The Living Word of God Review, cont'd
The Living Word of God in conversation with Inspiration and Incarnation
Rather than exhaust you with two reviews in one post, I’m going to try a different format. This time, I will do my best to just share quotes from each book on the same topics, with a minimum of commentary. I REALLY WILL try!
First, a couple of preliminary ideas:
1) Witherington challenges Enns’ understanding of Scripture by pointing to the Chalcedonian creed? To a Restoration Movement commentator like me, that seems really ironic. And clearly the two authors disagree about the meaning of the creed, which makes it seem like an unnecessary addition to the discussion. You already disagree about Scripture; stick to that instead of pointing to the creed.
2) In undermining the “humanity of Scripture” idea from Enns, Witherington introduces the old quote from Pope, “To err is human.” But then he asks, “Should we reverse that and say, ‘to be human, one must err’? If one says that, one has a rather large theological problem.” But Logic 101 teaches us that Affirming the Consequent is a fallacy. Only the contrapositive of a logical formulation of “To err is human” would be necessarily true.
Quotes on Revelation
Enns: “Revelation is the book we have.”
Witherington: “Revelation means God’s truth expressed in particular ways humans can understand.”
Quotes on Textual Study
Witherington: “It would be wiser to recognize that all these very ancient stories are reflections on even earlier, very ancient events…”
Enns: “God transformed the ancient myths so that Israel’s story would come to focus on its God, the real one.”
“A contemporary doctrine of Scripture must account for the OT as an ancient Near Eastern phenomenon by going beyond the mere observation of that fact to allowing that fact to affect how we think about Scripture.”
“How we conceive of the authority of the OT must be in continual conversation with the incarnate dimension of Scripture.”
“Each generation, by the power of God’s Spirit, has to make the gospel message its own by wrestling with how the gospel connects with the world in which that generation is living.”
Quotes on Nathan’s speech to David (2 Sam 7:16 and 1 Chron 17:14)
Enns: “This raises the very good issue of the relationship between the text of the Bible and the vents it reports. So, what did Nathan actually say? What 2 Samuel reports? What 1 Chronicles reports? Neither? A little of both? The answer is, ‘I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.’ In fact, I am beginning to suspect that this is not the primary question the Bible is set up to answer.”
BW3: “Sometimes, [Enns] even sounds like those who would simply baptize diversity and call it inherently good without raising the question of its relationship to unity… [quotes Enns passage above] …But even if it was a secondary question the Bible was set up to answer, it would still have to be assessed historically.”
Enns: “I am by no means saying that history does not matter. I am saying that the reporting of historical events – historiography – always involves the shaping of history for particular purposes. How much shaping goes on in the Bible and for what purpose is no doubt the topic of ongoing discussion… how we answer that question, as such answers may shift over time, is not nearly as important as the posture from which we attempt these answers: that we fully respect the Bible as God’s Word from the outset, not because we can make sense of it all but despite our inability to do so at times.”
Since the second Enns quote I’ve offered is the VERY NEXT SENTENCE after the first, BWIII’s suggestion (that Enns rejects historical assessment) is rather prejudicial and unfair.
Quotes on Context
Enns: “There is in the bible a built-in dynamic quality that invites the faithful reader to consider the situation into which the Bible is applied.”
BWIII: “The relatively less-known context should not be taken as more clear and certain that the relatively more well-known text itself.”
Enns: “At times, when circumstances are right, even the divine command to sacrifice was set aside in favor of other weightier matters that required attention.”
I originally thought this BWIII quote was a slam-dunk! But after reading the passage in I&I, I don’t think Enns was talking about places where the context is unknown, but about places like the prophetic literature where the prophets themselves provide the historical context for their oracles. Enns does not seem to be trying to elevate context over text.
Quotes on Apostolic Hermeneutics
1. The New Testament authors were not engaging the OT in an effort to remain consistent with the original context and intention of the OT author.
2. They were indeed commenting on what the text meant.
3. The hermeneutical attitude they embodied should be embraced and followed by the church today.
1. It is simply not possible to make this sort of sweeping statement about how the OT is used in the NT. Sometimes there is a rather clear effort at contextual exegesis, even to the point that the larger context of the OT quote is echoed or allowed to guide the NT author in his interpretation. (RB Hays, Echoes of Scripture in Paul)
2. It is also not the case that the NT writers were always and everywhere simply commenting on what the text meant and perhaps its larger Christological significance… in Acts 8 the gist of what Philip is suggesting to the Ethiopian eunuch is that Christ is the person referred to in Isaiah 53. The author is trying to stress the ultimate referent of that text. (How is that not ‘what the text means’?) …Simply examining the theological use of the OT and not also the ethical and practical use of it in the NT is a mistake.
3. Only in the broadest strokes can we follow the NT authors in their creative and christological use of the OT (RN Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period). …We are not early Jews, steeped in early Jewish methods of handling the OT. Besides, the writers of the NT were inspired in ways and to degrees that we are not. We should not pretend to be their equals. EVen Bible scholars today are closer to scribal interpreters of the text and proclaimers of the text that they are to the inspired writers of the text itself.
1. It is argued that the NT authors employ the OT for apologetic purposes. Hence, the logic goes, we can safely say that Jesus and the NT authors would never have done such wild things with the OT if their purpose was to convince others of the gospel. This logic is completely misguided. We must remember how the teachers of the law reacted to Jesus’ exegesis of Exodus 3:6: they were highly impressed (Lk 20:39-40). It is precisely because Jesus employed Second Temple techniques that his interpretation was able to have apologetic import.
2. It will not do to argue that Jesus and the apostles adopted such tainted exegetical methods simply as an accommodation to the faulty thinking of their contemporaries. There simply is no indication of this anywhere in the NT. In fact, Paul’s letters were not written to convince unbelieving Jews, but to the churches, to those who needed no such apologetic thrust.
3. (on Mt 2:15 and Hos 11:1) Matthew’s use of Hosea most definitely had an internal logic that was meaningful to his readers. Our obligation is to try to understand Matthew as he would have been understood by his original audience, not as we would like to understand him. …Matthew does not say that the event’s in Jesus’ boyhood life fulfill Hosea’s words. He says that they fulfill what “the LORD had said through the prophet.” It is what God says that is important, and what God said is not captured by the surface meaning of the words on the page, but by looking at the grander scope of God’s overall redemptive plan.
4. (on 2 Cor 2 and Is 49:8) I have heard 2 Cor 6:2 used in evangelistic services. “Now is the time of salvation,” meaning, “Accept Christ now, today. You may die tonight.” However true this might be, it is not at all what Paul is talking about here. The “now” of which Paul speaks is not our individual “now” but an eschatological “now.” What drove Paul to handle Isaiah’s words this way is his fundamental conviction that with the coming of Christ, the last dayts, the fullness of time, is upon us (Gal 4:4). …The deliverance looked forward to by Isaiah has happened for Paul in Christ, a fact indicated by Paul’s changing the future tense of Is 49:8 to the past tense. …Paul’s intention… was not to do a bit of modern, scientific exegesis. It was, rather, an interpretive exercise founded on his conviction that Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of Israel’s story.
5. Biblical interpretation is a true community activity. It is much more than individuals studying a passage for a week or so. It is about individuals who see themselves as part of a community that reaches far back into history and extends to the many cultures across the world today. …We rely on the witness of the church through time (with the hermeneutical trajectory set by the apostles as a central component), as well as the wisdom of the church in our time — both narrowly considered as a congregation, denomination, or larger tradition and more broadly considered as a global reality, all of which involves the direct involvement of the Spirit of God. Biblical interpretation is not merely a task that individuals perform; it is something that grows out of our participation in the family of God in the broadest sense possible.
“Perhaps, then, it makes more sense to speak of the incarnational parallel between Christ and the Bible. This should lead us to a more willing recognition that the expression of our confession of the Bible as God’s word has a provisional quality to it. By faith, the church confesses that the Bible is God’s word. It is up to the Christians of each generation, however, to work out what that means and what words work best to describe it.”
“The presence of theological diversity does not mean that it lacks integrity or trustworthiness. It means that we must recognize that the data of Scripture lead us to conceive differently of how Scripture has integrity or is worthy of trust…. we trust the Bible, not because we can show that there is no diversity, but because we believe, by the gift of faith, in the one who gave Scripture to us.”
“It encourages us to look to the Bible not as a timeless rule book or owner’s manual for the Christian life… the Bible sets trajectories, not rules, for a good many issues that confront the church. For example, the Bible may not tell you how to raise a family in detail, but sets broad trajectories for what an “in-Christ” family can look like.”
“…What is modeled for us is that Christ is the goal of the OT story, meaning that he is the ultimate focus of Christian interpretation. Not every verse or passage is about him in a superficial sense. Rather, Christ is the deeper sense of the OT — at times more obvious than others — in whom the OT drama as a whole finds its ultimate goal or telos.”
“Saying we are part of the church through all generations as though this were one continuous interpreting community is not enough. Which church, and with what hermeneutic, we would need to ask. I can talk about the fulfillment of Israel’s story in the Christ story, and I can talk about Christians being children of Abraham because I have some guidance in the NT about doing so. But careful historical and contextual exegesis of the entire Bible is still the best guide, even for Christians, when it comes to learning what it says, what it means, and how we ought to use it today, lest we turn the Bible into another version of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, or the parable of the Good Samaritan into an allegory about Christ and the church and the lost sinner, as Augustine did. This approach indeed would not be exegesis; it would be eisegesis — not merely a creative handling of the text, but a mishandling of ot, reading into it things that violate the original meaning.”
“If we take the study of Enns as a cautionary word against ignoring or trying to explain away the diversity of the Scriptures, then he has done us a service. Taking him as offering a saultary warning against overly harmonistic ways of handling Scripture is also a fine approach. I too agree in principle that inspiration looks like what we have in the text, however diverse. If we take Enns to be reminding us that Christians should indeed see the climax of the story of God’s people in Christ, then this too is helpful, and it reminds us that a christological use of the OT is a legitimate one, however carefully nuanced it needs to be.
“But if we hear in Enns’s book a plea to give up on trying to discern the relationship between unity and diversity in the canon, the relationship to truth to error, or a plea to become agnostic about the importance of the historical substance of the text, then I hope that we have misheard the author and would ignore such a subtext or plea. To claim that the Bible is God’s word implies always and everywhere taht it is making various sorts of truth claims — indeed, claims on us.”
The title of this chapter in BWIII’s book is, “The End of Enns.” I think he is making a play on Enns’ use of ‘telos’ (as in Christotelic rather than Christological to describe his method of reading the OT), as well as a bit of begging the question — I think it is up to the reader to decide if Witherington’s comments will END Enns’ school of thought.
I have to say that I like Enns’ ideas a lot better now that I’ve read them from his own pen. Witherington gives some healthy warnings, but his dismissive tone isn’t helpful. Further, his absolute reliance on historical exegesis (in itself absolutely indispensable) of the Hebrew Scriptures seems to put a burden on 21st century Christians that could not have been placed on 1st century believers. The NT was written mostly at one time, and so historical exegesis pertaining to that time period is very important. But I just don’t believe that the 1st century believers and commentators had the kind of access to historical information that Dr. Witherington insists is necessary for healthy exegesis of the OT text. The kind of exegesis practiced by Jesus and the NT writers is not unique to Christians, but to the Second Temple period, so to say that their practice was solely due to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit seems untenable as well.
Next Week: Truth Telling As An Art Form