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The Lost World of Adam and Eve (Part 5: Dust)

ESV Genesis 2:7
“Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

Before Walton goes on, he redefines some terms used in Genesis 2—which he proposes isn’t a recap of day 6, but a sequel to the creation story. By redefining several Hebrew words—good, forming, and dust—, he somehow comes to the conclusion that morality was present prior to the fall. He is either using some faulty logic here or I missed something because I don’t see how his conclusions follow his definitions. I’ll try to explain anyways.

After nearly every day of creation/ordering, “God saw that it was good.” Walton differentiates between “good” and “perfect” here. Good doesn’t mean perfect or sinless or without death. It means functioning as God intended it to. Such is the way “good” is used elsewhere in the bible to describe things that are not perfect, but rather as God would have it. For example, God describes Canaan as good even when the Canannites are still living there.

Saying that everything is good is a way of checking that all systems are go. Plants? Check. Moon? Check. People? Check. If the Hebrew “good” here meant perfect, then we have a problem because God later says that it isn’t good for man to be alone.

“Forming” could be translated as “preparing,” “ordaining,” or decreeing.” Again this doesn’t necessarily imply material substance though it could include it. Walton argues that the forming of man from dust is actually a preparing Adam for a special role, and not physically making Adam.

“Dust” too doesn’t mean a material substance, but rather a state of non-life. Thus, Genesis 3:19 “For dust you are and to dust you will return,” means that you came from a breath-less state and you will return to that state when your life is over. This seems probable, but then Walton explains how the Hebrews understood the dust-like qualities of a decomposing body. If this is so, the Hebrews would’ve understood Genesis 3:19 as talking about material substance. Walton seems to be contradicting himself here.

He also doesn’t explain how this definition of “dust” works with the earlier part of Genesis 3:19, which states, “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken.”

He states that people have found this new definition of “dust” (meaning morality) hard to accept because this must mean that morality was present prior to the fall. I don’t follow this logic. 

Walton cites the presence of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden as further proof as the possibility of mortality being present prior to the fall. If Adam and Even were created to physically live forever why was the tree of life present? Walton believes the tree was a way for mortal beings to live eternally. After the fall, mankind lost access to this tree, which explains all New Testament references about the wages of sin being death. “Sin cost us the solution to morality” (Walton 74). 

Again, I don’t understand. If humans were dying before sin entered the world, why weren’t they eating from the tree of life? What’s the big deal about losing access to the solution of our morality if no one was using it anyway? Something seems fishy here.

Walton's more convincing case for “dust” meaning morality can be found in Psalm 103:14 and Job 10:9 where the writer talks about our being dust. This figure of speech isn’t used in these passages to say that a person was actually made out of dust, but rather a reference to the breathless state of our pre-existence.

He then argues that the attention given to Adam in Genesis 2 and the forming or preparing of him out of dust is not a statement of origin, but rather a statement of his unique role. Walton cites Egyptian iconography showing the god Khnum forming the pharaoh to be king and in Jeremiah 1:5, we read “how the prophet had been formed in the womb for a particular role” (Walton, 77). This is the same language of Genesis 2:7. 

God’s forming Adam is a way of appointing him for a particular job. 

Walton, John H. The Lost World of Adam and Eve. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015. Print.


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