Would Paul Have Made a Good Evangelical?

My good friend and exegetical provocateur, Peter Enns, asks the question Would Paul Have Made a Good Evangelical? He answers, “No,” because Paul understood and used the Old Testament very different to the way that many evangelicals use and understand it.

According to Enns, the reasons why Paul would not find a welcome from many evangelical seminaries and Bible studies is because:

For Evangelicals, the Old Testament leads to the Gospel story. For Paul, the Old Testament is transformed by the Gospel.

For Evangelicals, the Old Testament, read pretty much at face value, anticipates Jesus. For Paul, the Old Testament is reshaped in order to conform to Jesus.

For Evangelicals, the Bible is God’s final authority. For Paul, Jesus is the final authority to which the Bible must bend.

Overall, I think Enns raises some good questions about Paul’s use of the OT in light of Christ. In agreement, Paul was clearly not adverse to using typology, pesher, and even midrash in some instances – all standard Jewish techniques for interpreting their sacred traditions – and I agree with Enns that Paul’s hermeneutic is christotelic. Though I think that seeing that Old Testament as something that “leads to” or is “transformed by” Christ is a false dichotomy because both are true. I’m also uncomfortable with saying that Paul “manipulated” scripture (the way I might manipulate an college in-turn to fetch my dry cleaning for me), because Paul saw scripture as part of God’s will/purpose, he evidently recognized the possibility of authentic and inauthentic ways of interpreting the scriptures, and he was careful to locate scripture within a particular story that stretched from creation to Christ to new creation.

Any way, I should point out that Peter Enns and I will be exchanging views in a forthcoming book about Scripture with several other learned scholars.


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  • Andrew Wilson

    Thanks, Mike. What’s the book you’re working on together?

  • Peter G.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one that saw that as a false dichotomy. (His third point is too, in my opinion.)

  • Paul of Saul

    Paul was a Methodist, you prick!