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The Bible and Knowledge 5 – Inspiration & Incarnation (RJS)

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Over the last several posts we have been considering approaches to interpret scripture that take seriously the nature of the text we have, the information from historical and scientific research, and the inspiration of scripture. This is, in my opinion, one of the most significant challenges facing  evangelical Christianity today.

Kent Sparks in God’s Word in Human Words (GWHW) suggests that the concept of accommodation – that is God’s accommodation to human finite understanding and perspective – can help us understand the nature of Scripture.

In Blue Parakeet Scot presents an approach to scripture that involves reading the text as story – God’s story of his interaction with his creation.  But the story is told in different days in different ways and we learn by allowing each human author to speak with his own voice. We need not harmonize the different views.

In his short and very readable book Inspiration and Incarnation
(no footnotes!) Peter Enns presents yet another powerful approach to understanding the Scripture that we have as the Word of God. He suggests the use of an incarnational model or parallel. As Christ is fully human and fully divine – so also scripture is fully human and fully divine. And Enns invites his reader to consider an important question:

How does scripture’s full humanity and full divinity affect what we should expect from Scripture?

Enns suggests that many Christians make a mistake similar to Docetism (the ancient heresy that Christ only seemed to be human) in their understanding of Scripture. Scripture only seems to be human:

  it comes from God, and the marks of its humanity are only apparent, to be explained away. … But the human marks of the Bible are everywhere, thoroughly integrated into the nature of Scripture itself. Ignoring these marks or explaining them away takes at least as much energy as listening to them and learning from them.

The human dimension of Scripture is, therefore, part of what makes Scripture Scripture. (p.18).

God revealed himself to us and thus “incarnates”  himself in the inspiration of scripture.

When God reveals himself, he always does so to people, which means that he must speak and act in ways that they will understand. People are time bound, and so God adopts that characteristic if he wishes to reveal himself. We can put this even a bit more strongly:

It is essential to the very nature of revelation that the Bible is not unique to its environment. The human dimension of Scripture is essential to its being Scripture.

That the Bible bears an unmistakable human stamp does not lead to the necessary conclusion that it is merely the words of humans rather than the word of God. To those who hold such a position the question might be asked, “How else would you have expected God to speak? In ways wholly disconnected to the ancient world? Who would have understood him?”

And to those who fear the human stamp as somehow dirtying the Bible marring its divine quality, I say, “If you wouldn’t say that about Jesus (and you shouldn’t), don’t think that way about the Bible. Both Christ and his word are human through and through.” (pp. 20-21)

The major portion of Enns’s book deals with some of the problems of scripture that lead to a need to rethink our evangelical paradigm for viewing the Bible as the word of God. In three chapters he deals with the old testament and ancient near eastern literature, the old testament and its theological diversity, and the old testament and its interpretation in the new testament. The human features revealed in this survey do not sully the word – they are not “sin” – they are aspects of God’s condescension, accommodation, and even more significantly his incarnation.

In his wrap up chapter The Big Picture Enns suggests that we view the Bible as a path rather than a foundation.

Biblical interpretation is … a path we walk rather than a fortress we defend. … I am saying that the primary purpose of Scripture is for the church to eat and drink its contents in order to understand better who God is, what he has done, and what it means to be his people, redeemed in the crucified and risen Son. (p. 170)

Yes – we may make mistakes as we eat, drink, and interpret scripture.  We may at times over estimate the human element, take a wrong turn, a detour – we continue the journey not in the confidence of our own footing, but in our faith in God who is the rock and who placed us on this journey. We are in relationship with God because he chooses to be in relationship with us and relationship is a journey. God chooses to be in relationship with us through his word in scripture, through his incarnation in his son Jesus, and through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. God alone is the rock on which we stand.

I said that our view of scripture should be of a light to reveal God (see here). Enns suggests models of incarnation and journey. Sparks suggests accommodation as the dominant paradigm. Scot incorporates some of these as well in his view of scripture as wiki stories where God’s story is told in different ways in different days and we learn
by allowing each human author to speak with his own voice.

What makes the most sense to you as we wrestle with how to understand the Bible we have as the written Word of God?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted May 21, 2009 at 3:48 am


RJS,
Excellent stuff as always, and your exchanges on comments are sometimes as good as the posts.
I like what Enns says here. Just like Jesus was right down to where we live, so is Scripture. Without at all denying Scripture is of God. It is the word of God, as is Christ is the Word.



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Peter

posted May 21, 2009 at 7:11 am


Positively thrilling.
Thank you – my Amazon wish list continues to lengthen…



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Dave

posted May 21, 2009 at 7:49 am


Peter, I don’t understand what is thrilling about this.
The assumption underlying each of these books is that when it comes to God’s revelation we just can’t be certain. Rather than a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path God’s Word is shown to be a fog. In the end all we have is, “Well, this is what it means to me…” Sure there is a token acknowledgment of help from the Holy Spirit here and there. But the Holy Spirit is really left at the mercy of my own feelings. If I feel like this is right that must be the Spirit leading me. If not, well that must be the Spirit stopping me.
In the world presented by these authors God seems to have said, “Do what seems right to you. I’ll give you some revelation but as soon as the times change feel free to change things up.” Doesn’t it make you wonder why God spoke at all?
“God alone is the rock on which we stand.”
But how do we know where to stand and on what? From everything I’ve read in this series I feel I’ve been warned to avoid standing for anything that may turn people off. That doesn’t sound like a rock to me. That is far more descriptive of shifting sand. And we know what happened to the house built on the sand.



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angusj

posted May 21, 2009 at 8:06 am


“And Enns invites his reader to consider an important question:
How does scripture’s full humanity and full divinity affect what we should expect from Scripture?”
I haven’t read ‘Inspiration and Incarnation’ so I’m not sure if Enns is claiming the full divinity of Scripture or if this is a loose paraphrase of his position. Nevertheless, while I uphold the inspiration of Scripture, I think it’s a mistake to claim it is divine.



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RJS

posted May 21, 2009 at 9:25 am


Dave,
I know we disagree on much of this – but you gave your opinion that … Rather than a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path God’s Word is shown to be a fog.
My impression is a bit different – in fact opposite – for some 25 years between college (’77-’81) and ca. ’04-’05 I found scripture a fog I couldn’t make heads nor tails of (because it simply is not what it is “supposed” to be).
For a number of years in college and grad school I didn’t think that there was a solution and waffled – I was more convinced than not the faith and reason were incompatible. For some 20 years I accepted that there was a solution – but didn’t really know how to find it and was sufficiently busy with other pursuits that I just bracketed all the questions and concerns away.
Scot, Pete, Kent, Tom Wright, and others I’ve read and thought through have helped me find ways to reclaim scripture as inspired word, as a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
I don’t expect to convince you or anyone else with this comment – I’m just telling my story – where I’m coming from.



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dopderbeck

posted May 21, 2009 at 9:59 am


Dave (#3) — I understand you frustration. And I partly agree — “incarnational” and “story” models of scripture break down a bit at some point. But — here, I think, is where the Christian tradition can be helpful. The “Rule of Faith” adopted by the early church can be a hermeneutical guide. Because of the community to which we belong, we come to scripture believing / understanding that it points us to Christ — that the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is the central theme of all scripture. This even relates to the Reformation doctrine of the “perpiscuity” (“clarity”) of scripture — scripture is only perpiscuous in matters necessary for salvation. And it is! It clearly reveals Christ.
You still might object — yeah, but this doesn’t offer absolute certainty. Right. Any doctrine of scripture — any doctrine at all — that purports to provide absolute “objective” certainty will fail. We’re human beings, we walk by faith, we see through a glass darkly. We can have an “assurance” of faith that is a sort of “certainty,” but it is not the “certainty” of analytic philosophy or mathematics.



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Dave

posted May 21, 2009 at 10:23 am


Dopderbeck,
We almost agree…but not quite. The fact that certainty of doctrine fails is purely my fault. I can be certain that God’s Word is true. I also know that I will misinterpret it to suit my own sinful mind. And I am in rebellion against God when I do and I am not excused because I can’t see it clearly.
I think it is much like sancitification. I am commanded to be Holy as God is Holy. But I can’t in this life be Holy and it’s because of me. This doesn’t cause me to stop trying for absolute holiness. But I also know that I won’t make it and can only cling to the mercy and forgiveness of God when I fail. It is the same with God’s Word. I can’t get it exactly right. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to get it exactly right. And where I don’t I can only cling to God’s mercy and forgiveness.
I’m reminded of Boenhoeffer’s concept of cheap grace. Grace that costs nothing because nothing changes in our lvies. We must be careful to avoid cheap hermeneutics. It is interpreting the bible in a way that costs us nothing because it requires nothing to change in the way we think. We can always chalk it up to, “Well, I can’t get it right…why bother?”



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dopderbeck

posted May 21, 2009 at 10:28 am


Now, having said what I just said, I’d offer the following critique of Enns’ “incarnational” analogy. When we speak of the incarnation of Christ, we speak in the terms articulated at the Council of Chalcedon: the human and divine natures of Christ are indivisible, in “hypostatic union.” It is error to speak of “human aspects” of Christ as opposed to his “divine aspects” — that would be akin to the heresy of “modalism.” At all times, and in every circumstance, Christ is indivisibly fully human and fully divine.
So, for example, if we agree that Jesus the human carpenter probably mistakenly hit his thumb with a hammer once in a while, that is not an example of Jesus’ humanity asserting itself over his divinity. Mysteriously, even when making the “mistake” of hitting his thumb with a hammer, Jesus’ human and divine natures were full and undivided.
Now, there is a wrinkle in Christology here, which is the kenosis. Phil. 2 tells us Christ “emptied himself” and “took on the nature of a servant” when he became man and died on the cross. The precise meaning of this is debated. For example, did Jesus take on human limitations of knowledge, as some Gospel passages seem to suggest, and if so, how does this relate to the hypostatic union?
In any event, it seems impossible to map these categories of hypostatic union and kenosis cleanly onto the doctrine of the inspiration of scripture. Scripture is a text, and so it does not possess a “nature” in the same sense as a human (or divine) being. Enns has acknowledged this, and now speaks of an incarnational “model” rather than an “analogy.”
Moreover, scripture doesn’t seem to offer anything like a kenotic theology of itself. The pictures of inspiration (e.g., “theopneustos,” “God-breathed”) scripture gives us seem to suggest a filling rather than an emptying. Whereas Christ took on some voluntary limitations of the exercise of his divine attributes when he became man, the “inspiration” of scripture seems to suggest that God superseded some of the human limitations of the writers when He inspired scripture.
That said, it seems to me that the incarnation of Christ offers a potentially helpful way of thinking about how divine and human attributes can coexist without contradiction. This perhaps softens some of the presuppositions we might bring to the text once we agree that it is “God-breathed.” For example, I would not expect a text that is literally “God-breathed” to include any unclear grammar, expressions of frustration, hesitation about future plans, limitations of recollection, or rude speech — all of which are present in good measure just in Paul’s letters!
Yet — it also seems to me that we begin to venture too far afield when we say this means the writers simply were “mistaken” about many things. Here we venture into a kind of modalism — the divine “aspects” of the speech are somehow subsumed by its human aspects. Perhaps it’s slicing the salami too thin, but I’d prefer to say that the text is not “mistaken” or “in error” even when it seems “wrong” by some standard we might impose on it today. Perhaps sometimes this is just like the paradox of Jesus hitting his thumb with a hammer — we confess the mystery that God inspired human beings to produce human texts that speak God’s infallible words, even if we can’t always explain exactly how that works or exactly what that means.



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Frank Gantz

posted May 21, 2009 at 10:28 am


RJS, when Scripture was a fog because it is not what it was “supposed” to be, what did you suppose it to be?



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dopderbeck

posted May 21, 2009 at 10:33 am


Dave (#7) — I don’t think anybody is saying “why bother.” Yes, some part of this relates to limitations resulting from sin. But I think some of it simply relates to being human. It is a mistake, I think, to think of scripture as primarily a storehouse of doctrinal propositions that can be systematized in some sort of scientific fashion. I have a basic disagreement with both Protestant and Catholic scholasticism on that point. But that doesn’t mean “why bother,” certainly not as to the central salvific and ethical teachings of scripture. At some point, it probably does mean “why bother,” or at least “this can’t be resolved so let’s respect each others’ perspectives,” when it comes to secondary matters (such as, say, the nature of the “end times”).



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Rick

posted May 21, 2009 at 10:33 am


Dave-
“But how do we know where to stand and on what? From everything I’ve read in this series I feel I’ve been warned to avoid standing for anything that may turn people off. That doesn’t sound like a rock to me. That is far more descriptive of shifting sand. And we know what happened to the house built on the sand.”
NT Scholar Ben Witherington, in a post discussing the early church great John Chrsysostom’s view of Scripture (his high view of Scripture, and particularly reading the OT in the light of the NT), wrote this:
“Now what is so interesting about this whole hermeneutical approach is that it believes that one must do justice to the history if one is to do theology and ethics right. Christianity was a religion grounded and founded in history, and so theology proper was a reflection on God’s mighty acts in history which had a before and after to them. It was not an abstract science or philosophy where one took ideas and simply linked them together without them arising out of historical events and their substance. In the end, Chrysostom’s hermeneutic mirrors that of Paul and the author of Hebrews. It would be my view that we should go and do likewise.
Let me stress in closing, that Chrysostom would have been horrified if someone had said to him– ‘well then you are saying that some of the things in the OT are not true’. His response was clear– ‘No, I am saying that we only have the outline, the preliminary sketch of truth in the OT, and we cannot tell what it fully or properly means to so or ought to look like without the fuller definitive filling in of the substances or colors in the NT.’ Chrysostom was clear enough that just because something is preliminary and not definitive, this does not mean it is untrue. It does mean it is incomplete. A timely truth, is no less true than a timeless or more complete one, but if must be evaluated for what it intends to tell us, not what we would like it to tell us. The OT must not be read as if it already was the NT, and all the same things applied, but it must certainly be read as the pre-quel to the sequel if you are to fully understand the sequel at all correctly. Reading the Bible processively and progressively as historical development from front to back, and then also from back to front provides the sort of balance necessary for proper interpretation. All of it is needed and valuable if we are to ‘get the picture’ God has been painting for us for so long.”
http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/08/relationship-of-ot-to-nt-according-to.html



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MatthewS

posted May 21, 2009 at 10:38 am


I find the analogy of incarnation rich. It invokes the mystery and paradox of God’s W/word appearing in human realm.
There are two considerations in tension for me.
1) God gave me eyes and a brain. If the Bible said that gravity pulls up, yet I could observe that gravity pulls down, I would not assume my senses were completely mistaken. If we can observe something in nature that directly contradicts Scripture, then I do not suppose we need to assume our reading of the book of nature is completely irrelevant.
2) However, God does tend to work in ways that can leave us befuddled. He’s God after all. Sometimes it will seem our observations contradict God’s behavior but we later discover God had a different perspective. So the Psalms of lament, for example, protest that God’s hesed or presence seems in short supply, yet they proclaim faith that God is yet faithful. Gravity does not always pull down: helium balloons float up. Silly example, the point being that both our reading of the book of nature and of Scripture might need further light along the way.
Two mistakes to avoid:
1) Subjugating an ancient text to modern sensibilities and in so doing actually deform its intent.
But,
2) Being so wise we become fools. C.S. Lewis gave the allegory of the tempter trying to convince the lady that God did not really mean what he said (Out of the Silent Planet, IIRC). The argument was complex and left the lady a little confused, but in the end she stuck with what she was told – the right thing to do.



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Randy

posted May 21, 2009 at 11:07 am


I believe that Doperdeck (#10) and Rick (#11)touch on something very richly important here: Being Human.
David says: “But I think some of it simply relates to being human. It is a mistake, I think, to think of scripture as primarily a storehouse of doctrinal propositions that can be systematized in some sort of scientific fashion.” Rick quotes Ben Witherington similarly regarding abstract philosophy.
I have found very helpful James K. A. Smith’s perspective in THE FALL OF INTERPRETATION: PHILOSOPHICAL FOUNDATIONS FOR A CREATIONAL HERMENEUTIC. Jamie makes the case that God created us with the ability and need to interpret, as opposed to suggesting that such need arises as a consequence of the Fall. The WONDER of this in light of Doperdek’s statement is that scripture is not primarily a storehouse of doctrinal propositions that must be kept “pure.” Rather scripture is a set of true stories that we can live our way into and do so more and more as we engage with Christ and with the richness of the scriptural text.
peace,
Randy



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Michael W. Kruse

posted May 21, 2009 at 11:13 am


I just recently read the book. One of my favorite quotes was this:
“It is somewhat ironic, it seems to me, that both liberals and conservatives make the same error. They both assume that something worth of the title word of God would look different from what we actually have. The one accents the human marks and makes them absolute. The other wishes the human marks were not as pronounced as they were. They share a similar opinion that nothing worthy of being called God’s word would look so common, so human, so recognizable. …” (21)
This has been the ongoing story of my adult life. I find in talking to liberals (as Enns has just described it) that they are utterly resistant to any authority the scripture might have over their lives (after all, the Bible is just inspirational writings from another time and place.) I find in talking with conservatives that any acknowledgment of the human character and inconsistencies of the Bible is utter denial of scripture’s authority.
I think Enns really helps clarify the issues … and he writes in a way most of us can actually understand what he wrote. :-)



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Travis Greene

posted May 21, 2009 at 11:21 am


I&I is great. The incarnational model is extremely helpful to me, and I include some level of accommodation as part of it. Jesus striking his thumb with a hammer is an example of that, I think. After all, could he be who Hebrews says he is if he hasn’t stubbed his toe a few times?
Dave, I think the difference between us is that I don’t think we can be certain. That’s a modern category that I don’t think the Bible’s authors would have recognized. What we can be is confident. Confident in God’s grace, confident in his purposes. Humble in our own knowledge, but confident in God’s mission and our role in it.



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Dan Martin

posted May 21, 2009 at 11:43 am


Dave #3 and responses to him:
Part of the confusion that I see in this whole process is that (despite long usage by lots of folks) no one has yet justified the application of the term “Word of God” to the entirety of the scriptural text. “The Word of God” is a lamp unto my feet whether or not I take the whole canon to be “the Word of God.” As I mentioned in further detail in post #64 of “the Bible and Knowledge 3,” even applying theopneustos to the whole canon may not be what Paul was saying.
We really need to take a step back and look at our terminology here. Just because scripture tells us a great deal about the power and reliability of the “Word of God” does not mean that it’s talking about the whole text of the canon, unless and until we have justified the application of the former title to the latter. It’s not done in scripture itself. I’m not sure when the two became synonymized in Christian thought, but it’s led to an awful lot of confusion and hyperbole about scripture.
If we actually let the texts speak for themselves, those that self-label as God’s words are an interesting subset upon which to meditate.
Of course, there’s another aspect that I think needs to be unpacked, but which I have not had the time either to study or meditate on yet. . .is there perhaps a clearer distinction that ought to be drawn between “the Word of God” as that phrase is used in the scriptures, and “everything God said” as we observe it from the places he speaks? At the very least, “the Word of God” is far more than just the sayings of God, or else incarnation means nothing. But maybe we do too much conflating even of those concepts. . .???



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eric

posted May 21, 2009 at 1:23 pm


a general comment. The scholars cited seem to accept higher criticism rather readily. It’s not unlike evolution. Many true facts are found, but the ideology underlying it has to be suspected. By that I mean that liberal critics a priori often don’t accept predictive prophecy and therefore postdate many old testament writings. I always feel there is a germ of truth in both the conservative and liberal camps re/ the old testament. Eg, the Pentateuch to me simply can’t be the work of Moses in its entirety.. There is too much variation in style and context. However, I also don’t adhere to Dr Davies contention that the entire old testament history is a fictitious work that was written after the Persian period. Granted, there are problems with the exodus tale taken literally, but if it’s just a pious fiction, then the hebrew faith is really built on a house of sand. I would personally favor a true exodus with lots of added embellishment over the centuries. Anyway, my point is that conservative reactions sometimes are legitimate and we should not always build our theology on the latest biblical scholarship trends and fashions..I certainly do agree we should do our theology looking at our culture and with an eye on what the scholars are saying, but being very careful..



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Kent Sparks

posted May 21, 2009 at 2:32 pm


Hi Dave,
You wrote: The assumption underlying each of these books is that when it comes to God’s revelation we just can’t be certain. Rather than a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path God’s Word is shown to be a fog. In the end all we have is, “Well, this is what it means to me…”
There various issues behind your comment, most of them having to do with complex epistemologial issues and also the practical issue of hearing God’s word. I can get at one aspect of the matter by asking this question:
When you interpret the Bible, isn’t the result always “what in means to you”?



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Kent Sparks

posted May 21, 2009 at 2:37 pm


Travis wrote: “I think the difference between us is that I don’t think we can be certain.”
Might I suggest, Travis, that this may not be what you really think. All of us are certain about lots of things, including theological things that we simply assume and don’t question. What I actually think you mean (and I would agree with you) is that certainty is not a guarantee of correctness. Sometimes when I am certain I am right, but there are times when certainty fails me.
Of course if you’ve read my book, you’ll know that in my view to be “right” is a matter of practical fit rather than of perfect correspondance between my ideas and reality itself.



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AHH

posted May 21, 2009 at 2:37 pm


RJS asks what makes sense among these different models of Scripture.
Backing up a bit, is there really any difference between the concepts of “accommodation” (Sparks) and “incarnation” (Enns, also NT Wright has used that metaphor)?
Of course the proponents would disagree about specific details, but both seem to be saying that God, in inspiring Scripture, chose not to override the human limitations (cultural, scientific, etc.) of the writers, at least not on matters peripheral to the point of the communication (such as the writer of Genesis 1 having a cosmology where a solid dome in the sky held back the waters above, which God does not bother to “correct” because the point of Genesis 1 is theology, not science).
Is there really any difference between the “accommodation” and “incarnation” paradigms, or are they just two different ways of saying the same thing?



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RJS

posted May 21, 2009 at 2:48 pm


Frank (#9),
It was “supposed” to match the typical evangelical view of inerrancy, and there was supposed to be a strong concordance between science, archaeology, and scripture. The evangelical “solutions” to the problems were supposed to be convincing. But starting from a position of faith I found the “solutions” increasingly unconvincing the more I studied.



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Darren King

posted May 21, 2009 at 3:47 pm


Personally, I think the human factor in scripture should give us pause – and to a much greater degree than is typical for evangelicals. I think we really underestimate the degree to which aspects of revelation are necessarily “lost in translation” when originating from a divine source, but then “compressed” to a human level.
Now, I think many would agree with this statement of caution. But, like I said, I still feel like – evangelicals in particular, don’t apply this to nearly the degree they need to. And, honestly, the reason I usually hear being given is that people want more, not less, revelation. And so that desire colors how objectively they look at the picture. But the question shouldn’t be “How much do we want something to be true”? but rather “what does the evidence actually tell us?”. Even N.T. Wright says this is something like looking to a faded signpost pointing into a fog. I agree with the good Bishop. But I think Wright himself (who I greatly respect) could (and should) even take his own biblical interpretation conclusions a little more lightly than he does. I don’t doubt his interpretive abilities. I merely doubt the degree to which this really applies to ultimate realities in the mind of God – as opposed to in the mind of humankind.



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Dave

posted May 21, 2009 at 4:49 pm


Kent,
When you interpret the Bible, isn’t the result always “what in means to you”?
When I interpret the bible I want to (do my best) to know what the author meant to say to the people to whom he was writing. I want to try to discern what they understood and apply it accordingly. I don’t believe that God inspired any writer of scripture to write something that would later be changed. It may be added to or expanded upon but not changed. I see the progress of revelation moving from beginning of the bible to the end so that while those to whom a passage was written may not have been entirely clear on the fullness of what was written they weren’t wrong in taking it at face value.
Once I’ve interpreted I certainly apply it to myself. There may even be many applications. But there is only one interpretation.
Thanks for jumping in last night on the previous thread. I didn’t see it until this morning and thought the thread was dead. And I realize that to be fair I should read your book and not just comment on a blog about your book.



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RJS

posted May 21, 2009 at 6:03 pm


AHH,
This is probably a question I should defer – to Enns or Sparks – but I think that there is a subtle difference – with some (or much) overlap in result and interpretation.
In the incarnational model God uses human modes of communication to speak to us. In a sense (but don’t stretch it too far) the word becomes human to communicate with and through humans. I think that this is more than choosing not to override human limitations – it is meeting us where we are.
In the discussion of accommodation I see more an emphasis on choosing not to override limitations. God accommodates his communication to our finitude (and fallenness).
So in comments by Phil M on the last post he said (with respect to Gen 1-11) It would have been just as easy to give a rudimentary understanding of the cosmos in Genesis (leaving all the details for us to explore later) that correlates better with current scientific understanding without coming up with a completely different story.
If God was accommodating to our finitude I can see Phil’s point – at least partly. There was no reason to stick with ANE cosmology. A simple – but correct – cosmology could be used.
But in the incarnation model God was speaking into and through the culture and assuming the local point of view on issues not relevant to the message. There is no reason to correct the cosmology. The story is told in the frame of a human culture and time although the essence of the message is timeless. (As Jesus came into a culture and time – but the message and impact is timeless.)



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Michael W. Kruse

posted May 21, 2009 at 8:20 pm


Kent 19
“What I actually think you mean (and I would agree with you) is that certainty is not a guarantee of correctness. Sometimes when I am certain I am right, but there are times when certainty fails me.”
That’s a keeper. :-)
BTW, I’ve got your book up next on my reading list. I’ve been looking forward to it.



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Kenny Johnson

posted May 21, 2009 at 8:23 pm


I’m still concerned about this new approach. I appreciate that it has helped some (such as RJS) with their faith, but I find it more challenging than helpful to my own.
I’m obviously not the only one. Here’s a quote from a reviewer on Amazon about Enns’ book:
“The book needs to be read by evangelicals and fundamentalists and its evidence addressed. For me personally I have abandoned the Christian faith completely. The evidence that Enns shows here and the more extensive material presented by Kenton Sparks in his “God’s Word in Human Words” combined with the evidence of biological evolution was enough to convince me that Christianity is no different than any other religion and was not worthy of my commitment or devotion. I am now an agnostic. I know that this wasn’t the intended purpose of Enns writing his book, but I do believe that it is the end result of being honest with the evidence.”



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Michael W. Kruse

posted May 21, 2009 at 10:06 pm


Kerry #26
Please read my #14.
This is a prime example of someone deciding that revelation was supposed to come in a particular form and when it didn’t, rejected it. For instance, he sites biological evolution as a reason for discrediting the Bible. This only matters if the Genesis creation story is a fact-for-fact “reporter on the scene” description of creation, which he/she clearly assumes that it is. Because evolution contradicts it, the Bible is wrong.
So I would argue that it is not the reasoning of Enns, Sparks, et al, that is the problem. The problem is the false insistence that these passages are fact-for-fact “reporter on the scene” descriptions. Because of that false standard, many people, like this reviewer, reach the false conclusion that the whole thing should be dismissed because the evidence fails to meet the standard. With more forthright approaches like Enns’ and Sparks’ the reviewer might still be in the conversation.



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AHH

posted May 21, 2009 at 10:38 pm


Kenny #26,
Amen to what Michael Kruse #27 said; comments #5 and #21 from RJS make a similar point. One can also for example look at the spiritual trajectory of Bart Ehrmann.
The real source of the problem IMO is the way the more fundamentalist segments of the evangelical church have built this house of cards where the validity of the faith is perceived by many to depend on the increasingly indefensible position that Scripture is a “perfect book” by the sort of criteria one might apply to grading a science exam.
And of course Enns and Sparks are not really taking a “new approach”. I believe Sparks in particular points out how the idea of accommodation has a long history in the church, most notably in John Calvin. If anything, the “new approach” is the modern inerrancy doctrine that arose relatively recently (late 1800s?), seeking to make Scripture conform to standards of post-Enlightenment Western rationalism that would have been quite alien to the Biblical writers and their original audience.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted May 21, 2009 at 11:03 pm


#28 AHH
“If anything, the “new approach” is the modern inerrancy doctrine that arose relatively recently (late 1800s?), seeking to make Scripture conform to standards of post-Enlightenment Western rationalism that would have been quite alien to the Biblical writers and their original audience.”
Yes!



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Kent Sparks

posted May 22, 2009 at 7:42 am


Dear All:
Very interesting conversation. I apologize for not being more active and for joining threads late ? I?m in the last stages of a project that?s due soon. Thanks to RJS for facilitating the discussion.
(1) AHH wrote: ?Is there really any difference between the “accommodation” and “incarnation” paradigms, or are they just two different ways of saying the same thing?
In my opinion, there?s no real difference. I?ve had lunches with Pete Enns on many occasions and discussed all sorts of things. Both of us agree that Scripture is divine and human, that the incarnation has some import for how we understand the nature of Scripture, and that the result is some kind of ?accommodation? to finite, fallen human viewpoints.
(2) Dave wrote: ?When I interpret the bible I want to (do my best) to know what the author meant to say to the people to whom he was writing ? I see the progress of revelation ? those to whom a passage was written may not have been entirely clear on the fullness of what was written they weren’t wrong in taking it at face value ??
I don?t want to be presumptuous, but this is what I suspect ? if we sat down for coffee and talked it all through, the two of us would end up very close. One point that I would make is that partial understandings are always partly wrong because, even when your mind doesn?t have all of the pieces, it can?t help but give a go at putting the pieces together ? as an example, consider the human tendency to extrapolate from the flat earth before our eyes to a flat earth cosmology. This is just how our minds are designed to work. So, I would suggest that the biblical authors were partly wrong, as are all subsequent readers of their books ? but this is of no great consequence because what we need is an adequate grasp on the truth, not a perfect grasp. By ?adequate? I mean: a mixture of perception and misperception in which the proportion and nature of the true perceptions allow me to live in light of reality.
I don?t need perfect perceptions, nor a book of perfect perceptions ? all human discourse, whether of Paul, or of you and me, is adequate at best. This will be true even if we say that Paul was inspired in ways that you and I are not.
(3) Kenny Johnson wrote: ?I’m still concerned about this new approach. I appreciate that it has helped some (such as RJS) with their faith, but I find it more challenging than helpful to my own.?
Faith faces its challenges. In some cases my faith has been reshaped by those challenges, and in other cases reinforced. The effect of a given challenge varies from person to person. Some Christians find their faith invigorated because these ?new? Scripture projects provide solutions for troublesome problems. For others, the problems are not problems and so the proposal and solutions are simply confusing and disorienting ? in some cases, people deeply struggle with or lose their faith ? having already lost my faith and then regained it (albeit in a different configuration), I am not troubled when people lose their faith because of my book. Doubt is a part of the faith journey, and it arises when we face the pain, suffering and confusion in our world ? and also when we find that this same horizon is reflected in the Bible.
My main point: The ?Problem of Pain? and the ?Problem of Scripture? are one in the same.
PS: One point that my book makes is that much in these ?new? proposals is not new ? the problems are not new, the generic solutions are not new, the accommodation is not new, the incarnational aspect of Scripture is not new ? what is new in our modern era is mainly that the extent of the problems is far greater than earlier Christians suspected.



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Kent Sparks

posted May 22, 2009 at 8:02 am


“One can also for example look at the spiritual trajectory of Bart Ehrmann”
IMHO: Bart Ehrmann was my NT advisor at UNC-Chapel Hill. He was always very kind to me and has been supportive of my career, in spite of our profound faith differences.
Now I ask you … Would fundamentalist profs at very conservative seminaries be equally kind … Would they respect my opinions and support me as a scholar, in spite of our differences? As a rule, it is my experience that Bart “loves” me far more than many fundamentalists do. This is because, as one of its bases, love respects the integrity of the other person by accepting them as individuals who think and make decisions for themselves.
As for Bart’s exit from the faith, one way to interpret this (in part but not wholly how he would interpret it) is that FI (fundamentalist inerrancy) set him up for the fall. He was given an understanding of Scripture that could never survive close academic scrutiny. It made him angry, and I think for good reason …
In the end, I’d say that in certain ways Bart is in a better place spiritually than he was as a fundamenatlist. In its militant form, evangelical fundamentalism is merely a modern version of ancient Pharisaism.



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RJS

posted May 22, 2009 at 8:57 am


Kent,
You asked: Now I ask you … Would fundamentalist profs at very conservative seminaries be equally kind … Would they respect my opinions and support me as a scholar, in spite of our differences?
To be fair – I think that many would at some level.
And although not with profs (as far as I know) – we’ve had many civil conversations here amongst those who disagree profoundly (even on these threads).
But many – and these are the more vocal – find this a fight that must be fought by all means possible, and hurting individuals in the process is of no consequence (or is necessary discipline within the body). Unfortunately a number of scientists at evangelical institutions have also found themselves in hard positions.



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Kent Sparks

posted May 22, 2009 at 10:11 am


“To be fair – I think that many would at some level.”
I do want to be fair and you may be right … But I must admit, as I think through the list of those I know at the institutions I have in mind, “many” is not what comes to mind …



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AHH

posted May 22, 2009 at 10:52 am


Kent at #31,
Just to clarify, my mention of the spiritual trajectory of Bart Ehrmann in #28 was not intended to be a slam of Ehrmann.
I was trying to make the same point you made more explicitly — that being inculcated in an environment where his faith was centered around an inerrant book (rather than around Jesus, testified to adequately by inspired Scripture) set him up for a loss of faith when more rigorous study showed him that the Bible was not what his more fundamentalist mentors had told him it must be.
There are unfortunately many such stories (sounds like RJS came close to such a trajectory at one point in her life), which is why I think attempts of people like Sparks and Enns to wean the evangelical church from basing its faith on what Kent calls “fundamentalist inerrancy” are very important for the future health of the church.



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Kent Sparks

posted May 22, 2009 at 4:45 pm


AHH:
Sorry, I see your point. That’s what I get for blogging too fast.



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Pete Enns

posted May 24, 2009 at 2:57 pm


Thanks to all of you for taking the time to go back and forth about these issues. I’ve been in bed since Monday nursing an injury (I’m OK) so I haven’t been able to contribute thus far.
If any of you are interested, on my website I have numerous articles under the I&I tab as well as a current series of posts where Bruce Waltke and I interact on I&I. I think a lot of the issues being discussed thus far here are things I at least touch on there. It might also give some of you clearer idea of what I am trying to do in I&I.
I hope to be able to jump in more now if more comments come along.



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AHH

posted May 24, 2009 at 6:34 pm


Pete Enns #36,
First let me say that I found I&I very helpful in my own consideration and articulation of these things. So thanks for writing it.
I’d be interested in your take on the question Kent Sparks addressed at the top of #30.
While I’m sure you would not agree with him on every issue, do you see any significant difference between your “incarnation” paradigm for thinking about Scripture and Sparks’ “accommodation” paradigm? Or are they two different ways of saying pretty much the same thing?



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RJS

posted May 24, 2009 at 6:57 pm


Pete & AHH,
I’d be interested as well. My impression from reading both was that there is some difference (see #24) – but Kent thinks not.



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Pete Enns

posted May 24, 2009 at 7:26 pm


Hello AHH and RJS,
This is how I see the relationship between the language Kent and I propose for handling the intersection of modern biblical studies and Christian theology. I see an incarnational model and an accommodation as having very significant overlap. In fact, they are getting at pretty much the same thing but focusing on different dimensions.
I hope this is not too simplistic, and Kent will have to join in if he sees a problem with this, but I see an incarnational model as a theological category whereas accommodation is more the “mechanics” of how that model is expressed in inscripturation.
So, for every single example I discuss in I&I, I could easily use the word accommodation to describe process (and I sometimes do), i.e., God is accommodating to ANE myth, diverse political situations, Second Temple hermeneutics. I could have written the whole book without mentioning the incarnation once and made pretty much the same points.
By appealing to an incarnational model, however, I am trying to anchor that process theologically in something that is pretty well excepted in Christian thought (seeing the Bible as an “incarnation-type thing” is not a new concept) in order to bring as many people along as possible. Also, even though you didn’t ask, let me be crystal clear that an incarnational model is neither the only nor best model, nor is it without ambiguities. But then again ALL theological models have ambiguities. Think of the incarnation as a metaphor for helping people understand why our Bible looks so, well, human.



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RJS

posted May 24, 2009 at 8:07 pm


Pete,
If incarnation is not the “best” model – what is?
Actually I find the incarnational model useful – because it adds a reason for accommodation tied to specific cultures and time, incorporation of myth and “common knowledge”. Incarnation is not simply allowing for limited human perspective and understanding, it is meeting us on our terms which are always defined by time, place, and culture.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 24, 2009 at 8:41 pm


I, too, like both of the concepts: accommodation, so it seems to me, looks at how God chose to speak to humans according to their development, while incarnation looks at the nature of the fallen human condition when God chooses to speak. Let me propose that my book, The Blue Parakeet, comes at the same basic facts we see in the Bible from the angle of the human articulators of divine revelation in a linguistic model. But we are each grappling with Scripture’s view of Scripture.



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Pete Enns

posted May 24, 2009 at 9:04 pm


This is well put, Scot. Very succinct.
RJS, I don’t think there really is a “best” model to be seeking. An incarnational model is very useful for addressing numerous things. It is not “inadequate” as some of my critics have argued, because it lacks full precision or because the analogy breaks down. Every single model of Scripture, including an inerrantist one, has inadequacies and failures.



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RJS

posted May 24, 2009 at 9:45 pm


Pete,
I don’t really think that there is one “best” model either. Rather different concepts can help to illuminate features of scripture as scripture.
Scot,
Are we grappling with scripture’s view of scripture – or with a view of scripture informed by the nature of scripture itself?
I don’t see much in scripture that gives a clear view of scripture – or am I missing something?



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RJS

posted May 24, 2009 at 10:22 pm


Scot,
Or to put the last line a little more clearly:
I don’t see much in scripture that gives a clear view of scripture’s view of scripture – or am I missing something?



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Pete Enns

posted May 24, 2009 at 10:32 pm


RJS,
I think I understand what you are saying. A common argument among some is that we need to adopt “Scripture’s view of itself” or something to that effect. Scot repeats that, but I think he means something quite different than what fundamentalists mean. The latter argue that there are certain basic prooftexts that establish the nature of Scripture. Any other passages encountered, or any other issue (like ANE, etc.) need to conform what the Bible “says about itself.”
That is not what Scot means, I am sure. He means, as I do, that “Scripture’s view of itself” is discerned by watching how Scripture “behaves” (my term) in its historical contexts. In this sense, Scripture really does not have a dogmatic “let-me-lay-it-out-for-you” teaching of itself. Rather, it demonstrates to God’s people it’s “character” (note all the personifications of Scripture, which is either a vestige of fundamentalism or an incarnational reflex, I don’t know) in its drama, diversity, contextuality, and above all (for Christians), its christotelic, eschatological unity.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 24, 2009 at 11:14 pm


RJS and Pete,
You get this right … it is the phenomena of the text, in context, that sets the parameters and content for how to understand Scripture. So, Scripture’s view of Scripture is not just 2 Tim 3 and Ps 119, however important they are. It is how the Bible’s phenomena themselves can be formed into an understanding of Scripture. I’m fading tonight …



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Pete Enns

posted May 25, 2009 at 10:34 am


Scot,
And an incarnational model is just one way of providing a theological category for just what you say here.
When 2 Tim 3 is paraded as foolproof, non-negotiable, support for a fundamentalist view of inerrancy, my response has always been not to argue about what “god breathed” or “all Scripture” means (as if this is an exegetical issue), but to observe how Paul himself puts this principle into practice, i.e., by his midrashic handling of his Bible, our OT. And understanding Paul’s use of the OT is a decidedly historical study, i.e., placing Paul in his Secod Temple interpretive setting.
Likewise, Ps 119 is wonderful, but we should not forget that that psalm is extolling the law of God in ways that the NT does not. So what exactly is being proven here by adducing Ps 119? It is not obvious.



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Adam Omelianchuk

posted May 25, 2009 at 2:40 pm


As I was reading I&I and the controversy that surrounded it, I stumbled upon an old Packer article that quoted Roger Nicole saying we should not start with the phenomena of Scripture first and then decide what inerrancy means. Rather, we should start with the Scripture’s self-attestation, or its “doctrine of Scripture” and then decide what inerrancy means, i.e. nothing contrary to fact.
I have been taught this in my theology classes, but I have never understood why it is given such importance. Does a method that starts with the phenomena first have something to do with higher criticism that G. Machen and company rejected? This issue seems to be the crux of the debate that everyone seems to be missing, at least as far as I can tell. What does everyone think?



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Pete Enns

posted May 25, 2009 at 4:27 pm


Adam,
I disagree with the line of thinking as seen in Packer/Nicole, and I think you are putting your finger on at least one reason why: the phenomena are what are emphasized in historical criticism and do not support the doctrine very easily. For some reason, the proof text passages are never seen as phenomena themselves, in need of close, contextual, readings. They just sort of “speak for themselves.” But, as I mentioned in my last post, a passage like 2 Tim 3 hardly “proves” what it is called upon to prove. Whatever is meant in 2 Tim 3, it cannot dly bear the weight of all that is placed on it in modern discussions.
Another issue to raise in this context is the very notion of “self-attestation,” as if Scripture is something that can “attest” to itself. So, when we turn to 2 Tim 3, we do not say “look, Scripture is attesting to itself,” but we understand that utterance in its narrow context of the letter itself, and the broader context of NT teaching in general, etc. It is also worth remembering that at that time, there was no NT. Defenders say that since all of Scripture is the word of God, that the NT, even though not yet fully written, is included as the referent by good and necessary inference. But this is simply making the very point to be demonstrated an unfalsifiable foundation.



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Pete Enns

posted May 25, 2009 at 4:38 pm


May I add something to #49? I have genuine respect for Packer and Nicole, and I do not want my previous comment to be read in any other light. (Packer was a visiting prof at WTS in 1986 and I had him for Doctrine of God, one of my highlights.)
Also, biblical scholars, by training, are “phenomena” people. What people like me, Sparks, and McKnight are saying is that there is just too wide a gap between commonly accepted doctrinal formulations and the phenomena of Scripture.



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Adam Omelianchuk

posted May 25, 2009 at 6:07 pm


Ah, I found it! Hermeneutics and Biblical Authority by JI Packer.
http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_herm_packer.html
Nicole comments on Dewey Beegle’s book, The Inspiration of Scripture
Dr Beegle very vigorously contends that a proper approach to the doctrine of inspiration is to start with induction from what he calls “the phenomena of Scripture” rather than with deduction from certain biblical statements about the Scripture…. This particular point needs to be controverted. If the Bible does make certain express statements about itself, these manifestly must have a priority in our attempt to formulate a doctrine of Scripture. Quite obviously, induction from Bible phenomena will also have its due place, for it may tend to correct certain inaccuracies which might take place in the deductive process. The statements of Scripture, however, are always primary. To apply the method advocated by Dr Beegle in other areas would quite probably lead to seriously erroneous results. For instance, if we attempted to construct our view of the relation of Christ to sin merely in terms of the concrete data given us in the Gospels about His life, and without regard to certain express statements found in the New Testament about His sinlessness, we might mistakenly conclude that Christ was not sinless. If we sought to develop our doctrines of creation merely by induction from the facts of nature and without regard to the statements of Scripture, we would be left in a quandary. The present remark is not meant to disallow induction as a legitimate factor, but it is meant to deny it the priority in religious matters. First must come the statements of revelation, and then induction may be introduced as a legitimate confirmation, and, in some cases, as a corrective in areas where our interpretation of these statements and their implications may be at fault’ (Gordon Review, Winter 1964-1965, p. 106).
Not sure that responds to anything already said, but it was worth looking up.



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Pete Enns

posted May 25, 2009 at 10:51 pm


Thanks, Adam.
Note the following:
“start with induction from what he calls “the phenomena of Scripture” rather than with deduction from certain biblical statements about the Scripture.”
(It is clear. For Nicole over against Beegle, “biblical statements about Scripture” are not “phenomena.” This distinction, which is not demonstrated but assumed, drives the rest of the argument to follow. If it is not granted, the argument comes to an end rather quickly. )
“If the Bible does make certain express statements about itself, these manifestly must have a priority in our attempt to formulate a doctrine of Scripture.”
(Yes, if. And by “express” apparently what is meant is passages that are understood by different modes of exegesis by which any other biblical statement is handled.)
“To apply the method advocated by Dr Beegle in other areas would quite probably lead to seriously erroneous results. For instance, if we attempted to construct our view of the relation of Christ to sin merely in terms of the concrete data given us in the Gospels about His life, and without regard to certain express statements found in the New Testament about His sinlessness, we might mistakenly conclude that Christ was not sinless.”
(This is a nonsensical argument. No one is advocating that we limit the passages we consider when addressing inspiration like failing to address the NT letters when talking about Jesus. Frankly, it is the “express statement” people who are doing that by saying that only certain passages have priority.)
“If we sought to develop our doctrines of creation merely by induction from the facts of nature and without regard to the statements of Scripture, we would be left in a quandary.”
(This is either dubious argumentation or there is a serious communication block between what Nicole is saying and what I think he is saying. Where in the world did “facts of nature” come into all this? The entire issue is how biblical passages–not just a few over against the whole, but all of them– should be handled in talking about inspiration. To give a simplistic example, if I concluded from certain “express passages” that, by virtue of being God’s word, and since God cannot lie, the Bible’s reporting of history must be accurate, and then I stumbled upon the synoptic issue on the Gospels or the OT, I would not be a very good reader of Scripture if I did not allow the latter “phenomenon” to correct those express statements. And that is not just a hypothetical example. Some people will twist and turn every which way to harmonize or adjust the phenomena to fit the supposedly crystal clear express passages. Indeed, this is precisely what Nicole and many/most inerrantists, at some level, seem to argue for–but see below.)
“The present remark is not meant to disallow induction as a legitimate factor, but it is meant to deny it the priority in religious matters.”
(I am glad Nicole allows induction: it is unavoidable, and even the express passages he adduces are found through induction. Moreover, the language of “priority” only makes sense if you grant the opening distinction between statement and phenomena. What I see here is a series of assertions, not argument.)
“First must come the statements of revelation, and then induction may be introduced as a legitimate confirmation, and, in some cases, as a corrective in areas where our interpretation of these statements and their implications may be at fault'”
(I am not sure what Nicole is getting at with the first clause since all Scripture is considered revelatory. However, most of this final expression is very good and, ironically, fits very well with what I am arguing here: exegesis of phenomena must inform our doctrine of Scripture. Our understanding of “express statements” must pass the test of being compatible with the Bible. As I like to say, we must labor to have a doctrine of Scripture that Scripture can actually support, not one where much of Scripture becomes an embarrassment. I am trying to see how Nicole’s last statement doesn’t undermine his previous points. It is possible I have completely misunderstood him.)



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Marcus

posted May 25, 2009 at 11:15 pm


Hi Drs Enns and Sparks ,
Thanks so much for you wonderful books, they have helped me greatly. Dr. Enns, I noticed in your last post on your blog which linked to this post that you ask the question, “What limits do we put on the contextual, historical, situatedness of the Bible for explaining biblical phenomenon, and therefore the nature of Scripture, and WHY, ON WHAT BASIS, do we place those limits?” How would you start to think about how to set those limits and where do they come down for you? I have struggled a lot with that very question. When forming our doctrine of Scripture how do we achieve the right blend of informing it through Christian presupposition about Scripture and phenomenological observation?
Dr. Sparks, I know you suggest creedal orthodoxy, but honestly that’s a bit scary to me as it leaves a lot open. Can we still have a robust faith in the Bible as God’s word (or at least the revelation of God’s word) if that’s all that we insist upon?



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Pete Enns

posted May 27, 2009 at 9:28 am


Marcus,
Yes, a good question. First, the purpose of my asking that question in my post was rhetorical, i.e., to get Waltke to see the need for even asking these kinds if questions in the current debate.
As for me, I don’t think in terms of limits but more in terms of a “gravitational center” that brings us continually back to a core confession of Christ and his resurrection. That isn’t put very well, I suspect, and may sound like smooth talk. But, I envision the contextual study of Scripture not to be a bad thing, or something that is helpful but only to a point. It is not a potentially dangerous tool, but it is a tool that is in service to a larger goal, namely following Christ.
I don’t think of biblical interpretation as an activity where a box is placed around it, and Enns’ box happens is just bigger than, say Waltke’s, or a lot bigger than a few of my Reformed critics. I don’t think in terms of a “box” with four boarders, but more of a central tethering point (Jesus) to which I am bound with a really elastic bungee cord (the Spirit). Some of us are more prone to see how far that bungee cord can go (me, Sparks, etc., etc.), but we are always snapped back by the active work of the Spirit of Christ who lives in us.
You are asking a very good methodological question, Marcus, but for which I see no real methodological answer, and things like the Chicago Statement in Biblical Inerrancy, etc., don’t provide the methodological grid for me in any helpful way (not that you asked).
Exegesis and academia are as much of a journey as any other part of the Christian live. I’m good with that.



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Sara

posted June 23, 2009 at 6:20 pm


Pretty cool post. I just came across your blog and wanted to say
that I have really enjoyed browsing your posts. In any case
I’ll be subscribing to your blog and I hope you write again soon!



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Michael

posted June 26, 2009 at 3:15 am

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