of mountains as evidence the Flood washed the shells into place. Moshier proposes instead that the shells were originally part of ocean floor sediment which was uplifted during plate tectonic activity. Had Moshier been more aware of CPT or similar flood geology models, he would see that the idea of shells washed into place on tops of mountains is not proposed by creationist geologists; rather the catastrophic uplift of seafloor sediments explains mountaintop fossil shells.
- Uniform rock strata covering entire continents, despite Moshier’s dismissal, is excellent evidence for the Flood and these continent-wide layers are well understood within a Flood geology framework, particularly in north America.
- Moshier attempts to cast doubt on the re-appraisal of the Coconino sandstone as a marine deposit by Flood geologists. He fails to mention any of the quantitative work done to demonstrate that sand waves in the Coconino are non-aeolian (windblown). Their low angle of repose and marine environment erosional and mineral associations clearly point to them being marine dunes.24 A Flood explanation also makes better sense of the animal trackways he mentions as ‘proof’ against the Flood.
- Moshier claims that bent strata in Grand Canyon exhibit “abundant evidence of brittle fracture and slippage along surfaces” according to “mainstream geologists” (citing in a footnote a single page from an MA thesis).25 The evidence, however, strongly suggests such folding occurred while the sediments were wet.
- Moshier attempts to offer much (supposed) evidence against the Flood, several charges of which can be answered here. Salt deposits are seen as a “serious problem for Flood geology”—not so, when they are shown to be, not evaporates, but catastrophic magmatic intrusions. Clay formation is also proffered as a major blow to Flood geology as, in Moshier’s view, it can only be formed as a result of soil weathering and slow run-off and deposition. However, it has been shown that fine clays and muds come out of suspension quickly in high speed water flows, as would be typical during the Flood. Limestone deposits likewise are interpreted within a strict grown-in-place uniformitarian perspective, and therefore as proof against the Flood. However, evidence shows fossil limestone contains the hallmarks of catastrophic deposition. Moshier argues against the possibility that the Flood could erode and deposit sediments thousands of meters thick. This would be impossible, he claims, due to slow water velocities, which he calculates on the basis of the average water depth increase and decrease needed to cover the mountains during the flooding and recessional stages. However, this again is a straw-man argument as it requires Flood geologists to adhere to a tranquil Flood scenario. No such constraint is necessary when a straightforward reading of the Genesis account implies an extremely violent initiation to the Flood.26 It is not vertical movement of water but lateral movement which would give rise to the erosional energies required to lay down and carve up the massive global sequences of thick strata. Water movement due to uplift and sinking of land would have been sufficient to cause extremely high energy environments.27
Much more could be said about The Lost World of the Flood. Suffice to say it is a subterfuge and a treatise on how not to believe the Bible. The section on geology by Moshier is also full of misinformation; this book should therefore not be commended. But together, the authors of The Lost World of the Flood play fast-and-loose with biblical authority and inerrancy.
These three works by Walton represent a subtle, but serious attack on biblical inerrancy. In denying the physical realities taught in Scripture regarding the material origins of Creation, Adam and Eve, and the global nature of the historic Flood, Walton has (at least as regards Scripture’s historical claims), promoted dangerous teaching to the church. The Lost World series of Professor John H. Walton risks causing many of those who read his books to become lost themselves, if they accept his views at face value. Walton’s writings do not offer the reader the reasonable middle ground between theology and science as claimed. His books instead offer scholarly rationalizations for doubting the Bible. The end result of Walton’s teaching is to place in the mouth of Christ and the Word of His Heavenly Father falsehood and error. This is tantamount to blasphemy and should be rejected by discerning readers. Walton’s Lost World series should therefore be exposed as the dangerous works of false teaching that they are.
References and notes
- “The easiest, casual reading of the text (and one that has been believed for millennia), or one that did not have access to ancient Near Eastern texts, would suggest a de novo creation of human beings.” Walton, J.H., The Lost World of Adam and Eve, InterVarsity Press, Illinois, p. 192, 2015. Return to text.
- Weeks, N.K., The Bible and the “Universal” Ancient World: A critique of John Walton, Westminster Theological Journal 78:1–28, (p. 26), 2016. Return to text.
- Samson, J. Sola Scriptura (Part 1), posted February 10, 2006 on reformationtheology.com/2006/02/sola_scriptura_part_1_by_pasto.php (accessed 23rd January 2019). Return to text.
- Ref. 1, pp. 50–51, 2015. Return to text.
- Walton, J.H., The Lost World of Genesis One, InterVarsity Press, Illinois, p. 168, 2009. Return to text.
- Ref. 5, p. 168. Return to text.
- See Philip Bell’s section ‘Pre-Adamic sin?’ in Bell, P., Evolution and the Christian Faith, Day One Publications, Leominster, pp. 159-162, 2018. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, p. 78. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, p. 78. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, p. 184. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, p. 188. Return to text.
- Walton, J.H., The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, theology and the deluge debate, InterVarsity Press, Illinois, pp. 48–49, 2018. Return to text.
- Ref. 12, p. 45. Return to text.
- Ref. 12, p.49. Return to text.
- Ref. 12, p. 39. Return to text.
- Ref. 12, p. 41. Return to text.
- biologos.org/author/stephen-o-moshier (accessed 23rd December 2018). Return to text.
- Ref. 12, pp. 150–161. Return to text.
- Ref. 12, p. 150. Return to text.
- Ref. 12, p. 153. Return to text.
- Ref. 12, p. 154. Return to text.
- Baumgardner, J.R., Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: the physics behind the Genesis Flood; in: Ivey Jr., R.L. (Ed.), Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, pp. 113–126, 2003. Return to text.
- Ref. 12, pp. 154–161. Return to text.
- Whitmore, J.H. and Garner, P.A., The Coconino Sandstone (Permian, Arizona, USA): Implications for the origin of ancient cross-bedded sandstones; in: Whitmore, J.H. (Ed.), Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, pp. 581–627, 2018. Return to text.
- Niglio, L. C., “Fracture Analysis of Precambrian and Paleozoic Rocks in Selected Areas of the Grand Canyon National Park, USA”, MA thesis, University of Oklahoma, p. 68, 2004. Return to text.
- Grand Canyon basement evidence strongly suggests the violent initiation of the Flood whereby huge clasts of underlying rock (reportedly up to 130 ft in length) are emplaced into overlying layers, see: Austin, S.A., Wise, K., The pre-Flood/Flood Boundary: As Defined in Grand Canyon, Arizona and eastern Mojave Desert, California, in R. E. Walsh (Ed.), Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, pp. 1-10, (3), 1994. Return to text.
- Prabhu, R., Horstemeyer, M. F. and Brewer, W., Ocean Circulation Velocities over the Continents during Noah’s Flood in Snelling, A.A. (Ed.), Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, pp. 247–254, 2008. Return to text.