John Walton and Mark Strauss Introduce the “Teach the Text” Commentary Series

While John Walton was here I asked him about the new commentary series he and Mark Strauss were working on. He is very excited about it. He explained that many pastors have very limited time. He didn’t need to tell me this but he elaborated. In one week a pastor may have to do multiple funerals, offer counseling sessions, take care of things around the church, and any number of other things that larger churches can delegate to other individuals. He said, “I told the commentary contributors to imagine a pastor calling them on the phone and saying, ‘I need to prepare a message for this Sunday. In a half hour give me something I can use for my preparation.'” In other words, time is at a premium but I have to have something–help me. The Teach the Text Commentary Series fills this very need. In the clip below both he and Mark Strauss explain in more detail the features and benefits of this new commentary series. Do we really need another series? Listen and find out why “yes” is the right answer.



Did Death Occur Before the Fall? An Answer from John Walton

In honor of John Walton’s visit tonight I thought I would give a selection from his book The Lost World of Genesis One. The issue is this: Did death occur before the Fall? Walton answers yes. Here’s why:

Some might object that if the material phase had been carried out for long ages prior to the seven days of Genesis, there would be a problem about death. Romans 5:12 states unequivocally, ‘Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.’ Interpreters have inferred from this verse that there was no death at any level prior to the Fall, the entrance of sin. But we should notice that the verse does not say that. Paul is talking about how death came to people—why all of humanity is subject to death. Just because death came to us because of sin, does not mean that death did not exist at any level prior to the Fall.

Not only does the verse not make a claim for death in general, everything we know logically repudiates the absence of death at any level prior to the Fall. Day three describes the process by which plants grow. The cycle of sprouting leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds is one that involves death as part of it. Likewise with animals: we need not even broach the topic of predatory meat eaters to see that the food chain involves death. A caterpillar eating a leaf brings death. A bird eating the caterpillar brings death. Fish eating insects brings death. If animals and insects did not die, they would overwhelm their environment and the ecology would suffer. Furthermore, if we move to the cellular level death is inevitable. Human skin has an outer layer of epidermis—dead cells—and we know that Adam had skin (Gen 2:23).

All of this indicates clearly that death did exist in the pre-Fall world—even though humans were not subject to it. But there is more. Human resistance to death was not the result of immortal bodies. The text indicates that we are formed from the dust of the earth, a statement of our mortality (for dust we are and to dust we shall return, cf. Gen 3:19). No, the reason we were not subject to death was because an antidote had been provided to our natural mortality through the mechanism of the tree of life in the garden. When God specified the punishment for disobedience, he said that when they ate, they would be doomed to death (the meaning of the Hebrew phrase in Gen 2:17). That punishment was carried out by banishing them from the garden and blocking access to the tree of life (Gen 3:23-24). Without access to the tree of life, humans were doomed to the natural mortality of their bodies and were therefore doomed to die. And so it was that death came through sin. (99-101)

Lost World of Genesis One

John Walton is Coming to Baker Book House

I’m pleased to announce that Dr. John Walton will be in our store on Monday, March 18th at 7:00 pm. John will be speaking on “Genesis Through Ancient Eyes.” Last time John was in our store he spoke on Genesis One so we’ve asked him to address chapter two this time around. John will speak for about an hour and then we will have time for Q&A. He will sign books after the lecture. Mark you calendars now. You won’t be disappointed.

John Walton is Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College.

John Walton

The Book of Nehemiah is Not Teaching Lessons in Leadership

In yesterday’s post we saw that Michael Horton said the Bible was not a catalog of moral advice. John Walton has been saying this for years. In his book The Bible Story Handbook he notes “The problem with teaching about the ‘heroes and heroines of the Bible’ is that the hero of the Bible is God. All people have flaws, even at their best. We dare not obscure the view of God to elevate human heroes.” (21)  I’ve heard more than one sermon on “leadership lessons” from the book of Nehemiah. After hearing more than one sermon from more than one source (and reading about it in several books) you can begin to think it is a consensus of scholarship that leadership is the theme of the book. Nothing could be further from the truth. Walton corrects this notion.

“For example, we can learn much about leadership by studying Nehemiah. In the end, however, there is no indication that the author of Nehemiah was preserving and presenting his material so that readers could be instructed in leadership. Because of this, the authority of Scripture is not being tapped when leadership is taught from the book and life of Nehemiah.”

“Leadership is an important quality, one worth learning about, but one may just as well learn about it from the lives of Abraham Lincoln or John Calvin. There is no special merit in learning it from Nehemiah simply because his story is in the Bible whereas others are not. The Bible is unique because it teaches with the authority of God; in the case of Nehemiah, we learn, among other things, that God fulfills his promises of restoring the city of Jerusalem and that he sovereignly carries out his plan through Nehemiah’s submission. God used Nehemiah’s leadership, but that does not mean that Nehemiah’s was the best possible leadership, approved by God in every way. Nehemiah’s success does not authorize his example as a biblical model for leadership. The model itself has no authority. If, above anything else, we tell Bible stories to convey the Bible’s authoritative teaching to students, then our focus should not be on Nehemiah’s leadership.” (16)

Bible Story Handbook

John Walton Cautions: Don’t “Mistake the Vision as the Message”

Reading apocalyptic literature is tricky. Often times we see elaborate explanations of the symbols found in the prophet’s visions. John Walton offers some sound advice on this matter in A Survey of the Old Testament (by John Walton and Andrew Hill). He writes,

“The use of symbols in apocalyptic literature has often created confusion and uncertainty for interpreters. Many books offer incredible revelations of the symbolic meaning of this or that passage from the apocalyptic literature. Much confusion is caused, however, by one’s mistakenly treating the vision of a prophet as the message of a prophet. The vision was not the message, but the occasion for the message. In Zechariah 1, for instance, the vision is of horses in a grove of myrtle trees (vv. 8-11). It would be a mistake to conclude that the Israelites listening to Zechariah were to keep their eyes on the myrtle trees and be alert for a group of horsemen and riders. The message was not that there would be horses among the myrtle trees, but that the Lord was still concerned about Jerusalem—as the text makes eminently clear (vv. 14-17).”

“Likewise, in Zechariah 5 the vision concerns carrying off to Babylon a measuring basket with a woman in it. Again, this was the vision, not the message. The message is not so explicitly stated in this text as in Zechariah 1, but verse 6 gives the information necessary to deduce that the message concerned a purging from the sin of idolatry.”

“Understanding the message does not require an interpretation of everything in the vision, or even understanding of the chronological placement of the events in the vision. The features of the vision are incidental; they are not the message. Unfortunately, some interpreters place too much confidence in their ability to discern the meaning of symbols in prophetic literature and spend much time devising and defending such meaning. Yet it cannot be assumed that every object in a vision has symbolic value, and when the meaning of a symbol is not given in the text, the interpreter must be cautious in supplying such a meaning. It is possible that the symbolism is used to conceal rather than to reveal.”

“In the examples given, the myrtle trees and the basket may or may not have symbolic value. If they do, the text has not disclosed the meaning, and any speculation, no matter how thoughtful, would fall short of coming with the authority of God’s prophetic word. Unrevealed symbolism cannot be considered the inspired message of the prophet.”

“In general, the prophet was given a message by God that he was supposed to communicate to his audience. In apocalyptic prophecy, the seer was often given a vision of what was to come, and the message was predicated on the information received in the vision. To reiterate, the vision was not the message, but the occasion for the message.” (508-9)

Surevey of the Old Testament