The Dominion Covenant (North)

North, Gary.

This is his commentary on Genesis. It’s not a textual commentary.  It’s more of worldview analysis.

Cosmic Personalism: our universe is created and governed by a speaking God.

Purpose, Order, and Sovereignty

Gen. 1:14-18 is more offensive than Gen. 1:1 simply because it can’t be allegorized and it ruins any attempt to harmonize creation with evolution.

The Dominion Covenant

Man is God’s image bearer and so has limited sovereignty over creation (North 29).

Economic Value: Objective and Subjective

“The doctrine of imputation lies at the heart of creation” (37). It is objectively good because it conforms to God’s decree.  It is subjectively good because God, the speaking subject, announced it as good.

Marginalist revolution in economics:  acting men impute value to scarce economic resources. See diamond-water paradox.  We never buy “water in general” or “diamonds in general.” Men do not trade indeterminate aggregates (North 40).

The value of the marginal unit determines the exchange value.  However, marginal utility cannot be applied among two or more individuals.

Subordination and Fulfillment

Man and nature–thesis:  dominion requires a division of labor (85).  Adam receives a helpmeet.

God-designed Harmony of interests

Thesis: the heart of man’s being is not his sexuality, but his calling before God (90). The marriage-sexual covenant is subordinate to the dominion covenant. If Eve is a help-meet, then we already see a division of labor.

Contra Marx, on class warfare.  The history of all societies is not class warfare, but ethical warfare against a sovereign God (98).

Costs, Choices, and Tests

Value is subjective because man is a personal  being. God, also, is a personal being. He imputes value to His creation.  Man imputes value to creation within a hierarchy of values (101). Is it worth giving up x to get y?  Choice requires preference, and preference requires standards, and standards require an authority structure.

Scarcity: Curse and Blessing

Common Grace, Common Curse

Linear growth overcomes cyclical stagnation.  Because the ground is cursed, men must allocate resources and divide their labor.

The Burden of Time

The meaning of life forces us to consider the meaning of time (118-119). Time is the god of paganism and chance is its throne.  Time is “dead necessity.” For biblical man time is opportunity (120).

Godly Deception

Everyone gives Rahab trouble for her lie (even though James says she was justified for that very act).  But as North points out, her lie is irrelevant, analytically speaking. She committed high treason and no one bats an eye at that (184-185).

Jael lies, too.  In fact, she violated her husband’s international treaty with Sisera.  She lied to him and drove a spike through his head. Rather than anguishing over the “Nazis at the door question,” the Holy Spirit, speaking through Deborah, says “Most blessed of women is Jael” (Judg. 5.24).

Towards a review

Do not approach this book as an exegetical commentary.  It’s nothing of the kind. North begins with the presupposition that all ancient (and modern gnostic) cosmologies die upon the rock of the speaking, self-contained God.  From there he shows that such disciplines as economics can’t consistently exist in a random universe which worships the chaos gods.

Nuggets

*Any serious claim to godhead must maintain the unity of the Godhead. Since man is god, he must be made to unite.  We see this with covenant-breaking man and the United Nations. Man, collective man with the scientific elite at the top, must be unified.

* Pagan cosmology, both ancient and modern, is committed to the chain of being. God is part of this chain.

*Evolution requires several leaps in being.  One, to get the process of life started. And another leap to develop consciousness distinct from the atoms bumping into each other.

*Cyclical views of time are connected with ancient chaos rituals.  In doing so, the participants engage in a drama of the creation of the world from the unformed (and hence chaotic) hyle.  It is a demonic power from below.

Genesis: NIVAC (John Walton)

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Walton, John.  Genesis NIVAC. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

John Walton begins the introduction not with dull academese about Genesis, but with creation and covenant.  The Babylonian and Egyptian gods (and its Freemason god today) could not be covenantal.

His intro is good and sane, but there are still some iffy parts. Against the fundamentalist he says there is an undeniable mythical element.  Against the liberal he rejects the attempt to reduce all of it to myth. I actually think the mythical content is…well….true. That stuff is real.  More on that later.

Genesis is structured around the toledoths (2:1; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2). And Genesis is Covenant History, with the covenant aimed for an election to revelation (Walton 37ff). Abram was elect partly because the knowledge of God had been lost (52). So, God reveals himself.  And he reveals himself through Covenant.

A question about methodology.  Walton has been accused of simply reading ANE back into the Bible.  This isn’t entirely accurate. There is no “Bible-equivalent” of ANE texts, nor is the ANE uniform.  Take creation: in Babylonian legends creation births the gods (or the gods birth creation). In some Egyptian accounts the “god” speaks creation into existence.  

Genesis 1:1-5

Resit refers to a duration of time, not a specific point (Walton 68).  Evidence for this is in Job 8:7, “which speaks of the early part of Job’s life.”

Regarding bara Walton argues that it refers, not to material creation, but to assigning functions and tasks (71).

Day 1

Walton argues that it is not the phycists’ light being created, but that ‘or refers to a period of time.  This makes sense since God separates the light from darkness (and you can’t draw a physical boundary and keep light on one side, darkness on the other).

Rather, God is creating time, which is the first of the functions he creates (79). Genesis 1 is operating on functional, rather than structural terms (83).  There is something to this, since it avoids some of the problems of “how is there light before the sun?” and the neutered “it’s all myth” approaches.

What did God do on Day 4?

We’ll spend some time here since this is largely why Walton is so controversial.  His larger argument is fairly sound: there is evidence that when “creation language” is used, it is not always in a structural sense.  For example:

  1. Job 9:9 shows that constellations are arrangements of objects and not structures.  ‘Sa can refer to acts like arranging (124).
  2. Isaiah 41:17-20. “Both verbs bara and asah are used to describe the establishment of functions.”
  3. Isaiah 45.  Both verbs are referring to nonmaterial objects.

So did God “make” the sun on the 4th day?  On Walton’s reading, no. God gave the lights a functional task

Image of God

Walton lists the three interpretative options: theological, grammatical, and conciliar.  The theological says the “us/our” language refers to the Trinity. The grammatical says it is a plural of majesty.  The conciliar says it refers to the divine council. The grammatical option is the easiest to eliminate, since there aren’t many (or any?) examples of the plural of majesty in Hebrew. The theological one won’t work, either.  It wouldn’t have made any sense to an OT Jew for the Father to be speaking to the Son and Spirit. Further, it has God the Father telling God the Son and God the Spirit what they are going to do, but how would this work, given that they all share the same mind?  Wouldn’t they already know?

The conciliar option has God telling the divine council what they are going to do, yet in the end God is the one doing it.  This fits the grammar and is attested elsewhere in the Hebrew bible. Someone might object that “We aren’t created in the image of angels?”  That misses the point on what the image of God really means? If it means a set of metaphysical properties like will, rationality, etc., then maybe we don’t share those with angels (then again, maybe we do).  But that’s not what the image is about.

Definition of the image of God: it is the capacity to be God’s vice-regents (131). “The image is a physical manifestation of divine (or royal) essence that bears the function of that which it represents; this gives the image-bearer the capacity to reflect the attributes of the one represented.”

Genesis 2

“Divine rest is the principal function of a temple, and a temple is always where a deity finds rest, so the cosmos is God’s temple” (147).  On another note, in this earlier volume Walton is quite hostile to theistic evolution (156).

How should we honor the Sabbath?  This is the big-time money question for Reformed folks.  And if you are a Covenanter, all of theology reduces to this moment.  Walton makes a number of wise comments: if you have to reduce Sabbath-keeping to a bunch of rules, you’ve missed the point.  Sabbath is the way we acknowledge God on his throne and as priest-kings, it is how we reflect the stability and equilibrium of rest (158).

Genesis 6

Walton rightly skewers the “Sethite” thesis about the “sons of God” in Genesis 6.  There is zero syntactical evidence for such a claim. Walton rejects the angelic thesis, but not for the usual reasons.  While he correctly notes that whenever the “sons of God” appear in Scripture (e.g., in Job), it means angelic beings. But he says the Bible doesn’t give us a large enough sample size, so we can’t use that evidence. Further, contra Enoch and Jude’s use of Enoch (sorry fundies), the angelic beings would have taken wives in marriage, which goes against Enoch’s usage of porneia.

Walton claims the “sons of god” are sort of like Gilgamesh, tyrant kings of old who took extra wives.  To be fair, Walton admits there is zero evidence in Scripture for his position but he notes, accurately, that it matches the Gilgamesh account.

There are several problems here.  (1) Gilgamesh was an apkallu, or maybe a son of an apkallu.  That supports the angelic thesis. So if Walton is correct, then he is thrust back upon the angelic thesis. (2) Precisely about what event in the OT does Jude allude to?  Genesis 6. Jude connects this account with the sexual sins of Sodom. Again, we are thrust back upon the angelic thesis.

The Flood

True to Walton’s methodology, he doesn’t argue for any specific extent of the flood.  He notes some problems in each view, lists the grammatical and syntactical options, and lets the reader decide. And the options aren’t simply universal vs. local.  Rather, they are a) global, b) known world, c) regional, d) local (322). There are some problems with the Universal Flood view:

  1. If the sea level rose for 150 days until it covered the tops of the mountains, and the sea level rose 16, 946 ft to the top of Ararat, then it was logically 16, 946ft across the earth.  This requires about 630 million cubic miles of additional water weighing 3,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons. Here is the problem: the oceans had to triple in volume in 150 days and then shrink quickly back to normal.  Where did the 630 million cubic miles of water go? There is no ocean to drain to because the oceans are already filled.

There are other logistical problems but they aren’t ultimately decisive.  What matters is the text. Didn’t the flood cover “all” the earth? As good Calvinists we know that all doesn’t always mean all (Dt 2.25).  True, but didn’t it cover the mountains? The text uses the Pual form of ksh, which suggests a variety of possibilities (325). Water can “cover” not simply by submerging but also by drenching.  If we tell someone “you are covered with water” during a storm, we just mean they are drenched.

Conclusion

The commentary is weighted towards the earlier chapters of Genesis.  That’s probably inevitable as that is where all the questions are. I don’t always agree with Walton’s conclusions, but his handling of the text and syntax is masterful.

 

John Walton: Lost World of Genesis

Transferring from my old blog. I plan to finish Walton’s commentary on Genesis today, and I want this review on this blog for when I write the other review.

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Like the other “Lost World” books, this is written in proposition format, which makes the arguments easy to follow.  Walton is very clear, even on points where I disagree. There are some flaws in this work, but it is a valuable text.

Proposition 1: Genesis 1 is Ancient Cosmology

This shouldn’t be a controversial claim.  The earth might be 6,000 years old, but there isn’t any underlying science that matches with Genesis 1.  Ancient man wouldn’t have been as interested in Answers in Genesis as he would have in the following questions (19):

* How does God interact with the world?
* Is there such a thing as a natural world?

* Is the cosmos best seen as a machine, a set of material objects, a kingdom, a company?

Proposition 2: Ancient Cosmology is Function Oriented

What does it mean to exist?  A company’s existence is different from a chair’s (23). Walton contrasts a “material ontology” (e.g.,what constitutes a physical chair) with a “functional ontology” (e.g., what makes a business a business)?  There is something to this, to be sure.

Walton says we have focused too much on the material ontology of creation and not its functional ontology (25).  For the ancient man something exists “by virtue of its having a function in an ordered system” (26). Of course, Walton is quick to point out that ancient man would have seen the material constituents of an object (or a universe).

Proposition 3: Create concerns functions

He argues that bara means to assign functions, rather than material constituents.  He then lists about forty usages in the OT where most of the time it is giving a function to something (41).

Proposition 4: The beginning state in Genesis 1 is Nonfunctional

There is some payoff to his claim: if we read Gen. 1:1ff, we aren’t exactly dealing with a mathematical nothingness prior to the Big Bang singularity.  The tohu is simply an unproductive void, rather than a zero-state void (48).  Walton then lists 20 occurences where Tohu means unproductive, rather than non-existent.

Propositions 5: Days 1 to 3 in Genesis 1 Establish Functions

God calls the light “day” instead of just “light.”  Why? Because he is giving a function to it. Further, reading the text functionally allows us to solve a potential problem in Day 2: the sky isn’t really solid (56).  Rather, God is showing us that by a “firmament” in the sky, he is able to order the cosmic geography and keep the “cosmic waters,” always connoting danger, at bay. The firmament establishes cosmic order (57).

Isn’t it strange that God doesn’t actually make anything on Day 3? He does assign functions, however.  Walton: “On Day 1 God created the basis for time; day two the basis for weather; and day three the basis for food” (59).

Days 4 to 6 in Genesis 1 Install Functionaries

Reading the text this way solves the problem of why God created light before he created the sun.  Here is where Walton’s “functional” argument is the strongest: the very point for why God created the sun/stars was to serve as signs for humans.

Proposition 7: Divine Rest is in a Temple

Walton’s functionalism fits very well with the Sabbath.  He notes, “In the ancient world rest is what results when a crisis has been resolved or when stablitiy has been achieved” (73).  This makes sense. When the Bible says “King so-and-so had rest,” it didn’t mean no one in the kingdom did anything; only that he had peace and normal operations were able to function.

God’s resting place is his temple (Ps. 132:7-8; 13-14).

Proposition 8: The Cosmos is a Temple

Standard GK Beale stuff.

Proposition 9: The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Relate to the Cosmic Temple Inauguration

Proposition 10: The Seven Days do not concern material origins

This propositions summarizes the first half of the book.  The argument follows:

  1. a) Bara is functional.
  2. b) the context is functional (Gen. 1:2 starts with a nonfunctional world)
  3. c) the cultural context is functional.
  4. d) the theology is functional (cosmic Temple)
  5. e) of the seven days, three have no statement of creation of any material component (1, 3, and 7).
  6. f) Day 2 could be material, but then we are left believing in a material firmament in the sky.
  7. g) Days 4 and 6 have material components, but they are dealt with only on the functional level.

Criticisms

  1. He overloads the evidence favoring theistic evolution.  He never engages in analysis with the strongest analysis from Intelligent Design theorists.
  1. He never notes the contrast that when ancient paganism saw creation as giving a function to an already existing object, and not creating ex nihilo, it is because in paganism (like today’s Neo-Atheism), matter is eternal and only needs some Demiurge (like the god of Freemasonry) to form it.
  1. He criticizes Intelligent Design for being “God of the gaps.”  Precisely what, then, is theistic evolution? Find a gap in the fossil record?  No problem. God providentially furthered evolution along. Anyway, guys like Stephen Meyer aren’t saying, “Must be a God after all.”  What they are saying is that information, especially complex information, points to an Intelligence.
  1. He rebuts Behe’s argument of “irreducible complexity” by noting the eye’s structural blind spot.  Stephen C. Meyer, however, blows that out of the water: ““There’s an important physiological reason as to why the retina has to be inverted in the eye,” he said. “Within the overall design of the system, it’s a tradeoff that allows the eye to process the vast amount of oxygen it needs in vertebrates. Yes, this creates a slight blind spot, but that’s not a problem because people have two eyes and the two blind spots don’t overlap. Actually,the eye is an incredible design” (quoted in Strobel, Case for a Creator, 87).
  1. His stuff on naturalism isn’t wrong per se, and there is a difference between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism, but he often ends up just using the term naturalism.  He is also rather naive on the courts’ past rulings. Yes, it is true that science pretends not to make any judgment on God, but that is precisely what science then makes statements on what God does and doesn’t do in the physical realm.

5a. Further, Walton isn’t clear on what recent rulings constitute valid science: anything falsifiable, empirical, and validated by the scientific method.  Yet Walton never mentions this nor mentions the huge defeaters to this line of thinking: e.g., evolution isn’t testable by the scientific method, sometimes models for science determine the evidence, sometimes the evidence the models.

  1. Walton is to be commended for rejecting Neo-Darwinism, but guess which model controls the system right now?  That’s right, N-D. N-D posits, to use Dawkins’ euphonic phrase, a “Blind Watchmaker.” If Walton’s interesting reading is to gain any credence, he must break the back of N-D.

A syntactical problem for the Sethite thesis

The Sethite thesis holds that the “sons of God” (beney elohim) in Genesis 6 were the human descendants of Seth, and not the fallen Watchers.  Among other problems, this view has to hold:

Heiser writes:

“The verb form (began) is third masculine singular.  Since the word ‘adam, which is often rendered mankind…in modern translations, does not actually appear in the verse, the most natural reading would be that Seth began to call on the name of the Lord.  If this is the case, then the Sethite view needs to extrapolate Seth’s faith to only men from that point on, since it is the sons of God who must be spiritually distinct from the daughters of mankind” (Kindle loc. 10377).

Heiser goes on to point out hat if you insert “humankind” into the text, you undermine the Sethite thesis, for then you have other human lineages calling on the name of the Lord.

Severian and Bede on Gen 1-3

Do you remember Mystery Science Theater 3000? It’s where Joel and the “bots” would riff B-movies. Well, the first half of this volume is kind of like that. While Severian of Gabala had some insights, he had trouble with coherently finishing a sermon on point. And the editor (Robert Hill) lets you know that in the footnotes. And the footnotes are a laugh-riot. Here are some examples:

“Severian feels that he has done justice to the Genesis account of the first day and that he has achieved profundity. The goodness of creation has escaped his attention, however” (Hill 30 n44).

“He [Severian] is going to great trouble to vindicate all the details of the Genesis account instead of leaving it be and moving on” (41 n16).

“Again Severian has made a rod for his own back by being aggressively literalistic” (50 n13).

Obviously, Severian is no John Chrysostom but he is not without use. While it’s easy to ridicule Severian for his flat-earth cosmology, he perceptively ties it’s dome-like structure to the tabernacle-imagery. As modern scholars now realize, the Mosaic Tabernacle was a microcosm of the universe (Beale 2004: 189). But does this entail a belief in flat-earth cosmology? Not necessarily. The earth is flat and heliocentric from an observational point of view (like using phrases as “sunrise”).

Bede the Venerable is a different class of commentator. He is the opposite of Severian: focused, mature, and restrained. His actual commentary is more or less a riff off of Augustine’s work on Genesis. Bede adds to the discussion with his Six Ages of Man. Rather than allegorical excess, Bede gives a profound typology, as seen below.

>>Age 1: From the Fall to the Flood (p. 135). The The end of Day 1 anticipates the “Waters” of day 2, so at the end of Age 1 is the Flood.
Age 2: Day 2 is about the waters of the flood, so the second age sees humanity in the ark. The end of this day sees the nations of Genesis 10 (70 = nations, figuratively).
Age 3: Day 3 has the dry earth and vegetation appearing, so Age 3 sees the dry earth after the Flood. Also the calling of Abraham, which is the separation of the faithful from the unfaithful. Also typologically anticipates Israel’s casting off the Law and the defiling in slavery. Ends in King Saul.
Age 4: On Day 4 the heaven receives its luminaries. In the 4th age we see the Kingly lights of David and Solomon. As the day turns towards evening, this age turned toward darkness and ended in Babylon (p.136).
Age 5: Day 5 sees the waters bringing forth fish. Bede sees Babylon as meaning waters, so the children of Israel are living in the waters of Babylon.
Age 6: God created man on Day 6. In age 6 the New Man, the Word of God. The Church (Eve) is taken from his rib. Antichrist will appear in the evening of this day. This evening will be darker than the rest (p. 137). After Antichrist’s appearing will be the Tribulation.<<