I recently got into an impromptu debate on Facebook regarding the historicity of the OT.
Steve Hays At best, anything by Peter Enns is like a poison apple. Shiny on the outside. Pretty color. Some people find it tasty. But then there's the toxic after-effect.
Steve Hays To begin with, "progressive Christians" are at least as "tribalistic" and doctrinaire as Bible-believing Christians.
In addition, notice Sharad's tactic. Peter Enns resorts to the same tactic. This involves imputing "fear" to the other side. The only reason Christians might be critical of people like Enns is due to "fear".
That's part of a calculated tactic to shame critics into silence or submission through rhetorical intimidation. Sharad is so conditioned by this rhetorical tactic that he's oblivious to the hypocrisy of his own rhetoric. This is language he blindly copies from his masters.
There was plenty of "reasonable discourse" in response to Enns. Enns operates with an essentially secular historiography, with a few residual, ad hoc elements of theism tacked on. His "Christotelic" hermeneutic is an arbitrary imposition on the text, given that he denies the kind of inspiration required for the OT to have any directionality, much less a "Christotelic" goal.
Given his skepticism regarding the historicity of the Bible and Biblical miracles, the way he clings to an "incarnational" category arbitrarily privileges one miracle while he jettisons most others. What does he really believe about the historicity of the Gospels or St. Paul's view of the historical Jesus?
If you apply his view of OT narratives to NT narratives, what is left? Isn't his "incarnational" schtick just a shopworn metaphor at this point?
It's a mock pious way of maintaining appearances, by cloaking his general denial of Bible history, supernaturalism, and inspiration under the cover of the Incarnation," but that's an artificial relic, given his overall viewpoint. If Enns was consistent, he'd demythologize the Incarnation the same way he's demythologized Bible history in general.
Moreover, there's no justification for using an incarnational analogy to deny the inerrancy of Scripture. To begin with, Enns simply asserts an analogy; he doesn't present any argument for why we should believe that's actually analogous.
Furthermore, if we were to press the analogy, that entails a parallel between Kenotic Christology and Scripture.
Steve Hays Consider this review, by a fellow liberal, who discusses the arbitrarily selective nature of what Enns affirms and denies:
Steve Hays This is what people like Rauser, Enns fail to grapple with. For instance, Rauser denies the historicity of Gen 22. Yet that's a turning-point in OT redemptive history. If that didn't happen, then what else didn't happen? Did God call Abraham out of Ur? Or is that pious fiction? Is the history of the patriarchs pious fiction?
Enns denies the historicity of the Exodus. That's not unusual for someone who moves in his circles. But suppose you're an Orthodox Jew. You read that Rabbi Wolpe denies the Exodus. But consider the consequences. The Exodus is a centerpiece of OT history and theology. It's not just a central theological idea, but a central redemptive event.
If, however, Yahweh never spoke to Moses, because Moses is a fictional character, then why think God ever speaks to anyone? If Yahweh did not intervene to answer the prayers of his people in Egypt and deliver them, then why think God ever answers prayer or delivers his people?
Indeed, if Abraham is a fictional character, if Moses is a fictional character, doesn't that make Yahweh a fictional character? Those conversations never happened. Imaginary conversations between fictional characters.
For our Orthodox Jew, if Gen 22 is fictional, if the Exodus is fictional, then isn't the whole notion of a wonder-working, prayer answering God wishful thinking? Jews wrote inspirational stories about divine guidance and divine deliverance because they desperately want that to be true, they desperately want to believe we live in that kind of world, yet that's a human projection. In reality, the universe is a closed system. We're alone. We're on our own.
We're waiting at a bus stop for a bus that never comes. The route was discontinued. Every day we go to the same bus stop, waiting for a bus that never comes. It begins to snow. We begin to chill. We keep hoping the bus will come and take us home. We keep hoping the bus is just around the corner. But there never was a bus. There's nothing around the corner. Just emptiness.
What about the NT? Your beloved mother dies, but you take comfort in the prospect of reunion. You have those edifying promises about going to heaven and the resurrection of the body. Or is that like the Exodus? Is that like Gen 22?
Steve Hays Taking refuge in the allegorizations of the church fathers is a last-ditch stand. That's a carryover from pious heathen Greeks who were embarrassed by the antics of the Homeric gods and goddesses, so they allegorized the Homeric tales to save face. And some church fathers pretty up what they find embarrassing in OT narratives by these same gimmick.
Steve Hays Let's take two examples from Rauser. He denies the historicity of Gen 22. If you don't think that's liberal, it says a lot about you. Likewise, Rauser thinks it's acceptable to believe that Jesus unwittingly taught falsehood, based on a Kenotic Christology. If you don't think that's liberal, it says a lot about you.
i) No, I haven't read Enn's latest book. So what? I read his Inspiration and Incarnation. I've read portions of The Bible Tells Me So. I've read many of his posts on his blog(s). I've read his exchanges with some other scholars (e.g. Bruce Waltke). So I have a pretty detailed understanding of his position.
ii) Your second question involves a category error. The question at issue isn't the meaning of a text, but the factuality of a text.
And it won't do to hide behind the literary genre of the OT (or NT, for that matter), for the nub of the issue for people like Enns isn't the viewpoint of the author, but the reader. Not the Bible narrator, but what people like Enns find credible.
Steve Hays No, Enns is not a great scholar. He's a dime-a-dozen liberal OT scholar who recycles the cliches of critical Bible scholarship. An example of a great liberal OT scholar would be the late Brevard Childs. Enns is not an original thinker. He churns out potboilers full of trite observations.
Your comment has no substantive content. It doesn't engage what I said.
Let's take genre criticism. The problem with scholars like Enns is that they classify a book or narrative of Scripture as fiction or nonfiction, not based on what the narrator or the original audience took to be credible, but what modern, secularized scholars take to be credible.
It's funny how people like you are embarrassed by the "liberal" label. But if someone has a liberal outlooks, why not be proudly and avowedly liberal? They should be unashamed to say what they believe, and be eager to defend it.
Steve Hays The truth of Christianity is contingent on its status as a redemptive revealed religion. The Christian God is a God who speaks and acts. A God who speaks to and through certain people. A God who made the world. A God who performs miracles. That stands in contrast to the mute, impotent idol-gods of paganism.
That's a presupposition of Christian faith. You can reject that. You can be an atheist. At least that would be consistent. The problem is with people who try to stake out an ad hoc mediating position.
It's revealing that you're far more concerned with defending Enns than defending Bible history. Thanks for broadcasting your priorities.
Yes, the Bible commits Christians to the historicity of Adam and Eve. If you reject that, then you reject the revelatory status of Christianity.
An omnipotent God can certainly create the universe 6000 years ago in six days a la mature creation.
However, Gen 1 is not unambiguously sequential. To the contrary, the fourth day seems to be a deliberate anachronism. The diurnal cycle is already in place on Day 1. So I take that to be a narrative cue that Gen 1 may not be strictly linear.
In addition, "days" can be units of light as well as units of time. Indeed, Gen 1 repeatedly uses "day" as a synonym for daytime or daylight–in contrast to nighttime or darkness.
So we need to consider the significance of light in the Pentateuch or the significance of light to an audience that lived before the advent of artificial lighting.
Denying the historicity of Gen 22 (Rauser) or denying the historicity of the Exodus (Enns) aren't side issues. As I mentioned before, these are major turning points in OT history and theology. You attempt to trivialize that by recasting the issue in terms of "having a personal checklist of things a guy has to say he believes is 100% factual" or "he has some opinions you disagree with." You resort to a staple polemical tactic by trying to minimize the significance of the issue by acting as if we're debating minutiae.
"You think the Bible commits Christians to the historicity of Adam and Eve? Where's that in the creeds?"
The creeds are secondary and derivative. They have no independent source of information.
"What early Church Father insists on that? That's right, nowhere. And what early Church Father discusses how those early chapters aren't to be taken literally, or that Adam represents humanity? Irenaeus, Origen, Theophilus, etc. etc. I guess those early Christians who wrote the NT, and those who helped form the Canon of Scripture have rejected the revelatory status of Christianity."
You're conflating Bible writers with church fathers. Grammatico-historical exegesis is based on the original intent of the narrator and the preunderstanding of the original audience. The opinion of the church fathers is beside the point unless their interpretations dovetail with the original meaning of the text. Irenaeus isn't St. Paul (Rom 5; 1 Cor 15) or the narrator of Gen 1-3.
Why do you treat the church fathers as authority figures while you demote the authority of Bible writers?
"The exegetical question is, 'Did God inspire the writer of Genesis to convey an accurate historical/scientific account of exactly how He created? If you take historical context and literary context seriously, the obvious answer to that is, 'No."
Your statement is confused. You're conflating the exegetical question of what the text means, what the narrator intended, what the original audience would take that to mean, with the factual question of what some modern readers think is true.
"The problem with that, of course, is you're taking your cues from Ken Ham."
That's demonstrably false. Instead of responding to what I actually wrote, you attempt to substitute an easier target. But it's illicit as well as unethical for you to substitute Ham's position for what I actually wrote.
"Incidentally, your claim that Genesis 1 isn't sequential, etc....Ham would find problematic."
A red herring.
"It SEEMS to you that day four is anachronistic?"
I gave a contextual reason for that.
"Isn't that YOUR opinion that calls into question the historicity of the Bible?"
An accurate historical report needn't be strictly chronological. Take a war historian writing about WWII. He couldn't write a strictly chronological account even if he wanted to inasmuch as you have so many simultaneous or overlapping events during WWII.
"If you deny day four is strictly historical, what's the next step? Denial of the resurrection? You see? That's a ridiculous leap, yet that's exactly what you do with Enns regarding some of his observations of other stories in the OT."
I didn't deny that day four was historical. Rather, I said the sequence isn't strictly linear. Take a documentary film that uses flashbacks. That doesn't make the documentary unhistorical. You have a very crude notion of historical reportage.
"Also, Enns isn't 'denying' the Exodus took place."
He's denying that Exod-Deut correspond to what actually happened.
"if your argument is, 'If you deny the Exodus took place exactly the way the book of Exodus lays it out…"
This is not a question of "exactitude," but denying that the Exodus account bears any resemblance to what really happened…or didn't happen.
"So you downplay the creeds and the early Church Fathers, and reject their way of reading and teaching the Scripture, in favor of the historical-grammatical method that is a relatively modern method of biblical exegesis? You honestly don't see what's wrong with that? You're rejecting the witness of the early Church."
i) You are playacting. The church fathers don't have any special source of information about the Pentateuch. They can't step into the time machine and travel back to OT times (or earlier).
You pretend that they know something we don't, but they don't have access to some esoteric source of information regarding Genesis, the Exodus, the wilderness wandering, &c. In fact, thanks to biblical archeology, we're in a position to know more about the setting of OT books than they were.
ii) Christians aren't answerable to the church fathers. The church fathers are just a subset of Christians. They are not above or below other Christians. My duty is not to align my beliefs with what the church fathers believed, but to align my beliefs with biblical revelation.
"The historical-critical method, as with other methods, has been able to illuminate certain aspects of the text, for sure…"
I didn't say the historical-critical method, but the grammatico-historical method. Those are not synonymous.
"but you're putting that modern method in a position of authority over the testimony of the early Church who wrote and formed the Bible. Ireneaus [sic] was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of John himself."
i) This has nothing to do with putting a method in a position of authority. Moreover, your appeal to the church fathers is fake. The real reason you reject the historicity of the Pentateuch isn't the church fathers but modern science.
That, however, is not a hermeneutical question. As a rule, when we interpret a document from the past, we should confine ourselves to the kind of knowledge that was available to the author and the original audience. A partial exception would be long-term prophecy, where the fulfillment naturally overshoots the historical horizon of the original audience. At most, that would be a two-step process:
a) Determine what the text means
b) Evaluate whether it is true
ii) The church is not a "who". You've personified an abstraction.
iii) The church didn't write the Bible. It wasn't even possible for the church towrite the OT, and it didn't write the NT, for that matter. Rather, select individuals in the second half of the 1C wrote the NT. Your claim is vitiated by equivocation.
"Yes, Irenaeus isn't Paul, but he was in a much better position to know the original intent of Paul than you or I…"
That's an irrational assertion. Ascertaining the original intent of Paul is based on things like an ability to follow the flow of his argument, his use of OT texts, his Jewish milieu, &c. There's nothing that gives Irenaeus an advantage in that regard.
In fact, your position is contradictory, because you're defending Peter Enns, yet he construes the NT in light of Second Temple Jewish literature, which is certainly not the hermeneutical filter that Irenaeus uses.
"You're accusing me of using Ham as an easier target?"
One of your failings is that your arguments, such as they are, are adapted to a different opponent than me. My position isn't the same as Ham's. Since you're unable to refute my position, you resort to a bait-n-switch. but your bullets whiz right by me because you're aiming at Ham rather than me. My position hasn't even been grazed.
"My point was Ham would decry your explanation of 'day 4' etc."
Your point was to resort to a diversionary tactic because you're unable to refute my position.
"Also, Enns isn't 'denying' the Exodus took place, He isn't 'denying' the Hebrews moved into Canaan and had skirmishes."
That's another equivocation on your part. The significance of the Exodus lies entirely in the fact that God miraculously delivered his people out of covenant fidelity to the patriarchs. Stripping away the plagues and other supernatural elements is a total denial of the Exodus.
"For example, in II Kings 18-20, do you believe a LITERAL angel came barging out of Heaven and started LITERALLY slaughtering 185,000 Assyrian soldiers? Or do you leave open the possibility that it might have been a plague or something, and that the biblical writer expressed that with the imagery of an angel of YHWH slaughtering the Assyrian soldiers?"
So you don't believe in angels? No, I have no reason to think the Bible writer would share your secularized reinterpretation.
When you cherry pick which parts of the Bible to accept, you reject the revelatory status of Christianity. You reject the revelatory record.
Steve Hays Yes, it's playacting for you to act as though the church fathers enjoy a privileged epistemic position–especially in relation to the OT. They don't have any information we don't have. Indeed, they often have less information than we have. And you don't attempt to rebut that observation because you can't.
"The whole point is that the early Church Fathers didn't obsess over whether or not every single detail in the OT narratives was 'historically accurate.'"
So much the worse for the church fathers.
"Again, your cavalier dismal of the early Church Fathers is shocking. You wouldn't know about the Bible and the teaching of the early Church unless the early Church Fathers had not preserved that teaching and passed on the 'Tradition' that Christ gave the apostles."
And the individuals who wrote the OT were not part of the church. Moreover, even regarding the NT writers, your inference commits the composition fallacy. If NT writers were part of the church, that hardly means the church wrote the NT–much less the Bible.
The church fathers didn't give us the Bible. In the first instance, Bible writers gave us the Bible. Secondarily, Christian scribes gave us the Bible. Likewise, Jewish scribes gave us the Bible. Many Christians, as well as Jews, who were not "church fathers," contributed to the dissemination of the Bible. And the "Tradition" that Christ gave the apostles is recorded in the NT.
I also notice your antisemitism, which is characteristic of people infatuated with Eastern Orthodoxy. You cut out the Jews, as if "the Church" is the exclusive channel for our knowledge of the Bible.
It's clear from your book on The Heresy of Ham that you cannot accept the historicity of Genesis given your espousal of evolution.
No, the church is not a "who". Rather, the church is a collection of many whos.
Your appeal to Irenaeus is silly. The fact that he may have known someone who knew someone who knew Jesus hardly means he had a detailed, independent source of knowledge regarding the teachings of Jesus.
Which not to deny that Irenaeus may be in a good position to vouch for the Johannine authorship of the Fourth Gospel. But having a bit of anecdotal knowledge that was passed down from John via Polycarp, while that's valuable, hardly implies that Irenaeus had in-depth knowledge of John's teaching, based on tradition. Your appeal is quite desperate.
To take a comparison, I have some secondhand knowledge about my paternal great-father from late my father, who knew my great-grandfather. However, what was passed down by word of mouth about my great-grandfather's life is quite limited.
Furthermore, the fact that Irenaeus may have some traditional knowledge about the Apostle John in no way qualifies him to be an expert interpreter of the Apostle Paul. Your appeal is a blatant non sequitur.
"Your fundamental interpretive position and outlook is virtually identical to that of Ken Ham: you bow at the altar of the modern method of grammatical-critical interpretation, and you damn the entire history of early Church biblical interpretation."
You need to try harder to resist the temptation to make silly statements. To begin with, even if the grammatico-historical method is "modern" (which is an overstatement on your part), your objection is equivocal. The aim of the grammatico-historical method is to ascertain the original meaning of the text. That's not modern–just the opposite. The aim of the grammatico-historical method is to peel away anachronistic interpretations to get back to what the author had in mind.
"And that leads to your interpretation and conclusions regarding the Exodus and stories like in II Kings 18-19. You apparently think that unless you read Exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea as if Cecille B. Demille's 'Ten Commandments' was a historical documentary, then you are in 'total denial of the Exodus.'"
It's amusing to read your caricatures. Back to the real issue: the whole point of the Exodus is that there's a God who delivers his people. A God who intercedes to rescue his people. And the evidence that this is God's doing is the miraculous aspect. God stretching forth his mighty arm.
When people like Enns at most make allowance for a bit of residual history, when they treat Exod-Deut as legendary embellishment, when what really happened, if anything happened at all, is naturally explicable, then there's no reason to think there is a God who ever acts in response to his people's needs.
This isn't just my opinion. In modern Judaism, denying the historicity of pivotal events like the Exodus leads to a crisis of faith. Loss of faith in the existence of a God who ever acts in human history, ever intercenes in answer to prayer. Consider the entry on "Miracles" in the Encyclopedia Judaica (2nd ed., 2007):
"For [Martin] Buber, man's attitude is the essential element in the miracle: the miracle is "our receptivity to the eternal revelation."…A man today can experience the same relation to real events, the same miracle, that biblical man experience. The attitude that a man has to events, the world, or other people is the raw material out of which experiences that are miracles arise. For a person properly attuned, any event may be considered a miracle, in terms of its meaning to him," 14:309.
That's a euphemistic way of denying miracles. It's not an objective divine event. Rather, it reduces to cultivating reverent attitude about events in general. Subjectivizing miracles.
In the nature of the case, a man today cannot experience the same event inasmuch as past events are unique and unrepeatable. So this is Buber's attempt to make the best of the situation given loss of faith in biblical miracles. And Kaplan is even more direct:
"M. Kaplan conceives of the accounts of miracles in Jewish literature as the attempt 'of ancient authors to prove and illustrate God's power and goodness'…Kaplan maintained that these traditions concerning miracles were in conflict with modern thought, and that the belief in miracles that contravene natural law is a 'psychologically impossibility for most people' (Questions Jews Ask , 155-6). The idea of God's exercising control and direction over the workings of the world is passé after modern physics. However, while Kaplan rejects the literalness of the miracle, he sees in the concept that God performs miracles for the sake of the righteous an important idea that has value for modern man, namely, the idea of responsibility and loyalty to what is right," ibid. 14:309.
Kaplan resorts to a secularized reinterpretation of biblical miracles. And that's a logical reaction once you deny the historicity of OT narratives. These are paradigm-examples of God's redemptive activity in human history. Once you deny these paradigm-examples, what reason is there to continue believing in the existence of an interventionist God? The actual evidence is that we're trapped in a closed-system.
"You obviously think that unless there was a literal 'Rambo Angel' who cut down 185,000 in one night, then nothing in II Kings 18-19 can be trusted."
That wasn't the argument. The point, rather, is that there's no reason to think an ancient Jew preferred your naturalistic categories.
Incidentally, angels are very prominent in the Pentateuch. Do you brush them out by the same tactic?
"Simply put, your view of the Bible is small, and it's enslaved to Enlightenment presuppositions."
To the contrary, you, Enns, Kenton Sparks et al. resort to the same secularizing reinterpretations as Enlightenment rationalists like Spinoza.
Steve Hays It's been revealing to see your nonexistent academic standards on public display:
1. You take intellectual shortcuts. You stereotype people who disagree with you. By contrast, real scholars don't prejudge or misrepresent the views of those with whom they differ.
2. Another example of you taking intellectual shortcuts is forcing people who disagree with you into the Procrustean bed of Ken Ham. A real scholar wouldn't have your simplistic and schematic approach to the issues.
3. Yet another example of you taking intellectual shortcuts is attacking young-earth creationism in the person of Ken Ham. A real scholar, unlike yourself, selects the most able exponents of the position he critiques. If you were intellectually serious, you'd attack more sophisticated young-earthers like Kurt Wise, Jonathan Sarfati, Andrew Snelling, John Byl, and Todd Wood. You'd pick on the most astute representatives that young-earth creationism has to offer. Instead, you train your guns on a popularizer.
4. I don't read Ken Ham. Never have. Yet if I were a betting man, I'd wager that Ham's hermeneutic isn't the grammatico-historical method, but literalism. The "plain, natural" sense of the text. If that's his hermeneutic, that's not the grammatico-historical method. Indeed, that's nearly the opposite of the grammatico-historical method.
Generally, folks like Ham don't begin by asking what the text might mean to the original audience. They don't interpret an ancient text in light of period background information. They don't take literary conventions into account. Rather, they read it as if it was a modern book written in English.
That is not my hermeneutic. But your modus operandi is to burn straw men rather than engage the actual argument.
5. There's an elementary difference between:
i) Denying that a reported event in Scripture actually happened.
ii) Saying a biblical account is legendary, but may have a kernel of historicity once you shuck off the supernatural husk.
iii) Denying that Bible narrators report "exactly" what happened.
You fail to distinguish between these fundamentally different claims.
Now, it isn't even possible for a report to "exactly" match what an observer saw, because visual information is a different medium from verbal information. Likewise, an event may have a context which requires the narrator to editorialize about the event. But, of course, the original event didn't have that editorial voice.
That, however, is completely different from denying that a reported even in Scripture ever happened. Likewise, that's completely different from substantiating a naturalistic explanation.
For instance, if Peter Enns denies that the ten plagues happened, that's not a question of exactitude or inexactitude. Rather, that means the account doesn't correspond to reality at all.
Likewise, if Enns says Exodus may have a tenuous basis in fact, but what really happened simply involved human agents doing what human agents are naturally capable of doing, that's not a question of exactitude or inexactitude. Rather, that means the account systematically misrepresents what really took place.
iv) No, there's not a "huge" difference between Gen 1-11 and the rest of the Pentateuch. There's pervasive supernaturalism throughout.
"and yes, now...ANTISEMITIC! That is wonderful. And you base that accusation on the fact that I am a Christian who believes the Church's proclamation of the Gospel and it's interpretation of the OT as being fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ."
That's just a lie, and it illustrates your consistent lack of intellectual integrity. What I pointed out is that you give the Jews no credit for the dissemination of Scripture.