Thursday, February 23, 2006

Inspiration & Incarnation-2

Last year, Peter Enns, an OT prof. at Westminster in Philly, published Inspiration & Incarnation (Baker 2005). This book is an apologetic to liberalize the traditional doctrine of Scripture. Of course, Enns is far too diplomatic to put it in such blunt terms, but that’s what he’s up to.

The operating assumption of his book is that we should liberalize the traditional doctrine of Scripture because we know things to which former believers were not privy, things which force us to revise our doctrine of Scripture.

He says, for example, that “scientific investigation was not at the disposal of ANE peoples” (40), and “before the discovery of the Akkadian stories, one could quite safely steer clear of such a question, but this is no longer the case” (41).

This book comes recommended by other Evangelical scholars who call it “honest” and “refreshing.” It reflects a “maturation” of evangelical scholarship, and so on.

This, of course, tells you as much about their view of Scripture as it does about Enns’.

It’s the sort of language that’s always used to soften up the resistance.

At one time, Westminster was the flagship of Reformed seminaries. It’s still one of the top-tier seminaries.

This is not the first time that a more liberal view of Scripture has been broached by a faculty member of Westminster. Back in the 90s, Dillard and Longman issued an OT introduction which conceded to the unbelievers everything that E. J. Young had resisted.

This is all a great pity, for Enns has written a very fine commentary on Exodus. He and Longman are sufficiently conservative to be quite useful from time to time. But make no mistake: they don’t subscribe to the plenary inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, even if they cloak their true views in pious rhetoric.

I. Chapter 1

Enns begins his assault on Scripture by bringing up the Galileo affair (14). But, as I’ve argued elsewhere, there’s no reason for us to revise the traditional doctrine of Scripture on that account.

In a preemptive strike, he also dusts off the raggedly scarecrow of a “Docetic” doctrine of Scripture. Those who subscribe to the plenary inspiration and authority of Scripture are therefore guilty of the literary equivalent of a grave, Christological heresy.

Instead, he tells us, we should take a more “incarnational” view of inspiration. This is another cliché.

To begin with, the Incarnation was a unique event, sui generis.

And even if we were to derive some analogy, the hypostatic union resulted in a Savior whose teaching is infallible.

One of the fallacies in his comparison is that our doctrine of Scripture doesn’t begin and end with inspiration alone, but takes creation and providence into account as well. God is responsible for all of the human touches.

Therefore, to oppose the divinity of Scripture to the humanity of Scripture is a false antithesis. God is responsible for human nature and culture, for the preconditions of Scripture as well as the process of inscripturation.

II. Chapter 2

In this chapter, Enns discusses various archeological discoveries, such as the library of Ashurbanipal.

From this general discovery he moves to the Enuma Elish or “Babylonian Genesis.” The latter designation comes from a book by Alexander Heidel.

Enns follows Heidel in finding parallels between Gen 1 and the Akkadian myth.

One of the problems I have with this comparison is that if you actually read the full text of the Enuma Elish in Heidel’s book, there are no intrinsic, literary parallels. All that Heidel has done is to use Gen 1 as an outline, then fish out stray items from the Enuma Elish which bear, at best, a vague resemblance to something in Gen 1.

So there really are not structural or definite, conceptual parallels. This is all the result of superimposing Gen 1 onto the Enuma Elish, and seeking rather than finding parallels. They see what they are looking for because they are not looking at the text on its own terms. If they never had Gen 1 to supply the frame of reference, they’d never come up with this schema.

Next he brings up the Mesopotamian flood accounts. Here he’s on somewhat firmer footing, for in this case, the parallels are undeniable.

But there are a couple of reasons for this.

i) Genesis says that the ark came to rest in upper Mesopotamia. From there the descendents of Noah fanned out into the Mesopotamia river valley.

So wouldn’t you expect the Mesopotamian peoples, as direct descendents of Noah, to preserve a folkloric tradition of this uniquely memorable and momentous event?

ii) In addition, the flood was closer to their own time than was the date of creation.

So the Mesopotamian flood accounts in no way cast doubt on the historicity of the Biblical record.

iii) What is more, the existence of a Mesopotamia flood story is nothing new. Both Josephus and the church fathers were familiar with such a tradition from Berossus.

So why should the excavation of Ashurbanipal’s library in the 19C cause us to revise our doctrine of inspiration. This is not a novel discovery, but a confirmation of something we already knew about.

From here, Enns discusses the similarity between patriarchal customs and the Nuzi tablets.

But why should this revise our view of Scripture?

i) To begin with, this material is descriptive, no prescriptive or proscriptive. This is historical narrative. So even if the patriarchs were borrowing their common law customs from the surrounding cultures, it doesn’t follow from this that Moses was borrowing his law code from the surrounding cultures. In this material, Moses speaks as a historian and narrator, not a prophet or legislator.

Enns basically admits this on 56-57. But he’s attempting to create a cumulative effect by piling on one example after another.

ii) In addition, such parallels substantiate the antiquity of the setting. The patriarchal narratives are not the free creation of a later age. Rather, their historical setting dovetails very well with our extrabiblical sources.

One of the duplicitous features of liberalism is its double-standard with respect to evidence: If Bible stories lack corroboration, that just goes to show that the writers made up the material whole cloth, but if Bible stories enjoy corroboration, that just goes to show that the writers plagiarized their material from the surrounding cultures. So both the presence and absence of corroboration undermines the historicity of Scripture.

From here, Enns’ moves on to the Code of Hammurabi, citing parallels between this pre-Mosaic law code and the Mosaic Law.

i) Enns is very selective about what he chooses to quote. This creates the misleading impression of far more similarity than really exists. As Donald Wiseman, the late Assyriologist, has pointed out:

“A few are worded similarly to OT cases…Many of the specific cases concerning marriage, divorce and sexual offenses...have a similar approach. In other cases the offences are the same but the penalty differs…In most cases the legal treatment differs, but precise comparison with the OT is difficult since only the established fact (without supporting evidence) is given, followed by the oral judicial decision,” The Illustrated biblical Dictionary, 2:606.

Is Enns going out of his way to deceive the reader?

ii) Due to the socioeconomic commonalities of ANE culture, we’d expect to find broad similarities. The Promised Land is not Atlantis. It’s not a case of creation ex nihilo.

There are some legal parallels because the underlying conditions are similar. Roughly the same period. Roughly the same part of the world. A common climate, kinship, urban existence, rural existence,&c.

From here, Enns goes to Suzerain treaty forms. But here we’re talking about a literary genre.

No one supposes that the Bible writers invent every literary genre which they employ. Paul is a letter-writer. He didn’t invent the epistolary genre.

How is this the least bit relevant to the inspiration of Scripture?

From here, Enns informs the reader that “the stories of Israel’s early ancestors contain many well-known anachronisms, particularly the references to the Philistines, who do not arrive on the scene until several hundred years after the time of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,” 42).

i) Even if this were true, that is not, of itself, an objection to Mosaic authorship or the historicity of the account. For Enns is failing to distinguish between an editorial anachronism and a historical anachronism.

A later writer writing about an earlier event may well substitute a modern proper name or place-name for the original proper name or place-name because, although he is writing about earlier events, he is writing to an audience which is contemporaneous with the author, and not the event, and they know the referent by contemporaneous usage, not historical usage.

It’s anachronistic to for a historian to say the Dutch founded New York instead of New Amsterdam, but that would be an editorial rather than a historical anachronism.

ii) In addition, it is far from clear that we can speak of the “Philistines” in such monolithic terms. The Sea Peoples came in several waves.

Both explanations have been offered in the standard commentaries on Gen 21:32 (e.g., Currid, Hamilton, Waltke), as well as Kitchen in his magnum opus On The Reliability of the Old Testament, in addition to David Howard’s article on the “Philistines” in Peoples of the Old Testament World. These were all published prior to the publication of Enns’ book.

In his preface, Enns informs the reader that one of his primary purposes is to” bring together a variety of data that biblical scholars work with every day for readers who do not have firsthand familiarity with these data” (9).

This purpose statement would naturally lead the unsuspecting reader to believe that Enns is going to offer him a representative sampling of standard scholarship.

But the pattern we see emerging is, on the contrary, that Enns strictly controls the flow of information and only presents one side of the argument. In other words, Enns is not a very honest man. He cannot be trusted to tell the reader what the readersneeds to know in order for render an informed judgment on the state of the evidence. Instead, he skews the evidence.

From here, Enns makes the claim which I quoted in the first installment of this review. Both Currid and Hess deny his central claim. They deny that Moses would have been unable to write the Pentateuch. At most, Genesis was written in a cognate language or form of proto-Hebrew.

From here, Enns treats the reader to the old saw about the triple-decker universe. But there are a couple of problems with this picture:

i) It is cobbled together from bits and pieces of imagery from different books, written at different times, belonging to different literary genres. So why should we assume that Scripture was intending to present a literal and coherent cosmology?

ii) In addition, it ignores the deliberate use of sacred architecture (tabernacle, temple) to model the cosmos. In that case, the imagery is clearly figurative.

Enns also describes the triple-decker universe as the biblical “worldview” (54-55). But this is inept. Even if the Bible were committed to such a cosmology, that would not constitute a worldview. There is much more to a worldview than cosmology alone.

From here, Enns says “the laws of Exodus and Deuteronomy are not exactly the same” (59). And he will elaborate on this theme in the next chapter.

So what? Why would we expect them to be? To some extent, the laws of Exodus are adapted to the conditions of a nomadic people dwelling in the wilderness while the laws of Deuteronomy are, to some extent, adapted to the conditions of a people who are about to occupy and settle the promised land. So we would expect some degree of discontinuity as well as continuity.

How does that affect the doctrine of inspiration? Moses is a living prophet who can receive new revelation as circumstances demand. How does that force us to revise our doctrine of inspiration—especially when the age of canonical revelation is over?

III. Chapter 3

In this chapter, Enns documents examples of theological “diversity.” Of course, this word is so plastic and elastic that it can carry either a favorable or unfavorable meaning. What Enns really means is that Scripture contradicts itself, but he chooses an ambiguous word which will give himself some cover.

He appeals to Michael Fox’s liberal analysis of Ecclesiastes. This is a false lead.

A more promising direction was charted by D. M. Clemens in “The Law of Sin & Death: Ecclesiastes & Genesis 1-3,” Themelios 19 [1994), 5-8, in which—based on literary allusions to Gen 1-3 in Ecclesiastes—Clemens interprets the pessimism of Ecclesiastes in light of the Fall.

He also discussions the differences between Chronicles and Samuel-Kings. Needless to say, we expect differences between the preexilic perspective of Samuel-Kings and the postexilic perspective of Chronicles. That does not amount to a material contradiction.

It’s interesting that while Enns closes this chapter (and others) with a bibliography, he doesn’t refer the reader to Richard Pratt’s major commentary on Chronicles.

Since Enns and Pratt are both OT scholars teaching at Reformed seminaries, the omission is conspicuous.

As usual, he only tells the reader what he wants the reader to hear—only scholarship which supports a liberal view of Scripture rather than a faithful view of Scripture.

He also asserts that the OT is contradictory on the subject of monotheism: “Israel’s understanding that Yahweh alone is God must be understood within the context of the polytheistic cultures of the ANE” (98).

So the OT is not a divine self-revelation, but rather, a record of “Israel’s” understanding of God. It is not God disclosing himself to man, but man groping to grasp the nature of God. Not inspiration, from the top-down, but evolution, from the bottom-up.

Actually, it’s very easy to harmonize the phenomena. There is only one true God, but God is not the only supernatural being worshipped as God. Demonology is the animating force of idolatry.

Or is Enns going to take the radical step of saying that Scriptural angelology and/or demonology is just a domesticated form of polytheism? Does he deny the existence of angels? Of fallen angels? A personal devil? Does he regard all this as syncretistic assimilation of monotheism with polytheism?

On the question of whether God ever changes his mind, he says that, “in various places in the OT, God acts more as a character in the story…acts more humanlike than godlike” (103).

This is true. Just as Dante is the main character of his own story, God is both the storyteller and the main character.

Ontologically speaking, God subsists outside his storybook world, but when interacting with characters inside the story, he naturally relates to them on their own level.

Enns asks the reader if Scripture “gives us an accurate presentation of what God is really like (106)?

Yet this is a deeply misleading way of posing the question. Enns says: “it is not the God behind the scenes that I want to look at, but the God of the scenes, the God of the bible, how he is portrayed there” (106).

But the Bible depicts God offstage as well as onstage. God pulling the strings.

The onstage descriptions are accurate depictions of what God says and does, but to see how this fits into the big picture, you need to interpret these passages in light of the offstage depictions—to discover the hidden intent that lies behind the outward action.

IV. Chapter 4

In this chapter, Enns tries to drive a wedge between original intent and apostolic exegesis. This includes old chestnuts like Mt 2:15 and Gal 3:16, even though these are ably handed by the standard evangelical commentaries.

He also brings up Rom 11:26-27 and Heb 3:7-11. Now is not the place to address every example he puts forward. It isn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel. Read a few good commentaries.

He refers to 2 Tim 3:8 as an example of Paul’s “interpreted Bible” or the “interpretive world of which Paul was a part” (143).

But this is an overstatement. All it needs to mean is that Paul is using conventional designations, the same way we speak of “Dives” in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. We name things for ease of reference.

He also refers to 2 Peter 2:5. But Genesis doesn’t say that Noah was a preacher of righteousness. So is this a case of extra-scriptural tradition?

I don’t see why. Don’t you suppose the antediluvians would be asking Noah why he was building this immense ship on high and dry land? In answer to their mockery, don’t you suppose that Noah forewarned them of the judgment to come?

Enns also drags in the tired example of Jude 9,14-15. But Richard Bauckham, who is not an especially conservative scholar, nevertheless explains this appeal as a merely ad hominem argument. Cf. Jude & the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (T&T Clark 1990), 225-33.

Enns brings up Acts 7:21-22. But this is simply a logical inference from the OT record.

He brings up Gal 3:19, Acts 7:52-53, & Heb 2:2-3. But there’s no need to appeal to extra-biblical tradition at this juncture.

The Angel of the Lord is very much involved with the Exodus and wilderness wandering.

He brings up 1 Cor 10. Again, though, this need be nothing more than an inspired inference from the OT record. By definition, the Sinai desert was exceedingly arid. God provided a miraculous supply of water at the beginning of the journey (Exod 17:1-7) as well as the end of the journey (Num 20:1-13).

Surely they needed water in-between, during their 40 year stint in the wilderness. And this literary envelope, in which Num 20 forms the inclusio to Exod 17, functions as a narrative hendiadys of intervening events as well.

Throughout this book, Enns is doing his best to create problems rather than solve problems. He’s rehashing the old 19C debates. Appealing to the “phenomena” to dilute the inspiration of Scripture.

Westminster seminary is a crossroads. Indeed, Enns, for one, has already chosen which fork of the road he is going down. And he is no doubt enticing and inciting his students to follow him across the same washed out bridge.

If Westminster doesn’t wish to add to the pileup of Fuller seminary, it needs to take action, and it needs to take action now. Otherwise it will become a clone of Princeton rather than its antidote.

1 comment:

  1. I entirely agree that the Incarnation was an event sui generis. I disdain every use of the adjective "incarnational."

    That said, your theology of Scripture (as well as other doctrines) is profoundly misguided. In particular, I take offense at your closing remark, since I am an evangelical studying theology at Princeton Seminary. You and I clearly disagree on many, many points, but it is entirely unacceptable for you to promote the division rather than the reconciliation of the Reformed camp. Princeton is a remarkable institution with scholars that span the full range of beliefs. We don't need any more of this Westminster vs. Princeton division. We need, rather, the empathy and love of the gospel that is open to listening to others and learning from others.