Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation

by Mar 29, 2008Uncategorized2 comments

Here’s a page collecting links to the controversy surrounding Peter Enns’ book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament.

I don’t think any fair reader of Scripture can deny that the NT’s use of the OT raises some difficult questions (“Out of Egypt I have called my son”?), but I am glad Westminster Theological Seminary views bibliology as an important enough doctrine to suspend a professor over it.

Here are a few comments on the issues at stake in Enns’ book (HT: Brian Collins):

OPC Review

Enns writes beyond the boundaries of the Reformed tradition as exemplified by chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession. When he says the Bible looks human, he means it does not look divine. When he says Genesis is part myth, he means it is not true in historic, narrative particulars. When he says “conflicting theologies,” he means the Bible contradicts itself.

D.A. Carson’s Trinity Journal Review

in the three substantive chapters, most of the space is devoted instead to convincing the reader that the difficulties Enns isolates are real, and must be taken more seriously by evangelicals than is usually the case. In other words, despite his initial claim that he is writing the book to comfort the disturbed, as it were, the actual performance aims to disturb the comfortable. This makes the book rather difficult to evaluate. Moreover, Enns’s ambitions are vaulting: the evidence cast up by biblical scholarship, we are told, is of the sort that requires that an “adjustment” be made in how we think of Scripture, akin to the re-interpretation generated by the Copernican revolution (13). Wow. So are we explaining how evangelical faith accommodates biblical scholarship, or are we asserting that a Copernican revolution must take place within evangelical faith so as to accommodate biblical scholarship?

…when Enns writes (his italics), “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” (20), the statement is formally true and hopelessly muddled. Using the incarnational analog, the “human dimension” of the God/man not only places him in the human environment, but leaves him unique in that environment since only he is without sin. And even more strikingly, of course, what makes Jesus most strikingly unique to the human environment is that, without gainsaying his thorough, perfect, humanness for an instant, he is also God, and thus the perfect revealer of God, such that what Jesus says and does, God says and does. But when Enns speaks of “the very nature of the revelation of the Bible” as “not unique in its environment,” he looks only at its “human dimension” and integrates nothing of what else must be said if we are to understand what the Bible is in this “human environment.” I hasten to add that I am as rigorously opposed to what he thinks of as a docetic understanding of Scripture as he. But I am no less suspicious of an Arian understanding of Scripture—or, if we may get away from the incarnational analog, I am no less suspicious of assorted non-supernatural and domesticated understandings of the Bible, understandings of the Bible that are far removed from, say, that of the Lord Jesus.

Methodologically, Enns gets himself into these problems because he has spelled out neither what he understands of the doctrine of the incarnation, nor how well analogical arguments work in this case, and what limitations might be applicable.

The failure to get this tension right—by “right,” I mean in line with what Scripture actually says of itself—is what makes Enns sound disturbingly like my Doktorvater on one point. Barnabas Lindars’s first book was New Testament Apologetic. The thesis was very simple, the writing elegant: the New Testament writers came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and that he had been crucified and raised from the dead. They then ransacked their Bible, what we call the Old Testament, to find proof texts to justify their new-found theology, and ended up yanking things out of context, distorting the original context, and so forth. Enns is more respectful, but it is difficult to see how his position differs substantively from that of Lindars.

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  1. Bob Gonzales

    Thanks for the helpful citations, Mark. Have you read Jeffrey Niehaus’ new book that deals with the parallels between the OT and ANE? In my opinion, his view provides a refreshing contrast to that of Enns. I recently compared the two scholars and their respective books on our seminary blog (

  2. Mark L Ward Jr

    No, I haven’t read that book, but—as is perhaps too frequent these days—I have read a blog post on it. =)

    I just heard from someone else that I should check out your blog. I will do so!