“I was always taught the Bible says X, but I just don’t see it”

Recently at the Huffington Post, Greg Carey (Professor of New Testament, Lancaster Theological Seminary), published his thoughts on how the Bible itself challenges fundamentalism rather than supports it. The article, with its provocative title, “Where Do ‘Liberal’ Scholars Come From,” has attracted some attention, both pro and con.

Many (including me) resonated with Carey’s article, and though some found it unconvincing, Carey is simply rehearsing a well-worn path in western Christianity over the last several hundred years: “I was taught to believe the Bible unequivocally says X, but I just don’t see it, so I am going to stop believing X.”

Fill in X with any one of a number of issues.

I have known many people, and heard of many others, who have come from conservative or moderately conservative backgrounds and whose earlier paradigms have been seriously challenged by the simply process of paying attention to scripture in context–whether the immediate literary context or the historical context. This is especially true of those who have done higher level academic work outside of evangelicalism and fundamentalism, but is by no means restricted to this group.

Why does this happen?

I think it’s because scripture doesn’t line up very well with the conservative paradigm of scripture (some form of inerrancy). That’s why the paradigm needs constant tending and vigilant defending in order to survive.

I mean, there’s a reason why Carey’s phenomenon keeps rearing its head generation after generation. It’s not (as I hear far too often) that the offenders are intellectually naive (or dimwitted) and have been duped or are too spiritually weak kneed to “hold on to the truth.”

The recurring unrest with conservative readings of scripture from within conservative circles suggests that the paradigm is flawed.

My plan over the coming weeks is to invite some biblical scholars from evangelical backgrounds to write about the issue(s) that brought them to reconsider the older paradigms they were taught, to let us in on their own “aha” moments that brought them to the brink of having to make a decision between staying put and moving on–and why they chose to move on.

I’ll keep you posted, of course.

  • Ian Paul

    Thanks Peter. I think Greg’s article is odd, since he appears to think that ‘evangelical’ positions on the Bible are always undone by the Bible itself. I guess that might be true in the States where ‘evangelical’ means ‘fundamentalist’ but it is certainly not the case in the UK. some of the leading academics in biblical studies here look in other regards like fairly ‘conservative’ evangelicals.

    • peteenns

      Yes, the UK and US scenes are different. In the US there is too often no appreciable hermeneutical difference between evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Having said that, I wouldn’t give all UK scholars a free ride. Not naming names, but I sometimes sense a far deeper conservatism than appears on the surface, and a little pushing can bring it the surface.

      • Ian Paul

        For sure, though I had in mind the issues Carey raises, rather than individuals.

        • Greg Carey

          I appreciate Peter’s referral to my piece. I also agree that some contexts need clear distinctions between terms like evangelical and fundamentalist. In fact, I’ve tried my hand at it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-carey/evangelical-christians_b_4304457.html. However, when writing for a venue like the Huffington Post, the idea is to reach a broader sort of audience. So I wasn’t taking on fundamentalism (although I use the term) so much as a generic biblicism that is so prevalent in American culture.

          • Ian Paul

            I am just surprised that you suggest ALL the ideas you were brought up with don’t find academic support.

            I was brought up in an evangelical church, and having completed a PhD in biblical interpretation and taught for 20 years, I would say there is good academic support for broadly evangelical ideas e.g. that the gospels are, on the whole, a reliable guide to the teaching, actions and meaning of Jesus.

          • Greg Carey

            I don’t know that I’d agree with your description of the gospels — I don’t know what “on the whole, reliable” means in this context — but by no means did I mean to dismiss all the ideas I grew up with. I can say that “on the whole, reliable” would get one fired by many evangelical schools in the US.

          • Michael Hardin

            Greg: we should do a lunch date again this summer? Molly’s?

          • Greg Carey

            Early August?

          • Lise

            Greg – this second Huffington Post piece is excellent. Thanks for referencing it.

  • Brian P.

    Would be interesting, in this topic, to take up the whole notion of study Bibles. I think they significantly help bolster certain styles of faith. Befuddled by an ancient text, one can always turn to the words of a clear authority–such an authority that even his words are within the Bible’s pages–to have it made clear what the Bible is supposed to say.

    • Michael Hardin

      Personally I think study Bibles have to be the worst invention ever made. They lock the text into an interpretation. 38 years ago when I first started learning Greek, my instructor admonished us never to write a ‘translation’ in the margins, for years later as we became more proficient we would end up ‘locking’ ourselves into what we had written when we were naïve students. I prefer just the text as it stands. No study Bibles in this house!

      • Brian P.

        Sola Scriptura-believing Protestants buy them by the truckload. It makes no sense to me.

      • Ian Paul

        Study Bible are of the Devil. Simple as that.

      • Anthony

        I complete understand why one would oppose the use of study Bibles, but I have an honest question.

        For those of us who are more or less novices…. Given how difficult it can be to figure out what scripture means and that using study Bibles risks locking oneself into a particular interpretation, how should the novice proceed? That is, how can the novice get beyond what the text *says* into what it *means*? Would reading commentaries be preferable to using a study Bible?

        • Ian Paul

          Start with Stuart and Fee http://amzn.to/1pg9Ehk

          Then get hold of an accessible introduction like this


          (There is also a US version with a fancy cover!)

          • Anthony

            That’s really helpful. Thank you.

      • Brenna

        Haha!! I was going to ask you to write a study guide for Jesus Driven Life. My brain isn’t intelligent enough for this work! :(

  • MikeBratton

    So-called “liberal” theologians overwhelmingly tend to treat their liberalism as the noun, rather than the adjective. They desire to be widely known for their liberal worldview, for their alleged open-mindedness, much more than for their faith in Jesus Christ. And more’s the pity.

    • peteenns

      Of course, replace”liberal” with “conservative” and the same point holds. More importantly, though, the issues cannot be sidestepped by this kind of rhetoric.

      • MikeBratton

        The issue, Peter, isn’t about rhetoric. It’s about what to believe–whether to believe that God is actually able to communicate with His creation, or whether we waste far too much money on leather bindings for run-of-the-mill “creation stories” and internally-inconsistent narratives.

        • Michael Hardin

          The problem here Mike, as I see it, is not that “liberals” do not believe that God cannot communicate with creation, but rather that we humans are misinterpreters of that revelation. In theory, a perfect revelation (communication) would require a perfect interpreter. Protestantism has never been able to get past this hurdle and this, I think, was a major impetus in the turn to hermeneutics in the 20th century. One might claim all kinds of perfection, authority, or inerrancy/infallibility for Scripture but this viewpoint has reached a complete dead end, indeed it has become a place of ennui. Another paradigm is necessary if Protestants are going to continue using the Bible for doctrinal or liturgical purposes. I sought to offer one alternative in my books.

          • MikeBratton

            If a perfect God cannot take into account the imperfections of His own creation, then there’s a problem. Michael, there’s no “claim” involved in understanding what God has to say about the Scriptures in the Scriptures themselves. There is no support for the notion, as but one example, that Adam was just another creation story, other than the insistence of those who treat inerrancy and infallibility like a dead rat in the garage–something that is gag-inducing, should be thrown out, and must prompt a call to the exterminator.

            The problem–and this is not theoretical–is that God can either communicate with us, or He can’t. There’s no nuance involved, discouraging as that might be to some brothers and sisters in the faith. There are imperfections, indeed, but those lie in the notion that what is found in the Bible ought not be taken at face value. If Genesis isn’t credible, then neither is Isaiah, nor the Gospels, nor Revelation.

            Sorry if you’re bored, but please don’t make the fallacious assumption that just because you are, the rest of us must be, too.

          • Michael Hardin

            The assumption “what God has to say about the Scriptures in the Scriptures themselves” is a tautology. This creates an indefensible hermeneutical circle; one either buys the so-called Protestant view of the authority of scripture hook, line and sinker or one doesn’t. I don’t. I do believe that God communicates about God’s self but rather than tie revelation to a text (which I see Jesus, Paul and the writer of the Fourth Gospel arguing against), I tie revelation to the Risen Jesus, who by the Spirit raises a community of faith, who in the power of the Spirit, render the text. “Taking the Bible at face value” is itself a hermeneutic, one which anyone who has diligently studies hermeneutics knows, is a fallacious approach to the polyphonic character of the text itself. The fact is that Protestantism is crumbling from within and the inerrancy/infallibility tradition cannot bear the strain of interpretation any longer. While historical criticism has contributed to this breakdown, other disciplines have also been involved and as far as I am concerned, conservative Protestantism is at a dead end as we enter the 21st century. It can only engage in a rear guard defensive action; it has been completely out flanked and no amount of desperate apologetics will rescue it. This is how I interpret the statement “If Genesis isn’t credible, then neither is Isaiah, nor the Gospels, nor Revelation.” Credible in what way? Literally? If so, you are right none of the Bible is credible. Why? Because it “literally” contradicts itself time and again. Thus another interpretive matrix must be sought other than the broken rusted out mechanism of sola scriptura and a very suspect and completely deconstructed theory of inspiration. This new matrix is already coming to form in the churches around the world, in manifest forms and in various ways: Jesus is the lens or the hermeneutic grid. One need no longer to have an infallible text to render God’s Word. I have written more about this elsewhere but this is where I stand: on Christ, the solid Rock!

          • war_and_peace


            This is somewhat off-topic, but not entirely. I enjoy your work on preaching peace, but I am going to ask you a very “loaded” question. I don’t know if the question falls into those yes/no problems or not. Anyway, its not a trap, but rather an attempt to understand the boundaries and compromises in the theory. Anyway, here goes:

            “what should be the response of South Korean Christians if North Korea chooses to invade South Korea? Should they reach out in love and forgiveness, or should they militarily defend themselves? Or, should they leave it up to the non-Christians to fight and they stay out of the conflict?”

            You quote Barth a lot, and I think Barth was one of the more progressive theologians who was shocked at the horrors of WWI and felt that some adjustment was necessary. Do you see similar caveats to the theory?

          • Michael Hardin

            Yes I do see or hear any number of caveats on this topic. Jesus’ orientation and teaching about his disciples non-retaliatory stance is pretty clear to me. I don’t know how one can equivocate on this. And here, I think Barth was wrong (on this), but then again he chose to follow the path of Augustine via Calvin, I don’t.

          • Ian Paul

            I;ve just blogged on a canonical perspective on this question at http://www.psephizo.com

          • peteenns

            Some interesting points in your 2-part blog, Ian. Thanks for putting them up.

          • Ian Paul

            Thanks, Pete. I preached on this on Sunday…and suddenly realised I had thought about it quite a lot!

          • Ian Paul

            Btw, would love to touch base at SBL…

          • peteenns

            Let’s connect in the fall again, Ian, when I know my SBL schedule a bit more.

          • War_and_peace

            I really like your quote:

            “Warfare might have been a pragmatic necessity, but it is no more than an intermediate or second best”.

            that gives me a lot to think about. In many ways I think the answer to the original question about North Korea is:

            From a pragmatic standpoint they can fight to protect themselves but that is still going to leave them with bloodstained hands and a reflection of sinful nature. And, they cannot escape the consequences of that – victory could lead to pride and more violence…

            Jesus understood how the world of warfare works (hence his discussion about counting the cost when going to war), but it doesn’t mean he is happy about that. And it is also one of the reasons he came – to restore the earth into right relationship with himself

          • MikeBratton

            No, actually, you don’t and you can’t, because your view of Scripture is that it is unreliable. The Solid Rock crumbles under the weight of too-clever-by-half criticism of the Bible. And the “Jesus” separated from revealed Scripture is an unknown. But perhaps that’s the idea? Pry the idea of “Jesus Christ” apart from the Bible, and you can make that idea into anything you like. Exegetical? Not in the slightest.

            You’d apparently rather pretend that tautologies exist when they don’t, pretend that the Bible argues with itself when it doesn’t, and furthermore pretend that the Bible is the flawed product of a flawed deity. This is far beyond the burr in your saddle you seem to have with regard to “Protestantism,” but one where the “lens of the hermeneutic grid” is not Jesus, but one’s own mind.

          • Michael Hardin

            You strain at gnats and swallow camels my friend. Yes, on Jesus I stand, No it is not some ill fated theory of inspiration in which I put my trust. I don’t need a perfect Bible in order to have a coherent understanding of God’s self-revelation. Here is a little tidbit I would like to ask you about since you are a convinced believer in some sort of biblical infallibility, how would you handle these questions: “There are really only three proof texts that can be urged infavor of a theory of inspiration, the most significant being 2 Tim. 3:16. However even here the text can arguably be translated “Every scripture that is inspired by God is useful for…” It does not necessarily assert that ALL scripture is inspired. This also begs the question of canonicity since for the Protestant, the same church which canonized the Old and New Testaments also canonized the Apocrypha. It also begs the question of whether it is the Hebrew text that is inspired, as is found in all Protestant versions of inspiration or the Greek versions, including the Septuagint, which the Orthodox church claims is inspired and which is used by the vast majority of the New Testament writers. It also begs the question as to how much other versions of Scripture might be inspired, like the Targums, from whence the Pastoral author, just three verses previously had taken the names of the two opponents of Moses,
            Jannes and Jambres. There are far too many questions surrounding 2 Tim 3:16 to simply argue that it says “all scripture is inspired” and means ALL the original manuscripts of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. Even if it does, it says nothing at all
            about Scripture being inerrant or infallible, these are (false) implications drawn by Protestant Scholasticism and contemporary Fundamentalists and conservative Evangelicals.”

          • MikeBratton

            Your argument is fragile; this fragility has been highlighted for you. Your response is to quote from a Book which you deem, by your argument, to be unreliable, and rip a verse from it, contextual roots dangling, to use as a weapon. You consequently toy with translations from a different portion of the same Book–the one you deem unreliable. And you make pronouncements of truth and falsehood based upon… wait for it… your own opinion.

            Michael, you don’t like the Bible. You might like bits and pieces of it a little, and you definitely like your own, personalized worldview a lot, but you’re not a fan of the Bible. You also don’t like others who identify as Christians when we don’t consider the Bible to be only as reliable as the latest edition of the National Enquirer. Unfortunately for your worldview, you cannot avoid cognitive dissonance by declaring that you stand upon the Solid Rock that is Jesus Christ while simultaneously soiling the very Scriptures that tell you about Him.

            You’d like to suggest that the books of the New Testament aren’t inspired by God? That would include the Gospels, you might recall, including Matthew 23:24, which you removed from context to sling at me like a brickbat. Why, Michael, how can we know Jesus even said such a thing about the scribes and Pharisees? According to you, we cannot, just as we cannot know that John 14:6 is valid–or John 3:16, for that matter.

            Either God can clearly and unambiguously communicate with us through the Bible, or he cannot. You believe He cannot, while a whole host of us know He can. It might be a zany hunch, but the God described in Genesis 1 ought to be able to get His message across without confusion or error, don’t you think?

            Oh, that’s right. You don’t think so. And that’s sad.

          • Michael Hardin

            Anybody else on this thread think that our friend Mr. Bratton is out of his depth here? All he manages to do is make flaccid arguments. Where is the real evidence for any assertion? How about this one “Michael, you don’t like the Bible”? Have any of my friends ever heard anything so ludicrous? After all I have published on Scripture, interpreting Scripture and using Scripture? M. Bratton, you have absolutely no idea whom you are addressing. I suggest you get a life and stop trolling on Pete Enns’ blog. I can’t say you add anything at all useful to the conversation. And remember the words of Frank Zappa, “A mind is like a parachute, it is useful only when open.” BAM!

          • Bryan

            Waaaaaaaay out of depth here. I’ve seen this before. You ask a question to maintain their claims and you get nothing but side-stepping.

          • Michael Hardin

            I’m also guessing you don’t have a graduate degree in biblical studies. Your avatar is “private” so no one can look you up to see your credentials (not that you have any). And you critique those who have spent their lives and worked their butts off? Where does a person like you come from? Trollville?

          • Michelle

            Do you really think with all the denominations that the message of a scripture is without confusion? Most people see their view/interpretation of scripture as the clear, unconfused meaning.

          • Salanor

            Mike. Your real problem is that you are profoundly ignorant of the process of reading. No text, ever, carries ‘Truth’ in the way you imply. An active reader brings life experiences to the text; otherwise the text can never make sense.

            Let me help you with an illustration from my Grade 9 English class.

            “I set my teeth and plunged out into the cold air.”

            Now, if you never knew that cold air was bracing and that you would need to prepare yourself to enter it and that setting your teeth indicates an intensity of concentration, you could not read that sentence. Certainly you could not judge it as true or false.

            Is it true the air is cold? No. Cold is a perception relative to your feeling of comfort.

            Thence, what you read into the Bible must be a product of your own creation, not any inherent truth. If you think the Bible is inerrant, then that only comes from the ideas and thoughts you bring to it.

            Shakespeare’s Hamlet is inerrant revelation of God. Prove that I am wrong.

          • carlity

            I think that you are confusing unreliability with errancy. The gospels are still reliable to present the person of Jesus.

            And yes, God CAN clearly and unambiguously communicate with us through the Bible, however, it appears that He did not, but rather chose to use the human authors.

            Carefully read the first 2 verses in Luke. If there ever was a time for Luke to claim special inspiration, now was it. But instead he says that he decided to write a book after investigating things. Luke (along with the other gospel writers) did the best that they could. John even decided that there would be too much to write if he included everything. Those 4 great efforts give us a nice picture of who Jesus was for each of the audiences.

            Also, II Tim 3:16 gives the purpose of scripture (teaching, rebuking, etc.). But, it doesn’t actually say anything about inerrancy – you are conflating that word with “god breathed”. Also, as you know, Revelation and John were most likely not written then. So, does Paul seem to have some group of books he was referring to?

            Now, just be careful about jumping the shark and saying “if its not inerrant, then it is garbage”. Nothing can be further from the truth. It still has great value – value to teach us about God.

            And, it’s all a faith proposition. By “faith” you believe that the Bible is inerrant and written directly from God through the arm of the writer. By “faith”, I believe that through the human authors, we have the books that God wanted us to have, or at least is sufficient to gain knowledge about him.

          • John

            “If a perfect God cannot take into account the imperfections of His own creation, then there’s a problem.” So, everyone who interprets the Bible is right?

          • Michael Hardin

            And herein lies the problem…

          • MikeBratton

            The Bible doesn’t disagree with itself. Or with the revelation of God the Holy Spirit. So, no, not everyone who “interprets” the Bible is right, and it’s disingenuous at best to respond in such a way.

          • John

            Um, Mike? Do you know what that word means? And why would you expect anyone to engage you when you sidestep intellectual engagement and resort to name calling? I’m not sure that is the best tactic for persuading anyone that you have got something worth listening to.

          • MikeBratton

            John, since you’re the one casting aspersions while I’ve studiously refrained from “name calling,” try starting over, please, but this time with a response that’s on topic. You took something I said and pretended that I said something that was the polar opposite. Please don’t do that again. Thanks in advance.

          • John

            Given that you have made it abundantly clear that you are unwilling (or unable) to engage substantively with your own claims, are unwilling to think about the logical conclusions of your own assertions, and are disinclined to engage the conversation in a civilised manner, I can think of no reason to continue with you.

          • MikeBratton

            By all means. Sorry to see that “liberal” appears to be the noun for you, as well, as it’s easier for you to toss bombs than to have a chat; that’s something you should look into. We’re concluded.

          • peteenns

            Mike, how do you handle the different accounts of the reigns of the kings of Israel that appear in the Deuteronomistic History and Chronicles–esp. David and Solomon? I ask because there are biblical data that make dogmatic statements about scripture difficult to maintain. That is one of Carey’s points.

          • MikeBratton

            Peter, how do you handle approaching the Bible with a presupposition that it cannot be right, whole, accurate, or trustworthy? It’s amazing that a purportedly pro-Christian blog site approaches the Bible with such vigorous skepticism and disdain. Honestly, either all Scripture is inspired by God, or it isn’t. Either it is trustworthy, or it isn’t. Either it’s profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, or it isn’t. You gents think it isn’t, but there are a lot of who think it is, and have reasons to believe so that are more solid than your skepticism.

            I’m not going to get into wonkish details with you on an area in which I’m sure you’ve become quite well-versed (pardon the pun) from your own perspective, but I will go so far as to suggest that you might look at those accounts as complementary rather than at odds with one another. Some of us have done more than a little due diligence in areas of the Bible you think are traps, and have come to (gasp!) differing conclusions.

            Again, either the Bible is what is says it is, or it’s not trustworthy. And if it’s not trustworthy, faith is an illusion. How can Jesus Christ be anyone’s Solid Rock when the Book that teaches the principle is said to be patently unreliable?

          • Ian Paul

            I am not sure how helpful this exchange is. But Mike I wonder if you are confusing two categories.

            I am quite happy to affirm that the Bible is trustworthy, but

            a. it is fine to hold this, as long as you are open to the evidence of whether this stands up to scrutiny.

            b. It is important to distinguish between Scripture being God-breathed [better than 'inspired'] and Scripture meeting our 21st century expectations of historical reliability.

            The reality that Carey and Enns are pointing to is that Scripture often does *not* fit our categories, and better to be honest about this than try and shoe-horn Scripture and neglect the evidence.

            As I have said elsewhere, I do think that a certain kind of evangelical understanding does fit the evidence well—but it is at a distance from what many, particularly in the US, believe.

          • MikeBratton

            Ian, I think this general exchange is more than a bit helpful, because I honestly don’t think Carey and Enns mingle very much with people who don’t share their fractional worldview. At least that’s how it comes across in what they share: No one else has thought like they’ve thought, researched like they’ve researched, considered what they’ve considered, and ever, ever come to a different conclusion. It happens to all of us in one area or another, and I think it might be helpful for them to broaden their horizons.

            The Bible is trustworthy only because it is inerrant. If it is alleged to be in error in one area, what prevents error in another area? The short answer: Nothing. And if the Bible is error-laden, then we have no hope in Christ, and we are, indeed, of all men most miserable.

            Thankfully, such is not the case.

          • http://www.faithmeetsworld.com/ Rob Grayson

            MikeBratton, it seems to me your faith is built more on the book than it is on the eternal Word of God, who is the crucified and risen Jesus. It is he who is the rock, not the Bible. From your paragraph above beginning “The Bible is trustworthy only because it is inerrant”, it’s clear that you believe that God made his entire plan of self-revelation and salvation dependent upon a book. (Incidentally, if that were true, one might think an all-powerful God would do a better job of making sure said book only existed in one “perfect” version!)

            To claim that “the Bible is inerrant” is not intellectually credible, period. It contains any number of apparent contradictions, from Genesis right through to revelation. If you hold to inerrancy, you are left with only two choices: either admit that these contradictions exist, in which case your whole interpretive house of cards comes crashing down; or engage in hermeneutical acrobatics to come up with convoluted explanations for why they aren’t really contradictions after all.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “If it is alleged to be in error in one area, what prevents error in
            another area? The short answer: Nothing. And if the Bible is
            error-laden, then we have no hope in Christ, and we are, indeed, of all
            men most miserable.”

            How do you explain the millions of Christians who don’t believe in an inerrant Bible? The Bible was not placed on this pedestal you are putting it on until the Reformation. Most of Christian history says your view is completely misplaced.

          • Bryan

            I do not see disdain here but respect for the notion of multiple perspectives on who God is. If there is skepticism here it towards those who claim that the bible is a monolithic text. It is not and there is nothing wrong with that. Ezekiel states that the law was too difficult to follow and that is the reason for Judah’s exile while 1 John states that the law is not a burden. These texts are only considered to be contradictory if it is assumed that they are part of a cohesive monolithic book that was exempt from human decision making in order to provide us with a closed “orthodox” version. Rather than claim that Ezekiel and John are “contradictions”, why not embrace these as two different “perspectives” on the mystery of the character of God which have emerged from two different experiences?

            You made the statement earlier, “If Genesis isn’t credible, then neither is Isaiah, nor the Gospels, nor Revelation.” Sorry, this doesn’t work. You are hammering a theological presupposition that undermines a historical canonical compilation. By “the bible”, which one do you mean? I am assuming that you mean the perfectly compiled protestant version. However, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox preceded protestantism with texts which protestantism “later” rejected. Perhaps those were the exact perfectly inspired texts and we (assuming you are protestant) have it all wrong. So, perhaps the real question ought to be, “Which inspired version of the bible is the right one?”

          • Andrew Dowling

            “There’s no nuance involved”

            You must be joking . . .

          • MattB

            I think Liberals are setting up an impossible standard. Why must the interpreter be perfect? Can God not use fallible men to address his infallible and inerrant message?

          • Michael Hardin

            You are presupposing that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, a large part of Christianity, perhaps the larger part does not. But one might consider this (taken from my book The Jesus Driven Life): “If God speaks through Scripture, and I believe God does indeed speak, how
            shall we understand God speaking? I begin with several criteria. The first is that in Jesus the “fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily” (Col 2:9). Jesus is the figure who reveals the character of the Father (so Heb 1:1-3, John 1:1- 18, etc). The second is this: God speaks through broken vessels. The greatest speech/act of God can be found in the cross. God did God’s best work on the cross reconciling a stubborn, blind and rebellious humanity by
            forgiving them their sins. The cross is the ultimate place of God’s brokenness. It is in this brokenness that we see most clearly the affection of God for humanity, an affection or love which takes even misjudgment, torture, humiliation and shame and still announces forgiveness.

            Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 says we have “this treasure in clay jars.” This treasure is the gospel (vs. 3). If a jar could contain light, say, the light of the gospel, and it was perfect, then that light would not be seen, for it would have nowhere to shine through. If it is cracked, then there are places for that light to leak out and shine forth. For me, Scripture is liked a cracked jar, it is because it is cracked that light is able to shine forth. If in our brokenness God shines God’s light in and through us, can we not also assert the same of the prophets and the apostles? Can we not say that we are most like God, not when we are whole, but when we are broken? Does not the Fourth Gospel (John) suggest as much in its view of the relationship between ‘glory’ and the cross?

            In other words, we do not need to have a theory of Scripture where the Bible must be perfect in order for God to reveal God’s self. Some may object and say but if that is the case how do we distinguish between what is “man’s word” and what is “God’s Word?” This has already been answered by suggesting that revelation comes through the voice of the forgiving victim. It is the Crucified that speaks the eternal word: shalom. The forgiveness announced by Jesus on the cross is no different than the ‘shalom’ announced by the Risen Jesus. They are flip sides of a coin. God is at peace
            with humanity.

          • MattB

            Amen! The message is what is perfect, and that’s what makes it different than any other religious text. That’s what makes it true and consistent.

        • peteenns

          Oh I agree, Mike. The issue isn’t about rhetoric. I was only pointing out the rhetoric you were employing. I feel Michael Hardin expresses the issue well here.

          • MikeBratton

            I would have appreciated your addressing what I shared, rather than equivocating about how I shared it.

  • Michael Hardin

    Looks like a great series Pete!

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    Peter, I hope you get a good response and participation from Evangelical scholars.

  • Peter Davids

    It is interesting to see what “does it” for various scholars, but I suspect that something else is also going on. Evangelicalism in my experience tends to be “heady” – low experience other than conversion. Living into the scripture is often lacking. Lectio divina, the disciplines of praying and singing the Psalms, the practice of Chritian meditation – these give life. They may not leave one evangelical or fundamentalist, for they come from a different paradigm, but they are not “liberal,” which is also “heady.” There is a spirituality to biblical scholarship that is often forgotten.

  • Karen K

    I definitely resonate with this. I too discovered many things I was taught could not be found in Scripture. However, I don’t find some of Carey’s conclusions to be good examples of his thesis. For one, he insinuates that Scripture does not preclude premarital sex. His argument might be stronger for men, but certainly not for women. Even basic awareness of the position of women in antiquity makes it clear that women did not have much autonomy when it comes to sex. Their sexual activity was guarded much more thoroughly. It also fails to recognize basic differences between men and women. The consequences for women having sex are much more significant than for men. Women get pregnant and have babies. Even with all our modern technology, 49% of all pregnancies in America are unintended. How much more so in antiquity. For most of history women having babies out of wedlock has not been a happy occasion. And in fact, its a major contributor of poverty among women today. Study would also demonstrate that sex was significantly tied to procreation in antiquity and even until modern times. Non-procreative sex was deemed “unnatural” by Philo, Josephus, and Paul, etc. One could argue that Scripture does not explicitly forbid men (but not women) from non-marital sex, but that would essentially have meant being serviced by a prostitute. And it would have meant engaging sex without procreative intent. Both of which are not smiled upon in Scripture (e.g. Paul says not to be united with a prostitute and if you are “burning”
    to get a spouse in order to avoid immoralities). In other words, ironically, I find some of Carey’s conclusions to actually lack adequate biblical study. Although I am sure its convenient for men to relish the idea of having sex with women without responsibility.

    • Julie Walsh

      Karen I agree. In his article Carey says, “But I was also reading my Bible.And nowhere did I find all this stuff about saving sex for marriage. (That’s because the Bible doesn’t include that message, certainly not consistently.)” I think sexual ethics *is* a large dividing line in the Church today. I think often very liberal scholarship is just trying to excuse in their heads what their hearts want to do. There are so many passages about sexual immorality, not to mention the choice Jesus gave to his male disciples in Matthew 19–get a wife and keep her or be a eunuch–plus Jesus’ statements about lust. But beyond a morality based on rules, though, I also see the whole anthropological theological principle of reciprocity applying here: those who give forgiveness are able to receive forgiveness, you reap what you sow, God will afflict those who afflict us (2 Thess 1:6), etc. So, if you sow faithful, devoted, committed married love to someone of the mysterious opposite gender, you will be able to soak in the faithful, devoted, committed married love of Jesus the Bridegroom.

      So yes, as Carey elucidates, teenagers and young adults that aren’t being taught how to daily pick up their cross and why *are* going to face real conflict with the scriptures when they get on their own.

      • Ian Paul

        “But I was also reading my Bible.And nowhere did I find all this stuff about saving sex for marriage. (That’s because the Bible doesn’t include that message, certainly not consistently.)”

        I think that’s one of the things I find really odd in the article. It’s there in Gen 2…and it is the implicit assumption behind all other texts about marriage, including e.g. Joseph’s action in Matt 1.

        It is there, consistently, but embedded in the narrative, not listed as an item in a doctrine text book. So this is not a question about *what* the Bible ‘teaches’ so much as how and in what form it does.

        I do think this is the difference between evangelicalism and fundamentalism. The latter insists on having things in a particular form—and as Peter Enns says, this does not fit.

        But this is not an argument against evangelical understandings of the Bible as such.

        • ajl

          I agree with Karen K’s assertion as to the wisdom of pre-marital sex. That is spot on. But, I filter that through what Ian said. That is, the text and the stories embedded in them tell a picture of God’s expectations. But, fundamentalism wants a yes/no answer. The Bible in many instances doesn’t give us that answer.

          When we read Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare did not create a commentary with notes in the margin saying “what Romeo did here was wrong”, “what Mercucio did was correct in this instance”. No, he lets us, the reader figure that out.

          Similarly, the Bible does that too. In Job, we want to know if it was ok for Job to speak the way he did in one chapter vs. another chapter. The Bible doesn’t say “verse 12 is ok, but verse 26, nope, that’s bad, he shouldn’t have said that”. God leaves us to figure that out in the totality of scripture. And as Christians, we use Jesus as the filter for that.

          Honestly, life is too complex to create a yes/no answer book for all circumstances. Wisdom knows that when I reproof a fool he will either snap at me or take correction. It isn’t a yes/no thing, as Proverbs makes very clear in Proverbs 26:4,5.

          The problem of fundamentalism is that we want the yes/no answer. But, the fun in life and in discovering God is how we get to put ourselves in the story and wrestle with the circumstances.

          We may actually come to similar conclusions as a fundamentalist on some issues, but we get to it by living within the story and grappling with the nuances and how they are played out.

          • Bryan

            Great answer here. As I was reading this, I thought, “Wouldn’t it have just been easier if the bible listed everything in bullet point format rather than narrative or otherwise in an attempt to eliminate much of the mystery that surrounds so many interpretations?”

          • ajl

            Well, for one, to paraphrase the Apostle John “there would not be enough paper in all the world to write out all the circumstances” – ha, ha.

            And, for another, there is no fun, wonder, or intrigue in being a robot. The joy is in the discovery. When I was younger, the discovery was too nebulous, and was uncomfortable. But, now that I am older, I find the discovery is what keeps me interested in all of this.

          • Ian Paul

            You have to go to Wayne Grudem for that!

          • Bryan

            Excellent example!

        • Julie Walsh

          Hi Dr Paul. I, too, had one of Dr Enns’ “aha” moments around 15 years ago, changing out of a more Fundamentalist way of interpreting the Bible. It came from studying the womens issue and realizing that the Epistles are letters to specific communities in a specific time. But I disagree with Dr Carey’s thinking that we can allocate Jesus’ teachings and Paul’s teachings on sex as being ancient and context-specific. Here’s why: human physiology hasn’t changed. Now, as back then, that wonderful cocktail of amphetamine-like chemicals that is released in men’s and women’s brains in sexual activity should proceed from the holistic intersubjectivity of a committed married relationship–rather than from a screen, a one-night stand or a one-year stand. God cares for our sakes about where our passions are directed; plus, true freedom is not found in free sex but in self-control.

          So–I still think the sexual ethics taught by Jesus and Paul are universal and timeless, and able to be understood doctinally rather than just narratively. (Think the NT “vice lists”, for instance.) But, as you suggest, I also don’t think the Gen 2 “cleave” idea included Adam, Steve, Eve and Judy!

          • Ian Paul

            Yes, and in fact human psychology doesn’t appear to have changed that much either!

    • Greg Carey

      Karen, I want to honor the integrity and the learning behind your reply at the same time that I say this: in my view you’re making my point on my behalf. If we take seriously the enormous differences between the sexual lives of ancient and modern people, it becomes clear that the Bible has nothing to say on the subject by way of rules or guidelines. William Loader has done a terrific job in laying out the “what the Bible says” material, while Sarah Ruden emphasizes the unbridgeable cultural gap. Even at 17 I could see that what I was being taught in church didn’t fit the texts in their contexts. How much more when I learned about ancient societies.

      And before we assume the Bible offers some consistent message, let’s not forget that the couple in the Bible’s most direct celebration of erotic pleasure is unmarried: she doesn’t know where he lives.

      Now I will say this forcefully. You and Julie, maybe others, insinuated that I’m motivated by some kind of selfishness. That’s pitiful. First, I came to these conclusions as a married man who had never had sex outside of marriage. And second, I believe faithful sexuality requires a far higher standard than conventional rule-based ethics.

      • Michael Hardin

        Greg, I’ll email you at you at your seminary adddress to set a date

      • Karen K


        Thank you for taking the time to reply. I will have to respectfully disagree. I still find the conclusion that you came to regarding sex to not be exegetically or historically critically adequate.

        As for the enormous difference between the sexual lives of those in antiquity and now as a reason to argue that the biblical text has nothing to say with regards to ethical mandates, I don’t find that tenable. Paul’s advice to get married if you can’t hack celibacy is a pretty straightforward and practical directive. Don’t defile the marriage bed is fairly straightforward as well. Or Jesus’ statement about not looking at women lustfully, etc. Or don’t use prostitutes, etc. I don’t take the Bible as a “rule book.” I think its primarily principles. But to say it offers nothing by way of practical sexual ethics is not persuasive to me.

        It should also be pointed out that the difference is really not between antiquity and now, but between how Western people live now vs. much of history. Some places in the world that still practice arranged marriages, for example, think we are idiots because of our promiscuity and being driven by libido rather than commitment.

        Also, I am sorry to imply any selfishness on your part. My point was more along the lines that I find some people’s biblical exegesis can make universal claims based on male perspective and experience that really doesn’t fit the realities of women either in antiquity or now.

        As for your reference to Song of Songs–that is too literalistic of an interpretation in my view. The reality of women on the ground in antiquity is quite removed from any notion of free, unmarried sexual activity. Do you actually believe this text was intended to celebrate unmarried sex given the role of women in Israelite and ancient Jewish society? Do you think Paul who counseled people to get their own husband or wife to “prevent immoralities” interpreted it that way? Paul, who also said if a man is beginning to act unbecoming toward his betrothed should get married already? I recognize the Song resembles ancient Near Eastern love poetry, but the community of faith (Jewish and Christian) through the centuries has received it as a theological text about God and his people, not a sex manual.

        Ancient Near Eastern love poetry is still being studied. It used be considered evidence for cultic fertility rites–not what ordinary men and women do. Rightfully, the notion of heiros gamos has been challenged in more recent years. But the biblical text often employs genres common to its time period and cultural context. That doesn’t mean that use of genre equals the same purpose or meaning as other ancient Near Eastern usage. In fact, its not uncommon for the biblical authors to put their own theological spin on the cultural ideology of the world around them.

        • Greg Carey

          It seems to me you pick and choose among historical context, literary reading, and naive reading to make things fit. You say I’m reading the Song too literally — but of course it’s fantasy. And you say ancient women lacked autonomy — but that’s just a generalization used to explain away the text as it stands. You quote Hebrews, as if not defiling a marriage bed (hello, translation!) equals no premarital sex. You quote Paul — who does not approve of sex outside marriage, I agree — but then again Paul has nothing positive to say about sex or marriage.

          You don’t quote Paul when he talks about a woman’s “natural use” as opposed to a man’s “shame.” You don’t discuss sex with slaves or what it meant for Christian slaves to obey their masters in that context. You show awareness that women are marrying early in your original post, while men are not, then ignore that important bit of information later: let’s not forget about a 13:10 ratio of men to women in the ancient world.

          Sure, the Bible has ethical directives: they’re just ancient and inconsistent (the point I made in my blog). It’s putting together a jigsaw puzzle by using a craft knife.

          • Karen K

            Greg, I think we just have a different understanding of Scripture and its use for faith and practice. I am not arguing that the biblical text proposes a singular sexual ethic. These texts were written over centuries. They obviously include different cultural perspectives. But, I am far less troubled by the divine-human nature of Scripture. I don’t assume that just because there are different cultural traditions that Scripture, then, has nothing to teach us about sexuality. Or that none of its ethical directives apply.

            Also, I don’t see how anything you have said here negates my point. You are making assumptions about the meaning of Song of Songs that I don’t feel you have provided adequate evidence for. Even scholars haven’t always agreed on the purpose of ancient Near Eastern love poetry or whether or not it reflects any reality on the ground. To make simplistic conclusions that Song of Songs was included in the canon to provide divine allowance for unmarried sex is not persuasive. That needs to be tested by historical critical work, by the Church tradition’s reception of the text, by how it is read in conjunction with other biblical texts in the canon etc. In essence, I would need more evidence of the meaning and purpose of Song of Songs before I could accept it as a celebration of unmarried sex for Christian practice. There is no evidence it was ever read that way by Jewish or Christian communities. Since I do not see Scripture as purely human writing, I look at how the community of faith has interpreted these texts and given them meaning.

            But again, even if you want to do purely historical critical work and divorce the text from the faith community in order to interpret its meaning, then you would need to provide more evidence that ancient Near Eastern love poetry reflected concrete sexual practices in general. That might involve studying ancient Near Eastern laws on marriage, prostitution, among other things etc.

            Paul has nothing positive to say about sex or marriage? What about when he says husbands and wives should not deprive each other? His comments need to be understood in the cultural context that expected and even demanded marriage. The permission for celibacy in order to serve the Lord is a departure from the norm.

            I am not sure what your point is about Romans 1. Paul condemned same-sex intercourse because he believed it was evidence of excessive lust (as did Philo). And he also rejected it for being “unnatural”. Philo, Josephus, and even Plato refer to procreative sex as natural and non-procreative sex as unnatural. Certaintly there is the concern in antiquity about a man allowing himself to be used as a “woman.” But excessive lust and gender roles were not the only problem. The significant issue was same-sex intercourse was unnatural (i.e. non-procreative). I am not sure what you point is here in bringing this up.

            I am also not sure what your point is regarding age. Do any of the texts we have cite age?

            As for Christians and their slaves–do you have evidence that Christians treated their slaves in the same way as non-Christians? If Christianity means anything then we might expect that they did not. We might expect as Paul counsels that they began to treat them as brothers and sisters. We might expect that the men did not use their boy slaves for same-sex intercourse since Paul proscribes it. We might expect they took into account Jesus’ teaching on lust, etc. Your argument is an argument from silence which is not very strong.

            As for defiling the marriage bed–I included that not as a reference to pre-marital sex, but adultery.

            Again, I am not saying that the biblical texts give a unilateral sexual ethic. Polygamy was tolerated in a way that later it was frowned upon. But I also think the disparity is far less than you make it out to be. In antiquity sex was is tied especially to procreation. That is consistent in the OT and the NT (i.e. same-sex intercourse prohibited because its not procreative, Jesus expected eunuchs do not marry, Jesus says we will not marry in the eschaton because we no longer die–i.e. we don’t need procreation to continue humanity’s existence). Also Jesus brings some consistency when he refers to Genesis 1 and 2 as still normative for his time–and thus for Christians who follow Jesus’ teachings.

            Jesus said its not the failing to ritually wash one’s hands that defile, but what comes from within–including porneia. Porneia defiles. Does that not have any meaning for Christians? Should we not also consider porneia defiles if we consider ourselves disciples of Christ? Porneia, at the time of Jesus, had come to mean sexual immoralities of all kinds. Given he was a Jew speaking to Jewish leaders its reasonable to believe that his discussion of sexual immorality included what Jews considered to be sexually immoral. At the very least, it does not make sense to me as a Christian that I would just throw up my hands and say Scripture has nothing to teach me about sexual ethics because it reflects different cultural influences. Jesus is saying something here. And as a follower of Jesus it behooves me to pay attention.

          • Greg Carey

            Well, I can begin by calling your assumption that I do historical work apart from the witness and life of the church. I do no such thing. Nor do I assume the Bible has “nothing to teach us about sexuality.” What I don’t see is a foundational set of ethical directives.

            Regarding Paul, what he says about couples not depriving one another does not exactly suggest joyful sex or spiritual union. Lots of scholarship has been done on that passage, and none of the current scholarship to my knowledge locates Paul as sex-positive in that context. I think Loader offers a very balanced treatment of Paul — neither sex-averse (as Martin would have it) nor rejoicing in marriage and sexuality (as he’s so often appropriated for being).

            Regarding the Song, I’ll just say I hope you’re not suggesting the text has no connection with people’s lived experiences in the ancient world. It’s remarkable how often you attribute claims to me that I don’t make, as in “To make simplistic conclusions that Song of Songs was included in the canon to provide divine allowance for unmarried sex.” You’re not even trying to understand me. Clearly.

            My basic position comes down to two things. The Bible has all kinds of things to say about marriage and sexuality, and they don’t add up to anything like a unified teaching. And the Bible is rarely talking about what modern people have in mind when it comes to sexuality. Texts that come from a patriarchal society in which men over 20 married young teens, women were lucky to live past 30 due to the risks associated with sexuality, slaves were routinely used for sexual pleasure (including in the Bible and without sanction), and a 13:10 male to female gender ratio applied — well, your failure to understand the problem with women’s “use” in Romans 1 reflects a basic failure to understand the world in which it was written.

          • Karen K


            You write: “Nor do I assume the Bible has “nothing to teach us about sexuality.”

            What do you believe Scripture teaches us about sexuality?

          • Greg Carey

            Isn’t that the most important question? The primary answers won’t lie in passages that are “about” sexuality. For example, what do 1 Corinthians 8 and Philippians 2 have to teach us? What does “consider the lilies” have to teach us? In other words, a fully formed Christian character and outlook would be the main thing.

            I’m curious, too, about the inner workings of some passages. In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul shows no interest in the welfare of the prostitute. That bothers me. But he also pushes us to acknowledge that sex is not just another appetite, that sex has a spiritual dimension. Not an easy message in our culture. One could multiply examples.

          • Karen K


            Would I be correct interpreting this as a “case by case” answer? I guess I am wondering if you believe Scripture gives us any foundation for *specific* sexual ethics. I am guessing you probably adhere to a “love ethic” position? That is, if it doesn’t cause harm its not sin? I would imagine then that you do not necessarily consider non-marital sex sin or same-sex unions to be sin. Albeit, I imagine you consider adultery sin. At least that is generally where progressive Christians fall on sexuality.

            I guess I am wondering if, for example, you believe Scripture tells us anything normative about sexual relations. What if anything, for example, do you draw from Jesus’ statements on porneia? He clearly had specific acts in mind. Or what do you do with Jesus’ and Paul’s indication that sex is tied to procreation? Or what do you do with Jesus’ statements that God made them “male and female”? He didn’t need Genesis 1 to make his point about divorce and cleaving. But he ties Genesis 1 to Genesis 2 making the connection explicit.

            PS: I forgot to respond to your statement about Romans 1 and women. You were a bit vague, but I am assuming you are referring to some interpretations that take this as women and anal sex? Augustine held that view. Brooten who has done extensive work on female same-sex relations in antiquity examined that issue and didn’t find the evidence to be as strong on the anal sex side of the things. However, it doesn’t really make any difference for what I was discussing–namely Paul’s understanding that same-sex intercourse is unnatural because its not procreative. Anal sex or lesbian sex–they are both non-procreative.

          • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

            I’ve read through this long exchange between you, Karen, and Greg. One thing that seems missing here, as it typically is within generally “orthodox” circles with a “grammatical-hisorical” (not necessarily strict literalist) approach to the Bible, is this: The Bible tends to present gender, marriage and sexual issues in ways that are “conventional” or “pro-societal” in whatever social structure existed when that portion was written. Sometimes it is carried over historically also, when later authors are living within a somewhat different system.

            As an example of the former, the acceptance of multiple wives seems to have diminished or disappeared from early “Old Testament” times to “NT” times. The Bible doesn’t explain how or why, to my recollection… but newer religious writings reflect the newer societal conventions.

            And while there is a strong element in both the Gospels and Paul, of a “kingdom” counter to the “kingdoms of this world” and NOT endorsing Roman culture, particularly, even the NT seems pretty well geared to supporting societal stability. This, as opposed to approaching any kind of timeless “sexual ethic” or unchanging standards of “right” approaches to marriage and to sexual expression inside or outside of it. Some people might like some “absolutes”, but I don’t expect it at all of Scripture, just as I don’t expect a consistent general theology over its long time-span.

            In other words, as societies evolve, I see religious texts (including the Bible) as mostly supporting the status quo of any period…. Christian churches (as the major religious expression in the US) follow this pattern, and treat Scripture accordingly (since we are no longer adding to it). Thus, in terms of gay marriage, we see the shifting already, among more progressive churches (even some claiming the Evangelical label). It seems inevitable (and good, in my mind) that this will continue and more churches will embrace gay marriage and ordination. However, it will never approach 100%.

          • Greg Carey

            Hi, Karen. I don’t believe the Bible provides anything like a specific set of guidelines for sexuality. It certainly doesn’t provide a consistent one. But that’s true for many things. It applies to economics, to governance, to war, to friendship.

            The first time this really came clear to me was when I had a fit of curiosity and looked up the Nave’s Topical Bible entries on marriage. I was curious what a naive and literal — but earnest and intelligent — approach would pull together. Thanks for the conversation.

          • slufi

            Kathy, you write “I am not arguing that the biblical text proposes a singular sexual ethic.” which is exactly what Greg’s line ” That’s because the Bible doesn’t include that message, certainly not consistently.” is suggesting (though in slightly more interesting prose. You seem to be arguing with Greg because you need him to be wrong, not because you are actually making any claim which is opposed to his assertions.

          • Karen K

            slufi–I don’t need him to be wrong. I am asking for more evidence for some of the claims he was making in his interpretations. While I believe that there are a variety of cultural perspectives on sex evident in the text, I also believe there is a good deal of consistency too. My impression, and I could be wrong, is that Greg does not allow for consistency, or at least not as much consistency as I see the evidence pointing to. While I am leaning toward some consistency (amid plurality as well), I see him primarily emphasizing inconsistency. Perhaps its a matter of emphasis. But we also have different interpretations on, for example, the meaning of Song of Songs for the church, etc.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “the consequences for women having sex are much more significant than for
      men. Women get pregnant and have babies. Even with all our modern
      technology, 49% of all pregnancies in America are unintended.”

      You bring up a good point about pregnancy in antiquity but seem to be saying that we’re in roughly the same situation today. We are not. Birth control and family planning have completely changed the ball game (I’m highly suspicious of that 49% figure, but in any case I can assure you the wide majority of that 49% were not responsibly using birth control). Add in that in the West the age of marriage is getting older and older (closer now to 30 than 20), and I think its fair to say ancient ideals surrounding pre-marital sex should be seriously reexamined.

      • Karen K

        Andrew, the statistic of 49% is stated on the website for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/Reproductivehealth/UnintendedPregnancy/

        Unintended pregnancy used to be a teen issue. But rates for teens have gone down in recent years while unintended pregnancy for those who are older has increased significantly.

        Unintended pregnancies are especially high among unmarried women, those with low income and education, and black women.

        One of the things that is happening because of delayed marriage is that people are still engaging in nesting tendencies. So, we see people co-habitating, having sex, and even having children at the same young ages that people would normally marry in the past. Only this nesting is taking place in unstable, non-committed relationships instead of in marriage.

        Yes, we have more birth control and reproductive technology. But, you can never take the human element out of it–the heat of the moment, the boyfriend who doesn’t want to wear the condom, the woman who forgets to take the pill, the vasectomy that doesn’t stick (that happened to my neighbor). Etc. Etc.

        Non-marital sex has consequences, including significant poverty among women and children. And more than 1 million abortions a year in the U.S. alone. Even Hillary Clinton doesn’t think abortions are a positive thing for women even though she is pro-choice. Non-marital sex primarily “benefits” men. The sexual revolution has been harmful to the welfare of women. Women need more male allies who take women’s welfare seriously (and that of children as well) and man up to the responsibility that comes with sex–namely, marriage.

  • James

    I think the search for a renewed (perhaps ‘renewable’ is a better word) biblical hermeneutic is vital for people who still value the Bible. Losing momentum in the quest is fatal.

    • Brian P.

      Losing momentum in the quest can also be the Cross itself. There is no sharing in the Resurrection without a fatality.

    • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

      Yes, searching is crucial for everyone although not appealing to many…. And if not active searching, at least openness and listening (to those with differing views and methods). And many “Progressives” or “liberals” – in the contemporary sense, use a workable, realistic hermeneutic. Not that it can’t be improved, but that it is worthwhile listening to and watching those who’ve put in hard work already.

  • http://www.tillhecomes.org/ Jeremy Myers

    I am one of those…. seminary trained (DTS), but who later changed many of my views because I couldn’t get my theology to match with what I was reading in Scripture. Now I am beginning to rethink inspiration and inerrancy as well. Your book “Inspiration and Incarnation” was helpful. Thanks.

  • http://markrandallpixley.wordpress.com/ Mark Pixley

    I blame Google…or maybe should applaud Google (although it’s a double-edged sword)…the idea that “I’ve always been taught X” has met full on the cultural response “google it” and that response jumps over the gate-keepers quite deftly (for now). Culture itself is driving a multi-colored search bar question mark into the gate and letting the sheeple out in droves as is reflected by the youth exit rates. As someone raised in fundamental historical hermeneutics I didn’t even know who NT Wright was until google…but more to the point there is a lot of stuff God didn’t say bluntly because it’s a distraction to the greater narrative, in spite of gate-keepers there are still a lot of people who genuinely want to learn how to love and some of what we’ve been told gets in the way of that…hell and sin being first on the list,

    • toddh

      I think you are right on. The availability of information via the internet has changed everything, along with sharing on social media. People have more access to alternative viewpoints and communities of like-minded people online than ever before.

  • Derek

    The article by Mr. Carey highlighted that bible scholars come in all shapes and sizes, indeed they do. He also highlighted a few apparent contradictions that allegedly have no solution.
    I do hope that those who read Dr. Enn’s and agree with Dr. Carey’s position, also read the other more conservative scholars who are trained just as well as they are, yet come to opposite conclusions. Scholars such as D.A Carson and Robert W. Yarbrough come to mind.

  • http://waynebowerman.com/ Wayne Bowerman

    For me the “aha” moment was the culmination of a long gradual wrestling during seminary with the perspicuous rendering of 1 Timothy 2. Most churches – even the complementarian ones – do not teach the plain clear sense of the text: ‘Eve as an archetype for all women was deceived and thus inherently – even before sin entered – more naïve than Adam. Because she was made second (and should have stayed that way) through her sin and suffering befall us all. And so a woman should remain silent.’ I suspect we don’t touch it much because whether we like to admit it or not we know that it starkly contradicts Paul’s theology of Adam, especially his Adam/Christ typology in Romans. And it is a rather misogynistic view of womanhood, even if one allows for gender complementarity grounded in creation.

    So I hung up my bibliolatry, I stopped defending biblical inerrancy and now I don’t feel such a desperate need to skim past or be in denial about those passages a plethora of difficult passages. Like the ones sanctioning selling your daughter, killing rebellious children or slaughtering whole villages: slitting the throats of men, taking the young girls as your spoils along with the live stock all while making sure not to harm the trees.

    I have to say I love the Bible much more today. But I sometimes still struggle with glitches from my original programming by my parents and the church.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Agreed. I find it very frustrating when people like NT Wright, who should know better, try to massage texts like 1 Timothy 2, into something that affirms our 21st century notions of gender equality, with COMPLETELY fanciful and improbable hermeneutics of what the text means and its cultural context. Real “grapsing at straws” stuff.

      • Ian Paul

        Sorry, I think Wayne is offering the literalist reading. You need

        a. to put this into historical context of the Artemis cult in Ephesus
        b. to read in literary context—’Paul’ is clearly offering a corrective, and there is a strong symmetry in the comments to men and women
        c. to read it in canonical context, and note too the symmetry between ‘woman came from man’ and ‘all men come from women’ in 1 Cor 11.

        ‘Egalitarian’ reading of 1 Tim 2 is not fanciful but hermeneutically well grounded. See http://www.psephizo.com on this.

        • Andrew Dowling

          - Bringing up the ‘cult of Artemis’ is completely projecting onto the text. There is nowhere else in the letter anything relating to Artemis. It also assumed the author was actually writing to a Timothy in Ephesus, whereas I think it’s much more probable (as do most scholars-http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/1timothy.html) 1 Timothy could be as late as the 3rd or 4th decade of the 2nd century, meant for the general Christian community and not a specific church.

          -”Adam was not deceived but Eve was” . . “I suffer not a woman to teach . .but to be in silence” “she shall be saved in childbearing” . . . please exhort any “symmetry” in comments made to men in the Epistle.

          -What 1 Corinthians says has little bearing on this letter; they were written for different audiences in different periods by different people. Just because two works are canonized doesn’t suddenly make them agree with each other.

          • Ian Paul

            ‘Bringing up the ‘cult of Artemis’ is completely projecting onto the text.’ No, it is based on historical evidence.

            I believe in being critical of criticism, and theories about second-century authorship are just that—theories, not based on convincing evidence.

            There is structural symmetry in this section, as good commentaries will highlight. ‘Silence’, as I am sure you know, does not refer to ‘not speaking’ but to not arguing, which the text has just commanded of the men.

            Jettisoning a naive fundamentalism need not lead to a naive swallowing of ‘critical’ scholarship. There are plausible, academic arguments for early Pauline authorship of 1 Tim, and for positions like NT Wrights on this.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “No, it is based on historical evidence.”

            What evidence? You can’t just say “well, there was a cult of Artemis in Ephesus in ancient Rome, so the author must be just trying to counter the over-worship of the feminine.” ??? It’s premise is that the author couldn’t have been just painting woman as inferior to woman, which was a common mainstay in 1st century patriarchal culture. Ever wondered why NO other early Church commentator of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th centuries ever interpreted those verses in this fashion? But NT Wright and co suddenly figured out the correct interpretation of Timothy . . which -ta da- isn’t blatantly sexist.

            “I believe in being critical of criticism, and theories about
            second-century authorship are just that—theories, not based on
            convincing evidence.”

            There’s a wealth of evidence against them being from Paul . . literary style, vocabulary, theology presented, it never being referenced in by anyone until around 180 AD, being unknown to Marcion etc. It’s noteworthy that Marcion was accused of cutting and pasting the Gospel of Luke, but no-one ever accused him of cutting the Pastorals from Paul’s collection of Epistles. Makes far more sense the Pastorals were written to counter both Marcionism and Gnosticism, which were major rivals to what could be termed proto-orthodox Christianity in the mid 2nd century.

            The onus is on the one going against what has become a rather widespread consensus on the Pastorals. I’ve read counter-arguments, and I find them to be special pleading.

          • Ian Paul

            Andrew, I am sorry, I just don’t accept your position that there is only one credible academic view on the dating and interpretation of 1 Tim.

            But in relation to this blog post, the point is that I disagree with you not on theological grounds of the inerrancy of Scripture, but on the basis of the kinds of issues you raise—theology, history, context, writing style and so on.

            That is why I don’t have a problem reconciling evangelical faith with critical study, and why so many leading scholars (in the Uk and US) are in fact evangelical.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “But in relation to this blog post, the point is that I disagree with you
            not on theological grounds of the inerrancy of Scripture, but on the
            basis of the kinds of issues you raise—theology, history, context,
            writing style and so on”.

            I’m not sure of your background Ian, but given that the wide majority of “evangelical” scholars presuppose orthodoxy going into their studies and cannot have conclusions that go against that framework, respectfully, it’s hard for me to believe theological grounds are not ultimately the basis for being so “critical of the criticism.” Biblical scholars disagree on things all the time, but I find it interesting that practically the only people still holding on to the Pastorals being Pauline authored also happen to be conservative evangelicals (who happen to hold to a high view of Scripture) . . .is that just a big coincidence?

          • peteenns

            I’d also add that critical scholars are also critical of criticism.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Agreed, but on specifics, not of ‘higher criticism’ in general.

            I’m not in academia myself but have several friends who are, and if there was a cult of Arguing they would be the chief priests.

          • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

            Excellent point not to be dismissed readily.

          • MattB

            Dr. Enns, how do you engage liberal christians/scholars? It seems that a lot of them think that biblical critcism leads to liberalism and not evangelicalism.

          • Ian Paul

            No…because you are taking a false data set, and assuming that evangelicals are closed to the idea of their convictions being open to the evidence.

            The whole point of this discussion is that some evangelicals started with certain assumptions, and believe they did not find the evidence supported these convictions…so changed their convictions. But others were not so persuaded, and found that the evidence did give warrant to their assumptions, so were happy to continue to own that label. I happen to be in the latter group; Wayne appears to be in the former.

            I think it is presumptuous to believe that only the former group are looking at the evidence honestly—not least because the discipline of biblical studies makes a good number of philosophical and ideological assumptions, and is not value-free.

          • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

            Sorry… I should have read down to the latest/last of your comments on this point, Ian, before adding mine, above. But the question holds. And now I’d be interested (honestly, not as a loaded q.) who are some of “many leading scholars” who are “evangelical”. I know Wright who’d probably fit that category and I know some other “candidates” like Witherington, Bird, Bauckham, Wallace, etc., but generally I don’t think one could call most of the both “leading” and “evangelicals”. And some who are prominent (like Bird, perhaps, I don’t observe to be good scholars despite their prominence).

            I do want to know, partly because I realize some leading scholars who truly do good work and are mostly consistent may not be apparent to me as I am not part of “the academy” nor reading academic journals.

          • Ian Paul

            Wallace is (from a UK perspective) VERY conservative, but even he is respected on Greek grammar.

            Richard Bauckham is a Fellow of the Royal Society; there is really no higher peer-granted honour in academic in the UK.

            The other major influencers I would name are the late Dick (R T) France and Howard Marshall. Hard to see how contributors to series like ICC and NICNT are not authoritative scholars on their texts.

            If you are not in the academy, I think it is quite hard to judge who’s who.

          • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

            Thanks for the couple additional names. I was aware of but not really familiar with Marshall… and not heard of France. I’ll have to check more on them, as to their theology overall (or stance of faith) and will take your word on their high standing academically (Marshall I’ve heard cited often).

            Now, as to Bauckham, I certainly know he’s touted a lot by conservatives/evangelicals (US and I presume UK as well). I’ve only read a bit by him… recognizing the depth and detail of some of his study but not finding anything particularly important and impressive in his work on eyewitnesses to Jesus and the Resurrection… There may be more there to examine, but time for it is severely limited. And I’m not particularly interested in regards to him, given that I also heard him in person at some length (a special presentation at Westminster Sem. in Ca.). He was dealing with the NT canon and some of the non-canonical early works. I found it not impressive at all and actually misleading in important regards. I had gone without pre-conceptions and hoped I might hear something of substance.

            My best analysis, continuing to try to be objective and open toward scholars who argue generally orthodox or traditional positions I’ve come to no longer hold (over long periods and much study) is this: They often have valid credentials and significant knowledge within their specializations. But when they attempt to connect their detailed “smaller” data points into a larger picture (i.e., conclusions of theological nature particularly) I do not find them doing so in a well-reasoned, “makes sense” kind of way. Their evidences are not strong… and only “part” of me looks at just the rational aspect of spiritual matters. I have a real “follow the Spirit” side as well. But these same scholars often seem to ignore or bend certain key data that would lead toward other conclusions.

            I know this is a general comment and thus not mean to be persuasive, but it is an important part of what I have been repeatedly observing over a good 20 or so years now.

          • Ian Paul

            Hmm…If i was being unkind, I would say your comments reveal a lot more about you than about Bauckham! He is recognised globally (even by those who disagree with him) as one of the most widely read and impressive scholars in the world. And if you do agree with him, his ideas turn upside down the key assumptions of biblical scholarship for the last 100 years. And he is an evangelical.

          • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

            Well, on the level of communication process, I don’t take it as unkind, Ian, but you DID say “your comments reveal a lot more about you than about Bauckham!”. And probably true in the technical sense…. I didn’t document much about Bauckham. And I admitted not having studied much of what he’s written. Just that in what I HAVE encountered, I’ve not heard/seen anything of significance. Rather, in the talk on extra-canonical books, heard what I considered poor scholarship. (I’d be willing to document that with at least some specifics but it was a few years ago, as to direct memory fading, and I’m not even sure where my somewhat-chaotic filing system has my notes.)

            Now, I realize that doesn’t and shouldn’t speak for all his work. So I remain open to looking at what else he’s done (but not likely to go out of my way looking), and if you’d like to be more specific and help either summarize his contribution in one or more areas or point me to a source that does so, I’ll be happy to look. You say something interesting in this: “his ideas turn upside down the key assumptions of biblical scholarship for the last 100 years.” What key assumptions do you refer to and what new directions or conclusions do you see his ideas leading to?

          • peteenns

            As for Marshall, if he were (1) American and (2) early in his career and held the views he does now, he’d be run out of Evangelical-town. Kent Sparks (I think in God’s Word in Human Words) notes the irony of Marshall views and his level in the evangelical pantheon of gods.

            Wallace (a good guy too) is American and so remains in a relatively theologically safe area of academia.

            Part of the confusion here really is about what evangelical means. I am not sure any of the non-Americans you mention Ian could run the dogmatic gauntlet here in the US.

            In America, I have difficulty naming “leading’ biblical scholars who are also evangelical. Competent, yes, Limited in what they can say, yes. Try at times gingerly to write things (outside of textual criticism) that join the critical conversation, yes. But “leading,” no. Leading within evangelicalism, of course., Leading in scholarly pursuits, no. So much of American evangelical biblical scholarship is, when you get down to it, protective of turf (usually inerrancy) that to speak of them as “leading” just doesn’t work.

            Not to go on here, but my colleague at Eastern Kent Sparks is releasing a history of Israelite origins (Oxford U. press) that is “leading”in the true sense of the word–an attempt to shift some paradigms without being burdened by apologetics.

          • Ian Paul

            Your comment about Marshall is revealing. In the UK he is evangelical, and at the conservative end at that.

            I think ‘evangelical’ on your side of the pond really still means ‘fundamentalist’, not in a pejorative sense, but as an accurate historico-theological description.

            I think I know which side of the pond I feel more comfortable (though it doesn’t pay as much…or at all.)

          • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

            Ian, when you compare the evidences for Pauline authorship of the Pastorals alongside evidences for non-Pauline, do you really feel the former outweighs the latter? (If you and all of us can set aside ideas about canon and canonization that don’t directly pertain… and some DO pertain–and view it fairly objectively.)

  • Matthew Garnett

    I wonder if the Lutherans (particularly the LCMS and their affiliates) might have something to offer us on this topic. I sense that what we are all straining for is a hermeneutic that has its roots in the divine rather than that which is a human contrivance.

    Is it possible the text itself suggests a hermeneutic that could be readily applied
    to the entirety of the scriptures?

    I believe so. And I think some of the Lutherans and Presbyterians of our time here in America have it right. Since they have a hermeneutic that is found
    in the scriptures themselves, the concepts of inspiration, inerrancy, and
    infallibility holds for them.

    They find (as do I) that the text naturally suggests three lenses of interpretation: 1) Law, 2) Gospel, and 3) the Centrality of Jesus/the Gospel.

    For the purposes of interpretation, one can always find the text speaking among the Law and Gospel and Jesus can always be found either explicitly or implicitly in the text.

    “The Law”, according to Luther, only serves three purposes: 1) to curb sin as in natural or civic law, 2) as a mirror, to show us our own sin, 3) as a guide to doing good works for our neighbor.

    “The Gospel”, assures us that God loves us unconditionally and forgives our sins. Remarkably, “Law” texts are often, if not always, ended, when taken in their natural context, with a strong and clear word of “Gospel”. This applies to both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

    The “Centrality of Jesus” teaches us that, instead of reading ourselves (or anything else – including our pet doctrines) into *any* passage of scripture, we *always* read Jesus into that passage. This is verified by the text itself in,

    “I have
    testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given
    me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life”

    (According to John)

    And in,

    “He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things
    and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

    (According to Luke)

    Peter, I wouldn’t suggest simply seeking out Evangelical scholars on this matter. I would recommend you seek out Lutheran scholars and pastors on this as well. This would include men such as Dr. John Warwick Montgomery and Rod Rosenbladt as well as pastors such as Bryan Wolfmueller and Jonathan

    Richard Bauckham as well as Michael Horton would also be excellent sources for your project as well.

    • Brian P.

      Is not this hermeneutic central to the structure of the traditional Christian liturgies? Consider the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament. Consider the order of the readings. Consider the processing from the beginning of service to the Altar itself to be identified with Christ in his death and Resurrection. Consider, with this mystical infusion, the return out into the world with the Good News within. Consider adding Chrysostom and Cranmer and many in between too. Is it possible that the text not only suggest this hermeneutic but also this kind of Liturgy and that they together inform the Christian Way of being, as act of worship?

      That these elements can be decoupled, perhaps more than anything, is the Evangelical project. While I realize we are on the Evangelical Channel, perhaps a better question than “I was taught that the Bible says X” is a response that demonstrates “I was shown that way of living like Jesus is like this.”

      Consider revisiting not only the “conservative paradigm of Scripture.” Consider what is actually more conservative. Consider a more conserving paradigm of Scripture where all of the Psalms, the Law, the Prophets, the Epistles, and Gospels each point their way to the life of Christ.

      Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

      Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

      a man against his father,

      a daughter against her mother,

      a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—

      a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.

      Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

      The Word of the Lord.

      • http://aldaily.com/ Justin L. Conder

        A similar mode of thinking led me to ECUSA and the Anglican Communion. It’s disheartening that contemporary American Christianity is largely incurious about 2,000 years of rich worship, prayers, and liturgy.

        The many streams of Christianity over the millennia have grown strong, all flowing out from the same source. Some are lost to the vagaries of history, like the early church Christians in Africa. I only say that the remaining traditions should be treasured, as they’ve given faithful Christians tested frameworks for approaching God. I wouldn’t demean other people’s manner of worship, in fact I celebrate them – if possible, I incorporate them. I think it’s a humbling reminder that the trappings of our modern worship services are temporal tools ensconced in time – the centrality of Christ is paramount. It lies under everything, in worship, in prayer, in scripture, in serving the community.

        And it seems to me the conservative-liberal dichotomy of today falls away as one pulls back to view Christians in the past, engaging and serving Christ, all in the context of their own culture, all with their own strengths and limitations. We are no different. I suppose that if someone builds his faith on his own understanding of Scripture, or his own understanding of worship, or his own experiences, it wouldn’t take much to shake and destroy that kind of faith. But when you let go of the illusions of complete certainty in your own understandings, you begin to find comfort in being caught up in that cloud of witnesses, who also had doubts and fears, but persevered.

        • Brian P.

          Wonderful points. Personally, I enjoy going to Orthodox and high-church Anglican services. I can reflect. I can be hemmed in behind and before in a narrative bigger than myself. I can’t do that any more in any low-church settings. The lyrics are too flimsy and the sermon usually too decontextualized. I can’t say I believe in the historicity of this or that nor can I find too much inspiration in professing metaphysical unknowables. But in a higher-church setting–where the liturgy has been forged into centering on a mysitical identification with the Person of Christ–here I can be found.

          I would like to imagine that the Bible’s role–through richness of lectionary’s planning–was once a context for ushering in the individual and the parish into the vortex of the great cloud of witnesses.

          Much of Christianity of the last centuries and decades seems alien.

    • Bryan

      Sorry. Keep trying. This will not do as this has far too many holes in it. I will keep my response to the following 4 points:

      1) “I sense that what we are all straining for is a hermeneutic that has
      its roots in the divine rather than that which is a human contrivance.” There is no such thing as a ‘divine’ hermeneutic as you suggest. Due to the fact that we are all humans, any interpretation of any kind, e.g. theology, art, Russian literature, etc., come to us in a mediated manner and never in an immediate manner in which it is divinely supplied with our rational faculties thrown out the door. Our hermeneutic of anything in life always bears witness to the fact that we are fallible humans who sometimes get it right, sometimes do not know, and sometimes gets it wrong.

      2) “Jesus can always be found either explicitly or implicitly in the text.” This is problematic on so many levels. I’m familiar with this attempt to harmonize the OT and NT but I am not satisfied with these attempts. You will not find Jesus either implicitly or explicitly in the Song of Songs. The allegories do not work. Nor will you find Jesus in many of the passages in which God endorses killing nor in Leviticus where a priest must burn his daughter alive if she is found to be a prostitute (cf. Jn.8 for a 180).

      3) “The “Centrality of Jesus” teaches us that, instead of reading ourselves
      (or anything else – including our pet doctrines) into *any* passage of
      scripture, we *always* read Jesus into that passage.” Again, see point 2 for the impossibility of reading Jesus into every passage. The NT writers are also attempting to ‘fit’ Jesus into the OT but come up short, for example, in trying to use the well known Christmas passage in Hosea 11:1. This has absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Also, I am not sure how one would argue for what the criteria would be for a ‘pet doctrine.’ If it is an interpretation, then it is just that, an interpretation, good or bad. Ezekiel claims that the Law was too hard to follow and that is why Judah is in exile yet 1 John claims that the law is not burdensome. Where is Jesus there?

      4) ” Since they have a hermeneutic that is found in the scriptures themselves” What hermeneutic is this? Since when does the bible contain an inner hermeneutic? Nowhere does the bible state this but if you are referring to “Law, Gospel and Centrality of Jesus” then please be aware that this is a human interpretation and nothing more than Luther’s best attempt at providing an interpretation. Not divinely given and yes a human contrivance. Luther does not sit in a divinely established and privileged position that denies any sort of human contrivance.

      • Matthew Garnett

        Bryan, thank for your challenges to my proposal. This really forced me to reconsider my reliance on Luther and question whether the hermeneutic upon which I rely is faithful to
        the Scriptures. That’s why discussions like these are always beneficial. Taken the right way we all can learn so much from one another. Thanks again!

        You are correct that my presentation of the hermeneutic suggested by Martin Luther, that of “Law/ Gospel/ the Centrality of Christ” is incomplete. I certainly wasn’t attempting to present the entirety of the thinking behind this method of biblical interpretation. Instead of filling in all the holes for you, let’s just say I believe Luther did base this hermeneutic on the text itself and the text outlines this hermeneutic for us.

        But for our purposes, I think it might help us to talk about
        epistemology a bit. In your response to my post, you made an excellent statement of propositional truth that, essentially,
        when it comes to discerning truth from the scripture about God, we’re either get it right, we don’t know, or we get it wrong.

        My question to you is, how do we know when we “get it right”?

        Now I suspect you might bristle at this question and say, “What
        do you mean ‘How do we know when we get it right?’” I’ll bet you’ll say, “Well it just makes logical sense.” Or, “We’ll just feel that it’s right.” Or, “When it works, then its right.”

        You assert something to the effect that Jesus cannot be
        found in any passage where God condones killing (forgive me, I’m in the car and paraphrasing you). How do you know

        When it comes to epistemology, particularly concerning
        theology, our options are limited. We can base what we know on intellect, emotion, moralism, or a higher, divine
        authority. There may be others, but my main question is,
        upon which of these do you base your epistemology?

        • Andrew Dowling

          Matthew, just wanted to give you props for such a gracious response to a post challenging your proposal. You don’t find that much on the Internet, especially in debates on religion.

          • Bryan

            A very gracious response!

          • Matthew Garnett

            Andrew thanks for the kind words!

        • Bryan

          Matt, as was noted below, thank you for the gracious
          response. I will say that I agree with you that Luther did in fact arrive at his conclusions based upon the biblical text, however, he did not discover “Law/ Gospel/ the Centrality of Christ” as an inner hermeneutic itself since Luther is applying a particular hermeneutic as an interpreter, the inescapable aspect of being human. With that said, I am still not sold on Luther’s schema.

          In reply to your epistemological question, which really is a good one, I will say that since God has given us certain faculties in discerning what is true or not, we must simply use these to the very best of our ability. That is probably the best I can offer as I am in the midst of my own journey in these matters. What is probably most telling is that very few can accurately assess where they are standing on the historical continuum, failing to realize that they are the encapsulation/manifestation of the history which has preceded them, therefore, they do not ask questions in a vacuum but due to the fact that many are simply unwittingly heirs of a history of which they are completely unaware as to how it has formed the questions they ask.

          Regarding your question, I will say that I believe that Cartesian foundationalism which seeks to establish an absolutely secure and unassailable starting point greatly preoccupies the mind of most in the church (unwittingly) especially, for instance, on matters related to the infallibility of the scriptures. They will insist on this
          absolute starting point completely unaware of the history which has come before them and how it has pervaded the cultural landscape of our own time. A point of reflection might be the following: What was the secure starting point for any Jew in the NT period? Please keep in mind that there is no bible and that the Law of Moses is a tentative source of authoritative referral, as nothing has been
          codified yet.

          In summation, the postmodern period does not recognize a privileged position where one can claim absolute authority on all matters. The best we can do is simply put forth our position on a particular matter and evaluate how others respond with their constructive criticism…as you did. You said it best when you said, “When it comes to epistemology, particularly concerning theology, our options are limited.” They really are. I will say that I “base”
          my epistemology in reason but this in no way is a secure starting point, only “a” starting point. I say this because my reasoning may be flawed and I need to hear from others to assist in either nuancing my conclusions or rejecting something in favor of a better position. In other words, it is best to embrace uncertainty on some issues as the friend who maintains a posture of wonder, mystery and awe as to who God is. We will never really know anything with absolute certainty until we get to the other side.

          In regards to not finding Jesus in passages in which God condones killing, I will simply say that in Jesus we do not find a state-sponsored theocracy in which he sets out to destroy the “evil Gentiles” and purge Rome from their “occupation” of Jewish soil. I will say that John Howard Yoder and others utilize Jesus as a beacon of peace and this is why there is a tension to cohesively bind OT and NT material. I better stop here and say that I hope to see you on here again, its been fun.

          • Matthew Garnett

            Hey Guys, this is a great discussion and I’m learning a lot. I hope this doesn’t seem like a shameless plug, but I just did a “sermon” on my podcast that takes a wartime situation and shows how it illustrates the Law, Gospel, and Jesus at the center of it all. Maybe this will help illustrate what I mean when my theories get put into practice. Oh I must apologize for the long delays on my responses. I know it must be a little like playing chess by mail, but I hope you’ll bare with me. Here’s the link to the podcast where I try to preach “law/ gospel/ and the centrality of Christ” from a rather bloody text, that of Genesis 14. http://www.buzzsprout.com/18283/185022-full-on-hard-core-gospel-part-1

          • Bryan

            Interesting podcast but I am still not convinced. I think that you are trying your best to stretch the text to mean something that it doesn’t say. This was a bit confusing at times. It seemed as if you were trying to say that Melchizedek was a type and shadow of Christ but also indicated that Abram was as well “because he rescued them.” However, v. 20 indicates that God did the rescuing. Melchizedek is a rather mysterious figure and this is a place where I believe uncertainty will prevail. Not only that, but the analogy does not hold well. Abram contends with actual physical people whereas Christ contends with spiritual forces. I also think that “Gospel” is oversimplified here to simply mean “rescued.” The “good news” appears in a context (Greco-Roman) that is a bit foreign to Abram’s (Ancient Near East) and therefore should not be equivocated.

            Also problematic to the concept of using Melchizedek as a type of Christ is the fact that El Elyon and Yahweh merge here and therefore do not reflect a strictly assumed monotheism as popular readings in the pulpit often suggest. Where does this put Jesus? Abram confers upon Yahweh the epithet of El Elyon, a Canaanite god who sits atop the pantheon of deities. This is the “heavenly council” that we see in Psalm 82 or Job 2, not “Father, Son, Holy Spirit” as you suggested. This poses further problems.

            I am not sure that you have had your “aha” moment as this blog piece has attempted to establish. I would encourage you to read much more broadly, more broadly than Luther, and find sources that may not be from your own tradition in an attempt to expose yourself to the richness of the theological world. Good luck and good conversation!

          • Matthew Garnett

            Bryon, yes, I’m not sure I was 100% clear on what I was seeing here. I probably wasn’t. When you observe types, shadows, and appearances of the Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures, I have a hard time communicating it in always a clear way. Especially when it presents with this much depth as we have here in Genesis 14-15.

            So here’s what I see in a nut shell. Abram is a shadow of the Messiah in chapter 14. Melchizedek is not a type/shadow but indeed an *appearance* of the Messiah. The Gospel is presented three times (in lieu of God’s promise to Abram) in chapter 15. And we have another appearance of the Messiah toward the end of chapter 15.

            I would affirm the findings of commentators who hold that Hebrews 7 puts the appearance of the Priest of Melchizedek in Genesis 14 as an appearance of the Messiah. So right, that’s just a judgment call on my part.
            I’m always going to err on the side of “more Messiah” in the text and not less. So Melchizedek is no longer a “mysterious figure”, but is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ the Messiah. (Also, my next podcast to come out will be on this specific subject of the Priest of Melchizedek if you care to check it out – probably will debut Monday, the 30th)

            Also, you say that Abram as a type is confusing because the text tells us that “God did the rescuing”.
            This to me clarifies Abram as the type/shadow (probably more shadow). Even though Abram carries out
            the logistics of the rescue of Lot, it was God who did “the delivering”. Even though Jesus carries out the logistics of the rescue, God (who in fact encapsulates Jesus) does the delivering of His people. This probably isn’t any more clear to you than before, but suffice it to say I see the two “rescues” (the rescue of Lot from the Babylonians and our rescue from sin, death, and the
            Devil) connected in the sense that they were not acts of human volition, but of God’s sovereignty. Both Abram and Jesus give the God most high, the credit in their respective works.

            Speaking of that, I’m not sure what an “aha” moment really looks like, but I have been around that block a bit.
            I started out at a conservative evangelical bible college, went to Dallas Seminary, then Biblical, spent about 10 years in evangelical pastoral ministry, fell away from the faith for several years, went to the Claremont School, delved into higher criticism where my Christian Bible prof taught us that the Gospels were modeled after the Homeric classics and my Hebrew Bible teacher was a Christian Gnostic and that gods as you’ve mentioned here “El Elyon” are all over the Hebrew Bible and that it took a long time for the Jews to realize that there was only “one God”, then read Rene Girard’s “I See Satan Fall Like Lightening” and thought the so-called emergent movement might have it, but I found the “emergent movement” to be a warmed over version of liberalism and I found both to be simply another version of the conservative, fundamentalist, evangelical piety from which I’d originally come, and *now* have rediscovered the classic Reformed and Lutheran teachings, actually considering and studying them in depth, and am finding them most satisfying against this background.

            While I could lay out all the arguments for why I would reject your suggestion that “El Elyon” is another god and not another *name* for Yahweh, I’ll spare you that and say this. Luther’s approach to scripture and Calvin’s worldview are the best of which I’m aware in
            which one can operate *within* the bounds of the authority of the Holy Scriptures. Put simply, I believe that the 66 books of text which we call “the bible” today are indeed the inspired, inerrant, infallible, word of God. Given that presupposition, I believe Luther and Calvin have discovered again, as I’d mentioned before, from the scriptures themselves, the best way to approach
            those texts and still maintain my afore mentioned presupposition.

            That said, you’re right. I can always use more research and study because it seems like every time I learn something, I learn that I don’t know something else that I then must go learn. This isn’t bad. As long as I’m willing to learn and not be afraid of what I *don’t* know, then the journey continues.

            Byron thanks again for the conversation….feel free to keep it going if you’d like, I’ll respond as quickly as I can, but at least perhaps you could suggest some readings to me that would help “expose (me) to the richness of the theological world”? Thanks and Peace!

          • Bryan

            Matt, apparently I stand corrected. You have been around the theological block a bit. That’s quite an interesting history there. What I meant by an “aha” moment was in keeping with the post- I was taught one thing but I cannot find that in the Bible. On that note I will say that I think you read waaay too much into the text. We can read the Savior metaphor in anything from, Luke Skywalker and Neo to John Connors but specific elements need to be in place and I just don’t see it there. It would seem as though I could take the aforementioned characters and read Christology in them and in a sense their are elements there of Savior figures but I fail to see it in Genesis 14. I always thought the Christ figure was Isaac since he was the sacrifice and a son…anyway…

            One of my own “aha” moments came while in seminary when I discovered there was a big difference between a theologian and a biblical scholar. Theologians came up with high and lofty speculative theories such as “original documents” while biblical scholars said, “But where are they?” The former comes to their conclusions based on philosophical theory while the latter looks at the actual documents and concludes based on the lack of evidence and numerous textual variations that we have no good reason to believe there ever were originals. This is a Western preoccupation and not a Jewish one. For further reading, read Enns’ “Inspiration and Incarnation.”

            Also, I would have to say that your “66″ books of inspiration should be called into question when Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches established much different “inspired canons”, therefore, Protestantism emerges as the new heresy with a new canon. Of the three, which should we use? Or does it even matter? What is the criteria for a closed canon? Not so simple. I do not need an absolutely perfect bible to believe in God. “Inerrency issues” always concerns me when it comes to fundamentalists. It seems to be assumed that you cannot believe in God and still regard the bible as authoritative if you do not partake in the Cartesian delight of fundamentalism. You are playing nice though and I do appreciate that.

            As for El Elyon, it is clearly the remnant of Israel’s Canaanite heritage which she rejects repeatedly throughout the scriptures. You can find many parallels in Ugaritic which precedes the Hebrew language such as the names for the temple vessels. The cognates begin at Ugarit and end in Israel. Canaanite culture does not borrow from Israel but Israel does borrow from Canaanite culture. Even Deuteronomy 32 casts Yahweh into the role of “son” when he is allotted an inheritance from El. For an in depth read, consult Mark Smith’s “The Early History of God.” Your sentence, ” it took a long time for the Jews to realize that there was only “one God”” is quite misleading. They did not “realize” it but rejected the gods of the past by providing future generations in Israel a “polemical” history to ensure the centralization of worship in Yahweh…but this was much later.

          • Matthew Garnett

            Bryan, first of all let me grovel at your feet for spelling your name incorrectly in my last post. I think Jen, my wife is right. “My brains are disappearing with my hair!”

            At any rate, one thing you said in this last post that gave me great pause is, “I do not need an absolutely perfect bible to believe in God.” I cannot agree more at least with your admission for your part. For my part, it is something much different.

            Perhaps my need to have an “infallible, objective, foundation for truth about God” is a weakness. I can admit that. I just can’t seem to escape, no matter how
            hard I try, the need for an authoritative voice in my life. Not just “an authoritative voice”, but *the* authoritative voice.

            I so want to hear from God directly and I’m not sure if that’s more focused on me and my needs or you and your needs.

            What I do want you and others to know pertains to
            an interview I recently heard with Douglas John Hall as he discussed the “needs” of the human race. Two of the needs caught my attention.

            One was, as best I can remember “the need to be absolved of guilt and shame” and another “the
            need to know one has a purpose”. Hall suggested that Christianity in North America is obsessed with this “need for purpose”. I couldn’t agree more.

            And I couldn’t agree more that the *real* need that persists is the need to know that guilt and shame is taken care of. We all know that we are guilty of sin. We all know the shame that comes when others sin against us.

            What indeed does the Bible have for us on that need?

            For my part it may have literally saved my life. And I
            could go into the gory detail, but this is an academic discussion after all. But to know that every passage of the scripture tells of One who absolves me of all my guilt, and takes away all my shame and tells me of a Father who sacrificed everything so I could know that I
            am loved…..well that may be some text with which I might just want to reacquaint myself.

            You see Bryan, maybe the reason I “read waaay too much into the text” is because of this. And I know I do perhaps over do the whole “centrality of Christ” in the Hebrew Bible. At the end of the day, I can’t lie. It is a
            comfort to me. Maybe I have it totally wrong. And maybe I’m succumbing to the axiom that “ignorance is bliss”. I’m not sure. I do hope not.

            But at the end of the day, I just hope that I can tell everyone that God, in light of what Christ has done, loves us unconditionally and completely, in spite of any sins we may have committed.

            One of my favorite words is “tetelistia” in Greek…. “It is finished….” We can do nothing to add to nor take away
            from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

          • Matthew Garnett

            (I added this as my last post seemed incomplete….I was finishing off a bottle of wine last night and may have fallen asleep typing!)

            I wonder that for both of us, that this is what we seek (to know that “it is finished”) at the end of the day? And we simply teach this truth from different vantage points? (My Reformed friends would certainly want me to take a harder line on this, but I’m convinced Scripture gives me no such authority.)

            Now of course we’re both forced to point out that we think our point of view is a better way in which to view the truth – that’s the whole point of our discussion. But I certainly have no business telling you what you do or don’t believe concerning God. This is between you and God. God sits on the bema not Matt.

          • Bryan

            Matt, I have often thought, “If it helps you sleep better at night, then keep on believin’ that” but I think that much of the concern that is raised about fundamentalism on this blog is its negative tendency to totalize the scriptures and condemn and oppress others as lacking in their faith and subsequently being a sub par Christian. If for some reason you can carry this out without all of the belligerent rhetoric that seems to come with it then that is great. You stated, “My Reformed friends would certainly want me to take a harder line on this,” which seems to indicate that their is a bit of a pressure from within but perhaps you are the outlier who can make a difference.

            As for the bible being “objective”, remember, facts do not exist apart from the theories that form them. Again, I still think we can rest secure in a bible that is not perfect and we can still believe in God. After all, this is where faith comes in. I have to say that with inerrentists, the real irony in this position seems to be that of cold, hard rationalism and not faith, awe and mystery. As a matter of fact, I have always imagined that for many inerrentists who believe that the bible has given them everything about God, when they pass into eternity, they will stand in the presence of God, bored and banal and shrug their shoulders and say, “Huh, I already knew all this.” Is their any room for mystery? If God had wanted to, he could have supplied us with documents concerning what to believe in a bullet point format to eliminate hermeneutical ambigutiy.

            I will say that I agree with the heart in which you are presenting this and that it is essential for us to know our purpose in life. However, it is a non-sequitur to assume that we must believe in an infallible bible or read the gospel into the OT to know this. I think that this was another one of my “aha” moments when I realized how much uncertainty I was left with in trying to come to certain conclusions. I just embraced the mystery and wonder of not only not knowing but not “needing” to know everything. Its been a great conversation!

          • Matthew Garnett

            Bryan, some of your posts here have closed with something like, “It’s been a great conversation” and if I’m not catching your subtle hint that you’d like to leave the dialogue for now, please feel free to hit me over the head with a sledge hammer…..otherwise I’ll just keep talking. Probably my inability to understand subtlety
            is one reason why I need to believe the bible is inerrant!

            Anyway, you say that “…..fundamentalism (has a) negative tendency to totalize the scripture and condemn and oppress others as lacking in their faith and subsequently being a sub-par Christian.”

            With this, I could not agree more. Those who claim to be of my “camp” are typically vicious. They would rather
            excoriate you with what they perceive as the truth and have you walk away angry, never to believe what they just proclaimed, than to dialogue and attempt
            to at least understand each other’s mutual positions.

            While this is true, I have found the flip side of the coin to
            hold as well. When I was at Claremont, if you even hinted at believing the Bible to claim anything about the reality of God, with some professors, not all, they would descend on you like a plague of locusts – being sure to belittle you and shame you before the entirety of your colleagues in the classroom. In that setting, anyone who would dare suggest something like inerrancy was the “sub-par Christian”.

            This is perhaps why I’ve found *some* (and I do stress “some”) of those in the so-called “confessional” faiths (ala Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc.) to be attractive. I have perceived these faith communities to, while their confessions are definite and sweeping, to really have a genuine interest in people knowing the comforting truths of the Gospel and *not* simply want to be “right”.

            They understand that people often suffer from what Luther would call a “tortured conscience”. It seems
            they strive to bring the full sweetness of the Gospel into that situation to comfort that tortured soul. I was, well
            and still am to some degrees, a very tortured soul and the comfort that “law and Gospel” with the “centrality of Christ” brings me is astonishing.

            At the end of the day, I, like you, say that “If it helps you
            sleep better…..believe it!” But not only this….well let me tell you a couple of things from when I was a pastor as
            to when I thought I had it right.

            One young teenage girl was brought to my office by her
            mother. They did not attend my congregation, but I was one of those “hipster” youth guys and she was at her
            wits end with this girl and thought that maybe a “cool” youth guy might get through to her.

            Well it turns out, these people were abusive, fundamentalist whackos and this poor girl spent her time alone cutting herself because she knew she would never measure up. This was a sobering moment indeed and I told her with all the sincerity I could muster, “Sarah (let’s call her), you don’t have to cut yourself because you don’t measure up. Jesus bled and died for
            that. He took that on so you don’t have to. God loves you totally and unconditionally no matter how much you think you or your parents think you’re failing.”

            She wept as she left and I, as I had a moment with her mother alone, strongly voiced my opposition to her “parenting style”. I probably would have called CPS, but after my chastisement, she would neither give me her name or information.

            I don’t know if I really made a difference or not for this poor soul. I hope so. But the Spirit had control of that
            conversation and the truth that her sins are forgiven by God was spoken. My prayer for the next several months was that this young girl heard the words of absolution that I spoke over her. I hoped that, not only did it help her sleep as you suggest, but gave her real peace and might have even helped her to not hurt herself any longer.

            I have found this to be true for my own life. When the proverbial shit hits the fan, I need to believe that my sins are forgiven. In fact, I make my friends tell me that sometimes just so I can hear it out loud: “Matt. Your sins, which are many, are forgiven.”

            Fundamentalists as well as many conservative Evangelical groups are oppressive and could care less whether or not you are comforted by the Gospel. They need to be right. Similarly, many liberal and “progressive” groups do the same thing to any who might opposed them. They fight fire, with fire, as it were. These confessional folks I’m mixed up with, at least some of them, seem to have put the torches away and just want you to know that, yes you are sinner, but that Jesus loves sinners.

            A lot of experiential, anecdotal non-sense to show why I hold to the authority of Scripture, I know. But maybe, Bryan it can help you understand my perspective. Of course, I would be sinning the basest of all sins for me to think of you as a “sub-par Christian”. My confession of faith strictly *forbids* me from judgment on such matters. I trust God to administer truth. It’s not in my purview to convince you or to subsequently judge your faith. That’s why I think we’re both so free to just talk for Christ’s sake (literally!). I am free to let you know more than I do and be a better Christian than I am. From what I’ve read of you here, you are one to be admired and one from which many can learn. There’s nothing “sub-par” in the least about you brother!

          • Bryan

            Matt, sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that I was done talking, as a matter of fact, if you lived nearby (Indiana for me), I would talk even more. I think you make a good point that both extremes can take a belligerent stance with one another and I can very much agree to disagree on the inerrency issues so long as great conversations like this can take place where someone does not de-Christianize me and is generous in their dialogue as you have been.

          • Matthew Garnett

            Hey brother, Upstate New York, Albany if you’re ever in the area. You know what might be fun? Maybe we could do a pod cast together if you’re up for it? I very much appreciate the kind words. Quite honestly, it wasn’t until recently – and after getting booted off some Facebook pages for being outrageously vitriolic – that I realized I’d better learn how to dialogue about these matters in a different manner.

            It reminds me of when Jesus talked about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee prays to thank God that he is “not like that man” while the Tax Collector “beat his breast and prayed, “Lord have mercy on me, the sinner!” The door swings both ways on this deal and I honestly have always thought that if we could figure out how to get out of our fortresses, stop throwing stones at each other, and get before Almighty God and cry out, “God have mercy on us sinners!” that we’d all get a lot further.

            Unfortunately, as stated, until recently, I’ve put the onus on the more “progressive” types to be the ones to accept *my* points of view as equally valid. I mean, after all, *they* are supposed to be the ones who claim to be more “open and accepting” of all vantage points. I’m sure Bryan you see the problem with this.

            Now that said, check this out. My biggest problem
            is with my own “camp” right now, the so-called Evangelicals. I literally want to throttle people who say
            they affirm the Scriptures as I do, yet *refuse* to teach in accordance with them. At the church I attend, on any
            given Sunday, you’ll hear, “Eight Things You Can Do When Life Is Hard”, (that’s actually the “sermon series” we’re on), “Three Things You Can Do To Improve Your Finances”, “Six Ways To Make Things Spicier In the Bedroom”, and of course, “How You Can Use the Book of Daniel to Lose Weight.” (The first one is real and the last one Rick Warren wrote, the rest I made up, but probably aren’t too far off the mark).

            I’m thinking, “I can get all this from Dr. Phil, Oprah, and Dr. Oz! Why do I need to show up at the church gathering?” But do you see what I did there? Total Pharisee. “Thank you God that I know better than these people!”

            But does that mean I’m supposed to just let them abuse and ignore God’s Word for their own purposes? Which in most cases is to separate your money from your wallet? Well, I hope not. (I’m trying to keep it on topic, but I’m not sure it matters…..may be just the two of us at
            this point….)

            Trust me brother, I hate this twisting of the bible more than I hate someone who would flatly deny it. See that language? “Hate”. I don’t think this is good.

            Honestly, it does make me angry, but is that anger from a heart that wants others to know the truth? Or is it from a posture that says, “I thank God I’m not like them!”?
            What I hope the Spirit does in me is that, through honest conversation and disagreements, we can stand before God and say, “Have mercy!”

            Bryan, I believe allegiance to the Scriptures will bring us there. You’re not so sure, but I suspect we may have
            some of the same hopes for each other in spite of our disagreements. I also suspect you have a much deeper and abiding love for the Scriptures than I might even know, even though your approach to them is drastically different than mine. And I’m pretty sure you treat them with more reverence and accuracy that many of my fellow evangelicals.

            I also, if I were honest, I would say, just to put it crassly, I want you to believe as I do about the Scriptures. But…..*but*, some part, I hope the greater part of me wants you to believe it because I want you to know the great, deep, and abiding love of God in Jesus the way I do and not just because I have something to prove but because I genuinely care about *you*. And I’ll bet you a quarter to nothing that you Bryan, want me to explore all there is to explore about God in the way you’re exploring it because you want me and others to know the great, deep, and abiding love of God in Jesus.

            I’m encouraged by anyone who would take the time to drink deeply of these matters. God promises us in His Word to those exiled in Babylon that He would be found by anyone who seeks Him with his whole heart. We don’t seek God at all unless the Spirit draws us says Saint Paul. You friend are certainly seeking Him.

            Okay, enough sappy bromance stuff for now!
            This is Patheos after all! Here’s my big take away from this dialogue.

            First of all, almost from the outset, you mentioned something to the effect that you weren’t sure if we can really *know* anything.

            My reaction was, “Ah a skeptic, by all classical definitions.” Then you continued. Much of what you said appealed to faith, to belief. This is intriguing to me. What if we don’t need to “know” as much as we
            think we need to know? What if belief is a deeper reality than we traditionally give it credit? (And I say “traditionally” because Western philosophy has taught us to value “knowledge” over “belief”.)

            And I realize that “knowing” and “believing” are honestly bastard brothers to one another, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. But your responses here have honestly forced me to ask whether we really need to distinguish between “believing” and “knowing”. Better yet is it indeed more important that we believe versus know? The Scriptures seem to stress faith, belief. Only does John talk about knowledge in the first epistle of his trilogy, but even this “knowledge” is predicated on

            Now on the one hand, I think we both know how dangerous beliefs can be. As the great prophet Chris Rock put it playing his role as “Rufus the 13th Apostle” in Kevin Smith’s movie, “Dogma” – “I think it’s just better to have ideas. An idea you can change. A belief
            you have to die for. You have to kill for.” And that’s because possibly belief runs much deeper than knowledge. And *blind* belief, when it is legitimately questioned, turns hostile very quickly.

            It is this “blind belief”, of which I question the validity, which I fear and I’ll bet you fear as well. It’s the blind faith that will pronounce you damned at best and kill you at worst. It is a belief that relies on violence to
            survive. It reacts violently because it has no *evidence* (I’ll talk “evidence” and “belief” in a bit). Blind belief forces people to act out of pure emotion toward those who question or flatly deny the beliefs held by a
            person or persons. In order to preserve the blind belief, there is no choice but to do violence to the other’s beliefs, character as a person, and sometimes act out physically toward that person.

            Saint Paul and the boys experienced this sort of thing all the time. When they challenged the beliefs commonly
            held in the culture of their time, often the reaction was violent.

            So now, on the other hand, if “belief” is more important than “knowledge” let’s say, then how can we have beliefs, hold to them vigorously, without me having to kill you over them? It may not be possible in a
            complete sense and this is such a profound question I think that I’m a little timid about venturing a guess, but I’m just stupid enough to try I suppose. So here goes.

            I think one of the keys is what I would call “evidence”. And this is my second big “take away” from our talks here Bryan. Evidence gives us a place to question, debate, disagree, give and take, all while being able at
            the end of it, it allows you to say, “Well, that was great, and while some of your evidence was compelling, I’m still not convinced.” And it affords me the same luxury.

            I like the idea of “evidence” because it allows me to at least try to really understand your position and avoid mischaracterizing (i.e. straw manning) you and your
            beliefs. So hopefully, at the end of a good discussion, (like this one), I can say, “Hey, I completely understand why you wouldn’t see the things that I see in scripture although I disagree with or find lacking your *evidence* concerning your position.” And you can say the same thing about me.

            This idea of “evidence” protects our beliefs, so to speak. Evidence is also nice because if you present
            compelling evidence, well hey, I might actually become convinced that your belief might actually be closer to the truth, closer to something we can know for certain. Presenting evidence is going to make both parties think.

            I’ll let you in on a little secret. In conversations like this, I always try to say something like, “I learned a lot
            from you!” And this is always true. I learned more about the evidence for your belief. I learned about the holes in the evidence for my belief. I learned about the strengths of the evidence for my belief. I am compelled to go learn if the holes in my evidence can be explained
            or filled in more circumspectly or if my evidence is shoddy and needs to be rethought. I am compelled to research your evidence more (i.e. the books you suggested for me to read to broaden my perspective a bit).

            So as all this is going on, I am free to put my “evidence” out there for scrutiny all while protecting my belief. And so are you. This keeps us from getting violent with one another. I can say, “I am a five point Calvinist who believes in double pre-destination” (which I do) and
            this doesn’t provoke you to want to do violence to my belief or, God forbid, me, but it directs you to say, “Okay, Matt. I don’t believe that. I believe
            this. Here is my evidence for my belief. And here is my evidence against your belief.”

            Now of course this requires some maturity on both parts and as I said in the outset, I have only recently really tried to approach conversations in this manner. And at the end of the day, this way of looking at it may be just for me, so I don’t take questions and challenges to
            my beliefs so personally. And trust me, I’m far from perfect at it. I certainly can get angry and frustrated at my challengers. But it seems if I keep in mind that what is being challenged is the evidence for my beliefs then things seem to work much better. I indeed do “learn a lot” from each and every conversation.

            Okay, so, in an effort to “say on topic” here, would you be interested in some evidence I think I’ve discovered via Martin Luther and others that reveals an internally
            suggested hermeneutic for understanding Scripture? Would you like to hear my argument, based on
            Richard Bauchman, that the four Gospels (yes including John) are indeed, eyewitness, historical narrative? Or how about evidence that the 66 books of the Bible as we now know them are indeed the very Word of God? I believe all these things and I think I have compelling evidence for my beliefs and I’m not afraid any longer to have my evidence challenged because, yes while it is the foundation for my beliefs, I believe that discussing the evidence is the way in which beliefs get changed for the better…..whoa that’s profound huh? Not my intent. Just a fancy way to say, “Let’s keep talking brother!”

            Oh and do let me know about the pod cast idea. I think that would be a ball!

          • Bryan

            I’m not quite sure how to do a podcast but I would be interested in doing one; sounds like fun. And I am not quite sure where to begin in response here. It certainly seems as if we need another venue to continue this so a podcast would seem appropriate. I am assuming you would formulate questions as well as provide certain evidence for why you believe what you believe. In any event, let’s do it.

            The problems that you listed about evangelicals is the same problem I have, that is, “10 things…or 3 things…” to doing something better. I definitely agree. But I believe these problems are symptomatic of belief in the bible as a metanarrative. They are attempting to extract from it these hidden truths which are “universal” truths that apply to our own culture. Big problems here. But the one I will capitalize on is the belief that there is a “preached version of Christianity” versus an academic version of Christianity. These two are often times at odds with each other.
            I would also suggest that there is a bit of a mischaracterization on the part of progressives as “open-minded”. I don’t think so. They are most likely “open” to hear new ideas so long as they are not the vitriolic rant of infallibilists screaming “the truth” at them.

            I am by no means a relativist and will say that relativism does not mean, “anything goes”. Even Nietzsche’s radical relativism would not permit Christianity as a viable option. At the end of the day, I ask myself why I am so opposed to infallibility and the answer I have rings true for many other matters: when someone does not liberate another from the chains they are in and makes their life more difficult because of “right” doctrine then I have to stand for the fight. How about a doctrine of kindness? Pretty sure Jesus would like that. How about a doctrine where we would extol virtue as the highest place where any Christian should strive for? Rather than berating each other with “the truth” so that “right” belief follows. I could keep going on and on here. Let me know how you think we should proceed from here.

          • Matthew Garnett

            Hey Bryan, I assume you’re on Facebook. Shoot me a friend request so we can chat and not muck up Mr. Enns blog post with all our personal correspondence. There we can talk about how to do the podcast and what not. I look forward to hearing from you! Peace!

        • Michael Hardin

          Matthew: I think it would be more correct to say that for Luther that ‘centrality’ of Christ is ‘Christ crucified’ or what is known as his theologia crucis. Calvin tends to play gymnastics in finding Christ ‘everywhere’ wheras Luther was much more staurocentric. I have real problems with Luther’s version of the Law/Gospel dichotomy inasmuch as I think he misunderstands the nature of Torah (“Law”) but as for epistemology you adduce several categories (intellectual, emotional, moral) that modern cognitive science sees as intertwined. The Aristotelian logical gymnastics played by modern Calvinists is not a worthy successor to the epistemology of Nicaea or Luther (or even Calvin if one follows Ford Battles). I find so-called contemporary epistemological discussions in the American Reformed world to be with little merit (except for Alvin Plantinga).

          • Matthew Garnett

            Hey brother. I have many questions about your response but I’d like to start with how you see Luther misunderstanding the nature of of Torah. Please elaborate! Thanks in advance!

  • Jacob L. Wright

    Everyone should sign up for a free online Coursera course on the Bible. If you like lectures, reading, and above all discussions, you will love it: https://www.coursera.org/course/biblefuture

    • http://adamgonnerman.com Adam Gonnerman

      Dr. Wright: Your course has been an eye-opener for me. Although I’d already come to realize that the Bible is incorrect regarding science and is often morally dubious (that’s being kind), I hadn’t understood how far off it is historically. I’d understood the stories of Abraham to be largely legendary but assumed David and Solomon were more-or-less as depicted. It has been mind-bending to try to re-learn history knowing that there was never a united kingdom of Israel, and that Saul and David had separate lineages in different kingdoms.

      • Brian P.

        I think I’ve heard a couple thousand sermons over the years. This little snippet has truth none of them covered. Yet none of these pastors perceive a credibility gap with what they teach about history or metaphysics. I think one of the biggest shifts of the 21st century is the the information of the seminary of the 19th century can find its way to the pew (via the interwebs). Perhaps the consequences of the Reformation include some unintended. Props to Peter Enns for being conduit through which water can flow. In time, even water can tear down the walls of strongholds. Eze 22.

  • Corey Lewis

    “You have heard it said (in the scriptures), but I tell you (something that completely subverts and overturns what was written in the scriptures.)

    I guess it is quite clear that Jesus did not receive the memo about the scripture being perfect and infallible. This would be utterly blasphemous, unless it was God himself doing it.

    And this, my friends, is why I have fallen in love all over again, with this peculiar, religious rebel from Nazareth.

  • http://adamgonnerman.com Adam Gonnerman

    The Bible gets history wrong, is scientifically incorrect and morally unreliable. How can it be considered dependable for theology?

    • Brian P.

      Good question. Though I think a better framing of the question is more about people, not “the Bible.” This pastor or priest preaches bad history, uncharitable morality, and goes silent on good science while meanwhile going loud on metaphysics including presuppositions that authors of the books of the Bible likely didn’t even have. Why should one believe what he thinks is revealed? Within the system, it can be conceived as being trustworthy in the small things. The bigger credibility gap isn’t with an ancient book; it’s with people, people who make a living off of tithes and offerings. The shifting religious dynamic of the contemporary world is less about Scripture and more about shifts in viable economic models. Many seem to be clinging tightly to historic models that have worked–while speaking whole lines of discussion under the rug–to wring the last pennies out of historic structures continuing but diminishing wake.

    • Bob

      How can the Bible be considered dependable for theology? How about because it is not scientifically incorrect, nor is it morally unreliable, neither has it gotten history wrong. I remember “experts” saying that David didn’t exist in any extant historical record and therefore the Bible is wrong. I remember scholarly archaeologists saying “Hittites” didn’t exist and therefore the Bible wasn’t true. Guess what? Both David and Hittites have since been found! The more people search – the more the Bible is verified. But that doesn’t make the Huffington Post. “Rethinking” orthodoxy has been tried and failed before, essentially because truth is truth. If you (apparently) go into the text of the Bible with assumptions you will find what you want to find as far as error is concerned. This is not to say that some fundamentalists don’t do the same thing from their end. All Biblical textual interpretation is in the eye of the beholder – including skeptics. One of the greatest skeptics of the 20th century, Anthony Flew, whom I knew, changed his mind. He didn’t “become a Christian” but he changed his thinking about the veracity of the Biblical text. Before you throw the baby out with the bathwater you should study deeply and not accept the thoughts of the likes of Christopher Hitchens or Bart Ehrman (who I can blow out of the water about his views).

      • jbarlow

        Unfortunately, Christian publishers have done a great disservice by allowing the publication of apologetics that are riddled with factual errors or information separated from context in a way that leaves the reader with a distortion of reality.

        That’s certainly the case for David and the Hittites. While these were discovered unexpectedly, this is an isolated example. The reality is that the weight of archaeological evidence against the Bible is increasing. The further back in time, the further the Bible departs from verifiable fact. The entire narrative of the Exodus is not just lacking evidence; there is positive evidence that it just did not happen at all. The Old Testament is a reliable record of how Israel understood their own history in light of the tragedy of the Babylonian Captivity, which makes it interesting and compelling, but it’s not reliable history in the modern sense. And in fact, the press seems eager to publish new evidence to corroborate the Bible – consider the suspicious James Ossuary and Shroud of Turin. By contrast, I only learned about evidence against by reading about biblical archaeology.

        The Bible is not scientifically accurate either. While apologists can point to isolated statements that are scientifically factual, certainly not all are. It’s a category error to bring the Bible into a science discussion – it predates that worldview and speaks to it only by chance. Its ancient writers and readers were not interested in scientific truth.

        It is not morally reliable, unless selling my daughter into slavery is acceptable morality. I believe that the gospels and Paul set in a motion a way of thinking that undermines slavery and led to its (incomplete) demise, but a literal reading of the text supports slavery (Philemon) and at best subverts it rather than opposes it outright. As Peter Enns and others have argued, “rethinking orthodoxy” has always been part of Christianity (and Judaism). Theology is living, active and evolving.

        Antony Flew (not Anthony) became a deist, not because of the Bible but because of scientific evidence. He publicly stated he did not believe in “the god of revelation” nor a “personal god”, but rather than he felt the best explanation for the origin of the universe was deistic. If you did indeed know him, perhaps he did convey this to you privately, but if so what you claim about him is at odds with the public record.

        • Pixie5

          “It’s a category error to bring the Bible into a science discussion – it predates that worldview and speaks to it only by chance. Its ancient writers and readers were not interested in scientific truth.”

          I’d say a more accurate thing to say is that they had no conception of science to begin with. That is not to say that they were stupid. Sometimes I imagine what it would have been like for them and some of the silly ideas they had actually made sense TO THEM.

          They saw the universe as being created especially for them including the sun for both light and marking time, the moon for both light and as a calender, and the stars to indicate seasons. And all were contained within a solid dome (as said in Genesis) This was self-evident to them. The idea of outer space and a huge universe would have been laughable to them.

          Because the earth was created just for them then it followed that God would take care of them and if there was bad weather, disease or other calamities that it must be that God was mad. Perhaps this is what led the Hebrews into such a legalistic society, stoning people to death over the slightest “offense”. They did not want God to punish them.

          And many things that we take for granted as scientifically explained would have seemed miraculous to them, like rainbows. According to the Bible, after the supposed flood, God put a rainbow in the sky as a promise not to do that again. So every time they saw a rainbow, they thought it was A VISION, not light refracting through raindrops. Another promise that God would take care of them if they were good enough.

          Unfortunately though that kind of mindset is causing a great deal of problems in modern day society. When people run around and say that God is sending freaky weather at us to punish our secular society (instead of it possibly being due to global warming) then we are in bad shape. That is one reason why the inerrancy doctrine is dangerous. It sets the stage for “witch hunts”

          • jbarlow

            I agree with your argument about the greater interest of the ancient world in teleology than phenomenology, and the modern danger of inerrancy, but as I understand ancient history, I would stop short of saying they had *no* conception of science. In the ancient world there was scientific-like activity in many domains that people could “reach with their hands” so to speak. It’s hard to have any kind of progress in technology without engaging in hypothesis testing. One can point to luminaries such as Hippocrates or Imhotep who were surprisingly scientific, if at times inconsistent, in their approach to medicine. I think they were “doing science” in many cases but without having a philosophy of science to understand what they were doing or why it was successful. That includes the Hebrews and others in the ancient world. I think you’d need an expert historian to further resolve the distinction between our two quite similar positions, however, and that I am not.

          • Pixie5

            “I think they were “doing science” in many cases but without having a philosophy of science to understand what they were doing or why it was successful.”

            If you mean that they discovered that action “A” leads to result “B”, in other words cause and effect, then I get what you are saying. Observational science but without the scientific framework to explain their observations. And really isn’t that how all scientific discoveries start out?

            I do not know enough about the history of the ancient world so perhaps I misspoke. I do know something about the Hebrew point of view however. For instance we know that they had almost endless and certainly cumbersome laws regarding cleanliness. It is not hard to figure out why, since they observed that uncleanliness leads to disease. But they attributed those diseases to the wrath of God. They were told to bury their excrement outside of their camps because God, much like a health inspecter of today, “walked” amongst them at night and would be offended by the smell.

            Beyond that they had strict rules about contact with the dead which again made sense.

            In fact many Christians will use these rules as an example of how God imparted “scientific” knowledge to the Hebrews even though none is given. No explanation about germs. And in fact Jesus discouraged people from washing their hands!

            Good examples of how they did not understand science is that they took the cleanliness rules about bathing to the extreme. Any bodilly fluids were “unclean”, including seminal and menstrual fluids. If you had sex you were contaminated for the rest of the day. And I believe that menstrual fluids required an animal sacrifice in addition to ritual bathing.

            All and all being a bit fanatical about cleanliness certainly helped them survive but when Christians elevate that to divine revelation they are being absurd. It is nothing that they could not have learned on their own by simple observation and beyond that how does the sacrifice of animals kill germs? Disease was treated as being brought on by SIN and you can find Jesus talking about that as well.

      • Pixie5

        “Both David and Hittites have since been found! The more people search – the more the Bible is verified.”

        Um…not really. The problem with your argument is that you equate finding historical places and people with verifying the mythology and theology of the Bible. Of course the authors would use places and people that they were familiar with and even some events as well. But that does IN NO WAY, verify all the accounts in the Bible.

        The first “historical” events record by mankind were by the Sumerians, who invented writing. We have proof of their existence and proof of some historical facts. But it would be a stretch to say that this confirms their mythology which includes many Gods and stories about them.

        We have proof that the Greeks existed and many of their prominent historical figures. So does that make their mythologies real?

        I am not an athiest. I believe in God, but do not believe everything that PEOPLE have written about him. The Bible is both a hodge-podge of good theology and bad and it can never be harmonized..

        I am going to make a separate post about the “science” of the Bible.

      • Pixie5

        As far as biblical “science” is concerned, the Bible describes a flat circular earth surround by ocean on all sides. The sky is a solid dome (firmament) in which the sun, moon and stars are suspended. Above the firmament is an ocean of water or a “storehouse” of rain that God lets loose periodically. Above that is an actuall physical heaven.

        From The Flat-Earth Bible by Robert J. Schadewald (you can google it)

        Except among Biblical inerrantists, it is generally agreed that the Bible
        describes an immovable earth. At the 1984 National Bible-Science Conference in
        Cleveland, geocentrist James N. Hanson told me there are hundreds of scriptures
        that suggest the earth is immovable. I suspect some must be a bit vague, but
        here are a few obvious texts:

        1 Chronicles 16:30: “He has fixed the earth firm,

        Psalm 93:1: “Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm

        Psalm 96:10: “He has fixed the earth firm, immovable

        Psalm 104:5: “Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it
        never can be shaken.”

        Isaiah 45:18: “…who made the earth and fashioned it, and himself
        fixed it fast…”

        The Order of Creation

        The Genesis creation story provides the first key to the Hebrew cosmology.
        The order of creation makes no sense from a conventional perspective
        but is perfectly logical from a flat-earth viewpoint. The earth was created on
        the first day, and it was “without form and void (Genesis 1:2).” On the second
        day, a vault the “firmament” of the King James version was created to divide the
        waters, some being above and some below the vault. Only on the fourth day were
        the sun, moon, and stars created, and they were placed “in” (not “above”) the

        The Vault of Heaven

        The vault of heaven is a crucial concept. The word “firmament” appears in the
        King James version of the Old Testament 17 times, and in each case it is
        translated from the Hebrew word raqiya, which meant the visible vault
        of the sky. The word raqiya comes from riqqua, meaning “beaten
        out.” In ancient times, brass objects were either cast in the form required or
        beaten into shape on an anvil. A good craftsman could beat a lump of cast brass
        into a thin bowl. Thus, Elihu asks Job, “Can you beat out [raqa] the
        vault of the skies, as he does, hard as a mirror of cast metal (Job 37:18)?”

        Job 9:8, “…who by himself spread out the heavens

        Psalm 19:1, “The heavens [shamayim] tell out the glory of
        God, the vault of heaven [raqiya] reveals his handiwork.”

        Psalm 102:25, “…the heavens [shamayim] were thy

        Isaiah 45:12, “I, with my own hands, stretched out the heavens
        [shamayim] and caused all their host to shine…”

        Isaiah 48:13, “…with my right hand I formed the expanse of the sky

        If these verses are about a mere illusion of a vault, they are surely
        much ado about nothing. Shamayim comes from shameh, a root
        meaning to be lofty. It literally means the sky. Other passages complete the
        picture of the sky as a lofty, physical dome. God “sits throned on the vaulted
        roof of earth [chuwg], whose inhabitants are like grasshoppers. He
        stretches out the skies [shamayim] like a curtain, he spreads them out
        like a tent to live in…[Isaiah 40:22].” Chuwg literally means
        “circle” or “encompassed.” By extension, it can mean roundness, as in a rounded
        dome or vault. Job 22:14 says God “walks to and fro on the vault of heaven
        [chuwg].” In both verses, the use of chuwg implies a physical
        object, on which one can sit and walk. Likewise, the context in both cases
        requires elevation. In Isaiah, the elevation causes the people below to look
        small as grasshoppers. In Job, God’s eyes must penetrate the clouds to view the
        doings of humans below. Elevation is also implied by Job 22:12: “Surely God is
        at the zenith of the heavens [shamayim] and looks down on all the
        stars, high as they are.”

        Bob, this is getting too long so I will continue in another post>

      • Pixie5

        To continue:

        The Shape of the Earth

        Disregarding the dome, the essential flatness of the earth’s surface is
        required by verses like Daniel 4:10-11. In Daniel, the king “saw a tree of great
        height at the centre of the earth…reaching with its top to the sky and visible
        to the earth’s farthest bounds.” If the earth were flat, a sufficiently tall
        tree would be visible to “the earth’s farthest bounds,” but this is
        impossible on a spherical earth. Likewise, in describing the temptation of Jesus
        by Satan, Matthew 4:8 says, “Once again, the devil took him to a very high
        mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world [cosmos] in
        their glory.” Obviously, this would be possible only if the earth were flat. The
        same is true of Revelation 1:7: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds! Every eye
        shall see him…”

        The Celestial Bodies

        The Hebrews considered the celestial bodies relatively small. The Genesis
        creation story indicates the size and importance of the earth relative to the
        celestial bodies in two ways, first by their order of creation, and second by
        their positional relationships. They had to be small to fit inside the vault of
        heaven. Small size is also implied by Joshua 10:12, which says that the sun
        stood still “in Gibeon” and the moon “in the Vale of Aijalon.”

        Stars can fall from the skies according to Daniel 8:10 and Matthew 24:29. The
        same idea is found in the following extracts from Revelation 6:13-16:

        …the stars in the sky fell to the earth, like figs shaken down by
        a gale; the sky vanished, as a scroll is rolled up…they called out to the
        mountains and the crags, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One who
        sits on the throne…”

        This is consistent with the Hebrew cosmology previously described, but it is
        ludicrous in the light of modern astronomy. If one star let alone all
        the stars in the sky “fell” on the earth, no one would be hollering from any
        mountain or crag. The writer considered the stars small objects, all of which
        could fall to the earth without eradicating human life. He also viewed the sky
        as a physical object. The stars are inside the sky, and they fall
        before the sky opens. When it is whisked away, it reveals the One
        throned above (see Isaiah 40:22).

        Spherical Apologetics

        Those who claim Biblical support for a spherical earth typically ignore this
        forest of consistency and focus on one or two aberrant trees. Some take refuge
        in audacity. Henry Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research,
        cites one of the more explicitly flat-earth verses in the Old Testament Isaiah
        40:22, the “grasshopper” verse quoted earlier as evidence for the sphericity of
        the earth. Quoting the King James version “he sitteth upon the circle of the
        earth” Morris ignores the context and the grasshoppers and claims “circle”
        should read “sphericity” or “roundness” [1956, 8]. This divide and conquer
        strategy is poor scholarship and worse logic.

        Perhaps the scripture most frequently offered as evidence of the earth’s
        sphericity is the King James version of Job 26:7, “He stretcheth out the north
        [tsaphon] over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon
        nothing [beliymah].” (The New English Bible translates it, “God spreads
        the canopy of the sky over chaos and suspends earth in the void.”) It is not
        clear what this means. The Hebrew tsaphon literally meant hidden or
        dark, and it was used in reference to the northern regions. Beliymah
        literally means “nothing.” That would contradict all of the scriptures which say
        the earth rests on foundations,”

        Bob, I would suggest that you read the whole thing. It is a short read but I cannot post it all here.

    • Andrew Dowling

      The Bible has nothing to say scientifically so I think that’s besides the point. It also was never meant as a “history” book in the modern sense . . the lines between collective cultural history and theology in ancient times was very blurry.

      As for “morally unreliable” . . .some of it is, some of it isn’t. Not very fair to juxtapose widespread judgments concerning a book’s “morality” when it was written by hundreds of different authors over thousands of years. A robust theology can learn from morally abhorrent sections (asking why did people associate God with such things?) as well as the more morally enlightened parts.

  • WJ Francisco

    What baffles me is that people who rabidly say that the Bible is “infallible” also create dispensations for getting rid of chunks of it. Or they say it’s bad to drink a drop because that’s what the Bible says (which it doesn’t) and then skip right over the “be filled with the spirit” part. People need to get real. NOBODY treats the Bible as infallible… some of the ones who say so most strenuously are the ones who then chop it up the most. If we see the Bible as inspired by God, written by people (which it was) who changed as they grew, who learned, who argued amongst themselves, who grappled, then FINALLY, you have a consistent, powerful, explainable book which invites us ALL to the dialogue rather than continuing to splinter Christendom into ever-smaller fragments. The Bible never was intended to be the primary guide, but a check and balance. The primary is God with us, who writes on our hearts daily. Then we have Scripture, creation, and each other to balance. The letter kills, but the Spirit brings life.

    • http://aldaily.com/ Justin L. Conder

      This is a great point. I think there’s a deep insecurity at the heart of monolithic approaches to the Bible. We must allow the writers of the Bible to speak with their own voices. If not. . . if what began as biblical harmonization becomes a way to make the Bible say whatever we want it to say, we end up creating an incoherent cacophony. Yes, we’ll have managed to impose uniformity on the Bible. Yes, we’ll have justified our systematic theologies to our own satisfaction. But instead of the Word of God, we’ll have a Frankenstein. If however, we allow the ambiguities, the paradoxes, and the mysteries to stay just as they are. . . that is where a deeper kind of faith begins to set in.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Great point. I’m always baffled how inerrantists will invent hermeneutic gymnastics to minimize the parts of the Bible they don’t like, but then it becomes the “Word of God” for the parts they agree with . . and they still have the gall to claim they adhere to an inerrant Bible!

      I remember on another blog concerning the seemingly endless gay marriage debate, and someone brought up Jesus’s commandment on divorce and asking why churches weren’t denying sacraments to divorced people, and the other person’s response (who was avidly against same sex marriage) was literally “we couldn’t do that . . that would be cruel!”

      I just had to face-palm in front of my computer.

      • WJ Francisco

        Andrew, I remember talking to a pastor in England who was near tears after he did a second marriage for his daughter after she had gotten out of an abusive situation. It was such a pleasure to tell him that we’ve substituted the word “divorce” for “put out” not realizing that to put a woman away in the Bible meant to kick her out WITHOUT issuing a divorce certificate. In other words, if a put out woman married it would be adultery because she was still married to her first husband! All of Christendom should do a face palm for the millions of lives ruined because of this inexcusable mistake. Search “agunah” which means “Chained woman”. Their plight is horrible. And yep, God doesn’t hate divorce. He hates the putting away. But here’s my point… which was closer to the correct response for the person you mentioned on the blog – following mistranslated scripture to the letter, or the God in the hearts of humans telling them that to follow what looked like scripture would be cruel? This is exactly why I would vote for gay marriage… because I think some people are born gay, and like Jesus said, some people can be single, but for most, it isn’t good to be alone. We have been very cruel in telling gays their only option is, like the agunah, enforced singlehood and celebacy. I am no expert, but this is the best I can do with reality staring me in the face.

  • http://revtrev.com/ RevTrev

    Happy to write about what change me about the tithe.

  • Aceofspades25

    I look forward to that :)