The Blue Raja, who goes by the name of…The Blue Raja (hereafter TBR), has been reviewing Peter Enns' softening up exercise for a more liberal view of Scripture.
He has cross-posted his material over at the Tavernistas. Given the cocky, juvenile tone of his review, he should feel right at home.
That’s a pity. The Blue Raja is a talented young man. It’s unfortunate to see him immerse himself in an environment conducive to spiritual immaturation rather than maturation—like a recovering alcoholic working as a bartender.
While he gives Peter Enns a rave review, he pans the remarks of Carson and Helm. Among other things, this is what TBR has to say:
Enns’ basic thesis is that a doctrine of Scripture should arise from the Scriptures themselves. Well, duh. But as you might expect, that recommendation turns out to be much more controversial than it initially sounds, because Enns is concerned not only about conforming our doctrine of Scripture to the Biblical testimony of its authority but to the phenomena of Scripture itself – with all its cultural moorings, rich diversity and strange uses of previous texts. These three issues only become problems in need of creative explanation if one develops expectations of Scripture from outside Scripture – which is precisely Enns’ critique of modern notions of inspiration. The result of such modern formulations is that interpretation becomes an exercise in a rather shifty brand of apologetics – ANE parallels are completely ignored in order to make the Bible appear culturally timeless; texts with genuinely different perspectives are forcibly crammed into a homogenized goo in order to make the Bible appear seamlessly harmonized; the hopelessly unscientific method with which Scripture uses Scripture is either dressed up as historical-grammatical exegesis or unconvincingly privileged as a non-repeatable apostolic privilege – all from a desire to rid the Bible from any signs of being a genuinely human (as well as divine) production.
The answer to such distortion, says Enns, is to see the written Word of God functioning according to the same nature as the incarnate Word of God – a perfect symbiosis of humanity and divinity. Jesus perfectly revealed the Father not as a hovering wraith or Docetic illusion, but as a genuine 1st C. Jewish man. He spoke the language, lived and participated within ancient Palestinian culture, and displayed all of the creaturely dependence requisite to humanity. He wasn’t a god just pretending to be a man, as so many seem to believe (and then wonder why they’re not moved by the stories of suffering and crucifixion in the Gospels). He was God anchored in time, culture and finite dependence upon the Father. The written Word of God should be understood as revealing the Father in the same way. As evangelicals continue to thrash about over theories of inspiration, some are drowning and others are barely treading water while the actual content of the Bible – in all of its varied and richly enculturated glory – circles the drain. In the next week or so, as I have time, I’ll be posting an evaluation of some of the criticisms I’ve read (from the likes of such Reformed luminaries as Paul Helm). In the meantime, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament is required reading.
In either case, with statements like “Most of us glory in the fact that God has disclosed himself to us in space-time history, in real words, to real people, in real languages” and “[ANE parallels] should cause no surprise among those who fully recognize how much the biblical revelation is grounded in history” one wonders if Carson has ever been to an average conservative church meeting in his entire life. One of my Sunday school attendees was shocked and horrified at a remark that Jesus’ teaching sprung from His study of the Law and the Prophets, declaring that He didn’t need to “study” because He was God and His teaching was a “direct revelation from God”! A few families left a neighboring church because of their outrage at the preacher’s suggestion that Paul was in any way affected by his surrounding culture.
That accusation misses the point not only because starting with the phenomena of Scripture IS HIS PROPOSAL, but also because of the degree to which apologetics has defined the agenda in conservative sectors of OT studies, and have fueled the very excesses the book seeks to curb. Both Carson and Helm glibly bypass the most difficult examples of diversity within the OT canon, Carson by offering his own potential harmonization of the less significant examples and Helm by skipping the actual data altogether (how Helm can accuse him of “fideism” and at the same time recommend “starting from dogma instead of difficulties” is beyond me).
Regardless of such a judgment, though, neither Carson nor Helm ever really present what an alternative to Enns’ proposal might mean. Surely the CONTENT of what is gained in the process of interpretation is the divine Word of God; and certainly the PROCESS of enscripturation is divinely ordered – but in what sense is the mode of expression “divine”? The authors were “born along by the Spirit”, but what “heavenly” qualities should we expect to find in the actual words of Scripture? For all the protest against Enns’ supposed “interpretive naiveté” in regard to Arianism”, beyond giving attention to the cultural, historical, and linguistic temporalities of the text, I’m not sure what else is an interpreter is to do.
A few comments are in order:
i) The ad hominem attacks are completely out of place. Carson is pushing 60. He’s the son of a pastor and a church-planter. He’s been a pastor himself. He’s been teaching seminarians for nearly 30 years now. He lectures around the world.
The idea that Carson is out of touch, or that he lacks direct exposure to Evangelical churches, especially coming from a greenhorn like TBR, is an insolent and foolish remark.
Likewise, Helm is in his upper 60s, having taught students for decades in an intellectual climate hostile to his Evangelical (indeed, Reformed) theology.
TBR would to well to drop the snotty-nosed attitude and stick with theological analysis—not that he fares any better on that score.
ii) We have the spectacle of TBR casting conservatives in the role of Blue Beard. They have the incriminating evidence hidden away in the dungeon.
I don’t know if it’s funny or sad when angry young men blame their elders for their own historical ignorance.
Comparative Semitics is hardly a new field. And conservatives have been interacting with the issues raised by this material going back several generations now.
For example, the Old Princetonians took a particular interest in comparative Semitics. John J. Davis published a monograph on the subject (Genesis & Semitic Tradition) way back in 1894.
Allis wrote an article on “Assyriological Research During the Past Decade,” for the 1914 issue of the PTR.
For the same publication, Allis wrote a number of book reviews on such subjects as:
“Annales de Tukuth-Ninip II, Roi d’Assyrie 889-884” (1911).
“Development of Religion & Thought in Ancient Egypt” (1913).
“Babylonian Business Transactions of the First Millennium BC” (1914).
“A Hebrew Deluge Story in Cuneiform and Other Epic Fragments in the Pierpont Morgan Library” (1923).
“Assyrian Grammar with Chrestomathy and Glossary” (1924).
“Israel & Babylon” (1927)
“A Sumerian Reading Book” (1927).
“The Epic of Gilgamesh” (1928).
Warfield wrote an essay on comparative Semitics back in 1903: “Great Babylon The Mother of Us All,” SSW 1:61-65.
Warfield also discussed the limitations of the incarnational model of inspiration in his classic ISBE article, published in 1915. Cf. Works 1:108f.
And before that there was his 1894 article on “the Divine & Human in the Bible,” SSW 2:542-48.
At Westminster, the successor to Princeton, E. J. Young, who studied under Cyrus Gordon, certainly knew his way around the cuneiform findings, and deployed that expertise to defend the inspiration and authority of Scripture.
So did the late Donald J. Wiseman. So did the late William White. So did the late R. K Harrison. So did the late Gleason Archer.
Among the living (at last check), so do J. J. Bimson, Daniel Block, John Currid, John J. Davis, Richard Hess, Alfred Hoerth, James Hoffmeier, Kenneth Kitchen, Meredith Kline, Alan Millard, T. C. Mitchell, J. A. Thompson, John Whitcomb, Clifford Wilson, Edwin Yamauchi, and David Livingston—to name a few.
iii) All of the “phenomena” that Enns puts on display are well-trodden ground: the Assumption of Moses, Amenemope, Atrahasis epic, code of Hammurabi, early/late date of the Exodus 1 Enoch, Enuma Elish, epic of Gilgamesh, midrashim, targumim, pesher, Sibylline oracles, redaction of Samuel-Kings in Chronicles, &c.
iv) As far as parallels are concerned, it’s important to distinguish between genealogical parallels and parallelomania. That’s something you won’t be getting from the likes of Peter Enns.
v) Is apostolic exegesis “hopelessly” unscientific (pace the grammatico-historical method)?
Let’s remember that the NT writers are writing within a literary and hermeneutical tradition of OT Judaism, Intertestamental Judaism, Second Temple Judaism, Palestinian Judaism, and Diaspora Judaism.
Communication is a relation. The meaning of the text cannot be isolated from what the author meant it to mean for his audience.
An author says less than he means because he takes for granted a certain cultural preunderstanding.
The NT writers expected to be understood, and this shared area of understanding rounds out the meaning of the text.
The NT writers cite, quote, and exegete the OT in the way they do because they and their readers move within the same conceptual world. The NT writers didn’t make up the rules. Rather, they play by a preexistent set of rules—of cultural transmission codes that are shared in common between the OT author and his implied audience as well as the NT author and his implied audience. A continuous, crosshatching interpretive grid.
vi) To say that Carson and Helm fail to present an alternative is a bizarre criticism. Both Carson and Helm are prolific writers. They don’t outline an alternative; rather, they embody an alternative: they lead by example; they show by doing.
vii) And as Carson explains in some detail, Enns is the one who fails to redeem his vouchers. For Enns never develops his Incarnational model. He merely reiterates the same talismanic catchwords ad nauseum without advancing the argument:
First, Enns offers no discussion whatsoever of what the doctrine of the incarnation actually looks like. If the incarnation is to become the controlling model for our understanding of the nature of Scripture, then are we not owed some exposition, however brief, of what "incarnation" means to Enns? The word is thrown around in contemporary discussion with an enormous array of meanings; it is entirely unclear what Enns means. But let us suppose, for charity’s sake, that he stands roughly in line with Nicea and Chalcedon.
That brings up the second problem. The only thing that Enns draws from the doctrine of the incarnation is that Jesus is truly a human being; he does not merely appear to be a human being. In other words, for Enns an adequate affirmation of the incarnation entails the abolition of docetism, and the parallel with Scripture entails the abolition of a kind of scriptural docetism, in which Scripture only appears to be human, but is not truly human. So far, so good. But the doctrine of the incarnation was used to fight off multiple errors, not just docetism. For instance, it equally fights off Arianism, in which Jesus is not truly God, but at most an inferior god, or perhaps merely godlike. If incarnation is to serve as the controlling model for how Scripture is to be understood, why does not Enns use it to refute the voices that confess the Bible to be only a human document, or a collection of human documents? In what sense is the Bible God’s Word, or, as we have noted in biblical usage, a collection of God’s words? And how do the human and the divine dimensions of Scripture cohere? Is there some point where we appeal to mystery, as we appeal to mystery when we are talking about the divine nature and the human nature cohering in the one person, Jesus the Messiah? Without ever discussing the nature of the incarnation, Enns is using the incarnation as a positive "buzz" word to fight off his opponents to the right, but he never develops the doctrine, or the argument, to warn against dangers at least as great on the left (if we may resort to that old left/right spectrum). Nor is it merely a question of balance which could be remedied by another book treating the other side. The doctrine of the incarnation is powerful and central to Christian confessionalism not only because it counters "left" and "right" alike, but because it carefully formulates what it means to confess Jesus as the God/man. If the incarnation were deployed only to fight off docetism, pretty soon we would have a thoroughly human Jesus, but nothing more; if it were deployed only to fight off Arianism, pretty soon we would have a thoroughly divine Jesus, but nothing more. The doctrine of the incarnation tries, with appropriate caution, hesitation, and adoration, to get it right. But the only way it functions in Enns’s analogical argument is to confirm that docetism is bad, and therefore a failure to confess the truly human nature of Scripture is bad. Enns adduces all the evidence he can for the Bible’s humanness, and reflects on it at length; he does not attempt to adduce all the evidence he can for the Bible’s rootedness in God himself, and reflect at length on that—not even the very sketchy bits of evidence I mentioned in discussing Webster’s book. It is not just that the view of Scripture that Enns paints is lopsided, but that the heart of the issue is side-stepped, i.e. how it must all cohere. Think "incarnation" in any historic, confessional sense of "incarnation," and you are never far away from mystery (in the modern sense of that word); apply it as Enns has done to the nature of Scripture, and there is very little that is mysterious at all. Apply it to Jesus, and you think "God/man"; apply it to the Bible in the way that Enns does and you think "not docetic; thoroughly human." True, Enns repeatedly concedes that the Bible is God’s Word, but because he does not tie that confession to incarnation, or warn against a kind of scriptural Arianism, or probe the difficulties inherent in Scripture’s dual nature, the result is remarkably distorted.
Third, whenever one makes an entire argument turn on analogy, it is imperative to explain in what ways the two poles of the analogy are alike and unlike. In Christology, for instance, we speak of two natures and one person; we cannot deploy exactly that terminology in talking about the Bible. When we speak of Jesus as truly human, as truly a man, we carefully insist that he is a perfect man, i.e. a man without sin, and that there is nothing intrinsic to humanness that requires that humans be sinners. In that sense, Jesus is thoroughly like us, human; he is also thoroughly unlike all of us, since he alone is sinlessly perfect. If the incarnation is to be our model for how we think of Scripture, or even of Scripture’s humanness, how do such elementary distinctions as these play out? What might it mean to say that Scripture is composed of thoroughly human, but perfect, documents? Or does the analogy break down? If so, why and where? None of this is discussed. "Incarnation" is merely a rhetorically positive word to approve Enns’s argument; it is not a word with real substance that can clarify or illuminate the nature of Scripture by really careful analogical argumentation. Thus, when Enns writes (his italics), "It is essential to the very nature of revelation that the Bible is not unique to its environment. The human dimension of Scripture is essential to its being Scripture" (20), the statement is formally true and hopelessly muddled. Using the incarnational analog, the "human dimension" of the God/man not only places him in the human environment, but leaves him unique in that environment since only he is without sin. And even more strikingly, of course, what makes Jesus most strikingly unique to the human environment is that, without gainsaying his thorough, perfect, humanness for an instant, he is also God, and thus the perfect revealer of God, such that what Jesus says and does, God says and does. But when Enns speaks of "the very nature of the revelation of the Bible" as "not unique in its environment," he looks only at its "human dimension" and integrates nothing of what else must be said if we are to understand what the Bible is in this "human environment." I hasten to add that I am as rigorously opposed to what he thinks of as a docetic understanding of Scripture as he. But I am no less suspicious of an Arian understanding of Scripture—or, if we may get away from the incarnational analog, I am no less suspicious of assorted non-supernatural and domesticated understandings of the Bible, understandings of the Bible that are far removed from, say, that of the Lord Jesus. Methodologically, Enns gets himself into these problems because he has spelled out neither what he understands of the doctrine of the incarnation, nor how well analogical arguments work in this case, and what limitations might be applicable.
TBR merely regurgitates the same buzzwords himself.
vii) As to the complaint that “both Carson and Helm glibly bypass the most difficult examples of diversity within the OT canon, Carson by offering his own potential harmonization of the less significant examples,” since Helm is a Christian philosopher rather than a Bible scholar, we wouldn’t expect him to wade into the field of ANE studies or Biblical hermeneutics.
For Carson’s part, since he’s a NT scholar, he naturally accentuates the NT examples proffered by Enns—although Carson does delve into some of the OT examples as well.
But to say that Carson limits himself to the “less significant examples” merely reflects the idiosyncratic viewpoint of TBR, and not the authorial viewpoint of Enns. Enns has a whole chapter on apostolic exegesis, so this is quite significant to Enns.
Indeed, one could argue, and rightly so, that the NT view of the OT is normative for Christians. So this is the most significant chapter in the book.
viii) For that matter, when TBR describes apostolic exegesis as “the hopelessly unscientific method with which Scripture uses Scripture,” then Carson’s corrective of Enns’ misinterpretation of apostolic exegesis is highly germane to one of TBR’s own objections to “modern” theories of inspiration.
ix) The relation between Samuel-Kings and Chronicles has received quite a lot of attention over the last several years from the likes of Dillard, Hasel, Pratt, and V. P. Long, to name a few prominent examples. So why should Helm or Carson cover the same ground?
Likewise, Smick wrote a fine commentary on Job, Bullock wrote a fine introduction to the Poetic books, while Kidner wrote a fine introduction to the wisdom literature. There’s lots of stuff on the Law, such as the recent, well-rounded commentary on Leviticus by Allen Ross, or T.D. Alexander’s introduction to the Pentateuch, as well another volume on the Pentateuch which he edited—not to mention the new series Exploring the Old Testament, of which Wenham wrote the inaugural volume.
V. P. Long wrote a fine monograph on The Art of Biblical History. He also edited Windows into Old Testament History. What about the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology? Or the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible? Or the New International Dictionary of OT Theology & Exegesis? The list goes on and on.
Midrash has been debated to extinction. Same thing with pesher.
If TBR spent less time transfixed by his reflection on the computer screen and more time actually boning up on the literature, he’d know better to whine about the dearth of the very literature which is piled high on every side.
x) TBR’s own compromise position is hardly responsive to all of the “phenomena” in question: “Surely the CONTENT of what is gained in the process of interpretation is the divine Word of God; and certainly the PROCESS of enscripturation is divinely ordered – but in what sense is the mode of expression ‘divine’?”
If, for example, if you regard Gen 1 as an expurgated transcription of the Enuma Elish, then you can forever kiss good-bye any pat division between human form and divine content.