Thanks to my friend Puritan Lad, who let me know of the writings of John H. Walton, professor of Hebrew at Wheaton College, who offers an expanded framework perspective on Genesis. But he goes a step or two further than the traditional framework view, and explores the very purpose of Genesis.
While I don’t agree with all that he says, and find his reliance on other ancient near-East writings a little disturbing, it does offer some valuable insights that confused and helped me at the same time. Walton does not question ex-nihilo creation, but also asserts that the Genesis creation account is not it.
If we accept the exegetical and hermeneutical principle that we need to read the Biblical text in the same context and with the same intent as the original audience, then it gets pretty hard to differ from Dr. Walton on technical grounds. And maybe he is right, I am blinded by my modern presuppositions which I want to read into the text. I guess we are all a little guilty of that, especially when we are so keen to refute or confirm modern scientific hypothesis.
According to Dr. Walton then, Genesis is nit an ex-nihilo creation account, but the account whereby God brought order to a chaotic universe. He relies on both a comprehensive exegesis of ‘bara’ (create) and a cultural comparison to near-East contemporary religions. He concludes that the purpose of Genesis was to establish the Hebrew God as the lone personal God that organized the universe into its current form, and sustains it moment by moment.
Dr. Walton is also pretty blunt about the fact that despite many efforts to read many modern scientific principles (earth as sphere, for example) into the Scriptures, it is unjustified to do so. There simply is no correlation between Biblical accounts and modern science, nor should we try to find any, since the purpose of Scripture was to establish the covenant of the Hebrew God with His people as their God and Ruler.
In his commentary on Genesis, Dr. Walton offers his interpretation of the creation account, and concludes that it is about function, not the establishment of matter. He uses several analogies to demonstrate his point, saying that if we “create” a painting, it is about what ends up on the canvas, and not how the canvas, brushes and paint were made in the first place. In the same way Genesis is about how God used existing matter to create a functional universe, although Walton proposes that “design” might be a better translation of ‘bara’ in this context.
Personally, I still find it a bit challenging to accept all of the premises offered by Dr. Walton, and therefore also struggle to unreservedly agree with all of his conclusions. But it does offer an interesting alternative to the normal YEC/Old Earth/Evo/Design arguments, and I will therefore continue to explore it. Because if he is right, then all of those arguments are pretty much non-applicable to Genesis, and we will have to find other ways to reconcile Scripture with our modern scientific understanding.