Frame on Enns

John Frame has an excellent review of Peter Enns’s Inspiration and Incarnation that he just posted to his website. (Thanks to Brian Collins for these excerpts.)

Regarding the first section of the book, Frame says, “I think the ‘problems’ are artificially created by Enns.”

Also interesting is Frame’s last paragraph in light of Enns’s claim that the book was aimed as a primer for evangelical non-scholars who don’t understand these issues:

So though I find much to agree with in this book, in the end I would not recommend it as a basic text on biblical inspiration to a seminary-level reader (let alone for the less mature). Seminarians need to study biblical inspiration in a way that motivates both humility and confidence in God’s word. The present volume says much (both legitimately and illegitimately) to motivate humility. It says nothing to promote confidence in the truth of the biblical text. That, I think, is a serious criticism.

Here are a few more of the best quotes:

It is curious that in a book entitled Inspiration and Incarnation there is not even a summary treatment of the concept of biblical inspiration, even in the single reference to 2 Tim. 3:16 (107). One asks again and again through the book, “how is this idea compatible with the doctrine of biblical inspiration?” Enns never deals with this kind of issue.

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I kept waiting for Enns to draw some correlation between inspiration and truth, and I cannot find it. On 43 says that we should not “reason backward from the historical evidence of the monarchic account, for which there is some evidence, to the primeval and ancestral stories, for which evidence is lacking.” But does not divine inspiration constitute evidence?

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On 40, he suggests that “myth” might be a good description of the biblical stories, since it is a common way of referring to the non-Israelite flood stories. He defines myth as “an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from?” (40) This is rather different from many definitions of myth, but I will let that pass. In this definition and in its context, Enns intentionally avoids the question of whether these stories relate what “really happened.” But that is of course the issue. Certainly the biblical stories fit this definition of myth. Indeed, if you drop the term “origins” from the definition, all the stories of the Bible fit this definition. The Resurrection of Jesus addresses the question of our ultimate meaning in the form of a story. But the Bible itself insists that the Resurrection story, in addition to addressing the question of our ultimate meaning, tells us something that really happened. Indeed, the Resurrection would not be effective in declaring our ultimate meaning if it had not really happened. Enns’ definition of myth avoids the question of whether these stories narrate real history, and in doing so it avoids the most important problem raised in this connection. . . . The problem is that to call the Genesis flood a myth and then to adopt Enns’ definition of myth is to gloss over one of the main questions people have in examining that story. He raises a non-issue (How can a revealed book be culturally conditioned?) and avoids a real issue (Did the flood actually take place?)

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On 50-56, Enns uses a number of arguments to show that the ancient non-Israelite mythology is older than the Bible. This may or not be true, but I don’t understand its relevance. There are a number of possibilities here: (1) Certain events took place that were later recorded by non-Israelite ancient literatures. Later God inspired Moses, having read these, to present a more adequate version. (2) These events were first recorded by oral tradition, later in non-Israelite writings. Later God inspired Moses to write a more adequate version, based on the oral tradition. (3) These events were recorded in books from the very beginning (note the phrase “book of the generations” in Genesis). Perhaps those books themselves were inspired texts. These books were passed down to Moses, who used them (perhaps with some editing) in his own writings. Before this, non-Israelite cultures produced their own accounts, based or not on the early books. In none of these cases does the antiquity of non-Israelite mythology case any doubt on the authenticity of the Scriptural account. None of these possibilities deny that Israel’s documents were like the non-Israelite documents in significant ways.

Enns rejects all these possibilities. The only argument I can find for this rejection is on p. 52, “…it would be very difficult for someone holding such a view to have a meaningful conversation with linguists and historians of the ancient world.” I cannot see this as anything but a desire for academic respectability. Enns, like many evangelicals, wants to be invited to the table with the mainstream scholars. I don’t condemn that motive, but it does not provide any kind of argument for his hypothesis.

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In the second section, he argues that there is “theological diversity” in the Old Testament, but his concept of “diversity” is as confusing as was his concept of “uniqueness” in the first section. “Diversity” is a very general term. In a broad sense, everything we say is diverse from everything else we say—i.e., everything we say is different from everything else. (Another way of putting this is that everything we say is “unique.”) And when we get down to more specific uses of the term, there are many diverse kinds of diversity: diversity of perspective (two authors looking at a subject from different angles), diversity of emphasis, diversity of disagreement. The traditional evangelical doctrine of Scripture has never had a problem with diversities of perspective or of emphasis. It does have a problem with the idea that one part of Scripture disagrees with another; for if two assertions disagree, only one of them (at most) can be correct. If we are to discuss the doctrine of Scripture, it is very important, therefore, to define specifically the kind of diversity we find in the Bible. But Enns typically speaks of diversity in a very general way, leaving the reader confused. Or he speaks of diversities that no evangelical would have a problem with, then uses that agreement to suggest that we should also agree to other kinds of diversity.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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