“Divine Rest Is in a Temple”
If we read Genesis 1 as an account of the material creation of the cosmos, then day seven seems odd, a kind of a theological postscript to the real narrative of creation. But Walton contends than an ancient reader would have immediately understood two things: 1) Genesis 1 is a temple text and 2) day seven is the most important of the seven days and therefore the more important part of the temple text. In a functional account of creation, day seven would be the climax and the pinnacle of the narrative. Why? Because in an ancient mindset it would have been readily understood that “Deity rests in a temple, and only in a temple.” A temple is a place for divine rest (rest not meaning divine sleep, but divine sitting back, looking on the functional system, and letting it do what it was designed to do). In fact, the Hebrew word shabat (from which is derived the word Sabbath) is an action which leads into a state of menuha, a position of safety and stability. The temple in which deity takes up rest is his headquarters (not primarily a place of communal worship as in churches today) from which he executes all the business of his realm, in this case the business of the entire cosmos.
“The Cosmos Is a Temple”
Walton shows, through various avenues, that in ancient Near-Eastern mythology, the conceptualization, formation, and purpose of the cosmos and the temple were practically synonymous acts, showcasing the authority of the deity and serving as a place from which to execute that authority. And this is equally true in the case of the tabernacle/temple of the Israelites, which has often been seen as a microcosm of the entire cosmos and seen to be containing many images of both creation in general and the Garden of Eden in particular. In short, the Garden of Eden, the temple/tabernacle, and the entire cosmos are all similarly conceived sanctuaries in which God resides and in which humans can come and interact with and worship God. This is especially clear simply from Scripture in Isaiah 66:1-2c:
“Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord.”
So while the ancient Israelites were certainly paying attention to the functional, not material aspects of God’s creation of the cosmos, the function which they were most interested in was the function of creation as the temple of God, the place of God’s authoritative rule where humans could meet with him and worship him.
Here is what Walton has to say:
“The most central truth to the creation account is that this world is a place for God’s presence. Though all of the functions are anthropocentric, meeting the needs of humanity, the cosmic temple is theocentric, with God’s presence serving as the defining element of existence. … The establishment of the functional cosmic temple is effectuated by God taking up his residence on day seven.”
“The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Relate to the Cosmic Temple Inauguration”
When a temple is made, there are two stages prior to use—creation and inauguration. The creation deals with the material building of the temple, the wood, stone, and gold that goes into it. Then comes the inauguration, and it is not until the inauguration was complete that a temple would have truly been considered a temple. In much the same way, the earth, in whatever form it took prior to the account of Genesis 1, was a collection of well-organized materials. But then came Genesis 1, and the seven days of creation are a seven-day inauguration ceremony for the greatest temple ever made—the cosmos.
We can see this happening in Exodus n the portrayal of the making of the tabernacle: in Ex. 39:32 it is reported that all the work on the tabernacle was complete. But the tabernacle-making wasn’t finished yet—the inauguration had yet to be completed; so then we have the blessing of Moses over the tabernacle in 39:43 and the description of the organizing of the things in the temple and the entrance of the glory of the Lord in Ex. 40, so that by Ex. 40:34, the temple is actually complete.
Walton even suggests, perhaps accurately and in conjunction with others, “that Genesis 1 could have effectively served as the liturgy” of a festival which celebrated the inauguration of the tabernacle/temple, such as the festival spoken of in 1 Kings 8:65 with the temple of Solomon.
This would allow us to more accurately handle the present discussion regarding the term ‘day’ in Genesis 1 (Hebrew yom). Many have tried to see yom as referring to a period of time, rather than to a 24-hour period, but the language simply does not accommodate such a reading, given the usage of yom elsewhere in Scripture. But if the seven days of Genesis 1 are in fact the ‘inauguration ceremony’ of the cosmos, then they could very well have been seven, literal, 24-hour days in which God set up, not the material origins of the universe, but the functional origins of the universe as the temple of God.
“The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Do Not Concern Material Origins”
This may seem fairly obvious from previous discussions, but here Walton makes a point of coming out and saying a few things which he has previously implied. First off, he states that, unless it can be proven alongside of his theory that Genesis 1 does contain an account of the material origins of the cosmos, it should not be retained simply because that is what we are accustomed to. That being said, he makes it abundantly clear that he is not saying that God did not meticulously and powerfully make every material thing, but simply saying that Genesis 1 does not tell that story. (And given that the rest of Scripture is far more concerned with what the purpose of the earth is for a good life for humans and for the glory of God, rather than how it works, this seems to me to be very consistent with the witness of Scripture as a whole.)
Walton addresses systematically the possible places where material origins could be discussed ad this is what he comes out with:
= Days one, three, and seven speak of no material creation at all.
= Day two, the firmament, is potentially material, but it is clear that the Israelites had more concern with what it did and little concern with how it was made.
= Days four and six have material components but they are discussed on a functional level.
= Day five speaks of the function of the created beings and uses the verb bara, previously established to be a verb concerned with the functional, not material creation.
Then Walton takes his vehicle to a place where the rubber hits the road with a screeching that many might find uncomfortable and others will love the sound of: if all of this is true, then Genesis 1 does not support a young earth position. It also does not support an old earth position. It simply doesn’t rule out, or confirm either one—it just doesn’t speak to the age of the earth. And I quote:
“If there is no biblical information concerning the age of the material cosmos, then, as people who take the Bible seriously, we have nothing to defend on that count and can consider the options that science has to offer. Some scientific theories may end up being correct and others may be replaced by new thinking. We need not defend the reigning paradigm in science about the age of the earth if we have scientific reservations, but we are under no compulsion to stand against a scientific view of an old earth because of what the Bible teaches.”
God still made the earth—functional and material. Colossians 1:16-17 and Hebrews 1:2 affirm that God is the source of all that exists, material, functional, or anything else you can think of.
But then what do the seven days do? The seven days add two things to the material world: 1) humanity in God’s image and 2) God’s presence in his cosmic temple. “Without those two ingredients, the cosmos would be considered nonfunctional and therefore nonexistent” and this is consistent with Scripture’s understanding that the cosmos exists for humans second and God first. Once Genesis 1 has passed on, the material temple has been granted the presence of the Deity and the presence of the priests (human beings, ministering before God in his temple) and is therefore complete.
One major objection which many hold and which I held to this view is the question of death. A material world implies death, unless it is without animal life or even plant life, since both require death. But Walton contends, perhaps rightly, perhaps not, that Paul is not speaking about death in general, but about death for humanity as it came into the world through sin. Death came to humanity through sin in the fall, but that does not mean that it didn’t exist in the rest of the world prior to the Fall. Once humans sinned, the mortality with which they had been created as a part of the earth (‘from the dust’) their one antidote to mortality, the Tree of Life, was denied to them and so death came to humanity through the Fall.
(All quotes, unless otherwise noted, and all creative material work unless I specify it as my opinion, comes from John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.)