Myth, History, and Inspiration: A Review Article of Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns

By Beale, G. K. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Myth, History, and Inspiration: A Review Article of Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns


Beale, G. K., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


I. INTRODUCTION

Peter Enns has written a stimulating book on the doctrine of Scripture, which likely will become controversial.1 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 he discusses the parallels between ancient Near Eastern myths and accounts in the OT. He says that the OT contains what he defines as "myth" (on which see his definition later below), but, he affirms, this should not have a negative bearing on the OT's divine inspiration. God accommodates himself to communicate his truth through such mythological biblical accounts. Chapter 3 discusses what Enns calls "diversity" in the OT. 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 with the inspiration of Scripture. This diversity is part of God's inspired word.

In chapter 4, Enns shifts to the topic of how the OT is interpreted by NT writers. He contends that second Temple Judaism was not concerned to interpret the OT according to an author's intention nor to interpret it contextually nor according to modern standards of "grammatical-historical exegesis." This hermeneutical context of Judaism must be seen as the socially constructed framework of the NT writers' approach to interpreting the OT, so that they also were not concerned to interpret the OT contextually. Accordingly, they interpreted the OT by a "christotelic hermeneutic," which means generally that they had a Christ-oriented perspective in understanding the purpose of the OT, including the meaning of specific OT passages. This also means that "the literal (first) reading [of an OT text] will not lead the reader to the christotelic (second) reading" (p. 158).

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 this 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 further the implications of "postmodernism" for an evangelical doctrine of Scripture 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.

The book is designed more for the lay person than the scholar but is apparently written with the latter secondarily in mind. …

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