Subtitled “Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament,” this book was an obvious choice for me in the midst of my current struggle with reading the Bible (for those who haven’t been following my regular blog with bated breath: I’ve been reading through the Bible in a year and the Old Testament is really giving my faith a beating).
The “problems” with the Old Testament that Enns raises are not necessarily the same one that trouble me (and the subtitle is misleading, because he spends a substantial amount of time on a New Testament problem too). The main issues he addresses are the parallels between Old Testament writing (creation story, flood story, Mosaic laws) and similar, demonstrably older writings from other Ancient Near East cultures. The question he poses is: can we truly believe the Bible is inspired if it appears to draw so heavily on (or at least parallel so closely) other, non-inspired writings from the same time and place?
The New Testament problem he poses is a bit different: he looks in detail at how the New Testament writers use the text of the Old Testament and concedes that it usually doesn’t follow what a modern scholar would consider good hermeneutic practice: they routinely wrench quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures out of context and use them to “prove” points they have already determined upon. (Interestingly, he does not choose Isaiah 7:14 as one of his examples here). He demonstrates that in handling Scripture this way, Paul and the gospel writers were following the hermeneutic practices of other Second Temple Jewish writers — writers the church doesn’t consider inspired or canonical. Again, he asks, can we read Scripture as inspired when it’s borrowing from and drawing upon non-inspired material.
Enns’ answer to these questions is that yes, Scripture can be seen as inspired even though it draws on non-inspired sources. The key to his argument is in the title: for him, Biblical inspiration is a form of incarnation. Just as Jesus was God’s self incarnate in a human being, the Bible is God’s word incarnate in a human book. Jesus was incarnate as a particular type of human — a Galilean male living in and sharing the characteristics of His particular time and place. Likewise, Enns says, the Bible is God’s word, but it is incarnate as a book written in a particular culture, for the people of that culture, drawing upon the source material and presuppositions of that time and place.
While he wasn’t answering the specific questions I’m asking right now, I did find this book a thoughtful and helpful addition to my ongoing process of trying to understand the Bible and what it means to say the Bible is “inspired.”