Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament
Peter Enns. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005. 197 pages.
Peter Enns, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, and author of Exodus in the NIV Application series, states that he has written this book “to bring an evangelical doctrine of Scripture into conversation with the implications generated by some important themes in modern biblical scholarship—particularly Old Testament scholarship—over the past 150 years” (13). He is writing for those Evangelicals who are careful readers of Scripture and have concluded that “contemporary . . . biblical scholarship makes an evangelical faith unviable” (ibid.).
In the opening chapter Enns suggests that the incarnational analogy offers a solution to the problem. Just as Jesus “must be” both God and human, so also Scripture’s “encultured qualities” are not extra elements to be discarded but a reflection of God’s engagement in history (17-18). In the balance of the book Enns seeks to answer the question, “How does Scripture’s full humanity and full divinity affect what we should expect from Scripture?” (18, emph. in the original).
In chapter 2 Enns addresses the issue of the Bible’s uniqueness (Why does the Bible bear such striking similarities to other ancient Near Eastern literature?) by analyzing the ANE context of three types of texts: creation and flood stories; customs, laws, and proverbs; and historiography. In each type Enns shows how the literary qualities belong to the Bible’s ancient context (the Bible is human) even as the Bible remains God’s binding word for Christians (Bible is divine).
Chapter 3 treats the issue of integrity in the midst of diversity (Why do different parts of the Old Testament (OT) say different, apparently contradictory, things about a single issue?). Enns investigates theological diversity in respect to the problems of deeds and consequences in wisdom literature and the Deuteronomistic history, diversity among the various OT legal codes, and the question of henotheism versus monotheism.
Chapter 4, addressing the issue of interpretation (Why do the New Testament authors interpret the Old Testament in apparently fanciful ways?), cites Jewish pseudepigraphal literature of the Second Temple period to show that the New Testament writers’ hermeneutic is shared with their Jewish contemporaries.
In a brief concluding chapter Enns calls for humble love and patience in recognizing that the humanity of both text and interpreters indicates that our theologies and interpretations will necessarily be limited and provisional. Enns’ analogic proposal as well as the specific supporting arguments can be a helpful guide for students, scholars, and pastors puzzling over the challenges of critical scholarship. His proposal is not so much a foolproof apologetic as it is an aid to further investigation.