The more I read of G.K. Beale, the more I appreciate his work. Beale is a NT professor at Wheaton College, an excellent biblical theologian, a well-established author, and an aspiring gardener (according to Doug Moo)–if you have read his The Temple and the Church’s Mission you will understand why
In his most recent book, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism, professor Beale unleashes a sustained critique against Peter Enns and those who are questioning the doctrine of inerrancy. Particularly, as the title addresses, Beale makes a case for the necessity and biblical warrant of inerrancy.
The first two chapters present responses to Peter Enns and his evaluation of the Old Testament. Chapters three and four address Enns’ intertextual assessment of how the New Testament authors interpret the Old Testament. Chapter five addresses the specific problem of Isaianic authorship, asserting that the NT authors were right in ascribing singular authorship to Isaiah 1-66. Beale wraps up his case for inerrancy by looking at the cosmology of the OT and the ANE.
Chapter 1: Beale quotes Enns book at length. He shows the weaknesses of his proposals, and concludes with eight summary points. I have abbreviated them here (53-54; for the list en toto see Beale’s article “Myth, History, and Inspiration”):
(1) Enns affirms that the Creation and the Flood accounts are “shot through with myth.”
(2) Enns questions the accuracy of the biblical witness because the testimony is not objective history.
(3) Enns fails to define how exactly Christ’s incarnation is like the Bible. This analogy sounds good, but is ambiguous.
(4) Enns digs a ditch between the OT world and modern society, where present definitions of truth and error cannot be judged in a pre-scietific world.
(5) Enns does not follow his own evaluative proposal of humility, honsty, and charity.
(6) “Enns’s book is marked by ambiguities at important junctures of his discussion.”
(7) “Enns does not attempt to present and discuss for the reader significant alternative viewpoints other than his own…”
(8) “Enns appears to caricature the views of past evangelical scholarship by not distinguishing the views of so-called fundamentalists from that of good conservative scholarly work.”
Chapter 2: Beale replies to Enns open response (JETS 49 : 313-26), which seems to reassert points made in the first chapter. Only in the surrejoinder, Beale is able to defend the historicity of the Bible in more detail, expose the weaknesses of the incarnational analogy. Then going on the offensive, he challenges Enns with his own criticism, namely that Enns reads Scripture using extrabiblical standards (i.e. the surrounding cultures of the biblical authors).
Chapters 3-4: Beale begins by recognizing the merit of Enns “christotelic” hermeneutic. This approach affirms the OT’s eschatological trajectory, aiming the whole of the OT towards Christ without forcing Jesus of Nazareth into every verse. However, Beale quickly delineates his concerns with Enns’ intertextual approach. He lists five concerns (86-101):
(1) Enns determination that NT authors quote the OT in odd ways is insufficient in scope and not compelling in content. Just because we have questions about how ancient authors are interpreting one another, does not give us freedom to discount their method as non-contextual.
(2) Similarly, Enns denies reading of the OT in context. The NT writers did not do this, and following their lead, we should have the freedom to interpret the passage in light of Christ’s coming and without grammatical-historical boundaries.
(3) The pervasive and controlling influence of Second Temple Judaism predominates Enns theology. Beale shows that Second Temple Judaism is not monolithic, yet Enns, while conceding the point, treats it as a singular interpretive method that the NT writers absorbed.
(4) While rejecting the “historical-grammatical” approach to Scripture, Enns employs his own hermeneutical grid and “imposes” theological constructs on his interpretations as much any other evangelical or fundamentalist.
(5) Enns posits that Paul adopted legendary material in his writings (i.e. Enns on 1 Cor. 10:4). Yet, for Paul to incorporate this legendary material is to contradict his warning to Timothy and Titus about foolish legends and wives tales.
Chapter 5: Beale addresses the question of who wrote Isaiah. He submits that many current evangelicals have adopted formerly liberal positions on this matter, and he goes on to argue for the importance of holding to a single author–the historically evangelical position. He gives copious quotations from the NT and later Jewish writers to support this view.
Chapters 6-7: Finally, Beale examines cosmology in the Ancient Near East. Where some scholars lump OT Israel in with their pagan neighbors, a worldview that disagrees with modern science, Beale contends that Moses and the other OT writers use phenomenological language to describe occurences as they appear. In other places though, they use theologically-informed language to describe the universe as YHWH’s giant temple. Beale concludes in chapter 6, “Many of the purported socially constructed, mythological expressions of the cosmos reflected in the Old Testament are better understood as descriptions of the way things appeared to the unaided eye or are related to to theological understanding of the cosmos (including the unseen heavenly dimension) as a temple” (213-14).
This conclusion finds support from Beale’s extensive work on the temple (cf. The Temple and the Church’s Mission), which he draws on heavily here. Speaking of the similarities and differences between OT and ANE temples, he writes, “These ancient pagan commonalities with Israel’s temple reflected partial yet true revelation, though insufficent revelation for a personal knowledge of God. Yet Israel’s temples are not like her neighbors, merely because they reflect some degree of perception about the true reality of God’s dwelling; rather, Israel’s temple was intended to be viewed as the true temple to which all other imperfect temples aspired” (182-83). In this regard, Israel’s temple served as a “polemical statement” against her polytheistic rivals.
In short, OT language is not scientific with modern exhibitions of precision, but neither is it a mythical accomodation filled with modern errors. Beale shows convincingly the makeup of the Old Testament is polemical, theological, and phenomenological. And thus, he concludes his book with a constructive argument for understanding the Old Testament worldview. Against Enns and those like him who flatten Israelite distinctives, Beale shows how the temple serves as a point of reference for how God’s covenant people and His revelation to them are similar yet altogether different than the religious documents and pagan worldviews from which Abraham and Israel were rescued.
Overall, Beale’s book is not an easy one to read. While he is trying to help a lay audience better understand the problems of Enns argument and its impact for divine inerrancy, he does recruit some very technical arguments. Moreover, the polemical nature of the book ensures that students first coming to the discussion have some background with the doctrine of Scripture and issues of Old Testament studies. Nevertheless, Beale’s work is important because of the way it exposes a trend in current evangelicalism away from the firm foundations of biblical inerrancy, and the willingness to test historic doctrines with novel conceptions that appeal to biblical critics. Moreover, Beale’s work is helpful because it sets out better arguments for understanding the Bible that coheres with the Truth and encourages Christians to trust God’s inspired Word. For that, I say thanks.
May we learn from Beale’s scholarship and fidelity to the Scriptures, and press on to know the Lord.
Sola Deo Gloria, dss