God is Bigger than the Bible

Last night I was reading Mark S. Smith’s The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (because I felt like it, that’s why). He opens with a quotation from the 6th c. AD writer on Roman antiquity, Lydus.

There has been and is much disagreement among theologians about the god honored among the Hebrews (De mensibus 4.53)


Smith, for the next 200 pages, looks at the “role of Yahweh within Israelite religion” vis-a-vis older Canaanite deities like El, Baal, and Asherah.

Ferreting out how the ancient Israelites came to worship Yahweh and what that meant in an ancient polytheistic cultures has been a huge topic ever since modern biblical scholars started finding things out about (1) ancient Israel and (2)  ancient polytheistic cultures.

The bottom line, mainstream view–I shudder even to attempt to summarize it in one sentence–is that the Hebrew scriptures reflect Israel’s later beliefs (i.e., after the return from Babylonian exile), further along on their spiritual journey, though their writings also preserve earlier, more diverse religious stages, where exclusive worship of Yahweh was not a given.

God, in other words, has a history–or better, how God was understood has a history.

This mainstream view does not rest well with the biblical progression of events, namely: Israel knew Yahweh as the/their only God from the time of Abraham, and how well they did as a people/nation depended on remembering that and worshiping/obeying Yahweh alone.

For biblical scholars of the last century or so, this picture is complicated by (1) the Bible’s own hints and nods at a more complicated “early history of God” and (2) our considerable and growing understanding of religion in general in the ancient Near East, especially Canaanite and Ugaritic religion.

I’m used to this sort of thing, but I know many are not. That’s fine. The point, though, is that the modern study of the Old Testament has irrevocably affected what we can expect from the Bible in terms of “brute information” about God.

The modern study of the Old Testament doesn’t tell you what to believe, like a bully, but it has placed the Old Testament firmly in its culture moments–so firmly, in fact, that a well rounded view can’t just make believe the last hundred or so years of thinking on this subject didn’t happen.

Here’s my take-away from all this–and I’m asking you (or at least humor me) to believe me when I say that this is not a last minute frenzied punt from my own end zone before the sack. My life, such as it is, is about synthesizing my own spiritual life with what I’ve been trained to do and what I do for a living, which is to say I’ve thought about this a good bit and hang out with others who have done the same.

So, here’s the take-away: Studying the Bible and Israel’s past is a regular reminder to me that my object of trust is God, not the Bible. That’s not knocking the Bible. It’s acknowledging that the Bible–even where it talks about God–is not a heavenly tablet dropped from heaven, but a relentlessly contextual collection of ancient literature that takes wisdom and patience to handle well.

God is bigger than the Bible–and frankly, I see Jesus in the Gospels already sounding that note when he began reshaping common views of God based on Israel’s traditions, but I digress.

I haven’t come to this place quickly or casually, though from my vantage point today, it feels rather commonsensical to me–though I don’t impose that on anyone, at least not until I gain supreme, ultimate power, which is the plan.

One last point to ward off a predictable response: “But how can you know anything about God other than what the Bible tells you?” Fair question, but when you get too close to the Bible, prepare to have your view of the Bible reoriented. The irony is that it is the study of the Bible that has led me down this path.

And it’s a nice path, at least for me. God is more outside of my control this way, which I can’t help but think is as it should be.  And Lydus said over 1400 years ago, Yahweh isn’t easy to get your arms around–for Israelites or for those who have followed in their footsteps.

More on updating Yahweh: a possible way forward (Carlos Bovell part 2)
Jesus wants you to take historical criticism seriously (or something like that; just read the post)
reviewing two reviews of “Patterns of Evidence: Exodus” (3)
preeeetty sure my version of Christianity is right and yours is wrong
  • Jason Garrison

    Yours is one of the few perspectives that gives me hope, Pete. Thanks for the courage to address the theological elephants in the room.

  • Alice G.

    but when you get too close to the Bible, prepare to have your view of the Bible reoriented. The irony is that it is the study of the Bible that has led me down this path.

    You said it. If I had never really studied the Bible, I wouldn’t be going down a path myself.

  • B

    I appreciate both the ideas in this post and the way you’ve written it.

    I really resonate with your reflection that you “haven’t come to this place quickly or casually,” but looking back it’s suprising how commonsensical all this seems!

  • Chuck Sigler

    Peter, respectfully, does this mean that you are rethinking what you said here in “Inspiration and Incarnation”?

    Is the fact of diversity fundamentally contrary to the Bible being the word of God? My answer is no. And the way in which we can begin to address this issue is to confess at the outset, along with the historic Christian church, that the Bible is the word of God. That is our starting point, a confession of faith, not creating a standard of what the Bible should look like and then assessing the Bible on the basis of that standard. . . . [O]nce we confess that the Bible is God’s word, we can look at how it is God’s word. That investigation will not come to an end in this life. There will always be a freshness and inscrutability about the Bible. This goes hand in hand with believing that the Bible is God’s word; it will always be bigger than what we
    can comprehend. (108)

    • peteenns

      No, but a more fully worked out version of the implications of it.

    • Seeker

      Chuck, I guess I’m left confused at this point in my own journey with the Bible as to what is genuinely gained by saying that we have to start with a confession that the Bible is God’s word. Really? Why? What if we just started with what the Bible appears to be: a collection of very diverse ancient writings that were at times pieced together over hundreds of years, that were re-worked and sometimes re-written in order to give meaning to a particular people’s understanding of who they were and who God was in relationship to them, etc. etc. Not to mention that this book we call the Bible did not come fully into its present form until relatively late in the game after fallen people argued over what books should be included. Not to mention that scholars are still plugging away on the actual texts and meaning of ancient words and coming to better understandings of all kinds of things written in “God’s word”. Why not start there? Why not start with a “confession” that goes like this: “The Bible is an incredibly complex compilation of writings spanning hundreds of years and multiple genres – and we will never plumb the depths of it – but in trying to plumb those depths we might learn better how to live our lives in loving relationship with others and with the God who is as unfathomable as the bible that attempts to speak thereof.”

      Just my two cents while shooting from the hip… :-)

      • Anna

        Seeker, that’s exactly,where I am at the moment. Why do we need to look at the bible as a revelation from God? Why not take it for what it seems to be – a collection of diverse writings written by people who were searching for the divine, just as we are today. What evidence do we have at all that it is what God said? Just because the book itself says so sometimes. Circular reasoning? There are more things written about God outside the bible than within. It just happens that what is now,in the bible was valued by a particular group of people at a particular time. The bible has useful things to say about God in that it is many people’s impressions, experiences (perhaps?) of him. But so do,many other books and people and nature have things to,say too. We shouldn’t start out with a conclusion and try to fit our experience of the bible into,it. We need to look at what the bible is, and what it says, and let that speak for itself. God’s holy inerrant word? I think not. A somewhat useful collection of pondering s? More likely.

  • http://restoringpangea.com/ Nathan Smith

    Just finished Mark’s book on the heels of Frank Moore Cross. Paradigm changing to say the least. I can’t believe there aren’t more people reading these two books. Heartily agree and can’t wait for this material to be flushed out among evangelicals. It’ll be messy for awhile but it will build faith. Thanks for posting.

    • dangjin

      Want to know why there aren’t more people interested in those books? because they do not have the truth and are not of God.

  • Seeker

    Hey Pete!

    I haven’t commented in quite a while, but I’ve been hanging around and reading all the posts. My journey out of evangelicalism/fundamentalism has continued and the air I am breathing these days continues to get fresher and clearer in my own estimation. As you said: “…it’s a nice path.” Yes, I’ve found that to be true as well – and my journey really began with understanding the Bible in a new way. Thanks for the solid work that you do and the way you continue to articulate these things. I like that God isn’t so easily crammed into my little box anymore. Thank goodness! It seems the more adamant we are about having God figured out, the more radical we become in judging others (and sometimes even doing violence to them) based on our certainty that God shares our point of view. Yikes!

    Better to live with a bit more ambiguity and mystery regarding the divine and have some room for peace and dialogue than to be so dogmatic and constantly view the “other” as the enemy of truth and worthy of our full disdain…

  • Gary in FL

    Peter, although I don’t begin to approach your level of scholarship (just a guy with a simple MDiv here), I strongly resonate with your perspective and feel I’m treading a similar path on a similar journey. It’s nice having someone to travel with, so thanks.

  • Yuri

    I’ve found Smith’s perspective fairly convincing, but I have never really been able to integrate it into a Christian understanding of God. How does one understand the likely fact that Yahweh was once a second-tier deity in a pantheon, and eventually merged the characteristics of another second-tier deity, Baal, with characteristics of the first-tier creator deity, El? Was the one true God once worshipped in Midian as a second-tier deity, and only after hundreds of years ascended to the top of the pantheon, and later revealed that he was the only God all along? Or, was the one true God once called El, and later on took the name of a second tier deity, Yahweh, as well as characteristics of another second tier deity, Baal, etc.? Neither of these possibilities sits all that well with me, and the idea of “progressive revelation” doesn’t seem to resolve it.

    • labreuer

      Please don’t take this to be snarky, but it’s almost as if God revealed himself in a gradual process, kind of like how evolution is a gradual process.

      • Susan_G1

        labreuer, if you’d care to flesh this out with Yuri’s comments, I’d really appreciate hearing your thoughts.


        • labreuer

          Working off of What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology? Tradition vs. Biblical Emphasis, p85-89, I would contrast Elijah’s ability to hear God’s voice as a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19), vs. the Israelites only being able to hear God via thundering and fire and so forth (Deut 5). It’s kind of neat that when Elijah says “I am no better than my fathers”, instead of answering this directly, God reminds him that his fathers needed fire and thunder, while Elijah just needs a small voice. What a powerful way to encourage Elijah!

          There seems to be this idea that listening to God’s voice requires that one be sufficiently ‘sanctified’ or ‘holy’. Hence the idea that seeing God’s face was deadly… to most people. In general, it seems that God doesn’t want to have to use thunder and fire and earthquakes to get people’s attention. Instead, I think he wants people to humble themselves and listen to him. The trick is, this is a slow, gradual process. I have to believe that Abraham had heard from God before he was told to leave the land of Ur.

          If God were happier to just “push things through”, as it were, why work with Israel so much instead of just skipping right to Jesus? I think it’s because God is doing things as gently as he can, just as we are told to be gentle (e.g. Eph 4:1-2, Gal 6:1-5). This willingness of God to slowly work with us and our faults is the only decent explanation I have for why he tolerates so much wickedness.

          In terms of strictly Biblical support, see Pete’s I&I, and where he talks about the use of “gods” in the OT.

          • pepe

            “God reminds him that his fathers needed fire and thunder, while Elijah just needs a small voice. What a powerful way to encourage Elijah!”

            the only problem is, Pete might conclude that Elijah wasn’t a real person, and that the story was written by a bunch of guys coming out of exile. So, nothing really has any validity.

          • labreuer

            According to your logic, parables mean nothing because they aren’t about real things. I suggest that rectifying your logic so it doesn’t destroy the meaning of parables will also undermine the argument you’re making, here. Go ahead and give it a shot; I learn more when I’m wrong than when I’m right.

          • pepe

            sure, parables obviously mean something. There is a moral tale associated with them. But, since according to Peter’s ideas, the bible stories are just people writing ideas down, the story of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is on equal footing as the Three Little Pigs (TLP).

            TLP tells us to do things with excellence, and not take shortcuts. The tree of knowledge tells us the same thing (gain wisdom God’s way, don’t take a shortcut).

            So, if Elijah wasn’t a real person, then God wasn’t actually doing anything with fire, thunder, or a small voice. Its just a story someone made up. Really nice story by the way, but just a story with no authority over the TLP.

            You have effectively emasculated the Bible of any authority if its just people writing about what they thought of God. It is not different than any other book.

            Also, parables were told by Jesus. The OT, according to Peter was a history written by the victors. Very different kettle of fish if you ask me.

          • labreuer

            I’m sorry, I should have said that the parables have no ‘validity’ if they were not talking about real events—you used the term ‘validity’ and not ‘meaning’.

            A core idea that undergirds your argument is that the only way that God would communicate to humanity is through method X. A viable model of X, which fits your statements, would be that God inspired people to write only what was true. But then, for example, what of the lack of condemnation of Jephthah in the latter half of Judges 11? I could come up with more examples. Or you could read Pete’s I&I. Instead of deciding how God must communicate to humanity (this seems like an awfully arrogant thing to do), you could look at what the Bible says about how it communicates to humanity.

            If you do the above, I think you’ll find that there are more ways than your X for God to effectively communicate to his creation. Whether or not Adam and Eve existed, they are the prototype of all future people who had the choice to either obey the revealed word of God or disobey it. See Hebrews 3:7, 15, and 4:7. If you decide how God must speak, you are refusing to hear his voice!

          • pepe

            Thanks for responding back – this is helpful to me on some level.

            I read I&I, and also have not taken a literal view of Genesis. The question is, did God inspire the Jewish retelling of the creation myth. I believed that he did. It is not a “true” story per-se, but it was people, writing by inspiration from God, and it was God wanting to communicate a message to us about who he was (all within an ANE perspective, mind you).

            Where this thread is going is to say that Genesis was just a bunch of writing cobbled together by people. So, why not insert into Genesis 3, the story of “How the elephant got its trunk”? That too is just a fable, like any other fable.

            Going back to my original post about Elijah – the issue isn’t if so-and-so actually existed and was 5’11″. The question is, “did God ordain or inspire the writing about the person to communicate a spiritual truth for us”.

            We seem to be venturing into a territory of “no, it was just stories people told as they were trying to figure out God”. And, the stories we have are by the ones who eventually won out in the end. And that is what led me to my Three Little Pigs analogy.

            I think it is fine if you want to adopt a pluralistic view of G(g)od. That is, every culture has their books that cry out to understand why they are here. I think that can provide a good level of comfort to us. But, I do not believe that is Christianity. Christianity and Judaism believe that there really is something special about the Bible we have, that makes it different from anything else.

            I am curious, are you more of a pluralist, or would you consider yourself an ‘evangelical’ Christian (I know, whatever that means, right? – ha,ha)? But, I think you get my point in the question.

            Also, do you think that the lessons learned from say, Aesop’s Fables or even Poor Richard’s Almanac are on equal footing as the scriptures?

          • labreuer

            Where this thread is going is to say that Genesis was just a bunch of writing cobbled together by people. So, why not insert into Genesis 3, the story of “How the elephant got its trunk”? That too is just a fable, like any other fable.

            I don’t think anyone is saying that?

            We seem to be venturing into a territory of “no, it was just stories people told as they were trying to figure out God”. And, the stories we have are by the ones who eventually won out in the end. And that is what led me to my Three Little Pigs analogy.

            Why do you say ‘just’ (which I bolded)? We are trying to figure out God. So were they. We trust that God has given us an OT which is edifying to us, which points us toward Christ. There is an element of trust here, and in Pete’s I&I! It’s just a lot different from the fundamentalist style of trust.

            I am curious, are you more of a pluralist, or would you consider yourself an ‘evangelical’ Christian (I know, whatever that means, right? – ha,ha)? But, I think you get my point in the question.

            Also, do you think that the lessons learned from say, Aesop’s Fables or even Poor Richard’s Almanac are on equal footing as the scriptures?

            I do not have a pluralist view of God. I do think that other religions have certain aspects figured out fairly accurately, but that’s just saying that God reveals some amount of truth to everyone. What they do with it—e.g. distort it—is on them, as the Bible repeatedly says.

            What do you mean by “equal footing”? Aesop’s Fables could probably be fully derived from the Bible, and to the extent that they can’t, I’ll bet there exists error in them. But there are also wrong interpretations of scripture itself out there! I’m not talking about whether Adam is real, I’m talking about stuff like whether it’s ok for Christians to hurt another Christian, say “sorry”, and then walk away, as if the damage has magically disappeared! Imagine if I took a hammer to a TV evangelist’s car in his presence, said “sorry”, and then walked away. Just imagine.

          • pepe

            We trust that God has given us an OT which is edifying to us, which points us toward Christ.

            thanks for that comment. I think we are closer in our thinking than we might believe. I think you are saying that the Bible we have, as we have it, is not an accident. It was in some way, directed to us by God, and its the one he wants us to have.

            People can’t tell the future, so if it “points us to Christ” as you say, then it can’t simply be a work of humans. In some mysterious way, God had to be involved in some aspect. That I believe.

            Now, did the redactor when trying to intermingle the JEDP sources together into the Torah actually know he was writing scripture? Or, unbeknownst to him, was God guiding him? That is a mystery we will never know.

            But, I think you are saying the scriptures aren’t just made by man, but rather man, guided by God. To take a phrase from Joseph:

            what you meant as journaling, God meant for preservation into his written word

          • labreuer

            I like it! You’ve made me think about Romans 9 and the typical Reformed view, that God actually shapes evil people to be evil, such that God will be glorified when he smites them. I don’t buy this; instead, I interpret it thusly: you’re going to accomplish God’s will regardless of what you do, but whether or not you’ll enjoy the process and result is entirely your choice. We can view the creation of the OT and NT in the same way. Some may have meant evil in doing it, some may have pursued their own agendas, but God used this all to produce a textual work which accomplished and continues to accomplish his purpose.

            Contrast the above to Ligonier Ministries’s “God’s Sovereignty”:

            As Dr. R.C. Sproul has said, “There is no maverick molecule if God is sovereign.” If He cannot control the tiniest bits of the universe, then we cannot trust Him to keep His word.

            This is, of course, usually interpreted as God actively controlling every molecule. Taken to the creation of scripture, this means that God was in control of every molecule of every pen and ensured that exactly the Fundamentalist’s idea of the writing process happened. Of course, God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts, but the Fundamentalist often forgets this. As an illustration, did you know that the Westminster Confession was drafted by people who were called the “Westminster Divines”, and that originally it had no supporting scripture? The English House of Commons demanded that they added “proof texts”. Yeah, retroactively add ‘scriptural support’. This can be spun multiple different ways, but I don’t like it. It smells of taking preconceived notions and imposing them on scripture, and then ‘verifying’ that these notions are correct.

            Thank you, Pete, for helping us see a different way than the Westminster Divines! Thank you God, for giving us Pete! :-D

          • Susan_G1

            Thank you very much for your response. I will go back to I&I.

  • http://www.twitter.com/tchambers TimmyC

    Thanks as always for these, thinking over all this…

  • ajl

    “Bible appears to be: a collection of very diverse ancient writings that were at times pieced together over hundreds of years, that were re-worked and sometimes re-written in order to give meaning to a particular people’s understanding of who they were and who God was in relationship to them, etc. etc. “

    this makes a lot of sense from how I read the Bible as well – in fact, it seems like the best explanation out there. But it does create a huge difficulty for me from a spiritual sense. If it was to “give meaning to a particular people’s understand….”, then isn’t that what, say, “The Shack” did? Or “The Great Divorce”? So, is “The Shack” now on equal footing as Job? If that is the case, then what Authority does the bible have?

    If can find a reasonable answer to that question, then I am, as they say “all in” on this interpretation.

  • Eric Kunkel

    God is REALLY big, right. So the Bible, no matter it seems your view of inspiration, inerranancy — is going to be what God says to us. Not all of God, since God is an absolute infinite. You do not have to be a pantheist or even a panentheist to say that God is like that.

    “There is none but God.”

    Or Jesus, Word of Father, now in flesh appearing – as the hymn goes, He is an, or The instantiation of God. Even being one substance with Father, not to argue about a diphthong, He is what God wants us to know about HImself – Ayn od milvado.


  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Hi Peter, I look at “God” or “Whatever reality is” as the pincushion hidden by innumerable pins. We can see and feel the pins but not the cusihon. In similar fashion, Kant spoke of the difference between the phenomenal and noumenal world. We see phenomena, but the ultimate reality, whatever IT is, is beyond phenomena.

    And I look at all writings as equal, and seek the best in every book, video, and person.

    On the question of the development of Hebrew monotheism, check out these scholarly pieces: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2010/10/rise-of-monotheism-israels-theological.html

  • PMark

    Yes, God is definitely bigger than the Bible. The Bible itself testifies of this. It doesn’t take much reading to find references in the Bible to texts that are no longer in the canon and are now lost to history.

    I read somewhere that if you read aloud all the sayings of Jesus found in the New Testament, it only fills up about an hour’s worth of teachings. The man preached for three years and sometimes spoke for many hours. What happened to all his teachings? And let’s not forget that the last verse in the Gospel of John where John says that there were far more things about Jesus left out of the Bible than was put in it.

    As someone else pointed out, the idea that an infinite being can be fully described in a finite book makes little sense.

    So the bottom line is that the claim that the Bible contains all of God’s revealed word is simply untenable because the Bible itself says otherwise.

    So what’s the big fuss? The fact that the Bible does not contain all of God’s word to his children really has no bearing whatsoever on whether he exists or not. Okay, so the Bible is incomplete. Does that mean the teachings found therein are incorrect? Why?

  • dangjin

    So your disbelief is growing. Now you are saying that the Bible is a human work and God did not write a revelation for his followers to follow. you are now saying that there is no superior moral standard to follow, there is no salvation and that anyone can do whatever they like because there is no right and wrong anymore.

    You cannot cherry pick the verses you claim to be ‘of God’ and dismiss the ones you claim to be human. You are now siding with evil not the apostles, Jesus or God. You need to stop leading people to sin, and disbelief and become silent while you get right with God.

    The Bible is God’s word not a human work that has been edited. Stop disobeying God by listening to unbelievers or those scholars who claim to be Christian yet do not believe God.

    • labreuer

      dangjin, Pete most definitely believes that God has communicated to us. He merely believes that God has communicated differently than most people’s preconceptions of how God must communicate. He is letting the Bible guide him and teach him how God communicates. He is truly applying sola scriptura!

    • Eric Kunkel

      It is an act of denial on its face to say that there were no Editors to the OT. This is my view and these are my friends, so let me introduce some of them to you.

      The Masorites around 700 AD consciously edited the OT. The Bible of Jesus’ day was likely the Septuagint, in Greek, which we know was edited. BTW, all scholars conservative and liberal consult these and other texts when translating the Bible, for example.
      It takes your breathe away to see the Great Isaiah Scroll in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. However there are a few textual variants from your Bible on each page. Granted most are alternative spellings. But it is kind of like Ivory Soap, 99 44/100 pure. Even those scribes that counted letters six ways from Sunday would make alterations.
      ?Or was it Saturday. Never mind.

      So, “we see thru a glass darkly?” Or I know I do. As finite fallen humans we know nothing with kind of apodictic certainty that you are alluding to as a test of orthodoxy.

      Although the common belief that textual transmission was like kids playing the telephone game is obviously false, as the Isaiah Scroll shows us.

      Similarly, there are traditions about what Ezra the Scribe did in compiling the text. Why do we all think he was called Ezra the Scribe?

      And who are you to cast aspirations at Prof. Enns, anyway? This is a Blog, where empirical constructs are examined. It is kind of creepy, IMHO about your stone-casting-

      He does not need me to defend him. But, brother you are attacking the wrong person.

      • Tom Wiley

        “For verily I say unto
        you, till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall in
        any wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled.” – Matt 5:17-18
        Just sounds like God trying to communicate with us to me. And that “Editors” will not corrupt His message. Translators, I would certainly agree, but “Editors” implies someone who is changing the message to one of their own.

        • labreuer

          Translators corrupt the message. Look up A Brief Word Study on: Skuvbalon, where the translators used “Christian sensibilities” to decide how to translate skubalon in Philippians 3:8.

          Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish (skubalon), in order that I may gain Christ

          That word is not ‘rubbish’ in the Greek. I’m pretty sure we all know what best fits there. But because an expletive doesn’t fit with how Christians think the world ought to be, we alter the allegedly inerrant Bible. Just FYI.

    • Andy_Schueler

      The Bible is God’s word not a human work that has been edited.

      You have obviously never thought this through to the end. Since the biblical manuscripts which are used to reconstruct the text of modern Bibles and translate them into english differ in thousands of instances, sometimes with entire passages being missing or being interpolated – your belief that the Bible has not been edited by humans logically entails that God deliberately introduced thousands of scribal mistakes, mistranslations and forgeries into the biblical manuscripts we found. In other words, you are accusing God of being a deceiver.

    • Chaprich

      dangjin, Your assumptions about the Bible are very similar to what Muslims believe about the Quran. That is a problem. In Islam the Quran is the intermediary by which God speaks the command to submit. For Christians, Jesus is the Word by which we are drawn into God’s grace, mercy, and love; then empowered by the Holy Spirit to be obedient. The written word (the Bible) gives witness to the Word made flesh. When we substitute the Bible for the Word we are guilty of bibliolatry.

      • ctrace

        >Your assumptions about the Bible are very similar to what Muslims believe about the Quran. That is a problem.

        No, it’s not a problem, it’s just muslims counterfeiting Christianity minus the truth and salvation.

        • Chaprich

          The point I am trying to make is many Christians elevate the Bible to the same level that Islam holds the Quran. The book becomes the intermediary instead of Jesus. Jesus is the Word (John 1) to whom the Bible gives witness.
          Muslims believe that God dictated the Quran word for word to Mohammed, through dreams. The Bible, on the other hand, God inspired the various writers and editors, but did not rob them of their humanity, historical contexts, or world views. In the Bible, God speaks through very human words. In Jesus, God loved and saved us through a very human (and divine) Word.

          • ctrace

            You did everything but say the Bible has human error in it. I believe, with most all of believing Christians present and past, that it doesn’t. And Islam, based on its false religious beliefs, doesn’t even need or want a mediator. Most Muslims – Sunnis – don’t even hold the Koran as high as you say. They put Islamic tradition at the level of the Koran, much like Roman Catholics do with the Bible or Orthodox Jews do with the Torah.

          • Chaprich

            Ctrace: What do you mean by “error”? I don’t think you can prove, “I believe, with most all of believing Christians present and past, that it doesn’t” (contain any sort of error). Inerrancy was a 20th century invention to combat “modernism”. I don’t think Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Augustine et al thought in terms of inerrancy. I think the phrase “infallible rule of faith (believe in Jesus) and practice” (obey Jesus) more closely aligns with what Scripture claims for itself. The Anglican standard, “Scriptures contain all that is necessary for our salvation” is sufficient as well.
            Muslims don’t think of their religion as false. They do believe the Quran is the Word from God as opposed to a person (Jesus) to whom the Scriptures give authoritative witness.

  • labreuer

    Pete, this strongly pattern-matches onto things that Jon Mark Ruthven says in What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology? Tradition vs. Biblical Emphasis, published in 2013. Perhaps his biggest critique is that Protestantism has been a faith of preparation, but not action. Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of Heaven, but it’s as if once entry is obtained for a given human, things get very fuzzy from there. Discipleship is extremely weak. Or as a First Things article put it, Protestants have plenty of place for Jesus’ death, but much for his life. Suffer for others’ sins? Far be it! (Nobody look at Colossians 1:24, it doesn’t exist or was for apostles only.)

    The intriguing thing is that Ruthven holds very strongly to biblical inerrancy and sola scriptura. Indeed, he probably holds to it more strongly than Martin Luther and John Calvin! There is much evidence that Luther and Calvin, while they got some things right, had plenty of ideas that they imposed upon the Bible, vs. deriving from the Bible. For example, cessation of miracles and charismatic gifts: this was done to deprive the RCC of miraculous testimony to their man-made traditions. As it turns out, valuing consistency can prove very thought-provoking. Please continue to do this, Pete!

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    Hello Peter, this is really a wonderful post of which I love each part!

    Reading lots of academic articles, books and other religious texts led me to the inevitable conclusion that books within the Biblical Canon aren’t in any way more inspired than books outside the Canon. I still believe that Jesus Himself is the ultimate revelation of God to man, but I also believe that many non-Christian religions got quite a few things right about God, as the apostle Paul himself said the people of the Aeropagus in Athens.

    Keep bleesing us with other posts!

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son


  • mark

    I’m a big fan of Smith’s work, but I’d like to put in a special plug for Memoirs of God, for two reasons. The first reason is that it summarizes his work in earlier books, such as the one that Pete is writing about here. The second reason is that in the closing sections Smith addresses issues that Pete wrestles with in Inspiration and Incarnation. Also, many readers may find it somewhat more accessible–more thematically organized and tightly and transparently reasoned.

    God is bigger than the Bible–and frankly, I see Jesus in the Gospels already sounding that note when he began reshaping common views of God based on Israel’s traditions, but I digress.

    Digress? Not really. I doubt that Smith would regard that as digressive. IMO, that’s exactly the direction that Christians need to go in.

    Peter, respectfully, does this mean that you are rethinking what you said here in “Inspiration and Incarnation”?

    No, but a more fully worked out version of the implications of it.

    I believe that Smith’s insights are essential to a truly Christian theory of revelation.

  • mark

    Studying the Bible and Israel’s past is a regular reminder to me that my object of trust is God, not the Bible. That’s not knocking the Bible. It’s acknowledging that the Bible–even where it talks about God–is not a heavenly tablet dropped from heaven, but a relentlessly contextual collection of ancient literature that takes wisdom and patience to handle well.


  • SpyPlus

    Pete I appreciate your honesty. It is fresh air in Christian circles these days. Keep posting and challenging your readers.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Well done post. So true the line “but when you get too close to the Bible, prepare to have your view of the Bible reoriented.”
    Biblical fundamentalists usually have the Bible at arm’s length and they don’t even realize it.

    • Eric Kunkel

      To Andrew I would say, my reaction is that we all hold the Bible at arms length. This implies we may need glasses, and implies to all theological persuasions. Presbyopia afflicts us all (not just Presbyterians, or Fundamentalists.)

      To Mark I would say that maybe the Ten Commandments were tables of stone dropped from Heaven. Maybe we will find those if we find the Ark.

      My view, is that we have a most excellent version of God’s Word. Arguing about the details is OK. But even though there may be certain differences between the folios, the whole exercise is kind of like Shakespeare: You would not argue about Hamlet with Sir Larry Olivier.

      I am a common-sense Realist about it all. We have a good Bible. And I believe it was written by God pretty much how I believe that Pete Enns wrote His books. I know the author, typesetting is pretty accurate, etc.

      And from what I understand his Mac usually works just fine. He raves about it.

  • paulbuggy

    Thanks Pete. Please post more on this.
    I’m curious about how the authority of scripture is affected by how it was written. Simply put, how can tell what God thinks is right and wrong if the scriptures where formed the way they were i.e. solving a temporary immediate problem reflecting the current views of the day. Can they say anything absolute about morality? e.g OT views of homosexuality. Is God in there somewhere?
    Was Jesus moral teaching affected by the thinking of his time in the same way? Did he evolve things a bit, but not all the way? e.g. his teaching on marriage and divorce. Am I reading Paul’s opinions or God’s about right and wrong. Pete, can you expand your post to cover these questions? Thanks

    • samH

      yes, please, pete! like paul, i too am considering a divorce and would like to find a loophole outside of the bible!

  • Seraphim

    Hi Peter, I agree that Israel gradually came to know God. But I don’t think Smith’s perspective is really reconcilable with Christianity (not sure if you were arguing Smith’s perspective.) Benjamin Sommer provides a good analysis of monotheism and polytheism in ancient Israel in the appendix to his “Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel.” Michael Heiser deserves an honorable mention as well.

  • Leif

    ” I say that this is not a last minute frenzied punt from my own end zone before the sack.”

    An editor needs to review these articles, the audience is now international, hence the need for an worldview English edition

  • Susan_G1

    Really good post, Peter. Thanks so much.

  • Benjamin Petersen

    Thats a load to chew on…

  • James

    Your use of the term “Bible” makes me think you believe there exists a body of writings that has an air of authority about it–of finer quality, in fact, than any other good literature. NT Wright says, “Authority of Scripture is shorthand for God’s authority exercised through Scripture.” That’s like saying “God is bigger than the Bible.” The bigger part is what we call spirit–thus the mix of word and spirit. Yet, it is hard to understand how the two could possibly mix, a little like we don’t know how light (a wonderful metaphor of divine revelation) could be both a wave and a particle in one instance.

    • labreuer

      James, we know exactly that photons propagate as waves and interact with [particulate] matter as particles. It’s only a mystery when you don’t realize that something can propagate in one way and interact the other. It actually isn’t a mystery to scientists.

      I’m not sure why you see weirdness between the written Word and the Word; one is a finite (and therefore necessarily approximate) version of the other. A fun verse is Romans 10:4.

      For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

      Just now, I’m reading an article on the word telos, which is translated ‘end’, above. The author makes a good case that we should translate telos something more like ‘goal’ or ‘culmination’ or ‘purpose’. In other words, the law (all of OT) doesn’t just point to Christ, it leads up to him, kind of like an infinite series in math converges to a value. Indeed, I’m going to play with this analogy, as it fits the finite –> infinite model quite nicely.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist

    ” at least not until I gain supreme, ultimate power, which is the plan.” Pete, you always make me chuckle.

    • Lee Meadows

      I laughed so loud at that people in the coffee shop were staring at me.

  • Anna

    As always, I really appreciate your thoughts, Pete. If you turn around and look behind you, I’m travelling on the same road. What you say resonates with me, and yes, it is a “nice path”!

  • Derek

    Is this essentially how Jesus regarded Yahweh?

  • Lee Meadows

    Thanks for, “My life, such as it is, is about synthesizing my own spiritual life with what I’ve been trained to do and what I do for a living, which is to say I’ve thought about this a good bit and hang out with others who have done the same.” That described well what I’m doing as a science educator–synthesizing my spiritual life with scientific evidence. Most recently that synthesis has started including evidence about the Bible from manuscripts and archeology, and you’ve been a key help in that .

  • sarah

    sorry, but my first response is, duh? God is also bigger than a breadbox. even the Bible refers to the many things Jesus did, that if they were written down…followed by what can only really be hyperbole. it’s interesting that john 21:25 doesn’t imply ‘these things were written down but will not be made canon centuries from now’–just to keep someone from turning this into a rant on non-canonical literature. it state that many things were done that were not written down at all. the bigger question really is not ‘is God contained in the Bible’–obviously not–but does God contradict the Bible? Is there some aspect of God’s expectations or plans for us, or his revelation to us peraonally, that contradicts the Bible? How you handle the answer to that question will be predicated by your own personal, larger theological system.

  • Marky

    Hi pete, I’ve been a follower of your blog for sometime. I just wanna say ok, fine, I give. Maybe the bible is errant, broken, untrustworthy in some parts. Maybe there are irreconcilable contradictions, archaeological findings that call into question stories of the OT, clearly fabricated OT prophecies in the NT. You have successfully called into question any notion of inerrancy and for any notion of traditional evangelicalism as being intellectually credible. Now what? Why should one be a Christian, why should one think that the Christianity is anymore true than the other religions we all know are fabricated myths. Why should anyone trust this religion above any other religion. It seems to me that there is an unavoidable slippery slope here. I don’t know, I feel like a great of time is spent laying waste to traditional Christianity and not enough on why we should become Christians. Perhaps, deep down, you don’t really believe there are any good reasons to be a Christian. I don’t mean to psycho-analyze you I don’t you personally, but that’s the general impression I get from reading your blogs. Perhaps I am wrong…sorry for the rant I just feel like I needed to get it out.

  • Perplexedearthling1

    My problems with the Bible are :
    1. the various rewrites, mistranslations (accidental and not), sections taken out of context and forced into prophecies about Jesus (See any Jewish commentary on these “prophecies”)
    2. the various NT manuscripts. For example, earliest St. Mark does not have ch 16 v 9-20 and the utter impossibility of reconciling place and time of birth of Jesus, different accounts of trial, crucifixion and resurrection, among others
    3. the representation of God in the Old Testament as arbitrary and commanding actions which are against the standards of behaviour He expects from humans as revealed in 10 Commandments so that the “goodness” of God does not even meet human standards of goodness
    4. Well known falsities e.g actual Adam and Eve as historical persons
    Finally, I would recommend the meticulously detailed book “Is it God’s Word” by Joseph Wheless, a leading lawyer, examining the Bible from the inside and in its own terms alone (published in 1926 and free to download), which shows that the Bible really contains contradictions even in terms of facts. This totally convinced me that the Bible cannot be God’s Word unless we assume that God is a God of madness and confusion !
    Thank you for opening up debate on the whole issue of the Bible. God bless.

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com/ Sabio Lantz

    I wished I’d have shown up here earlier. I am looking for recommendations of books BY CHRISTIANS that argue against Biblical Literalism. I know a conservative Christian who knows her Bible reading well, but not doubted her view of the Bible. She will probably only read 2 or max 3 books. Anyone’s top 3 suggestions? (thank you)

  • herewegokids

    God IS bigger than the Bible. And you know what else is? The Church. Grew up IFB, and at the age of 40-something, with my teenage daughter asking me for the authority behind our canon, I realized that not only did the historical Church come before the scripture, the [historical] Church gave me the scripture. For me, that turned out to be Catholicism (of any orthodox stripe, though I participate in the Roman rite). It really put a lot of my angst about literalist interpretations in perspective.

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