November 23, 2017

Pete Enns: No Turning Back

Solitude, Chagall

Solitude, Chagall

No Turning Back: 5 Insights about the Old Testament from Modern Biblical Scholarship
By Peter Enns

Pete blogs at The Bible for Normal People

• • •

These 5 insights overlap a bit, but here they are.

(1) The Old Testament is an ancient Near Eastern phenomenon

A rather obvious point, perhaps, but worth putting at the top of the list.

Nothing has changed our understanding of the Old Testament more dramatically than what we have learned over the past 150 years or so about what Israel’s ancient neighbors thought and how they lived–and how much the Israelites not only resemble their neighbors but how indebted they are to modes of thinking that were well in place long before the Israelites ever existed.

No corner of the Old Testament has remained unaffected: stories of origins, cosmology, theology, cult (worship), psalmody, wisdom, prophecy.

The Old Testament cannot be treated in isolation from its environment.

(2) “Myth” is an inescapable category for describing portions of the Old Testament. 

Sidestepping the various definitions of myth people like to argue about, ancient mythic categories are self-evidently present in the Old Testament.

At times the Israelites applied these myths to their own worship (e.g., applying to Yahweh in Psalm 18 descriptions of west Semitic storm deities; Yahweh presiding over a pantheon in Psalm 82). At other times mythic categories were used to distinguish Israelite belief from that of other peoples (e.g., Genesis 1 vis-a-vis the Babylonian Enuma Elish).

Regardless of how they were used, ancient myths serve as a “conceptual structure” for how the Israelites understood their God, at least in various places in the Old Testament.

(3) Israelites did not write their history “objectively.”  

No writing of history is objective anyway, which is an idea few have trouble accepting—and the Old Testament does not escape that truth.

The Israelites wrote the story of their past not to talk about the past for its own sake, but to see their present in light of their past and their past in light of their present. The Israelites were storytellers.

That doesn’t mean the Old Testament is “devoid of history” or some such thing. But it does mean that the Old Testament gives us something very different than what we might call “history” today.

Put another way, #3 follows on #1 and #2.

(4) The Old Testament does not contain one systematic and consistent body of “truth” but various, and even conflicting, perspectives. 

We see this at work, for example, when we compare Israel’s two histories (the one contained in Samuel and Kings and the other contained in Chronicles); laws in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy that conflict; portraits of God’s actions that differ among the Psalms and wisdom literature (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes).

The Old Testament does not allow itself to be systemized into one smoothly consistent “body of teaching.” The reason is that its various writings reflect vastly different times and circumstances—which brings us to #5.

(5) The Old Testament “evolved” over time until it came to its final expression. 

The Old Testament, technically speaking, is a product of the Judahites in the centuries following their return from Babylonian captivity (529 BCE).

That does not mean the Old Testament was written out of whole cloth at the time. Much older writings and traditions were brought together and also combined with new literary creations. All of it was then edited together to form what would eventually become the Old Testament we know.

Israel’s Scripture came to be over time. David did not read the book of Genesis. The prophets do not say, “As we read in the book of Leviticus.” Whether or not the traditions contained in these books were known is an interesting and fruitful discussion, but that is not the same thing as whether the literary productions were in existence.

• • •

There is much much, more to the Old Testament than these 5 points, of course. And accepting the Old Testament as scripture doesn’t depend on fully working out these 5 points. In fact, whosoever wishes can safely ignore all of this and move on with their lives of faith. I mean that.

But when we want to dig into why the Bible “behaves” as it does, and especially if we are curious about engaging the Bible on a historical level, these 5 factors simply can’t be brushed aside.

Any notion of, say, inspiration or revelation that seeks to gain traction cannot be formulated in blissful isolation from or in antagonism toward these 5 points. The ship has sailed, the horse is out of the barn, cats are beyond herding, worms are out of the can—pick your metaphor.

Any “doctrine of Scripture” that does not address these issues synthetically—working with them rather than against them—will at the end of the day be of little help—and produce much harm—for Christians navigating the sometimes rough terrain of an ancient faith in a modern world.

[If you’re interested, I’ve written about some of these issues in more detail, especially herehere, and here.]

Comments

  1. Eckhart Trolle says:

    The same five points could be made about the New Testament as well.

    • ET,
      True. The same five points apply to the New Testament. Non-fundamentalist/non-evangelical academic scholarship does not turn back here either. Luke Timothy Johnson, who we were discussing a short while ago, does not turn back here. But even after these points are fully acknowledged for the Bible in its entirety, the Christian faith still stands on the experience of the power of the living presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Church and the world. Our faith is contemporaneous, not nostalgic.

      • I don’t see that the same five points, as stated, apply to the NT. The NT is not an Ancient Near Eastern book, does not make use of myth in the same way, and did not evolve over a long period of time. I’ll grant you, to some extent, the other two. But we are talking about two quite different animals here.

        • Daniel Jepsen says:

          Agree totally

        • Eckhart Trolle says:

          1. While the boundaries of the ANE are not clearly demarcated, as a work of Hellenistic late antiquity, the NT should be grouped with other contemporary eastern Mediterranean developments: neo-Platonism, the Mysteries, and so forth.

          2. Hello–a dying and resurrected Son of God, the product of a virginal conception, and whose sacrifice defines the axis mundi? What could be more mythical than that?

          5. Here I am thinking primarily of the Synoptics, whose textual evolution does parallel that of the Pentateuch (even if the time period is shorter).

          Yes, there are relevant differences, but these should not cause us to read the NT in a fundamentally different way than the OT.

        • I think ET is correct. I took his comment to mean that the main import of all five categories apply to the New Testament, in different ways and varying degrees.

          1) The New Testament is an ancient Palestinian phenomenon, forged at the intersection of the various Palestinian influences of the first century, including Roman occupation, and also influenced by its ancient Near Eastern background.

          2) Myth is an inescapable category for describing portions of the New Testament, and we are unsure in many cases whether some portions are mythological or historical accounts, however many educated or uneducated guesses we may venture.

          3) The Christians did not write their gospels, or give their scriptural witness,”objectively”. No attempt at a purely historical account would be “objective” anyway; but besides that, the intertwining of mythology and ostensibly eyewitness accounts that formed the new literary genre of “gospel” is so inextricable in the New Testament that we frequently cannot be sure where one ends and the other begins.

          4) The New Testament does not contain any one systematic and consistent body of “truth”, but various, and even conflicting, perspectives.

          5) The New Testament was forged in a short period of time under extreme cultural, social and historical pressure, during era of crisis for Palestine and the Jewish people, much of which we undoubtedly know less about than we think we do. The New Testament was shaped in ways we may never know by the situation of crisis in which came into being.

          • ET and Robert agreed.

            The methodology is sound and should be the same. And no, the Gospels and epistles are *not* “objective” – anything but.

    • Well said. And that’s okay!

  2. Burro [Mule] says:

    Combined with the preceding article, does this mean that the tools of the Academy are the tools by which we define our faith, Jewish or Christian?

    I am no big fan of peer review. Peer review killed both Socrates and Christ.

    • Eckhart Trolle says:

      The tools of the academy are the tools of reason itself.

      Peer review nowadays only eliminates articles submitted for publication–not their authors. (For such beastly behavior we should look to religion.) Also, peer reviewers (unlike theologians) rarely claim to possess the unchanging, absolute truth.

      • Oh, come now, the problem is not religion – the problem is human beings. Or need you be reminded of how science and scientists fared under the Soviet Union?

        P.S. – why are you here? 😉

        • A good argument could be made that dialectical materialism in the Soviet Union was tantamount to a form of religion. The messianic hope for the future, the insistence that history would inevitably lead to the Utopian classless communist state, turned the revolutionary Soviet state into a religious replacement for traditional religion. It also provided all the cover for exploiters and power-hungry manipulators to operate that traditional religion provides. The distance between Calvin’s Geneva and the Soviet Kremlin was not all the great.

        • “P.S. – why are you here? ?”

          Keep on trying, Eeyore. Captain Faulty might be the only person around these parts can’t or won’t answer that question. Might even be one of them there evangelical atheists, you never know. Persevere.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            I’m here to troll you with my sensible views!

          • >I’m here to troll you with my sensible views!

            Well, yes, exactly how many senses are you using to attain your view? Five? Maybe you are lumping in common sense. That will fly you to the moon in a rocket ship. Might even let you work up a systematic theology. Won’t get you very far in the Kingdom of God Jesus announced. You might go a little faster as you troll if you pulled up your anchor. Just a suggestion.

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        Reason is just another something brains do, like fear, lust, and intuition. According to the modern wisdom, it evolved to allow us to navigate life on the savanna. Accordingly, why give it such a swollen, transcendent role?

        Universities weren’t founded until after the Schism. Look it up. Previously, the organ of knowledge had been prayer, and its institution, the monastery.

        • Daniel Jepsen says:

          Steven Pinker in How the Mind Works:

          “We are organisms, not angels, and our minds are organs, not pipelines to the truth. Our minds evolved by natural selection to solve problems that were life-and-death matters to our ancestors, not to commune with correctness or to answer any question we are capable of asking.”

          He presumably meant that to be taken as a true statement…

          • This. And it summarizes what unsettles me most about the post generally: The magisterial use of reason. Interpreter as judge of text, rather than servant. It is a severely disproportionate emphasis on the human element in divine inspiration, to the point that only the infallible ivory tower can tell you which words can be taken to mean what they say, and which are the product of human ulterior motive. It drives me to inerrancy. Almost.

          • Definitions of “inerrancy” or “inspiration” aside, how does inerrancy negate the element of human reason?

          • Pinker is an evolutionary biologist, so yeah, I’m sure he meant exactly what he said. That’s not to be critical of either his perspective or yours; I’ve found some good things in his writing, as well as things I disagree with. But as far as the science is concerned, I can only disagree with the research findings, not do further research myself. So.

          • It doesn’t, Mike H. Why would anyone want to negate the element of human reason? In my comment, I’m just using it as a reactionary extreme, not necessarily a solution. Reason we all must do, but we could also stand to be a bit more skeptical towards it for its tendency to be coopted by ulterior motives. Every man does what seems good in his own eyes. There must be a way in which our own reason does not become the highest authority, but is able to be corrected by something above it.

        • I think that how prayer and a lived faith intersects with modern scholarship is an important topic, but these points can stand or fall on their own merit. They aren’t going to be prayed away. Biblical scholarship can’t be unlearned. Unless you’re saying they’re a faulty set of points derived from faulty human reasoning and should be prayed away?

          To me these 5 points are pretty obvious. It’s just a matter of what we do with them and how far we’re willing to take it.

        • David Cornwell says:

          Reason is part of the whole. Reason alone leaves us with a lack of balance. Jesus, who was being addressed as “teacher,” gave the following answer: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”

          When our love for God is expressed according to the dictates of this commandment there is balance, with prayer being part of it. Many of the great schools of our country understood this in the beginning. Sometimes the loudest voices we hear are speaking from the edges of imbalance thus creating harmful tension.

          And then the teacher said “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” A plain and simple truth? When there is real love for God, then this will follow. This will be the test.

          • Yes! Reason is important, devil’s whore that it is. We all need to recognize the Wesleyan quadrilateral (scripture, reason, tradition, experience) because if we’re honest we all use all four. It is helpful to understand how we prioritize them, and not let the wrong one override the other.

          • David Cornwell says:

            Although I believe the quadrilateral can provide some guidance, to call it Wesleyan (such I’ve done many times) is probably wrong. Actually it builds on Anglican theological tradition and was given its modern expression and name by Albert Outler, a Methodist theologian. Some say he was the first real Methodist theologian. He taught at Yale, Duke, and Perkins. Also some argue about how true it actually is to Wesley’s teaching. However it did make its way into the Methodist Discipline and so is officially “Wesleyan” and Methodist.

            And when I write stuff like this, I start hating theology!

          • If I remember correctly, David, I probably learned the concept from you anyways. Methodist, Anglican…. file this one under “all truth is God’s truth.” As far as I’m concerned, it’s a Lutheran idea, so long as it is prioritized in this order: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience.

        • Eckhart Trolle says:

          You could say the same about conscience. If a life of reason doesn’t attract you, fine–no one will force you, and you will have plenty of company.

        • The Imperial University of Constantinople, founded in 425 a.d. – yeah, Mule. I don’t know where you got that piece of misinformation. Care to point us to a source?

          • And yes, it wasn’t incorporated, which is what you must be referring to per Westen universities. Because the university of Paris had been around for a fair while prior to the scism, and probably others as well.

            This isn’t a case of the schism “causing” anything – it’s much more complicated, and, i think, one of many cases where “correlation does *not* equal causation” is clearly true.

          • Burro [Mule] says:

            Uh, how about C.H. Hoskins The Rise of the Universities

            Only in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries do there emerge in the world those features of organized education with which we are most familiar, all that machinery of instruction represented by faculties and colleges and courses of study, examinations and commencements and academic degrees. In all these matters we are the heirs and successors, not of Athens and Alexandria, but of Paris and Bologna.

            There is evidence of cathedral and monastery schools prior to this, true, but no independent Academy where a direct unbroken line of inquiry existed prior to the incorporation of the University of Bologna in 1088.

            My argument, which you have forced me to clarify, is that prior to the Schism and in Byzantine theology afterwards, theology was conducted not by the perusal of texts and archaeological evidence, but by prayer and asceticism. Indeed, the Schism is more likely to be a result of the growing difference in mindsets between the “mystical” East and the “rational” West than it is a cause.

          • Note how he emphasizes incorporation – much like the guild system. In Paris, it was an unofficial extension of the cathedral school long before it was incorporated. (You know, Gown as opposed to Town and all that.) And even though the Imperial University of Constantinople was never incorporated (in 8ther words, was always under the state’s aegis, never an independent entity), it was also a continuation of Plato’s academy, in many ways – had the same extensive curricula in medicine, law and philosophy as the Westetn universities. Who knows what might have happened if it hadn’t bern destroyed during the Fourth Crusade? (It never recovered from the Westetners’ safk of the city.)

            I cannot understand whwt this has to do with the great schism, since all kinds of loose confabulations of craftsmen, teachers, etc. were moving toward incorporation, and anyway, most profs were priests, most students in minor orders or priests themselves. again, it’s complicated and correlation does not = causation.

          • I’m not talking about theology – you brought up universities, which (like the cathedral schools and monasteties) taught a grab-bag of subjects. It appears that there were *many* more or less informal schools in Constantinople as well – learning was not confined to church precincts there, eithet. (If it had been, the Imperial University would never hsve come into existence.)

      • Daniel Jepsen says:

        “The tools of the academy are the tools of reason itself.”

        This made me chuckle…

        I hope you really are trolling, and aren’t that naive.

        • Eckhart Trolle says:

          Of course academia is full of the usual sort of human foibles and frailties. But these things tend to work themselves out eventually. The record of academia as a system of creating, evaluating, and perpetuating knowledge speaks for itself.

    • No Mule, the academy does not define our faith, but it just means human knowledge grows, and we have to try and make sense of it.

      • But who decides which parts of the OT are myth and which aren’t, if not our academics, who are clearly more intelligent today than anyone who lived in the past, right? This is an unspoken core tenet of process theology. CM, you know, I’m a simpleton, and far from fundamentalist…but I believe that scripture isn’t a combination of myth and truth, but instead, a combination of mystery and truth. Some things I choose to accept on faith rather than understanding.

        This is dangerous water to tread. If we can cherry pick the OT and divide it into myth and fact, what prevents us from doing the same to the NT? Then we can erase all that messy discussion of miracles and virgin birth and angels and resurrection. If you reduce faith to the lowest common denominator, then it ceases to be faith, and is only acceptance of ideas that are culturally and intellectually palatable

        I equate process theology as a form of modern day gnosticism. There are certain spiritual things revealed to certain people that others just can’t understand or know, hidden knowledge that proves we’re more intellectual, more spiritual in a logical sense, more in tune with God than others.

        (Heavy sigh) I miss the Liturgical Gangstas. Wherefore art thou, Father Ernesto?!?

        • *There are certain spiritual things revealed to certain people that others just can’t understand or know…*

          Except for the part where these scholars offer instruction in process theology for anyone who wants to come and hear them (well, once tuition is paid…), publish their ideas in books you can get at most public libraries, record their lectures for download on iTunes Podcast, etc. . .

          A mystery cult this ain’t.

          • A mystery cult would be “me my Bible and the Holy Spirit is all I need for truth”. Beware those leaders who amass a following.

        • It’s not that people are more intelligent, but they have the collective work of the past to stand on, while the ancients had only themselves. While it is good for the dwarf to remember that he only sees so far because he’s standing on the giant’s shoulders, and respect the things the giant has shown him, that doesn’t erase the fact that the dwarf can still see just a bit farther.

        • Also, I miss Fr Ernesto as well.

        • Burro [Mule] says:

          Concerning myth and fact, I would tread carefully here.

          It is not the same as “lies” and “truth”.

          • Indeed. We need to be careful that we all use our words the same way, or else we’ll all just talk past each other.

          • The cynicism isn’t unique to Lee, unfortunately. I get where he’s coming from, and understand, even if I disagree and wish it weren’t so. I understand fully there is a mental block at play here, but it can be worked through or around.

            No one is cherry picking. This isn’t gnosticism. This is just doing actual Bible Study. It’s pulling a map out of the glove box. It’s looking up words in a dictionary. It’s talking to the neighbors about what happened.

            No, gnosticism is any form of “me myself I a Bible and the Holy Spirit = all truth”. And that’s tough to admit.

            Years spent doing it wrong. I, personally, was utterly wrong in what I believed and how I studied and what I did. I admit it, I’m a bit ashamed of it still, but I’m learning from it. I’m correcting myself, and hopefully humble enough to realize I was utterly wrong once, and I can be wrong again. Constant learning, studying, course correcting. And I deeply regret where I’ve led others astray. But now, hopefully, by faith, I can right some of it.

            The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. I’ve lost all my certainty. There’s plenty of doubt. But the important stuff I’m finally, finally, after years of fundamentalist thinking, can start believing by faith.

            I’ve got hope.

        • Myths can be truth, just as much as facts can be truth. Mystery, on the other hand, cannot be truth, but must remain what it is.

          Who decides what parts are myth or truth? Bad question. It’s not a placement of authority thing, like we are putting “man” in authority over “God”.

          No one decides what is myth or fact/truth; they simply are. Or, the original author decided way back when.

          When I was diagnosed with gout way back when, it was just simply that. Did I have gout before I was diagnosed? Yes. My doctor’s naming it didn’t create it, my understanding and acceptance of having it didn’t create it, I always had it. I could choose to deny I have it, but I’d still have it.

          Same, in a sense, with the scriptures. They are what they are. They are their own authority, and won’t change whether we say if they are myth or truth. We just need to understand them.

          • Well said.

          • Yup. Very much agreed, Stuart.

            I’m not a huge C.S. Lewis fan, but i like his idea of True Myth.

          • Which he (Lewis) derived from his study of literature (Anglo-Saxon, medieval, etc.).

          • Not that I presume to speak for Pete Enns, or anybody like him who is saying similar things, but I don’t hear him saying that it’s about separating what is myth and what is truth. It is more about acknowledging that there is myth, but like others have said here, that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

        • Maybe there needs to be some clarification on the nature of “myth”. My understanding is that myth doesn’t mean “an attempt at objective history that has been proven to not be meticulously factual.” It’s not meant to carry negative connotations.

          It’s a genre that’s at home in the ANE world. And as Enns points out a lot in his work, it’s a genre that was intended to serve Israel in their present. It’s value is found in that purpose. It doesn’t mean you figure out what doesn’t meet the criteria of “objective historical fact” and throw it out as worthless. Myth is an ancient category that deserves to be read in its own context.

          As Karl Barth said about the serpent in the garden, “Madam, it does not matter whether or not the serpent really spoke; all that matters is what the serpent said.”

          Generally speaking, I’d prefer to see this openly discussed than try to cover it up for fear of slippery slopes (not saying that you’re putting forth that argument).

          • I need to read more Karl Barth, he seems like a smart guy who said a lot of smart things. And made all the right enemies for it.

          • The problem is that myth is frequently confused with history, and presented as history. This creates a lot of mischief, because people who believe myth is history have often stood in the way of the growth of real historical knowledge. They’ve also stood in the way of growth in scientific knowledge for the same reasons.

            I’m sympathetic to people who feel it’s important to know if the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus are historical or mythological, but I’m afraid we just don’t know where historical account ends and mythology starts in the New Testament. It’s entirely possible that you could’ve been there on Eastern morn, and seen nothing special happen in or around Jesus’ tomb; that wouldn’t mean Jesus did not rise, nor would it mean that he’s not alive and present with us now.

        • Is process theology inherently bad? Or does it just lead to uncomfortable conclusions or even truths we’d rather not confront or acknowledge?

          When a new fact, a new truth comes up, we have two options: we can accept it, or we can ignore it. We don’t always have the option of denying it.

          My dad was just diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It now is what it is. I can’t tell him he doesn’t really have it. And I can’t ignore it if I want him around longer in this world.

          This past year I’ve parted ways with my childhood religion. I realize I no longer believe any of it, while still believing in Jesus. I can choose to keep on ignoring my disbelief, or I can choose to accept it. I accept it. I no longer believe.

          Same with theology. Dispensationalism was made up by Darby? Accept or ignore. Young Earth Creationism is largely Henry Morris and Ellen White? Accept or ignore. Inerrancy made up by disgruntled fundamentalists in reaction to modernism and higher criticism? Accept or ignore.

          I won’t deny the truths and the facts. And I won’t hide behind spiritual talk, “I choose to believe God over man!”, etc. I do choose to believe God. I do choose to believe all truth is his truth.

          And it leads me here.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            Process theology, being essentially a matter of religious opinion, is perhaps not the best example of progress in scholarship. Think instead of secular biblical studies.

          • Perhaps it would be good if you would stop telling people what to think.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            What brought that on?! It’s only an invitation, not a command.

          • Yes, I guess that’s true in this case. My apologies.

            But my general impression of you is that you do want to tell people what to think.

        • Lee, I don’t think you’ve got the right dichotomy here — “myth vs. truth.” Myth is more of a genre than a description of whether it communicates truth or not. The point is that the ancient Israelites very likely thought in categories that were prominent in their time and culture and not in categories that are prominent in ours. That doesn’t mean they believed the content of what their neighbors believed, just that they tended to communicate their beliefs in the context of their own milieu.

          I don’t find that idea to be “dangerous” at all. In fact it makes perfect sense to me that God would speak to people in the past in forms of literature that were familiar to them.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            If Christ’s resurrection is mythical–on the order of Leda and the swan–this suggests that it didn’t “really” happen (at least, not in the way that Christians tend to insist it did). Come on, you’re usuing weaselly language to avoid an uncomfortable conclusion. If you are told a certain story, but Snopes says that it is an urban legend, it would never occur to you to say “Oh, it can be both true and an urban legend.”

            • ET I think your argument about NT “myth” is fallacious. The mere fact of other, perhaps similar myths in the Greco/roman world does not show that there is any relationship between them and what the NT authors wrote. The OT is quite different in that regard.

              You need a good dose of NT Wright my friend. The Gospel accounts of the resurrection are the the furthest thing from mythological in genre or presentation.

              Plus you are neglecting the fact that the NT authors had a ready source of material out of which to form their beliefs about Jesus in the Old Testament scriptures.

          • They used literary genres, tropes, metaphors and all the rest thst were common to the ANE civilizations.

            That isn’t about belief per se, though the writers used all of these things to communicate (and record) their beliefs.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            And yet, a lot of Christians somehow insist that Christ literally, physically rose from the dead. Don’t they understand that this is only mythically true?

            • The NT authors are quite explicit that they were not following myths but were giving witness to realities they could access empirically. Paul goes as far to say Chritianity stands or falls on this claim.

          • Mythology can reveal truths, but it can’t reveal historical truth. When myths are being presented, or understood, as historical truth, then a mistake is being made, and history is not being truthfully presented or understood.

          • CM,
            Myths express real phenomenon, but not necessarily phenomenon that history can describe or know. The risen Jesus, the living Jesus with us now, is the core of my faith; that doesn’t mean that I believe that if I’d been there on that first Eastern morning I’d have seen events happen as the gospels narrate them. Those descriptions seem to me to be extremely mythological in character.

            It seems to me that the closest thing we have to something like a “factual” account is the one that Paul offers of his conversion in the First Epistle to the Corinthians and in Galatians, and these contain none of the fantastical details of the gospels. But I’m not sure that the word “empirical” fits the human and religious import of the events he outlines in brief; there is something mythological even in his telling, something compressed and poetic rather than matter-of-fact and linear. I have to say that my own faith is grounded in the early Pauline witness, and I see the gospel narratives as mythological expressions and embellishment of the community written at a later time.

            • Robert, I wholeheartedly disagree. The Gospel “resurrection” accounts (actually the accounts of the empty tomb and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus) are simply not characterized by a lot of “fantastical details” — rather, they exhibit something more like the kind of confusion and mystery that one would expect if one were actually to be a part of such events. Even a few things like Jesus “appearing” or “disappearing” might be due to this. For the most part, the accounts are down to earth and sensory. Indeed, I think they pretty much reflect Paul’s own testimony in 1Corinthians 15 about the first witnesses to the risen Christ.

          • CM, no, they did not have any way of proving these things “empirically.” Especially not Paul, who never saw Christ during his earthly lifetime.

            It is faith – even though all the early witnesses say that they saw him with their own eyes. That is not historical, or empirical, either. It is faith talking. (I believe he is real, that he rose from the dead and that they did see him, but c’mon – my training as a historian says, no, no, no – not historically verifiable, because there are no independent sources stating same.)

            • Wrong. They said, as John put it: “what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands.”

              The Gospel of Luke highlights this with the narrative of Jesus meeting with the disciples:

              “He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. (Luke 23:38-43)

              The Gospel of John reinforces it through the story of Thomas:

              Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

              These and other examples are self-conscious attempts to state that they saw, heard, touched, and observed regular human behavior in a risen Jesus. This is as far from “myth” as can be.

          • “Those descriptions seem to me to be extremely mythological in character.”

            Agreed, Robert. Probably the closest to the reality of it is Mary Magdalene’s failure to recognize the risen Christ, though that has strong elements of mythology about it, too. But it makes a point – we might have seen but not understood what we were seeing, or even have noticed it at all.

          • I’ll just note that in this case, I do not believe that “eyewitness” = “empirical” and leave it at that.

            • Numo, dictionary definition of “empirical” — “depending upon experience or observation alone, without using scientific method or theory.” I said the NT affirms consistently that the resurrection (or better, its aftermath: the fact that Jesus was alive after having died) was “accessed” empirically by the witnesses and that this was was they testified to. I did not say they could “prove” it empirically, which is something different. Please read carefully.

          • CM, thanks – i messed up as fwr as the definition, then went and looked at it and kinda modifi3d what i said.

            The thing is, looking at this with a historian’s hat on, it is impossible to either prove or disprove the veracity of these accounts, due to the total absence of other primary sources that agree with the NT writers. As is, there’s a passing mention of Jesus in Josephus, but the rest is… silence. Personally, i have no doubt that the writers were telling the truth as it was handed down to them, but it cannot be vetified as *historical fact.* the beginnings of xtianity: that can be corroborated from numetous primary and secondary sources, though obviously the stuff desvribed in Acts and the pastoral letters is unique. We cannot prove the histoticity of the resurrction, no matter how many people are mentioned as eyewitnesses. That is a thing that one either believes, is up in the air on whether or not it took place, or doesn’t believe. I do believe, but i think it’s all fair game for study and analysis (meaning the texts, etc., not belief).

            I hope that’s clearer than what i said earlier. I got ahead of myself, big time.

            • It is clearer Numo, thanks. But please hear what I’m saying too. I do not think we can “prove the veracity” of the resurrection. And I don’t think Christian people should think they can or be held to that standard. The question at hand is whether the Gospels represent eyewitness testimony about something people witnessed directly and tried their best to explain (and proclaim) through the Gospel accounts, or whether those accounts are “myths” written to try and express some spiritual truth about the living Christ. If we take them seriously at face value, I don’t think the second is an option.

          • Also, i am all too accustomed to people who assert thst evetything revorded in the NT is proveable historical fact. I’m not saying that you said that; rather, that i misunderstood what you said. My apologies!

          • Regular human behavior?

            Walking through walls, magically appearing at daybreak on a lake shore, inviting an apostle to reach into his open wounds, eating fish as a demonstration of normality (John Updike wrote somewhere that eating to demonstrate physical normality, when one is neither hungry nor needs food [or are we to imagine that Jesus was physically hungry and needed nutrition after the resurrection?], is actually a pretense of normal human physicality, and therefore Docetic), having one’s whereabouts and condition announced by angels at one’s tomb….This is not regular human behavior.

            The gospels give highly stylized and imaginative accounts of the post-resurrection visitations; those accounts certainly strive to convey the normal physicality of the risen Jesus, but fail to do so because they subordinate the normal to the liminal at every juncture. That is most likely because the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus were originally highly liminal events, which had nothing of normal human physicality about them. The writers of the New Testament would later add legendary/mythological embellishments that had circulated in the Christian community to the core liminal experiences, which are characterized by disorientation rather than normality.

            This is understandable, as the community would be seeking ways to reduce the disorientation of its experience of the risen Jesus, an experience that transcends the categories of normal physicality and history. Such mediation by way of legendary and mythological expressions was inevitable, but they are not factual accounts, however much theological truth they may convey; it’s a mistake to treat them as such.

            • I disagree. Whatever “stylizing” there is I would attribute to the fact that the Gospels are a form of proclamation, and the narratives are indeed shaped to communicate a “gospel” message of one form or another. But as to content, the constant emphasis in these stories is on the physicality of the risen Jesus and the exchanges people had at the level of their senses. However, it is the continuity yet discontinuity of Jesus’ physicality that was so mysterious and puzzling. Yes, most certainly, there was something new, different, and unexplainable here. That they specifically did not turn to “myths” or some kind of “spiritual” or “theological” explanations in the resurrection narratives is striking to me. The closest thing to that, perhaps, is the Emmaus Road account.

              Here is a quote from N.T. Wright which I find satisfying. Please excuse the length. Perhaps I’ll reproduce it as a post one of these days.

              Supposing that by Paul’s day all early Christians believed that something extremely strange had happened to Jesus, the strangeness consisting not least in this, that though he was bodily alive again, his body was somehow different. Supposing Paul was providing a theoretical, theological and biblical framework for stores which were already well known — stories which, indeed, he is summarizing when he quotes an already official formula at the start of 1 Corinthians 15. Supposing the stories in Matthew, Luke and John — though almost certainly not written down until after Paul had dictated his last letter — were what they were, not because they were a late writing up, or wholesale invention, of what post-Pauline Christians thought ought to have happened, but precisely because they were not. What if they represented, with only light editing, the stories that had been told very early on, without offering theories about what sort of thing this new, risen body might be, without attempting (except at the level of minor adjustments) to evoke wider theological themes, without adding the element of hope for one’s own resurrection, and in particular without the biblical quotations or allusions that might have done for these stories what was done for so many, so recently in the same books. Supposing the reason nobody evoked Daniel 12 in the Easter stories was that everybody knew that the risen body of Jesus had not shone like a star? Supposing, wider, that the reason nobody evoked the Old Testament in the gospel accounts of the resurrection was that there was no immediately apparent point of connection between Jesus’ resurrection and the narratives of Jewish tradition? Supposing, in other words, that these stories have the puzzled air of someone saying, “I didn’t understand it at the time, and I’m not sure I do now, but this is more or less how it was.” (The Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 610f)

          • There is an excellent book that might help in all this discussion. It is “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony”, by Richard Bauckham.

          • CM, if i were faced, right now, with someone who died a violent death and who had bern dead for some time, standing in my LR, having gotten inside it by no means i can acvoung fot, and this person was *different* from the one who died that violent death, in wsys i couldn’t really even begin to understand, i think I’d be entirely justified in experiencing *severe* disorientation and emotional and physical shock. Real, medical shock.

            Think about it.

            There is absolutely nothing approaching “normal” life as we know it in those accounts, any more than is the case with the Transfiguration. We are so used to this material that we don’t see how truly shocking it is. Notthat Jesus intended to shock anyone… but it’s a lot like those OT theophanies where people fall to the ground. No wonder!

          • Account for. Tricky Android keyboard, this.

          • Yes, numo. This would be the reason why the gospel writers would repeatedly have Jesus, or angels, saying, “Fear not!”, as a preface to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. They were disorientating because they were not “normal”, but an entirely new mode of Jesus being present, and this disorientation caused fear. The writers of the New Testament naturally sought to dispel and reduce that fear by mediating the disorientating memory of the appearances with narratives that supported normality. Communities cannot survive on the liminal edge continuously for very long; such unconstrained liminality produces psychoses.

            I think it can be interpreted as a mercy of God that such a situation of liminality did not continue indefinitely, but became routinized and normalized in the scriptural accounts and in the sacramental life of the Church. Christ remains completely present among us, in the entirety of his being, but the initial post-resurrection founding events have been dialed back to provide for the sane continuity of the Church. That doesn’t mean that on occasion the strangeness of those events is not manifested in present events that share their character; the strangeness of the risen Christ has occasionally been experienced throughout Christian history, up until the present. But this is not the norm, nor do I believe that God intends them to be the norm.

          • Robert – I think it might be simpler than that – that what was important to them was showing that yes, Christ is risen, and yes, he appeared. Emphasizing their own reactions isn’t the point, and isn’t, I think, something that would have been important to them.

      • The academy doesn’t define our faith. The council doesn’t define our faith. The church doesn’t define our faith. The tradition doesn’t define our faith. The apostles don’t define our faith. The synods don’t define our faith. Moses doesn’t define our faith. Josiah (or whatever king brought “back” the Law) doesn’t define our faith. The post-exhilic authors don’t define our faith.

        Our faith has always, forever more, been defined between two parties: ourselves, and our God.

        We just find like minded people we tend to agree and get along with to walk besides.

        • And sure as heck The Fundamentals don’t define our faith…

          (had to leave a parting shot)

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            For most of you, it’s just a matter of degree. Fundamentalist believe hundreds of fantastic notions, while others limit themselves to a few major creedal articles. But this doesn’t actually make it any better!

          • –> “For most of you, it’s just a matter of degree. Fundamentalist believe hundreds of fantastic notions, while others limit themselves to a few major creedal articles. But this doesn’t actually make it any better!”

            I think I’m going to disagree with that. I don’t have a problem with atheists, I have a problem with militant atheists. I don’t have a problem with evolutionists, I have a problem with militant evolutionists. Likewise, I don’t have a problem with Christians, I have a problem with militant Christians.

            The degrees do matter,

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            “Militant” suggests bellicosity or at least stridency. Look at it this way: it doesn’t really matter whether I claim to have spoken with fairies a hundred times, or just once. It’s not like fifty would be a compromise.

        • Burro [Mule] says:

          “The academy doesn’t define our faith. The council doesn’t define our faith. The church doesn’t define our faith. The tradition doesn’t define our faith. The apostles don’t define our faith. The synods don’t define our faith. Moses doesn’t define our faith. Josiah (or whatever king brought “back” the Law) doesn’t define our faith. The post-exhilic authors don’t define our faith.

          Our faith has always, forever more, been defined between two parties: ourselves, and our God.”

          That’s a nice turn of rhetoric, Stu. John Chrysostom would have approved. It is, of course, profoundly wrong from the big-O Orthodox perspective, but wrong in an understandable way, coming as it does from a resident of the most individualistic, Nominalist society that has ever existed.

          It was all I could do to keep from pumping my fist in the air, Normal Show-style, when I read that.

          • Burro [Mule] says:

            ++Regular Show

          • I view it as defining reality. Of course all those things listed define our faith. But, end of day, it’s still you. You give the power to the King. You give power to the Lord. Whether you can “not” give that power is another issue, and here in America we do have that power (hence, “individualism”), but ultimately, it’s still you.

            Who else exists but you? Technically, only you exist, from a very limited view. It’s not like you’ve ever physically been outside your body. And we choose to exist corporately.

            Love God, love others. Forces you to realize things are bigger than you, and there are others out there just like you.

          • “…and we choose to exist corporately.”

            Well, Stuart, I suppose at some point on the timeline of life we can make that choice, but not fully and rationally, if you will, until mid-20s, assuming an upbringing that minimizes brokenness. Even if a person doesn’t believe in God, that person’s life is contingent: we don’t choose to be born, and it’s very easy to “prove” that without not only physical care, but also – supremely – love, a person will fail to thrive and die very young.

            How do we come to the point of valuing “love God, love others”? This too is dependent on input from outside of us. We simply don’t “go it alone” if we want to be a whole and healthy person, by any standard. It’s good to recognize that there are “others out there just like you” – but how do we come to recognize that? And where has the power of individualism led us?

            Dana

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Peer review killed both Socrates

      Which, if Plato’s recounting of Socrates is accurate, was a legitimate outcome [academically – not advocating killing people for bad ideas]. There is a lot of very dodgy and magical thinking in Plato and his Socrates.

    • And prayer resulted in certain things being done to Hypatia of Alexandria.

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        The knowledge of which we have from two primary Christian sources, and no pagan. One is very sympathetic of Hypatia and condemnatory of her treatment at the hands of the Alexandrian hierarchy. This was made into a glossy, high budget piece of anti-Christian propaganda by an anti-clerical Spaniard starring Rachel Weisz, which I enjoyed very much, thank you.

        The other you don’t want to know about.

        Hypatia’s treatment appears to have been the result of her becoming an unfortunate pawn in an intramural power struggle between opposing Christian factions.

  3. If the same 5 points could be said about the new testament where does that leave Christians in regard to the validity of Christ’s deity, death and resurrection? Is the “scarlet thread of redemption” too systematic?

    • It leaves us where we’ve always been: Do you believe those things to be true, or not? If you do, then you believe the NT to be accurate in acknowledging them, at least. If you don’t, then the NT isn’t accurate on whichever subject you dispute, even though it may be accurate on others. This really is where faith comes in.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Ditto. It is both frustrating and fascinating that people who do not have any reason to care seem to care so much.

        If I think something is rubbish – such as Plato [see above] – I pretty much just move on and don’t dwell on it. It is only something I turn to [to refute] if it gets shoved in my face.

        • For the record, I’ve started reading Plato recently, and for the most part, I’ve been digging it. Aristotle too. Some day, I hope to work through all the Great Books.

    • Eckhart Trolle says:

      This too is mythical.

      • Yup. It’s a backwards woven thread. Only really there in a fully completed work.

        It’s a feature, not a bug, lol.

        • Eckhart Trolle says:

          So you’re comfortable with believing in the symbolic, but not literal, resurrection of Christ?

  4. Daniel Jepsen says:

    While I don’t disagree necessarily with any of the five points (though the fifth seems to be over-stated and goes beyond the evidence), I do have one concern: Without an accompanying emphasis on the uniqueness of the first testament, in particular how the Spirit used all the points mentioned for a unique redemptive purpose, we reduce the first testament to simply another ANE document.

    • ” . . . we reduce the first testament to simply another ANE document.”

      Perhaps in the same way Pinker sez “We are organisms, not angels, and our minds are organs . . . .” I don’t know why it surprises me he would say that. The rest of what he says seems true enough. But we inhabit an organism and our brains are organs. The rest of the story involves Spirit.

      • Daniel Jepsen says:

        Yes, I agree that our brains are organs. But Pinker reduces them to be organs formed by natural selection alone. This reduction-ism leads to his following paradox (which he does not even seem to notice):

        1. He makes a truth claim about a philosophical question (the ability of human reason to find truth).
        2. The claim he makes undermines the ability to make truth claims about philosophical questions.

        • Pinker seems to equate mind with brain, which would undermine his whole investigation, and surprises me in someone as smart as he is who thinks so much outside the box. I guess materialism is a requirement if you want to be considered a respectable scientist, tho I don’t think that follows. His paradox may be absurd logically speaking, but not so much in the world he lives in. To me, equating mind with brain is absurd. What a trip it must be for someone like that one day to suddenly realize their body has died and they are still thinking about it.

          • I am almost entirely certain that Steven Pinker is an atheist, and I don’t find it surprising at all that he would equate mind with brain because he has a PhD in Computational Psychology. Think of that! I took 12 hours of Philosophy of Mind courses in college, and I can tell you no currently tenured professor would disagree with that assessment. And who would? Unless you believe in some very magical thinking (a la Descartes), then there is no reason to believe the “mind” or “soul” is anything other than an extension of the brain.

            Which is fine, because as far as I’m concerned, Christianity is a religion that emphasizes the “oneness” of the body and soul, not their duality. Just as our G-d is a triune, so can all of what we are be reduced to “this body”. When Christ came back, he wasn’t a ghost ( a dis-embodied spirit), but an eating, touchable, person. We believe in a resurrection, a bodily afterlife.

            Which is all a bit of a diatribe. I love Pinker and think that his book “Better Angels of our Natures” should be required reading for every human on the planet. That being said, he’s maybe not the best defender of religion or religious thinking.

            The “tl;dr” of Steven Pinker is that he is specializes in thinking about the connection between our “mind” and our “body”, and that his field has essentially agreed that “Truth” is (even if real) un-accessible, and that the “mind” is an awkward extension of the brain that doesn’t seem to realize it is tethered so.

          • *To me, equating mind with brain is absurd.*

            Why? 240 seconds of oxygen deprivation to the brain seems to do a pretty good job of destroying the mind, too.

            *What a trip it must be for someone like that one day to suddenly realize their body has died and they are still thinking about it.*

            Is there any evidence that this occurs? As you say, materialism is pretty much a requirement for being a respectable scientist. Want not-materialism? Probably better to be a not-scientist.

          • Burro [Mule] says:

            What 240 seconds of oxygen deprivation destroys is the ability to use language, which is the only evidence for the existence of other minds.

          • *What 240 seconds of oxygen deprivation destroys is the ability to use language*

            Or, y’know, clean and feed yourself, walk, etc.

        • Pinker’s a hardcore evolutionary biologist, so it follows that that is how he thinks.

    • Would the first testament be unique were it not for Christ?

      • Of course it would. Just like every other ANE religious document.

        Tongue in cheek aside, they are all unique in some ways. The question is not if, but how.

    • Eckhart Trolle says:

      The Bible is a unique work of genius in the same way that the Iliad is a unique work of genius. Isn’t that enough? Alternatively, the Bible (like your spouse) might be special because it is *yours*.

  5. Why does everything need to be Five Points? lol

    • Enns is a Presbyterian, last I checked. Four points is out of the question! 😛

      • I believe he is attending some form of Anglican church now – not sure if it’s TEC or other.

        Dana

    • –> “Why does everything need to be Five Points?”

      1. Having only one point would look downright silly in presenting a case for something.

      2. Two points would tell everyone you couldn’t be bothered with thinking up more than two points.

      3. Three points would say, “Yeah, I did my homework and got some good stuff, but there’s more I need to share.”

      4. Anything less than five points would be viewed by many as oversimplification; I mean, c’mon, couldn’t you come up with one more point!?

      5. Anything over five points would be viewed by most everyone as overstatement and embellishment; I mean, c’mon, you expect me to read more than five points!?

  6. 1. Yes and no. It is a divinely orchestrated ANE phenomenon. It is not directly analogous to any other ANE document, nor is its authority equal to them, for any disciple of Christ. Neither is the content of its message anything similar. It borrows forms, terms, and metaphors, but the substance is uniquely that of the Judeo-Christian faith, which are themselves very unique in the field of religion.

    The Old Testament cannot be treated in isolation from its environment.

    …does the first century interpretation of it count? Are they still “part of its environment,” or did they lack the scholarly development to properly understand the OT? I think you will find progressive academia kind of split on this. If your hermeneutic cannot start with the assumption that Christ and his apostles rightly understood the OT in their NT teaching, I just don’t have time for it. You are treating the text as suspect by default. But if they did get it right, then we have what we need most in the NT to understand what is necessary from the OT. The developments of the last 150 years of study did not reveal any secret knowledge that the church was previously incomplete without. That’s the kind of claim that emerging cults and sects make.

    • It is a divinely orchestrated ANE phenomenon.

      Isn’t this a statement of faith? It’s not strictly evident without faith.

      If your hermeneutic cannot start with the assumption that Christ and his apostles rightly understood the OT in their NT teaching,

      Isn’t this also faith? That they have a divine level of insight that mere humans could not have possibly have had during the time?

      • Of course it’s a statement of faith, because his presupposition is that the texts of the Hebrew Bible are divinely inspired. I don’t nevessarily disagree, although

        – I’m a big fan of historical and socio-cultural analysis

        – it is, imo, important for these texts to be read in their own right, without the superimposition of religious beliefs

        In other words, read ’em as the literature they are; we owe the authors and the texts that much. *then* deal with them in the context of later beliefs. Because if you cannot see what *they* (authors and editors) believed, then you’re missing the point (agsin, imo). This is one of the things thst drives me nuts about typology.

      • Yes, Stuart. It is absolutely a statement of faith. Christianity is a religion, not a science. The whole idea is that since this Jesus guy died and rose again, he probably isn’t lying when he claims to be God, and thus we can rely on whatever he teaches us to be true. Nobody [should] believe the Bible on the basis of its historical and scientific accuracy. Christians believe it because of Jesus.

    • The developments of the last 150 years of study did not reveal any secret knowledge that the church was previously incomplete without. That’s the kind of claim that emerging cults and sects make.

      isn’t it more akin to finally finding the murder weapon, with DNA and fingerprints intact?

    • Miguel, I just can’t buy your last statement. To me it’s very simple. Human knowledge grows. What we learn often changes our perspectives on what we thought previously. Now we either have to exempt Scripture from that process or deal with the new things we learn and try to figure out what in our views might need changing.

      On the other hand, no one has commented on what Pete said in the post when he says we can actually just ignore all this and go on with our lives of faith if we so choose.

      But if we’re going to seriously examine the Bible (which is Pete’s job, by the way), we can’t ignore findings that have become widely accepted as factual.

      • CM – very much agreed.

      • The growth of human knowledge modifies our understanding, and interpretation, of the content of revelation.

        • Yes. But it doesn’t change the actual meaning of revelation. Despite the fact that reality is perceived through the subjective, what is being imperfectly perceived is an objective truth. Unless you are prepared to believe that there is no such thing as a wrong interpretation, there must be a true one, and though we all must continue seeking that, we shouldn’t have to be constantly reinventing that wheel.

          • “though we all must continue seeking that, we shouldn’t have to be constantly reinventing that wheel”

            ….unless, of course, something happens that shows us what we thought it meant, it can’t mean, or rather never did mean, what we thought it did. Miguel, you are sounding like my teen age son who knows everything and is actually right about enough to ever consider admitting he might be at times be wrong.

      • The last statement, really? Are not Islam, Mormonism, and all other restorationist movements cookie cutter examples of this? Obviously they aren’t based on a legitimate “increase in human knowledge,” but the idea that “Christianity went off track with this and got it wrong, and remained so until we finally came along to set it right with our new ideas that we claim are actually the original” is too much presumption for me to take seriously. Sure, modern ANE research can shed new light. But what progressive scholars would do with that to justify the conforming of Christian doctrine to social trends is just playing petty games. I’m open to changing any of my “views” on the OT, but I am not open to negotiating with how Christ views it. He is the final word in hermeneutics, not scholarly ANE research. It’s about theology, not history; soteriology, not archaeology.

        I appreciate Enns generosity, but until I seen these findings and ideas used to justify something counter-cultural for a change, I remain cynical and unimpressed. The magisterial use of reason devolves to a wet finger to the wind when we neuter the text of its ability to actually correct our views. We should approach the text seeking it to tell us what to believe, rather than bringing a truckload of conclusions from other disciplines to it and demand that the message of the scripture conform to them. Science and history are not authoritative in the realm of theology any more than the Genesis account settles the issue of evolution in the domain of science. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

        • Eckhart Trolle says:

          I happily accept that various biblical texts disagree with my views. I’m sure that Paul would be disgusted by gay marriage, for example. Doesn’t mean he’s right. And whatever kind of cosmology informed the composition of Genesis, I’m sure I wouldn’t agree with it.

        • “Christianity went off track with this and got it wrong, and remained so until we finally came along to set it right with our new ideas that we claim are actually the original”

          I can tell you with certainty that this is not Enns’ presumption, nor is it mine. Those who come with this presumption are obviously not responding to new knowledge but using knowledge to suit their own ends. And of course you’re right, many progressive scholars use new findings to justify crazy stuff.

          You say, “We should approach the text seeking it to tell us what to believe, rather than bringing a truckload of conclusions from other disciplines to it and demand that the message of the scripture conform to them.”

          Again, that is not the agenda here. I think both Pete and I would say that the issue involves approaching the text as it is rather than as we would like it to be or think it should be.

          • Mike, I don’t for a second question your intentions, and have not trouble believing the sincerity of many scholars like Enns. But we all must remain open to the possibility that our ideas have presumed this, whether we intended it or not. When overturning a historic Christian teaching on any particular issue, the odds are generally stacked against us.

            Consider, for example, your quest to “approach the text as it is rather than as we would like it to be or think it should be.” We have to bear in mind that much of our thinking about the text has been shaped by Church tradition wrestling with the text for centuries and should not be discarded lightly to reinvent the wheel in light of contemporary scholarship. The text itself must the the primary and final word on its self-definition. What the Bible says about itself tells us more about what it is and what it means than ANE scholarship can, precisely because it contains the perspective of the best interpreter to walk the earth. What Jesus says about scripture must be the final word when it comes to understanding what the text is, if we are to be his disciples. Recent discoveries are supplemental, at best.

            Most importantly, despite the increase in human knowledge and new discoveries, Jesus does not ever change, and the Gospel does not ever change. No new discovery can overturn these. There are these constants we must bear in mind when approaching the text that serve as anchors to prevent the whims of scholarly trends from sending the substance of our faith on a roller coaster ride of uncertainty.

    • Eckhart Trolle says:

      Christ and his apostles, in common with other first-century apocalyptic sects, read all kinds of tedentious things into the OT. The concept of a messiah, for instance.

      • The concept of a messiah was by no means unique to Jesus and the apostles. Post-exilic Judaism was characterized by many groups looking for a coming savior. And all looked to the Tanakh for their clues. I happen to think it’s pretty easy to make a case from the Tanakh for messianic hope, and it should be. Those who put the Hebrew Bible together were trying to help Israel make sense of their identity, their history, and their future in light of the Exile and further subjugation by the nations. They edited the Tanakh to be a book that is characterized by having an eschatological, and at times even apocalyptic outlook. The specific interpretation of how that was all going to come to pass was debated, but it’s hard to deny it was there. One main fact set Jesus apart from the others: his disciples found an empty tomb and witnessed him alive after he died.

      • You mean Genesis 3:15 has absolutely nothing to do with the concept of a Messiah? What is it talking about then?

  7. I look at how my Church examines all the controversy over sacred Scripture and arrives at this statement:

    “Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.” (Dei Verbum)

    the key words are ‘FOR THE SAKE OF OUR SALVATION’ . . . which clearly is NOT the same as the kind of extreme fundamentalist ‘inerrancy’ that demands devotion to literal interpretation of portions of Genesis

  8. 2. Just because something resembles the form or genre of a myth, it doesn’t therefore follow that absolutely none of it is true. Going from the observation that the story of Jonah and the whale sounds incredulous to the conclusion that the man Jonah never even existed is too far a leap, even if for no other reason than that myths evolve and probably originate with at least some basis in reality (a war that was actually fought or an actual historical city/setting). I’ll give that much of the OT just reads like mythology. But it doesn’t follow just from that that is must certainly be so in all cases. I could write a mythical sounding account of factual events that happened yesterday, and this wouldn’t invalidate their reality. The opposite extreme of the genre, such as what you would find in today’s encyclopedias, simply wasn’t around for the Israelites to make use of at the time.

    At times the Israelites applied these myths to their own worship (e.g., applying to Yahweh in Psalm 18 descriptions of west Semitic storm deities; Yahweh presiding over a pantheon in Psalm 82).

    Well let’s just be clear here: Did the Israelites apply these myths, or did the Holy Spirit apply them? Is the OT plagiarized, or did God co-opt the human creativity in false religions to help communicate a true one?

    I don’t think it is fair to say that pagan ANE mythology served as the conceptual structure for how Israelites viewed God. The Torah is their conceptual structure. Not all ANE mythology pre-dates all of the OT. Sure, they were influenced by the culture they lived in, but the OT is not an amalgamation of this culture that would have produced an entirely different message had it originated elsewhere. To assert that much is to by implication insist that God had virtually nothing to do with its authorship or formation.

    • Another thing to consider is that these Middle Eastern cultures all originated from Noah as a source. This would imply their view of God would have had the same origins. Maybe in episodes like Psalm 18, Israel is borrowing concepts from these cultures, that they are familiar with, to demonstrate that the one Lord is the God who ACTUALLY has the attributes that were being attributed to the false Gods of the surrounding nations.

      • That would be not too dissimilar to the approach Paul took at Mars Hill. However, I’m not sure if modern research in genetics would support the idea of all ANE cultures tracing back to Noah. I heard there was a major conflict there, but I haven’t looked into it much.

  9. 3. How much of a hand did God have in the formation of the historical books? Is it all “facts bend to fit the narrative,” or is God himself communicating eternal truth through it? Obviously the exact number of heads eviscerated in any particular battle isn’t the “eternal truth” these books were meant to communicate, but then it’s only fair to say that if modern historical research disagrees with any of these details it doesn’t necessarily overturn Christian doctrine.

  10. 4. “Perspectives” don’t “conflict” in the same way that assertions, dogma, and facts do. I’m completely fine with drastically different “portraits of God.” In fact, I think this is simply necessary for us to get a small handle on who this mysterious being is. But calling this “contradictory” is too much of a strain for me.

    Christianity was never primarily concerned with being “systemized into one smoothly consistent body of teaching,” until the Reformed came along. It is enough that the doctrines it claims can be shown in the text, whatever other perspectives have room for disagreement in various schools of interpretation. No portraits of God show him as evil or finite. There is diversity of imagery, but still an odd consistency to this diversity.

    It not entirely accurate to equate these sorts of shades of meaning with contradiction and err. None of these supposed differences rule out any of the propositions contained in the creeds. But more importantly, there is no “body of teaching” of “systematic theology” in the OT, because seeing one there would be anachronistic. Authentic Christianity is built on dogmatic theology, not systematic theology. But Enns comes out of a sort of “systematic fundamentalism” that his conclusions appear at least a bit reactionary against.

  11. Number 5 I am completely OK with, and I would apply this to the NT as well. Clearly neither are the book that fell from the sky, like the Koran or the Book of Mormon. But if we believe they are inspired of God (as Jesus appeared to), than any theory of inspiration must have room for the Holy Spirit to have been active in the formation of the book from “rough draft” or early fragment until final canon.

  12. Points 4 & 5. I think Miguel is “hitting the nail on the head” with his comments above. Even though the OT may contain some mythic type stories, they are there for a dogmatic reason. Exaggeration & grand-standing may be part of Middle Eastern culture to make a point ? Thus some details in some stories may be exaggerated. However, the important thing is that Jesus, the Apostles & the following church, all affirm large portions of the OT, thus it is authoritative whether it has some dubious history or dubious miracles. Either the Holy Spirit is at work in guiding the church into “all truth” or not. Don’t forget Marcion, who denied the OT (because it portrayed a schizophrenic God) , was condemned as a heretic.

    • I would just add that it is very cynical to assume that anything that seems like exaggeration or grand-standing necessarily must be exactly that. This seems to come from the presupposition that God can not, does not, or will not intervene miraculously in human affairs. This is skepticism, not faithfulness. We must have room in our ideology for God to act in God-like ways. And on the other hand, if it turns out that some of the stories were exaggerated or whatever, that doesn’t mean the text is full of contradiction or err. It’s simply a literary consideration.