the Bible is a human book

the Bible is a human book January 4, 2014

I just attended a small conference in Chicago—yes, a conference in Chicago in January, which means I almost didn’t get there, but that’s another story. 

The conference was sponsored by Biblica, formerly the International Bible Society. About 20 biblical scholars and theologians were invited to participate in an open conversation about the Bible—or as one organizer put it, “What is the Bible and what do we do with it?”—which coincidentally happens to be the title of the last chapter of my book Inspiration and Incarnation.

The conference was aimed primarily at creating conversations around several topics that Biblica is thinking through concerning the present and future of Bible reading.

One huge initiative of Biblica is what they call Community Bible Experience, which is a highly successful approach to encourage community Bible reading using Bibles without chapter and verse numbers, reordering books of the Bible to reflect when they were written, and to create space for people to engage the Bible in community in a “book club” kind of vibe rather than a traditional “Bible study.”

CBE is not a gimmick, folks. It works. The link above will explain it more fully.

Anyway, the conference was sort of a think tank, and the invited participants were asked to address 10 issues that Biblica felt would help them think more deeply about how the Bible can be engaged more deeply in group contexts. Participants included George Marsden, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Kevin Vanhoozer, Peter Leithart, Daniel Kirk, John Walton, Craig Bartholomew, Craig Evans, and many others. The conference was moderated by Andy Crouch.

I was asked to speak on, “The Word Made Flesh: The Bible as a Human Book.” Here’s what I said, in brief.

1. Change “as” to “is” in the title. The Bible is a human book, meaning there is nothing in the Bible that does not fully participate in the human drama and cannot be explained on the basis of it’s “humanity.” In other words, there is nothing in the Bible to which one can point and say, “Ah, here is something that is divine and NOT human.” “As” suggests distance between the Bible’s thoroughgoing humanness.

2. The Bible is not merely a human book, but it is a thoroughly human book. That is a paradox, a confession of faith. The evangelical challenge can be summarized as the need to work through a synthesis where both of these claims are respected—i.e., the Bible reflects various and sundry (not one) ancient (not modern Christian) ways of thinking about God and the life of faith.

3. The evangelical system has not always done a good job of pulling off his synthesis, in part because the thoroughgoing humanness of the Bible is too often adjusted or kept at a safe distance in favor of protecting theological statements about the nature of Scripture.

4. Another way of articulating the challenge: true dialogue is needed between the Bible as a means of deep spiritual formation and “taking seriously” Scripture’s thoroughgoing humanity. Of course, just what “taking seriously” means is the money question, and too often in evangelical formulations, at the end of the day, the diverse and ancient nature of Scripture is either tolerated or tamed rather than allowed truly to inform Scripture’s role in spiritual formation.

5. I closed with suggesting three overlapping models for Bible readers today for engaging the Bible with greater attention to the Bible’s own character that then also fosters spiritual formation.

A dialogical model: Taking a page from the history of Judaism and much of premodern Christianity, the Bible is a book where God is met through dialogue rather than primarily as a source of doctrinal formulations. Reading the Bible well means being open and honest about what you see (for example, Canaanite genocide) rather than feeling the need to corral all parts of Scripture into a logically coherent system. The dialogical model is also woven into the nature of Scripture itself, e.g., Job, Ecclesiastes, and lament Psalms.

A journey model: Rather than a depository of theological statements disguised as a narrative, think of the Bible as modeling our spiritual journey by letting us in on the spiritual journey of the ancient Israelites and first followers of Jesus. This model allows the theological and historical tensions and contradictions to stand as statements of faith at various stages of that journey rather than problems to be overcome in preserving a “system” or “owner’s manual” approach to Scripture.

An incarnational model: I continue to think that an incarnational model of Scripture provides needed theological flexibility for addressing the realities of a Bible that is both located squarely and unambiguously located in antiquity and continues to be sacred Scripture.

Anyway, the conference was a lot of fun, and we all gave each other things to think about.

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  • Dawit

    I can’t agree more! it is superb!

  • I disagree, as a “systems” guy myself, but it is very encouraging to see an open and congenial dialogue happening. Kudos to Biblica. We all wish, I’m sure, that this were available for viewing online.

    • peteenns

      It was indeed, congenial, Kevin, Thanks for the comment.

  • Lise

    That you have to say, “CBE is not a gimmick, folks,” sadly reflects the state of suspicion and rigidity surrounding evangelical stances towards the Bible. A good friend of mine is a Rabbi and he sometimes teaches at Christian seminaries. We’ve talked about how difficult it is for many Christians to actually engage with the text in playful and embodied ways.

    I think it’s interesting that your talk was on “the word made flesh” for this whole conference sounds like it was very rich. My big beef (pun intended) with approaches towards Bible reading is that there isn’t enough engagement with the text. How can we be touched by the book if we’re not actively interacting with it in some way, shape or form? I have this fantasy that some day people will have bible circle readings, where people read the text out loud like a play table reading. And why not have readings be more like a book club? I can’t stand most Bible studies where there is some silly DVD and the discourse is kept to a very remedial watered down approach, as if everyone was in the first grade.

    You mentioned that Daniel Kirk was at the conference. He moderated a panel at SBL called, “Lady Parts: Biblical Women and the Vagina Monologues.” The session came out of a book published by Wipf and Stock of the same title. The book is a collection of monologues where characters are given a voice and the text is often deconstructed. While some of the pieces are subversive, others are deeply redemptive. I mention this because as an actor exploring some of these pieces, I have been more “touched” by the Bible than ever. After performing, “The Woman Caught in Adultery” at a church retreat in a seminar focusing on healing and restoration, people said, “I never thought of the woman caught in adultery as a real person with a real experience. I understand the message so much better now.” And ironically, many of the lines in the monologue involve word play with text from John 1. As Jesus redeems her, she says, “Could the sediment of my past become sentiment expressed in grace and truth?… Could my own flesh become word?” Saying her lines reminded me of the profound gift Jesus bestows on us all. Likewise, the piece I did at SBL which was Jael by Emily Havelka taught me all I need to know about Judges and violence in the OT. This is a clip. It’s not academy award winning by any means and the lighting is awful but it does turn the text upside down as a woman who has just killed a man speaks.

    If we’re to be touched, we have to find ways to initiate a living breathing exchange with the text in radical ways for it’s a radical book. And I think people can appreciate the Bible whether they have faith or not as long as it is unveiled from its ivory tower. I’m glad you guys (and hopefully a few gals) had this conference and that you made it through the ice and snow. 🙂

    • peteenns

      This is great, Lise! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your video. I also think you’d enjoy CBE. And yes, my comment about CBE not being a gimmick was already anticipating unfounded pushback.

    • Muff Potter

      Your soliloquy reminds me very much of Dunbar the Union cavalryman who became the Sioux Dances With Wolves. Dunbar would have never killed the miscreants who killed his friends Cisco & Two-Socks, but Dances With Wolves was glad to do it by his own admission and even said that they needed killing. By the way, Sisera needed killing too.

      • Lise

        Thanks for your comments. I haven’t seen that film in years and will have to look at it again. The piece raises all sort of perplexing questions – i.e. at what point does the victim become the perpetrator and/or at what point does remaining a victim collude with violence? Personally, I find the monologue very challenging for these reasons. Part of me can identify with the rage; the other part can’t and won’t go there. And how does a stance such as Jesus takes (in the face of others’ aggression) come into play?

        A cinematographer friend of mine is actually going to film the “Woman Caught in Adultery” this month. It’s a much more transcendent and beautiful piece because of the material. And the lighting will be infinitely better since it will be done professionally this time (and the light will have pierced the dark!!!!!!!!).

        • Muff Potter

          We could wax philosophical from Kant’s etherealism to Mills’ materialism, and even on the words of Jesus from now until the ice sheets start moving South again and still not resolve a thing. I think that ultimately each of us must make his or her own real-life decisions and also be prepared to own them.

          • Lise

            I don’t even know what Kant’s etherealism is or what Mills’ materialism is for that matter, but I agree that the topic lends itself to waxing philosophically. 🙂

  • It seems like the rubber could really hit the road on this issue when we ask:

    How does God draw us to him?

    One option is that he presents us with a perfect standard which we will never reach, but can dutifully trudge toward the best we can. A problem with this (there are many) is that people give up hope if they aren’t shown how to take the next few steps toward perfection. Positing a never-achievable perfection doesn’t really seem demotivating except for those who need to feel perfect. Instead, it’s the inability to make much of any progress whatever. Some call this “being in a rut”. I kind of think Christianity has “been in a rut” for quite some time, despite some of its progress (e.g. slavery, civil rights, women’s rights—if we can even attribute these to Christianity).

    Maybe how we view the Bible can stunt our ability to draw closer to God?

    A danger that religious liberals often blunder into is to make the Bible ‘fuzzy’, such that it cannot really communicate much of anything specific. But if the Bible cannot tell you that you’re wrong, it cannot communicate to you. So there’s a danger on the other end, that also prevents the Bible from helping us truly draw close to God. Perhaps the decline in attendance of mainline liberalized denominations is evidence that they’ve failed at helping people draw closer to God?

  • Mike Mercer

    Wish I could have been there, Pete. Sounds like outstanding stuff.

  • linford86

    As an atheist with a huge interest in Biblical history, I have to confess that the way of reading the Bible presented in this post I find tremendously intriguing. That’s because I think that, if done right, it provides a reading of the Bible for believers that encapsulates the kind of beauty in the Bible which I can see as a non-believer.

    I think that the Bible is a beautiful set of ancient documents, a tapestry of ancient voices screaming out at us from antiquity. I love the Bible for its humanness; that it is a library of texts from several cultural groups and from a time period of about 2500 years. That each book has been woven together from others — the Documentary Hypothesis — only deepens my appreciation and love for the Bible. Not only does is the Bible unique due to the form of its construction, but the Bible also expresses a story of the anguish and torment of a marginalized cultural group — the Israelites — through their journey together and their quest to understand their relationship to the world that they inhabit.

    Yet the Christians who I speak to hardly ever see the Bible in this way. What I see as beauty, they see as heresy. What angers me is when believers wash away all of the beauty of their text by fitting it into the modern mould of the Bible as divine command, seeing what is ultimately and primarily a human document instead as a divine document. This takes one of the most beautiful books to which I have ever been exposed and makes it ugly, muddy, and downright disturbing. Because no longer can prescriptions about killing rape victims be seen as a product of naive and ignorant humans, who are desperately doing their best to understand their relationship to the world. Instead, these prescriptions are interpreted as commands from God. Interpreted as the Word of God, the Bible commands its followers to kill rape victims.

    Of course, part of the reason that I see the Bible this way is
    because I am an atheist. For me, the Bible cannot be the product of a
    god so it can only be a human document. While it would not change my
    lack of faith, I would like for believers to be able to share my
    appreciation of the Bible as a human document. And from the way it sounds, the kind of Bible study which Peter endorses in this post is precisely the kind I would like to see.

    • Granth

      It warms my heart to read this, linford. Really well put. This Bible-appreciating unbeliever salutes you!

  • WBC

    I realize I’m out of step with this nuanced and sophisticated discussion, because I don’t accept the premises that this discussion is based on.

    I think it is fair to say that you believe that God was involved in the production of holy scriptures ‘with a loose hand’ with the result that the final product is packed with human error and falsehoods, and yet the Bible is “more than merely a human book” in some vague, nebulous, and undefined way. It makes me wonder if you read what the Bible actually says about itself, or if you just read secondary literature about the Bible.

    The Bible says that a prophet whose word doesn’t come true, even in one single thing, ought not to be feared or heard in anything else he says, but should be stoned (Deut 18)–no prophecy was ever made by an act human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1)–the prophets carefully studied their own writings to try to figure out what the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating (1 Peter 1)–prophecies about different obscure species of animals inhabiting desolate places seem rather trivial in the broad sweep of Scripture but they come with this explanation of their precision “Seek from the book of the Lord and read: not one of these will be missing; none will lack its mate. For His mouth has commanded and His Spirit has gathered them” (Isaiah 34). And the list of these kind of passages goes on and on and on and on. Help a simple person like me understand where you are coming from regarding passages like these. ?????

    • linford86

      It seems to me that there are two possible views that Christians could accept. Either:

      1. The Bible was somehow inspired by God but contains much that was imparted by human error. This is the view you described when you stated: “I think it is fair to say that you believe that God was involved in the
      production of holy scriptures ‘with a loose hand’ with the result that
      the final product is packed with human error and falsehoods”. Of course, to still remain Christians, individuals who accept this version must also maintain that God had some role in the production of the Bible — though this role might have distorted by history and perhaps it should be the role of the Biblical theologian (like Peter Enns) to discern which parts are more likely to be the product of intervening human hands and which parts are more likely to have been produced by a deity.

      2. The Bible is the direct product of God and is inerrant. This seems to be the view that you believe the Bible supports when it speaks of itself.

      Now, the challenge for the proponent of (1), which you discussed, is to understand the passages you mentioned while still maintaining that (2) is false.

      Notice, however, that anyone supporting (1) could simply say that all of these passages where the Bible speaks of itself are the product of human error. After all, anyone who believes (1) will believe that there is plenty in the Bible that merely reflects the humans who wrote the text and not the commands of any sort of deity. It is only the proponent of (2) who must maintain that the passages where the Bible speaks of itself are inerrant.

      Thus, whatever the Bible says about itself can always be explained away by the supporter of (1) as passages in error. In order to respond to their claim, you would need to appeal to some source of evidence which would not be in controversy between proponents of (1) and (2).

      • WBC

        Since you are as you say, “an atheist with a huge interest in Biblical history” I’m guessing you appreciate all of the Bible and enjoy it, but also constantly evaluate as you read it whether each part is true, probably true, false, helpful, harmful, etc. In other words, you assert your own authority over the authority of Scripture. I’m guessing that you don’t hide the fact that you do this. That’s how I read other books too.

        Reading the Bible this way isn’t an option for those who claim to be Christians, and they know it, because there are so many Bible verses like these: “Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa 40), and “for My hand has made all these things, thus all these things came into being, declares the Lord, but to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isa 66).

        Your suggestion: “perhaps it should be the role of the Biblical theologian (like Peter
        Enns) to discern which parts are more likely to be the product of
        intervening human hands and which parts are more likely to have been
        produced by a deity” follows an inevitable logic if the Bible is a confused mixture of man’s error and God’s truth. But your suggestion isn’t an option for Christians since it elevates the authority of a man who refuses to tremble over the authority of God’s Word.

        • linford86

          What I was pointing out is that there seem to be two positions in the Christian community:

          1. Those Christians who believe that all verses in the Bible are God’s Word.

          2. Those Christians who believe some, but not all, of the verses in the Bible are God’s Word. You provided a description of that group yourself: “I think it is fair to say that you believe that God was involved in the production of holy scriptures ‘with a loose hand’ with the result that the final product is packed with human error and falsehoods, and yet the Bible is ‘more than merely a human book’ in some vague, nebulous, and undefined way.” These are the Christians who believe that “the Bible is a confused mixture of man’s error and God’s truth”.

          Now, both of these groups might “tremble over the authority of [what they think to be] God’s Word”, but they will disagree over what they think God’s Word is. For group (1) Christians, all of the verses in the Bible are God’s Word. For group (2) Christians, only some of the Bible is God’s Word — as you say, there is also “man’s error” mixed in for group (2) Christians.

          You are correct that any Christians who fall into group (1) must set their own authority aside and submit themselves to the authority of the entire Bible. But you are not correct that Peter Enns needs to do this, since he appears to fall into group (2) and not into group (1) — and you seem to already acknowledge this.

          And it’s illogical to appeal to the Bible to claim that all Christians must fall into group (1). Why? Because that begs the question against those who fall into group (2). As a member of group (1) trying to convince those in group (2), appealing to scripture is simply a circular argument.

          Now, I belong to neither (1) nor (2) so I don’t really have a stick in your fight. All I’m trying to do is to point out why your argument shouldn’t be convincing to someone in group (2). I’m nothing more than an interested third party and I don’t really have a stake in who is the “better” or more “true” Christian (as a non-Christian, the question as to who is the better or more true Christian is either unanswerable or unimportant).

          • WBC

            I doubt Peter Enns wants to disown all the verses I quoted as simply, straightforwardly, and honestly as you suggest.

          • linford86

            Perhaps not — perhaps his fellow Christians would be quick to brand him a heretic if he did so. But I would suggest that he do so, since it would seem to be the most logical move and is thoroughly consistent with his stated position.

          • WBC

            I feel like you are making all my points for me! Your logic demonstrates that this whole thing is not complicated as Peter Enns wishes to make it. His basic dishonesty clouds the picture..

            The Bible doesn’t present its teachings as optional or negotiable, but instead, its prophets say, “Thus saith the Lord” again and again and again. That refrain is hard to miss. Those who assert their own authority over the authority of Scripture pick and choose which passages to accept based on their own likes and dislikes, preferences, and desires. These include atheists (like you), Satan himself (who quotes and affirms parts of Scripture whenever it suits his deception (Matt 4)), false prophets, and false teachers who assert parts of Scripture “which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pet 3).

          • linford86

            I don’t see how you think that possibly follows. The Scriptures might use such locutions as “Thus saith the Lord”, but that doesn’t mean that the Lord actually “saithed” anything of those things!

            Your argument seems to go like this:

            1. The Bible says that the Lord says various things (“Thus saith the Lord…”).

            2. The Bible is the Word of God.

            3. Therefore, the Lord actually did say various things.

            That argument is completely circular. Why is it circular? Consider how you would propose to defend the premises of this argument. It seems to have this structure: Why accept premise (2)? Because of premise (1). Why accept premise (1)? Because of premise (2). Etc. That’s circular by definition.

          • WBC

            Yes, you’re right. The argument is circular, as you show more than adequately in what you stated. So what supports the circle? On what does this circle rest?

            I’m sure there is more than one way to defend Scripture, but let me just defend it here like this: the central message of Scripture to which every part points is the cross of Christ. Paul calls it the word of the cross (1 Cor 1-4). The word of the cross is the opposite of all human wisdom because it reveals to view what is normally hidden from human eye: that man even at his best is so sinful, so evil, and so hostile to God that when God sent His own Son, man crucified Him. Man’s need (your need) is so desperate, that in order to have God’s favor you need from God not enlightenment or moral improvement or inspiration or a little help every now and then but salvation. To experience God’s favor, you must abandon hope in self (Jesus called it taking up your cross), and trust in Christ.

            The defense of Scripture is this: man cannot and does not conceive this kind of utterly self-effacing wisdom, but God does: “Just as it is written: things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9).

            You won’t hear anything about this on this blog, but this is what it’s all about. If you enjoy reading Scripture as you say, keep reading, the Holy Spirit may be pleased to open your eyes.

          • linford86

            “Yes, you’re right. The argument is circular, as you show more than adequately in what you stated. So what supports the circle? On what does this circle rest?”

            I hope that you understand that circular arguments cannot “rest” on anything; a circular argument is a kind of fallacy after all!

            “If you enjoy reading Scripture as you say, keep reading, the Holy Spirit may be pleased to open your eyes.”

            One would have thought that this would have happened by now. But it hasn’t. I suppose, though, that this is part of the strength of your argument; it’s never proved wrong because you can always claim that my conversion will be in the future.

            Meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy this text in much the same way that I enjoy other pieces of ancient literature — as a completely human set of documents.

          • WBC

            The part I wrote about the Holy Spirit opening your eyes in the future isn’t part of my argument at all. It’s more of a prayer. My argument is that man cannot and does not come up with this kind of utterly self-effacing wisdom. You won’t find it’s equal or parallel anywhere else. In fact, it is opposite to every kind of human wisdom. It could only come from God.

            I can tell you know more about formal logic than I do, but isn’t it true that if one of the two points in a two-part circular argument rests on a sure foundation (is supported and logically follows from a true premise), then the other one does too? Anyway, I know I’m not going to argue you into becoming a Christian .That was the reason for the prayer.

          • linford86

            Thank you for your prayer. You can probably understand that I’m a bit skeptical as to whether or not it will work, but I understand that, from your perspective, that prayer means a lot.

            “I can tell you know more about formal logic than I do, but isn’t it true that if one of the two points in a two-part circular argument rests on a sure foundation (is supported and logically follows from a true premise), then the other one does too?”

            That’s not true for circular arguments, but let me make a suggestion as to what you might be trying to say and how I would put it as someone trained in logic.

            Suppose that there is a source for information that is known to always provide perfect information. In logic parlance, we call such a hypothetical source an “oracle” (I understand if you would rather call it “God”, but I wanted to talk about how this looks in logic more generally than just the theological case). Let’s call this oracle Y.

            Now, suppose that Y provides two propositions: A and B. We know that both A and B must be true because they were derived via the oracle (which is incapable of providing false propositions).

            We *don’t* have an argument — so there’s nothing circular going on — but we can say that A and B must be true.

            To put this into the language that I had before, group (1) Christians claim that all of the verses in the Bible were provided by a perfect source; that is, Y provides all Bible verses.

            But group (2) Christians believe that there are two sources. There is Y, which provides some Bible verses, but there is also Z, and Z provides other Bible verses. Now the task for group (2) is to decide whether any given verse was from Y or Z.

            Now suppose that a group (1) Christian is talking to a group (2) Christian. That conversation might go like this:

            Group (2) Christian: “The Bible is a human book, sometimes — maybe even often — featuring human faults, such as doubt and anguish.”

            Group (1) Christian: “How can you say that? According to this verse, the Lord said these things! (‘Thus saith the Lord…’)”

            G(2)C: “That verse is the product of human error. It claims to be the Word of God, but that is a mistake. The scribe who wrote it either thought they were channelling God, when they were not, or they simply lied, perhaps for some political ends.”

            G(1)C: “They could not have lied! Isa 40 states, ‘Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but
            the word of our God stands forever’ while Isa 66 sates, ‘for My hand has made all these things, thus all these things came into being, declares the Lord, but to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.'”

            G(2)C: “It is true that Isa 40 and Isa 66 state those things. But the question is whether or not Isa 40 and Isa 66 are the Word of God. If Isa 40 is the Word of God, then this tells us that the Word of God ‘stands forever’. That’s not surprising, since God’s nature does not change. If Isa 40 is not the Word of God, then Isa 40 does not, by itself, tell us anything about God — though we might still agree with the passage, just as I might agree with something that any other human says. If Isa 66 is the Word of God, then we should tremble at God’s Word. And if Isa 66 is not the Word of God, then that passage, by itself, does not give us reason to tremble at God’s Word, but we might still think we should tremble before God — after all, as a transcendent being, the creator of the universe, and the object of our worship and faith, we should submit ourselves to God.”

            G(1)C: “But the passage says that God said these things!”

            G(2)C: “I know that the passage says that, but just because the passage says that, doesn’t mean it is true. Remember that I believe the Bible contains human error and faults, reflecting the authors, copyists, translators, and so on that stand between us and the original revelation from God. To understand what each verse represents, we must do two things: (1) understand and use the historical-critical method and (2) read the Bible in the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

          • WBC

            Thanks for taking the time and trouble. I get what you’re saying.

          • WBC

            Just a little side note: your reasoning is a little bit circular too. Why should Christians from your “group 2” even bother to explain how that they somehow really do tremble at God’s Word if they feel free to dismiss the verse that says that this trembling is important in the first place as simply man’s mistaken idea. But so-called Christians from group 2 (and even you) know that this verse matters and carries God’s authority. Hence, rather than honestly rejecting the verse, they try to obscure and explain away its clear meaning with a cloudy haze of nuanced explanation.

          • linford86

            I’m not sure what you mean when you say that even I know that these verses carry God’s authority. I don’t believe in any gods, so I certainly don’t think these verses carry any sort of godly authority.

            As for group (2) Christians, I don’t see why they *must* think these verses carry God’s authority. As you know, their claim is that the Bible is a mix of “man’s error” and verses that are divinely inspired. As such, a very clean move for them to respond to you would be to say that:

            1. They only need to submit themselves to those verses which actually have God’s authority;

            2. They don’t need to submit themselves to verses which they do not believe to have God’s authority.

            Now, as for the trembling bit, there are two positions they might hold with respect to Isa 66:

            3. That Isa 66 comes from God;

            4. That Isa 66 does not come from God.

            If they hold (3), then, to be consistent, they would need to “tremble” before God’s Word. But unlike yourself, they do not believe that all of the Bible is God’s Word. Thus, they do not need to tremble before all of the Bible.

            If they hold (4), then, to be consistent, they do not need to tremble (at least not because of Isa 66 — they might think they need to tremble for some other reason).

            I don’t see anything circular here.

        • Andrew Dowling

          “Reading the Bible this way isn’t an option for those who claim to be Christians,”

          Sure it is. There are zero Christians who follow every commandment in the Bible. They develop hermeneutical devices to ‘splain away their picking and choosing . . which is in your words “asserting authority over Scripture.” But make no mistake . . all pick and choose.

          • WBC

            Wrong. This argument is overused, tired, and untrue. For example, Christians can eat shellfish, oysters, and shrimp though these are all forbidden in Lev 11. This is not because Christians are “picking and choosing.” Nor is it because they believe Lev 11 is not from God, or an erroneous idea of man. Rather, it is because Jesus declared “all foods clean” (Mk 7:19). Peter also was shown a vision three times to indicate the change: “Arise, kill, and eat” (Acts 10). Some commandments in Scripture are for a specific time, specific purpose, and specific person(s). The Bible itself specifies when this is the case, and those who submit to Scripture rather than asserting their own authority over it submit to what Scripture specifies. They don’t “pick and choose.” To use this to make the moral equivalence argument that “all pick and choose” (so picking and choosing must be ok) is simplistic and misleading.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “The Bible itself specifies when this is the case”

            Wrong. Mark says Jesus declared all foods clean (universally regarded as Markan interpolation, but I digress). But that doesn’t equate to saying you don’t have to go through the proper Kosher preparation rituals. Matthew has Jesus saying that “not one iota of the Law will be nullified until all is fulfilled.” So which is it? And what constitutes all? Common Christian answer is it was fulfilled at Jesus’s death and resurrection but the Bible never says that. That is you imposing an outside interpretive hermeneutic on the text.

            Peter’s dream refers to Gentiles, not actual food dishes. At the Council of Jerusalem cited as occurring AFTER Peter’s dream, James says that Gentiles must not eat meat tainted with blood/strangled. That mean keeping the kosher requirements on meat, but no-one ever follows that. Why? Picking and choosing.

          • WBC

            The Law of Moses is for a specific time, specific purpose, and specific people as the Bible clearly specifies.

            The specific people is Israel, not Gentiles. This is abundantly clear from reading the Law of Moses since the point of a large portion of laws is to distinguish Israel from the Gentile nations. It’s also really clear in Rom 2-3: “We know that whatever the Law speaks, it speaks to those who are under the Law;” the “Gentiles who do not have the Law” will be judged by conscience, etc.

            The specific time of the Law of Moses has also come to an end as the Bible clearly specifies: “Before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal 4). Christ is the end of the law (Rom 10).

            So which specific “proper Kosher preparation rituals” are you thinking of that make obedience to Scripture hopelessly complex and unworkable for Christians who don’t observe Mosaic dietary law??? And where are these found in Scripture???.

            You understand that in Acts James “means” for Christians to keep kosher requirements on meat, but that is simply not what the text says. With his actual words recorded in the text, James doesn’t reinforce Mosaic (or Rabbinic) Law, but instead reinforces the same thing God said to Noah and his sons: “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gen 9).

            I arrive at this, not using some exotic “outside interpretive hermeneutic” as you suggest, but by using the same hermeneutic you use to understand the everyday speech of your friends and family as you navigate through your day. These things are not hopelessly complex, unless you prefer it so.

            The Reformers stood for the perspicuity of the Bible as well as its authority. King David before them said that “the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Ps 19). You know better than they do, but the first examples of the Bible’s hopeless complexity that come to your mind are easily explained, mostly just by reading what the text actually says. Are you sure you know better than they do?

            I understand there may be some areas where people who seek to obey God’s Word differ over interpretation. “Christian” Sabbath? But there’s a huge difference between someone on the one hand who humbly submits to God’s Word, believes it, seeks to understand and obey it, uses Biblical arguments to seek to understand difficulties, and trembles at God’s Word and someone on the other hand who stands in judgment over the Bible, condemning anything that doesn’t match his own preconceived ideas and preferences, and affirming only what he already agrees with (like you find on this blog). And that difference can be seen from about a mile away.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “It makes me wonder if you read what the Bible actually says about itself”

      Those quotes you cited actually do not refer to “the Bible” circa 4th-5th century and beyond. Nothing in the Bible does . . the Bible never claims to be what adherents of inerrancy says it does because it has no “futurist” conception of itself. Even in the much cited Timothy passage about “God breathed” a) There are VERY LIKELY several books that were not included in the Canon that the author would’ve considered “Scripture” b) the author never claims he is writing Scripture himself.

      This argument also presupposes a firm distinction between mankind and the God “out there” intervening and ensuring some sort of divine perfection. But that God isn’t found in the Bible either . . .

      • dangjin1

        ahhh, the game of semantics. used to justify one’s disobedience to God’s word.

        • Andrew Dowling

          For all of your nasty little pseudo self-righteousness, at least you are writing responses now and not just exiting after your universally down-voted posts . . .:)

  • Stephen W

    I haven’t tried CBE but I do own Biblica’s excellent “The Books of the Bible” – stripped of chapter and verse numbers and the individual books reorganised into more logical groupings. It’s made the Bible a much more interesting read and is my default Bible of choice (though not so great for referencing!)

  • dangjin1

    if the bible is only a human book how is God drawing us to him? we do not have his words then but some subjective rhetoric that is going to be changed by other humans in other centuries.

    read the bible as the word of God only for that is what it is, God’s word written by God then obey it.

    • Contrary to what your opening question suggests, Dr. Enns does not say that the Bible is *only* a human book. Actually, he directly said the opposite: “The Bible is not merely a human book…” He went on to say that the Bible is sacred.

      It is rather rude to misconstrue his words (which shows that you didn’t read thoroughly) and then insist that he read the Bible as *you* believe it ought to be read. Is it so ridiculous to believe that the Bible is a human book, written by humans (since it explicitly tells us so)?

      All that aside, I think the last half of your opening question is excellent. How does God use this book–authored by humans, yet distinctly sacred–to draw us to himself? I’m sure Enns would have some good insights on that from an Incarnational perspective on Inspiration.

      • dangjin1

        it is you who misunderstands what Enns is saying. He clearly states in point one that the Bible is a human book and that would contradict both Paul and Peter.

        If the Bible was authored by humans then there is no God

        • Sure, he says that it’s a human book; but he also says (in point two) that it is not ONLY a human book. It is also sacred. That is exactly the opposite of what you suggest he is saying.

          There is quite a bit of cognitive dissonance going on in your last reply. You chastise Enns for claiming that the Bible is a human book, because that would contradict Peter and Paul…but they are both humans! So, by your own admission, humans wrote the Bible.

          Can you prove that God wrote the Bible and not humans? If you can, what do we do with the slew of passages that directly state that humans wrote the Bible (e.g. Rom 1:1-7; 2 Thes 3:17; etc.)? Again, I ask: is it so ridiculous to believe that humans wrote it–since it says so itself?

          • dangjin1

            1 Cor. 7:10-12

            is all you need

            Also, the Bible does not teach believers to use models in their Bible reading/study. It teaches to follow the Holy Spirit. Please post a slew of verses showing the Bible teaching us to use models.

          • So…I don’t need the rest of Scripture? I should just trust that one verse and ignore all the rest that explicitly say that humans wrote it?

            Also, in no way does that passage prove that the Bible is written by God. It simply says that Paul told the church at Corinth something God wanted them to hear.

            Are Rom 1:1-7 and 2 Thes 3:17 (and many others) not Scripture? Once again, what do we do with these passages? Are they telling us lies? Is it wrong to believe that the Bible is telling us the truth about its human authorship?

          • dangjin1

            you are denying how God wrote the Bible in order to import your own want to make it a human book so you can toss out all the commands, events, teachings you do not like and pursue your disobedient behavior.

            Paul was very clear in the passage i presented that he was writing God’s words not his and only made the distinction once in all of his books.

            You will notice in your own passages that he does not take credit for being the author of the words he sent to each church. Without the distinction made in 1 Cor. we can safely say Paul did not write his own words but the words God had him write.

            You will only consider them lies if you do not accept the method that God used to pen his words.

          • It seems that you may know of someone who desired to deny Scripture in order to live in sin. Those are not my intentions. There is no need to project them onto me.

            I am ending this conversation because you clearly do not want to learn from those who believe differently than you. You demand my obedience to Scripture, yet you display incredibly un-Christlike rudeness, presuming to judge the intentions of my heart.


          • dangjin1

            You have it all wrong. Who are you that I would want to learn from you. You have nothing to offer that is from God. You lie about the Bible, who wrote it, and claim that God is incapable of writing his own book

            Your own words describe your actions not mine. I am not going to pat you on the back and say a good job when you alter the Bible and say bad things about God.

            You need to put down all the lies you have accepted and get back to the truth.

          • I apologize for not addressing the last part of your reply. For some reason it did not show up at first.

            I absolutely agree that Scripture teaches us to follow the Spirit. But, I’m not sure why you’re trying to change the topic of discussion to “models.” Smells like a red herring to me.

          • dangjin1

            No, you brought it up first.

          • Where did I say anything about models?

  • Seraphim

    I’m not sure if you can properly describe your view as an “incarnational” model when you identify humanity with imperfection. In virtue of the incarnation, the humanity of Christ is a glorified humanity. So, is the Bible a human book, in contact with the cultures of the time and fully involved in the human drama? Yep. But it is unique in that it is a glorified human book. Could you clarify what the “divine” element in Scripture is? Surely you don’t believe that every text is incarnational. Some texts are just human. But you believe the Bible is both human and divine in origin. What sets it apart? I would really appreciate it if you could write on that sometime. I don’t consider myself an inerrantist, but I’ve found some of your recent writings troubling- especially the guest posts by Eric Seibert, who truly does have Marcionite tendencies.

  • edwardtbabinski

    What ancient or modern literature could NOT be viewed as “inspired” once you approach is using an “incarnational” model, i.e., an “accommodationist” model? For instance…

    I agree that you “could” view or feel that the creation passages or stories in the Bible are all “inspired” in some sense, but on the other hand I also see how anyone could view any particular passage or story in any ancient or modern text as “inspired,” because the human imagination can focus on any number of things that “inspire” it in any number of stories, and also find ways to “explain away” the ideas it wants to explain away, thus retaining the idea that some particular text is “inspired” from “cover to cover.” Even the tale of Gilgamesh could be viewed as “inspired” since it teaches about such inspiring things as mortality, friendship, brotherhood, courage. Same with the tales of the Greek gods, which might be viewed as teaching us about the different aspects of our psyches, and how they can get out of balance and then later be harmonized as Jung viewed matters. However, to claim for the collection of texts known as “the Bible” (keeping in mind that even all Christian Bibles do not contain exactly the same books) a form of “inspiration” above and beyond any other written texts on earth, seems like going overboard and indulging in wish fulfillment.

  • rvs

    Well, I don’t think your argument here gets in the way of the idea that the Bible is sort of like that wormhole next to Deep Space 9. A cosmic transport. A device connected to the deeper magic.

  • Yes, it can be said that the Bible is a human book…but not in the way that this is a human blog.

    This is a human blog because it is being written by a human. Beyond that, we can say that this human, at least ostensibly, is seeking to please His Creator by writing things he thinks are true.

    The Bible is also human because it was written by humans. However, those humans were writing by the inspiration of God Himself. That is, they were prompted by God to deliver His thoughts to others. For this reason, we read them saying in one place, “The word of the Lord came to me” and in another “Thus saith the Lord.” Therefore, while the Bible is human, it is also divine.

    Thus both this blog and the Bible are human…but one speaks hoping it is true while the other speaks knowing it is true.

  • Greg Sowle

    Peter, sounded like a excellent conference raising issues that I’m passionate about. I’ve tried to find information on the conference, but can’t find any mention on it. I would love to see if the sessions were recorded and if they are available. Any thoughts on where I can find that out?

  • Thank you Peter, this text is truly wonderful!

    Many people are losing their faith due to inerrancy and end up seeing the Bible as an utterly evil book.

    If you try to view everything in the Bible as God directly speaking to you, you will feel extremely frustrated and indignant because there are too many sentences which are unworthy of the creator of the universe.

    But if you view Scripture as ancient people writing down their experiences and pondering about God, you can begin to appreciate if for what it really is.

    Nevertheless, once this step is taken, I see no reason to consider the Bible as more inspired than other books of the Church.

    It seems extremely hard to keep singling out the Bible once one knows its historical nature and origin.

  • Y. A. Warren


  • WBC

    You teach people that the Bible is a mixture of helpful divine truth and misleading, potentially damaging, human error, and then you give them three sketches of half-formed “models” to sort it all out? Irresponsible.

  • WBC

    You use the Book of Job to prove to people that the Bible is full of
    misleading human error? I think you know that the Bible accurately
    reports the false claims of lying or mistaken speakers. The first
    example of this is the serpent who contradicted God’s word and said to the woman, “You surely will not die” (Gen 3). (I know that you don’t believe that this is an
    ‘accurate report’ and think this part of Scripture should be read like
    Aesop’s fables. But I use it as my example anyway.) My point is that the
    Bible itself clearly shows that what the serpent says is not true. You
    know that the Bible says the same about Job’s three friends: “The Lord
    said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My wrath is kindled against you and
    against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is
    right as My servant Job has” (Job 42). To use the book of Job to prove
    to people that the Bible contains human error is also irresponsible.

    • Nancy R.

      WBC, did you read what Pete actually said about the book of Job? He didn’t use it to prove that the Bible contains human error, but to point out that it is written as dialogue rather than as a series of doctrinal declamations.

  • WBC

    And finally, your ace card: that a Bible which is a confused mixture of human error and divinely authoritative truth is analogous to the incarnation of Christ. Your analogy is misleading since it is based on a heretical view of what Scripture teaches about the relationship between Christ’s human and divine natures. The church has rejected your view in writing since the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451. The Creed of Chalcedon says that Jesus Christ is to be recognized “in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”

    Jesus Christ is not a mixture of human and divine parts that are in dialogue with each other according to your “dialogical model.” Nor does He develop from more human to more divine according to your “journey model.”

    Jesus Christ is always fully human and always fully divine. There is no confused mixture of His human and divine natures so that His humanity requires that He sometimes errs or sins or sometimes isn’t divinely authoritative as you suggest for the Bible. This just isn’t what His full humanity means. Rather, His human nature means that He is in all things as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4). In the same way the Bible is fully human in every part in that it was produced completely by men, and it is fully divine in every part in that it is all divinely authoritative. The two natures of Scripture, human and divine, describe every part of Scripture without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation. The Bible teaches this view of Scripture very clearly, for example: “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1).

    Your view of Scripture is not analogous to the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation. It is instead analogous to various historic heresies in which Christ’s humanity and deity are confusedly mixed or His divinity is changed into being something less than fully divine. Your argument from analogy to Christ’s incarnation is misleading.

  • WBC

    I’ll add that the fully human nature of the Bible also means that every part is written in normal, common, human language. It is all written in normal, human letters which spell out the same words that were used in the everyday speech of the writers and first readers. None of it is written in code or angelic language. Thus the Bible is fully human in all of its parts, yet without error, just as Jesus Christ is fully human in every way, yet without sin because He is God..