What I learnt from the Genesis 1-11 intensive

Karen Nivala, Lecturer and Mentor

For all of us attending, John Walton’s intensive on Genesis was a mind-blowing experience. Many a huddled conversation was had, in breaks and after class, dissecting and analysing the ideas that we had just been exposed to. Walton specialises in Ancient Near East studies and has extensive experience in Hebrew exegesis. Those familiar with his work would be aware that his conclusions often challenge traditionally held beliefs. Yet, after spending a day purely on methodology, one couldn’t help but admire his treatment of the authority of Scripture, his sensitivity to the effects of worldview on interpretation, and his ability to illuminate the Hebrew across the Old Testament.

His methodology had most of us evaluating our own approach to the text and being challenged to be more consistent, more thoughtful in regards to the original language, and more aware of the effect of imposing our modern worldview onto our interpretation. Then, over four days, we had some of our most fundamental ideas of Genesis placed under the microscope and challenged. Watching a scholar, clearly accustomed to criticism, respectfully and graciously answer a barrage of questions was, in itself, a great model for communicating differences in belief. He had us jumping across Scripture trying to understand what his conclusions would mean for other parts of the Bible, and in many cases, for the first time, scrutinising the process it had taken to get to our long-held beliefs. Walton kept us returning to the question, ‘But what is the text really saying?’

A personal highlight was gaining a greater appreciation of Ancient Near East thought and the significant danger of assuming that Western culture holds the interpretative lens through which to approach the text. The reality is, wherever our cards ended up falling at the end of the intensive, there was a challenge to be more faithful, more consistent and wiser with our approach to Scripture. Walton’s overall conclusion was far from controversial, ‘What is God revealing in the text? That he is “God with us”.’