Genesis For Normal People (RJS)

Genesis For Normal People (RJS) April 24, 2012

Peter Enns and Jared Byas have a new e-book published through Patheos that is designed to introduce normal people (whatever this means) to the book of Genesis … the most controversial, misunderstood, and abused book of the Bible. Genesis for Normal People is written in an informal voice for Christians who have little if any formal training in biblical studies. It will rock the world for some because it presents the purpose and form of the OT in general and Genesis in particular from a point of view that is distinctly different from the approach the average Christian is familiar with. But this is an important lesson.

A running theme from Enns and Byas is that we have to learn to read the OT through ancient eyes … this is how we can best understand the message. No – it doesn’t mean this is the only way we can find God in scripture, but it does put meat on the bones. Here is a great example used to make the point in Ch. 1 The Genesis of Genesis:

It’s easier to understand what you are reading if you know when it was written and under what circumstances. Orwell’s Animal Farm might make sense as a cute (better, disturbing) story about talking animals. But knowing when it was written (1945) and the circumstances that led to it being written (a critique of Joseph Stalin’s oppressive Communist regime) will help you see that the book is actually an allegory. If you don’t catch that, you miss the whole point. In other words, knowing at least something about the historical context of a story—when a story was written and under what circumstances—makes you a better reader.

The same is true of Genesis.

Just because Genesis is in the Bible doesn’t mean we can read it any way we please. And it certainly doesn’t mean that the stories were written with twenty-first century readers in mind. Whether we say that Genesis was written by ancient Israelites or even by God to ancient Israelites doesn’t change the fact that Genesis was written a long, long time ago, in a language that is now essentially dead (Jews in Israel today speak a different form of Hebrew). Genesis is really old, and if we are going to read it well, we have to make adjustments in our thinking.

The purpose of Genesis for Normal People is to provide some of this background and context in an entertaining  and readable fashion. This is not an academic treatise (although I do find academics to be “normal people” thank you). The book may satisfy some, enrage a few, but should whet the appetite for more in many others.

Is it important to know the context when reading the Old Testament?

Should Genesis, or any other book of the Bible, make sense without this context? If so, why?

Some may wonder if we need another book on Genesis – can’t we just get over this whole science-and-faith controversy and focus on the gospel? The Fall, perhaps, is important because Paul tells us it is (Romans 5, 1 Cor 15) – but is anything else in Genesis really all that significant for “normal people”?

Here I’ll skip ahead a bit to a point made by Enns and Byas in the beginning of Ch. 8:

Oftentimes we are taught to read the Bible the way we read a book like Aesop’s Fables or The Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh – as a collection of short, stand-alone stories. These stories may have some of the same characters, but there is no ongoing story line. We should not bring that way of reading to the Bible, where we are left with the “story of Noah’s ark” or the “story of Joseph” as stand–‐alone stories with moral lessons to be learned. These stories are part of a larger continuous story.

… Genesis is not a series of pithy short stories with moral lessons, but a series of vital stepping‐stones in the story of Israel’s beginnings.

Genesis is a defining story without which it is hard to make sense of the rest of the Old Testament. The New Testament and the Gospel are likewise hard to interpret without making sense of Genesis and the rest of the Old Testament.

This is a very important point. The context of Genesis, and for that matter, Exodus and the rest of the Old Testament as well, is important, not just for a better understanding of Genesis, but for a sound understanding of the Gospel of Jesus God’s Messiah. A key point made by Scot in The King Jesus Gospel and By Tom Wright in How God Became King is that the roots for the Gospel of Jesus Christ told in the New Testament are inextricably planted in the story of Israel in the Old Testament. The understanding of Genesis then is not a detail of minor importance secondary to the Gospel – it is the beginning of the story of Israel and the story of the Gospel.

We’ve lost the understanding of the story of Israel. We move from the Fall to Incarnation to Crucifixion to Resurrection with everything in between of secondary or tertiary importance. The OT is a collection of pithy stories demonstrating the power of God and providing moral lessons for our life. This approach makes for bite-size Sunday school lessons and powerful motivational sermons.  But it doesn’t do justice to the story of God and God’s people; and it allows many to dismiss the scriptures as a collection of unbelievable ancient myths and stories. We’ve out grown these – or so I’ve often been told.

I am interested to hear what others think – but I think this is an enormous problem in our church today. The bible as a collection of moral stories and miracles does not touch the heart or mind of a large segment of our society. I am not a “normal person” perhaps. I am, after all, an academic. But from my perspective this piecemeal approach and lack of coherent narrative plays a huge role in the move away from faith as an intellectually viable option in our colleges and universities.   We fail to convince because we do not understand our story and we do not teach or preach the whole story.

We’ve out-grown the stories contained in the Old Testament because we don’t know how to make sense of them as the story of Israel and the story of Israel’s God. Here we come to a place where Genesis for Normal People can help. Enns and Byas make the case, as Enns did in The Evolution of Adam, that the construction of the Old Testament as we have it is born out of the experience of exile and return from exile, sometime after 539 B. C. Some of the sources are most definitely older. No one is claiming that the text was constructed out of thin air at this late date. But the Old Testament as we have it was shaped, edited, and compiled in response to the experience of Israel in exile. The OT is inspired of God and points to Jesus, God’s Messiah. This is, after all, the Gospel. With this context, many of the little bits and pieces can be brought into focus … and this includes Genesis.

Enns and Byas conclude in Ch. 1

So how we read Genesis depends on us knowing these circumstances, just like knowing Stalin is vital for us to understand Animal Farm. Knowing that Genesis as we have it in our Bibles is written as part of the Pentateuch, and that the Pentateuch is written as Israel’s constitution in light of the traumatic events of the Babylonian exile helps us read this story with ancient eyes.

The book continues with chapters working through the text of Genesis …

Genesis from 30,000 Feet,
Genesis 1: Yahweh Is Better
Genesis 2-4: Adam Is Israel
Genesis 4-5: Cain Is a Fool
Genesis 6-9: Everyone Is Annihilated
Genesis 10-12: Babylon Is Evil
Genesis 12-22: Abraham Is Chosen
Genesis 23-25: Isaac Is the Father of Israel
Genesis 25-35: Jacob Is Israel (Literally)
Genesis 36-50: Israel Is Saved
Conclusion: Now What?

The book is well worth the price (which is quite modest) … and should make a great conversation starter, for a conversation we need to have. This book should whet the appetite for more – whether you agree with Enns and Byas or wish to explore alternative ideas. I hope it comes out eventually in a form that will be easier to use in classes and group settings. You may disagree – but I find e-books, unless printable, of little use in such a setting.

What do you think?

Have you read – or been taught to read – Genesis as the foundational story of Israel and thus of the Gospel? If so how?

Do you think Enns and Byas and I are right – that we have tended to teach and view the Bible as a collection of short, stand-alone stories?  If so, is this a problem?

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

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  • At the moment, this is available on special from Amazon UK for the princely sum of £1.20; I believe the US price is $1.99 (and the regular price is $4.99).

  • That’s all well and good, but it seems very odd to say that the Story of Israel is rooted in the story of Winnie to the pooh, or Animal Farm.

    The story of Israel really happened. How can that which really happened be rooted in that which did not. And if it began in myth (in the sense of a false story that explains the world), does it end in myth (in the sense of a false story that explains the world)?

  • “Have you read – or been taught to read – Genesis as the foundational story of Israel and thus of the Gospel? If so how?”

    Yes. In the reformed world in which i grew up, Israel’s real story is the way it is because it is recapitulating the real story of Adam. We have a sin problem that is dealt with by the real death and ressurection of Christ, because we have a fall problem brought about by a real man sinning and loosing his life.

    I fail to see how falsifying Genesis helps us with seeing the connections with real history.

  • Thanks for this post! I’m excited about this ebook (wish it was coming out in print) and think this is an extremely important topic. I’m pained at how we (only) teach the little stories to our children and focus on character lessons at the expense of teaching the ACTUAL STORY of the Bible. Of course, the actual grand narrative of scripture can be taught, understood, and ultimately illuminate our faith. The “Aesop’s Fables” approach to reading/teaching scripture has really been damaging and almost completely inane in my opinion.

    I’ll go a step further… and this might invite some mild controversy/disagreement from my more contemplative friends. Proponents and practitioners of Lectio Divina would do well to read and meditate on scripture with an understanding of THE ACTUAL STORY of in mind and heart. All too often we teach contemplative practices involving scripture (that are actually designed to engage the imagination in powerful ways) so we can enter the story ourselves… but we end up approaching the text like it was a divine Aesop’s Fables. This really misses the mark. It’s not completely fruitless… but could be far more transforming if our meditation, contemplation, and prayer were aligned with God’s actual story which is present in scripture.

    Thoughts anyone?

    I’m not really a “normal” person… but I look forward to reading this and sharing with others… Enns is a trustworthy companion in this discussion and an excellent author.

  • Peter

    First of all, Enns & Byers do not say that the story of Israel is rooted in Winnie the Pooh. They say, unlike those stories, we should not read the Bible as a set of short-stories where there is no cohesion between them. Instead, there is a story line running throughout the Bible and we ought to recognize that and let that help us inform our reading of the Bible.

    Second, the reformed world reaches all the way back to the 16th century, and its understanding of scripture is a 16th century way of thinking of scripture. How we got to the point where it is not okay to understand the time and place these books of the Bible were written is beyond me, but it has been to our detriment. The Bible was written to people in a certain situation during a certain period of time for their benefit. We benefit by seeing the whole story of God’s redemptive process being worked out in these people’s lives. We see the whole story.

    I believe we have failed in the “loving God with all of our mind” department when we summarily reject that which we don’t know. The reformed world is a comfortable room that is square with four corners. That is, a well-defined, safe room where we can have a clean theology of personal salvation and tell others to do the same. Theology is much more messy than this. It takes the inquisitive mind that God has given us to continue to go “farther up and farther in” in our understanding of Him.

  • gingoro

    I think that Enns has a good point in that we need to see Genesis in proper context whether or not we follow Enns approach wrt the first few chapters. I would disagree that Genesis is the most abused book in the Bible. IMO that honour falls to Revelation, at least in my experience I have been taken to task much more often for not accepting person X’s time line etc.

  • Joe Canner

    “This approach makes for bite-size Sunday school lessons and powerful motivational sermons.”

    This is a key point. We don’t expect five-year-olds to understand the grand sweep of the OT, so we break it into small chunks that are good stories that they can understand. However, we rarely move beyond that, even as adults. Yes, sometimes the take-home messages get more sophisticated, but we don’t spend much time looking at the big picture.

    Books by McKnight and Wright are good for adults, but what is really needed are Sunday School or youth group curricula for middle and high school kids that cover the OT in this way. If schools can expect kids in this age group to understand Homer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Bronte, Orwell, and Huxley, then the church should be able to expect these same kids to analyze the Bible using the same tools.

  • RJS


    I agree, Revelation takes the prize as the most abused and misunderstood book. And I certainly do not claim to understand it myself.

  • phil_style

    @ Pual Duggan,

    “but it seems very odd to say that the Story of Israel is rooted in the story of Winnie to the pooh, or Animal Farm”

    Yes, it would be very odd to say that…which is probably why neither author of this book says that.

  • RJS,

    Enns, et. al. are correct that Genesis has to be read contextually. But what better exegetes/commentators do we have to guide us regarding the Genesis account than Peter, Paul and Jesus, who often quoted or alluded to Genesis, affirming its historicity and centrality. For instance, commenting on the question of divorce, Jesus quotes both Genesis 1 and 2:

    • “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female (Gen.1),’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh (Gen.2)’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6).

    Clearly, Jesus understood that Genesis history is authoritative in many ways. Consequently, we are mandated to keep our interpretive ventures within the confines established by the NT.

    You rightly are concerned about how the unbeliever might regard our historically-NT grounded interpretations of Genesis. However, I think it more important how God might regard them.

  • holdon

    “So how we read Genesis depends on us knowing these circumstances”

    Ah, and only some are in the know I guess, who can tell us precisely what those circumstances were. Without the “Magisterium”, Enns, c.s., Wright, McKnight, we wouldn’t be able to understand Genesis or the Gospels?
    Isn’t it kind of arrogant to say that “normal people” can’t understand and shouldn’t try to just read the bible? This was the reasoning of the R.C. church and long, long before that of the serpent: “no you got it all wrong, let me tell how it is”. Am I reading to much into that story? But hey, I am just a “normal” person, what do I know?

  • phil_style


    I think you’re right. The NT interpreters give us strong clues (if not proof) that that interpreted genesis historically. Can/ how should a modern believer approach this?

    General questions I would ask are:
    Are there other examples of NT references to “history” that we can no longer embrace? If yes, which? If not, why not?

  • phil_style


    “Isn’t it kind of arrogant to say that “normal people” can’t understand and shouldn’t try to just read the bible?”

    There are some things in the bible easy to understand, others not easy. I’m not sure it’s arrogant to say that certain levels of learning and investigation are required in order to “understand” things in these texts.

    2 Peter states that some things Paul wrote are so hard to understand that they get distorted by people (the writer here calls them ignorant for doing so – how’s that for arrogance!)

    Jesus clearly had to “explain” things of the scripture to people, even Rabbis. So it’s obvious their meaning was not clear.

    St. Philip does the same.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    At least Enns and Byas is trying to write something that normal people can understand. I really don’t think our academic commentaries on Genesis or any book of the Bible are aimed at “normal people.”

  • holdon


    “I’m not sure it’s arrogant to say that certain levels of learning and investigation are required in order to “understand” things in these texts.”

    The “certain levels”. What do you mean by that? Did Peter, Jesus or St. Philip ever say you had to reach a “certain level”?

    I am getting tired of hearing that we can’t understand Genesis at all if we don’t know the thinking of “ANE” and/or “the Jews after 539BC” (Enns), “second temple”, etc. or that we can’t understand the Gospels if we don’t understand the Jewishness of 2000 yrs ago (Wright). Aren’t these the buzzwords/terms of the day, giving us supposedly all kinds of “new perspectives”?

    Religion (not piety) conveniently builds it’s system (this goes for all religions and science) on the difference between the “initiated” and the people, the priests and the church, the clerics and the laity, the academia and the “normal folk”, “certain levels” and the rest. Don’t we see a pattern here? Knowledge is power and it sells too.

  • Bev Mitchell

    The ESV Study Bible contains a very helpful, quite comprehensive article entitled “How the NT quotes and interprets the OT”. A read through this should help in understanding that Enns and Byas are not as wayward as some commentators here seem to think. If you want a really comprehensive treatment, try the “Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament” edited by G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson – which weighs in at 1200 plus pages!

  • Jon G

    RJS – a great review, and a great book…and I’m not just saying that because I gave Pete the Animal Farm analogy! 🙂

    This book is very accessible to the layperson and gives substantial support for all it’s conclusions. I too wish it would come out in paperback because I can think of so many people, including those who don’t use computers, that I would like to give it to.

  • Jon G

    I think Phil_Style and Holden are actually hitting on a very big issue when discussing understanding the Bible as a layperson. When I first started seeing what the academics were saying about the Bible I had a faith crisis because the obvious question was “what does it say about God…or at least ‘His Word’ that I almost had to be a professional theologian to understand it?

    I came to conclude that, regardless of what I wanted to believe, the facts are clear that, no, if you don’t really dig into the academics of studying the Bible, you are not going to understand much of it correctly. Eventually this led me to change my understanding of the Bible as ‘God’s Word’. Now I realize that Jesus is ‘God’s Word’ and the Bible is ‘a word about God’ (although I still think it is inspired by God).

    Gaining understanding about God via the Bible is no different than gaining understanding about God via Science or History or Parenthood or whatever…the more you study it critically, the better position you will be in to interpret it. To me, the “plain reading” of the text is just another way to say “superficial” and, with a superficial reading, you’re going to get a superficial understanding.

  • jason

    holdon, this isn’t about creating a class of powerful initiates, but simply about the fundamental nature of literature. Texts are products of particular cultures and contexts and thus need to be read within those contexts. To understand Dante is to do the hard work of understanding Dante’s world and language. Likewise with Genesis, or the gospels, etc. To read Genesis within its ANE context, or to read the Gospels within their Jewish context, is simply to do what every good reader of literature does – read texts in context.

  • Just picked it up. I look forward to reading it.

  • Jon G

    Also, without translators to bring the text into modern languages the layperson wouldn’t be able to understand the Bible. Why is the need for academians any different than the need for translators? We must face the fact that the average person’s understanding of the Bible is directly proportional to the amount of academic work injected into their study.

    In other words, we need help to read the Bible. And the fact that we do leads to some interesting conclusions about whether or not the Bible is a ‘direct’ word from God meant to be read and understood by each and every person…if that were the case, I’d say God failed. What about all the different interpretations, languages not yet provided for, former Christians, not to mention the illiterate? For all these reasons, we have to face the fact that the Bible is not properly understood without deeper academic study.

  • It is not arrogent to assume that you need time to learn ancient hebrew or greek. It is reality. Most of us don’t have time to learn ancient hebrew or greek enough to read the bible in the original languages. So we have translations. Why is there a disconnect between the idea of translating the word on the page and the time and history of the original text. I believe it should be assumed that we need to actually pay attention to the people that study this stuff for a living.

    That is not arrogance, that is a basic understanding of what it means to learn. You don’t sit down and read Shakespeare without any input from teachers and guides and expect to get it all. Yes you get some. But words change meaning and occasionally they change meaning significantly.

    This idea that all we need is the bible and our own minds to understand the bible is what is the height of arrogance. Where is that taught prior to the last century or two?

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    I think we all gain wisdom from learning from others, especially people who have spent their whole life studying the Bible or its background, etc. After saying that, I think there is a danger the other way. That an academic theology as well as vocabularly somehow is inherently better or more rational than others not as geared in the academy. If we are not careful, then we believe knowledge saves us or people with PHD’s are better Christians than those who do not have them. How many academic conferences do I have to attend when one professor says to me that “so and so” does not deserve to be on stage with the rest of them because he does not have the credentials (really?). And this is from my fallible limited experience, but I also believe purely acedemic studies takes us into a certain directions theologically—typically to the left. This is not all bad but for those who think this is all nuetral, it’s not. And just as much as some people have enriched their faith through deeper academic studies of the Bible, there are those who have lost their faith as well! Something more to think about . . .

  • Troy J

    Thanks for bringing this ebook to everyone’s attention. I found out about the ebook (and it’s $1.99 sale price) yesterday morning when I checked Peter Enn’s blog on patheos. I read a sample of it on my kindle and decided to purchase it. I bought it because I thought that it would be helpful for my wife and our home-schooled teen and pre-teen children. The oldest read the Epic of Gilgamesh earlier this year and noted how similar it was in style to the Old Testament. So we were able to have a few good discussions about Genesis and OT literature. I am still reading through it, but I am hopeful that Enns’ and Byas’ book will turn out to be a good resource for my family. So far, it appears to be a wonderfully accessible read that retains intellectual and theological depth — which is not an easy thing to find.

  • Don Johnson

    First off, I would say, read the Bible, start anywhere, with anything. Just do not think it is easy to understand all of it. But some is very easy to understand.

    The next level up is to read it as anecdotes, as a collection of short stories. See them as morality tales for kids. And then figure out that that the Bible is chunked into literary units that do not always align with chapters and verses, which were added later.

    At some point there will be a grand sweep of Scripture, where the smaller literary units create something larger.

  • Aaron J. KUNCE

    I guess nobody resonated with my comments about Lectio Divina above. Just crickets in here.


    That’s okay… but, I’ve never heard anyone anywhere address the importance of using Enns & Byas’s approach in contemplative use of scripture. It has changed prayer and spiritual formation/practice for me in dramatic ways.

  • Jon Bartlett

    Didn’t Peter have trouble understanding Paul?

    It’s unoriginal, but surely the Bible is simple enough that anyone can understand salvation, but difficult enough to merit a lifetime of study – and reading around the text?

  • Jeremy

    I always found it odd that people get upset at the idea that they may need to learn something about the culture, but typically expect their pastors to have a masters degree.

    I understand the resistance to what seems like intellectual elitism though. As a culture, we don’t like being told that we can’t understand something on our own. Most aren’t saying that the Bible is not understandable by the normal people. They’re just saying that to COMPLETELY (or at times correctly) understand requires some education, which is a totally reasonable thing to say. The Bible isn’t inscrutable to the layperson, but the assertion that it should be easily and plainly understood seems to be a very recent phenomenon.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Yes, the entire story of Scripture would make a great starting point for meditation. Well written theology can do the same thing. Try, for example, “A Theology of Word and Spirit” by Donald G. Bloesch. It’s loaded with food for meditation. If you know some part of biology in some detail, meditating on the marvels of creation through self-actualization (evolution) also works well. For example, consider photosynthesis, in detail. For this try Chapter 3 ‘Photosynthesis, Summoned by the Sun’ in Nick Lane’s “Life Ascending”. It’s not at all written for contemplation or anything other than communicating good science. But just try reading it as a person who believes that a loving God is somehow behind it all, and not break into praise!

    As for teaching the bigger picture to children, Peter Enns is coming out with materials for CE. If I understand him correctly, this will be part of the approach. Enns discussed  it on his website a while back, but I don’t see it now. The parent’s guide for the series is called “Telling God’s Story: A Parents’ Guide to Teaching the Bible”. It’s available on Amazon and already getting 5/5 from those who have read or are reading it. 🙂

  • i had the great fun of working, preaching, and leading (co-pastoring?) with Jared for the past couple years. we’ve gone different directions now, but i can say that there is definitely no desire to form an intellectual elite in church.

    if anything, it’s the reverse. if knoweldge is power, why would they write a book which disseminates all that knowledge in a way for everyone to understand and grasp it? saying genesis is inspired, authoritative scripture and saying it has a certain human context that needs to be grasped when reading it are not mutually exclusive statements. God speaks through the text, but we are being spoken to last, not first. it’s not arrogance or pride, but humility that insists we tackle the context of the biblical text along with the text.

  • Margaret

    Sounds like a fascinating book to read. Love the literary reference, too. I’m enjoying browsing through everyone’s comments below to read their viewpoint. Already, the books seems to be a great conversation starter!

  • I’m guessing that “Normal People” are thought to be different from the “Idiots” targeted by other books.

  • Jon G,

    I’m glad Pete and Jared ran with the Animal Farm analogy as it is much closer to aspects of Hebrew literature than many realize. I’ve often attempted similar approaches by drawing comparisons with Aesop Fables if they were unearthed thousands of years later without any contextual background by people who had to start from scratch. Can you imagine the discussion that would go on trying to understand the literary objective of these animal symbolisms if you weren’t privy to the context and intent? You would have all kinds of debates while trying to sort out the context with people taking and holding pet interpretations that they conjure up.

    One of the reasons Animal Farm is interesting is because of the pervasive use of animal symbolism found in scripture and especially 2 Temple literatures. If anyone wants to get an idea of Animal symbolism from a Jewish perspective they should read the section of the Book of Enoch called the “Dream Vision”. It enters a world of Heavenly Vision in which all the main players (Hebrew and Gentiles) take on animal forms and of course are from the clean and unclean designations one would expect. All the Jews are represented by domestic Bulls and sheep while the Gentiles are represented by wild animals such as wolves, foxes, dogs ect who constantly are at odds and trying to devour the sheep.

    This story runs the gamut from before Noah all the way until the coming of Christ telling the story through animal symbolism denoting people groups. The interesting thing is we find these same animal groups constantly throughout the OT from Genesis onward and the animals that get on the ark with Noah the White Bull get off and become the Nations designated as these animals.

    It appears to be a highly entertaining method that the Jews had of telling an eye catching illustrative story that actually provides commentary upon the OT. It also helps us understand highly symbolic and visionary sections of Genesis, Hosea, Ezekiel, Daniel and much more which appear to all hold to these same symbolic standards based upon animal imagery.

    I really appreciate the work that Pete and Jared have put forth in illuminating ideas and concepts that it has taken me thousands of hours of independent study and research to come to similar conclusions. What a blessing for those who now have a tool that can help get them off on the right direction. I personally think this kind of work is the best kind that can be performed in exacting changes in Christianity today. We need the academic work but we also need the bottom up work which influences the masses. We know that pastors get caught between the two groups and the more educated the church is the more freedom that pastors can approach difficult and controversial parts of scripture. Pastors reflect the flock and books like this are needed in order to have an educated flock.

    I have no illusions that it’s going to happen overnight but those like Pete and RJS who give of themselves to make a difference will not see their work return void.

    Isa 55:11 so shall My Word be, which goes out of My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall certainly do what I sent it to do.

  • RJS

    Daniel Mann (up at 9:07 am April 24) (I hope we get comment numbers back…)

    I am not concerned with how the unbeliever might regard our historically-NT grounded interpretations of Genesis, if in fact this interpretation is correct. But there are a multitude of internal as well as external indications that it is not correct.

    Nor am I concerned with how an unbeliever will regard my conviction that Jesus walked on water, calmed the storm, healed and was raised from the dead – all historically grounded in the NT. No doubt many will view it as ridiculous.

    I am concerned that we read scripture appropriately in its context and for its message. I am also concerned that we not place unnecessary blocks in the way of the faith. I do think we have read Genesis wrong in some ways. I also think that Genesis 2 teaches God ordained marriage – and Jesus was teaching God ordained marriage. His use of the passage to convey that message does not require a literal couple (or rule one out), to assume that it does require a literal couple is something we impose on the text.

  • Mike M

    Thanks RJS. Looking at a living thing through a different lens hurts neither subject nor object (but may affect both!”).
    Aaron: I’m with you , Bro. Lectio Divina is a great (and difficult yet accessible) endeavor. To say one way to encounter Scripture compared to others is “arrogant” is like saying people who fast for spiritual reasons are “food haters.”
    I’m all for academics, too. If I cannot comprehend nuclear physics, I don’t blame the physicist who can. Nor belittle her. Each specialty has a particular jargon that may confuse those not on the inside but which actually faciltates communication between those who understand the concepts. For example, I have a t-shirt that says “Only real men trepinate their own subungual hematomas.” Look that one up in your Funk & Wangalls. Yet every time I read “soteriology” on this site, I run to

  • Mark

    “Just because Genesis is in the Bible doesn’t mean we can read it any way we please.” Indeed! Even more, precisely because it is in the Bible means we must not read it any way we please.

  • @Phil,

    There are many examples where the NT quotes the OT as history – but a history that is denied by Christian Evolutionists:

    2 Peter 2, 3 – Noah’s worldwide flood and God’s judgment.
    Matthew 12 – Jesus about Jonah and the fish
    The the lineages of Jesus in his Birth Accounts establish the historicity of Adam.
    Romans 5, 15 establish historicity of Adam and Fall

  • I find it strange that Enns argues in favor of understanding Genesis from the point of view of the Israelites and then imposes his OWN interpretive grid, coercing the interpretation of Genesis to conform to it.

  • RJS


    If, in fact, that is what Enns is doing it should be discussed with examples and counters. I don’t think he is coercing Genesis to conform … but perhaps the case can be made. I certainly don’t think he has arrived at the ultimate understanding of Genesis. There are aspects I question and would want clarification on.

    I am certain that common evangelical interpretation, driven by a view of what inerrancy must mean, coerces Genesis to conform to an interpretive grid that is completely foreign to the text. This makes Genesis a rather destructive book in the church.

  • Jon G

    Daniel Mann – I think, if you have read Enns’ work, you would see that “his own interpretive grid” is simply what he believes the data shows about the Israelites interpretive grid. He’s being true to the data he’s collected about how the Israelites viewed Genesis. And he’d be the first one to insist on changing that grid if new data came to light. I would suggest reading Inspiration and Incarnation or The Evolution of Adam to see this ring true…

  • Rick

    Jon G.-

    “He’s being true to the data he’s collected about how the Israelites viewed Genesis.”

    For much of his views that may be true, but the “Adam is Isreal” view, from what I have read from Enns in the past (I have not read this new book), seems to be stretching into his “own interpretive grid” heavily.

    RJS or someone else may know, but do Walton or Sailhammer agree that “Adam is Isreal”?

  • @RJS,

    I agreed with everything you said until:

    “[Jesus’ use] of the passage to convey that message [against divorce] does not require a literal couple [Adam and Eve] … to assume that it does require a literal couple is something we impose on the text.”

    Here’s why a literal Adam and Eve are imperative:

    1. The Matthew 19:4-6 quotation literally and historically states that “the Creator ‘MADE them male and female,’” an historic truth echoed elsewhere in the Bible. It also says that He historically “JOINED [them] together.” Had He not done so – if this is only a fable – Jesus’ conclusion would not logically follow: “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

    2. Besides this, there are many other reasons to regard them as historical. If they aren’t, then their children aren’t and then even their children aren’t, and Abraham and the other Patriarchs aren’t historical either.

    3. Further, their historicity is assured by Paul (Romans 5, 15 along with the historicity of the Fall), Jesus’ historical genealogies, and many other NT passages.

    When evolution becomes a reality, then all Biblical assertions must evidently be called into question. The willingness to adopt this agnosticism tragically reflects one’s first love.

  • @Jon G

    The Israelites viewed Adam and Eve as a real and historical couple – 1 Chron. 1:1!!! – contrary to Enns’ assertions.

  • phil_style

    @holdon : April 24, 2012 at 10:27 am

    “The “certain levels”. What do you mean by that? Did Peter, Jesus or St. Philip ever say you had to reach a “certain level”?”

    1. You’re making the mistake of nit picking a term from my comment in order to set up a an absurdity. Let me re-phase, “there are some things one must learn in order to know other things”.

    2. Now, I shall also take your point seriously, and respond with an example: Here’s one of the “levels” you must reach in order to understand the bible – language. You must know how to read and/or understand language and the bible is, as far as I am aware, entirely dependent on language. So, it’s clear that people without language skills are unable to read the bible. They would have to be revealed theological concepts through other means.

  • Phil Miller

    I don’t think what Jewish people believed about history during the time the NT was written is necessarily the question. They most likely did believe that Adam and Eve were actual historical people. They also believed many other things that we have no problem denying. They would say the earth was flat covered by a dome (the “firmament”). They had no idea that common diseases were caused by viruses and bacteria. The list could go on.

    To say that an acceptance of evolution calls into question one’s first love is very dangerous territory. You are basically making the case that a person has to be intellectually dishonest to a point to follow Christ. I don’t see Christ or the Apostles making that demand of anyone.

  • Jon G

    Rick and Daniel,

    If you look at Enns work on the book of Exodus, he provides a great deal of evidence that the Israelites moving towards Sinai and building the tabernacle was a parallel to God setting up the cosmos in Genesis. They viewed their current situation in the wilderness as God recasting the Creation story with them as the new Adam – the agent God desired to ‘work the garden’. As such, Adam was seen by them as proto-Israel.

    It’s really amazing how many parallels there are like (from page 66 of The Evolution of Adam):
    The Creation of Israel at the Exodus with the Creation of Adam out of dust
    Commandments (Law of Moses) with the Command not to eat from the Tree
    Land of Canaan (flowing with milk and honey) with Eden as a garden paradise
    Israel’s disobedience leads to exile/death with Adam’s disobedience doing the same

    And there are many more when you look at the building of the tabernacle and how it parallels Genesis 1 (six times “God said “let there be…” and then it happened and on the 7th day he rested – six times “The Lord said to Moses…” and then the people built that part of the tabernacle and then on the 7th day he gave them Sabaath. Also, after each instruction the text says “Moses inspected the work AND SAW” paralleling God seeing each of his creative acts in Genesis 1 and saying “it was good”.

    There are many many reasons to think that the Genesis story was a way of setting the stage for Israel in the wilderness and Enns is simply following the evidence where it leads.

  • Jon G

    Also, Daniel,

    The fact that Israel may or may not have seen them as a historical couple is kind of besides the point. Whether they were or weren’t seen that way, the thrust of the narrative is that Israel saw themselves as instructed by God to succeed where Adam failed. That isn’t diminished by the fact that Adam and Eve were not historical, although it does pose a problem for those who read the Bible as a modern-day historical document rather than theologized history.

  • Steve Sherwood


    One of my teaching responsibilities is to teach Bible Survey in an 8 week intensive to Chinese students attending my university. That experience assures me that there ARE some levels of cultural understanding, world view familiarity, conceptual frameworks necessary before the Bible makes sense. Talk to a person from a culture that has never read the Bible, doesn’t reference it culturally, and has very different views of how the cosmos works and ask them how their “plain understanding” of the text is going.

    Also, yes the Gospel writers and Jesus reference the OT in straightfoward ways but that doesn’t mean they didn’t think it required deep study and standing on the shoulders of others. They were products of the rabbinic tradition and the layers upon layers of midrash about the text. What was all of that about if ancient Judaism thought the text was simple?

  • Rick

    Jon G-

    Yes, there are great parallels, and they don’t just stop there. Likewise, Walton’s work shows a great comparison of the Temple and Creation.

    However, a parallel does not mean the items/situations are synonomous. For example, the original Creation(however long that took) is of God’s “Temple”, and the construction the later Temple probably was a reflection of that, but not necessarily the same thing. Likewise, some of Israel’s issues were a reflection of what happened to Adam, but not necessarily the same thing.

    Repeated patterns does not always mean the same even is being explained in a new way; rather, it could reflect a repeated problem that humanity finds itself in and is only resolved by Christ (who is the fulfillment of the Temple, who experienced the Wilderness, who is the ultimate sacrifice, etc…)

  • Jon G

    I agree with much of what you’re saying. Parallels certainly don’t mean synonomous. But you said “construction of the later Temple probably was a reflection of that” and I want to push back with – how do you know if was PROBABLY a “reflection of that” and not a “blueprint for that”? Aren’t you, by making the claim that the one is a reflection of the other, interpreting the passage in a way that is not explicit in the text? Enns is doing something similar except he’s saying Exodus is not just a reflection of Genesis, but an execution of a pre-described plan. And then he’s presenting evidence that supports this conclusion.

    Repeated patterns don’t always mean the same thing is being explained in a new way, yes. But it also opens up the door to allow for such a conclusion, right? And if the evidence supports such a conclusion, then we would be wrong to discount it, no?

    Your last thought is, I believe, totally justified and correct but it doesn’t really pertain to whether or not Genesis and Exodus relate in the manner Enns is putting forth.

  • Rick

    Jon G-

    Yes, I agree with your open door thought, and I was trying to include wording such as “probably”, “not necessarily”, and “could” to reflect the fact that it is not concrete. I just would hope Enns would do the same, especially in his Adam/Israel connection, since (to me) that seems to be stretching things.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    It seems like much of the debate of the historical nature of the Bible here flows from either possibly too narrow of view of what “historical” means to to narrow views of dichotomous and either/or modern enlightenment ways of thinking and interpreting the text. For example, can’t the issue just as much be Adam and Eve as historical people and representing Israel? Can’t these be a both/and and not just an either/or? And what is the historical narrative teaching? If the Scriptures are teaching a theological truth with a historical reality (creation of humankind, the fall of mankind, ect) or a literal man and woman falling into sin (don’t both narrative keep in tact the historical?). And doesn’t the literary style within the first few chapters of Genesis point to both theological and historical concerns? Why pit these against one another? Does one understanding of the Bible one way or the other lead to biblical agnosticism or worse? Maybe God and God’s Word are much bigger than either side (right or left) give it credit for?

  • holdon


    You say I was nitpicking. But the reactions of many others here (not agreeing, probably because they think to be on a “certain level”) prove that I was striking a chord.
    Jesus, Peter, St. Philip, never said you had to go and learn ANE or “second temple era” texts etc., yet they were fully confident to quote from “Scriptures” and that these had as such full authority.

    Whether you can read those Scriptures or not (then you’re dependent on someone doing that for you) has nothing to do with needing the “background context” in order to understand.
    Yes, translations may be (are) deficient and just “human”, but the message as it is can be perfectly understood by “unlettered” people like Peter was for instance.
    No doubt there may be difficulties, but Enns, c.s. claim you have to understand “second temple” sentiment in order to understand Genesis. Now what does he know about “second temple” and what does he know about Genesis being only compiled in that era, so as to conveniently cast doubt on the fact that it was “compiled” (Jesus calls it: “written”) by Moses some 800 yrs prior? Normal people like me just believe Him (here are what some other persons thought about it: Moses (Deut. 31: 9, 24), by Joshua (Joshua 1: 7), by Samuel (1 Sam. 12: 6-8), by David (1 Kings 2: 3), by Solomon (1 Kings 8: 53, 56), by God (2 Kings 21: 8), by Josiah (2 Kings 23: 2, 3, 25) by Jehoiada (2 Chron. 23: 16-18), by Hezekiah (2 Chron. 30: 16), by Ezra (Ezra 7: 6), by Nehemiah (Neh. 13: 1), by Daniel (Dan. 9: 11-13), by Malachi (Mal. 4: 4), by Christ (John 5: 45-47), by Peter (Acts 3: 22-26), by Stephen (Acts 7), by Paul (1 Cor. 9: 9), by all the Jewish writers). Yet some are apparently “in the know” that it’s a much later invention and therefore cannot mean what we read. How come that a few thousand years after these Mr. Enns can claim to be a better authority than those “duped” ones who were yet closer to the source?

    Why is that God’s word cannot be trusted as it is? Why is it that we need a promise of “opened eyes” (Gen 3:5)? There is nothing new under the sun.

  • Jon G

    You bring up a very good point. There certainly is the case to be made for A&E being both historical AND representative, although I don’t think equally so. Theologically speaking, I see no problem with them being historical but the thrust of the text seems to use their representational qualities to move the story along and not their historical qualities. In other words, biblically speaking, I need Adam and Eve to be representative to make sense of the rest of the Bible but I don’t need them to be historic. As a result, I hold their historicity with a loose grasp.

    But scientifically, a historic Adam and Eve causes a huge conflict (if one believes in Evolution as I do). Therefore, I feel free to release my grasp on a not-so-necessary historic Adam and Eve from a theological point of view, and hold more tightly to a representational Adam and Eve to suit my scientific convictions. I don’t look at this as choosing Science over the Bible but rather using both to come to a conclusion which satisfies both without compramising either. Does this make sense?

  • Phil Miller


    Now what does he know about “second temple” and what does he know about Genesis being only compiled in that era, so as to conveniently cast doubt on the fact that it was “compiled” (Jesus calls it: “written”) by Moses some 800 yrs prior?

    Enns (and the majority of OT scholars, I might add) holds to the Documentary Hypothesis. I know that this is somewhat controversial among more conservative commentators, but in most academic circles, it’s not that controversial anymore.

    You have to ask yourself that if Moses wrote the Torah, why are there multiple versions of the same story (two creation stories for instance), and why would (or how could he) write about his death and burial in the third person? And actually the idea that the Torah could have been written/compiled by people other than Moses isn’t just a modern invention. Some of the church fathers actually noticed some of these things and basically said that even if the person to write the Torah (especially Deuteronomy) wasn’t Moses, it didn’t change the meaning and purpose of Scripture.

  • CGC

    Hi Jon (and all),
    I am in a very similar place as you. I would only add I also hold science with a loose grasp as well :-0 And yes, your view makes perfect sense to me. Thanks.

    By the way, I read on the biologos website an article on how the geno-science shows there could not be literally one Adam and Eve and I also read a paper by Tim Keller (on his website) who accepts both evolution and the belief in a literal Adam and Eve. I quess this shows some diversity among the biologos folks. I will say even though I am sympathetic with Keller’s views, I will also say I do not believe one “has to believe” in a literal Adam and Eve as he does. We need a little more flexibility, elastisity, humility, and tentativeness to some of our conclusions. How many times have we studied a issue for that to change our views on it later? And who knows what new light God may shine forth in the future?

    Let’s not lock these discussions up from the inside!

  • Rick

    Phil Miller-

    You are leaving out the possibility that Moses may have written, or at least passed along, the core, while others added to it later.

  • holdon


    “You have to ask yourself that if Moses wrote the Torah, why are there multiple versions of the same story (two creation stories for instance), and why would (or how could he) write about his death and burial in the third person? And actually the idea that the Torah could have been written/compiled by people other than Moses isn’t just a modern invention. Some of the church fathers actually noticed some of these things and basically said that even if the person to write the Torah (especially Deuteronomy) wasn’t Moses, it didn’t change the meaning and purpose of Scripture.”

    This is all some 200 hundred year old stuff. There are no two creation stories. There is one creation story in ch 1 (actually 2 if v 1 is taken separately as it should be) and a formation story in ch 2. There are plenty of reasons as to the why of it all, too much to elaborate here.
    The last chapter of Deut. is added by another hand; maybe Joshua and the last 4 verses could have been added later still. But that rather confirms that the rest was written indeed by Moses. Of course there may well have been a scribe helper as he was getting older. Paul seems to have a Tertius doing some of the writing for him. But denying (contrary to Jesus and a hole host of other biblical writers) that Moses wrote the Torah does affect the meaningfulness and purpose of Scripture: then it becomes just a complete myth.

  • CGC

    Hi Holden and all,
    Is it just me or have we become so accustomed to giving certain answers without looking deeper at those answers? If Moses didn’t write the Torah then it’s a myth (ie–false or a lie?) Wait a minute, what if there was a school of Moses for example that through oral and written transmission faithfully handed down the teachings of Moses. If they taught what Moses taught and said it was Moses teachings, is it then a myth because Moses didn’t pen the words himself?
    And I am not even arguing this is the case. All I am saying is I think we limit and put Scripture in a kind of box when we start determining ahead of time or presuppositionally that everything has to be a certain way.

    I remember hearing all these answers when I was younger on a criteria that the New Testament books had to meet to get into the canon. Typically, the criteria is not within Scripture itself nor was it even shown that this was the criteria that the early church fathers used. And then there are books like Hebrews where we don’t even know who wrote it but the criteria said it had to be written by an apostle or fill in the blank (yet there are these flaws and exceptions that just don’t fit into our neat tidy little systems). And haven’t we already gone down a slippery slope by saying that Moses did not write the last four verses? If it’s not Mosaic then is that really part of the Torah? And what about the last four chapters then? (I think you see where I am going). Let’s at least agree that most of us, including myself, are not very consistent when it comes to all this!

  • holdon


    The last chapter of the Torah not being of Moses’ hand, is evident by the text itself, but that doesn’t make it less inspired and true.
    The whole issue about recasting the authorship and authenticity of the message of God is a few hundred years old. Enns brings no new “insights” to that; but apparently has the need to adjust the Scriptures to his beliefs of evolution and what not. Again, that is not new at all either.
    That Jesus was just “accommodating” to first century beliefs doesn’t hold water either, because iIf Jesus could say: “there is one who accuses you, Moses, on whom ye trust; for if ye had believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me. But if ye do not believe his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” the Jews of His time could easily have answered that not Moses but Ezra (or some other “second temple” authors) had written the Torah. After all, the Jews of Jesus’ time were only about 500 yrs after “second temple” and would probably have known if someone had forged the Torah, meticulous as they were to preserve their writings.
    So, the question stands: if you don’t believe Moses’ writings, how shall you believe the words of Jesus? It’s not me who puts it that way, but the Head of Christianity Himself. You may have trouble believing that Adam and Eve existed. Then you will also have trouble believing Jesus.

  • Phil Miller

    Well, like CGC said, if you’re willing to make some exceptions that Scripture was tinkered with in some areas, I don’t see how that’s much different than what I’m saying. I do believe the OT is written as a history for the most part, but I believe it’s a history that the Jews told themselves. That doesn’t mean they made it up out of whole cloth. I do believe they are God-breathed writings, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean they are perfect histories that represent “just the facts”. Inspiration is a very messy thing.

    I don’t think statements that boil these issues down to “well it’s either this way or the other way” are very helpful. That’s the same type of thinking that leads people like Ken Ham to say things like a person either is a young earth creationist or they’re not taking the Bible seriously.

  • Mike M

    I’m stuck on Jude :14-15 where he quotes the Book of Enoch. Does that mean we need to reinstate Enoch back into the canon? After all, if scripture is quoted in the NT, it must be true.

  • phil_style

    @Holdon “The last chapter of Deut. is added by another hand; maybe Joshua and the last 4 verses could have been added later still. But that rather confirms that the rest was written indeed by Moses”

    How does this “confirm” anything? All it does is allow the possibility that the rest was written by Moses. It certainly doesn’t confirm it.

  • holdon


    “How does this “confirm” anything? All it does is allow the possibility that the rest was written by Moses. It certainly doesn’t confirm it.”

    Well Moses says himself that he wrote it. Pick up almost any book today and you may find foreword or afterword and no one would dream to question the authorship of the book itself. No different with the Torah.

  • holdon

    @Phil Miller,

    “I don’t think statements that boil these issues down to “well it’s either this way or the other way” are very helpful. ” Again, it’ not me saying that but Jesus. There is nothing wrong with believing one thing. You can’t believe in two opposite things.

    As far as interpretation goes (that’s different from questioning the source) there may be things that we can’t be too dogmatic about it, and we should question anyone who is. I think for myself that the age of the earth is not explicitly stated. The seven words of Gen 1:1 might well be “ages” before Gen 1:3.
    But it’s rather simple as my Dad used to say: “if you read what is written, you have what is written”. What is not there is simply not there.

  • holdon

    @Mike M,

    “I’m stuck on Jude :14-15 where he quotes the Book of Enoch. Does that mean we need to reinstate Enoch back into the canon? After all, if scripture is quoted in the NT, it must be true.”

    Jude doesn’t say: “Book of Enoch”, but “Enoch”. Those are two different things, because what Jude quotes is different from what is in the “Book of Enoch”. And the Book of Enoch says the Lord will execute judgment on His Saints which exactly contrary to Jn 5:24.

  • phil_style

    @holdon, “Well Moses says himself that he wrote it.”

    No. the book internally claims that Moses wrote it. This is not the same as “Moses says he wrote it”.
    It would only be equivalent to saying Moses wrote it, if, in fact Moses did write it. If Moses did not write it, then the internal claims are just that, claims.
    For example: back in the 1980’s the Hitler diaries were claimed to have been written by Hitler and they even sucked in national newspaper in Germany and the UK ….. but they were not written by Hitler.

    “.Pick up almost any book today and you may find foreword or afterword and no one would dream to question the authorship of the book itself. No different with the Torah”
    No-one? Not even the people who’s job it is to do just that? Literary historians constantly question authorship of all kinds of written material. Pseudographical literature has a long history.

  • RJS


    I think you are on the wrong track here. Holdon, it appears to me, is simply wrong when he claims that “Moses says himself that he wrote it.” Nowhere does Moses claim that he wrote the Pentateuch. The books we have clearly contain pieces that appear to be, and I think are, straight from Moses. But those are edited into a whole that is about Moses and the Exodus and the foundation of Israel after captivity in Israel. And the story of Genesis is foreground for the foundation of Israel.

    The first five books are not either fabricated myth or a text straight from Moses – this is just a rather poorly reasoned false dichotomy.

  • Phil Miller


    Again, it’ not me saying that but Jesus. There is nothing wrong with believing one thing. You can’t believe in two opposite things.

    Well, yes, the law of non-contradiction applies, but I don’t think we’re necessarily dealing with that. I believe Jesus spoke to the people He interacted with in terms they could understand. If the common belief was that Moses wrote the Torah, there was no reason for Him to argue about it.

    Works claiming to be written by a famous historical figure were not out of the ordinary in ANE. It was very common.

    This argument to me doesn’t really have much to do with the topic at hand, other than to point out that the fact that Enns may have a certain view about the authorship of the Torah and the rest of the OT doesn’t mean he writes it all off as myth or made up.

  • holdon

    “Nowhere does Moses claim that he wrote the Pentateuch.”

    The Pentateuch == Torah. It was a single scroll (even today) and was placed in the ark of covenant per Moses’ instructions. (kings were to make their own copy of it). This work is constantly referred to as “the Law”, “the Law of Moses”, “Moses”, “the book of Moses”. It means the entire scroll from Genesis 1 to the end of Deuteronomy.
    Moses claims he definitely wrote it in Deut 31. Also Joshua who was his contemporary refers to this being a book by Moses and it could not possibly have been forged with most of the people and levites and priests being still alive. As it was such a sacred thing from the beginning, it was referred to as the corner stone. Just before the captivity a copy was found in the temple (2 Kings 22:8; 2 Chron 34:14 and attributed to Moses).

    Now, you have to tell me how “Holdon is simply wrong”. Give some proof that this was just a convenient compilation/invention after the exile. You say: “The first five books are not a text straight from Moses”, well prove it if you can.

  • RJS


    It is simply wrong to take Deuteronomy 31:24-25 as a proof text that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch and had it put into the ark. Even this chapter does not read as something written by Moses but something written about what Moses did.

    It is trivial to give proof that the first five books are not a text straight from Moses. I have no desire whatsoever to give proof that it is just a “convenient complitaion/invention.” I don’t think this does justice to the text we have.

    Now I am not questioning that Moses wrote “the” book of the Law given by God and had it placed into the Ark, nor am I questioning that the Pentateuch contains this Law. It is not a convienent compliation or invention or forgery from after the exile. No one is claiming that here at all. Saying that the Pentateuch is written by Moses or fabricated myth sets up the wrong conflict.

  • Phil Miller

    The claim the Moses wrote the entire Torah and the fact that Moses as described as writing down parts of it are not the same thing. I don’t think Enns or other supporters of the documentary hypothesis would deny that Moses was key in preserving certain parts or even the core of the story. But there are questions that are hard to answer if one is to say Moses was the sole author. Genesis 36, for example, has a list of Edomite kings who ruled “before any Israelite king reigned”. How would Moses know that any king would reign in Israel? One could say he was given revelation from God, but it doesn’t seem to be that case in this instance given the context.

  • CGC

    Hi RJS,
    The first five books are either fabricated myth or a text straight from Moses . . . You are so right, this kind of dichotomous thinking causes more harm than good. It was the Eastern Orthodox who first challenged modern western Protestants like myself to quit thinking and using logic like this. I suspect that unless we really study history seriously (which I know you do), then we will continue to swim in the swamp of modernity. We are all more culturally-captive children of our times than we can imagine.

  • phil_style

    @ RJS;

    looks like my comment at April 26, 2012 at 8:00 am should have read the following
    “No. BUT EVEN IF the book internally claims that Moses wrote it…”

    I had not made it clear that I was discussing a hypothetical. Discussions over what the texts do in fact claim aside.

  • holdon

    The Pentateuch IS the Law IS the Torah and was written on a single scroll and placed into the ark. How can it not be? I think it is mere equivocation to say “it contains the Law”. Why is it such a problem to acknowledge this thing was written by Moses?

  • holdon

    ” Genesis 36, for example, has a list of Edomite kings who ruled “before any Israelite king reigned”. How would Moses know that any king would reign in Israel?”

    Well read Deuteronomy 17 for instance. Have you read the Torah?

  • Phil Miller

    Sheesh, Holdon, yes I’ve read the Torah! Chill…

    It seems to me that Deuteronomy 17 supports the point I was making, especially given the fact that in 1 Samuel 8 God doesn’t react very favorably to the Israelites asking for a king.

    And actually, this section 0f Deuteronomy 17, verses 18-20, is something that is pointed to as evidence that Deuteronomy was not just “found” during King Josiah’s reign, but was in fact written and given to him. This kind of describes almost perfectly what Josiah did after he was given the law.

    18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

  • CGC

    Hi Holden,
    I hope you can distinguish at least how some people may be arguing against your viewpoint of Mosaic authorship while others of us (maybe most of us) simply have a problem in how you are presenting the argument as RJS suggested. I don’t even disagree with your overall view of Moses wrote most if not almost all of the Torah. The problem was when you introduced a kind of “all or nothing” approach to this issue. The issues are simply more complex and nuanced than this and the argument itself is also flawed. The argument you gave Phil was basically, “Denying that Moses wrote the Torah . . . then it just becomes a complete myth.”

    In response to me regarding the last chapter or verses not written by Moses (something you rightly attest to, I know some people who want to say Moses wrote his own death down prophetically!), you correctly suggest, “the last chapter of the Torah not being at Moses’ hand . . . doesn’t make it less inspired.” I completely agree but do you see how this looks to be in contradiction or at least nuances your original statement to Phil? Obviously your saying that somebody else adding something to Moses words does not make it a myth or that Moses not writing the last chapter (including Moses death) does not make the book a complete myth.
    I hope that helps and you understand that probalby most of us actually do believe in Mosaic authorship of the Torah.

  • holdon

    “And actually, this section 0f Deuteronomy 17, verses 18-20, is something that is pointed to as evidence that Deuteronomy was not just “found” during King Josiah’s reign, but was in fact written and given to him. ”

    Ah, what can we say? What evidence, what proof do you have that Deut. 17:18-20 was foisted in “conveniently” in Josiah’s time? Others say it was during Ezra’s time. Which is it?

    Give us some evidence that you talk about, because just saying so is not very helpful.

  • Jon G

    Just finished a great post about the use of story over historical textbook like documenting and how the oral culture would use story form to convey historical truths instead of written texts. Unfortunately, as has been happening a bunch lately, the blog deleted it because of some glitch with my computer. Oh well, I guess this argument will never end…

  • Norman

    In my estimation Pete has us on the right track but he stops a little short of the second elephant in the room regarding Genesis and the Pentateuch. That is the heavily implied and veiled story line of messianic fulfillment permeating the entire Genesis account. Not only were the writer\writers coming from the perspective of exile but they were implying much more was to come for and upon Israel than just a discussion about their exilic plight.

    The remedy for their plight was an understanding that the corruptness of their priestly system needed to be overthrown and that issue permeates completely the narrative of Genesis. It starts with Adam and the recognition that eventually there would come a time when this corruption and deceiving of people through their Mosaic Law system would be set aside in lieu of a better system.

    The Adam and Eve story is a short microcosm of Israel’s plight and the flood account is really not about what happened long ago to the ancients but is a judgmental account of what is going to happen in the future to Israel which indeed comes to pass. It’s a prequel to some extent of what is going to happen judgmentally to Israel which 2T Judaism literature illustrates for us if we would study it to see how the Jews explored these story lines.

    I would posit that OT literature is often written in a veiled manner masking the underlying intentions of the authors regarding their contempt for the rulers and priestly system. Genesis is not a seemingly innocuous Sunday afternoon ride in the park but can be read as both an illuminating editorial upon Israel and also prophecy regarding where they were headed. Most competent scholars recognize that the Genesis narrative progressively has messianic overtones in each of the story lines. This just doesn’t happen by coincidence without the recognition by the author/authors of what they were doing.

    You essentially have the history of Israel rolled out from several different perspectives in Genesis and the flood account is going to foreshadow their eventual plight.

    The ancient flood account that is recorded in the ANE is written from various perspectives and the Jews took this ancient event that was over 2000 years old and applied it to their intended purpose. It takes a while for us to wrap our minds around these concepts because we have been trained to read this in such a way that almost destroys our ability to grasp these intentions.

    As a side note: Genesis chapter one is a highly stylized piece of Hebrew literature and to think that Moses who lived 500 years before Hebrew writing even started to appear is astounding. This chapter is built upon the word constructs of Hebrew number counts and meanings. It’s not built upon Moses ancient written literature of his day. There are so many factors that discredit Moses as the author to scholars that it’s almost laughable that we are trying to argue with them. It’s like the layman arguing with the Nuclear physics professor about the details of his theories.

  • Norman


    I always write it out in a word document because you never know when it’s going tio bite you. In fact lost the first posting above but was able to repost again becasue I had typed it in word first.

  • holdon


    Many books of today have a foreword by another who is not the other. Some have also an afterward, not by the author. That doesn’t mean the rest of the book is not by that author. That’s the argument for allowing another hand in Deut. 34. Simple as always.

    But it’s something entirely different to say that something compiled around 600 BC is Moses’ writing. We would call that forgery. That Moses could have knowledge of other sources, stories and genealogies is not disputed. He was taught in Egypt and that may have benefited for that, like any good author today would have recourse to reliable sources. Of course with this difference that Moses’ writings are put on the level of “Word of God”, which not current author can venture to claim.

    Jesus drew that binary line pretty straight in Jn 5. If one was not acknowledging Moses’ writings, he would not believe Jesus’ words either.

    Now if we (“normal people”) and Joshua, David, Solomon, Jesus, Paul, are all duped, then something is fundamentally wrong with Christianity is it not?

  • holdon

    “There are so many factors that discredit Moses as the author to scholars that it’s almost laughable that we are trying to argue with them. It’s like the layman arguing with the Nuclear physics professor about the details of his theories.”

    Ah, the “pattern” is back. See I was right about that. But remark even Norman doesn’t give any evidence that “there was no real flood, just accounts”, “no Hebrew in Moses’ time”, “a guarded contempt for priesthood”, etc. etc..

    The “initiated” keep laughing.

  • Jon G

    Norman…a great idea. You’d figure after the first 5 times I would’ve learned my lesson! And yet I’m such a stubborn Greek (redundant, I know!)! 🙂

    BTW, is this the way everybody is able to use italics? I always have to CAPITOLIZE everything I want to stress and it just looks like I’m yelling…

  • Jon G


    Just to simplify this long chain of posts…would you kindly sum up YOUR evidence that:

    1) the Torah was “written” by Moses
    2) what we currently have is “his” account
    3) his writing is unbiased and reflects a true and accurate account of historical events

  • Phil Miller

    The evidence is primarily elements within the text itself, although there are clues as far the syntax of the language. There are whole books written on the subject. Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Friedman is a good introduction. He still holds to something close to the traditional documentary hypothesis, although he has his disagreements. There are a lot of competing theories anymore, but most of them actually introduce the possibility of more redaction, not less. All of them would point to various things as evidence for their positions.

    You can certainly say that you don’t buy the evidence they’re portraying, and that’s fine. But the same sort of claim can be made about the traditional view. There actually isn’t much evidence to say that Moses actually wrote the Torah. The big reason it’s taken as a given is simply because it is what has been passed down by tradition.

    As far as how it relates to the debate about creation and evolution, I’d say it’s important only in the sense that it helps to establish how the Jewish people looked at the Torah. What the Scripture meant to the people it was written to is much more important than who wrote it. Pseudonymous literature wasn’t really considered the same thing as a forgery in the ANE.

  • Norman


    Unfortunately formating does not carry over. If you want to bold or Italize you have to use the ANE format scripting style 😉

    HTML uses tags like and for formatting output, like bold or italic text.

  • holdon


    Just to simplify this long chain of posts…would you kindly sum up YOUR evidence that:

    1) the Torah was “written” by Moses
    2) what we currently have is “his” account
    3) his writing is unbiased and reflects a true and accurate account of historical events

    ad 1)Jesus said so. Joshua said so (who must have witnessed directly), etc. I already listed a whole lot of persons attesting the same. And Moses said so, many many times that he wrote down what the Lord told him and at the end says a whole book by him is to be laid in the ark.
    ad 2) What Jesus had, we have. The Hebrew Scriptures are among the best preserved bar none.
    ad 3)If Jesus could say: listen to Moses, what more do you want? Wasn’t He the Truth? If any one was “in the know”, it must have been Jesus, don’t you think? “There is 1 (not many) who accuses you: Moses.” Jn 5. If Jesus was wrong in that charge, they could easily have dismissed Him there and then.

  • holdon

    Phil Miller,

    “There actually isn’t much evidence to say that Moses actually wrote the Torah.”

    Well, Joshua said he did. Who do you believe more: a direct witness or someone who is compiling snippets of perceived issues 3000 years later? Or who do you believe more Jesus or the necessarily flawed critics of the present day (and some older ones)?

  • Norman


    Jude says that Enoch who was the seventh from Adam prophesied and then quotes his excerpt straight from the Book of Enoch. Now I’m not familiar with anyone who believes that the actual Enoch wrote the Book of Enoch which this quote is taken from (but I’m sure there are some). That literature is a second temple piece constructed from around 300 to 150BC. It’s commonly understood that Enoch was written as a pseudonym which is extremely common throughout Hebrew literature.

    How does your premise remain consistent with this example that I have just pointed out to you? Is this the real Enoch? I guess you could say that Jude should be discarded from the canon as one option. Or you can recognize the pattern of Hebrew literary construction that was common back then and understand that context.

    Jude 14 Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones 15 to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

  • Phil Miller

    I think it’s likely there was some form of written down “Book of the Law” that Moses authored and was placed into the Ark of the Covenant, but I don’t think that was the entire Pentateuch as we know it. After all, Deuteronomy 31 describes this writing being placed into the ark, but there are clearly actions and events in the narrative that happen after this takes place.

    It seems to me that making an all or nothing argument for Mosaic authorship of the whole kit and caboodle is a pretty tenuous position. The fact that Jesus attributed the Torah as coming from Moses doesn’t really prove much to me. It could simply be Jesus condescending to what He knew those around Him believed.

    Let me ask you, Holdon, does it make a difference to you if the Apostle Paul himself wrote Ephesians or one of is students wrote it under his name? Clearly it claims to be written by Paul, but a lot of scholars say it probably wasn’t due to stylistic differences between it and the other Pauline letters. Does it mean we should throw it out if someone comes up with very convincing evidence that it isn’t authored by Paul?

  • holdon


    I have already responded to the Book of Enoch: see above. Why do these critics always come up with the same examples?

    Book of Enoch: “”Behold, He cometh with ten thousand of His saints, to execute judgment upon them, and destroy the wicked, and reprove all the carnal for everything which the sinful and ungodly have done and committed against Him.”

    Jude’s Enoch: “Behold, the Lord has come amidst his holy myriads, to execute judgment against all; and to convict all the ungodly of them of all their works of ungodliness, which they have wrought ungodlily, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

    Book of Enoch has a lot of nonsense and seems rather 1st century AD.

  • holdon

    “I don’t think that was the entire Pentateuch as we know it.” So what precisely was missing?

    “The fact that Jesus attributed the Torah as coming from Moses doesn’t really prove much to me. It could simply be Jesus condescending to what He knew those around Him believed.”
    Yeah that’s the “accommodating view”. Wrong though. It would not make any sense for Jesus to appeal to current beliefs, if actually those were erroneous. And for sure the doctors of the Law would have called him on it. What do you think of false accusation?

    “Clearly it claims to be written by Paul, but a lot of scholars say it probably wasn’t due to stylistic differences between it and the other Pauline letters.”

    Then clearly “a lot of scholars” are wrong. The first word of the letter is “Paul” and in 3:1 and see 6:21, 22. What a forgery it would have been (and caught) if it was not him.

    Also, which student of Paul could have possibly written a sentence like in Eph 1: 3 – 14 included?

  • Norman


    It’s nonsense to someone who doesn’t comprehend Hebrew Apocolyptic style literature. Otherwise it weaves a narrative in a format that parallels the OT and much of the NT. That is why you find allusions and excerpts from it mixed throughout the NT. I don’t expect you to grasp its significance in helping form the environment of the NT time of Christ. It was the second most popular piece of literature found in the Dead Sea Scrolls of 70AD only behind Isaiah.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,,
    Well, I can see this discussion is probably coming to an end. I still can’t help but think of the countless people like Bart Erhman to friends who went to seminary with me who have pretty much lost their faith because they were taught everything from if evolution is true, then the Bible is not. If inerrancy is not true, then everything in the Bible is false. If one author did not write a cetain book ascribed to him, then the whole Bible is fake and on and on it goes. What some of us have come to see are these kind of deductions or things we were taught by possibly well-meaning people from times past were our modern deductions and modern ways of thinking that took precedence over the actual historical history of the Bible of what really took place. Now that is the biggest irony of all!

  • JP


    I want to ask you if you can read Hebrew and/or Greek? Could the reason why the two are not the same be due to the fact that you are reading an English translation of a Greek manuscript quoting a Hebrew source? To see that the people of the period didn’t consider Enoch inspired because Jude’s quote is different than the Hebrew would be like saying Psalm 8 isn’t inspired because Jesus doesn’t quote it word for word in Matthew 21. Surely Jesus wouldn’t quote Hebrew Scriptures wrong, would He?

    Now to everyone else:

    My problem with the approach that the Torah was written entirely by Moses is that those who advocate it usually come down hard on those who don’t. Because they see Scripture as black and white, being exactly as written without any room for grey, they feel anyone who sees it different than them or different than tradition is unbliblical and compromises with the world.

    I can tell you that I believe in evolution. I have no problem admitting that I feel many men and women who have dedicated their lives to their field have had findings that were absolutely mind-boggling. I can also tell you that I believe firmly that women should be allowed to teach in Churches, and I don’t only mean Sunday School. I have had the luxury of hearing women teach sporadically over the course of two years and in that time they taught some of the greatest lessons I have ever heard. While I hold many other “non-traditional” views; I will stop there.

    I have often heard from other believers that my beliefs have been corrupted, that I am wrong, and that I need to understand Scripture better.

    I think the reason that not seeing things traditionally hits such a nerve is complex. I think first is the fact that people don’t feel that they can be wrong about anything Spiritual. People feel that they have all the answers. Second, if people have different viewpoints of Scripture, than something must give way. Either someone is wrong or possibly Scripture is wrong. There is objective Truth and no pluralism in interpreting the Bible. Third, I think it means people have to wonder about whether or not God is really acting. I think deep down, this is the biggest problem. If the Spirit enlightens us about Scripture, and people don’t agree about an interpretation, then someone truly doesn’t have the power of the Spirit enlightening them and cannot truly believe.

    This is what I have personally been confronted with, even after devoting years of my life to live among the poor in the third world and caring for orphans in the Middle East.

    To me, I feel that Satan is laughing as we would rather fight over what was written over 2000 years ago than actually learn to love each other and build God’s Kingdom together!

    Goodnight and God bless!

  • Brian

    I for one am stoked a conversation is happening. I think academias perspective on the Bible is akin to a scuba diving expedition. Gods main objective is to get us into the ocean. The simplest of us are introduced to its majesty through a casual reading. God unlocks the wonder of the sea through the Bibles basic precepts: Our sin. God’s humble sacrifice and resurrection proving death has no power over life, both validating and testifying to the power of its Author. And our restoration. Many have been baptized and are content playing in the waves but they remain unaware of the ocean’s true awesomeness. Meanhile, the Spirit bids us to join Him out in the belly of the sea where its altogether frightening and infinitely rich. The deeper convesations (such as this) is an offered expedition to a fuller understanding of what is already awesome for all…just because some are content surfing while we’re deep sea diving doesn’t mean we’re not equally wet by the same water. The Bible is paradoxically simple and complex. That’s the beauty of God… He’s masterfully woven together something to meet everyone where they’re at….and the bidding is ever present: knowledge of the eternal. GNARLEY 🙂