Herman Bavinck and Peter Enns on an Incarnational Analogy of Scripture

Peter Enns, in an online article about the authority of Scripture, summarizes his understanding of Scripture’s authority with a quote by Herman Bavinck.  Appealing to the systematician’s understanding that the two natures of Christ parallel the two natures of Scripture, Enns writes:

I can think of no better way of expressing this idea [the incarnational analogy] than by using (as I have used on numerous occasions in the recent past) the words of Herman Bavinck, the Dutch Reformed theologian. In volume one of his Reformed Dogmatics, Bavinck writes that a doctrine of Scripture,

….is the working out and application of the central fact of revelation: the incarnation of the Word. The Word (Logos) has become flesh (sarx), and the word has become Scripture; these two facts do not only run parallel but are most intimately connected. Christ became flesh, a servant, without form or comeliness, the most despised of human beings; he descended to the nethermost parts of the earth and became obedient even to death on the cross. So also the word, the revelation of God, entered the world of creatureliness, the life and history of humanity, in all the human forms of dream and vision, of investigation and reflection, right down into that which is humanly weak and despised and ignoble…. All this took place in order that the excellency of the power…of Scripture, may be God’s and not ours. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 1: Prolegomena [trans. J. Vriend; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003], 434–35; [Enns’] emphasis.)

This quote may give the impression that Bavinck and Enns are lockstep in their understanding of Scripture’s origin and nature.  For those familiar with Enns’ book, Inspiration and Incarnation, it may elicit the question, “What does Bavinck think about the human nature of Scripture?”  Does he, like Enns, press the incarnation model for all its cultural molding, or relegate the biblical texts to mythological stories copied from Israel’s neighbors?   What does Bavinck think about inerrancy? 

First, to put “inerrancy” into the mouth of the Dutch theologian would be anachronistic, though I think his theology harmonizes with and anticipates the idea (cf. Gaffin’s book ,God’s Word in Servant Form, treats Bavinck’s–and Abraham Kuyper’s–doctrine of Scripture in detail).  Likewise, in comparing these men, it must be recognized that their settings in time and location, as well as, their divergent scholastic aims, may not allow a straight-forward comparison.  Further, even Enns himself admits that Bavinck “says a lot more” on the subject of Scripture, thus Enns makes room for difference between the late theologian and himself.  Nevertheless, since the question was posed on another blogpost concerning Enns and Bavinck, I will try to show some of that distance.  

I think to answer the question of whether Bavinck and Enns would agree with one another, one simply needs to read the next paragraph in Bavinck’s dogmatic textbook.  As is usually the case, context clarifies, and in this case, it helps demonstrate that Herman Bavinck’s “incarnational analogy” is not quite the same as Peter Enns.   The former grounds his human authorship in the unerring veracity of God communicating by the Spirit of Truth, the other emphasizes the human factor so much that Divine inspiration takes on a new meaning.

Bavinck concludes the paragraph cited by Enns saying, “Everything is divine and everything is human” (435), and then he explicates this idea with an important caveat in the next paragraph (which begins a new section):

This organic view [of inspiration, which Bavinck eventually affirms with qualifications] has been repeatedly used, however to undermine the authorship of the Holy Spirit, the primary author.  The incarnation of Christ demands that we trace it down into the depths of of its humiliation, in all its weakness and contempt.  The recording of the word, of revelation, invites us to recognize that dimension of weakness and lowliness, the servant form, also in Scripture.  But just as Christ’s human nature, however weak and lowly, remained free from Sin, so also Scripture is ‘conceived without defect or stain’; totally human in all its parts but also divine in all its parts (emphasis mine, 435).

In the next section, Bavinck draws on trends in historical theology, showing sensitivity to more modern understandings of precision, and urging caution models of inspiration that slide from word, to idea, to ultimate denial.  He continues:

Yet, in many different ways, injustice has been done to that divine character of Scripture.  The history of inspiration shows us that first, till deep into the seventeenth century, it was progressively expanded even to the vowels and the punctuation (inspiratio punctualis) and in the following phase progressively shrunk, from punctuation to the words (verbal inspiration), from the individual words to the Word, the idea (Word in place of verbal inspiration).  Inspiration further shrunk from the word as idea to the subject matter of the word (inspiratio realis), then from the subject matter to the religous-ethical content, to that which has been revealed in the true sense, to the Word of God in the strict sense, to the special object of saving faith (inspiratio fundamentalis, religiosa), from these matters to the persons (inspiratio personalis), and finally from this to the denial of all inspiration as supernatural gift (435).

Think what you will of Bavinck’s historical analysis and slippery slope argument, but one thing is clear: Peter Enns and Herman Bavinck do not share the same understanding of Scripture.  In fact, in the pages that follow in Bavinck’s chapter on “The Inspiration of Scripture,” their doctrinal disparity grows.  I will conclude with just one more treatment of his illuminating work that highlights the difference.  Concluding his section on organic inspiration he again touches on the incarnational model, only here Bavinck develops it with a detail that exceeds Inspiration & Incarnation. (Admittedly, Enns has developed this approach with greater focus since I & I, see his 2007 CTJ article, but differences in their incarnational models remain).  Bavinck summarizes:

Inspiration has to be viewed organically, so that even the lowliest part has its place and meaning and at the same time is much farther removed from the center than other parts.  In the human organism nothing is accidental, neither its length, nor its breadth, not its color or its tint.  This is not, however, to say that everthing is equally closely connected with its life center.  The head and the heart occupy a much more important place in the body that the hand or the foot, and these again are greatly superior in value to the nails and the hair.  In Scripture, as well, not everything is equally close to the center.  There is a periphery, which moves in a wide path aroung the center, yet also that periphery belongs to the circle of divine thoughts.  Accordingly, there are no kinds and degrees in ‘graphic’ inspiration.  The hair of one’s head shares in the same life as the heart and the hand.  There is one and the same Spirit from whom, through consciousness of the authors, the whole Scripture has come.  But there is a difference in the manner in which the same life is present and active in the different parts of the body.  There is diversity of gifts, also in Scripture, but it is the same Spirit (438-39, emphasis mine).

In the end, appeals to men are like appeals to tradition.  They are helpful and historic, but they do not trump the Bible itself.  I think ultimately, Enns and Bavinck, would go back to the Bible to make their case.  Only, I think they would do so with divergent degrees of confidence in the Bible’s inspiration–Bavinck asserting inspiration from the unerring Spirit of Truth through men; Enns ascribing origination from men with assistance from the Spirit.  This a nuanced difference, but one that ultimately affirms or denies the authority of the Scriptures.  One makes Scripture God’s unique self-revelation, the other a error-proned attestation to the God who lisps. 

The point here is not ultimately to solve the inerrancy debate, but simply to observe the difference between Enns and Bavinck in their similar usage of the “incarnational analogy.”  For while Enns bolsters his case with citations from Bavinck, the superficial similarities do not go beyond the surface.  Both scholars employ an incarnational analogy for understanding Scripture, but they explain this analogy differently as the preceding quotations demonstrate.  In the end, Enns is not a reincarnation of Bavinck, but hopefully his scholastic dependence on the Reformed theologian will help others glean from Bavinck’s commitment to biblical inspiration and authority in ways that Enns does not.

[For more on Bavinck’s doctrine of scripture, see Richard Gaffin’s book on the subject, God’s Word in Servant Form].

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Stephen Evans on Myth: An Impartial Arbitrator

Reading through C. Stephen Evans  The Historical Christ & The Jesus of Faith, I came across a well-detailed chapter on myth and historicity.  While Evan is addressing New Testament scholarship and the incarnation of Jesus Christ, not the Old Testament narratives, his principles of interpretation are universally applicable and serve as an third party to moderate the polemics of Peter Enns and G.K. Beale.  (Note: I am not endorsing Evans carte blanche, especially his abberant inclusivism; I am merely using his discussion about myth and history as a heuristic device to help mediate the Beale-Enns debate).

In his third chapter, Evans highlights dangers about seeing myth(s) in the Bible, but he also provides legitimate grounds for using the term.  He does not categorically deny their use.  Instead, this philosopher from Baylor University discusses the opposing positions of  Soren Kierkegaard (anti myth) and C.S. Lewis (pro myth) to present a modest caution if and when the term is used.  Here is Evans conclusion:

There are good reasons, as I have noted, for avoiding the designation of the incarnational narrative as myth.  Too many people will understand myth as ruling out history, and even those who do not  think history is ruled out may see the historicity of the events as inessential and unimportant in relation to the mythical significance.  In most contexts it would be better to stress the fact that God’s saving acts constitute a narrative which possesses universal power and significance [CS Lewis’ approximate definition], without actually designating the story a myth [cf. Hans Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative].

However, if one is speaking in a context where the terminology will not be misunderstood, it is legitimate to speak of the incarnational narrative [i.e. the virgin birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus] as a myth, following the example of CS Lewis, with the following proviso: the uniqueness of the narrative, its divine origin, and the essential significance of its historicity must be maintained (78)

With that proviso in mind, consider Enns definition of myth, “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?” (Inspiration & Incarnation, 50)  Sadly, even against Evans’ more receptive rubric, Enns definition contains none Evan’s qualifications.  Furthermore, as he lays out his case in I & I, Enns undermines each of these– he diminishes the uniquenesss of the biblical stories, he questions divine modes of revelation in exchange for more ‘evolutionary’ models, and he is critical of the ‘essential historicity” of the biblical accounts (see Beale for a full-fledged critique).  In short, his use of the term ‘myth’ lacks any necessary caveat that would distinguish his proposal from that of higher-critical and modernistic scholars.

In fairness to Peter Enns, I think he is trying to use myth with qualifications.  As the quote above indicates, he is seeking to define with specificity what myth is and is not; but clearly, his qualifications do not go far enough.  His mythological reading of Scripture  fails to assert historicity, uniqueness, and divine origin, which leaves the reader with a careless proposal and a faith-eroding hermeneutic.  

Sadly, it seems that for the sake of critical scholarship, or perhaps just for academic curiousity, he has willing to questioned essential truths about the Bible that will lead many souls to doubt God’s word, just as they have  in the past.  As Ecclesiastes refrains, “There is nothing new under the sun,” and Enns proposal reinforces that truth.  For in terms of Old Testament criticism, his proposals sound very similar to eighteenth century Enlightened scholars, who sound similar to second-century Gnostics, who sound like another pre-modern voice with a serpentine lisp… “Did God really say?”    The problem is not new, and neither is the answer: Contend for the Faith!  Renounce false teaching!

May we continue, with boldness and perseverance, to assert that the faith once for all delivered to the saints is True, Historical, Unique, and Divinely Inspired.  This is not a trifling thing, it is a matter of life and death (Deut. 32:47).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Book Review: The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism

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 [2006]: 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

Book Review: Inspiration and Incarnation

Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005).

Peter Enns, Old Testament scholar, author, and blogger, has stirred up the evangelical community with his book, Inspiration and Incarnation (Baker, 2005)Challenging evangelicals with a bevy of interpretive problems that he finds in the Bible, Enns proffers a new approach to reading the Bible that attempts to move past the fundamentalist-modernist impasse (14-15).  He suggests an incarnational analogy for understanding the Bible (17-18), and he explains how this model, which mirrors Christ’s humanity and divinity, better articulates Scripture’s concurrent inscripturation. 

I am not so convinced.  Let me summarize and analyze:

In chapter 1, Enns attempts to move past the “Bible Wars” and to provide a better way of reading the Bible.  The model he proposes is one that aims to avoid the strictures of dogma; one that instead reads the Bible in its own culture and presentation.  That sounds great, but just doesn’t work.  By ignoring the lessons learned from the modernist controversy, Enns heads in the same perilous direction–diminishing, if not denying, the uniqueness, unity, and inerrancy of God’s inspired Word. 

In chapter 2, Enns discusses Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) similarities to the OT documents and the impact that recent archaeological discoveries have had on Old Testament research.  While his survey of the extant material is itself helpful, his conclusions blur the uniqueness of God’s Word.  Enns compares Genesis 1-11 to the pagan myths of Israel’s neighbors, without advancing positions that retain God’s unique and direct inspiration of the biblical authors; he equates the OT law with the common laws of the ANE world, discounting their divine authority; and he shows how Israel’s Monarchic history may not contain the full accounting of historical events, which cast a shadow of doubt on the text. 

Taken together and without any opposing voice, Enns chapter leaves the reader with gaping holes in his ability to trust the veracity of Scripture.  Methodologically, he fails to present other evangelical and scholarly explanations for these matters, that have given more faithful, and in my opinion better explanations for the issues at hand.  G.K. Beale exposes this shortfall in his JETS article “Myth, History, and Inspiration” (2006), pointing to  D.J. Wiseman, Alan Millard, Meredith Kline, Daniel Block, and Richard Hess as better Old Testament interpreters.

In chapter 3, Enns highlights many source of diversity in the OT (i.e. Wisdom literature, Chronicles, and the Law).  To Enns diversity is not a commendable expression of God’s complexity in divine revelation, but a human problem that arises from competing truth claims–though “truth claims” may be too dogmatic and propositional for Enns.  These ostensible contradictions are better seen as divinely inspired tensions in Scripture that thicken the unity of Scripture than multi-authored inconsistencies. 

The intentional complexity and tension of the Bible can be seen in passages like Proverbs 26:4-5, which on the surface seems to present two antithetical statements side-by-side.  On further consideration, however, these opposing proverbs are better understood to give a balanced and situational word of counsel for thos handling a fool–sometimes you respond, sometimes you don’t (cf. Ecc. 3:1-8).  So then, Scripture is filled with tensive verses that add texture, clarity, and nuance the metanarrative, but it is an unnecessary conclusion to reject unity at the expense of perceived diversity.

Then in chapter 4, Enns addresses the issues of the New Testament interpretation of the Old.  He argues that NT authors employed the same interpretive methods as their Jewish counterparts in Second Temple Judaism without qualification. “What is true of the Wisdom of Solomon is true of the New Testament” (128).  So it seems that Enns is forcing on the NT writers the precise hermeneutic of their day, leaving no place for any kind of Spiritual leading (cf. 2 Peter 1:19-21) or revelation (cf. John’s apocalypse and Paul’s heavenly vision).  Now, his approximation of Second Temple Judaism with the New Testament does not require denial of the Holy Spirit’s involvment, but Enns fails to articulate any kind of divine revelation.  Rather, the New Testament authors, steeped in the culture of their day, are manipulaters of OT texts to speak a fresh word from God.

Consequently for Enns, the method of interpretation used by the apostles entails allegorizing and reinterpreting the OT text without respect to the OT context.  This creative hermeneutic is then endorsed by Enns as the way we ought to read and apply Scripture.  However, Enn’s “apostolic hermeneutic” looks like a train without any brakes.  What of authorial intent?  apostolic authority? and divine inspiration?  The result is more than just a hermeneutical spiral that correlates the biblical text with the reader, it fringes on a postmodern, reader-response method of interpretation that allows contemporary settings and local identity to redefine the passage of Scripture.

In the end, Enns book while attempting to read the Bible “honestly and seriously” (107) results in focusing on incarnation to the exclusion of inspiration–ironically,”inspiration” which is a part of the title, doesn’t even get a reference in the subject index. 

Whereas previous evangelicals have emphasized God’s sovereign inspiration of the Bible, and perhaps at times they have done this too mechanically (i.e. dictation theory of the inspiration), Enns goes too far the other way and ‘humanifies’ the Bible so much that Scripture’s uniqueness, unity, and inerrancy are left undefined and compromised.  Any biblical theology built on this foundation will have insufficient support to build straight;  inevitably the doctrines erected on this foundation will lean, totter, and fall. 

And I am not the only one to see this.  Most notably, G.K. Beale’s evaluation produced a 300-page rejoinder, The Erosion of Inerrancy in EvangelicalismTrevin Wax  also evaluates Enns doctrine of Scripture while providing a host of links that extend the conversation.

Sadly, Enns books stands in a long line of texts that seek to find a middle road between historically orthodox, protestant, and evangelical interpretations and all those competing models that “erode” the Biblical witness (cf. Gnostic, Catholic, Modernist, Postmodernist).  History teaches us that a middle road is not possible.  Only those systems of theology which begin and end with a full-orbed doctrine of Scripture–inspired, infallible, inerrant, authoritative, necessary, and sufficient–can ever produce and sustain over time doctrines that cohere with the content of Scripture.  All other attempts build with wood, hay, and stubble, and the results are disasterous.

May we not grow weary in contending for the faith once for all given to the saints.  The integrity of the Bible deserves our life and our sacrifice.  And as we labor,  may we continue to pray for those who teach us the Word of God and for ourselves that we would not be deceived into following the temptations to minimize God’s inerrant Word.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Three Views on the NT Use of the OT: Darrell Bock

nt-ot[In Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Peter Enns, Darrell Bock, and Walter Kaiser present three different approaches to biblical interpretation.  They address questions concerning sensius plenior, typology, Jewish methods of interpretation, matters of contextual interpretation, and whether or not we today can interpret the Bible like the New Testament authors.  Some of the discussion involves technical concepts and language, but anyone who reads the book will have a better understanding of matters to consider in reading the Bible in context.]

Darrell Bock: Single Meaning, Multiple Contexts and Referrents

Bock, Dallas Theological Seminary professor and recent lecturer at SBTS, offers, in my opinion, the strongest argument for putting together the Old and New Testaments.  He is absolutely committed to grammatical-historical exegesis that seeks to understand each author, book, and passage in context (like Kaiser); at the same time, he is attuned to the impact that historical context (i.e. temporality) has on reading the Bible, thus he pays attention to the interpretive nuances of Second Temple Judaism (like Enns); but in contradistinction to both of Kaiser and Enns, he employs a textually-rooted, progressively developed biblical theology.  This can be seen in two ways:

First in his six presuppositions for reading Scripture: The Bible is God’s Word, 2) The one in the many (corporate solidarity), 3) Pattern of history (correspondence or typology), 4) these are the days of fulfillment, 5) now and not yet (the inaugurated fulfillment of Scripture), and 6) Jesus is the Christ (111).  These six elements are necessary to read Scripture canonically.  Second, Bock shows great understanding of the multi-faceted ways that the OT is “reused” in the NT: prophetic fulfillment, typological-prophetic, authoritative illustration, principle, allegory (though Bock limits this to Gal. 4), and OT ideas, language, and summaries (118-121)

Still the most helpful element of Bock’s chapter is his biblically-derived demonstration of the way Scriptural meaning retains “stability” while experiencing referential change–hence “single meaning, multiple contexts and referents.”  Much like Richard Lints three horizons (contextual, epochal, canonical) in The Fabric of Theology (which I highly recommend), Bock shows from Acts 4’s use of Psalm 2, Romans 10’s use of Deuteronomy 30, and 1 Corinthians 7’s use of 2 Samuel 7 and Leviticus 26 that the sense always remains the same, but the referents may vary.  So that in the second example, the sense remains the revelation of God, but the referent changes from the covenantal law of Deuteronomy to Jesus Christ who is the telos of the law (Rom. 10:4).  This explanation of sense and referent was very helpful in describing how God’s word remains the same and yet develops over time and in history.

On the whole, there was very little that I found to critique of Bock.  Interestingly, even Kaiser’s final response lacked argumentative force.  He found a few things with which to disagree but finished saying, “Yes, the meaning of the Bible is stable.  Later applications of that meaning can expand the field of referents.  But whether there are ‘fresh meanings’… need[s] more work” (158).  On the whole, Kaiser and Bock are similar in the way that they see the NT recapitulating OT people, events, promises, etc.  What Kaiser calls principalizing and analogous, Bock speaks of as typological patterns.  In this, I think Bock is more helpful because he expounds the meaning of the text and he also sees how the text can be interpreted at varying levels–epochal and canonical.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Three Views on the NT Use of the OT: Peter Enns

nt-otIn Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Peter Enns, Darrell Bock, and Walter Kaiser present three different approaches to biblical interpretation.  They address questions concerning sensius plenior, typology, Jewish methods of interpretation, matters of contextual interpretation, and whether or not we today can interpret the Bible like the New Testament authors.  Some of the discussion involves technical concepts and language, but anyone who reads the book will have a better understanding of matters to consider in reading the Bible in context.

What follows is simply a synopsis of their arguments, plus a list of further reading.

Peter Enns: Fuller Meaning, Single Goal

Enns, former Old Testament professor at Westminster Seminary, before being let go because of his questionable methods of interpretation (cf. Inspiration and Incarnation), spends exorbitant detail on matters unhelpful for putting the OT and NT together–a 15 page discussion on Deuteronomy 33:2 and the problem of understanding the law, angels, and traditions in Judaism.  He emphasizes Second Temple Judaism as a pre-requisite for understanding the NT.  Understanding this historical period and its literature and worldview nearly trumps OT reading and understanding.  Shocking!  He writes:

Rather, from a hermeneutical point of view at least, it is better to think of the NT as part of a larger group of texts of Jewish provenance–all of which, despite their real and important differences, together make up a distinct but diverse collection of texts we call ‘Second Temple literature’ (178)

The problem with this is that Enns blurs the boundaries of canon.  He reformulates the NT documents into a portion of a larger and more important (?) body of literature.  He goes on: “The focus of this essay is more on similarities between the NT and other Second Temple texts” (178).  I thought that this book was about the Old Testament and the New?  Clearly, Enns is shaping his reading of the Bible along the lines of extra-biblical literature–this trend always leads to hermeneutical and doctrinal deviation.  This kind of deviation can be seen more evidently in his statement on the previous page (177) that again confuses inspired revelation and other Second Temple literature when he says that both are “God-given.”  Is this a 2 Timothy 3:16 kind of “God-given”?

To be fair, Enns does make some positive contributions.  His emphasis on reading the Bible eschatologically and in light of the death and resurrection of Christ show how important the whole storyline of Scripture is to understanding individual passages and the Bible’s inter-textuality.  Still, Enns roots all his meaning in the NT, almost stripping the OT of any content or standing on its own.  I appreciate his Christotelic view, but he begins in the wrong place.  It would be better to begin in Genesis 1 and move forward finding God’s progressive revelation of the Promised Seed, the son of blessing, the prophet like Moses, the royal Davidite; instead he goes straight to the NT and returns to explain the OT.  To borrow a technological metaphor, he makes the programs of the OT absolutely dependent on the applications of the NT.

In sum, he supports typology and sensius plenior and he makes mention of them in passing, but the takeaway from his essay is the need to understand the NT in the light of Second Temple Judaism and to read the Scriptures knowing the rest of the story.  After reading his section, I was more convinced of Kaiser’s exegetically secure position, that may lack modern nuances in interpretive method, but that exalts in the sufficiency of the Scriptures.  Moreover, I was appreciative of Bock’s recognition of Second Temple Judaism, but also his ability to put on the brakes and not be completely swept away by extra-biblical informants.

Finally, I will say that I appreciate Enns ecclesial sensitivity and pastoral admonition to take more time in church to teach our people the whole counsel of Scripture (216).  This concluding word is a fitting way to end a chapter on how to read the OT and the NT.  Since our churches are filled with biblically illiterate people today, we who teach God’s Word must be willing to patiently and wisely instruct them with all 66 Christ-centered books of the canon.  This is not optional, but essential and part of the task of being a faithful expositor–to help church members read the Bible better.

More to come…

 Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Zondervan Quiz, Three Views Book, and Other Resources on OT/NT Hermeneutics

This Fall Zondervan is set to publish another book in its Counterpoints series.  The book, Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, is a survey of differing ways evangelical Christians read the Scriptures.  Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary, Peter Enns formerly of Westminster Seminary, and Walter Kaiser formerly of TEDS and Gordon-Conwell are its three contributors. 

In preparation for this release, Zondervan’s Koinonia blog has set up a seven question quiz that can help you determine what position best describes your biblical-theological hermeneutic.  It will peg you as either a Fuller Meaning, Single Goal View (Enns), Single Meaning, Unified Referents View (Kaiser), or a Single Meaning, Multiple Contexts and Referents View (Bock).  According to my responses, I am the last–which means, that in reading the OT/NT, I consider the authorial intent of the Old Testament writers to have historical and literary significance for them and their audience in their varied Ancient Near Eastern settings.  At the same time, inspired by the Spirit, I believe that they were aware that what they wrote was eschatologically pointing forward to Jesus Christ.  In other words, they wrote better than they knew.  Peter says as much in 1 Peter 1:10-12 when he writes, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”   Likewise, this seems to be the way that Jesus reads the OT, identifying himself by means of these OT writers who pointed forward to him (cf. John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44).  Moreover, Paul and Jude employ this same hermeneutic when they read Christ into the OT (respectively, 1 Cor. 10:4; Jude 6).

All that to say, if these things interest you as they do me, and they should–putting the Bible together OT and NT is one of the most vital ways we can understand the God who has revealed himself and offered us salvation in his Son–then be sure to check out this multi-sided book.  In the meantime, you can also take the quiz here.

Other helpful resources on the subject include: G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson’s Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament; G.K. Beale’s The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Text? ; Graeme Goldsworthy’s Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics.

I look forward to reading the arguments in the upcoming Zondervan book, but i am still more excited to simply read my Bible and see Jesus in the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. 

Sola Deo Gloria, dss