In the Beginning was a delight to read – personally it brought me back to many of the OT lectures I enjoyed from Dr. Van Dam in my seminary years. While I found it enjoyable, there may be others who will find it tough-going at times. It’s not highly technical, but in places Van Dam does go academic.
Dr. C. Van Dam begins his latest book by explicitly laying out his presuppositions. He’s upfront about his non-negotiable assumptions and biases. As I review his book, it’s appropriate that I share mine too. I share his presuppositions about Scripture as the trustworthy Word of God, but I also bring a personal bias to the table. Back in the day, Van Dam was my Old Testament professor at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary. I had an affectionate nickname for him in view of his ability to put the smack-down on unbelieving or shoddy scholarship: “Wham-Bam-Van-Dam.” This was always said with the greatest admiration for Dr. Van Dam. As a seminary professor he was nothing if not thorough and careful.
This new book exhibits that same kind of comprehensive and precise approach to the two opening chapters of Scripture. Van Dam leaves no stone unturned. In the Beginning is an exhaustive treatment not only of the meaning of these two chapters, but also the various challenges that have been raised in Old Testament scholarship regarding them. What you’re looking at here is not just a commentary on Genesis 1-2, but far more.
Over the last decade or so John Walton has become well-known for his views on the early chapters of Genesis. Walton argues that we often misunderstand Genesis 1-2 because we don’t take into account the ancient Near Eastern context of these chapters. Once we do that, says Walton, then we can see that Genesis 1-2 was never meant to be taken literally as history. The history can then be filled in with what science teaches us, including what science says about human origins. In chapter 2 of In the Beginning, Van Dam discusses Walton’s views at length and explains how and where they fail to do justice to the character of Scripture as the Word of God. In my view this is the most important chapter of the book.
To whet your appetite further, let me share a selection of questions that Dr. Van Dam answers elsewhere in the book:
- Can new scientific data be regarded as general revelation given by God?
- What is the relationship of Scripture to science? Is Scripture a scientific textbook?