A series of books and videos by Dr. John Walton, an Old Testament theologian at Wheaton College, has made a huge splash in the evangelical community in recent years, with considerable pushback from biblical creationists.1-7 He presents a supposedly new perspective on Genesis that not only accommodates the false claims of evolutionists but also denies the literal Genesis interpretation of early Earth history, including human origins and the global Flood.
Much of Dr. Walton’s success is linked to the enthusiastic endorsements of theistic evolutionists since his paradigm promotes molecules-to-man evolution. He even serves on the advisory council of the theistic evolutionary organization BioLogos.8
Interpreting Genesis with Ancient Pagan Culture
The foundation of Dr. Walton’s argument is a novel scheme to interpret the Genesis account of origins and Noah’s Flood within the context of ancient Near Eastern pagan culture and mythology (Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, etc.). Walton proposes that thanks to Near Eastern archaeology over the years, along with his own interpretation of the ancient writings of these cultures, we can now finally understand what the Bible is really saying. Our literal, straightforward perspective of Genesis has supposedly been flawed the past few thousand years, but because of Walton’s insight into ancient pagan beliefs, we finally have a reliable framework for understanding Genesis. And quite fortuitously for Walton and his friends, this paradigm also allows for millions of years of hypothetical evolution.
But the plot thickens. Walton’s ideas have implications for the gospel message. According to his origins story, Adam and Eve were not a literal original ancestral human couple but merely selected individual archetypes representing a population of humans who had evolved from apes over millions of years. Apparently, when humans had evolved to the point where God thought they were useful, the Lord commissioned them to bring order from the disordered and anciently evolved creation.
The whole idea of the interplay between chaos (disorder) and order, a popular concept in pagan philosophies, is also a centrally occurring theme in Walton’s system of biblical exegesis. Along this line of reasoning, there’s no room for the original sin of Adam and Eve as the Bible defines it, but merely the entry of disorder into the world—or the entry of more disorder, if you follow Walton’s logic. According to Walton, Satan—who deceived Eve in the garden to disobey God—is defined as one of the “chaos creatures” who “have no will of their own…no morality. They’re not good or evil.”9
God’s Cosmic Temple
Based on Walton’s premise that we should interpret Genesis through the lens of ancient Near Eastern pagan culture, the creation events would have been interpreted at the time it was written as a “functional” creation, not a material one. Many scholars who have studied ancient Near Eastern literature, however, dispute this idea of ancient people looking at the world through purely “functional” eyes.10 Nevertheless, Walton views the creation week in Genesis 1 as nothing more than a mystical initiation ritual in which God instantiates functional significance upon His “cosmic temple”—the evolved earth and its biosphere.
In other words, God’s process prior to this inauguration ritual involved millions of years of evolution accompanied by death, violence, and suffering. And according to Walton, at the end of this cosmic temple ritual, God proclaimed the evolved corrupt, violent world “good.” In fact, in a recent podcast posted on the BioLogos website, Walton stated, “Why is there hunger in the world, why do children suffer, why is there illness, why is there this [COVID-19] pandemic?...God created the world as it is….These are things that God in His wisdom has made the world this way.”9
Walton’s pagan overlay on the Genesis creation week is best described in the text of the leading book in his Lost World series. In a chapter titled “The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Relate to the Cosmic Temple Inauguration,” he says:
We have many inauguration texts from the ancient world, the most detailed being the dedication of the temple of Ningirsu by Gudea about 2100 B.C. One of the first things to note is that at the inauguration the “destiny” and the powers of the temple are assigned….This is the ultimate function-giving act in the ancient world. Likewise the roles of the functionaries are proclaimed and they are installed.11
So much for interpreting Scripture with Scripture and taking Genesis as the literal historical narrative that its Hebrew grammar clearly conveys.12 In contrast, Walton seems more adept at rehearsing the details of ancient pagan myth and ritual. His idea of a purely “functional” view of how we should interpret Genesis is eerily similar to the views of early Jewish and Christian Gnostics, who believed our physical/material reality is actually evil and only the spiritual world is good. This led to all sorts of early church doctrinal heresies. And like Walton’s claims of a new framework to interpret Genesis, the Gnostics believed that only they had a true understanding of the Scriptures that came through a mystical extrabiblical enlightenment and special knowledge. Walton’s obvious Gnostic-like themes have been noticed by other conservative creationist critics.7
Interestingly, in Walton’s “My Advice to Students” YouTube video, he says nothing about seminary or Bible school students studying the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek but instead encourages them to learn “the research languages,” especially German.13 Why German instead of the original languages of the Bible, you may ask? Because German is the language of one of the primary fountainheads of what has been called “higher textual criticism” and “higher rationalism,” whose universities and liberal researchers have published copious amounts of Bible-doubting literature over the past 300 years. In other words, Walton tells students not to focus on studying the Bible itself but rather the opinions of Bible-doubting scholars.
Walton’s Flood Was Archetypal and Local
Walton dismisses a literal Genesis global flood in his book The Lost World of the Flood, which he co-authored with another liberal Old Testament scholar, Tremper Longman III.14 They attempt to persuade Christians to abandon the Genesis Flood as an actual global catastrophe in favor of a local, isolated flood. But this is a tough sell on both a biblical and scientific level.
From a biblical perspective, Genesis’ description of the Flood clearly indicates that the entire world was flooded. Genesis 7:19 states, “And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered.” Jesus taught the global scope of Noah’s Flood, saying that the Flood came and “destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26-27, referring to everyone not on the Ark). Without exception, other New Testament writers referred to a historical flood, treating it as a global judgment on all humanity except for those preserved in the Ark (Hebrews 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5). Amazingly, Walton and Longman themselves recognize that the text of Genesis does indeed describe a global catastrophe, even listing seven reasons given in the text as proof.15 Yet, they cast the Scriptures aside in the cause of supporting the scientifically flawed hypothesis of evolutionary geology.
Not only does the idea of a local flood have no support from Scripture, but the majority of the earth’s surface is covered in catastrophically produced sedimentary (water-deposited) rock layers called megasequences in the form of sandstone, limestone, and shale. ICR geologist Dr. Tim Clarey has mapped the megasequences that were progressively laid down over the year-long global Flood across the continents in violent cycles of deposition.16 These flood-based rock layers cover entire regions of continents and are identical in their composition and sequence deposition globally. Thus, the hard science of structural geology all over the earth literally screams “global flood,” and there is no reason whatever for Christians to entertain an anti-scriptural view of a local flood to appease secular evolutionists.
Walton’s Lost World Is a Lost Cause
Walton’s theological rabbit hole gets deeper and more convoluted as you read his books and watch his videos. I urge readers to follow up with the writings of other creationist critics whose in-depth reviews tackle other angles of Walton’s work.1-7
Suffice it to say, Walton’s views are satisfying to neither atheists nor Bible-believing Christians. Molecules-to-man evolution is not proven science and doesn’t need the sort of mystical sophistry put forth by people like Walton to persuade Christians to compromise with it. We don’t observe macroevolution happening today, nor do we find any evidence of it in the fossil record in the form of one creature morphing into a fundamentally different creature. Stephen Jay Gould, one of most notable paleontologists of the modern era, stated:
The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.17
In this quote, the phrase “extreme rarity” is evolutionary lingo for “absence.” The absence of transitional forms is a huge problem for the evolutionary paradigm.
Nor does genetics offer any proof of evolution, as Walton claims in his books. The centerpiece of theoretical human evolution, the alleged 98 to 99% human-chimp DNA similarity, has been thoroughly debunked in the past few years, as well as the so-called “chromosome 2 fusion.”18,19 And empirical molecular genetic “clocks” show that human mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA variations fit perfectly with a single ancestral couple, Adam and Eve, and a 6,000-year biblical timeline.20
As to why we have evil and corruption in the world, it’s not because God created the world this way as part of a “good” creation over millions of years of evolution. The Bible is quite clear on the subject, and we don’t need some convoluted and esoteric theology to explain it. Romans 5:12 plainly tells us, “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
The curse on creation—the entry of sin, corruption, and evil into the world—is also clearly stated in Genesis 3:17-18: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.” And again in Romans 8:20: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope.” But there is good news, as 1 Corinthians 15:22 tells us: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” By turning from our destructive lives and placing our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who gave Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, we can be restored in our relationship with God the Father and have eternal life.
Our Creator did not make a cosmic temple. He created a perfect world that was cursed with death when Adam sinned. Genesis and the gospel are clear. Like a house of cards, Walton’s “temple” collapses under biblical and scientific pressure.
- Statham, D. 2009. Dubious and dangerous exposition: A review of The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John H. Walton. Journal of Creation. 24 (3): 24-26.
- Ham, S. 2015. The Lost World of Adam and Eve: A Response. Answers Research Journal. 8: 361-374.
- Halley, K. 2015. John Walton reimagines Adam and Eve: A review of The Lost World of Adam and Eve by John H. Walton. Journal of Creation. 29 (2): 47-51.
- Cox, G. The Lost World of Walton: Why John Walton’s Lost World books are a lost cause. Creation Ministries International. Posted on creation.com March 14, 2019, accessed May 12, 2020.
- Bendewald, J. 7 Reasons Dr. John Walton is wrong on Genesis 1. Evidence Press, Inc. Posted on evidencepress.com September 21, 2019, accessed May 12, 2020.
- Tomkins, J. P. John Walton’s Twisted Views on Disease and Suffering. Creation Science Update. Posted on ICR.org May 13, 2020, accessed May 13, 2020.
- Purifoy Jr., T. The Gnostic World of John Walton. Is Genesis History? Posted on isgenesishistory.com, accessed May 12, 2020.
- BioLogos Advisory Council. Posted on biologos.org, accessed May 5, 2020.
- Coronavirus & the Book of Job: A Podcast Recording with John Walton. BioLogos. Posted on biologos.com April 29, 2020, accessed May 5, 2020.
- Specifically, Vern Poythress, Noel Weeks, Richard Averbeck, John Currid, and Steve Boyd.
- Walton, J. H. 2009. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 87.
- Johnson, J. J. S. 2011. Genesis Is History, Not Poetry: Exposing Hidden Assumptions about What Hebrew Poetry Is and Is Not. Acts & Facts. 40 (6): 8-9.
- John H. Walton: My Advice to Students. Posted on youtube January 20, 2014, accessed May 12, 2020.
- Longman III, T. and J. H. Walton. 2018. The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology and the Deluge Debate. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Ibid, 48-49.
- Clarey, T. 2020. Carved in Stone: Geological Evidence of the Worldwide Flood. Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research.
- Gould, S. J. 1977. Evolution’s Erratic Pace. Natural History. 86 (5): 12-16.
- Tomkins, J. P. 2018. Separate Studies Converge on Human-Chimp DNA Dissimilarity. Acts & Facts. 47 (11): 9.
- Tomkins, J. P. 2020. Human Chromosome 2 Fusion Never Happened. Acts & Facts. 49 (5): 16-19.
- Tomkins, J. P. 2015. Genetic Clocks Verify Recent Creation. Acts & Facts. 44 (12): 9-11.
* Dr. Tomkins is Life Sciences Director at the Institute for Creation Research and earned his Ph.D. in genetics from Clemson University.