Jun 18 2020

Inspiration and Incarnation has ratings and 96 reviews. Adam said: To my great surprise, I found myself liking this book very much. Peter Enns was th. John Frame has just posted on his web page a word review of Peter Enns’s Inspiration and Incarnation. I always enjoy reading Frame’s. This study from Peter Enns is an important reconsideration of evangelical perspectives on scriptural authority, particularly in light of recent Old Testament.

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A book about the identity and purpose of the Bible must be of interest to any serious Christian.

But at first glance Inspiration and Incarnation seems daunting. However, we shall see that incarnatiin big picture can be separated fairly easily from the details. He writes about the identity and purpose of the Bible by concentrating on the difficulties of interpreting some Old Testament data.

Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns

This should immediately arouse our suspicions. Nearly fifty years ago in pteer and the Word of God J. Warfield had this to say. Christians are bound to receive the Bible as God’s Nens written on the authority of Christ, not because they can prove kncarnation such by independent enquiry, but because as disciples they trust their divine Teacher. We have pointed out already that no article of Christian faith admits of full rational demonstration ijspiration, say, geometrical theorems do; all the great biblical doctrines -t he Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, the work of inspiratiln Spirit in man, the resurrection of the body and the renewal of the creation – are partly mysterious, and raise problems for our minds that are at present insoluble, The doctrine of Scripture is no exception to this rule.

God, then, does not profess to answer in Scripture all the questions that we, in our boundless curiosity, would like to ask about Scripture. He tells us merely as much as He sees we need to know as a inspiraation off or our life emns faith.

And He leaves unsolved some of the problems raised by what He tells us, in order to teach us a humble trust in His veracity Is it reasonable to take God’s word and believe that He has spoken the truth, even though I cannot full comprehend what he has said?

The question carries its own answer. So Oncarnation is beginning from the wrong end. Not from Christ’s and the apostles’ teaching regarding the nature of Scripture, but from ‘problems’, the difficulties identified by his own specialism, Old Testament scholarship.

So though Inspiration and Incarnation could be a deeply unsettling book for the orthodox Christian, it ought not to be, and need not be. Strangely perhaps, this fact has nothing to do with any of the claims made in the book about the language and literature of inspiratipn Old Testament, or with what is said about the relationship between the two Testaments, on which Enns lavishes a great deal of attention.

But it has everything to do with the weakness of the method that Enns has adopted. In justification of his approach the author offers an ”incarnational paradigm’ or ‘parallel’ or ‘analogy’ for our understanding of Scripture. As the Word of God was incarnated at a particular time and in a particular cultural matrix, so the Bible was brought to us through a variety of cultural situations. Christ’s Incarnation is analogous to Scripture’s ‘incarnation’ ”. It is only by attending to these phenomena, and especially to the successive contexts in which the various parts of the Bible came to be written, Enns believes, including the styles and methods of literary composition that they reveal, infarnation we shall be able to understand the Bible’s diverse nature and so not approach it with closed minds that shut down the interpretative options.

But having in mind the diverse phenomena of Scripture is nothing new. The Word of God is an exceedingly complex unity. The different items and the various kinds of material which make it up – laws, promises, liturgies, genealogies, arguments, narratives, meditations, visions, aphorisms, homilies, parables and the rest – do not stand in Scripture in isolated fragments, but as parts of a whole.

The exposition of them, therefore, involves exhibiting them in right relation both to the whole and to each other. God’s Word is not presented in Scripture in the form of a theological system, but it admits of being stated in that form, and indeed, requires to be so stated before we can properly grasp it – grasp it, that is, as a whole.


However what is new, disturbingly new, is the claim that Enns makes about this cultural embeddedness. We discover that the Bible itself is far from unique: It’ll be best to assess the book by considering a set of answers from Enns to three questions: Is our interpretation of the Bible provisional?

Is the Bible unique? And finally, and most importantly, Is the Bible objective? These are among the central questions the author himself raises. My argument in this review petet that in his answers to such questions Professor Enns has not gone too far – inspiraton he occasionally fears, perhaps – but that he has not gone far enough.

The book is troubling not because of the profundity of the treatment but rather because of its superficiality. We shall find that Enns’s answers to each of these questions take him farther and farther away from being able to maintain an orthodox doctrine of Petef. But if even the Bible is a cultural phenomenon through and through, we should not be surprised to see that our own theological thinking is wrapped in cultural clothing as well. This is why every generation of Christians in every cultural context must seek to see how God is speaking to them in and though Scripture.

Inspiration and Incarnation : Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament

To hear that ‘Our interpretation of the Bible is provisional’ is potentially unsettling and destabilising to any sincere believer. For it seems that if our interpretation of Scripture is provisional it may be replaced, like a provisional driving licence is replaced by the permanent version. The teaching we have presently distilled from it is merely a first go. Of course this is monstrous.

If we think of the Bible on the analogy of a spider’s web, then naturally there are many problems of interpretation on its periphery, and that fact is of some importance.

Nevertheless, on the central matters, the heart of the web, the teaching of the Bible is clear. On the deity of Christ, say, or the Trinity, or the penal character of Christ’s death, or election and predestination, or salvation by grace through faith, it is just madness to suppose that ‘our confession of the Bible has a provisional quality to it’.

Enns says that if we understand the biases of Scripture, for example, the fact that the Old Testament has an ancient Near Eastern setting, this in itself will raise the question of the normativity of the Old Testament. For the Christian what raises – and should settle – the question of the normativity of the Old Testament is the New Testament. The New Testament treats it as the Word of God, and shows at the same time that many though not all of its provisions are superseded in Christ.

What is maddening about Enns’s free use of such terms as ‘provisional’, ‘unique’, ‘bias’, and ‘objectivity’ is that each of them has multiple meanings, and the author does little to separate these from each other. Thus there is another sense of ‘provisional’, meaning ‘incomplete’, in which it is obvious that the teaching of the Bible is provisional. It tells us so itself: Because this incompleteness is clearly upheld by Scripture it is much less unsettling, indeed not unsettling at all, but rather to be expected.

But the author’s use of ‘provisional’ makes the stronger claim, and should be rejected. Enns seems be totally unaware of such ambiguities.

Inspiration and Incarnation : Peter Enns :

He certainly does not identify them and so does nothing to clear up sources of possible confusion. To put the point mildly, this is somewhat irresponsible. A similar ambiguity afflicts this question to the one just discussed. The author both denies and claims that Scripture is unique. He draws out parallels between parts of the Old Testament with ancient Near Eastern documents, and emphasises the common cultural settings of both.

In these respects the uniqueness of the Old Testament is diminished. But there is nothing new here, except the emphasis that Enns gives to these facts, and his failure to tell us what he means by uniqueness.


Is the Eiffel Tower unique?

There is Blackpool Tower, and there was the Tower of Babel. So the Eiffel Insppiration cannot be unique in being a tower, for there are and have been many towers. But it is unique in being the Eiffel Tower, for it has features, important and significant features, such as its design and location, which it pteer has, perhaps which it alone could have. You get the point. To deny or affirm the uniqueness of something is to make a very weak claim, until we are clear in what precise respect it is claimed to be unique.

It could then amount to a very radical claim. Is it incarnatioh unique’ 56? The Christian answer is that it is in certain important respects unique: It is fair to say that Professor Enns wishes to make a distinction between these two senses. Yet what makes for uniqueness?

He says, znd example, ‘Exodus God acted in history to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Much more than that, presumably, given the dominical and apostolic teaching about the law. Later Enns makes the stronger claim that Scripture’s ‘uniqueness is seen not in holding human cultures at arm’s length, but in the belief that Scripture is the only book in which God speaks incarnately’. So far we have noted that for Enns interpretations are always ‘provisional’ and yet the Bible is unique, in being the only place where God speaks to us.

In addition Inspiratjon takes pains to highlight the presence of bias in the Bible. Does the Bible consist of facts only, or of facts and interpretations of those facts? Suppose that it does consists of facts and interpretations. Which raises the question, If the Bible states facts and provides interpretations of them, are these statements and interpretations objectively true? Objectivity, according to Enns, is complete freedom from bias. Good historiography is necessarily biased since it shapes ‘the facts’, it changes their shape, giving them shape from a particular standpoint where before they had none.

In fact – and this is getting to the heart of the matter – in the strict sense of the word there really is no such thing as objective historiography. Rather, all attempts to communicate the significance of historical events are shaped according to the historian’s purpose. However, what according to Enns counts as bias is based on criteria which are themselves far from obvious.

Further, while he fleetingly claims that a statement can be true though not objective, he appears to think that having an axe to grind necessarily implies falsity. This wholly neglects both the possibility that the ‘bias’ may be the true bias and that in any case the account provided by the axe-grinder may nevertheless be true.

If we suppose that the human authors of Scripture are the voice of God, that he speaks to us through them, then the ‘bias’ is not only their ‘bias’, it is His as well. And if among the incarnatioon of Scripture is the teaching that God is unwaveringly truthful, and if we accept that bias, then we are led to reject the following woeful argument.

But in the case of Scripture it is better to avoid the language of ‘bias’ altogether, even if we carefully qualify it, since it is so patently misleading. It is a fact that a man hung on a cross.

But the significance of what was going on when he hung there – that God was in Christ reconciling the world, shall we say – is an interpretation. Since Christians confess that this is a God-given interpretation it is utterly free from bias, utterly objective, since God himself is utterly without bias.

But by his appeal to the universal presence of axe-grinding bias Enns has painted himself into a corner, as we shall now see. At frequent intervals throughout Inspiration and Incarnation Enns makes an appeal to Christ and to inspired Scripture in order to ground his allegiance to the status of the Bible as the Word of God. To be able to confess that the Bible is God’s Word is the gift of faith’.