Friday, October 30, 2015

PETER ENNS, SCRIPTURE, AND THE AUTHORITY OF MODERN SCHOLARSHIP



What does it mean to be faithful to the text of the Bible? For Peter Enns it means understanding the Bible according to the lens of skeptical scholarship (including evolution):

  • So, things like genomic studies, the fossil record, and ancient Mesopotamian creation myths help us see that the genre of Genesis 1-11 is not science or history.
Reconsidering our interpretation of the Bible is a healthy and Godly thing. However, it seems that Enns wants us to do this through an unbiblical lens and an alien authority:

  • The findings of science and biblical scholarship are not the enemies of Christian faith. They are opportunities to be truly “biblical” because they are invitations to reconsider what it means to read the creation stories well—and that means turning down a different path than most Christians before us have taken.
According to Enns, what does it mean to be “truly biblical?” To see it for what it is – an errant document, which requires some tweaking. However, instead of the Bible being placed under the authority of the scholars, the Bible is to place all other claims under its own scrutiny:

  • The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
Spiritual warfare is a matter of placing all of our thinking, saying, and doing under the authority of God’s Words.

How then can Enns, who had once taught at Westminster Theological Seminary until he was discharged because of his defective view of the Scriptures, justify subjecting Scripture to the skeptics? Enns assumes that the Bible contains many errors. Well, how do we determine which historical statements are true? Through his experts! For example, they claim that Jonah was written after the exile to Babylon and its history represents a revision according to their theological “growth”:

  • The prophet Nahum rejoices at the destruction of the dreaded Assyrians and their capital Nineveh in 612 BCE, but the prophet Jonah, writing generations later after the return from exile, speaks of God’s desire that the Ninevites repent and be saved.

By assigning a very late date to Jonah, Enns denies its historical accuracy. However, Jesus did not:

  • He [Jesus] answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. (Matthew 12:39-41)

 Unlike Enns, Jesus affirmed the historical accuracy of Jonah. Neither did the first commentary to which I turned. It dated Jonah more in keeping with Scripture’s many assertions that is entirely God breathed (2 Tim. 3:16-17):

  • Since 2 Kings 14:25 relates Jonah to the reign of Jeroboam II, the events in the Book of Jonah took place some time in Jeroboam's reign (793-753 b.c.). Jonah's prophecy about Israel's boundaries being extended may indicate that he made that prophecy early in Jeroboam's reign. This makes Jonah a contemporary of both Hosea and Amos (cf. Hosea 1:1; Amos 1:1). Jonah's reference to Nineveh in the past tense (Jonah 3:3) has led some to suggest that Jonah lived later, after the city's destruction in 612 b.c. However, the tense of the Hebrew verb can just as well point to the city's existence in Jonah's day. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary)
Should we interpret the Bible in accordance with Enns’ alleged errors or in accordance with the consistent claims of Scripture that it is entirely God-given (2 Peter 1:19-21)? Enns also claims that there are inaccuracies in the historical books:

  • In fact, Israel’s entire history is given a fresh coat of paint in the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, which differs remarkably, and often flatly contradicts, the earlier history of Israel in the books of Samuel and Kings.
However, in the talk that he gave at Michigan State, based on his new book, How the Bible Forces Us to Be Unbiblical, he cites no alleged contradictions. However, he claims that Israel’s later reworking of their history gives us license to also rework the Bible in light of recent scholarship. After all, even Jesus reshaped Scripture with “fresh twists”:

  • I could go on and talk about how the theology of the New Testament positively depends on fresh twists and turns to Israel’s story, such as a crucified messiah and rendering null and void the “eternal covenant” of circumcision as well as the presumably timeless dietary restrictions given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai. What happened? Jesus forced a new path for Israel’s story that went well beyond what the Bible “says.”
Well, if Jesus went beyond the Bible, so can we! Indeed, there are several instances where certain features of the Old Covenant are called “eternal.” (Interestingly, the Mosaic Covenant is never called “eternal,” while all of the other covenants are called “eternal.”)

Some have argued that “eternal” has several meanings as does almost any word. In this case, “eternal” might mean “to endure throughout the time of the Old Covenant. Perhaps instead, these features are eternal in terms of their spiritual fulfillment. For example, circumcision might be eternal in the form the circumcision of the heart.

In any event, the consistent promise of the coming of the New meant a termination of the Old Covenant:

  • "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Heb. 8:13)
Jesus wasn’t inventing new ideas; He was drawing His theology from the Old – from what was prophesied to come! In fact, He only had the highest regard of the Scriptures, explicitly claiming that they couldn’t simply by bypassed:

  • "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)
Jesus did not set Himself above Scripture as its judge to decide which verses were truly inspired, as does Enns. Instead, He received it all as God’s Word. If Jesus had regarded the Word as errant in some respect, He would never have said “until everything is accomplished.” Instead, He might have said, “Until every part that is WITHOUT ERROR is accomplished.” Rather, He continually insisted that everything had to be fulfilled.

When tempted by the Devil, He relied exclusively on Scripture:

  • Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4)
Enns claims that because Jesus went beyond Scripture, we can also. However, there is no evidence that Jesus had gone beyond Scripture. Instead, He reprimanded those who failed to pay sufficient attention to Scripture:

  • He said to them [on the Emmaus Road], "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself… He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24: 25-27, 44-45)
Notice how Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, rather than His own words. Instead, Enns would open our minds to go beyond Scripture into the arms of the skeptic.

However, whenever Jesus quoted from the Scriptures, it was always affirming what Scripture had said. Never once did He disparage Scripture. Instead, He castigated those who didn’t know the Scriptures:

  • Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. (Matthew 22:29)
They didn’t know Scripture because they didn’t esteem it, despite their protestations to the contrary:

  • "But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?" (John 5:45-47)
In contrast, Enns would have us subject Scripture to the authority of the skeptics. Consistent with his approach, he believes in evolution. Consequently, he is forced to deny the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis in order to accommodate to evolution. However, Jesus affirmed their historicity:

  • He [Jesus] answered [the Pharisees regarding divorce], “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female [quoting Gen. 1:26-27], and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ [Gen. 2:24]! So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has [historically] joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)
Had not God historically and actually joined together the man and the woman, Jesus’ argument against divorce would have fallen apart. To reject Jesus’ view of Scripture as entirely God-given is to reject Jesus’ teachings, and this is precisely what Enns does:

  • Simply put, seeing the need to move beyond biblical categories is biblical—and as such poses a wonderful model, even divine permission—shall I say “mandate”—to move beyond the Bible when the need arises and reason dictates.
There is no “divine permission” to go beyond Scripture. Paul explicitly stated to not “go beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6). Nevertheless, Enns claims that he has a higher view of Scripture than the rest of us, because he claims that he takes Scripture for what it is – an errant document, which requires modern scholarship and “reason” to separate its wheat from the chaff. Instead, to have a biblical view of Scripture is to adopt Jesus’ view of Scripture – the very view we find throughout the NT.

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