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Vibrant Dance 2: Breakout Session 2: John Walton

On this Remembrance Day (Veterans Day), thank you to all who have said no to self and served this nation. May the Lord lift you up and sustain you for all your days, receiving you into His arms at journey’s end.

{RJW Note:  The final session of the conference was composed of breakout sessions by the various speakers to interact with attendees about the day’s panel discussions. I again attended Dr. John Walton’s session as a TA. It was primarily a Q&A format, so where necessary for context, the gist of the question is presented with the answer immediately following. As before, Genesis 1 and 2 are abbreviated as G1 and G2 respectively. Again, full audio and video of the conference (including the breakouts with the other speakers are available at}

In Revelation, when it declares there is no sea, it is a functionality argument—no more chaos, not no more water.

To have “consistent hermeneutics” is to be a competent reader of what the author writes and an ethical reader of his words (versus how in literary criticism the reader starts out with disbelief). Virtuous readers use their perlocution {how the information is received by the audience} to identify what the human author intended and this can be applied regardless of genre. He is concerned with the label ‘history’ as a genre, it may indicate the subject is real and true but that label doesn’t say how authors communicate their reality. For example, it is not an ethical hermeneutic to apply standards of photography to modern art. It is competent to read a document as intended by the author. We have to understand authors’ conventions, not impose our conventions, but theirs.

How does yom on the 7th day get characterized? Are we still in 7th day? No. he is ruling, starting on day 7, but still continuing—we are living in the realm of the 7th day, but not still chronologically on the 7th day.

He says Jesus said father is still resting (ruling, reigning). {I thought the quote was “I am working and My Father is working still.” John5:17 Jesus could mean that the Father’s work is the reigning aspect of rest, but I don’t know that the text actually says that in the original language—interesting study, if so.}

How do New Testament authors deal with the Old Testament text? Message and fulfillment are different things. There is the locution from God (prophecy), elocution by the prophets (what they believed the message to be, as they understood the message revealed to them). However, fulfillment is an event, not words or text. So the New Testament authors identify the fulfillment, which is not the same as the message—the prophet didn’t necessarily understand what the fulfillment would be, only the message. The New Testament elocution of the fulfillment does not need to address Old Testament message elocution when identifying fulfillment.

An example of this is “out of Egypt I have called my son”—Hosea was talking about Israel and that’s all, and it is under authority from God (message elocution), but when referring to that passage, Matthew is talking about Jesus and that’s also under authority from God (fulfillment elocution).

Are there cultures today that have a functional ontology, and how would they thus interpret Scripture? It would not be surprising if there were cultures with functional ontologies, but it is not his area of expertise, but would they read Genesis in that light? He doesn’t know.

In Hebrews 4, the author talks about having not yet entered rest because more order is still being created until the new creation.

What led him to this understanding functional ontology? Heidl said that the key distinction between ancient near east (ANE) literature and G1 is that G1 actually makes things, and not just creating order like other mythologies, and Walton believed that for years. But in examining G1, he asked himself why God created light and called it light, instead of day or something like that, and one day (in class!) realized God was creating periods of time (light and dark), and Walton realized it was functional and not material. {May have gotten his words wrong here about calling it light. In another session, he said he called it day, and this makes more sense.}

Are functional ontology and the cosmic temple idea tied together? Yes—the temple is the control room of cosmos and where heaven and earth join together. The Holy of holies was actually higher than rest of temple, so it was like a meeting point of heaven and earth physically and functionally. Homology is the next step beyond metaphor. Metaphor is a touchpoint of similarity and it’s one way (A is like B, but B does not correspond backwards to A). In homology, the two are mutually identifiable. The cosmos is a temple is a homology, because the temple is also the cosmos.

Rev 21-22 is a parallel example.

In the account of Jacob’s ladder, Jacob sees the connection between the realms. In ancient Sumer, the ziggurat is not a temple, but sacred space next to the temple, which was lower, on the ground. In their mythological ritual, God comes down the ziggurat like a personal elevator and then goes next door to the temple. Babel was built for God to come down, and He did, but He was displeased because they were taking the initiative instead of Him taking the initiative.

Back to Jacob we now see how he saw this passageway in his dream. Genesis 28:  Jacob saw a stairway from earth to heaven with messengers ascending and descending. It was a portal between realms, where God stands beside it, not at top or bottom, and gives His message to Jacob. Jacob therefore declares that location to be sacred space. This is none other than the house of God (Beth-El) and that ladder (up) is the gate of heaven.

There are also issues of image—in all other ANE literature, only the king is in the image of God, the rest of humans are like animals. So Israel yet again distinctive because the image of God distinguishes all of us from the animals, yet not everything that distinguishes us from animals is the image of God.

Our imago Dei distinguishes us in the sense that a) we function on behalf of God (like a vice-regent), which indicates our identity, our place as a species and relationship with God, and b) we are the substitute for the presence of God—these types of things are the purposes of the concept of images in ANE.

Image does not immediately tie in to the temple concept, but image has an element of identity which is a functional concept.

Why is it important to hold to a historical and archetypal Adam & Eve? The text pushes that direction because of the genealogies listing them. Furthermore, could Paul’s statements about Adam (in Romans and other books) still be sound theology with a merely archetypal Adam? It would be very difficult.

What do we mean by historical Adam? We must first distinguish between the terms historical, literal and material. He means historical is a real person with a real past, and notes that G2 is not Adam’s material creation. Could Paul make a legitimate theological point based on a literary figure? Paul doesn’t seem to think he is. But it might be conceivably possible. There is a precedent: Melchizadek is presented in all three ways—in Genesis (historical), the Psalm (archetypal) and in intertestamental literature (literary).

The reason this discussion is critical is that Adam & Eve have federal headship—they are fully representative of all of us, so when Adam & Eve fell, all others fell. People were created mortal, and the Tree of Life is the antidote, and so expulsion from the garden cuts all of us off from it.

The doctrine of original sin is tricky, and may be the next big issue, as people are increasingly uncomfortable with Augustine’s doctrinal idea. We’ve not fully explained the relationship between sin and disorder. Sin is a manifestation of disorder, which has ripple effects across creation, an infection of disorder, perhaps relative to missing the mark or biological effect.

Walton’s next book: Lost World of the Word—there is much we don’t understand about ANE. To the ANE mind, the Old Testament prophets were authorities, and the scribes recorded information from authorities. They are transmitted generation to generation and archived and collected into larger texts, so the modern idea of books and authors is hyperanachronistic—Moses is an authority, therefore scribes wrote his words down, not that he sat down and wrote it himself to get the byline.

Day 15 Praise:  Praise God for creating us in His image, yet leaving enough uncertain that we can’t merely use that to define His nature, just as a tin soldier is incapable of communicating all that a real soldier is in his being.


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