A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar

Creation, Inspiration and the Hebrew Scriptures: An Interview with Dr. John Walton

August 25, 2022 Randy Knie & Kyle Whitaker Season 3 Episode 3
Creation, Inspiration and the Hebrew Scriptures: An Interview with Dr. John Walton
A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar
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A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar
Creation, Inspiration and the Hebrew Scriptures: An Interview with Dr. John Walton
Aug 25, 2022 Season 3 Episode 3
Randy Knie & Kyle Whitaker

In this episode, we chat with John Walton, one of the foremost evangelical Old Testament scholars alive. Dr. Walton teaches Old Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois. John has also written groundbreaking books about Genesis 1 and 2, commentaries on Genesis and Job and many more books. We chat about creation, ancient people groups and cultures that the Bible was written in, inspiration and much more.

We sampled Toast by the always delicious Basil Hayden. Cheers!

The beverage tasting is at 6:01. To skip to the interview, go to 9:20.

You can find the transcript for this episode here.

=====

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Cheers!

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode, we chat with John Walton, one of the foremost evangelical Old Testament scholars alive. Dr. Walton teaches Old Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois. John has also written groundbreaking books about Genesis 1 and 2, commentaries on Genesis and Job and many more books. We chat about creation, ancient people groups and cultures that the Bible was written in, inspiration and much more.

We sampled Toast by the always delicious Basil Hayden. Cheers!

The beverage tasting is at 6:01. To skip to the interview, go to 9:20.

You can find the transcript for this episode here.

=====

Want to support us?

The best way is to subscribe to our Patreon. Annual memberships are available for a 10% discount.

If you'd rather make a one-time donation, you can contribute through our PayPal.


Other important info:

  • Rate & review us on Apple & Spotify
  • Follow us on social media at @PPWBPodcast
  • Watch & comment on YouTube
  • Email us at pastorandphilosopher@gmail.com

Cheers!

Randy:

I'm Randy, the pastor half of the podcast, and my friend Kyle is a philosopher. This podcast hosts conversations at the intersection of philosophy, theology, and spirituality.

Kyle:

We also invite experts to join us, making public space that we've often enjoyed off-air around the proverbial table with a good drink in the back corner of a dark pub.

Randy:

Thanks for joining us, and welcome to A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. Well, I'm excited about today's episode for a number of reasons. The biggest reason being that our interviewee today, our guest today, is someone that I've read more than others, I would say. I've read his commentary on the book of Genesis, highly informed my sermon series on the book of Genesis as a pastor. His books The Lost World of Genesis One and The Lost World of Adam and Eve were highly influential for me as well in my understanding of Genesis and relaying and communicating that. So it's really fun to be able to talk to someone who I've read pretty, pretty well. And also, the interesting thing that I found today is that I disagree with him about more. So we're talking to John Walton today. He is at Wheaton College. He's a, I think, a really, really highly respected, foremost Old Testament scholar. And we had a great conversation, and I was surprised by how much I didn't agree with him.

Kyle:

Well, good, I'm glad I could maybe play a small part in bringing some of that out, yeah. So I wasn't quite as familiar with his work prior to this as you were, but you know, anybody that kind of came of age in a certain kind of fundamentalism where evolution and how to interpret Genesis 1 and 2 got talked about a lot is at least somewhat familiar with John Walton. So yeah, I've actually seen him speak, I think, at at least one conference, which I'd forgotten about until we got him on the show. And then, you know, I was broadly familiar with his Lost World of Genesis One book, and past week or so just listened to a bunch of podcasts with him so I could kind of immerse myself in his, his view of the Old Testament. And yeah, this was, this was an interesting conversation. I'm curious if any listeners will have some feedback about it. I think he, he is maybe used to a little more softball questions than we had. But he really, I think, seemed to enjoy a little bit of pushback.

Randy:

Yeah.

Kyle:

And if any listeners are interested, so sometimes we do Deeper Dives after our episodes, and just you know, things we want to say a little bit more about, I think I'm gonna do one for this just to, just to flesh out a little bit more some of the places where I would depart from him. Maybe we can do that together.

Randy:

Yeah I was gonna say, let me hop in. Yeah, and I think it's really good, though. And I don't think, even if you know, Dr. Walton listens to this, he would be really upset that we don't agree with him on everything, he could tell we don't agree with him on everything. And I enjoy just good discussion and dialogue, particularly when we don't agree about everything.

Kyle:

Yeah.

Randy:

And I have some problems with the way he sees scriptures and the way he holds the scriptures and things that he seems to think are important that we hold onto that I don't anymore, and I, but what I'm doing now is, I'm not just having my own ideas, I would be on more of Pete Enns's version or or take or interpretation of the scriptures.

Kyle:

I guess there's a, there's a difference between reading a scholar like Walton and saying, ugh I don't like that, and being informed about kind of mainstream scholarship in the space in which he operates, and knowing that he represents a marginal, kind of niche, perspective on that, that most mainstream scholarship would, would disagree with. You may not have gotten that from our interview, but that's a fact.

Randy:

Yeah, no. And I think my job as a non-expert on the Old Testament is to say, I want to, I want to listen to a number of experts on the Old Testament, hear what they have to say and enjoy, I enjoy a lot of John Walton, I thought, I think I already said it, but I've heard other scholars on the Old Testament say different things that I actually resonate more, more with.

Kyle:

So when you know there are, like, equally informed people who don't necessarily think that way, it's easier to...

Randy:

I'm just trying to communicate, I want to have a little sense of humility and know my place in the world, that I'm not an Old Testament scholar, so if I disagree with this one, I should probably find one that validates that a little bit.

Kyle:

Yeah, which, not necessarily recommending as a method for what to believe about any given thing, just find a scholar that says the thing you want, but no, when, when there's like a consensus about various things, and you have someone who is, you know, very well pedigreed and very productive.--his output is kind of crazy--and who has a standing in a community, but, but who in a very significant way stands against a lot of those consensuses, it's easier for a layperson to say, yeah, maybe take that with a grain of salt. But to say something, like, that I think is true and very good about Walton is the reason that I knew who he was prior to this is something that I think is really super valuable, and that is he's giving evangelicals, he's giving Christians who tend towards a more conservative take on the Bible an alternative to really wacky interpretations of Genesis. So like, I don't think it's, like, overreaching to say, because of John Walton and a couple other people like him, it's possible to be even a somewhat conservative Evangelical and not be a young earth creationist. And that's big, right? That's, that's important. Without perspectives like that, my trajectory out of young earth creationism probably would have been a more jarring transition. And so I'm grateful to him in that way, because, you know, I don't agree with his whole take on Genesis, but it's a hell of a lot better than Ken Ham's, you know what I mean? And it gives you, gives you an informed alternative.

Randy:

100%. And I think what's undeniable is he has done his homework, in particular about the history of the ancient cultures that the Bible was written in and around, he's done his homework on ancient sacred texts, not just the Hebrew Scriptures, he's done his homework on a multitude of things that we need to listen to him, whether you agree with everything or not, I think he's an very important voice when it comes to understanding and interpreting the Old Testament. So with that, on this podcast, we sample and taste alcoholic beverages because we are A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar, after all, and so tonight, our friends from Story Hill BKC have given us what's called Basil Hayden Toast. And it's this really unique offering by Basil Hayden. We've had their dark rye before and I just about lost my brains to it. And this one is this interesting offering where it's, it's a, I don't know how you'd call it, but it has rice in the mashbill.

Kyle:

Yeah, like a lot of it, like 27% or something.

Randy:

Yeah, it's like 63% corn, 20 something percent rice, and then a little bit of...

Kyle:

Barley.

Randy:

...barley, yeah. So it has rice in it, and it's also extra toasted in the casks and then extra charred in the casks as well. So it's gonna bring some toastiness, it's gonna bring, I don't know what rice brings because I've never had bourbon with rice in it.

Kyle:

Yeah, no idea. This will be my first riced bourbon experience.

Randy:

It's a very easy, straightforward nose.

Kyle:

And this is I think 40%, right, so you shouldn't get...

Elliot:

Yeah, it's a sweet nose.

Randy:

I would say so. Yeah, not new makey but sweet. Wow. That's easy drinking.

Elliot:

Yeah.

Kyle:

There's definitely a pronounced cereal quality, especially towards the finish.

Randy:

This is remarkably approachable.

Kyle:

"Approachable" is one of those things you say about a bourbon when, like, it's not offensive but you can't necessarily think of a lot of positive things to say.

Randy:

Maybe, but I would also say that about Eagle Rare or, you know, stuff like that. Which I, I think this is great.

Kyle:

It's definitely got a weird quality to it that is unlike most bourbons I've had, and it's gotta be the rice, but I don't know how to describe it.

Randy:

Almost, I've said this a little bit too much recently, but minty? On a part of my palate. It's simple.

Kyle:

Yeah.

Randy:

It's straighforward.

Elliot:

Yeah I get caramel, lot of caramel.

Kyle:

Like a bowl of rice...

Elliot:

A little vanilla. It's like having a sweet cereal in the morning.

Randy:

Not at all. I don't agree with the bowl of rice.

Kyle:

Or like a bowl of cream of wheat or something. Something rice-like.

Randy:

If this is rice, it's fried rice, alright?

Kyle:

Okay, okay. Like, toasted rice.

Randy:

No, but I think, is this my favorite? No. It doesn't have all the, you know, crazy rich complex characteristics and notes to it, but it's very approachable, very easy drinking, very pleasant.

Elliot:

With "toast" being the main word on the bottle, that's not there as much.

Randy:

I would agree.

Kyle:

Yeah especially compared to other toasted finishes I've had which is kind of like having its heyday right now, it's a thing, or sometimes they're just called double barreled or something, they just extra char a second barrel and throw it in there for a little while, and it's usually very pronounced, gives it that kind of charcoaley rich quality. And I don't get that so much here.

Randy:

I do like this the more I drink it though, like it's, it's got kind of an earthy thing to it. Like it's, I taste more and more the further I go, and it's so dang easy to drink, it's almost dangerous.

Kyle:

Yeah.

Randy:

I think this would be an outstanding Manhattan.

Kyle:

Yeah. I think it would nicely complement a good cocktail.

Randy:

So this approachable, easy drinking, delicious bourbon is available at Story Hill BKC if you're in Milwaukee. If you're in Milwaukee, go to Story Hill BKC, check out their, their bourbon selection, their wine selection. It's exquisite. And then go sit down at a table and get a bite to eat because it is delicious. And if you're not in Milwaukee, support local, always. Basil Hayden's Toast. Cheers.

Kyle:

Cheers.

Randy:

Well, John Walton, thank you so much for joining us on A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar.

John:

I'm very glad to be here and looking forward to our conversation.

Randy:

Same here, John, I can't wait. You were the, we had, we put a list together when we first started dreaming about a podcast of who we want to interview who we want to talk to. And you were on that list. And here we are a couple years later. So can you just tell our listeners who you are. And if you're too modest, I'll fill, I'll fill in the blanks.

John:

You know, I'm just me. I'm a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and graduate school. I teach mostly in the grad school, but I teach undergrads as well. I've been here for over 20 years and then, that's kind of what I do. I teach, I write, and research.

Randy:

Okay. John wrote the Lost World Series, The Lost World of Genesis One and The Lost World of Adam and Eve. And if you haven't read those, and you've been struggling to understand the book of Genesis and the creation narrative, those are the first places you must go. And we're going to talk about those a little bit today. Kyle, I think you have the first question.

Kyle:

Yeah, back when we, we did an episode on creation and evolution, if you haven't listened to that, listeners, go back and catch it, and we recommended some reading at the end, and all of Randy's recommended reading was John Walton. So...

Randy:

Not sorry.

Kyle:

...So you've said, so I've been listening to a ton of podcasts that you've done in the last week to kind of try to get inside your head a little bit, and you've done a lot, you're pretty prolific on the podcast circuit.

John:

I do about 20 or 25 podcasts a year.

Kyle:

Yeah, there's a bunch out there, some really good ones. So I heard you say in one of them, and I'm sure this is a refrain for you, but you said in order to be accountable to God in our approach to the Bible, we need to be accountable to the human authors, or the human compilers, or redactors or whatever. And therefore, we have to be knowledgeable of the ancient context, because we're dealing with ancient authors, or compilers, or redactors. So for the listeners that we have who may not automatically think that way, why is it that being accountable to God entails being accountable to these ancient contexts? Can you make that case for us?

John:

Well, that's because when we look at the Bible, it kind of tells us the process God used. That is, he worked through human instruments. Didn't have to do that. But he did. The Bible tells us he did. And so God is moving these human instruments. You know, Peter mentions that about prophets moved by the Spirit. And the result of that is an inspired text. You know, in Timothy, when it talks about inspiration, it's graphe, it's writing, it's a text that's inspired. That means God has vested his authority in a text through the instrumentation of humans. And those humans are not just mindlessly gibbering and scrawling down things they didn't know; they have a message. And therefore that message is couched in the humaneness of their understanding, even though it's God's authority that's behind it. It's that mix of human and divine that we're well aware of with biblical inspiration. So that means if I'm going to get God's message, which has authority, which I want, I've got to go through the door of how he did it. That means I have to go through the text and through the authors to get to God's message, because that's where he put it. And that means if I'm going to be accountable to God, I have to be accountable to those instruments. If I'm going to say, oh, God had a special meaning that they didn't understand. okay, now, the question is, how do you verify that? How do you validate it? Anybody can say anything at that point. That's a conversation ender. And so in that case, you can say, well, the Spirit told me XYZ. I'm sorry, Spirit's important, but you can't use it as an appeal to authority. Because there's, there's no methodology, there's no criteria for validation. So the Spirit may tell you all kinds of things, but that's, that's not the route that we take. We don't just close our eyes and pray and say that's all I need to do. And so in that sense, we can't pursue a private interpretation. So that means we're accountable to the authors. We're accountable to the text. And if that's so, we have to recognize that they were not communicating with us in mind. They were communicating with their own audience in mind. First level of evidence being they wrote in Hebrew, right, in the language that we speak. And they wrote in the ancient culture, and they wrote in conversation with ancient society and even ancient literature. That doesn't mean they're borrowing, it just means they're the conversation partners, just like our conversation partners would be whatever we read today. So we have to read these texts, then, in light of the author's intentions. And when I say intentions, I'm not trying to get into their brain, we can't do that. I'm rather reflecting that they wrote with literary intentions. And there are some challenges for us, because it's not in our language, not in our culture. But still, we have to believe that those intentions are recoverable. Otherwise, there's no authority. So do you want to believe in biblical authority? That's the way to go.

Randy:

Yep. And just saying I believe in biblical authority isn't just as simple as that statement sounds, right? So you have, as a follow up then John, you have, you know, maybe two extremes, one extreme being "I know what the Bible says, God speaks to me directly, and I don't know John Walton," you know, like, "What does John Walton know?" And--pause: if you say things like that, and this isn't a John Walton thing, this is a biblical scholar thing, that's just a silly thing to say. These are people who have given their lives to studying the scriptures, ancient cultures, history, archaeology, so on and so forth. But you have people who say, "I don't need scholars, I just read the Bible, and God speaks to me." Then you have the other extreme that says, "This is an ancient document that's complex and rooted in its culture, rooted in its time; how could I ever dream of understanding it? So I'm not even going to pick up the Bible because it's a useless, it's a fruitless exercise for a layman like me." And what would you say in that conversation, John?

John:

Well, on the first side that you mentioned, I would go beyond saying, you know, scholars have spent a lot of time learning this stuff and we ought to pay attention. I would go beyond that to say, we should be interpreting in community. You know, and I tell my students that, and I tell my Sunday school classes that; I would even tell my sixth grade Sunday school classes that. We interpret in community, because anybody can read the text and ask questions that somebody else didn't think of, make an observation that somebody else didn't see. That doesn't mean they'll be able to answer those questions. But they can ask them. I'm prompted to new ideas all the time by people that I'm teaching. So we interpret in community, all working together at the task. Now, someone who has an education might bring more to the table for that community. But it's still interpretation in community. The second part of that one, still on that side of the equation is that, you know, it's called the body of Christ. And the idea is that we all have gifts to bring to the body of Christ. And if my gift happens to be scholarship, don't spit in my face. You know? And I need what gifts you have, and you need what gives I have. We are all mutually interdependent; it's how the body of Christ is supposed to be. So don't do your own, "I'm on my lone journey and I can do everything by myself." I'm sorry, we're not two year olds anymore, spiritual two year olds, "I can do it myself." We are community people. And therefore, I want to contribute what I've learned. It's not an elitism thing. It's a serve the body of Christ thing. And so I want to bring whatever I have to offer. So that's on that side of the equation. For the people who say, "Oh, now I can never make any sense of it whatsoever, I'll never understand it, it's too hard, it's too deep," you know, and all of that. I would say, God has spoken to us. Isn't it worth some effort? I mean, when you go to Scotland for a vacation, you don't just kind of say, on the morning, well, I think I'll go to Scotland and you go to the airport and buy a ticket and hop on a plane and land and say, well, here's Scotland. No, you study and you research and you figure out what's there that you want to go to and you plan, you know? And why should the Bible not ask you to think deeply? So in that sense, it's, it's not realistic to say, it should all be intuitive, that I should just be able to sit down and let it wash over me. No, I'm sorry, it's a little more challenging than that. If you're just gonna let it wash over you, that means you're saying you're satisfied for dipping your toes in the puddle, instead of diving in deeply. Do you want to grow spiritually? You better be ready to dive in deeply. So in that sense, it's what it requires of us. Now, 20 years ago, if somebody said, "Well, how do I do that, what tools can I use?" I would have said, I'm sorry. You know, there just, there just isn't much. But that's not true today. There are lots of different ways that people without education can find out about the ancient world of the Bible and gain from scholars who have done that kind of work. So yes, be prepared for a little bit of work. It's not intuitive. It's not just a "relax and let it wash over me." It is a matter of trying to understand what God is saying to us. Now, again, you can get some things just by that devotional disengagement of letting it wash over, but you're just gonna get surface stuff and you'll make a lot of mistakes.

Randy:

Yep.

Kyle:

So couple of things. So one, I just want to note that a lot of what has changed in the last 20 years such that there's now a lot more resources for the average beginner to come to terms with some of this stuff is down to your work and people like you who are trying to make the scholarship that was previously inaccessible very accessible. And so your, your whole Lost World series is pitched at a very accessible, beginner, introductory level. So if you're a listener and you're thinking, "Maybe that's me they're describing," check, check this stuff out, because it's, it's readable.

Randy:

You'll still probably need a dictionary alongside.

Kyle:

Yeah, you may need a dictionary occasionally, but it's definitely something the average person with, like, no background in, you know, archaeology or something could pick up.

John:

But even at a more basic level, there's now the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. And you can get the, all of that background notes right there in your Bible. That study Bible is not, does not do theology, does not do application, does not do just kind of exhortation, comments, it is all backgrounds.

Kyle:

Yeah, and there's also BioLogos, which you're, you've been heavily involved with, and we've mentioned on the podcast before, and they have tons of introductory resources, including videos and such. So plenty out there. And a lot of that is down to people like you. So thanks for that.

Randy:

Yeah.

Kyle:

But also, I wanted to kind of call us back a few minutes here, because I was planning to bring this up later anyway, and you already brought it up, the question of authorial intent and how important is that, and how does authority work and, when we're trying to, you know, suss out, we're interpreting this as a community together, as you said, and that would imply to me that authority is something that happens in a community too, right? It's decisions about authority and what we take to be authoritative and what that means in our practices, those are communal things, too. And so I'm curious, what is your vision for how that should work and also contrasted with--maybe I should lay my cards on the table here--I'm a Pentecostal who does not accept biblical authority. So where you're coming from is different in two very important ways from where I'm coming from. So I think the Spirit informing us of the meaning of the text in the moment is also a communal activity, and has many of the same safeguards that interpreting the text would, if, if, you know, properly and carefully structured. And I also just don't think biblical authority is that important. But, but I'm curious if you think there's a difference between the way that, like, a well-formed Spirit community would place authority in, in those kinds of readings versus the way the kind of community you're envisioning would place authority in the text. Does that make sense?

John:

Sure. Even with the Bible, there was a community that recognized its authority. I would argue that the community does not give it authority, although it's a thin line, but the community recognized the authority in the canonization process. So in that sense, already community was involved. But then that cannon becomes the focus for the community to study. Now, when you talk about what the Spirit is doing, as we launch out of Scripture, I have plenty of room for the Spirit there. That is, the Spirit still helps us as a community, as we make observations and try to understand our life together in Christ and what we ought to be doing corporately and individually. I think the community has a role in that, and recognizing whether we're on the right track or not. I would probably not choose to use the word "authority" just to draw a distinction between what the Bible is and what our private or even group decisions might be. But that's, that's, that's a denominational issue that we can discuss at another time. You know, so, I'm, the Spirit is, helps us to be convicted, to be transformed, to be active, and therefore we're very interested in what the Spirit does, and lots of that launches out of scripture. But I think you would agree--push back if not--I think you would agree the Spirit's not going to tell you that the Tower of Babel is a ziggurat and ziggurats were for gods coming down, instead of people going up. You got to go to the ancient Near East. That's an important aspect for interpreting that passage. If you get that wrong, you miss the passage.

Kyle:

Yeah, so this is, this is a good segue into the other part of the question then. So what is the relationship, in your mind, between the authority of the text and the intention of the author?

John:

Well, the intention of the author reflects what the author was attempting to communicat--again, its literary intentions--and he's got something in mind, and that something in mind is all woven into the words that he uses in his language and the cultural backdrop which he generally does not have to explain to his audience, right, the author of Genesis didn't have to tell his audience what a ziggurat was, and so we read the text and we don't have it. The audience of Genesis didn't need to be told who the sons of God and daughters of men were. They knew; we don't. The audience of Genesis didn't need to be told what is going on when they build the golden calf and what's the problem here? They knew; we don't, if we can't plunge into that ancient world. Now, those are interpretive issues, they're of a deep nature, not a superficial nature. And when I say superficial, I'm not belittling that, I'm just saying there's different levels to go at. The Spirit's not going to help me sort those out. I don't think so. I can't say, well, I know this is what a Tower of Babel is because the Spirit told me; again, that's the idea, there's no appeal to authority. I've got to appeal to evidence and that evidence ties into what the author would have known and said, and what words he used and what concepts are in his mind. So a lot of this goes without saying to an insider audience, but we're an outsider audience.

Kyle:

Sure. So would you agree with, say, I'm reminded of a quote from that very popular How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth book by Gordon Fee and Doug Stewart, and one of the refrains in that book is "The Bible can't mean now what it never meant." Would you agree with that?

John:

Yes, I do.

Kyle:

Okay so, playing devil's advocate just a little bit, and then I promise I'll hand it, hand it right over to Randy here, so given that a lot of what we know--my understanding here as a complete novice--a lot of what we know about that ancient Near Eastern context, and a lot of, a lot of what we've learned about the culture that would have been obvious, as you say, to the people hearing it for the first time, given that a lot of that knowledge to us has come fairly recently, say in the last 100 or 200 years, would you say that Origen didn't know what the Bible meant? Or that people interpreting, you know, Thomas Aquinas, just didn't know what the Old Testament meant?

John:

Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Chrysostom, all, they have wonderful things to communicate, they're part of community. I mean, that's community through time, you know, instead of community right now. But they're part of community, and I need to respect them and hear them and learn from them. But they are not trying to get back to the author's intentions. They just, that was not available to them. They weren't using Hebrew. They had no access whatsoever to the ancient world. So even if they had wanted to, they couldn't. But they are theologians, they're not exegetes. That is, they are trying to sort out the issues of their day, which mostly had to do with Jesus is God, and there's a Trinity, and what do we mean by those things? And so they were doing something very, very different. And that's fine. Those were important jobs and the things that needed to be done. But it's not the same thing as what we do today when we try to say, what was it that the author intended? So yeah, they're, they were doing with the Old Testament what they were trying to figure out in their present day.

Randy:

So just this week, I grew up in a, in a home where any time scientific discovery would happen, we would explain it away with, you know, well, carbon dating is inaccurate and so you know, we were young earth creationists. Graduated to say, oh, I believe in micro evolution, and now I'm a full blown evolutionist, even though I believe God created all things.

John:

You're a BioLogos guy.

Randy:

Yeah, sure. Just this week, we saw remarkable photos, a couple of days ago, from the James Webb telescope, giving us looks in the universe that no human being has ever seen and giving us looks, you know, billions of years in the past, millions and millions of light years away, all this mind blowing stuff. As our world uncovers scientific facts and understands the nature and, nature and the origin of the universe, how do we hold that as Christians, as people who want to believe in the book of Genesis? How do we hold those two things, scientific discovery and faithfulness to our ancient text?

John:

Well, anything that comes along in science, whether it's an innovation, or whether it's the mainstream thinking, or whatever it might be, new data, we have to ask the question, is that compatible with the Bible? And that's what young earth people are asking. They just keep saying, no, no, no, no, no, it's not. But that's because they have a certain view of what the Bible is and how the Bible works. So to me, we have to focus our efforts not on explaining away science, but certainly not explaining away the Bible, but rather to make sure that we're understanding both the Bible and science as well as we can. Now I can't operate very well on the science side, I have people that I trust, and that's, different people have different ideas about that. But I can talk about the Bible side. And so I keep asking the question--this is what you read in the Lost World books--I keep asking you the question, what are the truth claims, what are the affirmations that the Bible is making? Is the Bible making scientific affirmations? Is it trying to tell you that all the material universe came into existence in a seven day recent period? And I grew up thinking that that was so, but as people can see, in the Lost World books, I don't, I don't think that's what the Bible is saying. Now, it's not enough for me just to say, I don't think that's what the Bible is saying. I have to say, what is the Bible saying? How does it work? How, are we just reading, reading it away? To get our own scientific views in? Or can we really talk about what the biblical authors were doing and what they weren't doing? And so that's, that's what I talk about. I've basically come to the conclusion that there's nothing that science could tell us that would be incompatible with the Bible. There are things scientists might claim, that's a different thing. But since science is the explanation of this world that is God's world that he runs and that he made, what's called the Two Books, the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture are not going to be in contradiction. So I believe that the mainstream science is fully compatible with the Bible, because mainstream science doesn't claim God was not involved. Mainstream science couldn't make such a claim. The distinction I draw--and this is one of the things that is a newer idea that I got from some people that I heard use it--the difference between agency and mechanism. The Bible has a lot to say about agency. God is the agent of creation, no matter how he did it, no matter how long it took, or how little time it took, no matter how much was hands on, or how much was through intermediaries. God is the agent of creation. Okay. The Bible does not tell us what mechanisms he used. And that's why we have that whole range that's open to us. God could have done it lots of different ways. After all, God makes each one of us, but there's a process that can be scientifically described. That doesn't make God any less the agent. So God is the agent, but mechanisms are not described. When you look at science, it's the other way around. Science is all about mechanisms, and they do a pretty good job at it. But science really can't say anything about agency, they can't even assume there is an agent, because that's not science anymore. And so science is about mechanisms, not agency. The Bible is about agency and not mechanisms. As a result, they really can't be incompatible. They're making different kinds of statements.

Randy:

You good?

Kyle:

Everything you say, I have like 15 followups to. But we would be literally all night, and it would derail the conversation. So yeah, so I think I'm good there. So a good segue then would be, would you say, and I think I've heard you say something like this before, but would you say that the Bible just doesn't say anything about the physical origin of the world, or even of the human species? Is that accurate?

John:

What it says, it says in brief sound bites in places other than Genesis. God laid the foundations of the earth, a one liner, and it's gone. God spread out the heavens, a one liner, and it's gone. It makes statements about God as the agent of creation, and in those places, it's talking about something material. But they're not in Genesis. And in Genesis, I don't think it's talking about the material level of things. It is organizing and ordering the cosmos. So that's telling us how you arrange the furniture, not who made the furniture. God did make the furniture. Again, we've got those other passages. God is the creator, the originator of the material cosmos, and a couple places in the Bible, it gives one liners that acknowledge that. And you can go to New Testament and get those things too, right, "all things visible and invisible." Fine. I mean, so it's, this is not questioning whether God created the material cosmos. Of course he did. When he created the material cosmos, did he created out of nothing? Of course he did. Nothing is coexistent with God. But is that the story Genesis is telling? And my claim is no, that it's not. The creation accounts in the ancient world, and I think demonstrably in Genesis, are interested in order, not material. Now, in Lost World of Genesis One, I use the term "function." It's not that I disagree with that now, it's just that people were constantly confused by it. And it wasn't the best word. It's the best I could come up with at the time, but it wasn't the best word. What I talk about now, and in that book I talked about function having to do with a role and a purpose in an ordered system. Okay, there's the word"order." And that should be the, the primary word. That is, God is ordering the cosmos. Order was one of the highest values in the ancient world, and I would argue probably one of the highest values for us today as well, although different people have different ideas about what constitutes order. And so in the ancient world, a creation account is going to talk about ordering. And that's what they do. You read any of the ancient creation accounts, that's what they do. So the idea then, that Genesis 1 is just not that story of the material cosmos. Here's an illustration that I use, maybe it'll help. You're going to play downtown, and you're really excited about it, but there's lousy weather, and there's bad traffic, and there's construction, and there's no parking, and, and you end up walking into the theater late, and you just get into your seat and it's intermission. And you're really frustrated. And so you turn to the people around you and you say, "How did the play begin?" And person next to you pipes up right away, "Well, the script is written in the 1930s..." and you say, "No, no, no, no, I didn't want to know that." They say, "But you can't have a play without a script. That's how the play began." "No, but that's not, that's not what I want to know." And another person says, "Well, this set was constructed about a couple of months ago, it was specifically for this theater and this play, and so that's how the play began, with the construct..." And you say "No, that's fine, I agree with that, the construction of the set's very important, but that's not what I'm asking." Then another person says, "This cast was chosen by a..." you know. And you say,"No, no, no, I'm not interested in the cast. What I want to know is what happened since the curtain opened?" Now, I liked that illustration, because all those answers are right.

Randy:

Yes.

John:

You know, it's not like these are competing truths. All of them are right. And all of them have a, an angle on what you could very logically say about the play beginning. But that's not the story you wanted when you asked the question. And with Genesis 1, we have to say, what question are they asking and what answer are they giving? Not what questions we want to know the answers to and what answers we would give.

Randy:

Yep.

John:

So that's what I'm talking about. It's not so much a theological issue--did God create ex nihilo, or did God create everything--it's not that kind of question. It's a literary question. What story is this telling?

Randy:

Yep. So to sum up what I heard you say, is that Genesis 1 is not talking about how the material world came to be created materially, it's talking about how God brought function in order to a disordered, perhaps even dysfunctional, chaotic world that God created? Would that be okay to say?

John:

Yes.

Randy:

Okay. So that's like the most helpful observation that I've ever heard about the creation story and the Christian narrative. It's, it brings understanding, and it also takes so much pressure off of us. But also, I've heard you articulate, and I think NT Wright as well, that Genesis 1 is kind of a temple narrative. The ancients would have seen it that way. Can you explain that for our audience, and maybe explain how that might change and affect the way we interact with creation itself?

John:

Well, it all starts by looking at day seven, which we typically skip. We say, oh it's, that's a Jewish Sabbath stuff and the law and you know, don't need that. But in Genesis, day seven is the most important. We get messed up because we read"God rested," and we say, that doesn't make any sense. God doesn't need sleep, or he doesn't get tired or leisure time, no. And so, so we dismiss it. And that's because we've not understood something very important in the ancient world. And it's not just found in Babylonian or Egyptian texts, it's found in the Bible, but we missed it there too. And that is when God rests, he doesn't rest in a bed, he doesn't rest in a hammock, he rests on a throne. And that changes everything. God's rest is God saying, now I've got it all organized the way I want, and he sits on his throne to rule. What happened on day eight? He ruled. What happened on day nine? He ruled. What's happening today? He rules. That's his rest on the throne. Rest comes in a context of stability and security, when you have ordered everything and now it's ready to roll. And so the idea that God rests, in the ancient world and in the Bible, where does God rest? I already said on his throne, where's his throne? In the temple. God rests in a temple. Okay, so you take Psalm 132, verses 13, 14, 15, the temple is his resting place. It's his dwelling place, and there he's enthroned. And so the idea of God resting, engaging in the ruling of the world, that's what the seven days is setting up. And anyone in the ancient world would have understood this. Israelites, Babylonians, Egyptians, Canaanites, anybody would have understood this, about gods resting in temples. So that's why I call it a temple text. Now, again, that's something I've revised my wording on just a bit. Early on, one of my friends and colleagues took me to task a little bit and he said, you've got a problem with his temple thing. He said, because a temple sets up parameters. A temple has walls, courts, and you've got differences between inside where God is, where people aren't allowed to be, and outside where people are. So a temple has zones. He said, but if you try to say the whole cosmos is a temple, then are you saying it's all inside, there's nothing outside? How's that work? So he was pushing the imagery beyond what I really intended, but, but point taken. So I said to him, well what about if we said that the cosmos is now being set up as "sacred space?" He said, oh that works. So sacred space, because God is in it, but then you don't trip over the idea of a temple with isolation, seclusion, walls, and zones, okay. It's still the same idea, sacred space because God's there. So that idea that the whole thrust of Genesis 1, with its seven days, is that God is ordering the world not just to work for people, that's important, but also to be a place where he will be present and dwell among his people. And so we get this idea of presence and relationship, right from the start, which we miss entirely when we tried to make this just a material account with a nonsensical seventh day that's just about a Jewish festival. We miss the whole deal.

Zale:

Hey, I'm Zale, host of Rreconceived, a podcast that challenges the preconceptions that shape how we view the world. Preconceived examines both our approach to major life choices, but also our perspectives on issues to which we may have been overly conditioned towards certain opinions. Each episode features a different topic with experts, researchers, and luminaries in their respective fields. We think you will especially enjoy recent episodes on polyamory, regretting parenthood, dopamine nation, and myths, the beauty industry. Find Preconcieved wherever you get your podcasts.

Kyle:

So switching gears here a little bit, I want to ask you about biblical inerrancy. Because I think I heard on one of those podcasts I listened to that you subscribe to inerrancy. And I believe you work at an institution where that's a condition of your employment if I'm not mistaken. So how, how does your understanding of biblical inerrancy mesh with your emphasis on ancient contexts? Do those, is there a tension? I'm guessing you don't think there is. How do they, how do they play into each other? And maybe, as part of the answer, what do you think biblical inerrancy means?

John:

Sure. for readers who are interested, I've addressed that at length in Lost World of Scripture, where there's large sections that deal with the question of inerrancy. And Lost World of Scripture is both Old Testament and New Testament, Brent Sandy, a New Testament scholar, helped me out with that. So inerrancy, even in the Chicago Statement, which is kind of the standard statement that everybody goes to, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, it says that the Bible is inerrant in all that it affirms. That's a big loophole. That's a big qualifier. It's important, it's essential. And I certainly embrace it. The Bible is inerrant in all that it affirms. Now, at a very minimum, what you include in that, what it doesn't affirm, okay, are there things the Bible doesn't affirm? Ah! Well, yeah, the words of Satan, hello, that's, we're not going to count on that. Job's friends, no, they're wrong! There are those basics where we say, oh, yeah, those things, they're in the Bible, but the Bible is not affirming them. Now, the minute you raise the question, though, you say, okay, so that means, what other things are there that it's not affirming? And how do I tell the difference? Right? So suddenly, inerrancy doesn't solve all your problems. Inerrancy, in one sense, opens up some problems, because if you're going to say it's inerrant in all that it affirms, that means you have to interpret to figure out what it affirms. And we know that our interpretations are not authoritative. So inerrancy drags us away from authority. Ah! Do you see why that's the case? Because you have to interpret to know what it affirms. Now we use inerrancy because we want to try to declare the truthfulness of the Bible, that somebody can't just come along and say "There was no Abraham, there was no David, there was no Exodus, there was no exile," you know. No, no, the Bible's true. But the minute you have that qualifier, which you have to have, about affirmation, now you say, okay, what's it affirming? So, for instance, the Bible, in my view, some people disagree, the Bible talks about a solid sky. Well, does that mean we have to believe in a solid sky? Assuming that it says that, I mean, maybe people can argue, I don't, but does that mean we have to say that? Well, no. Because I would say that that's the Israelites referring to the world as they understood it. But they're not trying to affirm a biblical cosmology, a cosmic geography. Okay, so we don't have to believe that there's a solid sky because we believe the Bible is true. We don't have to believe that all of our cognitive processes take place in our entrails, the internal organs, the heart and kidney and, and liver and all of those things that people believed in the ancient world, including the Israelites. You know, "believe in your heart" was not just an idiom for them. That was a physiology that they believed. But again, that's not the Bible affirming physiology. The Bible is not teaching a physiology or a cosmic geography. And so we can hear those not as affirmations; the alternative is we hear them as references. That is, the Israelites are referring to things that way because that's the only world they know. And that's fine. But that's not what the Bible is affirming. Now, again, you can see, and all of your listeners can figure out, this opens up a can of worms. How do we know what the Bible is affirming? We've gone through this before, you know, do women have to cover their heads in church? Or are women allowed to pray? You know, all kinds of things, is the mustard seed the smallest of all seeds, ask your a botanist. Right? So, we've, we've dealt with these before, but this all comes under this umbrella of affirmation versus reference. And inerrancy functions in that system, to answer your question, inerrancy functions in that system. Okay. So, for that matter, affirmations, in a piece of literature, are always dependent on understanding genre. Okay, so in that case, if you're going to say the Bible affirms a certain thing, but in the genre, it's not doing that kind of thing, then well no, it's not affirming it. So for example--that was kind of vague, sorry--genealogies. Some people say, oh, young earth, I just add up the genealogies, plop on the seven days, bing, got it. Okay, well, you're assuming that the genre of genealogy is working in an ancient culture the same way you would think that it works. Okay? Do genealogies make the same kinds of affirmations in the ancient and biblical world as they do in our world? See, that's the question you have to ask. So you have to make some decisions about genre before you can make decisions about what's being affirmed. So that's how I handle the inerrancy bit.

Kyle:

So quick follow up. So you say that inerrancy works within that distinction that you drew between affirmation and reference. I'm wondering if it doesn't necessitate the distinction. So...

John:

It does! By definition.

Kyle:

Okay, so let me, let me just put a blunt question to you. And maybe it's unfair, I don't know. Would you press so hard, or even believe in that distinction between affirmation and reference, if you didn't already believe in inerrancy? Can you try to put yourself into that other mindset and ask, would this still seem like a natural distinction to me, because it seems like an unnatural bifurcation to me, if I'm honest, because I, I try to think like, when I, I don't know, let's say I wanted to sit down and write a story that, in some kind of literary way, encapsulated a tradition or a culture that I thought was really important, a very natural part of that would be to draw from what I know about modern cosmology. And I guess a future historian could look at that and make a really careful parsing between what I'm asserting in that and what I'm just, you know, pulling in from my culture to help me make the point. But I didn't make that distinction when I wrote it. I just believed what I was told, and I described my reality in that way. And so it's, it would be very strange to me to read someone, you know, parsing out my thought in a way that I didn't do it. And so I'm curious, without that presumption of inerrancy--there must be this distinction between affirmation and reference--would you get to that naturally?

John:

Yeah. Well, the difference is that you're not claiming to be a spokesperson for God.

Kyle:

But let's say I did. I could do that. That's what

John:

Then we would have to validate that. See, the theologians do. distinction we're drawing, the, the Israelites wouldn't necessarily have known the differences between those. Yet we believe that there's a divine message communicated through human intentions. And that's why we draw the distinction. Is the divine message that there's a solid sky? Well, we've concluded no, there, there isn't. But again, how do we decide what is and what isn't reference or affirmation? So here's my rule of thumb. If the biblical author is talking about something that everybody already knew in the ancient world, then it's not revelation. And therefore, I don't have to think about it as affirmation. Everybody in the ancient world believed a solid sky. That's not God saying, hey, hey, things are solid sky. Okay? So it's, it's what everybody believed in the ancient world. And therefore, that's not going to rank high as an affirmation that comes through revelation. See, revelation is the key there, that, in the example you gave of you telling a story, the idea that we believe this is divine revelation makes that difference. Now, that still gives us some problems. For example, when God comes booming down on Mount Sinai and says,"Thou shalt not kill"--he did it in King James English like that,"thou shalt not kill"--anyway, when he, when he does that, how do the Israelites respond? Do they say, "Really? I never thought of that before! Everybody else in the world just kills whoever they want. And what a remarkable insight into..." Of course not. You know, you'd say this is not new news. You know, when Israel lived 400 years in Egypt, they were upset when people killed them, and they didn't feel free to kill one another, thus Moses had to flee. And Hammurabi's laws hundreds of years before Moses had similar kinds of things. This is not new information. And therefore you say, that doesn't sound like it would qualify as revelation. But you say, wait a minute, this is the 10 commandments, God's booming from a mountain, how can you say that? And my point is--this is in Lost World of Torah--it's not "you shouldn't kill" that's new. But something is. God made the effort to come down to the mountain, so to speak. Something's new. What is it? If it's not "you shouldn't murder," what's going on? See, it pushes us to a new level of questions. "You shall not murder" is reference. But there's some kind of affirmation going on here, because this is clearly revelation taking place. And that affirmation--I don't want to leave you hanging, so I'll tell you--that affirmation has all to do with the covenant. And this is all part of the covenant that God's making with Israel that changes everything. Even though some of the behavior, you know, God's going to tell them, you should behave in the ways that people around you also associated with order. Notice, by the way, that Paul tells the church the same thing, okay, you should behave in an orderly fashion so you don't bring disrepute to the name of Christ and to the church. Likewise, God says to his Israelites, don't, you know, you need to honor my name, and therefore you need to fit into this basic expectation that all people would have of an ordered society. But there's a different reason that you do it. And it has to do with the covenant that we have together.

Randy:

So John, I'm going to try to wade in here because, but I'm not, I don't have a PhD behind my name like both of you guys do, but you you mentioned, you know, the Bible, the Bible says the atmosphere is solid and you can't go through it, but you say, well, I don't think that God said that, inspired that, I think that was just a common understanding in the ancient world. So would you say that there's, there's pieces of the Bible that are not divinely inspired and were just basically a human product?

John:

Nope. See, I wouldn't say that. Every word of the Bible is inspired. That's verbal plenary inspiration, which I believe. Doctrine of the church, and it's one I accept, okay. Every word is inspired, but inspiration is not inerrancy. Inerrancy talks about the truth aspect of the affirmations. Inspiration talks about the source. Saying it's inspired means it came from God, and every word did, references as well as affirmations.

Randy:

Okay.

Kyle:

Satisfied?

Randy:

No, but I'm, I don't want to keep going down that... I mean, so how, tell, tell us how it can be inspired, wrong scientific understandings can be inspired by God.

John:

God isn't trying to communicate science. But he communicates into a world where they have certain understandings, and he communicates in ways that they will understand. This is called accommodation, we know it well. The reformers believed it, we all believe it, God accommodates. Any communication act is accommodation. And so he accommodates. That doesn't, that still doesn't help us identify what the message is. And that's also true, by the way, with Job's friends. They're, they don't have the, the angle on truth, but yet, there's revelation taking place through the role that they play in the book of Job. And we need to figure out what that is.

Kyle:

Have you written a book on Job as well?

John:

Yeah, two of them, yeah. A commentary and How to Read Job with Tremper Longman.

Kyle:

Shocking.

John:

So, anyway. The message comes from God, and the message is a complex issue. Its literary, historical, cultural, linguistic, sociological, and all of these things that are woven together as God communicates through this human means, right? Because he used human instruments. And so we have to try to unpack that as we go along. It's a complex process.

Randy:

Yep. Okay.

Kyle:

So my next question is no less controversial than the previous ones, I apologize, that's just how it turned out. So you have said that Adam and Eve are archetypal figures. But you've also said that you think they were real people that lived historically. How do those mesh and why is the second one important?

John:

I think the second one's important because as best I can tell, the Israelites brought them into their history. You can tell that because they're in a genealogy, genealogy in Genesis, genealogy in Chronicles genealogy in the New Testament, they brought Adam into their genealogy. That means they have a certain perception of him. Now, you might say, well, maybe that's reference and not affirmation. Could be. I'm going to default. I'm going to err on the side of saying no, they were, they were real people. And if it turns out differently somehow through something that we find out well, we'll consider that at that point. But because they bring them into genealogies, bring him, Adam, Eve's not mentioned, but because they bring him into genealogies, I'm going to default on that side. Likewise, Paul seems to treat him that way. Again, Paul is doing his own thing his own way, and that's okay. I, I respect Paul. But he's not always doing what Genesis is doing. That's all right. Okay. So that's the reason why I would still lean towards saying they are real people in a real past. Nevertheless, I would also say, but that's not the point. The point in Genesis has to do with the ideas and the concepts of what's taking place. Genesis doesn't build a whole lot of entailments on the events. People will argue about that one way or the other, but the main thing that's going on in Genesis has to do with the ideas that are flowing through there. That doesn't mean that they don't exist. So for instance, with Job, I would say, I think most of Job would fit in the category of thought experiment. Do I think there was a real guy named job who suffered badly and was a righteous guy? Yeah, I tend to think there was. But that's about it. At that point, the book's off and running on its philosophical pursuit. And in that sense, there's a lot of theological, literary, philosophical construct going on. After all, nobody thinks that they had a stenographer sitting there taking down the speeches, you know, this is a literary construct. So this combination of building something, an important concept and idea, off of a basically, fundamentally historical known, that happens. Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh was a real king, in the 25th century or 26th century, whatever, BC, but the Gilgamesh epic isn't meant to say here, so you can give a historical account of this guy Gilgamesh. It's talking about other important issues, mortality, legacy, pursuits of meaning, philosophical ideas.

Randy:

Yep. So you would say, you tend to believe that Adam and Eve were real people, you tend to believe that Job, you know, was a real person, bad things happened to him. But if you don't tend to believe them, that doesn't mean you're missing the point of those stories.

John:

I think that could be said, again, there are people who would disagree that would say, if that didn't really happen, Jesus didn't raise from the dead and he didn't need to save us from our sins, right? That, that old... And no, again, you have to look at each account for what it's doing. But again, this has a lot to do with what's going on in those early chapters of Genesis, which people have deep disagreements about.

Kyle:

So one more question about Genesis from me, do you think it contains a Fall narrative? And if you do...

John:

No, mostly it's a summer, summer, winter...

Kyle:

There ya go.

John:

Sorry, sorry, couldn't resist.

Kyle:

Do you, no, capital F. And if you, if you do, what is the justification for that in the ancient context? Because a lot of Jewish rabbis haven't seen a Fall in there. Right?

John:

Yeah. They haven't. And, and no, I don't believe that Genesis, in the perspective of Genesis and the Israelite audience, I don't believe they're talking about a Fall. If Paul wants to develop that, and of course that's under question whether Paul did or whether Augustine did or whatever. Again, I'm out of my range there. But if Paul did that, that's fine for Paul to do that. Okay, so we're just gonna set that aside, bracket that out. But if we talk about Genesis, text in context, no, I don't think that it's even interested in sin in Genesis 3, it's, the word "sin" is never mentioned. Disobedience is never mentioned. That doesn't mean they didn't disobey. But that's not the focus of that narrative. So I would not say that we have to do that. I talked about Genesis 3 in different terms.

Randy:

Here's another one, really light. How do we reconcile a God in the New Testament who's, you know, the apostle John says God is love, it's what and who God is, how do we reconcile that with a God in the Old Testament who commands, who seems to command his people to commit conquest, genocide, kill every man, woman, and child in that city, in that people group, in that ethnos. How do we reconcile that?

John:

Well remember this incarnate God in the New Testament is driving the money changers and their customers out of the temple with a whip apparently, he's telling people that they're going to burn in hellfire, and that he's going to reject them saying, I never knew you. And he's telling people, the Pharisees of what whitewashed tombs they are. I mean, he wasn't always gentle, just, just saying. Okay. And he only had, you know, a three year ministry to do all that, we've got 3000 years in the Old Testament with plenty of opportunities to see the dynamics of the divine. Having said that, I think that we miss how patient and loving God is with his people over centuries, not three years, over centuries where they were unfaithful. That's one perspective on the Old Testament. Another perspective on the Old Testament is that I think that we read the Joshua narratives very badly. That's another Lost World book, The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest, where we basically say that God says he's going to drive the people out, not to slaughter them, the word that we translate "utterly destroy" we are mistranslating, it's herem, and it means that it makes them unavailable for human use. That's why they're not to marry them. They're not to enslave them. They have to drive them out because if those people are left in the land, they will corrupt the Israelites, who are the hosts to the presence of God. This is a divine act of eminent domain. You know, when O'Hare wants to build an airport runway, you know, they say,"Okay, all you people have to go out." They say, "But these are our homes, we've been here for generations." "I'm sorry, this is the greater good, and you need to leave." And driving them out, that's clearing the land, that's not conquering those neighborhoods, it's clearing the land for something that's to be of value, even to them, even though they have something to give up. It's an act of eminent domain. God was going to have his presence in that land. And the Israelites are his hosts. It is not their land. It is his land. And they're supposed to clear it out so that the Canaanite influence doesn't corrupt them. It's not going to corrupt God's presence, but it will be corrupting to them. Now, again, all of that's complex, it's developed in Lost World of the Israelite Conquest. So again, I think we have to be careful how we read these passages.

Randy:

Yeah. So when Pete Enns, or someone like Pete Enns, says something to the effect of the reason I think that's in there is because I think God let his people tell the story, and maybe that's not God telling, that maybe that didn't actually happen. What do you say to that?

John:

I would say, Pete, I love you. But I disagree with you. I just don't see the Bible the same way Pete does.

Randy:

Okay, fair enough.

Kyle:

And I just want to make it clear that you think what you just described there as, you know, a better understanding of those passages in the Old Testament, you're presenting that as being consistent with the ethic of Jesus in the New Testament?

John:

With the ethic of Jesus as he is representing God, who is the Old Testament God. So he's the incarnate God of the Old Testament. So there cannot be inconsistency. Again, Jesus's teaching on love--again, I'm out of my testament here; I'm testamentally challenged, okay--but when Jesus preaches love, certainly he has qualifying factors to it. You know, when, when he says turn the other cheek, that doesn't mean disband government because they shouldn't judge anybody for crimes, they should just, you know, you broke my window and stole all my merchandise, here, let me let you do it again on this other shop that I own; you know, it's not saying there should be no justice or government or rule. Okay, he has very specific contexts in which he's addressing those things. And those all have to be taken into account.

Kyle:

So this, if we went too much further, I'm afraid we'd be circling back to the conversation about authority and intent and all that. But let's say that something did seem inconsistent between something Jesus said, or even just something generally taught in the New Testament, and something you see in the Old Testament. Is it your conviction that that must be a misunderstanding of the text, and that there must be a way to make them consistent?

John:

I always believed that if something seems wrong in the text, it's probably my problem, not the text's problem.

Kyle:

Okay.

John:

If I don't understand something, it's my problem, not the text's problem. If there seems to be an inconsistency that is inappropriate for the range that scripture has, then I've got to work harder and read better.

Kyle:

Sure. Do you prioritize working harder and reading better in one direction or the other? So like, being an Old Testament scholar, do you find yourself maybe prioritizing the Old Testament context to interpret the New, rather than the other way around?

John:

No, but generally I feel that the New Testament authors aren't doing the same thing with the Old Testament that I would do, so again, it becomes a complex issue to, how do we go through this?

Kyle:

Sure. So that's, I'm glad you said that, because that's a question I should have put on the outline and didn't. So like, many of the New Testament authors, like Paul, for example, are just not doing the exegetical thing that you're doing. And they don't seem to have any qualms about it at all.

John:

And they couldn't. They couldn't do it. They didn't Yeah. So did Paul know the meaning of the Old Testament have, even in Greco Roman world of the New Testament, they didn't have access to the ancient Near East. The ancient passages that he used? And if he did, was it just by revelation Near East had gone through two major shifts, first into Persian, Achaemenid Zoroastrianism and then second into Hellenism, and by the time we get to the Greco Roman period, they have no access to the ancient world. Now you could say God told them, but we know it didn't work that way. or something? Oh, he's using them to make the points that he wants to make. And I believe he's, that what he writes is inspired, so therefore I accept the perspective. We're back to how did the play begin.

Kyle:

Yeah, yeah.

John:

What answer are you gonna give?

Kyle:

So if you're, yeah, if you're, if you're inspired, if it's a revelation to you, then you can ignore all the other rules, but the rest of us aren't. Yea, okay.

John:

Right. I have to use hermeneutics; Paul didn't. Maybe he did use hermeneutics, but he didn't have to.

Kyle:

Okay.

Randy:

Okay. We're almost done here. We talked about authority. We talked about inspiration. John, do you think that all of scriptures, every single bit of it, is equally authoritative?

John:

Sure. It's all inspired. If it's got its source in God, it's authoritative, because it's inspiration that gives us authority, the fact that its source is God. That still leaves us the interpretive process. And that's a sketchy undertaking, okay, because we never talk about our interpretations being authoritative; it's the text that's authoritative. When we interpret, we would say, the strongest interpretation is going to be so designated because it has the strongest evidence. We base our interpretations on evidence. Okay? Not the strongest interpretation is by the person who has the longest devotions, not by the person who's most pious or most spiritual, not by the person who is the highest leadership in the church. The strongest interpretation has the strongest evidence.

Kyle:

Just one final question from me, and it's pretty simple. I'm just curious, what would you say is the best criticism of your work that you've encountered?

John:

The best criticism comes from those who help me to identify nuances to make it better, people who give me more data, people, I mean, I already mentioned that I talked about temple and then, prompted by someone's criticism, I said, oh no, okay, so temple wasn't the best word there, sacred space is the best word. The idea of, well, function doesn't communicate as well, so for people to be telling me, I don't know what you mean when you say function, okay, let me try again. Okay, the best critique is not a critique that says, "We don't need the ancient Near East" or "Who cares about the author's intentions?" Those aren't the best critiques. The best critiques are the ones that help me be better, that help me see things more clearly. So for instance, the interpretation I gave you today of the scenarios for order in Genesis, that's, that's new to me within the last couple of months. My son is doing his dissertation on that particular issue; I'm learning from him. So it's not like I, I wouldn't say it's such a big change that I would call it I changed my mind. But there's some things I see more clearly, and keep trying to work things out. Critique is going to make me better.

Randy:

That's good. Last question, then, John. You're an Old Testament scholar. But I know people, pastorally, who just have told me literally, I'm kind of done with the Old Testament, I'm not interested in it anymore. Why should we be interested in the Old Testament?

John:

Well, if you don't care that God spoke and that he has a message for you, I guess that's your business, but if we really think that the Bible is God's word, then we really can't Well, John, how many, about how many books have you written, do afford to be dismissive of it. If people think they got everything they needed from the New Testament, maybe they have too narrow a view of what they needed. We don't just need to know that Jesus saved us, as important as that is. We don't just need to know that, you know, Jesus died for our sins and we're going to heaven, wonderful, you've got your ticket out of hell, good for you. But that's not what God's message is all about. God's message is about his plans and purposes in the world and how he's been working them out over millennia. And we know God when we know his story. And the Old Testament gives us his story. If you don't know his story, if you only know what he's going to give you, that's kind of a shallow, selfish viewpoint. I'm sorry to be so blunt. You know, when you marry somebody, you don't just say, well, I'm marrying you so that you can do my laundry and cook my meals, you know, that's, that's kind of a selfish viewpoint, I'm just in this relationship because of what I can get out of it, and I'm going to go minimal on you, I don't care about you, your life and your story and your hopes and your dreams and your past and your... who would do, yeah, that's just wrong. We're in a relationship with God and we know God by knowing his story. And knowing his story means that we become aware of his plans and purposes for the world, for history, for time and for eternity, for us as, as his people. And, boy, if you think you can get along with that, good on you, but I kind of feel bad for you. But the fact is, people don't know what they're supposed to get out of the Old Testament. And if they go looking for their inspirational verse for the day and read about why they have mildew in their houses, you can understand they'd be confused. But the problem was you went for your inspirational thought of the day. That's not what the Bible is there for. it's not a, not a compendium of inspirational thoughts for the day. We have to get a better view of what the Old Testament is and what it's doing. And then we'll be able to come into it, and to say, let me try to understand how God is working on his plans and purposes and why that helps me to know God better. you know? Maybe about 30.

Randy:

Maybe about 30. And you, you told us before we got on air that you have, you know, The Lost World of the Prophets is, is at work, you have other works. What can we be looking for?

John:

Well, the, the one that's coming out soonest is called Wisdom for Faithful Reading, and it's about various principles and practices for interpreting the Old Testament, getting right at what I was just talking about, what're we, what're we doing when we read the Old Testament, what are we looking for? What's it supposed to mean to us? And that's all packed into that in a very accessible way, Wisdom for Faithful Reading. So that's the next one to look for. Lost World of the Prophets will be on its way soon after that, trying to understand what's prophecy all about in the Old Testament, in the ancient world, and even today? Are we going the right direction when we tend to, we tend to pick up the prophets when we want to do apologetics--Jesus is God!--and when we want to do eschatology, okay, "premillennial, pretribulational," whatever. Okay. That misses an awful lot. It probably misses almost everything about what the prophets are all about. But again, we need to learn how we should be reading the prophets, what we should be looking for, and this book will deal with that.

Randy:

Yeah.

John:

So there are a couple of things coming down the line.

Randy:

Quick personal question to end with. We talked to Craig Keener a couple months ago, and he said he's written fifty some books, and it just blows my mind.

John:

He's awesome.

Randy:

Yeah, you've written thirty some books, he's written fifty some books. Do you feel, do you get bored writing? Or do you feel like you have so much to share that, like, it's just, the next one is always on your mind?

John:

For me, writing is an extension of my classroom. I write because there's things that I've taught in class that have seemed to help people. And I'm saying, why not try to help more people with that same information. So writing is an extension of the classroom. You know, just, it has to be said, not only has Craig written almost twice as many books as me, but his books are like five times fatter than mine. So, you know.

Randy:

It's insane.

John:

Yeah. Good on you, Craig, you know, but anyway, so yeah, that's how writing works for me. So I don't get bored writing. Writing's not easy. I'm, I'm not a naturally gifted writer. I've got to work at it. But I've found it to be worthwhile, worth the effort.

Randy:

Well, going back to the beginning of the interview, John, I want to just tell you, you're a gift to the church. And we're, we're grateful for you and grateful for your time tonight.

John:

Happy to be here. Great conversation. Thanks for the questions.

Randy:

Thank you, John.

Kyle:

Well, that's it for this episode of A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. We hope you're enjoying the show as much as we are. Help us continue to create compelling content and reach a wider audience by supporting us patreon.com/apastorandaphilosopher, where you can get bonus content, extra perks, and a general feeling of being good person.

Randy:

Also, please rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, and Spotify. These help new people discover the show and we may even read your review in a future episode. If it's good enough.

Kyle:

If anything we said really pissed you off or if you just have a question you'd like us to answer, or if you'd just like to send us booze, send us an email at pastorandphilosopher@gmail.com.

Randy:

Catch all of our hot takes on Twitter at@PPWBPodcast, @RandyKnie, and@robertkwhitaker, and find transcripts and links to all of our episodes at pastorandphilosopher.buzzsprout.com. See you next time.

Kyle:

Cheers!

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Interview