Reviewed by Katherine Smith
Some of the most divisive issues among Christians stem from how we understand Genesis 1-3 and how we view what these chapters claim about the way in which God created the world and humanity. Questions emerge about:
- the relationship between biblical truth and science,
- whether Genesis 1-3 should be read literally,
- if Adam and Eve are the first humans and whether they are historical,
- whether or not the world was created in a literal six days, and
- why God rested on day seven.
For most, these issues boil down to one question, what is the relationship between what science claims and what the Bible claims? This is the question that motivates John Walton to write The Lost World of Adam and Eve. His main concern is to explore what the Bible claims, and does not claim, in Genesis 2-3, as part of an ancient document written within and written for the cognitive environment of the ancient Near East.
Walton argues that Genesis 2 would have been understood within its ancient context as an account of two archetypal humans, placed within a sacred space, and given priestly roles. Walton, in this instance, is arguing against the idea that Genesis 2 is about how the first two humans are made. He observes that the depiction of God forming the man from the ground and the woman from the man’s side points to the function of Adam and Eve within the sacred space, not in how they were made. At this point, Walton makes a sharp distinction between the claim of the biblical text, which is that God created Adam and Eve, and what Walton perceives the text as not claiming, which is how God made Adam and Eve. Furthermore, Walton proposes the view that both Adam and Eve are created mortal and the purpose of being in the presence of God is to have access to the antidote to their mortal nature, which is life gain through the tree of life. Genesis 3, then, is about the ‘encroachment of disorder (brought about by sin) in a world in the process of being ordered’. In Walton’s argument, Genesis 3 is not about the origin of sin, but how ‘corporate humanity is distanced from God’. The crux of Walton’s argument is that Genesis 2-3 makes theological claims and not biological, material, or origin claims of Adam and Eve.
The strength of Walton’s argument is how he unpacks critical issues within the text of Genesis 1-3 within the cognitive context of the ancient Near East, drawing attention to what the text is claiming theologically. Moreover, he uses the first quarter of the book to summarise his argument from his previous book, The Lost World of Genesis One. This means that a reader can jump straight into The Lost World of Adam and Eve without having read the first book. Also, he uses a helpful analogy contrasting an image taken by the Hubble telescope and Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night to illustrate the relationship between science and truth. The point of the analogy is that a depiction can be made ‘independent of science but not independent of truth’. Irrespective of whether one agrees or disagrees with Walton’s argument, this analogy is useful in helping others understand the relationship between science and the claims of the biblical text. Given the strengths of the book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve is most suitable for the mature and discerning Christian reader who wishes to think through how to read and understand Genesis 1-3 within its ancient context. It would also make for a useful small group resource to stimulate discussion about whether science and the Bible make competing claims about human origins.