The Erosion of Inerrancy
- Thursday, January 01, 2009
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an extract from The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority, G. K. Beale (Crossway).
Chapter One: Is a Traditional Evangelical View of Scripture's Authority Compatible with Recent Developments in Old Testament Studies? Part 1
Below, with minor revisions, is my (G.K. Beale's) initial review, "Myth, History, and Inspiration: A Review Article of Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns,"1 which appeared in The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) 49 (2006): 287-312.
Peter Enns has written a stimulating and yet controversial book on the doctrine of Scripture. Scholars and students alike should be grateful that Enns has boldly ventured to set before his evangelical peers a view of inspiration and hermeneutics that has not traditionally been held by evangelical scholarship.
After his introduction, in chapter 2 Enns discusses the parallels between ancient Near Eastern myths and accounts in the Old Testament. He says that the Old Testament contains what he defines as "myth" (see his definition later below), but, he affirms, this should not have a negative bearing on the Old Testament's divine inspiration. God accommodates himself to communicate his truth through such mythological biblical accounts.
In chapter 3 Enns discusses what he calls "diversity" in the Old Testament. He believes that the kinds of diversity that he attempts to analyze have posed problems in the past for the doctrine of inerrancy. He asserts that this diversity must be acknowledged, even though it poses tensions for the inspiration of Scripture. This diversity is part of God's inspired Word.
In chapter 4 Enns shifts to the topic of how the Old Testament is interpreted by New Testament writers. He contends that Second Temple Judaism was not concerned to interpret the Old Testament according to an author's intention or to interpret it contextually or according to modern standards of "grammatical-historical exegesis." This hermeneutical context of Judaism must be seen as the socially constructed framework of the New Testament writers' approach to interpreting the Old Testament, so that they also were not concerned to interpret the Old Testament contextually. Accordingly, they interpreted the Old Testament by a "christotelic hermeneutic," which means generally that they had a Christ-oriented perspective in understanding the purpose of the Old Testament, including the meaning of specific Old Testament passages. This also means that "the literal (first) reading [of an Old Testament text] will not lead the reader to the christotelic (second) reading."3
The final chapter attempts to draw out further implications from the earlier chapters for Enns's understanding of an "incarnational" doctrine of Scripture.
At various points throughout the book, Enns appeals to this incarnational notion, contending that since Christ was fully divine and fully human, then so is Scripture. Accordingly, we need to accept the "diversity" or "messiness" of Scripture, just as we accept all of the aspects of Jesus' humanity. Also at various points in the book is the warning that modern interpreters should not impose their modern views of history and scientific precision on the ancient text of the Bible. Such a foreign imposition results in seeing problems in the Bible that are really not there.
The origin of Enns's book and its strength derive from the author's attempt to wrestle with problems that evangelicals must reflect upon in formulating their view of a doctrine of Scripture.
Enns has attempted to draw out the implications of postmodernism for an evangelical doctrine of Scripture further than most other evangelical scholars to date. He argues that liberal and evangelical approaches to Scripture both have held the same basic presupposition: that one can discern the difference between truth and error by using modern standards of reasoning and modern scientific analysis. He is proposing a paradigm for understanding scriptural inspiration that goes beyond the "liberal vs. conservative" impasse (pp. 14-15). He wants to "contribute to a growing opinion that what is needed is to move beyond both sides by thinking of better ways to account for some of the data, while at the same time having a vibrant, positive view of Scripture as God's word" (p. 15). This, of course, is a monumental task that Enns has set for himself. Enns says we must go beyond this impasse, and he presents himself as one of the few having the balance or the new synthesis that solves these age-old debates.
Recently on Spiritual Life
Have something to say about this article? Leave your comment via Facebook below!
Listen to Your Favorite Pastors
Add Crosswalk.com content to your siteBrowse available content