In this third and final part of my review of John H. Walton's The Lost World of Adam and Eve, I will survey and respond to both Walton's response to biblical arguments for an historical Adam and Eve as traditionally conceived as well as his positive arguments that Genesis 2 should not be taken to be describing the de novo creation of Adam and Eve. Parts I and II are already posted. My review of The Lost World of Genesis One is here.
If any fans of Walton's work read these reviews, it is possible that they will think all kinds of things--that I am unqualified, that I am unfair, that I have misunderstood. However, I hope that one thing is clear: I have taken Walton's work, not to say his influence, with sufficient seriousness to devote many, many hours to a sincere and careful attempt to understand, represent, and respond to his positions. I submit that this work rates, at a minimum, due consideration rather than hasty dismissal.
Walton's one textual argument with any force
The only positive textual argument Walton musters (for the conclusion that there were many humans other than Adam at the time that God placed Adam and Eve in the garden) that has any force is the age-old question of where Cain got his wife and who the other people were of whom Cain was afraid and with whom Cain built a city in Genesis 4:14-17 (p. 64). For that matter, one could state part of this same question as where Seth got his wife, since even if Cain married a niece, the niece had to come from somewhere.
These questions are answerable from the traditional perspective, as Walton does recognize. For example, Cain and/or Seth probably married their sisters, and this concept should not be dismissed out of hand. (Sarah was Abraham's half-sister.) I have argued elsewhere that there would be an independent, functional reason (I beg the reader to understand what I mean by this) for God to have created Adam with extra genetic diversity (no, this is not a "belly-button" argument, see "independent, functional reason"). Hence Cain's and Seth's "sisters" may not have been their genetic siblings. As for who the other people were of whom Cain was afraid, Cain may well have been looking forward to the day when there would be more people, descendants of Adam, who would take blood vengeance (a concept well-known in the ancient world) for his fratricide. As for "building a city," why should we take it that this occurred immediately after Cain's murder of Abel? Given the long times that the people in these chapters are said to live, there would have been lots of opportunity in Cain's lifetime for there to be enough people for him to build a city with.
To be sure, these answers are not in the text, which is why this textual argument has any force at all and why it is a puzzle for the traditional view. When we're interpreting Scripture, though, we have to go with the force of all the evidence taken together. If this puzzle is the worst Scriptural problem the traditional view (that Adam and Eve were literally the first humans) has to deal with, that is not much considering the large amount of evidence that they were literally the first humans. Since Walton tries to explain away this other evidence as well, we have to ask whether he deals convincingly with it.
God was "using" false contemporary beliefs "as a framework"
As I mentioned before, Walton does not fall back on this rather desperate move very often. More often he tries to argue that the text would not even have been understood by its original author and audience to mean something material about the origins of man, the various aspects of the cosmos, etc. But occasionally he can't get around it.
This is what he does when it comes to Luke 3, Genesis 5, and I Chron. 1:
It would not be surprising if Israelites in Old Testament and New Testament times believed that Adam was the first human. The hermeneutical issue, however, is more subtle. Were they teaching that Adam was the first human being? Were they building theology on that concept? Or is God simply using their contemporary concepts as a framework for communication?...[W]hile the Bible could be read as suggesting that Adam was the first human being, it is more debatable whether it is making a scientific claim that would controvert the possibility that modern humanity is descended from a pool of common ancestors as indicated by the genetic evidence. (p. 188-9 Bold is my emphasis)
He even goes so far as to use the language of God's "accommodating their current thinking" when he argues that, though he believes in an historical Adam (in some sense) he does not even think that such a belief is mandated by the doctrine of inerrancy.
If we simply say that inerrancy demands that we accept a histoical Adam because he is mentioned in the genealogies, we are failing to distinguish between that which the Old Testament authors may have incidentally believed and that which the Bible affirms as its authoritative teaching. Where might God be accommodating their current thinking? (p. 201, my emphasis)
It is to this notion of God's "accommodating" false current thinking that Walton is evidently alluding when he discusses the genealogies and makes his own interpretation--that Adam was historical but was not actually the first man.
It is rather surprising that Walton ever falls back on this notion, given that he has hammered at the beginning of the book on the idea that we ought to understand and accept the text as the original human author would have understood and intended it:
God vested his authority in a human author [LM: this is a very strong claim], so we must consider what the human author intended to communicate if we want to understand God's message. Two voices speak, but the human author is our doorway into the room of God's meaning and message. (p. 14)
But of course we have no reason to doubt that Moses, the author of I Chronicles, and in particular Luke did intend to communicate that Adam actually was the first man. In fact, since Walton talks about God's "using their contemporary concepts as a framework for communication," he comes pretty close to admitting that the human authors would have intended to communicate exactly that. So, if what the human author intended to communicate is God's message, we should presumably take it that God intended to communicate (since, e.g., Luke apparently intended to communicate) that Adam was literally the first man. It is a pretty big switcheroo for Walton to imply that we needn't bother with the ideas of the original audience and author about whether Adam was the first man, because God was just using their (probably false) contemporary concepts "as a framework for communication."
Moreover, no one would even consider such an idea unless convinced that it is "indicated by the genetic evidence." In other words, the force of the textual arguments is what it is, and it is clearly in the direction of taking Adam actually to have been the first man. To be clear: I don't rule out the possibility that one could be forced, reluctantly, by scientific considerations to reinterpret a text in an unnatural way, but if so, one should just say that that is what one is (reluctantly) doing, not sugarcoat the matter or pretend that the prima facie meaning of the text does not really have the force that it has.
A similar problem emerges in Walton's discussion of Paul's statement in I Timothy that the man was formed first. The force of Paul's statement is quite clear and supports a physically made Adam. Walton's response to the passage, on the other hand, is radically unclear. He says (pp. 94-95) that there are three options. Either Paul is saying that "all men were formed first as Adam was formed first" (obviously false), that a male "by his created nature is first" (probably closer to what Paul meant but still not grappling with the straightforward issue), or that Paul is "using Adam and Eve as illustrations for the Ephesians," which is the option Walton says he favors. But what does that mean if Paul isn't actually taking it to be true that the man was formed first? Oddly enough, on these pages where Walton is allegedly discussing the passage in detail, he can't seem to bring himself to write clearly that one obvious option is that Paul was really saying that Adam was physically formed first. Perhaps Walton's claim is that Paul is "using Adam and Eve as illustrations" without actually intending to say that Adam was formed first (which is in direct conflict with the text) or that it doesn't matter if Paul really meant that Adam was formed first, because God was "working with" Paul's false concepts to make some point (er, that women shouldn't be pastors). Another possibility (which Walton may be hinting at obscurely on p. 100) is that he takes Paul to be alluding to Adam and Eve as figures in a partly non-literal story which the author and his readers both know, as we might refer to Robin Hood's bow or William Tell's apple. This, again, is nowhere hinted in the text and would be an obviously ad hoc dodge. In fact, it is difficult to see how Paul could use Adam and Eve's formation as an argument against women's ordination if in fact he did not think Adam was formed first! One normally would not make an argument from a purely literary allusion. In fact, to answer Walton's question above, yes, Paul is building theology on the claim that Adam was the first human being and formed before Eve.
Reinterpretation of Genesis 2
Genesis 2:7 says, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." The chapter goes on to tell of the naming of the animals by Adam and the forming of Eve, which I will discuss below. Prima facie, these forming accounts sound very much like physical special creation. Even if one takes it that there may be some degree of metaphor involved in "forming out of the dust of the ground," what this does not sound like is merely describing God's "forming" Adam in the womb of a mother (p. 76). (Indeed, if Adam was one of a group of hominids who were given the image of God, as an ensoulment view would suggest, Adam was presumably "formed" in the womb of his mother as a non-human animal; hence his initial "forming" in the womb cannot be archetypal for all human beings! Walton does not seem to have considered this glitch and never addresses it.)
There is no slightest hint in Genesis 2 or in chapter 1 of Adam's mother being around or of a lengthy pre-existing process by which he came into physical existence. Moreover, the statement that Adam was formed from the dust of the ground and that God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, in the absence of any textual reason to think of Adam as being born by a natural process, makes the description of Adam's "forming" quite different from statements elsewhere in Scripture that God forms or molds other human individuals. (E.g. Psalm 139, Job 10:9)
Walton, however, insists at length that, in the words of his chapter title for chapter 8, "Forming from dust and building from rib are archetypal claims and not claims of material origins." Here are a few of his arguments that Genesis 2 doesn't actually describe the material creation of man:
Walton claims (pp. 72-73) that the text would not claim that man was formed from dust if a "hands-on" interpretation were intended:
A common alternative to thinking in terms of chemistry is to understand the statement in the text as referring to craftsmanship. In this way of thinking, the imagery is of a 'hands-on' God who has fashioned his creature with loving care and then bestowed on him the breath of life. [LM: Yep, sounds just about right.] The major problem with this is that the ingredient chosen would not make sense if the main idea were craftsmanship. One shapes clay, not dust. The latter is impervious to being shaped by its very nature.(p. 73)
But this is mere caviling. If we are to get into the dusty nitty-gritty, one can of course add water to dust. I doubt that anyone has ever thought that the text was using, to imply divine craftsmanship, the picture of God trying to shape completely dry dust into a form! This is a really trivial complaint. Second, it is quite remarkable that Walton should make this argument given that in the very next chapter he talks about ANE accounts in which humans are said to be formed from clay by the gods. Walton states that these accounts, too, show "an inclination to think about human origins in archetypal terms in the ancient world" (p. 83). In fact, back in TLWOG1 he has also talked about the forming of man from clay in ANE accounts and explicitly argued, "These ingredients communicate instead [of communicating what man was made of] the important issues of identity and relationship." (TLWOG1 p. 32)
So it doesn't matter whether clay is said to be the element or not! Walton draws a conclusion about archetypal or functional origin accounts as opposed to material origins either way! Hence, his complaint about dust rather than clay is shown to be just another part of his ad hoc approach--whatever the text says, clay or not-clay, absence or presence of pre-existing material (see review of TLWOG1), the conclusion is always the same: This is not about material origins!
Besides this argument about dust rather than clay, Walton also argues that the Hebrew word translated "formed" in "God formed man out of the dust of the ground" would be better translated "planned." "God planned the human from the dust of the ground." Therefore, it should not be taken to indicate the de novo creation of Adam. (p. 218, note 4) To support this Walton does a word study of the Hebrew ysr (which I will transliterate in the more common way as yatsar for ease of reading) used for "formed" in Gen. 2:7. Walton's modus operandi here is similar to his approach to asa, discussed in the review of TLWOG1.
He points out that yatsar is used in a number of places in Scripture to refer to God's preparing or ordaining things (like all the days of our lives, the nation of Israel, a series of events) or making something immaterial (such as the human spirit), all of which is quite true. However, just as Walton did not explain that asa is used as a verb repeatedly (even more than yatsar, as it happens) to describe literal human craftsmanship and artisanship, as in the making of the furnishings of the tabernacle, so here he leaves out of account relevant information about yatsar.
Strong's exhaustive concordance defines yatsar as "to mould into a form; especially as a potter; figuratively, to determine (i.e. Form a resolution)." What this strongly (pun intended) suggests is that yatsar considered as a verb is much like our English word "fashion." The concept of craftsmanship is primary. Uses of the word to mean "determine" or "plan" are the derivative or figurative uses, as when we say, "He fashioned a plan." It is precisely backwards to take the figurative use, to treat it as if it is the primary meaning, and to apply it in a case where the text explicitly states that something was "formed/fashioned from" some other substance. That context suggests that it should not be translated as "prepared" or "planned"! In the context of Genesis 2:7, the translation "formed" or even "fashioned" is obviously correct, not some sort of anachronistic aberration. That is presumably why that is how English translations uniformly translate the word in that place!
In Isaiah 44:9-10, the word yatsar is used for fashioning an idol or graven image. Isaiah 44:12 uses the word for a smith's fashioning a piece of metal over heat by pounding it with hammers! Extremely relevant is Psalm 95:5, which says of God, "His hands formed the dry land." No, I am not suggesting that God (aside from the Incarnation) has hands. I am, however, pointing out the association of "formed" with "hands." Yatsar appears to be a hands-on word, and this fits very well with its use in Genesis 2:7--"formed man from the dust of the ground." Like many hands-on words (such as "fashion"), yatsar can be used figuratively. But Walton's references to places where the figurative translation like "ordain" or "prepare" is suggested by context merely causes confusion and misdirection regarding Genesis 2, where the context suggests "formed," precisely as in, "His hands formed the dry land."
There is more linguistic evidence to this effect. Yatsar can also be used as a noun, and as a noun, it means "potter." It is used to mean "potter" again and again in the Old Testament (Isaiah 29:6, 30:14, Jeremiah 18:4, Zechariah 11:13, and others). Again, this fits very well with the "hands-on" nature of the verb. As "baker" in English is "one who bakes," "potter" in OT Hebrew evidently was a "hands-on fashioner." A relevant verse here is Isaiah 45:9, where it is used in a metaphor of God as the potter and man as unruly clay (!) talking back to God:
Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker-- An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, "What are you doing?" Or the thing you are making say, "He has no hands."? (NASB)
Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands? (KJV)
This information about yatsar makes Walton's caviling about the use of dust rather than clay and his insistence that "dust" must mean completely dry dust, incapable of being fashioned, all the more obviously a distraction. Genesis 2:7 uses a verb that means to fashion, as a potter fashions clay, and it describes a physical substance out of which man is said to be fashioned. The information about yatsar, taken as a whole, is quite consistent, and the hands-on implication of the verse could scarcely be clearer.
Moving on to Eve: Genesis 2 says,
So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”
Here Walton does a word study on the word tsela, translated "rib" in most English translations. In this case he is fairly thorough in his presentation of data, but his conclusions are tendentious and unjustified. Walton points out that the word in Hebrew and its cognate in Akkadian more often refer to a side of something, such as the side of the tabernacle in descriptions in Exodus, or as we would use the phrase "a side of beef," than to a single rib. He states that in Akkadian the word refers, though rarely, to "a single rib." He also admits that in the Bible the word is sometimes used to refer to planks or beams of a building (which to my mind fits pretty well with taking it to mean "rib" in Genesis 2). He also points out that older translations, such as the Aramaic targums, the Septuagint, and the Vulgate use a word for translating this verse that can mean either "rib" or "side."
Remarkably, from this mixture of evidence Walton concludes that we must take the word to mean that God cut off Adam's entire side if the verse is taken to refer to the material creation of Eve! "[W]e 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." He then uses this extreme and narrow interpretation to ridicule any material interpretation of the formation of Eve (p. 79).
But why should the fact that tsela can mean the side of a building or half of a rib cage be used to derive this radical interpretation of the passage and then make an argument? The fact that the word can also mean a single rib, can mean some boards or planks (or even one board or plank?) combined with the careful description in the passage of removing one tsela and closing up the flesh at that place indicates that God's taking a rib or, at most, a portion of Adam's side, is a perfectly legitimate interpretation.
Walton also argues (p. 77) that, since Adam says that Eve is "flesh of his flesh" as well as "bone of his bone" the word tsela cannot refer to "a rib." But this, again, is a kind of caviling. Even from the most narrowly literal perspective, one can speak of beef ribs that also include some flesh with them! Moreover, the entire phrase "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" means that Eve was made from Adam's body. Indeed the word for "flesh" can be translated to mean "body," as in the very next verse, Genesis 2:24, where man and woman's coming together is said to make "one flesh," which of course does not mean to refer to molecules of flesh as opposed to bone! Obviously "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" is an example of Hebrew parallelism (Hebrew, especially poetry, uses parallelism all the time) to emphasize Eve's physical derivation from Adam. To use it against the translation "rib" in the previous verse is not a responsible argument. And against the translation/interpretation "part of his side" (given in one modern translation), this weak argument cannot even be mounted in the first place.
Walton takes these weak arguments about tsela and uses them, together with the fact that the Bible says that God placed Adam into a deep sleep, to argue for the following extremely strange and textually unmotivated conclusion:
From these data it is easy to conclude that Adam's sleep has prepared him for a visionary experience rather than for a surgical procedure. The descriptions of himself being cut in half and the woman being built from the other half (Gen 2:21-22) would refer not to something he physically experienced but to something that he saw in a vision. It would therefore not to describe a material event but would give him an understanding of an important reality, which he expresses eloquently in Genesis 2:23. Consequently, we would then be able to conclude that the text does not describe the material origin of Eve. (p. 80)
Walton's additional piece of "data" is that being cast into a deep sleep can describe the prelude to a vision. He instances the following: Gen. 15:12, Job 4:13, Job 33:15, Daniel 8:18, 10:9. What Walton does not take account of is this obvious fact: In every single one of those verses the person who falls into a deep sleep is said either to be having a vision or dream (the Job verses are explicit) or to be spoken to by God or a divine messenger after falling into sleep (all the others). None of this is true of Adam! The text does not say that he was cast into a deep sleep and that God or a messenger of God then talked to him, and it does not say that he was having a vision. The entire "vision" idea is Walton's own construct, not remotely hinted at in Genesis 2. Walton argues that the Israelites "knew nothing of the use of anesthesia" (p. 79). In the interview he says, "Israelites aren't thinking surgery." (around minute 35 1/2) Considering that the use of opium may have been known in ancient Egypt and that there is evidence of very ancient skull surgery, the absolute confidence with which he makes these unqualified declarations that the Israelites would not have understood this in any surgical sense only serves to suggest that Walton is prone to make overstatements about ancient peoples. In any event, any Israelite hearer who is not simply stupid could recognize that placing into a deep sleep before opening a side would make sense, even if it did not lie in their previous actual experience. Moreover, even the idea that there may be some degree of metaphoric statement in these verses hardly justifies the wholesale construction of the theory that Adam was having a vision!
Interestingly, Walton insists on p. 128 and elsewhere that we should be very careful not to "read the text as if it is communicating in the world of Adam and Eve's knowledge because, as mentioned in previous chapters, we have an Israelite storyteller communicating to an Israelite audience." But his "vision" theory of the forming account of Eve in Genesis 2 switches without justification to the idea that the text is about something communicated to Adam.
All of these ideas--that the forming of Adam in Genesis 2 is compatible with his being born naturally and that the forming of Eve refers to a vision Adam had--are extremely strained interpretations of the texts. One simply cannot sustain the idea that the text does not clearly appear to be recounting the original, de novo formation of Adam and Eve. In fact, so clearly "hands-on" is the text, with detailed discussions of forming man (using the word used for a potter's formation of clay) from pre-existing materials, breathing life into his nostrils, taking out something from his side and making a woman, and so forth, that one has to wonder: What would Walton take to falsify or even disconfirm his view that Genesis 2 is not describing God's de novo, physical creation of man? If he can explain away all this evidence (and other evidence like the use of asa in chapter 1), what is there that he cannot explain away? Just how much more explicit and hands-on would the text need to be, if it even could be more explicit and hands-on, to communicate the physical special creation of the first man and woman?
People have various reasons for accepting full-scale theistic evolution of man with, at most, ensoulment for humans. Generally, these reasons are considered to be scientific. Christians may attempt to find reflective equilibrium by reinterpreting Scripture in a way that is somewhat strained in order to accommodate what they believe to be the requirements of science. What John H. Walton has attempted to do is to argue that the text of Scripture itself, and Christian theology rightly based thereon, do not actually support the traditional view. These arguments are supposed to show that it does not actually require strained interpretations of Scripture to accommodate the present claims of evolutionary science.
In that project, I have argued, he has failed. If you are a full-scale theistic evolutionist concerning mankind, I conclude that John H. Walton has not provided evidence to support your position beyond what you already had before he wrote a word of these books. If you were uncomfortable about your decision before, you should be just as uncomfortable after taking Walton's books into account. Walton has not provided new, expert reasons to bolster theistic evolutionism and show it to be "faithful to Scripture." Whatever your reasons are for it, they should be independent of Walton's arguments, for those arguments are weak reeds to lean upon.
To return, then, to my point in the first post in this three-part review: If you have read or listened to John H. Walton because you were wondering whether Scripture really requires you to challenge "the consensus of science," why not do something else now? You could ask whether solid empirical evidence really requires you to abandon the traditional view of the historical Adam. I submit that this would be at least as profitable a use of your further research and reading time.
A review copy of The Lost World of Adam and Eve was provided free of charge by Intervarsity Academic. A positive review was not required.