When I first starting reading a review copy of John Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve provided by IVP, I was skeptical. Yet having worked through his full argument, Walton has made a believer out of this conservative evangelical pastor-theologian. Through a series of 21 propositions, he carefully weaves together the strands of the biblical text, cultural context, and theological application of Genesis 2 and 3. His judicious arguments provide a biblically balanced and theologically pregnant book evangelicals across the spectrum can get behind.
Throwing neither the baby nor the bathwater out through his investigation of Genesis 2 and 3, Walton maintains the core convictions of vintage Christianity and human origins, while advancing our understanding forward. Theologically Walton believes his fresh reading affirms: “the authority of Scripture, God’s intimate and active role as Creator regardless of the mechanisms he used or the time he took, that material was ex nihilo, that we all have been created by God, and there was a point in time when sin entered the world, therefore necessitating salvation.” (14)
Walton competently argues from the original Hebrew manuscripts and ancient Near Eastern context that these early chapters describing protohistory are “Imagistic” (his neologism for “historizing myth”) in that they report “real events using imagery as a rhetorical means to capture the full range of truth as it is commonly conveyed in the world in which they lived.” (137)
Contrary to the likes of Peter Enns, he insists Adam and Eve were real people who existed in a real past. Yet their role in the Genesis narrative is archetypal, given the way they are used in the Old Testament, but particularly by Paul. He concludes, “the punctiliar nature of the redemptive act is compared to the punctiliar nature of the fall, which therefore requires a historical even played out by historical people.” (103)
Such a reading allows for the orthodox understand of created order, human nature, and the fall, while also conforming to new insights of modern science—such as the Human Genome Project, which insists humanity couldn’t have been derived from no less than 10,000 or so original human ancestors. So rather than science threatening faith, it comports with the biblical narrative.
Though he does recapitulate some of his material from his first book on the subject, The Lost World of Genesis, such as his Eden-as-temple and humans-as-priests motifs, his insights cast new light on one of the most important discussions in the modern church: the origins of humanity, nature of humanity, and the intersection of faith and science. While at times he seems to give too much deference to the “scientific consensus” and isn’t always clear when or why biblical interpretation should win in the face of such “consensus”, he is careful not to allow the Science Story to overshadow or trump the Scripture Story.
Walton’s stated goal is to “return to the biblical tex to see whether there are options that have been missed or truths that have become submerged under the frozen surface of traditional readings,” of Genesis 2 and 3, while allowing the insights from the ancient world and modern science to inform his return. (14) Rather than undermining traditional theology, he works “from a firm conviction about the authority of Scripture and those traditions that have been built on interpretation of Scripture.” (14)
In the end, his book will surprise and delight, opening the text afresh and anew, giving you new ways to communicate God’s Word to those inside and outside the Church.
I know it did for this theologically traditional evangelical.