Inspiration and Incarnation (1)

Peter Enns (Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament) writes primarily out of a noble concern: how does our growing knowledge of the Ancient Near East (ANE) impact how we look at the Bible and how can we preserve an understanding of the Bible as the word of God?

He is in particular concerned to address three questions that our knowledge of the ANE now presents us with:

1. Given that there are ancient pagan myths which share certain similarities to the OT, in what sense is the Bible still unique? What makes it special, that we listen to it as the Word of God, in contrast with these other documents?

2. Given that there appear to be disharmonious elements in the OT, in what sense can we say that the Bible has integrity? How can it be following a unified narrative when it seems to teach different things in different places?

3. Given that the NT writers seems to use the OT randomly and take it out of context to suit their own purposes, how does this impact our interpretation of the OT?

I am only neck-deep in chapter one yet, which has been interesting and compelling. I wholeheartedly endorse his effort to preserve the Bible as God’s Word, and think his “incarnational analogy” (on which more later) is perfectly square on the money. Yet his methodological approach leaves much to be desired, an approach which I would disagree with on a fairly wide margin. So I like his conclusion, but strongly take issue with the route he has chosen to get there as unnecessary and unhelpfully muddling the issue of the OT.

Once again, it is our foundational presuppositions which Enns refuses to analyze. I say “our,” but I really mean “his own.” He is presenting a certain, late scholarly tradition as though it presented “brute facts” to which we must now “face up.” It seems to me this sort of behavior is exactly what he accuses unbelieving liberal and fundamentalist/conservative scholars as exhibiting. Enns refuses (so far) to admit that his reading is a reading, itself an interpretation of which there are several strong competitors. Given how little we still know about the ANE, there is no more evidence for a late-Babylonian-Exile era of writing for the OT as there is for a reading which favors that God gave it to them at the time of Joseph’s sojourn in Egypt or during the time of the Exodus.

What is ultimately frustrating about his approach is that it appears slightly disingenuous. That is to say, he presents is with difficulties and offers his solution to them. That is fine. But he doesn’t offer them as “his” solutions. He presents them as the only solutions. In fact, he presents them in such a way as to imply that the problem itself demands his solution as though by sheer virtue of pointing out that there are other ANE texts which have certain similarities to Biblical narratives, his answer of how those are to be understood must of necessity be correct. But I don’t know of anyone who is now unaware that there are certain pagan parallels to Biblical literature or difficult passages to reconcile in the OT. Yet he presents these things as if they were remarkable claims. Further, his answers are dependent upon a certain reading of the text, a reading that has its own problems. He doesn’t even suggest there could be other readings that might make equal sense of the text in a totally different way. Which is why I say that my key difficulty with him will be methodological and not directed toward what he’s ultimately trying to get at.

I hope to continue interacting with Enns’ book here. As I say, I’m only midway through chapter one.


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