Tag Archives: event-centered approach

Genesis 1:2d – Sailhamer and Walton Summary and Loose Ends

Before beginning the 6 days of creation we need to do some house cleaning.

  • Specifically, deal with some issues raised thus far.
    • Including interpretation methods of Genesis 1-3.
  • We will also chart and summarize Walton and Sailhamer’s views of verses 1 and 2.



Two Approaches to Understanding Genesis 1-3:

(1)Text-Centered Approach:

This approach “maintains that the meaning may be discerned by means of a careful literary analysis of this text in light of its larger literary context (ultimately the Pentateuch)” – Seth Postell.


In other words, this approach tries to get at the intention of the author of the text.

  • It does so within the framework of his other works.
  • It does so by understanding how other Biblical writers saw the author’s intentions.
    • Analogy of Scripture
  • John Sailhamer’s approach is one such example.


BTW – English literary studies refer to this as hearing the author’s voice.


One important aspect of the text-centered approach is that it does not locate the meaning of the text in the reader – Seth Postell.

  • One reason for avoiding locating meaning in the readers is that…
  • Interpretations of the text become “as limitless as the readers” – Seth Postell.
  • For this reason, the text-centered approach seeks to primarily understand the author’s voice as objectively as possible.


In this approach the role of the reader is described as follows:

  • “Readers…do not create meaning: rather, they discover it (intention) by means of a careful analysis of the text (embodied intention)”.
  • Importantly, the textual-approach provides the boundaries within which the reader can interpret – Seth Postell.


(2) Event-Centered Approach

  • Is also called a “behind-the-text” approach.
  • This approach “…culls any and all data available on the biblical creation account, whether it is from modern science or from…sources form within the milieu of the ANE” – Seth Postell.
  • This is John Walton’s approach.


In other words:

  • One takes modern science’s view of creation, and brings its body of knowledge to bear on the meaning of Genesis 1-3.
    • Theistic Evolution is one such example.
  • Or, one takes ANE creation stories and their cosmology and brings them to bear on the meaning of Genesis 1-3.
    • Walton’s functional creationism is an example.


BTW – Walton’s functional creationism, like Sailhamer’s text-centered approach, seeks to bypass locating the meaning of the text in the reader as well.

  • This is because the content of ancient Near Eastern culture is independent of the reader’s context.


Slight Rabbit Trail – Concordist Method of Interpretation:

Neither Sailhamer nor Walton takes a “Concordist” approach to Genesis 1.

  • This is an approach that “seeks to give a modern scientific explanation for the details in the text” – Walton.
  • “Concordists believe the Bible must agree—be in concord with— all the findings of contemporary science” – John Walton.
  • A concordist view is an event-centered approach.
  • As we have said, for Walton and Sailhamer, the story of Genesis 1:2ff is not about the physical act of creating the material universe – so trying to concord with science is a moot point.


How does this approach play out?

  • It tries to understand the waters above the sky in Genesis 1:7 scientifically, e.g., instead of as a feature of ANE cosmology.


However, the difficulty of this approach can quickly be seen when dealing with “seat of intelligence, emotion and personhood” – John Walton.

  • The Hebrews saw this “seat” as residing in the entrails and/or internal organs – Walton.
  • But we now know this is in the mind – the brain.
  • How can this difference be “concorded” scientifically?


BTW – There is a view, held by Hugh Ross, for example, called Soft Concordism.

“Soft concordists seek agreement between properly interpreted Scripture passages that describe some aspect of the natural realm and indisputably and well-established data in science” – Hugh Ross.


BTW 2 – Obviously, however, Sailhamer and Walton’s approaches have certain implications for those that wish to concord each of their views with modern science.

  • But Sailhamer and Walton’s views are not arrived out based on modern science.


On this Bible/science relationship to Genesis 1 Gordon Wenham says:

“The Bible-versus-science debate has, most regrettably, sidetracked readers of Gen 1. Instead of reading the chapter as a triumphant affirmation of the power and wisdom of God and the wonder of his creation, we have been too often bogged down in attempting to squeeze Scripture into the mold of the latest scientific hypothesis or distorting scientific facts to fit a particular interpretation. When allowed to speak for itself, Gen 1 looks beyond such minutiae. Its proclamation of the God of grace and power who undergirds the world and gives it purpose justifies the scientific approach to nature. Gen 1, by further affirming the unique status of man, his place in the divine program, and God’s care for him, gives a hope to mankind that atheistic philosophies can never legitimately supply” – Gordon Wenham.



Brief History of Interpretation of Genesis 1-3:

Seth Postell tells us that, historically, the central focus of understanding Genesis was the “continuity” between it and Jesus as revealed in the NT.

  • John 5:46–47 (ESV) — 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
  • Specifically, “Moses (the man and the book) was regarded as a faithful witness of the future Messianic realities…and the hope of the new covenant”.
  • This is what we have been calling Moses’ Message.


BTW – This is also true, Postell argues, of Jewish exegetes as evidenced in the Midrash (ancient Jewish commentary).

  • He provides numerous examples in “Adam as Israel”.


However, with the Enlightenment came attacks against the “literary unity” of Genesis 1-3 – Seth Postell.

  • The text was deconstructed and dissected by a large number of influential Biblical scholars in the eighteen and nineteen hundreds.
  • Rudolph Bultmann and form criticism, for example.


Moreover, burgeoning scientific claims about our origins began to adversely influence how the text was to be read – an event centered approach.

  • In response to this, the fundamentalist movement reacted by advocating nothing short of a “literal” reading of Genesis 1-3.
  • Interpretations that were seen as sympathetic to the critical, reductionist approaches were rejected.
  • This approach has been described as “a movement that defended the Bible honorably and then taught us to read it poorly” – Ron Julian.


BTW – Is this approach an event-centered approach?

  • Why is a “literal” approach not quite as simple as it sounds?


It is only recently that both the critical approaches and the fundamentalist reaction to them (hopefully) have begun to give way to the literary approaches of the past – text-centered approaches.

  • Examples of this can be found in Andre Sousan, Thomas Keiser, John Collins, and Jewish scholar Tvi Erlich – Seth Postell.
    • And, of course, John Sailhamer.
  • And in the case of John Walton, the massive increase in our understanding of ANE cultures has given way to the ANE contextual approach of understanding Genesis 1-3.



John Sailhamer and John Walton Summary of Genesis 1:1-2


  John Sailhamer – Literary Context View John Walton – Ancient Near Eastern Context View


Text-Centered Approach Event-Centered Approach

Main Point

Promised Land Preparation Functional Creation

Meaning Derived From

The Pentateuch (Primarily) Cosmology of ANE

Genesis 1:1 Is

Creation of Entire Universe Introductory Statement

In the Beginning – Reshit

“Time Before Time” in which Universe was Created – Separate From Six Days

(Textual claim not a scientific claim)

Introduction to Verse 2 – Part of Six Days

(Textual claim not a scientific claim)

Create – Bara

Physically Creating Universe Out of Nothing Assigning Purpose, Order and Function to Pre-Existent Physical Creation

Genesis 1:2 Deals With

Promised Land/Eden Before Made Habitable Creation Before Assigned Function

Without Form & Void – Tohu Wabohu

Uninhabitable Wasteland Purposeless and Nonfunctional Earth

Earth – Eretz

The Promised Land/Eden The Entire Earth

The Deep – Tehom

Waters Over the Promised Land/Eden Cosmic Geography of Creation w/o Function

Spirit Hovering

Beginning of Preparing PL/Eden Beginning of Assigning Function



In Their Own Words – Summaries of Genesis 1:1-2:


“My concern in Genesis Unbound is solely with the meaning of these chapters as intended by their historical author, Moses, who was moved by the Holy Spirit to write the text just as we have it today in the Bible…The first two chapters of Genesis were not meant to be read in isolation from the rest of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).” – John Sailhamer.


“The work of God recounted in Genesis 1:2–2:4a falls within a time period of just one week. In that single week we see God preparing ‘the land’ as a suitable habitat for the man and woman He will create on the sixth day. The ‘land’ which the author has in mind is the land promised to Israel (Genesis 15:18). It is there that God prepared the garden of Eden where He could enjoy fellowship with humankind, with those He created in His own image” – John Sailhamer.


Sailhamer’s interpretive translation of Genesis 1:1-2:

“1 Long ago God created the world. He created the sun, the moon, and the stars, as well as all the creatures which inhabit the earth. He created all of them out of nothing—not in a single instant of time, but over a vast period of time. 2 God’s world, however, was not complete. He had not yet created human beings and the land where He intended to put them was not yet suitable for them. It was covered by a deep ocean and the sun could not penetrate the dense fog which covered the waters. God’s Spirit, however, was already present over the waters covering the land” – John Sailhamer.



It “…can be summarized by the following expanded interpretive translation of verse 1: ‘In the initial period, God created by assigning functions throughout the heavens and the earth, and this is how he did it.’ The chapter does involve creative activities, but all in relation to the way that the ancient world thought about creation and existence: by naming, separating and assigning functions and roles in an ordered system. This was accomplished in the seven-day period that the text calls ‘the beginning’” – John Walton.