Summary: An extension of Walton’s earlier work to Genesis 2 and 3.
I wish I could say everything that is important is also interesting. But I cannot. There are a ton of interesting books that have no importance whatsoever. And there are also a ton of important books that are as dull as dirt.
John Walton is doing important work. In his earlier book The Lost World of Genesis 1, Walton laid out a case for the creation story being focused not on physical creation (the how) but on functional creation (the why). But possibly even more important, he made a case for Genesis 1 being primarily concerned with the creation story being actually about the dedication of the earth as a temple to God, and the placement of us humans as God’s priests in that temple.
The main weakness of that earlier book is that Genesis 2 has a second creation story and even if Walton is right about Genesis 1, Genesis 3, the story of the fall is theologically seen as just as important to many Christians.
The Lost World of Adam and Eve is the next step in that puzzle. Walton’s method, in this book and the last, is to make a proposition and the defend that proposition and then move to the next. So in the earlier book he had 19 chapters slowly making the case bit by bit for why so many have misread Genesis 1 for so long.
In this book there are 21 propositions about the purpose and meaning of Genesis 2 and 3 and how they theologically matter to Christians today. One of those chapters is largely written by NT Wright about how Paul understood Adam. And while that is not one of Wright’s clearer works, it really stands out in the book because Walton can be so dull. I don’t want to harp on boringness of the book too much, but it is a real problem.
There are too many arguments to detail them all. So I am going to highlight those that I think are most important.
First, the creation story in Genesis 2, similar to Genesis 1 is not primarily about how the world was created in the way that young earth creationist or modern science thinks about as ‘how’. Second, the creation story is concerned with order. God being in charge and creating order out of chaos is what the early readers were interested in. And that order was good.
The next set of arguments is about Adam. Adam is used in a variety of ways in scripture, both as a real historical person and as an archetype, we do not need to make him solely one or the other.
Adam being made out of dust and Eve being made out of a rib does not need to be read as creationists do. The word rib can also mean side, and usually does, in Hebrew. So Walton suggests that first there was Adam then there was Eve and that Eve was split from Adam, not as a description of physical creation, but as a functional description of one being made two, which are then rejoined in marriage as one. Similarly, the important part of being made out of dust is not the physical, in that we are actually dust, but that God created humans. (Related here is the last chapter that suggests that Humans were distinct, not because of their genetics, but because of the soul.)
What is probably most controversial (at least to me) is that over several chapters, Walton argues that Adam and Eve were real people, but not the only people and maybe not the first people. He suggests that Eden was a sacred place that Adam and Eve were to manage for God, but other people may have existed at the same time and that Adam and Eve were not restricted to the garden.
Because we don’t need Adam and Eve as original parents of all people (which is not actually said in scripture), we do not need a genetic understanding of the transmission of sin. Walton thinks that understanding sin as pollution that corrupts the world and all humanity instead of being transmitted from parent to child genetically is actually a better method for understanding the fall.
What not really mentioned, but would have been helpful is that Walton seems to be suggesting that Jesus did not need immaculate conception of Mary to be sinless, but only to be uncorrupted by the pollution of sin.
Moving from Genesis 1-3 to the New Testament, Jesus’ incarnation is the center of the plan to resolve disorder and bring about perfect and permanent order in creation. Walton (with Wright’s help) argues that Paul uses Adam as an archetype of the effect of sin.
Overall I find this book less persuasive than the earlier book on Genesis 1. Walton is equally careful in both books with building his case. And in general I think most of it is reasonable and understandable. But a lot of the argument seems focused on saying that the creation and fall story as has been read over the past couple hundred years is not the only way it can be read and isn’t necessarily the ‘most biblical reading.’ Much of what Walton then seems to be arguing is not for a particular reading, but against the traditional creationist account as the only possible reading. That is inherently less satisfying because it moves us from ‘this is what this means’ to ‘these are the wide ranges of meanings that are possible.’ I think that is an important point to make, it is just a not very satisfying place to end up.
Walton is very clear toward the end, that science and faith are not incompatible and that a young earth is not necessary for faith and forcing that issue is bad for Christianity in the long term. I agree with the conclusion and a lot of the stops along the way, but not all of them.