Job NIVAC (Walton)

Walton, John H. Job The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.

Walton does theology by avoiding easy, cliched answers. It pays off in his commentary on Job. Although he is criticized for reading Ancient Near Eastern culture into the biblical text, Walton doesn’t actually do that. He goes to great pains to show how Job is different from ANE (Walton pp.33-37).

Ancient Near Eastern thought believed in “The Great Symbiosis.” We provide sacrifices for the gods and in return they protect us. If bad things happen to us, it’s probably because either a) that’s just how the cosmos is, or b) we made a ritual faux pas. Walton points out that the justice of a particular god is irrelevant. A god might be interested in promoting justice in a city, but ancient man had no reason to believe that the god himself is just.

This places “Satan’s” challenge in a new context. If the Great Symbiosis is true, and there is a strict “Retributive Principle” at work, then Satan is right. If Job even concedes that the evil has come as a result of Job’s sin, and in doing so expects God to restore the balance, the Challenger wins. By the end of the book we are affirmed in believing that God is just. The point of the book, however, is that wisdom, not justice, should be the epistemological foundation. We see God’s wisdom in the cosmos.

This book is unique among the NIVAC set in that Walton allows one of his former students to tell her story concerning a crippling nerve injury she had. It reads like a novel. Walton ends with some moving meditations about God’s will and suffering.

The ancient world believed the cosmos was ordered. However, within this ordered cosmos are spheres of disorder. Eden was an ordered cosmos, but not so the area outside Eden.

We do not always see God’s justice. The book of Job, however, promises us God’s wisdom. As Walton notes, “God has ordered the cosmos by his wisdom; justice is one of his attributes, but the cosmos do not always mirror his justice. Wisdom is at the heart of order” (Walton 411).

Chapter 1

Who are the “sons of God?” Walton correctly identifies the bene elohim as divine council members (64). They are not angels. Angels have a messenger function, whereas these have an administrative function.

Who is Satan? This is tricky. While Walton offers a lucid commentary on the morphology of the term, he muddies the waters by bringing in passages from Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. Let’s say for the sake of argument this is the “devil.” You could never make that case from Job 1. This “challenger” isn’t cast out from heaven. Nothing he says is evil (in fact, he makes a good case against the pagan ANE mindset of the time). All of that is true.

Walton, however, goes out of his way to prove that the “devil-figure” can’t be placed in the Isaiah and Ezekiel passages. This is irrelevant. I think he is wrong, but he does make a good case that since Ezekiel calls him “a cherub,” he can’t be the Serpent of Eden. That’s true. If anything, the Nachash would have been a seraph.

Some notes

4:15 is a reference to Zaqiq, the dream god (157). This would explain why when talking of the wind, Eliphaz mentions “a form before him.”

9:5-9 gives a beautiful description of cosmic geography. We have reference to the ‘pillars of the earth,’ implying a flat disc. The stars are “sealed” away (v. 7).

19. When Job asks for a mediator, does he mean Christ? Probably not. Job wanted a mediator to prove his innocence. Christ mediates for us precisely because we aren’t innocent!

25:5-6: The Realm of the Rephaim. The Rephaim are either the royal dead or quasi-demonic beings (or both). While they live in the underworld, Job identifies one of the access points as “beneath the waters.” Walton suggests that the language is the “cosmic waters,” rather than regular ocean water (250). This makes sense, otherwise we could access Sheol via submarine.

Walton correctly notes that eres can mean underworld in several locations (1 Sam. 28:13Job 10:21-22Eccl. 3.21Isaiah 26:19Jonah 2.6). Netherworld works instead of “earth” because it would be the opposite of the “heights of Zaphon.”

28:11: Sources of the Rivers. In Ugaritic literature the high god El dwells “at the source of the rivers” (Walton 286). Genesis 2 speaks of the origin of the four rivers coming from a sacred space (Eden). The origin of wisdom, then, is a cosmic mystery. There are several personifications in this passage:

  • Deep (tehom)
  • Sea (Yamm)
  • Abbadon (Destruction; Gk. Apollyon, personified as an evil Angel in Revelation 9). While Abbadon could be an evil entity, we need to be careful about reading later demonology into this passage.
  • Death

Nota Bene: Elihu mentions the spirit of God. We should be careful not to read a full Nicene theology into that phrase. For Elihu (and much of the Old Testament) the spirit of God is seen more as an extension of God’s presence than a separate person (though, of course, it is not contradictory to the later idea of the Spirit’s being a distinct person). Further, the spirit of man is “on loan” from God (Walton 376).

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.


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.


Review: Keener on Revelation

Keener, Craig.  Revelation. NIVAC.  Zondervan, 2000.

I didn’t expect much out of a commentary series that had the letters “NIV” in it, but this was well-done. Keener demonstrated mastery of the current literature and made interesting, if sometimes stretched, applications.keener

Rev. 4-5 Throne Room

24 elders: Keener says they represent all believers (172). That reading is possible, but it is more likely the divine council. Further, the picture we have of believers in heaven (ch. 6) has them pleading before the altar.
Revelation 6:9-17

Keener raises the problem of the martyrs’ prayer for justice, but doesn’t give a satisfactory answer (221-22). He notes that it appears to conflict with Jesus’s love your enemies. He doesn’t bring up the imprecatory psalms. They aren’t psalm of vengeance, but psalms against God to arise in covenantal judgment. When we pray like this, we aren’t violating Jesus’s commands, but are asking God to be faithful to the covenant.

Revelation 7:1-8

Keener seems to suggest that the events following the 6th seal aren’t chronological. In fact, he breaks with premillennialism at this point: “those who can withstand the day of God’s wrath are those whom God has empowered to withstand the previous plagues” (230). That’s certainly a true proposition but there are easier answers. Pre-wrath, for one.

Revelation 12

The Mother: faithful remnant of Israel (314). The theological source most available would have been the OT, which the readers would have known.

Reasons it can’t be Mary: We don’t have evidence of Mary’s being persecuted by the Dragon.

Revelation 20

Defense of Historic Premillennialism

1. The binding of Satan during the thousand years hardly matches Satan’s deceptive and murderous activity during the present era (12:12-13; 13:11-15).
2. The saints have already been martyred, suggesting that the Tribulation period precedes the Millennium.
3. The resurrection of the righteous is parallel to and contrasted with the rest of the dead returning to life after the thousand years (20:4-6), suggesting a bodily rather than symbolic resurrection.
4. Revelation 20 presupposes all that transpired in chapters 12-19.

Extra notes on Revelation 20.

The angel’s binding of Satan (20:2; 9:14) is a common motif throughout Jewish literature (1 Enoch 10:4-6

Gog and Magog. In Ezekiel Gog is the ruler of Magog, but here they merely symbolize all the evil nations

Other notes: it’s doubtful John had Matt. 12 in mind when he spoke of the binding of Satan. It’s unlikely his earlier readers would have had access to the Synoptics.


Keener utilizes a lot of material from Tony Campolo and Ron Sider. Rev. (so-called) Jeremiah Wright of Chicago (of Obama fame) also makes an appearance (194).