21 September 2009

Land of the Lost, part 3

Here's Part 3 of this walkthrough of The Lost World. Note that by the end of this post my thoughts took on a more "outline" form, which will continue on through the remainder of this series. (Bah, prose. Who needs it?)

Proposition 3 takes a good look at the Hebrew word bārā’ (“create”), where Walton seeks to make the case that it concerns (primarily) functions. The verb is used about fifty times in the Old Testament and in every case, deity is always either the subject or the implied subject. Virtually all Hebraists agree on this point. Apparently few, however, discuss the objects of that verb. According to Walton, though some examples are ambiguous, a large percentage of the contexts require a functional understanding (he provides a helpful table on p. 42). Thus, “if the Israelites understood the word bārā’ to convey creation in functional terms, then that is the most ‘literal’ understanding that we can achieve” (p. 43). Walton does provide a caveat at this point: Just because he deems Genesis 1 to not be an account of material origins does not mean that he thinks God is not responsible for material origins. But that question is not in view here, so Walton.

He then applies this to Genesis 1:1 with the following results (after briefly looking at the adverb beginning, arguing that it typically introduces a period of time—in this case, the seven days—rather than a point in time—some time prior to the seven days): “In the initial period, God created by assigning functions throughout the heavens and the earth, and this is how he did it.” In short, verse one serves as the establishment upon which the subsequent eleven tôlědôt sections of Genesis rest. Genesis 1 therefore recounts the seven-day period in which God is “naming, separating and assigning functions and roles in an ordered system” (p. 46).

The beginning state in Genesis 1 is nonfunctional, Walton argues in Proposition 4. He does so by looking closely at the description of the earth in verse 2: tōhû and bōhû. After a brief word study through the Scriptures (see Table 2, p. 48) and taking into account the previous propositions about functional ontology, Walton concludes that the two words “convey the idea of nonexistence…that is, that the earth is described as not yet functioning in an ordered system. (Functional) creation has not yet taken place and therefore there is only (functional) nonexistence” (p. 49). A few glances at other ANE creation narratives back this up—that the ancient world conceived of existence in functional terms. Materiality is irrelevant at this point. Indeed, “the evidence of matter (the waters of the deep in Gen. 1:2) in the precreation state…supports this view” (p. 53). Thus the earth was without function and unproductive; its pre-creation state (primordial waters—“the deep”) opposed (“darkness”) the function-giving Spirit of God who hovered over it (v. 2).

“Function” was understood as "purpose" in ANE, 50 bottom; focused on the gods who created, but in the OT YHWH needs nothing, and his creation focuses on the needs of the crown of his creation—people. “Functionality cannot exist without people in the picture” (51).

More theological impetus for a Christian humanism?

Read more—Part 4.


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