The Bible Is Not the Center (RJS)

The Bible has always played an unimpeachable role in Christianity … It is not, however, the central focus of Christian faith. That position belongs to God, and Christians are called to trust him. … Coming to the realization that the Gospel is not at stake with every interpretive challenge will encourage a fruitful dialog between religious and critical readings of Scripture. – Peter Enns, (p. 159-160)

The final essay in the new book by Marc Zvi Brettler (Brandeis University), Peter Enns (Eastern University) and Daniel J. Harrington (Boston College), The Bible and the Believer: How to Read the Bible Critically & Religiously is by Peter Enns. Following Brettler’s Jewish view and Harrington’s Catholic view, Enns looks at a Protestant view of scripture and biblical criticism. Because Protestantism covers a broad range from the very liberal (for whom biblical criticism is no problem) to the very conservative (for whom it is heretical), he chooses to focus on the broad middle, that portion of Protestants who take scripture seriously but who also have interest in the ways in which biblical criticism and Christian faith can (or must) be in dialogue.

Enns begins by discussing a bit of the history describing how we got to the present situation. He looks at the concept of sola scriptura developed in the reformation. He describes the  challenges of the 19th century, those introduced by science (the age of the earth and Darwin’s publication of On The Origin of Species), archaeological discoveries (especially ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Canaanite texts), and biblical criticism (especially textual and source criticism). This history provides some context for the discussion of the relationship between critical and religious readings of scripture that follows.

Areas of Conflict. Enns sees two major areas where Protestants need some re-thinking as they seek an effective way to synthesize a religious reading of scripture with biblical criticism. The first is the creative way in which the New Testament authors interpret the Old Testament text. They simply did not approach or use the text the way that modern Protestants approach and use the text. We’ve discussed this in a number of posts including Paul’s (First Century) Use of Scripture and Out of Egypt? … Say What? among others and so will pass on to the second area of conflict.

The OT and the Problem of History. The second major area of conflict Enns outlines involves the historical accuracy (or not) of the OT text. A major point, one accepted by most scholars, is that “the Old Testament authors do not recount events as modern historians do but as storytellers, … [thus] intersection between the biblical text and historical events must be discerned on a case-by-case basis.” (p. 149)

The assumption that the text must be free from historical “error” to be the inspired Word of God is a modern assumption imposed from outside, a presumption of what the bible ought to be, not an assessment of what the Bible is.

Presumably, what is operating under the surface is an assumption that good history writing (the kind God would certainly engage in) would be up to our modern expectations of accuracy. But as we saw in the matter of the New Testament’s use of the Old, imposing modern assumptions onto ancient texts creates more problems than it solves. Protestants must be willing to learn to be comfortable with how the Bible actually behaves rather than presuming how it should behave and then massaging the data to align with that theory. (p. 150)

Enns is an Old Testament scholar, his dissertation (Harvard ’94) is on the book of Exodus. He has written commentaries on Exodus and on Ecclesiastes.  Here he uses the biblical account of the exodus to illustrate the historical concerns that crop up in a “typical” Protestant reading of the Old Testament. That there is a historical memory behind the account of the exodus is entirely plausible, even likely. That the account we have in the book of Exodus lives up to modern views of the historical accuracy to be expected in “good” histories is much less plausible. That ca. 2 million Hebrews (600K men plus women and children) left Egypt at a time when the total population of Egypt was ca. 3 million strains credulity. But these details aside, the biblical account of the exodus is a powerful text with deep religious significance. Among other things Enns describes how the account of the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea is an account of a cosmic battle where Yahweh defeats, with ease, the gods of Egypt. Exodus 12:12 makes this explicit.

For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and I will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am YHWH.

Most Christians simply pass right over the last half of this verse… against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am YHWH … it has no impact. But it is a very important key to the meaning of the story of the exodus from Egypt. As Enns puts it:

Exodus is a battle scene between Israel’s God and the gods of Egypt.  Israel’s God – the God of a first homeless and then enslaved people – marches into the territory of the superpower of the day, toys with its kings and gods, and then delivers a crippling strike in the tenth plague. The final blow, as we saw, occurs at the Red Sea. Yahweh splits the Red Sea, as he had split the sea/chaos in primordial times, thus defeating Egypt’s entire army and bringing freedom to Israel (Exod 14:15-18)

Again, whatever historical core there may be to the exodus story, the story itself is clearly addressed in literary conventions of the time, which includes nods to stories from other ancient cultures. It is a noble enterprise, which I genuinely support, to continue to explore the basic historical reliability and plausibility of the book of Exodus. But, at the end of the day, we are left with a story that does something other than simply report events. Exodus is a theological statement that uses idioms of the day to paint a portrait of Israel’s glorious beginnings and of the God they serve. (p. 155-156)

Whether you find the interpretation Enns gives convincing or not, it is a great starting point for conversation. Protestants need not and should not accept lock, stock, and barrel, the current conclusions of critical scholarship. As Enns notes a bit later – “Not every critical reading of Scripture is convincing or of equal value. Biblical scholarship has its share of trends and sloppy thinking.” (p. 160) But there is much of value to be learned from critical scholarship – and we may miss some deep religious significance and insight if we dismiss it out-of-hand and focus on modern expectations for histories. Discerning engagement and dialogue are key.

So how does Enns wrap this all up? With a personal reflection on his journey through college, seminary, graduate school and beyond. There are, he suggests, three options for the believer when it comes to religious and critical readings of the Bible: avoidance, defensiveness, and synthesis. Synthesis is, Enns suggests, the best way forward.  And this has led him to some valuable lessons:

1. The Bible is not the center of the Christian faith. The Bible plays a central and essential role in Christian faith, but it is not the focus or the foundation of our faith. God is the focus and the foundation. “Scripture bears witness to God and what he has done in Christ, but Scripture’s witness-bearing role should not be confused with the one to whom Scripture bears witness … Coming to the realization that the Gospel is not at stake with every interpretive challenge will encourage a fruitful dialog between religious and critical readings of Scripture.” (p. 159-160)

2. Fear can quickly derail the dialogue between faith and critical readings of Scripture. Critical readings are not always right but critical scholarship has also brought us considerable new and important insight into the text. Fear can prevent the believer from engaging the scholarship with discernment – a development that impoverishes us all.

When dialogue is stifled and aggressive responses quickly follow – whether by popular opinion or prevailing power structures – lurking not too far beneath the surface is an unstated fear: familiar, protective, theological boundaries are being threatened. (p. 160)

This fear prevents the careful study, open debate, and back and forth interaction necessary to develop a clear and robust faith in the modern world. Such a faith is possible. The modern myth that reason has eliminated the possibility of a rational faith is a false myth. But such a faith hard to find when fear rules the roost. Enns gives his experience but I will add a note of my own here. Synthesis is the only way forward. Avoidance arising from fear is counter productive. It leads to a fragile and bracketed faith. When one both knows what one is “supposed to” believe and that one does not believe much of it there is a constant unhealthy tension, something like walking a tightrope. It is next to impossible to be either comfortable or an effective witness when this is the case.  Defensiveness, also arising from fear, is even worse. The arguments, quite frankly, border on the ridiculous. Protestantism must learn to carry on a profitable dialogue with critical scholarship taking a posture of engaged discernment and careful study.

3. An unsettled faith is a maturing faith. Spiritual struggles are an important part of anyone’s faith. This is something well recognized throughout the history of the Christian church and remains true today.

In fact, spiritual alienation can be a period of necessary spiritual purging of one’s views of God and the Bible that have become caricatures, mere reflections of one’s ego that need to be left behind. Such periods may feel like a loss of faith when, in fact, they are merely exposing an immature faith. (p. 161)

The last may be the hardest lesson of all. We have come to expect clear answers and a happy ever after acceptance. But life seldom provides such finality or clarity. A healthy faith grows and matures, at different rates and in different directions for different people, it doesn’t stagnate within a one-size-fits-all simplicity.

The goal of The Bible and the Believer is to demonstrate how critical and religious religious readings of Scripture can coexist. The essays and responses show how three scholars from three different traditions have found a fruitful synthesis. A book well worth reading.

Should a reverent approach include the realization that Scripture is an ancient text produces in an ancient context? How might this change the understanding of Scripture?

How should religious and critical readings  of scripture be in dialogue?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

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  • J.L. Schafer

    Thanks for another fantastic article.

    “How should religious and critical readings of scripture be in dialogue?”

    Dialogue doesn’t happen between systems of thought (except in a metaphorical sense). It happens among persons. I opened up to these ideas about Scripture a few years ago. What clinched the deal for me was not the intellectual soundness and reasonableness of these views (although that is hugely important). The tipping point came when I attended a two-day seminar taught by Peter Enns. I saw his face, listened to his voice, and watched him move. What I observed was a very intelligent, sincere and likeable man who is committed to Jesus Christ and to the essentials of the Great Tradition, a man who wants to know more about the gospel and is mining Scripture to that end. Now I pay close attention to Pete’s opinions, not because I think everything he writes is correct, but because I sense his honesty and integrity.

    Because of discussions like these, my faith has in certain respects become unsettled. I am less inclined than ever to believe that I know how to approach the Bible properly. So when I approach the Bible, I now do so with greater trepidation and fear, knowing that I have to depend all the more on God’s guidance and grace, whcih brings me closer to God himself.

  • RJS,

    Sadly, you embrace Enns’ “valuable lessons.” The first unbiblically separates God from His Word, thereby diminishing His Word:

    • The Bible is not the center of the Christian faith. The Bible…is not the focus or the foundation of our faith.

    However, the message to both Israel and the church is that we love God by loving and obeying His Word. Our relationship with Him has always been measured by our response to His Word:

    • John 15:7: If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.

    • John 15:10: If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.

    • John 14:21-24: Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him…If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

    You leave us wondering how we are to obey Him who requires us to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:22-24) if the Word is no longer central and we are left in a state of uncertainly – the product adopting your “synthesis” approach. Enns warns us against having any concern or fear when “protective, theological [or Biblical] boundaries are being threatened.”

    Instead, Enns and you exalt the idea of an “unsettled faith.” However, it seems that you are both very settled in certain ways – in uncertainty, synthesis, the non-centrality of the Bible, and evolution. It seems instead that you prefer that WE would be unsettled in our Biblical convictions.

  • It is odd that Enns, or anyone living in the 21st century, would not read the Bible through Jesus’ eyes. This is all the more true if we are Gentiles.

  • Rick

    “The Bible plays a central and essential role in Christian faith, but it is not the focus or the foundation of our faith. God is the focus and the foundation. “Scripture bears witness to God and what he has done in Christ, but Scripture’s witness-bearing role should not be confused with the one to whom Scripture bears witness”

    Generally speaking, I don’t think that many people actually confuse God with Scripture. They understand that the focus is God. The issue comes with the truthfulness of Scripture, since God had a role in inspiring it.

    As Daniel Mann mentioned in #2, Enns does seem to separate God from Scripture. For Enns then, what is the role of the Holy Spirit (God/Trinity) in the writing of Scripture? How is Scripture “central and essential” in its role?

  • scotmcknight

    Daniel, when Jesus said those words in John 15 did he mean the OT, the NT, or what he had himself said that was not in Scripture (yet)?

  • Scot,

    As you well know, Jesus had a very high view of Scripture, regarding it as the very words of God:

    • Matthew 4:4: Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on EVERY WORD that comes from the mouth of God.'”

    • Matthew 5:18: “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until EVERYTHING is accomplished.”

    • Luke 24:44: “EVERYTHING must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

    Furthermore, in many ways, Scripture informs us that its interpretation is not beyond the understanding and application of the common man. Therefore, we need not wait for the disputations and “syntheses” (however illuminating they might be) of the experts and scribes of the law in order to believe and obey it:

    • Romans 10:6-8: But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU; IT IS IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming.

  • Justin

    Daniel – I didn’t see an answer to Scott’s question there.

    Secondly – how does John 1 play into this, if Jesus is the word?

  • scotmcknight

    Daniel, I agree; Jesus believed the Torah/Scriptures were God’s Word. Your listing of Scriptures does not answer my question.

  • Alan K

    Daniel, what is the relationship between Jesus Christ and scripture? And is what way is scripture the Word of God?

  • RJS

    Rick (#4)

    I’ll let Pete speak for himself on his view of the role of the Holy Spirit.

    As for me … the Holy Spirit has played a key role from the beginning. But it is in relationship between God and his creation. Inspired scripture records this relationship – it only rarely claims to record “the exact words of God” delivered to any individual. The real issue here is whether we let scripture teach us what it is or impose outside ideas based on what it “must” (so we think) be.

    I find it very helpful to remember that scripture reveals God, it is not our foundation but a lamp to our path to illuminate the foundation. Wright, in his books on Scripture, makes a similar point about the authority of scripture.

  • RJS

    Rick (#4)

    One more comment – while most may not completely confuse “God” and “Scripture”, it seems to me that anytime a person suggests that we can only trust scripture on the resurrection if we also trust it on a six 24 hour day creation and so forth, the logic treads dangerously close to equating God and Scripture. This is the kind of logic that Enns is arguing against. The Gospel does not depend on every hermeneutical decision.

  • Rick

    RJS #11-

    “it seems to me that anytime a person suggests that we can only trust scripture on the resurrection if we also trust it on a six 24 hour day creation and so forth, the logic treads dangerously close to equating God and Scripture.”

    I think there suggestion is more in line with the logic of what is “true”. If God is truthful, and inspired Scripture (through humans), then it will be true. Therefore, the issue of YEC is one more of “truth” and genre, rather than “equating God and Scripture.”

  • Josh Welker


    I sense the fallacy of equivocation here. Conservative evangelicals make this one all the time. You are equating three different ideas: the Word of God (ie John 1) who is Jesus, the Word of Scripture, and the semantic term “word” that is used in various places in the Bible, such as the passages you cited. In your argument you are essentially using these three terms interchangeably and assuming that the Bible does as well. That is quite disingenuous.

    Furthermore, it is a disastrous anachronism to say that Jesus, by reverently studying Scripture, adheres to a “high view of Scripture,” which is essentially a modern Protestant invention that involves inerrancy and epistemological authority claims.

    I would say that Enns is very correct to separate God from Scripture because God is not Scripture. That view is pure idolatry. In John 1, Jesus is referred to as the Word of God, a metaphysical Being sent from God as His messenger. Scripture is not the Word of God in that sense, and to equate Scripture with the Johannine Word of God is both idolatrous and quite academically dishonest.

  • Scot and Alan K,

    Everything that Jesus uttered is Scripture – the Word of God:

    • John 6:63: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”

    • John 12:49-50: For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

    Consequently, when He sent out His disciples, He instructed them to teach everything that they had been taught:

    • Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey EVERYTHING I HAVE COMMANDED YOU. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

    This is a far cry from what Peter Enns and RJS are recommending:

    • “The goal of The Bible and the Believer is to demonstrate how critical and religious readings of Scripture can coexist.”

    Instead, one has to be subordinate to the other. Paul declared that all other truth claims must be subordinate to Scripture (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Jesus warned about what would happen when we have two masters:

    • Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money [or today’s critical consensus].

    Inevitably, one will have to suffer compromise.

  • scotmcknight

    Daniel, you cannot possibly mean what you say: “Everything that Jesus uttered is Scripture — the Word of God.” So when he learned mathematics and how to speak Aramaic and what his mother’s relatives names were and when he asked directions … whatever he said was Scripture? Jesus spoke; a fraction of what he spoke shows up in the New Testament; what is in the NT is Scripture.

  • Josh Welker


    Read my above comment on equivocation. Again, you are equivocating again on the verbal words spoken by Jesus and the Bible. Just because we use the term “word” to refer to both does not mean that they have the same theological significance. To say that Jesus was making a statement on hermeneutical methodology in those verses is just nonsensical.

  • Alan K (and Justin):

    Alan, you asked, “What is the relationship between Jesus Christ and scripture? And is what way is scripture the Word of God?”

    I’m not exactly sure what you are getting at, but let me take a stab at it. There are many verses that describe the nature of the Word of God:

    • 2 Peter 1:20-21: Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

    This tells us that Scripture is not fundamentally man’s word but God’s because it is the Spirit that moves the writers to write what they did.

    According to Jesus, the Spirit is also the ultimate author of the Word of His Apostles:

    • John 15:26-27: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me

    • John 14:25-26: “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

    If this is the case, then the RJS and Enns’ recommendation is out of line:

    • “The goal of The Bible and the Believer is to demonstrate how critical and religious readings of Scripture can coexist.”

    Indeed, make use of scholarship and teachers, but the Word of God must remain pre-eminent! (Please see my comments above.)

  • Josh,

    I am not claiming that God and Scripture are identical but rather inseparable. The way we respond to Scripture is the way we respond to God. The way we love God is to love His Word. Here are a couple of verses that demonstrate this connection:

    • “Why did you DESPISE THE WORD OF THE LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own” (2 Samuel 12:9-10).

    By despising His Word, we despise Him! Here’s another:

    • “But anyone who sins defiantly…blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he HAS DESPISED THE LORD’S WORD and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him” (Numbers 15:30-31).

    In short, we cannot love God when we fail to abide in His Word. Contrary to the position of Enns and RJS that:

    • “The Bible is not the center of the Christian faith. The Bible…is not the focus or the foundation of our faith,”

    We are to be Scripture-centered as we are God-centered.

  • Scot #15,

    If you can answer my question, then I’ll answer yours, as irrelevant as it might be:

    “Did Jesus ever sin?”

  • John I.

    Daniel, Jesus said that HE is “the way, the truth and the life”; he did not say that the Bible was the way, the truth and the life. So we have God himself telling us what is central. Furthermore, many generations of people were able to obtain salvation without all of the revelation that we have, so it is obvious that the complete revelation that we have is not essential to salvation (there were no scriptures until at least the time of Moses, and no New Testament until years after Jesus died).

    It is also worth pointing out that we do not have any scriptures exactly as they were written, so it seems pretty obvious that omnipotent God isn’t concerned that we have scripture exactly as he gave it.

    Consequently, scripture is not as central as you seem to argue.

    In addition, the verses you quote do not support the argument that you want to make, and you do not explain how they might provide support. For example, the quote “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love” does not refer to the commands of the New Testament because it did not exist at the time Jesus spoke. It referred only to his spoken words (of which we do not have exact quotes), and he only gave us two commands anyway: (1) love God, and (2) love others as he loved us (i.e., to death, even for enemies).

  • Josh Welker


    You say that “the way we love God is to love His Word.”

    I think that borders on the idolatrous. What is sound teaching is John 14:15 – “If you love me, keep my commands.” Jesus is pretty clear here. To love Him, do what He says. It makes sense to love a person. But what does it mean to love Scripture?

    To make it the final authority for all matters of faith?

    To make it the epistemological foundation of the Christian worldview?

    To follow every word of it at literal face value?

    Let’s look at this some more. How does one “love” census data found in Numbers and other books like that? How does one “love” the Law that Christians say has been superceded by Jesus? How does one “love” morally reprehensible acts such as the rape of Dinah and the mass murder that followed it? Don’t we have to use reason and the guidance of the Spirit to discern the message God wants us to glean from these passages?

    What about the fact that Jesus at times blatantly ignores or contradicts Scripture (such as Sabbath laws)?

    I have the feeling that “loving Scripture” in the way you are using it simply means “being close-mindedly devoted to my hermeneutic.”

    I am not saying that we shouldn’t respect the Bible and study it, and I’m not saying that it is not uniquely inspired. But, much as Enns says, the Bible is not the center of our faith. Jesus and the Gospel is. Your view of Scripture needs some nuance.

  • scotmcknight


  • Steve Sherwood

    After a while, threads dedicated to Daniel arguing with the original post and everyone else arguing with him all begin to sound the same. I don’t say this to question the good intentions of all involved. It just seems to become pretty circular and, to me, discouraging. Personally, I appreciate RJS’ thoughts and posts. Daniel, do you see your adopted role here as a ministry of some sort?

  • @Josh Welker,

    It’s fine to distinguish God from the Scriptures. However, what remains is that the Scriptures are a record of His word and ought to receive due consideration for that fact.

  • Jon G

    Thank you Steve @ #23. Well said. I must admit my desire to engage Daniel’s comments, but I wouldn’t have been as kind as many others on this thread.
    And thank you RJS for another well written blog. My email is filled with your posts and I just can’t throw them away because of the mountains of ideas that you so elequently distill down.

    Also, it was very timely for me, personally, after reading this from Enns’ website this morning. It runs along similar lines as the subject of this post:


  • J.L. Schafer

    I agree with Steve #21. The thread with Daniel isn’t making a whole lot of progress. But watching the process unfold is instructive. It seems to illustrate that certain ways of approaching Scripture almost shut down the possibility for dialogue.

  • J.L. Schafer

    I meant Steve #23.

  • Rick

    Jon I. #20-

    “Daniel, Jesus said that HE is “the way, the truth and the life”; he did not say that the Bible was the way, the truth and the life. So we have God himself telling us what is central.”

    We know that because we highly value Scripture. Likewise, the same God that said those words also inspired the rest of the NT.

    I don’t think it is meant, but there is a sense of: I listen to the words of Jesus, but I don’t put much stock in what the Holy Spirit inspired. There is this sense of separation between the two.

  • Jon G

    Rick @ 27,

    I think what John I is saying (and John, please correct me if I’m wrong) is not that he doesn’t put “stock in what the Holy Spirit inspired” but rather that “inspiration” is not a term to be used interchangeably with “divinely dictatated”.

    As Enns argues, convincingly in my opinion, God inspires Scripture, but Incarnationally…He enters into our world and allows our words to report on Him. Therefore, we ought to ask ourselves, is the Bible God talking directly to us, or is it us talking to each other about the God that we’ve encountered? I believe the latter, and then next logical question is, “then why should we believe it”? And I think the answer is, maybe, that we shouldn’t believe it out of hand. I think we ought to test it.

    At least that’s where I’m at. If the words the Bible reports Jesus to have said are really accurate, then when Jesus says loving God and loving others leads to life – and life to the full, I can test that out. If it fails, then I don’t need to believe it. But if He was right….well, that changes everything…

  • Bev Mitchell

    Great post and analysis,
    Steve (23),
    Well said.

    When speaking of God’s Word, Christians surely should begin with John’s Gospel, chapter 1. God’s Word is a person, not words in a manuscript. The words in Scripture are, of course, fundamental to our faith, but must be brought to life in the same way they were inspired in the first place – by the Holy Spirit. In addition, the Spirit’s vision gave rise to the various, very innovative, interpretations of OT texts provided by Jesus and his early followers – even Paul. We are called to do the same, by listening to the Spirit and using our knowledge of reality. A living, growing relationship with God, enabled by the Spirit and through Christ is the goal. Scripture is essential in this, but so is proper interpretation of Scripture. An ever enquiring heart and mind, a sensitivity to the Spirit, an acceptance of the truth (from all sources) and the Scripture are the ingredients for success in the journey. Fortunately, we are not in this alone, but together. Work like that of Pete Enns moves us to reconsider some of our long held positions, and sites like this allow us to reconsider together. This is all good.

    You may not yet be willing to join the discussion in the spirit outlined above. But, if you are, we all have lots to learn and can actually help each other. However, a certain openness is needed if progress is to be made.

  • Marshall

    Little-w words (made up of letters) pass from, through, and to human brains, like buildings of Lego blocks; how can such ever be other than culturally relative? Whereas the Big-W Word that God spoke is his Creation, which comes to us as individuals unmediated. Scripture is *useful*, profitable for teaching and training in righteousness, but only with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that is the unmediated counsel of God. God first, all else relative.

  • Norman

    One of the problems that I have with some modern biblical scholarship is a tendency to have such a neutral view of biblical fulfillment that we often get the idea that there is little to no supernatural fulfillment of OT prophecy. I indeed believe the intent is good to eliminate bias and strip the examination down to a cut and dry investigation but it sometimes leaves one with the feeling that many do not see the supernatural at all. If we don’t have the supernatural fulfillment then we are to be pitied is how I believe Paul frames it.

    Take the investigation of the book of Daniel; the case is made that Daniel is really a projection built around the Jewish period concerning Antiochus Epiphanes. I see much merit in recognizing that background there but Daniel doesn’t end with that time in sight. Instead it projects a period of 70 weeks which bring us right smack in the middle of the beginning Christian era. It calls for events to occur at that time that will culminate in Messianic fulfillment. The earliest Christians reference Daniel as being fulfilled in their time as does Christ Himself. It was an important validation point for them against the Jewish rejection.

    Modern scholars often disavow the early Christian interpreters who declared Daniel’s fulfillment as misinterpreting Daniel by superimposing their messianic expectations upon Daniel when it’s not called for. They would say that was a Midrash methodology that really can’t be substantiated. Well the problem is that the early Christians used it as a proof text of Christ fulfillment to establish His validity.

    The difficulty as I see it is that critical biblical scholarship today is often overly eager to disavow the early church hermeneutic approach to scripture because it has supernatural implications that makes them uneasy. The problem is that the early church felt that they were interpreting scripture the way it was intended even though it comes across as mysterious and hidden. These early Christians accused the Jews who rejected Christ with using an overly literal interpretive method that doesn’t really reveal Christ as the scriptures intended. Critical biblical scholars often come across as likely to be more comfortable with that hermeneutic which rejected Christ historically.

    I believe this issue will become this Generation and beyond next main battle lines to be determined. Critical biblical scholarship likes to coalesce around these concepts as the backbone of interpretive methodology and if one disagrees you are listed as being outside the consensus mainstream of scholarship. It tends to reinforce these appraisals and attempts to limit or discredit those who may want to push back somewhat.

    In conclusion; Critical Biblical scholarship is needed more than ever but it often tends to apply a sterile investigative methodology that really may not fit perfectly with the realities of the churches establishment.

  • BryanJensen

    (Jon G #29) Exactly on point of emphasis to which I am persuaded. The focus through which to see a Scriptural narrative (insofar as we seek a unifying point of it all) is the incarnation of the Christ, which is _relational_ (to self-awarely and pointedly use the same term, with irony, to contrast what is often most bandied about by Protestant sola-biblicist dogmatists as the virtuous counterpoint to “religion”) and exactly the re-interpretive lens that forced Jews like Paul (who did not know Jesus during His earthly life but experience the metaphysical reality) to dialogue with Jews like Peter and James (who did know Jesus, but first expected Messiahship to be something very different) to grapple with what their ancient narrative was _breathing_ into the reality they were then living, which, frankly, didn’t fully fit, at least based on expectations.

  • John

    Great discussion, everyone. I come from a background with a “literal” understanding of Scripture. This was a viewpoint that said, it matters not what church history, archeology, and history say, the Scripture says what it is understood to say in plain English. It really caused me to stumble in my faith, because both the NT writers “misused” the OT passages and certain verses can be used to promote positions that don’t make sense when examined in the historical and cultural understanding.

    I still go to a literal, Reformed (although I am not “Big R” reformed) church that at times I cringe with what seems to be an elevation of Scripture to a position that smacks of idolatry. A comment I make is that we should be careful that our Trinity isn’t “Father, Son and Holy Scripture”. The Word of God is Jesus and none other. I am stealing someone else’s statement when I say unlike Muslims, Christians are not a people of the book, we are people of the incarnate God.

    That said, I still have the conservative theological reaction to biblical criticism that wants me to treat Scripture like Homar’s Iliad, with some morals added in. Is there a level of inspiration in between the absolute literalism and the more liberal understanding that seems (at least to me) to question the authority of Scripture?

  • D. Foster

    Norman (#32),

    I’ve been thinking through this stuff for a while too. Let me lay out some thoughts I’ve had lately and tell me what you think.

    I was recently reading a biography of George MacDonald and came across a letter he wrote to a woman who asked his thoughts about the inspiration of Scripture. In his reply, he made this statement: “It is Jesus who is the revelation of God, not the Bible; that is but a means to a mighty eternal end.”

    We have this idea in many Christian circles that the OT can be trusted because it made predictions about Jesus. It’s usually framed as a statistical argument: what are the chances that Jesus could have fulfilled all of these prophecies? Some astronomically small odds are given and put forth as evidence that (a.) Jesus was the Messiah, and (b.) the Bible is reliable.

    This interpretation I believe is incorrect. Scripture was not the locus of authority. Rather, the EVENTS of Jesus’s resurrection, his appearances to various people, and the signs/miracles of the Holy Spirit were all used to substantiate the teachings of the Apostles. Scripture was used as a witness to the unique shape and form of Jesus’s life and the Church’s teachings: these fell in line with a general pattern of God’s redemptive history that is witnessed in Scripture.

    It would take a long time to explain all of the details, but that’s basically how I see the OT as significant. What do you think?


  • Josh, Steve, Mike, J.L. et. al.

    We all have ideas, paradigms, presuppositions or worldviews that are most authoritative for us. We use these to measure every other truth-claim that enters into our minds.

    For me, Scripture is ultimately authoritative. It presides in judgment over every philosophy or truth claim. And it should so for every Christian! I can guarantee you that if Scripture isn’t your ultimate authority, then the surrounding culture has become that authority.

    How do we love God? We trust and obey Him. By what does He want our trust and obedience to be governed? His Word, of course:

    • John 15:14: You are my friends if you do what I command.

    The supremacy of Scripture is the uniform testimony of the Word of God:

    • Isaiah 8:20: To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.

    There are no verses that claim that we should place ultimate authority on some other source. Scripture warns us against going beyond itself:

    • 1 Cor. 4:6: Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.

    However, this is precisely what is happening in the church today, to its own detriment. We are adding and subtracting from the Word:

    • Deut. 4:2: Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.

    If you [plural] are bored or troubled by this use of Scripture, then you have to take to the Lord and ask where the fault lies. If instead, you feel that there are other authorities on equal par with Scripture, then be explicit about it!

  • Ruth Anne shorter

    Thanks to Daniel for his clear mind and thinking. Wisdom of man is zero–God 100. Just because some believer “discovers” something, we are to rally to this new wonderful revelation. We waste time on junk. Amazing the folly of ‘learned’ men.

  • Josh Welker


    I’d agree with pretty much everything you said in #36 if you allow that the Spirit is the mediator between man and God who makes Scripture come alive and reveals its truth to us. Scripture is the material out of which the Spirit constructs His message to us. Continuing that metaphor, without the Holy Spirit, Scripture is just a dead collection of words that has no authority at all.

    So I’d have much less qualms with your position if you modified it to state that God through the Holy Spirit is the supreme authority in all philosophies and truth claims and that Scripture is the primary medium through which the Spirit speaks to us.

    To me, any view of Scripture “higher” than that borders way too close to idolatry. I like the comment above about Father, Son, and Holy Scripture.

  • Daniel,

    I think some of the differences here are semantic.

    In any case, I can agree with you that insufficient regard for Scripture as the word of God is an invitation for trouble.

    Where I might part company is, for example, with John 5:39-40 where Jesus makes clear that the greatest value of the Scriptures is found in their testimony of Him. I do not think, however, that this lowers the importance of Scripture; rather, it elevates the importance of our Lord.

    The biggest problem with modern, critical views of the Bible (they’re practically synonymous, aren’t they?) is that they tend to divest the believer of his greatest weapon. Having the word of God in writing is a sword of the spirit against temptation that Eve did not have. If people are not taught to resist temptation with the Scripture, just as Jesus did in the desert, but rather to regard Holy Writ as simply an ancient text to be dissected by squabbling scholars, then ancient Israel will have bequeathed its inheritance to us at least partially in vain.

    Jesus is Lord and the Holy Spirit is speaking on His behalf, but we would hardly know about either one of them without the Bible. Blessed be the God who, through His Holy Spirit and His holy prophets and apostles, has given it to us.

  • Norman


    Good to hear from you again, hope your work is going well.

    I believe the first Christians depended upon the OT and 2nd Temple scriptures in a systematic manner that is akin to seeing Prophecy fulfilled. I don’t think we can easily discount that observation about their need to see prophecy fulfilled. They saw Christ projected in places that many Jews did not or would not. Christ called apostate Jews lack of understanding his parable teachings as not having eyes to see or ears to hear. I think perhaps the Berean account illustrates the mindset of searching the scriptures to verify prophecy fulfilled.

    Acts 17: 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily TO SEE IF THESE THINGS WERE SO. Many of them therefore believed,

    An advantage we of course have over those before Christ is hindsight after the fact but a robust study of 2nd Temple literature reveals that much of what came about through Christ had been projected over the centuries prior. There was a systematic revelation of a coming messiah and some sections like 1 Enoch could almost have been a script for His time. In fact I’m afraid that some skeptics might make an argument that the first Christians just pieced together what had been projected about Christ and applied it to Him retroactively.

    I guess I’m going to disagree with you to an extent even though I respect you tremendously. I believe the faithful had confidence and belief that scripture supported their cause of Christ. Now in no way do I look at ancient scripture in the manner that we see many evangelicals do. However it revealed Christ and so demands that we pay attention to that consistency I believe can be found within. I may read that consistency differently than evangelicals typically do but I see Christ throughout the word. But I also count scripture to include much of 2nd Temple literature as well as our OT which opens up much more extensively a first century concept of messiah. Limiting ourselves to just the Jewish OT doesn’t illustrate the full power of scripture IMHO.

    Now I also don’t disagree with you that the Holy Spirit was a powerful factor as it demonstrated through signs and miracles confirming the first Christian’s interpretation and acceptance of Christ.

    Also I realize that you presented a concept here that you haven’t fully fleshed out and I surely do not discount your abilities to do so more robustly. Forgive me if I have missed your concept in the manner you wanted to project.


  • Steve Sherwood

    I would put the Holy Spirit, not on a par, but above scripture as God’s means of mediating truth to us. As Josh #38 says, the Bible is the primary tool used by the Spirit, but I’m uncomfortable with statements that seem to give it the sole voice. As the author of Hebrews says, not denigrating his audience’s Jewish past, “in the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets (scripture) in many times and in many ways but in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son…” Does the author value scripture? Absolutely. Is it the last or only word? No. God’s Son, Jesus is. I’d be surprised if anyone posting here didn’t hold scripture to be God’s primary means of revelation outside of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Primary, but not exclusive. I recognize that you don’t believe that to be true, and will likely not believe me, either.

  • Josh #38,

    I have no problem at all with what you wrote here. Without the operation of the Spirit, Scripture might still be truth, but it is useless truth.

  • MIke #39,

    Kudos! Scripture is all about God and God is all about Christ and the Holy Spirit. Approaching this same concept from another angle:

    • Col. 2:16-17: Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

    • 2 Cor. 1:20: For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” IN CHRIST.

  • Steve #41,

    I have no problem with what you’re have written. God can and does speak outside of Scripture, but as you correctly point out, Scripture is primary.

    However, I must disagree with you that everyone here holds this view. The OP certainly doesn’t:

    • “The Bible is not the center of the Christian faith. The Bible…is not the focus or the foundation of our faith.”

    The only reason that I hammer away at this point is that such a position represents the demise of the Christian faith, and I am so distressed when my fellow brethren don’t see this:

    • 1 Peter 4:10-11: If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.

  • RJS

    Mike #39,

    If people are not taught to resist temptation with the Scripture, just as Jesus did in the desert, but rather to regard Holy Writ as simply an ancient text to be dissected by squabbling scholars, then ancient Israel will have bequeathed its inheritance to us at least partially in vain.

    This quote from your comment is worth some conversation. The story of the temptation is a key story in scripture – told or alluded to in all three synoptic gospels (although not in John). But the point of the story is not quoting scripture to avoid temptation. Jesus knew the OT story, the history of Israel and of God’s covenant with his people, he knew his place in the story, and he knew what it meant to be faithful. So in the temptation story Jesus was faithful where Israel was not. The scripture references from Deuteronomy highlight this contrast. Scot discusses this in The King Jesus Gospel p. 154 for example, but it is not a reading unique to him.

    Like Jesus we need to know the story – and our place in the story. When scripture is simply dissected by squabbling scholars or defended as “an inerrant foundation” which must be believed to provide final authority we’ve missed the entire point. I listened through the entire Bible last year twice – not to try to find ammunition to throw at Satan, or to dissect it to separate the truth from error – but to be immersed in the story, through the Holy Spirit. This, I will suggest, is what it means to take Scripture seriously as the word of God. It also is the more effective way, perhaps, to build the resource (through God and the Holy Spirit) to resist temptation.

  • RJS,

    “I listened through the entire Bible last year twice – not to try to find ammunition to throw at Satan, or to dissect it to separate the truth from error – but to be immersed in the story, through the Holy Spirit. This, I will suggest, is what it means to take Scripture seriously as the word of God.”

    Why would you reduce Scripture to just this one function?

  • Jerry

    RJS, Bravo!

  • RJS


    Like many here I was raised in the church and the faith. Nothing I learned by listening to the Bible straight through was completely new, I’d read it all before, and heard thousands of sermons and lessons on the major passages. But the perspective (I think through the Holy Spirit) from an intentional attempt to back up and look at the whole story was profound. And it was the desire to see the big picture (instigated by a commenter on one of my posts) that led me to this endeavor. I think we miss the point by emphasizing the bark on the trees instead of the forest.

  • RJS,

    Although we shouldn’t get so absorbed with the bark that we overlook the tree and its overall functioning, we still can learn a lot by examining the bark.

  • RJS


    We can learn a lot by examining the bark, and I do that … but I think we won’t know what the bark means or how to interpret the feature of the bark unless we know the story. They work together.

    I’m heading off to work now, so you can have the last word should you choose to.

  • RJS #45,

    Nothing I wrote argues against the sort of “get-the-whole-story” approach you advocate. On the contrary, I embrace it. Piecemeal Scripture memory is an invitation to misunderstanding. But as to the undeniable similarity between Gen 3 and Matt 4, the presence and invocation of Scripture in the latter being a notable difference, I think you’re ignoring, or at least underplaying, the obvious.

  • Derek Foster

    Norman (#40),

    Two quick questions in response to your last comment.

    Firstly, how do you interpret a passage like Isaiah 53, for example? Do you think there’s a type of Christian PESHARIM for the OT, with an original immediate context, but a later hidden message for future believers?

    Secondly, after reading through many 2nd Century Church Fathers, I’ve also come to extend “Scripture” to include books beyond the Bible. How do you think the Christians thought of Scripture at their time? How did they distinguish the inspired from non-inspired?


  • RJS,

    It did sound, however, as if you were dismissing the “bark.” You had stated:

    “This [getting the overall picture of the Bible and not using it to confront temptations or Satan…] , I will suggest, is what it means to take Scripture seriously as the word of God.”

    Taking the tree seriously is to regard it in its totality but without ignoring its parts.

  • David P Himes

    Just a few points to put this discussion in some additional context:

    1. Scripture does not equal “word of God”. Logos, the Greek word translated as “word” does not refer to the Text, but rather to “knowledge.” So there is a difference between the written Text and knowledge of and about God.

    2. in the NT, every reference to “Scripture” is a reference to the OT Text. It has to be because the NT did not exist.

    3. Hebrews 10:16 seems to emphasize that God will write his new covenant on our hearts, as opposed to on paper or in stone.

    Without doubt, the Text is important and useful to help us discover the knowledge of God we need find our righteous relationship with him. But as others have said, Jesus is the path to that relationship. The Text is a tool.

  • Phil Miller

    I’m late to this post, am I haven’t read all the comments, so I apologize if I’m repeating something that’s been said. Greg Boyd has been writing on his blog about this same subject for awhile now. I particularly like this article:

    This quote sums up the issue nicely, I think:

    So where does the inspiration of Scripture come into the picture? While I do not believe in Jesus because I believe in the inspiration of Scripture, I do believe in the inspiration of Scripture because I believe in Jesus. Jesus is the center and culminating point of the entire biblical narrative, and it’s impossible to understand who Jesus is, and what he was up to apart from this story. Not only this, but historical-critical considerations have led me to conclude that the Gospels are generally trustworthy, as I said above, and these Gospels consistently present Jesus equating the Hebrew Scriptures with God’s Word. They also give some indication that Jesus expected the Holy Spirit to inspire some of his followers to bear witness to him in a way that would allow the world to believe on him through their word (e.g. Jn 14:26; 15:26-27; 17:20).

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Daniel, in your treatment of the importance of Scripture here, I am missing a key ingredient: The Church. The Church recognized and defined Scripture, and in turn, were defined by it. Thus the Church preceded Scripture, and had her origins in Christ, NOT in Scripture.

    Furthermore, claiming the Guidance of the Holy Scripture is one thing, and it is (too) easy. But to distinguish between the guidance of Scripture, and my own feelings, insights, predispositions – that would require faith. But it is also often true that “What we wish, we readily believe”. Thus we can easily become locked in an “egocentric dilemma”. The only way out of it is to trust God in exercising one’s Reason, and then corroborate the outcome of that Reason and logic, based on the evidence in Scripture, with others. Hence, the Church.

    The individual that says “me and my Bible alone”, is essentially not even holding on to the Bible, but to his/her own desires and predispositions etc.

  • Klasie,

    I can certainly acknowledge your concerns and the dangers: “What we wish, we readily believe.” Therefore, as you point out, there is an urgent need for the church and even for scholarship. However, these resources should never exalt themselves ABOVE Scripture.

  • David #54, You appropriately cite:

    • Hebrews 10:16: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

    However, it would be mistaken to assume that this new reality makes Scripture and teaching irrelevant (at least during this present age). The verse says nothing about HOW these laws will be written on our hearts or whether there will be a sudden imprinting at conversion.

    Instead of merely a supernatural infusion, this imprinting occurs synergistically and gradually along with the ministry of the Word (2 Cor. 3).

  • Norman


    Excellent questions; as I would expect from someone of your depth of experience.

    I think looking at scriptures like Isaiah 53 in hindsight makes the application easier for us obviously. Now why would the first Christians see this as manifesting Christ? I’m in the process of attempting to develop a coherent manner of explaining these insights and I would start with the idea that this messianic application undergirded the OT and 2nd writings in the first place. I see systematic ideas throughout the literature that indicate that messianic projections were expected and assumed and thus become a consistent undergirding for those in the know would recognize. Some might call this a bible code but essentially it is an undergirding hermeneutic application that becomes consistent across the spectrum of their literature. Certain terms such as the Plant of righteousness or the Branch are utilized across both the OT and 2nd Temple literature and carried that messianic expectation. Now some looked for a National messiah and some looked for a spiritual one. In Matt 13:32 we have what appears a NT application of Eze 17 where the tender twig is taken and planted on the high mountain grows to host the birds of Heaven. Many of these trained religious types would have easily recognized the consistent factor of how the Messiah was projected and it would not be quite as mysterious to them as it is to us or the uninitiated.

    The difficulty the Jews had was the same one that we have today based upon hermeneutic expectations. You have the literal reading dispensationalist today who still expects a physical messianic manifestation and you have those who say no, that language should not be read literally such as the amillennial folks. We tend to read our own expectations into this kind of literature and it is often difficult not to. That is one of the biggest challenges we have in performing good scholarship.

    Regarding your second question; I think it was expected to be consistent with previous messianic themes to be accepted to a degree. However the genre of literature can be diverse and yet project themes that work with the prevailing ideas. Yet the OT itself has differing viewpoints as evidenced by writers who wrote from a different perspective. We see books in the OT that were priestly in nature and supported that realm robustly (Leviticus) and we see books such as Ezekiel that were anti priesthood to a degree. The issue is to keep them in context which is a bit tricky for the untrained but becomes a more reasonable venture as we acquire more depth of knowledge. We have to resist letting the diversity of ideas sidetrack the realization of the continuity that also exist. This is an area that frankly is always going to be a challenge and it overwhelms us at times.


  • Derek Foster

    Commenting on the general discussion, I feel one thing needs to asserted: the Bible is extremely important, but it is not infallible. You can’t accept any of it blindly or unthinkingly, not anything, not even the words of Jesus in the Gospels. There is nothing in the Bible you can point to and default to a belief auto-pilot. Nothing. Everything needs to be engaged. Everything needs to be wrestled with. Absolutely everything.

    The Bible is an essential, integral part of the Church and our personal union with God. Without it, we would be lost. It is precious; it is life-giving; it is important in a way no other collection of writings is important. But it is not inerrant. There are false things in the Bible. There’s no getting around this. Whatever we mean by “inspired,” the Church has to recognize this fact as we move forward.

    If anyone rejects this with the argument, “If you can’t trust even one thing, you can’t trust any of it,” I say fine. Go ahead and think that. Throw out the Bible, throw out your faith, and start over from square one. You’ll be in a better place for it. The Holy Spirit will lead you to Jesus himself without the doctrine of inerrancy.


  • MikeW

    To start with the question RJS posed at the beginning, it seems most everyone is in agreement that critical and religious readings of the Bible should be “in dialogue” – that is, both have place at the table of interpretation. The arguments seem to be about how exactly that dialogue should function, how it should be described, and, perhaps ultimately, how we think God is best loved and honored?

    It seems to me that the argument plays out with Daniel et al stressing a that since Scripture is God’s self-revealing Word, it must carry ultimate *authority* or have *primacy* in our lives, with a lower regard/suspicion for higher-critical interpretations. Others stress that God alone must be the *focus* or *foundation* of our faith, and allow critical interpretations more sway. (I’m curious about language each side uses because they don’t seem to share the same metaphors for what’s core [another metaphor] to the Christian faith, which makes me suspect we’re not communicating well).

    I understand Daniel to be saying, since Scripture is God’s Word, then Scripture deserves our loyalty as much as does the person of Jesus. Therefore, God is above the reach of skeptical scholarship. While other are saying, Scripture is a faithful (although perhaps not inerrant) testimony of God’s Word, God remains supreme even when critical issues challenge the supposed perfection of Scripture.

    Is it fair to say, both sides want to stress God must be above the reach of critical/skeptical scholarship, but each side feels the other side is disingenuous(?) in the way they seek to honor God above higher-criticism?

  • MikeW,

    A perceptive summation!

  • MikeW,

    I think you have summarized well, but you have also done well to be uncertain about the choice of one word. I would substitute “mistaken” for “disingenuous” since the former doesn’t opine on motive as does the latter.

  • RJS

    Daniel Mann,

    Does your agreement with MikeW’s summation mean that you agree that I (and Peter Enns for that matter) are as sincere as you are in trying to be faithful to God and his commandments? We disagree on how that plays out – but sincerity does not mean always being right.

    I ask because on earlier posts you have either insinuated or stated directly that I am not sincere in trying to be faithful to God.

  • David P Himes

    Daniel, RE #58
    You missed my other point. The “Word of God” is not equal to the Text. And the Text is not equal to the “Word of God”. The “word” of God, using the definition of the Greek word, logos, is a reference to knowledge of and about God, not a reference to Scriptures or the written Text.

    I agree, the Text is an important document for us. And I would not want to be without it. But there are ways other than reading the Text, to come to know God. According to the Text itself, the witness of others and nature itself provide us with knowledge and evidence of God.


  • RJS,

    I do not intend to judge people’s hearts. I am in no position to do so. I therefore restrict myself to what they say.

    However, I must admit that I am very troubled by what you and Peter write. As I see it, it bears a great similarity to modern liberalism, which has proved to be a spiritual dead end.

    For example, here is something that you cite from Peter:

    • If we begin with assumptions about what inspiration “must mean,” we are creating a false dilemma and will wind up needing to make tortuous arguments to line up Paul and other Biblical writers with modes of thinking that would never have occurred to them. But when we allow the Bible to lead us in our thinking on inspiration, we are compelled to leave room for the ancient writers to reflect and even incorporate their ancient, mistaken, cosmologies into their scriptural reflections. (94-95)

    I am left to wonder by this:

    1. How does “the Bible…lead us” to the conclusion that the “scriptural reflections” of the OT were “mistaken?”
    2. How can they be “mistaken” and still be completely inspired?
    3. And how can anyone live by such a “faith?”

    You also cite Enns regarding Hosea 11:1 and Matthew’s use of this verse:

    • It would take a tremendous amount of mental energy to argue that Matthew is respecting the historical context of Hosea’s words, that is, there is actually something predictive in Hosea 11. (Inspiration and Incarnation, 133)

    If there is nothing “predictive in Hosea 11,” then Matthew, according to Enns, is “mistaken.” Matthew wrote that this prophecy “FULFILLED what the Lord had said through the prophet.” (Matthew 2:15)

    How can this type of teaching not discourage Christians about the trustworthiness of Scripture? Clearly, from my interactions on Scot’s blog, many have been discouraged, although they fail to even perceive this. They hardly ever cite any Scripture to support their statements. They seem to be more excited about philosophical and critical points than about the milk of the Word.

    They are like frogs in heated water. They don’t leap out because the water is being heated slowly, and they fail to detect the change. But eventually, they will cook.

    I write these things in love in hope of shaking people out of their stupor. I’m sorry if this stings, but:
    • A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool. (Proverbs 17:10)

    I pray that it might bear fruit. There is always hope in confession (1 John 1:9) – something that I must do all the time.

  • Jag

    I would warn against becoming so attached to a literal inerrant scripture that when it falls, so does faith. Too many children have been raised to believe, for example, in a young earth, and then when learning later in life that the earth is not 10,000 years old they abandon their faith in Christ, that faith being tied inextricably in their minds to faith in a perfect Bible.

    As another example, the American South stood firmly on the text of scripture when defending slavery, ignoring the inspiration of the Holy Spirit right there in their faces shouting loudly, paid for it dearly and are still paying for it today. Too often our own interests and prejudices find us defending words on a page rather than prayerfully seeking inspiration from a God who lives and acts today, a God who cannot fit into a book.

  • I think a lot of people are worried about what the work of Enns will do for people of faith, i.e. they are concerned that his work will create doubt and loss of belief. I see just the opposite, he is making it so that critical skeptics might have a path to faith, and those of of wavering faith might be able to keep theirs. I thank him mightily for this. So, really, arguments such as Daniel’s really only affect those who already have buy in in the Christian faith. Daniel’s criticisms aren’t for those for whom Enns’ work is intended.

  • Howard Walker (#68),

    That’s an interesting thesis. Are there any statistics, or even anecdotal data, supporting the idea that Peter’s approach is winning more souls to Christ than Daniel’s? (This is not a rhetorical question.)

  • RJS

    Mike Gantt (#69),

    I don’t know if Peter’s approach is winning more souls to Christ or not. I do have a great deal of anecdotal evidence that it helps in the church with serious questions (I am a case in point here). I also have anecdotal evidence that it helps those who are in conversation with skeptics.

    Daniel sees me on the slippery slope to modern liberalism – but I don’t see it that way at all. I would say that Pete’s approach (along with Scot and NT Wright and a number of others I could list, including Tim Keller in his The Reason for God) has allowed me to see that the choice isn’t between a fundamentalist view of scripture and modern liberalism. This is especially true when the focus is on God as center – not on the Bible as center. More than 30 years ago I dumped Daniel’s approach to scripture as untenable for me, and modern liberalism as equally unsatisfactory – but it has only been in the last 10 years that I have been able to see a way through the false dichotomy of fundamentalism vs modern liberalism ( or agnosticism or atheism).

  • RJS (#70),

    Thanks, and I hope you are right.

    I must say, however, that when I read Peter’s blog it feels to me more like he’s lowered his view of Scripture than that he’s elevated his view of God. And when I see him make a gratuitous swipe at the Tea Party I feel that what I’m reading is driven more by a political persuasion than a theological one.

    By contrast, I think Jesus set precisely the right tone when it comes to rightly regarding the Scriptures and God: the Scripture cannot be broken…and they testify of Him. (John 10:35; 5:39-40)

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    It seems much of this conversation flows from a fundamentalist/liberalism dichotomy whether a person leans right or left. This just shows how ingrained we are in approaching such issues by our own cultural heritage. I wish we could move forward in discussions like these rather than seeming to cover old ground over and over.

  • rvs

    –Great use of a quote by Enns, who is doing an excellent job of educating evangelicals out of the fundamentalist machinery.

  • Bev Mitchell


    As a fellow scientist, I’ll second your good summary.
    “……the choice isn’t between a fundamentalist view of scripture and modern liberalism. This is especially true when the focus is on God as center – not on the Bible as center.” This focus really works and is especially important for life in the real world which is full of potential “slippery slopes”. Enns is challenging people to get real in order to avoid even worse clashes down the road, and he strongly emphasizes God first Scripture second as well.

    I’m currently reviewing highlights made during a first reading of Paul D. Molnar’s wonderful book “Thomas F. Torrance: Theologian of the Trinity”. According to Molnar, Torrance made a strong point of emphasizing where the centre is, and he would also stress a full-orbed understanding of the Trinity when speaking of God/Christ as the centre. The Holy Spirit of course ministers all of this to us, and also is God. This is all essential to good interpretation, and must be placed first, even though the written word points us to the centre in the first place. If we focus on the written word as the centre, the tendency is to happily wander through all its wonderful byways, building strong towers as we go, but sometimes failing to emphasize strongly enough the overwhelming importance of the real centre. If we get too into this approach, reality can become a real threat.

    One of Torrance’s favourite quotes was from Athanasius “better to signify God from the Son and call him Father than to name God from his works alone and call him Unoriginate.” While not on the same theme, it conveys exactly the same sentiment.

  • You are assessing our relationship to both Scripture and God pragmatically in terms of who wins more to Christ. This, along with other pragmatic notions, is very difficult to assess. There always remains the question:

    • If Enns is winning many skeptics over, to WHAT to WHOM is he winning them?

    This is a problem that we cannot solve. We cannot look into hearts. Instead, we are called to FAITHFULNESS and not some concept of SUCCESSFULNESS. We are called upon to trust that we need not alter the world for it to accomplish its purposes:

    • I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)

    Sadly, many of us have become ashamed of what the Bible says and have sought to alter what is already patently clear.

  • Phil Miller

    It’s interesting to me that we seem to talking about “winning souls to Christ” as if it were some sort of abstract concept. Personally, I find the work that Peter Enns and others like him to be a godsend not just for me personally, but for my sharing with others. As a campus pastor I encountered kids who grew up in church and who were faced with many of these questions. I’m glad to be able to point people to resources that let them know that fundamentalism with blinders on or a liberalism that mythologizes everything aren’t the only choices.

    To me the sheer numbers when talking about converts don’t matter that much. After all it’s one thing to make a convert. It’s quite another to help people become disciples.