Does Genesis teach the Earth is young? During my recent trip to Israel I read a really great book; it’s a discussion between 5 Old-Testament scholars on the opening chapters of Genesis. In the book they lay out their views and briefly engage with each other, citing areas of agreement and disagreement. As an introduction, it’s definitely worth picking up. In any case, I wanted to note a few thoughts I’ve had while reading it.
John Walton has some really interesting things to say about Genesis 1 and 2. His interpretation has 2 primary components. First, Walton contends that Genesis 1 is not concerned at all about material origins (in other words, it doesn’t address how the physical world came to be). Instead, it serves to establish functional origins.
The first verse of Genesis, according to Walton (and Averbeck), is a literary introduction to–or overview of–the creation account; it is not a separate act of creation from the seven days. If this is correct, then the actual story of creation begins in verse 2 where material already exists, but function does not. He then argues that each day of creation notably lacks material connections. The primary role of the text is to establish function and give order to the cosmos.
Secondly, and less controversially, the cosmos is being ordered to serve as God’s Temple. “In the ancient world as soon as “rest” is mentioned in connection with God, everyone would have known exactly what sort of text this was: gods rest in temples, and temples are built so that gods can rest in them.” Day 7, the day of rest, instead of being undervalued, turns out to be most important. Rest does not indicate that God was physically exhausted from creating the universe; rest is possible because the cosmos is no longer chaotic but ordered so life can happen in normal, stable ways.
“In the ancient world as soon as “rest” is mentioned in connection with God, everyone would have known exactly what sort of text this was: gods rest in temples, and temples are built so that gods can rest in them.”John Walton
If the seven days of creation is essentially an inauguration ceremony of God’s temple–an account concerning functional rather than material origins of this cosmic temple–then Geneses as a whole contributes nothing to the question of the age of universe or the age of the Earth. This doesn’t mean God didn’t create everything, but that Genesis 1 and 2 is not telling that story. It’s telling a different, more interesting story.
Needless to say, Walton is not without his critics. However, I find his account particularly fascinating. Even if he is not correct about Genesis being solely an account of functional origins, the cosmos as God’s Temple indicates that we shouldn’t automatically assume the days of creation are meant to communicate sequential 24-hour days of material origins. We shouldn’t immediately assume that is what is being communicated. The primary story being told is one of God taking up residence in a universe he has personally created, ordered, and filled with people made in His image to serve as His temple.