7 problems with a recent evangelical defense of the historicity of Genesis 1-11

7 problems with a recent evangelical defense of the historicity of Genesis 1-11 May 26, 2015

Genesis...Zondervan’s latest volume in their popular “Counterpoints” series concerns the historicity of Genesis 1-11, Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?: Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters. The three well-known contributors are James Hoffmeier (Trinity International University), Kent Sparks (Eastern University), and Gordan Wenham (Trinity College and University of Gloucestershire).

The editor, Charles Halton, summarizes the differences between them:

Professor Hoffmeier believes that theology begins from the foundational understanding that the events recorded in Gen 1-11 really happened and that the Israelite scribes did not borrow from the Mesopotamian or Egyptian myths but were writing in opposition to them. The Israelites corrected the misunderstandings and mythologies of their day with an authoritative and historically accurate portrait.

Professor Wenham believes that there is a core of historical reality in Gen 1-11 but that the telling we have is like an impressionist painting–we can only make out vague outlines of what really took place.

Professor Sparks thinks that the writers of the Bible employed standard forms of ancient historiography whose primary intent was not to precisely relay events that occurred in space and time. These scribes emplotted a theological story that reveals deep insights into the character and nature of God. (pp. 155-56, my emphasis and formatting)

I’m familiar with the unavoidable limitations of the “Counterpoints” format (I’ve worked on two of the volumes, here and here). Not every question can be addressed, nor is this the place for authors to say everything they want to say about their topic.

Nevertheless, I had the modest hope for this volume that James Hoffmeier–the pre-eminant evangelical scholarly defender of the historicity of the exodus–would put evangelicalism’s best foot forward, move beyond familiar apologetic rhetoric, and offer readers a best case for why the historical and comparative evidence point clearly toward Genesis 1-11 as history.

Instead, more often than not, I found Hoffmeier rehearsing frustratingly predictable apologetic tactics that are typically deployed whenever the historicity of a biblical episode is considered “under attack,” (tactics that Kent Sparks patiently laid out in his 2008 book God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship).

Hoffmeier’s “here I stand” rhetoric is clear in his introductory section, which I reproduce below (pp. 23-24, my emphasis):

Genesis 1-1 begins the story of redemption–the loss of God’s presence, intimacy between God and humans, and access to the tree of life. The narrative commences with “Paradise Lost,” and culminates in the New Testament with “Paradise Regained,” to borrow from one of John Milton’s seventeenth-century classic poems. Because of this overarching theme connecting the early chapters of Genesis to the book of Revelation, Genesis 1-11 must be taken seriously. In recent centuries, especially because of the influence of Enlightenment rationalism on scriptural interpretation, readers of the Bible wonder whether Genesis can be read as it once was in pre-critical times. The dominant scientific worldview has understandably influenced the way Christians read the Bible in general and Genesis 1-11 in particular. A consequence of this hermeneutic has prompted the preoccupation of European biblical scholars to employ “scientific” (Wissenschaftlich) approach that has sought to isolate the sources that stood behind Genesis, thereby denying the Jewish-Christian tradition of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

The short essay cannot devote time to the history of speculation about sources and origins of the book of Genesis, the so-called “critical” study of the Pentateuch. Consider, however, that the four-source hypothesis of Wellhausen that dominated biblical schoalrship from the mid-nineteenth to the end of the twentieth century has been in “sharp decline,” as E. W. Nicholson has observed and he admits “some would say [it is] in a state of advanced rigor mortis.” Consequently, the “assured results” of critical scholarship are being rejected, ironically enough, by European Old Testament scholars!

This rhetoric of “faithful to the Bible” vs. “critical scholarship” is disappointing and sets the tone for Hoffmeier’s essay and his responses, particularly to Sparks.

Let me summarize and interpret Hoffmeier’s concerns by rephrasing his comments.

1. Genesis 1-11 sets the theological stage for the rest of the Bible, and so, if Genesis 1-11 cannot be trusted to deliver to us historical truth, the entire theological structure of the Bible falls apart. Hence, the historical nature of Genesis 1-11 must be protected at all costs.

2. Denial of the historical nature of Genesis 1-11 is simply the product of atheistic thinking–of Enlightenment rationalism, which is fundamentally in rebellion against God. Hence, biblical criticism is only “so-called ‘critical'” because it is rooted in the deep bias of anti-biblical thinking.

3. Perhaps the most damaging aspect of Enlightenment thinking is the bewilderingly speculative preoccupation to distill sources behind Genesis. Since Wellhausen’s four-source theory (JEDP) has been rejected by even European scholars–and as such is DOA–we evangelicals who reject (and have always rejected) source criticism are not only vindicated but are actually show ourselves to be more rigorously academic than those who blindly hold to older critical “orthodoxies.”

4. Further, continuing to give quarter to the particularly odious, speculative theory of sources pits one against the entire Jewish and Christian pre-critical tradition that has accepted Moses as the fundamental author of the Pentateuch.

These opening paragraphs do not bode well for encouraging academic discourse. Hoffmeier revisits these themes in his essay and in his response to Sparks. To the 4 listed above, let me add 3 others that surface.

5. Since Genesis 1-11 refers to people with lineages and real geographic locations, it is clearly intended to be read as relaying historical space/time events, and so we must take this historical intention “seriously”–which means accept that this historical intention produced a historically accurate text.

6.  Sparks puts science over the Bible, and which inexorably leads to a denial of the resurrection of Christ, which is also impossible on scientific grounds.

7.  Genesis 1-11 cannot be influenced by Mesopotamian myth because it is a polemic against Mesopotamian myth.

Sparks addresses these 7 points and other concerns in his 10-page response, and regardless of where one’s sympathies lie, interested readers should avail themselves of both.

My own brief responses are as follows.

1. I agree that there is a theological “structure,” so to speak, for the Christian Bible, and that structure reflects the theological sensitivities of the biblical writers and of those who directed the process of canonization (first OT then NT). But the presence of this theological structure does not settle the vexing historical problems of Genesis 1-11, and to think that it does is a common evangelical and fundamentalist assertion.

Theological needs–better, perceived theological needs–does not determine historical truth. Evangelicals do not tolerate such self-referential logic from defenders of other faiths, and they should not tolerate it in themselves.

2. Claiming alleged Enlightenment influence on opponents is a well known conversation stopper among evangelical apologists, and I am particularly disappointed to see Hoffmeier resort to it. Evangelical defenses of historicity are often quickly propelled into the philosophical stratosphere of “presuppositions,” which has the unfortunate effect of reducing debates on concrete matters to claims of theological superiority.

As far as I am concerned, “you’re just beholden to Enlightenment rationalism” is on the same rhetorical level as “that sounds like Hitler (or Bultmann, or Barth),” or more economically, “you’re liberal.”

This sort of rhetoric is not designed to converse but to gain a theological upper hand by determining the playing field and rules of engagement. It has worn out its welcome and has no place in scholarly engagement.

3. Another common evangelical tactic repeated here by Hoffmeier is to equate Wellhausen’s 19th c. theory of Pentateuchal composition with source theories that have developed since Wellhausen. Sparks effectively addresses this in his response.

Let me simply say that source criticism is most certainly not dead, though most all have moved beyond Wellhausen, including neo-documentarians like Joel Baden and Jeffrey Stackert. (On this see Dozeman, Schmid, and Schwartz, The Pentateuch: International Perspectives on Current Research, 2011; especially Schwartz’s essay, “Does Recent Scholarship’s Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis Constitute Grounds for Its Rejection?)

And one would be hard-pressed indeed to find any biblical scholar outside of the inerrantist camp–whether Israeli, American, or European–who does not see the Pentateuch as having a rich and complex developmental pre-history spanning several hundred years and not coming to end until long after the return from exile.

P and D are not seriously questioned among biblical scholars. The origins of Israel’s ancient narratives– J and E–are. That is a great discussion to have. But the “we know Wellhausen was wrong so now we can retreat back to Mosaic authorship” rhetoric is at best misleading because it is grounded in a description of Pentateuchal scholarship that is absolutely wrong.

4. Following on #3, Hoffmeier seems to think that debunking Wellhausen not only neuters any source analysis of the Pentateuch but de facto puts Mosaic authorship back in its rightful place as the traditional, and problem-free explanation for Pentateuchal origins.

But Mosaic authorship, regardless of how the matter is framed, cannot be given a free pass. Its problems, which have been observed since long before the advent of “Enlightenment rationalism,” do not simply disappear.

Pre-critical misgivings about Mosaic authorship (albeit few and far-between) are not unknown (e.g., of Abraham Ibn-Ezra, 12th c. rabbi). Ironically, none other than conservative Calvinist E. J. Young lists in his Introduction to the Old Testament a long history of questions raised concerning Mosaic authorship stemming back at least to Jerome in the 4th c. (who queried whether Moses could have written the account of his own death in Deuteronomy 34 or whether perhaps Ezra is repsonsible).

Questioning Mosaic authorship is not recent invention. Where the modern period differs is in moving from canonical observation to historical explanation.

One should also note that source analyses do not necessarily stem from anti-religious bias. Jean Astruc (d. 1766) was the first to argue for different sources in Genesis based on the use on the divine name (Yahweh and Elohim, which become J and E, respectively), and did so in an effort to protect Mosaic authorship (by arguing that Moses was working with ancient sources).

Similar to response #1 above, disagreement with tradition does not make such disagreement wrong. “Who are you to go against tradition?” can be a valid question at times, but more often than not is a bullying tactic aimed at closing off discussion. Tradition can be wrong, as it was with a geocentric cosmos and “the Jews killed Jesus.”

5. Sparks addresses this point, when he states what appears to me to be obvious: intending to write history doesn’t mean you pulled it off, and biblical authors do not get a free pass on “historical accuracy,” especially without addressing the type of history writing we can expect from ancient Israelite/Jewish authors.

Addressing this key issue is what Sparks’s essay is all about. Hoffmeier, however, seems content to assume ancient and modern standards largely overlap.

Ancient genealogies and narratives set in real locations do not a historical narrative make, despite Hoffmeier’s strong contention to the contrary.

6.  This same slippery-slope line recurs again and again and again and again whenever it is suggested that science or other scholarly disciplines affect how we think of the Bible (especially in the evolution debate), but this rhetoric is useless for reasoned and scholarly discussion.

I can say with full confidence that Sparks has not made some thoughtless presuppositional commitment to “Wissenschaft über alles (i.e. science triumphs over all!!), as Hoffmeier rather indelicately caricatures him (p. 142). To say that the study of human history–including ANE religious texts–renders suspect the historicity of Gen 1-11 is not to say that science triumphs over ALL but that science informs our thinking on issues that are actually open to scientific investigation.

Cosmic and human origins leave footprints that can be studied through scientific means (and is why Hoffmeier, I presume, does not think the world is 6000 years old). The resurrection of Christ doesn’t provide such footprints and therefore is not open to the same type of scientific investigation.

Of course, many do believe that science is the ultimate determiner of truth and so things outside of scientific investigation cannot have happened, but that is not at all where Sparks is coming from and to attempt to discredit Sparks by painting him as a science worshipper is somewhere between a gross misunderstanding and a low blow.

Allowing–even embracing–science to inform our reading of an Iron Age text does not mean one will also have to deny the resurrection. This line of defense needs to be put to rest.

7. I find it incredible that Hoffmeier contends that Genesis 1-11 is essentially independent of Mesopotamian origins stories. This is like suggesting that Roman theology and politics can be best understood apart from preceding Greek culture.

A key element in Hoffmeier’s argument is that Gensiss 1-11 is a polemic against Mesopotamian myth and therefore independent of it. But the fact that Genesis 1-11 is certainly polemical does not in any way suggest that far older Mesopotamian myth does not form the cultural back drop for Genesis 1-11. The polemic only works because it embraces ancient assumptions about the nature of the cosmos.

Genesis 1-11 cannot be isolated from its environment like this. To suggest that Genesis 1-11 alone escapes the many-layered interpenetration of ancient origins stories we find throughout the ANE is an essential rejection of any value for comparative study of the Bible.

To sum up, despite whatever positive evidence Hoffmeier feels he has adduced in his essay for the historicity of Gen 1-11, those points are only convincing if one is willing to:

  1. assert that theological need is the unimpeachable grounding for reading Genesis as history,
  2. characterize alternate view points as beholden to the philosophical biases of “Enlightenment rationalism,” and consequently
  3. keep at arm’s length two fundamental (and outside of inerrantist camps, universally accepted) elements of modern scholarship on Genesis: that Genesis (1) has a lengthy, complex pre-history that continues into the postexilic period, and (2) reflects far older Mesopotamian (and Canaanite and Egyptian) influence.

Let me stress this third point. We all know that historical criticism has its problems and excessive confidence in its alleged objectivity is to be roundly criticized–as it has been for generations. But the two elements of critical scholarship Hoffmeier rejects are not excessive or trendy but the very intellectual structure of the historical/academic study of the Pentateuch.

Hoffmeier is free to dismiss them, but let the be no mistake of the degree of distance Hoffmeier is willing to put between himself and basic, even elementary, conclusions of generations of modern scholarship on Genesis and the Pentateuch in order to maintain his position.

Hoffmeier is well within his right to make assertions and defend them. But as I said at the outset, I was hoping for something more than this. I’ve read much of what Hoffmeier has written. He is an educated man and capable of much more. But we don’t find it here.

If this type of rhetorical defense is the best that evangelical academia can muster to defend its theology, evangelicalism may have little left to contribute to the discussion.


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  • Bev Mitchell


    You rightly criticize Hoffmeier’s characterization of “alternate view points as beholden to the philosophical biases of “Enlightenment rationalism,” ” but I wonder if he has internalized the numerous observations that the same Enlightenment rationalism has been foundational for much of evangelical conservative pushback to what they consider as excessive liberal nods to all kinds of scholarly advances of the last hundred years?

    This is the 30th anniversary of a wonderful book that could help conservatives. It is written by a conservative Jew who you know well. A person who takes Scripture very seriously indeed. If our conservative evangelical Christians would show anything like this kind of scholarship, we would make so much better progress. It would be interesting to know how many conservative, Enlightenment rationalism beholden evangelicals have read, or even know about, this fine study.

    The book is:

    “Sinai and Zion: An Entry Into the Jewish Bible” by Jon D. Levenson.

    • You rightly criticize Hoffmeier’s characterization of “alternate view points as beholden to the philosophical biases of “Enlightenment rationalism,” ” but I wonder if he has internalized the numerous observations that the same Enlightenment rationalism has been foundational for much of evangelical conservative pushback to what they consider as excessive liberal nods to all kinds of scholarly advances of the last hundred years?

      This is almost definitely the case. A great resource on this matter—especially the pattern of eschewing philosophy X while actually depending on philosophy X—is Nancey Murphy’s Anglo-American Postmodernity: Philosophical Perspectives on Science, Religion, and Ethics. Getting at liberal vs. fundamentalist Christianity in particular, see her Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda. Don’t be put off by her use of ‘postmodernity’; she does not mean the “anything goes” aspect. If you think of ‘postmodernity’ as the eschewing of the ‘Quest for Certainty’ of the Enlightenment (see Stephen Toulmin’s Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity), I think you’ll be much closer to her meaning.

      • Mark K

        I was impressed with Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism, too. Her contrast of the bias of modernism’s quest (whether liberal or conservative) for the general, universal, timeless and theoretical with the local, particular, timely, and practical sense of pre-/post-modernism seems close to the point Pete makes about God condescending to the humans God is speaking to and through.

    • Seconded. I actually found about about this book from a list Pete posted.

    • Mark K

      I just finished Sinai and Zion yesterday, and it is not too much to say that if I’d read it in seminary the trajectory of my life would have been quite different.

    • May I suggest another Jewish author: Asher Norman and his book, “Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus”.

      I would bet that many evangelical and conservative Christians would find their faith severely shaken if they were to take the time to read this amazing book.

      • Bev Mitchell


        Thanks for the reference, it looks quite polemical. Do you mean ‘their faith severely shaken’ or ‘the way they argue for/present their faith severely challenged/shaken?’ Paul dealt with numerous Jewish folk who had big trouble believing in Jesus. Are the objections raised in the book significantly beyond the biggest ones Paul faced? Paul recognized the fundamental problem of the Christian claim that God, in Christ, entered creation as a human being. He rightly called it nonsense, from the point of view of everything he knew as a Pharisee and as an educated member of the Greco-Roman world. Yet, he proclaimed “Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God” to those who most desired to see power and wisdom displayed. It did not go down well with many.

        BTW, Levenson is not anti-Christian or even the least bit grumpy toward Christians, just Jewish. In fact, he has considerable standing in the ecumenical community.

        • What I meant is that if the average conservative/evangelical Christian reads Norman’s book, I think that it will create sufficient doubt to cause a considerable number to seriously consider deconverting from Christianity.

          Let me be clear: Norman’s book doesn’t provide anything new that Christian scholars haven’t heard before, but it contains some things the average Christian layperson has probably never heard before, such as:

          1. Clear demonstrations of Matthew concocting messianic prophecies out of passages that not only are NOT messianic but are clear distortions of the simple reading of the texts.

          2. Jesus did not meet even one of the six messianic prophecies that Jews have always believed.

          3. The genealogies in Matthew and Luke are blatant fabrications. There is a fifteen generation difference in the generations between David and Jesus in the two Gospels. If we count a generation as just 20 years, and accept the Christian claim that one genealogy is of Joseph and one of Mary, that means that Joseph was 300 years older than Mary!

          4. Jesus quoted from passages that do not exist.

          5. Jesus quoted prophecies that do not exist.

          6. Paul was a blatant liar. I will copy and paste an example shortly.

          7. And more.

        • Luke’s statement in Acts of “kick against the goads” was plagiarized from a Greek Myth

          According to the author of Acts, the dead-but-resurrected Jesus said this to Paul on the road to Damascus: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

          Compare this to a statement by the Greek writer Euripides (who died in 406 BC) in his book, The Baccahae: “I would control my rage and sacrifice to him if I were you, rather than kick against the goads.”

          Analysis by Asher Norman, orthodox Jewish author in his book, Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus”:

          Paul seems to have borrowed the phrase “kick against the goads” from Euripides. Significantly, the context of the stories in Acts and the Bacchae is essentially the same. Each story contains an exchange between a persecuted man/god and his persecutor. In Paul’s story the man/god Jesus rebuked Paul and in the Bacchae the man/god Dionysus rebuked Pentheus, the king of Thebes. It therefore appears likely that Luke plagiarized Euripide’s story attributing Dionysus phrase “kick against the goads” to the dead Jesus. This profoundly undermines the credibility of Paul’s alleged “epiphany” experience, which was the primary source of Paul’s claim to be an “apostle” of Jesus.

          • Bev Mitchell


            This is exactly why I recommended Levenson’s book. Lots of folk, Christians and apparently otherwise, get concerned when it is pointed out that the revelations reported by ancients are being reported using the thinking, world view and idioms of the day. How else should we expect them to converse? But, there are even those, I suppose, who think the whole conversation must surely have taken place in King James English.

          • I am not surprised if an ancient human uses an idiom from Greek mythology, but I am surprised that the one and only God, Ruler of Heaven and Earth, would use it.

            To me this is strong evidence that the entire “vision on the Damascus Road” was more likely a fabrication, either by the author of Acts or Paul himself.

          • Bev Mitchell


            Being surprised by what God does or says is pretty much inescapably human. When we kick against that particular goad we confuse things greatly. “We get the God we believe in”, said one writer (Michael Horton, I think in “The Jesus Driven Life”). When God stops surprising us, we always should check to make sure we aren’t inventing him in our image 🙂

            Have a look at the post about Dallas Willard’s new book that Scot McKnight put up on Jesus Creed today. Especially Willard’s views of God that might surprise.

          • Bev,

            Thank you for the reading suggestions, but honestly I’m not interested in reading more books. I have read quite a few books by Christian scholars already.

            Let me run this by you. What if I told you that Leprechauns are real and that if you would only follow a rainbow to its end and dig into the dirt, you will find a leprechaun’s pot of gold.

            You would think that I am completely nuts, wouldn’t you?

            And I would bet that you would think me even more nuts if I then said, “Here, Bev. Here is a list of scholars who believe in the existence of leprechauns. If you would just read their books, I’m sure you will come to see how reasonable it is to believe that leprechauns with magical powers and hidden pots of gold really do exist.”

            “No, Gary,” you would probably say. “I don’t need to read a “leprechaun scholar’s” book to know that leprechauns do not exist. I know that leprechauns do not exist because no one living today can provide evidence of their existence nor can anyone provide verifiable evidence that they have ever existed. Your belief in leprechauns is a superstition, Gary. All the complicated scholarly theories and logic-based arguments in the world will not change my mind. For me to believe in leprechauns I need you to show me real evidence, not scholarly opinion.”

            And that is how I feel about the supernatural claims of Christianity.

          • Ross


            There was an interesting article in the “New Scientist” recently, the thrust of which was that everyone’s beliefs are a mish-mash of all sorts of things, rational and irrational.

            Regardless of philosophical/scientific/religious position there is probably more similarity between how “valid/invalid” “beliefs are, than dissimilarity. I.e. they are all a crock of various nonsenses and senses.

            In terms of proof and evidence, I think there are few things with much real methodological scientific basis, apart from the simple things like laws of motion, heat transfer, mechanics etc. When it comes to the big “WHY” questions I don’t really think there is ever going to be the great, testable “proof”, which would universally satisfy.

            So to get back to my thread, I think we all live a faith path which isn’t particularly brilliant at being defended in a legal/scientific manner.

            In terms of the resurrection, this is claimed to be miraculous. It goes against anything science can show to be “normal”. It happened once and long ago so there is little if anything that can be used to prove it. Something did happen to bring about the “Jesus Movement” which continues to this day, but due to the time passed and nature of the documents closest to the event, no-one can be 100% sure and provide “scientific” proof for those events.

            We can rationally say that something happened, the documents can actually have valid claim to discussing a real, if unusual event (which of course can be contradicted, but not disproved) and it has influenced lives ever since.

            No-one can provide the proof that you and all of us may ideally like to see, but they can communicate how the “alleged” happenings of 2000 years ago is affecting them now.

            I personally know to my own satisfaction, that a faith in this person has radically altered and improved my life. I am sceptical of the claims of many other “Christians”, I often have many doubts and life is generally not a bed of roses. However, in my lived experience “He Works”. Sometimes He is “real and there”.

            I can’t give “proofs” to an intellectually satisfactory standard, so all I can say is maybe peoples’ experience is the best you’ll get. Would that get anywhere near the “evidence” you seek?

          • Excellent summary, Ross.

            I have no issue with liberal Christians who believe that Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual in nature; that we should all attempt to follow the many excellent humanistic teachings taught by Jesus; that we should allow everyone else to choose their own belief system as long as it does not harm others; and most importantly, that there is no divine punishment for not believing in Jesus.

            But a large and very influential segment of Christianity considers the above positions as heresy.

            So I must ask you, Ross:

            1. Do you believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead?
            2. If so, do you believe that Jesus resurrection proves that he is the one and only true god?
            3. Do you believe that there are any negative consequences for people who hear about Jesus but choose to reject him as Savior and God?

            If you answer “yes” to the first question, I feel obligated to challenge this belief as I believe that to claim a supernatural historical event occurred, without good evidence, is a form of superstition, and I believe the world is better off without superstitions. If you answer “yes” to either of the last two questions, then I believe that your superstition is not just any harmless superstition, such as believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, it is a dangerous and deadly superstition responsible for the persecution and deaths of millions over the last 2,000 years. I believe that all good people of conscience must strenuously oppose and work to expose such superstitions.

          • peteenns

            Gary, again: what’s your end game? Your comments betray the behavior patterns of a recent de-convert trying to convince others (or yourself) that you’re right.

          • Why are most of your readers here? I would bet for the following reasons: to learn, to be challenged intellectually, and to challenge others intellectually by engaging in stimulating discussion.

            If my comments are off topic and disruptive, then I am behaving as a “troll”. If my comments are on topic but challenge the majority opinion, that is debating.

            Bottom line, Peter: If you don’t want me commenting on your blog, just say so.

          • peteenns

            My question was genuine, Gary.

            I’ve been in this game a long time. Your comments are in “interrogation mode” not “mutual intellectual stimulation mode” as you seem to think.

            So, to let me rephrase, why are you set on “challenging majority opinion?” You can, I’d just like to know what you see as the purpose of your interaction.

          • To challenge a belief system that I believe is built on false assumptions; and through respectful discussion and debate, learn that either I am wrong so that I can adjust my position, or help others see that they are wrong so that they can do the same.

          • peteenns

            That may be what you would like to think about yourself, Gary, but you are coming across as a guy who has likely been burned and now is simply looking for a fight.

          • Ross

            We’ll have to see if it’s possible to agree to disagree.

            1, yes, however I often have doubts, but I would say this is not an “irrational” belief, but obviously one which has only “reported” eye-witness evidence, which will not satisfy many people. The proof of the pudding is whether or not I have other reasons for believing this is so, which I do, but recognise none of this will satisfy a sceptic.

            2, I’m not sure that a bodily resurrection could prove he is the one and only true God, only that a unique and unnatural event has occurred.

            3, impossible to answer in less than several million words, but on the face of the statement I don’t think negative consequences will occur just in that instance. Being born has many negative consequences, having a belief in Jesus often brings additional negative consequences but will bring other positive ones. A quick but unsatisfactory answer is that rejecting Jesus may leave you with negative consequences you were already on route to having and accepting him may give an alternative future.

            I would say that belief in God is qualitatively different to belief in the Santa Tooth Fairy Claus and have always felt this analogy is a poor one. Plus, I recognise that many dreadful things have been done by those professing a “Christian” belief, but think that many great good things have happened due to “Christian” belief too. I think the oft held view that Christianity/religion is solely responsible for much harm and suffering is a one sided distortion and needs to at least be balanced by looking at charity, love self sacrifice, etc. i don’t believe that religions kill people, people kill people and use all sorts of excuses.

          • I would agree that belief in a “Creator” is not the same as belief in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, but in my opinion, belief that an ancient Canaanite god named Yahweh or a dead first century Jewish prophet named Jesus IS that Creator is analogous to believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.

            I do believe that there may be evidence for the existence of some kind of Creator, even if that Creator is a cloud of hydrogen gas. But the only evidence for the existence of the gods Yahweh and Jesus the Christ/Eternal God, is very weak: assumptions, hearsay, personal experiences, feelings, intuition, and biased expert opinion.

          • Ross

            Essentially the latter part of your second paragraph sums up almost all of human knowledge really, not just religious belief. As Pete says, I’m not sure of your end game here either.

            You seem to wish to rubbish Christian and other beliefs whilst proselytising a rather unsophisticated and naive humanism. I’m not sure that your goal is actually to “discuss” the issues Pete brings up so am feeling disinclined to continue discussions with you.

          • When a Christian comes onto my blog and challenges my belief system, I enjoy the challenge. I don’t get defensive unless he or she attacks me as a person. Attacking my beliefs is part of the discussion.

            If one of my positions is proven false, I accept it and change my view.

          • Ross

            Gary, a fair enough point. However from my point of view The tone and nature of the challenging comments will affect the way that someone feels about them and reacts to them.

            From the tone and wording of many of your comments it feels that you are aggressively challenging not just the beliefs of Christians but the people who hold those beliefs. Granted it may be a grey area, but it can feel that your criticisms are verging into the “personal”.

            I must admit, there are many times when I probably overstep the mark and am less than amicable in such challenging discussions, however I generally feel this is not always a good direction to be going in.

            I’m not sure what may be the sort of evidence which would change what appears to be your current viewpoint. Possibly if God decided to place flaming letters in the sky saying “coee I’m here”, that may be a start, but there again there will always be ways to explain this phenomena without recourse to the supernatural. Yes, the Christian faith has much which is enigmatic and cryptic about it, Jesus is reported to have stated that not everyone will understand or believe, without particularly explaining the underlying mechanisms. Some very firm evidence which everyone can agree on would be nice, but that we don’t have.

            Does this disprove the claims of Christianity? In my mind no, the whole thing is far too complex to explain and prove in simple terms.

            It may be worth thinking why it is necessary to disprove “Faith/Beliefs”. If it were obvious that they were “harmful” then maybe so, if they are benign (even if “fanciful”, then why bother.

            Despite some of the well used statements about how religions have caused wars and suffering, this does not give an accurate picture of religion. It is self evident to many that the real or imagined cruel excesses of the “religious” has nothing to do with and is entirely antithetical to “true Christian faith. So I think so far, that you have not really come up with a good reason to remove “faith”. I’m all for stopping people who wage war, oppress others and generally cause all sorts of “harm” in the name of Christianity and feel that the core of following Jesus is all about not causing harm and doing good. I’m fairly sure that wishing an end to something which is principally about doing good, is not in itself good.

            From my experience of following the Jesus chappie, it seems quite clear that he is reported to have said that not everyone who claims to follow him is actually doing it, so built into the religion is a recognition that not everyone who speaks in his name is going to be doing good things. Would it not be better to support the “good” against the “bad” rather than throw out the whole barrel on the grounds that there are rotten apples within it?

            Regarding the better alternative that you propose, for instance secular humanism, there again I am not convinced that there is a very good argument that this is the “right” or even preferable way. People cause wars, pain and all sorts of bad things, secular humanists among them. Are all Christians bad? No, are all secular humanists bad? No, are there good in both camps? yes. Many generalisations are thrown about slighting all positions, but like all generalisations they don’t prove anything and are not based on any real evidence.

            So far you have not put forward anything I have not already heard which would convince me to stop following Jesus and I presume I have not written anything for you to consider taking it up.

            So where would be the point in continuing the discussion? From my point of view I would say that for some reason you are angry toward “faith/s” and would like them to be gone, that may be an interesting thing to explore. I haven’t heard from you any valid reasons to destroy them. I agree that there are very good reasons to challenge and stop harm from being done in the name of “faith”, but there again, what is understood to be harmful is often debatable and difficult to quantify. Maybe from my point of view it would be good to see if you were able to happily accept the continued existence of faith/beliefs within certain bounds rather than the removal of them altogether.

          • The same phrase appears in the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus. In it, Aegisthus is threatened from the chorus that his vengeance against his lord Atreus would be punished and compares him to an oarsman striking the captain of a ship “kicking against the goads.” Maybe Luke was plagiarizing that story.

            Or, maybe “kicking against the goads” was a literary allusion everyone would be familiar with. Maybe the intention was to purposefully invoke the Dionysus story. Maybe it was a proverb in parlance at the time.

            In The Bacchae, Dionysus is not “persecuted” by Pentheus. Pentheus is going to drive the Bacchae from his lands because he is angered by their cultic behavior. Dionysus shows up to warn Pentheus that he’d better not mess with Dionysus.

            Asher Norman sounds like a very sloppy scholar.

          • Excerpt from Washington State University’s, wsu.ed:

            “For these reasons, however, Dionysus was persecuted by those who refused to recognize his divinity. This is perhaps most visible in Pentheus, King of Thebes. Dionysus has another aspect that undoubtedly frightened Pentheus. The god’s worshippers would eat wild animals raw to incorporate the power of the god.”

          • From Wikipedia:

            The tragedy is based on the Greek myth of King Pentheus of Thebes and his mother Agave, and their punishment by the god Dionysus (who is Pentheus’ cousin). The god Dionysus appears at the beginning of the play and proclaims that he has arrived in Thebes to avenge the slander, which has been repeated by his aunts, that he is not the son of Zeus. In response, he intends to introduce Dionysian rites into the city, and he intends to demonstrate to the king, Pentheus, and to Thebes that he was indeed born a god.[4]

            (Dionysus ends up destroying the city.)

          • Again from Wikipedia:

            “The story of Pentheus’ resistance to Dionysus and his subsequent punishment is presented by Euripides as follows.

            Cadmus, the king of Thebes, abdicated due to his old age in favor of his grandson Pentheus. Pentheus soon banned the worship of the god Dionysus, who was the son of his aunt Semele, and did not allow the women of Cadmeia to join in his rites.

            An angered Dionysus caused Pentheus’ mother Agave and his aunts Ino and Autonoë, along with all the other women of Thebes, to rush to Mount Cithaeron in a Bacchic frenzy. Because of this, Pentheus imprisoned Dionysus, thinking the man simply a follower, but his chains fell off and the jail doors opened for him.”

            Sounds to me like Pentheus was Dionysus’ persecutor. Is it possible that you owe Mr. Norman an apology for accusing him of sloppy scholarship?

          • Those are nice summaries. I read the play.

          • So what you are saying is that your personal, subjective opinion overrides the overwhelming majority opinion that the king of Thebes persecuted Dionysus in the Greek mythology described in The Bacchae, just as Saul of Tarsus persecuted Jesus in the Christian piece of literature, the Book of Acts, written circa 450 years later.

            Did you arrive at this subjective opinion by divine revelation?

            If not, I think you should follow the admonishment of Jesus and repent of your false witness against Jewish author, Asher Norman. You accused him of sloppy scholarship, but his opinion is the majority view. Your position is the minority.

          • Are you suggesting that a paper by a student at Washington University and Wikipedia constitute scholarly consensus?

            But my point about sloppy scholarship is that Asher Norman basically went, “Look, this thing looks vaguely similar to that thing. They must have stolen it!” instead of acknowledging that it was a literary trope present in other literature at the time.

            If I were you, I’d be less dogmatic about things I didn’t research myself.

          • You are missing the point, Phil.

            I’ m not surprised that a first century Greek Christian author borrowed/used an ancient Greek literary trope in his book, but I think that we should all be surprised and suspicious that GOD himself would borrow an ancient Greek literary trope in his one and only appearance to the man who is going to be his missionary to the Gentiles, and that man happens to be a Jew.

            Would a first century Jew typically speak in Greek to a fellow Jew in a private conversation?? Wouldn’t it be much more likely that if Jesus spoke to Paul on the Damascus Road, he did so in Aramaic or Hebrew rather than in Greek?

            So an already very suspicious story (a talking bright light on a deserted highway) becomes even more suspicious when we learn that the Ruler of Heaven and Earth prefers to speak in Greek to a fellow Jew, and likes to use expressions copied from pagan mythology!

            Sure its possible that this is exactly what Jesus, God Almighty, said on that lonely stretch of desert highway, but it is highly improbable and looks and smells like a wildly imaginative scene in a great piece of FICTIONAL literature!

          • Well, ok, but what’s in Greek is Luke’s written account intended for “publication.” That’s like saying the Septuagint is false because it records all the Old Testament conversations in Greek. Further, borrowing expressions from other literature is reasonably common in the New Testament. Jesus himself does it on a few occasions. And the Gospel writers rarely record Jesus’ words in the original Aramaic. This line of argumentation feels a little straw-graspy.

            Don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all threatened by the idea that the objective, historical component of Paul’s experience (We agree -something- happened to him, right? He went from being the oppressor to uniting with the oppressed.) gets interpreted by himself and again by Luke and, in that process, gets described in terms that pull from other stories. This also would not be unique to the New Testament.

            But I fear you might be trading one brand of fundamentalism for another. It’s one thing to say, “We see this phrase in other Greek literature. Considering this is also a situation where a man is struggling against the divine, I believe Paul or Luke is appropriating this phrase to communicate the same thing about this event as opposed to it being a literal part of an actual dialogue.” It’s another thing to say, “We see this phrase in other Greek literature, so obviously this story is a complete fabrication.” You need more to go on than that.

            Finally, I want to point out that anything Jesus does in the Scriptures, he does as a man. The divinity of Jesus can -barely- be found in the Scriptures and is certainly not relevant to any of his activity. Before various councils put the lid on it several centuries into church history, perfectly (otherwise) orthodox theologians did not believe Jesus was divine. I, personally, think this idea is in the Scriptures, but it’s very slight. I only bring this up because, here and elsewhere, the divinity of Jesus seems to be an important assumption in your critiques. If Jesus met Paul on the Damascus road, he did so as a resurrected human.

            You might enjoy Andrew Perriman’s article “The Meteor Sighting on the Road to Damascus.”


          • So what you are saying is that what Jesus actually said and did in this event (or any other alleged event recorded in the Bible) is irrelevant, what matters is that “something” happened to change Paul’s attitude about Christianity.
            With this line of thinking, why not assume that Paul’s “conversion”, change in attitude, and everything else he wrote in his epistles was not meant to be taken literally, but metaphorically.

            In truth, Paul never stepped foot out of Jerusalem his entire adult life. He sat in a room writing works of metaphorical prose, using Greek, Roman, and ancient Hebrew tropes, with the intent that they not be taken literally, but meant to express higher spiritual truths, adaptable to any and all Faiths.

            As much as I dislike fundamentalism, I find the smorgasbord approach to the Bible used by liberal Christians equally appalling: The parts you like, believe literally. The parts you don’t, reject as metaphorical.

          • I’m not sure how you got any of that out of what I said.

            For someone who dislikes fundamentalism, you sound exactly like them – committed to a host of shaky propositions that you consider fact and distorting any counter-argument into its most extreme varietal.

            I feel like I can’t make you happy. When I assert that I believe what the Bible says, you accuse me of holding to a host of propositions that can’t be objectively true. When I assert that the biblical authors’ approach is less than a 100% literal account, then you accuse me of being a liberal who just brushes all difficulties aside as being “metaphorical” (whatever that means).

            If you want to have an honest exchange of ideas, I’m all for it, but I feel like I’m talking to someone who will just adopt whatever tactic is necessary to allow him to hold on to his commitments no matter what. Maybe you need a little time to get some distance and perspective on your recent conversion to humanism before you can be less defensive; I don’t know. I remember my first year of being a Calvinist, and I was jerk about it to everyone, too. It took some time to mellow about that and even more time to begin to think that maybe Calvinism wasn’t the bedrock of truth I took it for in the beginning.

            Just for clarity, I have no problem with Luke’s account of Paul’s account of what happened to him on Damascus as written. I also know that Acts isn’t a history book; it’s a theological commentary on history and, as such, may interpolate, borrow, and comment without any clear delineation, so I’m not threatened by those suggestions and do not rule them out a priori. I just don’t see the issues as rigidly black and white as you seem to.

    • wolfeevolution

      Thank you for that first paragraph; you saved me the time of writing it. 🙂 Inerrantism (in its modern form, anyway) is itself a product of Enlightenment rationalism….

  • Andrew Dowling

    “Theological needs–better, perceived theological needs–does not determine
    historical truth. Evangelicals do not tolerate such self-referential
    logic from defenders of other faiths, and they should not tolerate it in

    Really this is all you had to put. This is the crux of it. Honestly, that a professor’s argument for a historical event is essentially that it “messes up my preferred story” is an embarrassment and a permanent stain on any institution that credentialed him.

    • Gary

      This: “Evangelicals do not tolerate such self-referential logic from defenders of other faiths, and they should not tolerate it in themselves.”

      The special pleading can only resolve one of two ways.

      a) Drop the faith.

      b) Commit to intrinsically valued cruciform living.

      In Evangelicalism’s dominant forms of spirituality, the atonement is substitutionary. Christ’s work is valued in that it is done in lieu of the self’s. Identification in and with the Person of the Cross is not central.

      Yes, this is the Crux of it. That one has died for me is preferred over that we have died for all.

      This is the spiritual bankruptcy that will result in the tradition’s eventual demise. This is oh-so-not the means by which the world is made new.

      And yet the stain is the same stain as that which is died for.

      Robust spirituality has ultimately rich irony and paradox.

      • Andrew Dowling

        I was having a similar debate with Ben Witherington. Much of traditional Christian theology, starting with the Hellenistic Judaism of Paul and then getting on steroids through the Patristics/Augustine and the Reformers, is a belief in Platonic Dualism . . .the physical/”wordly” is evil and corrupted, in contrast to the “spiritual” which is pure and good.

        This is not in concert with traditional Judaism or the theology of Jesus, which sees God through natural mechanisms (see the constant nature and agricultural metaphors) and implores his human followers to achieve full humanity through what you could call “cruciform” living . . all of that “if he takes your sandles, give him your cloak” “turn the other cheek” “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” language . . that does not gel with a theology that believes humans are intrinsically disordered and that only a specific spiritual act/experience can “save” them. So what happens? Either all of that Jesus stuff is ignored, allegorized to death, or . . and this really takes the cake, Jesus said all of that stuff to show how in the end it wasn’t possible. He dies, and thus shows the need for a savior.

        You are right in noting that in this theology, “identification in and with the Person of the Cross is not central.” Yes, it’s spiritually bankrupt, but I don’t share your optimism that the tradition will wither away. Christians have been creating theologies that offer excuses not to follow Jesus for many centuries . . I don’t see it stopping now.

        • Gary

          The world will be made new and do so by a cruciform way of being. This may or may not happen with what is considered to be much of Christianity.

  • Gary

    I, for one, find a historical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as somewhat on the dubious side of things. But… I only kinda get the slipperiness-of-science’s-slope argument. To me, Gen 1-11 seems much more in the realm of science. There much across scientific disciplines such as cosmology, archaeology, and genetics that speak to these matters. Many fascinating discoveries have been made and continue to be made about things that the first part of Genesis speak about in one way or another.

    Pete, you too point out the “resurrection of Christ doesn’t provide such footprints and therefore is not open to the same type of scientific investigation.” I concur. As commonly professed, it is–while not necessarily as much biologically in its emphasis–theologically a one-time event.

    It’s not detailed 19th, 20th, or 21st century discoveries that make the resurrection any less plausible. It’s lack of believability is much more at a common sense and every day life kind of level. (Now, I suppose, with yeast growing and mice coming out of grain and maggots growing on flesh as part of pre-modern every day life, belief in spontaneous generation doesn’t seem as far fetched in that context as it does in our modern contexts. But even so, anyone who has seen a swollen dead animal after three days would have to take as inexplicably miraculous a human either coming back to life or moving onto a somehow different resurrected living state.)

    If science speaks to reasons to not to believe in the historical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, it simply is inclusive of rather rudimentary, if not outright folk, science.

    In fact, I think that possibly the slipperiness of the slope is more literary and exegetical than scientific.

    Consider this simplistic inference…

    Adam’s life didn’t really happen, yet it still has robust theological significance and meaning.


    Jesus’s death and resurrection didn’t…

    I don’t think the Evangelical risk of the “entire theological structure of the Bible falling apart” is scientific in its nature. The science may be some sort of catalyst in the equation, sure.

    I just would offer that the fragility is much more in how not just Scripture is interpreted, but in how meaning itself is created.

  • How can a text be a polemic against something without being influenced by it?

  • Jonathan Bernier

    I’m really not sure why Hoffmeier thinks the question of Mosaic authorship so crucial. Even we grant that Moses wrote all or even part of Gen. 1-11 I would still want to know *how* he knew about events that happened, even on its timeline, up to three millennia before his birth. If one says “Well, God revealed it” then I can easily say “Well, then God could have revealed the same things through the processes discovered by source criticism,” again making Mosaic authorship unnecessary. When God is the effective author and Moses at best the scribe I don’t know we need this scribe rather than that.

    • Yes, I don’t understand why Mosaic authorship is a hill anyone would choose to die on, except in order to cast aspersions on scholarly consensus – and perhaps repaint one’s own dogmatism as trenchant dissent against the status quo.

      • Gary

        Because it’s easier to fight dying on a hill of Mosaic authorship than not fight dying on a hill of Calvary, identifying with the Person of God the Son in surrendered sacrifice for the benefit of others.

        • Mark K


          • Gary

            No, the opposite. It’s more a matter of the avoidance of the ouch.

    • Gary

      Mosaic authorships comes with the theologically conservative bundle. Kinda like if you buy a cable TV package and certain channels just kinda come with.

      Evangelicalism wrestles with its foundations of individualistic spirituality that had to come with dethroning Church-as-authority. There are lots of camps with lots overlapping magisteria with each other. Mosaic authorship comes with a number of implicit groups’ theological norms.

      • Andrew Dowling


        • Gary

          But with people calling out letters and numbers that don’t exist on anybody’s board.

    • Jeff Y

      The Mosaic authorship is held onto tightly by conservative evangelicals because of Jesus’ and other NT writers regarding Moses – which are interpreted to mean those writers (and Jesus) believed the first five books came through Moses. Of course, they may have just accepted that tradition without worrying too much about critical aspects as to how the text took shape (but then that opens up another can of worms for the conservative who cannot accept that Jesus may have had finite knowledge about anything since he was God. This really stems from a kind of Docetism – an over emphasis on the Divinity side of Jesus).

    • AHH

      For those who idolize the Bible as “inerrant”, I think John 5:46-47 provides much of the impetus for insisting on Mosaic authorship.
      While more moderate Evangelicals are fine with Jesus using “Moses” as a common shorthand way of referring to the Pentateuch in his culture, for many inerrantists that would be an unacceptable error if Moses were not the actual writer.
      That’s one reason why it is part of the conservative “bundle” Gary mentioned in his comment. Just like Jonah being literal history instead of parabolic is often part of that bundle because Jesus refers to Jonah.

      • Gary

        Jonah-in-a-fish/whale comes in the bundle too.

        At some point though, some channels just don’t grab you.

        • Craig Wright

          Craig Blomberg, of Denver Seminary, in his book, Can We Still Believe the Bible?, allows for an inerrantist view to not have to take the Jonah story as literal history.

          • Gary

            No surprise. Fish often come in the bundle, but not always. Nearly every permutation has been bundled up and offered by somebody.

            Related a few years ago, IIRC, I read one survey that indicated X percent of Americans believe there’s baseball in heaven. Another survey within not too many months also said that Y percent of Americans believe there’s a heaven. X was greater than Y.

            According to another one I saw over half of American Evangelicals believe the Holy Spirit is a Force, not a Person. I believe that’s just over the number of Americans who believe in ghosts.

            People believe all sorts of stuff. Lots of them lead small groups and that.

    • 1. Jesus attributed authorship of the Torah to Moses.
      2. If Moses did not write the Torah, Jesus made a mistake.
      3. If Jesus made a mistake, he was not God.
      4. If Jesus was not God, Christianity is based on the false belief that a man was God.
      5. The Jewish Bible clearly states that God is not a man, therefore, if one wants to maintain belief in the God of the Old Testament, Christianity must be seen as a false religion, as it has elevated a man (Jesus) to be God Himself.

      • Just for the record, I don’t think Christianity is based on the belief that Jesus was God. It’s largely irrelevant, and we have at least four centuries of other views on the topic by men who were no less Christian than their peers.

        BUT, I think your point still stands, because a lot of modern evangelicalism does see the divinity of Jesus as a delineating tribal boundary.

      • AHH

        You have nicely delineated the fallacious line of argument that many fall victim to here. Fortunately, sound and non-fundamentalist Christian theology would reject the necessity of most of the list, maybe every point but #4 (even there, simple equation of Jesus with God misses nuances of Trinitarian theology).

        • Yes, I forgot. Three equals one and one equals three.

          This concept was not set in stone until a vote was taken at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD when Emperor Constantine sided with the proto-Catholic Gentile bishops against the Arian bishops. (Constantine’s son was an Arian and the Arian’s had the upper hand during his reign. But, the proto-Catholics eventually eliminated the Arians and all other rivals, therefore dictating the TRUE meaning of the Bible). However, there is no clear statement of the Trinity in the entire Bible, except, the Johannine Commae which modern scholars believe was tampered with by the proto-Catholic during this Christology debate within the Church for the express purpose of supporting their new doctrine of Jesus as God. Even Martin Luther bemoaned that this passage is a blatant scribe alteration.

          So think of this: Christianity is supposed to be the fulfillment of monotheistic Judaism, but the proto-Catholics had a problem: They wanted to deify Jesus, probably to make him on par with the Roman gods such as Jupiter. How was Constantine going to win the Empire to his new religion if it was simply warmed over Judaism? So they decided to make Jesus into God himself. But how could they do that and still claim that Christianity is the fulfilment of monotheistic Judaism? Answer: Create a concept that tells the common man that three really can equal one…and call it a mystery, a mystery that no mortal can understand!

          It was a stroke of genius! Who can argue with a mystery? Who can argue with the claim that three never equals one EXCEPT if there is an all-powerful, invisible deity who uses his magical powers to MAKE three equal one!

          The proto-Catholics won the early Christian civil wars and educated, intelligent Christians still buy this nonsense today in the 21st century. Go look in your Bibles, friends. You will not find a clear statement that God consists of three persons but yet is still one God, anywhere in the Bible…that hasn’t been tampered with.

          • J. Inglis

            The issue of Jesus’ divinity and identification with God is much more complex than you let on–i.e., it cannot be simplistically determined on the basis of whether there is a clear and explicit statement in the Christian scriptures that “Jesus is God”. Furthermore, the arguments in favour of Jesus identification with God are much more forceful than indicated in your reply. Those interested in the subject should read material by Larry Hurtado and those he interacts with.

          • But isn’t it a problem to believe that Jesus is God the Creator when neither Jesus nor any of the authors of the Gospels ever made this statement. Jesus and the gospel authors called Jesus the son of Man and the son of God, but none of these terms indicate that Jesus or these authors thought Jesus was God the Creator.

            In reality, Jesus did not become God until 325 AD, when a Roman emperor and gathering of Gentile bishops declared him God. If Jesus had clearly taught that he was God, there wouldn’t have been such divisions in the early Church regarding his divinity. Everyone would have known Jesus claimed to be God.

            I would bet good money that Jesus would be horrified to know that people eventually came to believe that he claimed to be Yahweh, the Creator, himself.

          • I think that there is very good evidence in the Books of Acts that even in the period shortly after Pentecost, no one in the Christian movement was teaching that Jesus was Yahweh, the Creator God. In the passage below, one of the great Jewish rabbinical sages of all time, Gamaliel, is alleged to have said that if the preaching of Peter and the disciples of Jesus were of God they would succeed, if not, their movement would fail and then compares them to other failed “messiahs” in recent history. The entire Sanhedrin agreed with Gamaliel and let the disciples go. Are we really to believe that Peter et al. were preaching that Jesus, a man, was Yahweh himself and the Jewish Sanhedrin could be convinced that this concept “might” be of God???


            The disciples were preaching that Jesus was the messiah, and to Jews, the messiah was a man, not a god. Gamaliel was saying that if Jesus really was the Messiah ben David, time would tell. According to orthodox Jewish author Asher Norman, it is inconceivable to any Jew that Gamaliel would have said what he did if the disciples of Jesus had been preaching that Jesus was Yahweh himself.

            “When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. 35 Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites,[e] consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

  • Jeff Y

    Great. Great. Great! This from Hoffmeier was very frustrating:

    “Because of this overarching theme connecting the early chapters of Genesis to the book of Revelation, Genesis 1-11 must be taken seriously.”

    As if Sparks and Wenham do not take it seriously?

    And, in fact, this is quite ironic, it seems to me, in that the views of Sparks and Wenham on Genesis 1-11 are more in line with how Revelation should be read (which also reflects ancient literary-cultural perspectives).

    I also find ironic the “Enlightenment rationalism” polemic by Hoffmeier in that the literalistic reading of Gen. 1 as a “science” text by many fundamentalists is viewed by most historians as also influenced by the Enlightenment and Baconian, Common-Sense Realism. That sword cuts both ways. But, I think Hoffmeier is on shakier ground with this pejorative.

    The one question I would raise with the critique above, Pete, is that there are “evangelicals” who also accept a more historical-cultural / non-literal reading of Genesis 1-11. So, wouldn’t attributing Hoffmeier’s defensive stance as representing “evangelical academia” also be a bit of an unfair generalization?

    • “Take seriously” = “read literally”

      This bothers me to no end. Like someone who puts in all the education and research to arrive at a non-literal reading doesn’t take it seriously, but someone who thinks the Bible was originally written in King James English is taking the Bible seriously.

      • Gary

        It’s polemic to shame.

        Soon, following shame-based spirituality will reach its end. People will look for more.

  • Okay, I’ve read over twice now but I still need clarification. Would Hoffmeier be making a positive assertion of Mosaic authorship? Or is he just staking out the vague *possibility* of Mosaic authorship? My feeling is that the latter tactic is far too common for innerantists to use in these sorts of scholarship debates.

  • newenglandsun

    I’m reading this book by Joseph Ratzinger and Han Urs von Balthasar right now in which Ratzinger comments that “biblicism…condemned the whole patristic heritage to irrelevance and [g]iven the contemporary academic situation, however, biblicism automatically became historicism” (Mary: The Church at the Source).

    Of course, not talking about creationism at all here but rather a look at a neglect of Marian influence coming into the Church overall wanting to find the “real” Mary. Though it can basically apply to just about every single other situation with the Bible be it the “real” Genesis account or the “real” Jesus or the “real” Paul.

    I’ll give the YEC’s credit that SOME church fathers supported a young Earth (St. Augustine, St. Basil, etc.), however, some of these supported in MUCH different contexts than the YEC’s would like one to believe. St. Augustine’s support of a young Earth was not based on his interpretation of Genesis, but rather on his conflict with the histories given by pagans. St. Basil actually was a literalist though.

  • Craig Wright

    This is very helpful. Since I read G.K. Beale’s response to you, I realized that evangelicals are not dealing with the actual difficulties of either Gen. 1-11, or the violence passages on the OT, but are just defending their inerrancy fortress.

    On the science and the Bible issue, it occurs to me that if you ask most evangelicals to name the highest politically appointed scientist in the US, who is an evangelical Christian, and has written a fine book (The Language of God) defending his belief in God, that most evangelicals could not name him. You would think that he would be held up as a proud rallying point for intelligent Christians in the science community. But the awkward part is that Francis Collins believes in evolution.

    • Gary

      Ask most Evangelicals *anything*…

      You’ll not gain any insight into what Evangelicals are nominally supposed to believe but you’ll great deep insight into what they actually do.

  • Clarke Morledge

    Pete: What do you make of G. Wenham’s response in this volume?

  • As far as I am concerned, “you’re just beholden to Enlightenment rationalism” is on the same rhetorical level as “that sounds like Hitler (or Bultmann, or Barth),” or more economically, “you’re liberal.”

    But surely Enlightenment rationalism did introduce badness. An excellent example of this is exposed by Alasdair MacIntyre in his seminal After Virtue. Another penetrating work is John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. Perhaps what you are most criticizing here, Dr. Enns, is a failure to be specific in one’s criticism of Enlightenment influence? Lack of specificity in criticism is a great way to engage the emotions over the intellect, and make it very hard to respond to said criticism.

    • Sure. Hitler also introduced badness. The point is that “Enlightenment rationalism” gets used as a short-circuit way to criticize someone. It’s an easy way to paint someone as a defector without actually having to establish anything.

      “Oh, you believe science, huh? Well, a lot of people are influenced by Enlightenment Rationalism.”

      “Oh, you think Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch? I guess that’s inevitable once you’ve bowed the knee to Enlightenment Rationalism.”

      “Oh, you like onions on your pizza? I guess some of us just haven’t made the same commitment to Enlightenment Rationalism.”

      It’s just a negative label that gets slapped on an argument to discredit it without actually having to argue.

  • Rust Cohle

    > The resurrection of Christ doesn’t provide such footprints and therefore
    is not open to the same type of scientific investigation.

    Why is that? Christianity is making a specific claim about biological function—a claim we know cannot happen, for multiple reasons.

    • Gary

      One of the things I’ve wondered about belief is that for the things that I’m supposed to believe, what is it that I’m supposed to believe?

      In the case of the resurrection of Christ, I get that I’m supposed to believe that he rose again.

      But what, just at a next level of detail am I supposed to believe, such as about, say, cellular metabolism?

      For me, beliefs that don’t really have anything more than a dead-end “believe *that*” are fundamentally unsatisfying. It simply feels like there is no belief there, no meaning-making possible and just head-nodding at the phrase level, not at the internal meaning-making level.

      It’s been enough years for me now that I can really remember how this would have satisfied me.

      • James

        I wonder too about the necessity of excluding the resurrection from historical investigation. Interesting that E.P. Sanders in his careful work on The Historical Figure of Jesus chooses to place the resurrection in an Epilogue. Why? “The resurrection is not, strictly speaking, part of the story of the historical Jesus, but rather belongs to the aftermath of his life,” says Saunders. The aftermath, as far as I can see, is essentially the manifest change the phenomenon produced in Jesus’ followers. Saunders concludes, “That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgement, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know…I do not see how to improve on the evidence, or how to get behind it.” Frankly, if the followers had been able to align their stories to Sander’s satisfaction, I wonder if he would have been more inclined to include the resurrection in the main body of his work rather than the Epilogue! The problem is, Saunders admits, “trying to describe an experience that does not fit a known category.” Could it be that certain individuals and groups actually experienced Jesus alive and therefore were changed forever? I think the historical evidence Sanders gleans from the various texts, despite his hesitations, answers the question in the affirmative.

        • Gary

          More than “answers the question in the affirmative,” I’d personally just go with a more humble “supports.”

          • James

            Yes, I’m into humble apologetics too. But really, Gary, what about the roughly 2.2 billion people today who believe? Shall we describe them all as you do the first believers?

          • Absolutely not. There are many very intelligent, highly educated Christians.

            What is interesting though is how these very intelligent, highly educated Christians rate the probability of THEIR religion’s supernatural claims compared to those of other Faiths. For instance, ask one of these very intelligent, highly educated Christians if they believe that Mohammad flew on a winged horse to heaven and they will state that such a feat is impossible (and ridiculous). However, these same people, when asked if a first century Jewish virgin gave birth to a demi-god will respond with a very confident “yes”…without batting an eye!

            This is a demonstration that even very intelligent, very educated people can be completely irrational if they choose to believe in supernatural claims based on “faith”… a polite term for “superstition”.

          • Gary

            There’s very little in common among those 2.2 billion really. I’m not sure any encompassing label is that helpful. I wouldn’t say it’s that much more helpful than, say, a broader one such as Abrahamic.

            Perhaps, for me, it’s a bit like a notion of race. What that means genetically is rather meaningless. That gets us to a set of sociological constructs. Even there, what is and isn’t a race is fuzzy and categorization rules don’t align with each other.

            The demographic work around has been mostly around self identification and even multiple identification.

            A lot of those 2.2 billion have a lot of animosity for others in the 2.2 billion and a lot of animosity with those outside the 2.2 billion and even a lot of animosity toward nearest kin, even themselves, even their own concepts of God.

            I’d hardly give to much to what those 2.2 billion “who believe.” Just kinda begs the question, Believe what? Those beliefs are all over the map.

            How should we describe them? Is that the bottom line question? My suggestion would be as they prefer. Maybe I’m a child of the modern West but I like the notion of letting people be described as they prefer.

        • ” Could it be that certain individuals and groups actually experienced Jesus alive and therefore were changed forever? I think the historical evidence Sanders gleans from the various texts, despite his hesitations, answers the question in the affirmative.”

          What historical evidence? I read Sander’s 800+ page “The Resurrection of the Son of God” and the only “evidence” he gives is that (in his opinion) no first century Jew or Gentile would have bought the disciples’ claim that a dead man had been resurrected unless the disciples really had seen a resurrected dead man.

          This is an assumption.

          Human beings have come to believe all kinds of crazy things. And what is really problematic with Sander’s argument is that the overwhelming majority of Jews did NOT believe the Christian claim of a Resurrection, and still do not to this day.

          The fact that a few uneducated, poor, superstitious, Jewish Galilean peasant followers of the dead messiah pretender in question DID believe should not surprise us.

          • Andrew Dowling

            I think you mean NT Wright and not Sanders?

          • Sorry, yes, I meant NT Wright. Thanks for catching that.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Gary, I’d highly recommend just reading the introduction to JD Crossan’s “The Birth of Christianity.” I would’t recommend the whole work to someone who hasn’t really intensively read historical Jesus scholarship (a lot of the book, pretty voluminous, is basically intra-academy debate between scholars), but the book’s introduction IMO is one of the best ruminations about the Resurrection I have read, and think it’d be up your alley given your concerns/thoughts here.

        • Gary

          I’ve watched a fair bit of Crossan online. He’s pleasant to listen to. For early Christianity, I’ve read Ehrman’s Lost Christianities, Pagels’ Beyond Belief, Borg’s Meaning of Jesus, The Jesus Seminar’s The Five Gospels, and Eusebius’ History. I’m familiar with the broad contours about as much as an lay person is and, even more significantly, has opportunity to discuss. I don’t read much any more. Unlike personal beliefs, Christianity is rather unfamiliar to most Christians.

    • Bev Mitchell


      Have you considered that science might have epistemological limits? Our view of biological function and life is expanding far faster than any single person can keep up with. It’s beginning to get almost scary to consider how much we now know, and to speculate about how much we don’t yet know. While we probably will never explain the Resurrection, since it is postulated to be both physical and spiritual combined in a way well beyond our ken, we may eventually reach a stage in our understanding of both physics and biology where we mostly stop making those Enlightenment inspired statements about the unlimited power of our own methods.

      Since I seem to be recommending older books today, have a look at Peter Medawar’s “Limits to Science” from 1984. A 2013 review by W.J Astor will set the stage for this short book. Just Google W.J.Astor Medawar to find it.


      • I see your point. Science may one day reveal that three-day-dead human tissue can reanimate, but imagine if we used this logic in every area of our lives. We would have to entertain the possibility of a supernatural cause for every event that happens in our day. We would have no certainty regarding the cause of anything in our natural world.

        If you wake up in the morning and find your keys missing, do you entertain the possibility that a goblin broke into your house last night and took them?? No, of course not. Is the existence of goblins a possibility? Sure. Anything is possible. But since we have no good evidence for the existence of goblins, other than assumptions and hearsay, (most) people do not worry about them or entertain them as intervening in their lives.

        So why not apply this same reasoning to the claim of the reanimation of dead human tissue two thousand years ago? Is it possible? Sure. It is just as possible as the existence of key-stealing goblins. But is there any strong evidence for this supernatural claim? No. So why even entertain the possibility??

        The probability of the reanimation of dead human flesh is just as probable as that a goblin broke into your house last night and stole your car keys. Possible? Yes. Probable? Absolutely not.

        • Bev Mitchell

          But I’m not a believer in Christ because science can’t prove me wrong.

        • Bev Mitchell


          Good points, if there is no such thing as a spiritual (supernatural) reality. If God is not self-revealing. If we humans have no capacity, or no pneumatological assist to know anything about God. But, if these things are true, then while we believers still have all of the problems of discernment that you describe, we are a step ahead of you in that we don’t ignore a big part of reality, invisible though it be.

          On our side, the problem comes when believers feel a need to be certain about all of this (well, maybe from both sides 🙂 Then we trash other people’s visions and get terribly upset when scientific thinkers point out the silliness of our world view. And, from certain perspectives, Scripture admits, it does appear silly.

          I hope you have been reading very highly educated, very intelligent Christian authors who would not be in the least upset by your observations. If you concentrate only on those who would be upset, you are missing a large chunk of the literature. One I can recommend is Greg Boyd. His “Benefit of the Doubt”: Breaking the Idol of Certainty” is written for Christians who think doubt is bad, bad, bad. But, it could serve as a good introduction for anyone to this other part of orthodox Christian literature whose authors believe, but don’t insist on being certain. His “Letter from a Skeptic” may also be good (haven’t read it). And for those who don’t mind pushing the envelope, his “God of the Possible” may be of interest. Scientific Christians are often drawn to this more open view of God. It’s still orthodox evangelical, though those who prefer to be certain about their certainty will say otherwise.

          Finally, an area often left out of such discussions is that of experience. For obvious reasons, it’s open to abuse, and hard to explain convincingly. But remember Saul/Paul. He experienced something life changing, then went looking for an explanation and ended up writing a good part of what became the NT. He claimed an interaction with God, specifically Jesus. Not something he initially reasoned out or was even looking for. The way he explained it made sense to a lot of people. But, those who experience the relationship he talked about are in a better position to confront and even benefit from doubt and challenges than those who try to accept his message mainly by reasoning things out. Reason and experience, as any experimental scientist knows, are a powerful combination. If you add a humble attitude toward the work of those who preceded and a respect for what they wrote, then you have an amazingly powerful package.



          • Very good points, Bev.

            As I said above, if Christians would simply base their supernatural beliefs on faith alone, we skeptics would not have an issue with it…as long as Christians would also stop trying to impose their supernatural beliefs on society as a whole. Keep it to yourselves, and we can all coexist happily.

            Again, it comes down to the 2,000 year old orthodox/traditional Christian core teaching of “preaching the Gospel to the entire world”: that the Christian belief system is the one and only truth and that those who fail to accept this belief system as their own, and submit to its dictates, are evil (sinful) and deserving of some form of eternal punishment.

            Personal experiences are certainly valuable, but they are not proof of the veracity of your Christian supernatural belief system for this reason: Mormons, Muslims, Hindus and persons of other Faiths claim to have the same intense, “miraculous” experiences.

          • Last year as I watched my Christian faith slowly circle the drain, the conversion of Paul was the last thread I clung to: A devout, Christian-hating/persecuting, Jewish Pharisee wouldn’t convert to Christianity unless he really had seen a resurrected Jesus.

            But the question must be asked: Are there any more probable causes for this “conversion” other than a man seeing a ghost?

            If anyone today claimed to have converted to a new religious sect based on seeing a ghost, would you believe him or her? I doubt it. I would bet that you would come up with a long list of much more probable explanations for this person’s “conversion” before you would even consider the possibility that they really had seen a ghost. So why do Christians accept Paul’s word about this alleged supernatural event without the same level of skepticism?

            What are other possible causes for Paul to convert:

            1. Guilt: he felt guilty about killing fellow (Christian) Jews; had a nervous breakdown; and adopted the faith of the people he had killed.
            2. Mental illness.
            3. Paul lied.

            Why would Paul lie? Seems impossible, doesn’t it? Why would a man lie to then spend a life of persecution and suffering? One possible answer: He was a Roman secret agent!

            I’m sure this seems preposterous to you at first glance, but hear me out: The High Priest was an appointee of Rome, ie., the High Priest worked for Rome. So anyone who worked for the High Priest also worked for Rome. Paul was the High Priest’s policeman, he therefore was Rome’s policeman. Did Paul stop working for Rome when he converted? Was all of Paul’s “suffering” just part of his cover? Was Paul’s job as a Roman agent to create discord among the Jews, a people who were becoming a growing threat to the peace and stability of the empire?

            What evidence is there to support this? Here it is:

            1. Paul already was a Roman agent as a policeman for the High Priest.

            2. Paul seems to be on very friendly terms with the Roman rulers of Judea. In his epistles, Paul sends greetings to both the brother and the son of Herod Agrippa. Paul also sent greetings to the personal secretary of Emperor Nero!

            3. When the Jews of Jerusalem wanted to kill Paul, the Romans called out almost 500 Roman troops to protect him and escort him to Caesarea. Five hundred troops for one Roman citizen?? Very odd. Very odd unless he was a very important Roman citizen.

            So is all this just my personal anti-Christian conspiracy theory? No. This is what Jews think of Paul. You can read about it in Asher Norman’s book.

          • Bev Mitchell


            You have a great imagination, keep using it! But, do ask open-minded believers, even pastors, about doubt. Doubt can actually be very effective, and lead to stronger faith. The path from here to there is not predictable. These are reasons why I recommended Boyd’s book, “Benefit of the Doubt”. As for potential counsellors who don’t like your questions, give them a pass for now. Unfortunately, the second kind can be easier to find than the kind we all need.

    • But it isn’t a claim about biological function. It’s a claim that there was a case in which the normal cycle of life and death that we’re used to didn’t work out. That’s why it was considered remarkable.

      The reason we know resurrection “cannot happen” is because of the overwhelming amount of times when it does not, and it has always been that way as long as humanity has been around. The New Testament claims that there was a time when this pattern did not hold and it blew everyone’s mind. So, claiming that we know it can’t happen is question begging, because the very argument under consideration is asserting that there was a time when it did happen.

      You can’t just say we know it can’t happen, because if it did happen, then it does happen. The question is whether or not this cycle has ever been disrupted, and you have to answer those claims on investigation. It’s an anomaly. By definition, you can’t dismiss anomalies on the grounds of the existence of the normal pattern.

      • I agree with your assertion, but I hope that you would also agree that if one is going to assert that an anomaly, such as the reanimation of dead human tissue, has occurred, an event which defies all the laws of nature and medical science, one had better have pretty strong evidence to support the historicity of said anomaly.

        I believe that Christians have zero strong evidence for their claim of the reanimation of the dead tissue of a first century Jewish prophet. The only evidence they have is the testimony of four anonymous authors, writing decades after the event, in distant locations, three of the authors using the first author’s work as a template, and, many, many assumptions and second century hearsay. By definition, all these pieces of evidence are considered “soft evidence”.

        Can you imagine this kind of evidence being presented in a modern court of law?

        “Your Honor: I have the statements of four eyewitnesses, but I can’t tell you for sure who these (dead) eyewitnesses actually were.”

        The case would be thrown out of court.

        • Well, but now we’re getting closer to the kind of conversation one might have about the resurrection. Do we have enough historical evidence for it? Can you even have enough historical evidence for it, and if so, what would it look like?

          If something like that happened in the first century, what kind of evidence would we need? Could the first century even provide the kind of evidence we would require, today, and if not, what are we going to do about it?

          I think it would be difficult to argue the audience wasn’t convinced of the resurrection, so what kinds of phenomena are open to us as explanations? What did Peter see that made him willing to be crucified? What did John see that made him willing to go into exile?

          This sort of historical inquiry is the kind of inquiry something like the resurrection is subject to. But a, say, biological inquiry is much more difficult. Much more difficult than, for instance, a geological inquiry into the age of the earth.

          • How do you know that Peter was crucified upside down? Even if he was, for what reason was he crucified? Is it possible that, if he was crucified, he was crucified for simply being a member of a despised religious minority? Why does the execution of any early Christian imply evidence that the three-day-dead tissue of an apocalyptic Jewish prophet really was reanimated by an ancient middle eastern deity?

            Bottom line: Do we have any evidence that even ONE member of Jesus followers was offered the chance to escape execution if he would simply deny his testimony that he had seen the dead Jesus alive, walking, talking and eating a broiled fish lunch?

            Regarding John: are you saying that someone like John would not go into exile (if we could prove that he did) simply because he believed he had seen a resurrected Jesus in a vision or in a false sighting? Is the only explanation for unusual, dangerous, devout, religious behavior by zealots that they really did see a ghost??

          • Gary,

            I think you misunderstood me. I’m not trying to debate with you whether or not the resurrection really happened. I think it did, but that’s not what I was getting at.

            What I was trying to get across was the kind of inquiry we have to make into a subject like the resurrection and what counts as evidence. You see how your objections are a lot different than, “The resurrection didn’t happen because resurrection doesn’t happen.”

            That was what I was trying to get at with the original commenter. When we’re talking about the age of the earth, that topic is open to direct, empirical, scientific inquiry. The resurrection is open to -historical criticism-, which is exactly the lines in which your objections are going.

            If the Bible said, “Nobody dies; people bodily resurrect all the time,” then that would be open to scientific inquiry, but the report of a historical anomaly is much trickier to evaluate.

          • Yes, I see your point.

            If Christians would simply state that they believe in the Resurrection by faith, the debate would end. It is when Christians state that there is “evidence” for the Resurrection, and that if nonbelievers do not accept this evidence they may face unpleasant eternal consequences, that we skeptics then respond with: prove it…with evidence.

  • Ross

    I think the pejorative comment “the dominant scientific worldview” sums up the whole rationale of Hoffmeier here and the inerrantist World at large. Effectively it is a battle of “World view” and he belongs to the “correct” one. That being the one which accepts a particular view on the bible as the first principle and everything else must follow from that. Anything which challenges that starting point and inferences from thereon must be wrong. Maybe the reason he doesn’t put a better case forward is that there isn’t one!

    As you say it is an emotional argument and I believe stems from a position of fear and the need for control. I think the need to “know” is necessary to have control over the scariness which “not knowing” brings. It is a faith position to start from, which I think actually leads to preventing and experiencing greater faith further down the road. More theologians need to put forward the position that “not knowing” is actually the real state of humanity over much and this is where God can come in to support us and bring freedom from the tyranny of fear.

    Unfortunately this position, which is not intellectually rigorous or satisfying, just tends to lead those of a different viewpoint, in and outside the faith, to reject much if not all of what is being defended, possibly with disastrous consequences. However when combined with other views in this sort of book, I suppose it may help the more thoughtful recognise that Christianity is not just one thing, but contains differing views, so may be much more palatable.

    • Gary

      You said, “It is a faith position to start from, which I think actually leads to preventing and experiencing greater faith further down the road.” Yes. But money can be made off of a base that are kept in this free but not-free position. This is the kind of Christendom that I think is a greatest risk of implosion in this century.

      • Andrew Dowling

        The money-making angle is often ignored, but it’s very real. This is a multi-million dollar industry making lots of people very rich. And thinking of all the great things that money could’ve been used for makes me extremely depressed . . . .

        • Gary

          For me the sad part is less the good that could be done building hospitals and things of that category but more that simply I don’t see people living in rich freedom.

  • I listened to a couple of Hoffmeier’s lectures and I gleaned the same conclusion that you did: “Ancient genealogies and narratives set in real locations do not a historical narrative make, despite Hoffmeier’s strong contention to the contrary.”

    Hoffmeier will tell his applauding (evangelical) audiences something like the following: “Archeologists have recently discovered the city of X in the area of Y. These sites are mentioned in the Books of Genesis and Exodus, therefore the Exodus story of the Bible is true!!”

    Very silly and naïve.

    Oh, and one other thing I have to comment on. A little German 101: “uber alles” with an umlaut over the u in “uber” does NOT mean “over all”, it means “everywhere”.

    The imperial German national anthem started out with the phrase, “Germany everywhere from the…”, it did NOT say, “Germany over all/everyone else”.

    Danke schoen! (sorry, my computer doesn’t do umlauts)

    • Gary

      Speaking of genealogies, that’s a hobby I love! On the LDS church’s free site familysearch-dot-org, I can trace my kids back through early New England settlers, minor English nobility, Henry II, William the Conqueror, and Charlemagne. In the age of the divine right of kings, a number of royal houses had a full lineage back through the ancient Greeks into the Jewish patriarchs and thus Adam himself. I believe it’s about 150 generations clicking on link after link that somebody put together.

      A number of European houses also traced their ancestry through the Danish kings and from there the Scandinavian kings who claimed descent from Odin.

      My teenage son already knew he was descended from Adam. I showed him the links. What he thought was really cool though was that he’s also related to Thor.

      Sure, all tongue-in-cheek but it just shifts the discussion to what should be the modern hobbyist genealogists need for sources and citations and how that relates to truth and how truth relates to stories we value.

      Anyhow, I find it hard to take seriously such statements as Hoffmeier’s despite letters after a name any more than the weird guy who shows up at a church small group.

    • Daniel Fisher

      Peter elsewhere noted that we would fully assume the gospel writers to have understood Adam as a historical person, so I’m not sure why it is a bad conclusion to understand gen 1-11 to be recognizable as a genre of “historical narrative”, however erroneous one might believe it to be.

      Peter, any chance you could clarify for me the statement: “Ancient genealogies and narratives set in real locations do not a historical narrative make.”

      Do you mean

      1) that they don’t make **accurate* historical narrative (i.e., sure, we can conclude that the author was intending ‘historical narrative’ through these genealogies, etc., but nonetheless they are not accurate or true)

      or do you mean

      2) that they don’t lead to the conclusion that the resulting genre should be described as historical narrative – regardless of the truth or falsehood of the information, this is not ‘historical narrative’, but an entirely different type of genre (metaphor, poetic/mythical epic, etc.)

      In other words, someone could read Thucydides and for various reasons conclude that his history was erroneous, but nonetheless conclude that the genre is still intended as ‘historical narrative.’ This is different, though, from claiming that Thucydides was *not* writing historical narrative.

      I’m confused since you wrote elsewhere that you would fully assume that the gospel writers understood Adam as a real person, hence I would assume you would conclude that these same gospel writers would have understood Gen 1-11 as historical narrative, however mistaken the evangelists were about the accuracy or truthfulness of the contents of said historical narrative?

      • peteenns

        No need to be confused. I thought I was pretty clear that I mean #1.

  • Sam

    There’s a good book called ‘Sources and Authors: Assumptions in the Study of Hebrew Bible Narrative’ by Noel.K. Weeks, a now retired Senior Lecturer in Ancient Near Eastern History at Sydney University. I’m not sure it would have many takers here, but you never know. I think it makes a unique and valuable contribution to this debate from someone who knows more than most about the Ancient Near East.

  • Eric Superfluous Man

    Does Hoffmeier actually say anything like “we know Wellhausen was wrong so now we can retreat back to Mosaic authorship”?

    • He wouldn’t win any rhetoric awards for that, but everyone might be floored by the level of honesty.

    • Paul D.

      I can’t answer to the book in question, but it’s a common apologetics meme in evangelicalism that since Wellhausen’s JEPD is dead, that must mean traditional Mosaic authorship is back on the table. Of course, the opposite is true; modern scholarship has shown that the authorship of the Pentateuch was *more* complicated and took place *more* recently than the old DH proposed. Even worse for fundamentalists is that Moses is no longer considered to be a historical individual in mainstream Old Testament studies. (Heck, some scholars think Ezra is a literary invention too.)

  • Daniel Fisher

    “As far as I am concerned, “you’re just beholden to Enlightenment rationalism” is on the same rhetorical level as “that sounds like Hitler (or Bultmann, or Barth),” or more economically, “you’re liberal.” This sort of rhetoric is not designed to converse but to gain a theological upper hand by determining the playing field and rules of engagement.”

    Peter, that may well be – but I can’t help but glance over these comments and notice a pattern of those arguing nearly the exact converse: “You [whatever my opponent] are just beholden to your inerrantist paradigm.”:

    – The inerrantists are in their “fortresses”,
    – they “idolize” the Bible as inerrant
    – inerrantists use an emotional argument and argue from a position of fear and need for control, etc.

    Does anyone think statements like this are not equally “conversation enders”?
    I could just as accurately, I believe, say that this sort of rhetoric is not designed to converse but to gain a theological (or critical, or hermeneutical?) upper hand by similarly determining the playing field and rules of engagement.

    Hence, I’m not sure why it is wrong for Hoffmeier to critique the Enlightenment paradigm he sees many as starting with, when it seems open season to criticize Hoffmeier and others for the inerrantist paradigm that they are perceived as starting from?

    • Gary

      Whether or not they’re “conversation enders” doesn’t depend upon the person making these little-better-than-Internet-trolling comments. It depends upon whether you take the bait.

      Is it worth one’s time to respond? How should time best be used?

      Similarly somehow but at a humble lay level, my kids and I sometimes discuss things after going to church. Last Sunday, after service, I asked my teen about the sermon, “how is one supposed to process *that*?” She replied, “Just smile and nod Dad” and her sibling did exactly that before we shifted the conversation to the afternoon’s plans.

      It’s kind of a take-it-or-leave-it paradigm. Not sure such would engender good 21st century conversation between parent and child.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Because inerrantism doesn’t even PRESUME a conversation to EXIST. That is the major difference. The so-called “Enlightenment paradigm” is not afraid to tackle the presumptions and ideas of fundamentalism and inerrantism. It does, and concludes them devoid of sound reason and intellectual honesty.

      • newenglandsun

        It seems he does have a point that rather the so-called “Enlightenment paradigm” presuming a conversation to exist, it presumes everyone reach the conclusion that they are devoid of sound reason.

        Advocate of the Devil

      • Daniel Fisher

        And judging by the tone and rherotic of the comments I noted, (and plenty more I consistently find on these pages) they similarly don’t even PRESUME a conversation to exist, either. Hence, I’m not seeing a difference. There are varieties among inerrantist scholars, I’m sure, but there are certainly plenty of them that are quite willing to engage and tackle the presumptions and ideas of what they see as the enlightenment paradigm and those places they find them lacking.
        Hence, again, why is it acceptable to condemn Hoffmeier for challenging what he sees as the enlightenment presuppositions, while there is no similar critique against those who use the same (if not far more inflammatory or ‘conversation ending’) rhetoric against those with an inerrantist paradigm?

        • peteenns

          I appreciate the tactic you are employing here, Daniel: undermine the strong criticisms of evang. bib. schl. by focusing solely on the rhetoric and suggesting that both sides are simply beholden to their own assumptions with no higher ground for launching the criticism. This approach is common among apologists, and the next step is usually to accuse biblical scholars of dogmatic bias regarding ambiguous date.

          I am intimately familiar from the inside with both evang. and critical scholarship, and uour critique is obscurantist. I have n6 other points, after all,

          • peteenns

            ID isn’t science. You think it is. That’s fine.

          • Gary

            I recall when I read Dembski’s The Design Inference several years ago. I thought… there’s no science here, this is philosophy and philosophy of something, maybe philosophy of mind specifically–means to detect whether or not there’s signs of agency. Maybe a conception of theism as cosmos is a Searle’s Chinese Room for God. Are there any Evangelical philosophers continuing forward in some of these integrations? I’d be curious in learning of.

          • AHH

            I agree that the work of Dembski and the ID movement has little real science content. The movement is mostly lawyers and philosophers.
            While I have not read it, I believe the book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism by Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga is along the lines you are asking about.
            I don’t know if the caveat is needed for this book, but any time one sees the word “naturalism” in such a context it is essential to distinguish methodological naturalism that is simply a description of how science words from metaphysical naturalism that is a philosophical viewpoint outside of science. Much unnecessary trouble is caused by those (both some Christians and some atheists) who conflate these two concepts.

          • Gary

            I read Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief. Perhaps I could garner something from his old God and Other Minds if that’s what you’re referring to. I’d be curious how his agency detection that might be explored in God and Other Minds might relate to his Calvinistic sensus divinitatis so central to Warranted Christian Belief. I’d also be interested in exploring, ontologically, how that sense or skill more holistically can be unified with a broader conception of empiricism. If, it is a sense, it is simply a sense. However, it seems to be a very, very different sense.

            While I certainly can parse the difference between methodological and metaphysical naturalism, I in many ways don’t find things that dead end in another dualism to be sufficiently complete in their thinkings.

            Last Sunday i said some words about all things seen and unseen and yet was wondering what yet still is but yet is creedally unseen.

            Anyhow, often with regard to that senses divinitatis, I personally feel like the analogy of Mary, the color-blind scientist: http://philosophywalk.com/046-mary-color-blind-scientist/

            To me, metaphysicalism seems as short as in explanatory power physicalism and therein lies a fundamental paradox of being.

          • Bev Mitchell


            Like Pete, I wonder what your strategy is. But, hoping that you are a truthseeker (to blatantly steal a phrase from Mike Malloy) here is a slightly redacted and rearranged comment from 2012. Following up on AHH’s good reading suggestion, the comments there include a fairly extensive discussion among Roger Olson, AHH and me (with others) on Plantinga’s book which evolved into a discussion of Intelligent Design thinking (two scientists trying to bring a theologian up to speed 🙂 You can find the entire discussion at Roger Olson’s Patheos site by searching ‘Plantinga’.

            As you can see below, over Plantinga and if you’re pressed for time, I’d recommend that you read Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ fine book on much the same topic.

            I read Plantinga’s book a while back. Later, I read Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning” and wanted to make notes on practically every page. This was not the case with Plantinga. Among other topics, both of these authors effectively take on evangelical atheists – but if I were Dennett or Dawkins, I would run from the Rabbi.

            While Plantinga’s basic thesis is very helpful – the problem is naturalism vs. theism not evolution vs. Christian belief per se – he does not go far enough IMO. Early on he uses Dawkins, Dennett etc. as his foils and essentially makes arguments from design as the only acceptable Christian (even theistic) position. His resistance to libertarian freedom in God’s world seems to limit him to his position. As far as I can tell, his ‘divine collapse-causation (DCC) model (pg. 116) is another way to express meticulous control (or divine design). I realize that he counters this criticism and works some sort of freedom into this model, but, to me, it still seems too tied to determinism.

            Happy reading!

            Quotes from From Alvin Plantinga “Where the Conflict Really Lies”

            “What is not consistent with Christian belief, however, is the claim that this process of evolution is unguided – that no personal agent, not even God, has guided, directed, orchestrated, or shaped it.” pg. 11

            “But if he created human beings in his image, then at least he intended that there be creatures of a certain sort, and acted in such a way as to guarantee that creatures of that sort came to be.” pg. 14

            “God could have achieved the results he wanted by causing the right mutations to arise at the right times, letting natural selection do the rest.” pg. 15

            “…..according to Christians and other theists, God has designed and created the world; he intended that it take a certain form and then caused it to take that form.” pg. 34

            “It is perfectly possible that the process of natural selection has been guided and superintended by God, and that it could not have produced our living world without that guidance.” pg 39

            As a contrast, consider the quotes (below) from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ excellent book. As I read them, Sacks position would be much more acceptable to many Christian evolutionary thinkers who try to get beyond the Intelligent Design way of thinking. Libertarian freedom vs. meticulous control is once again the issue.

            Quotes from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks “The Great Partnership”

            “Spinoza set the stage for a whole series of determinists of different kinds, each finding the course of history in some other shaping force, but all agreed that we are what we are because we could not be otherwise than we are, and that all thoughts to the contrary are mere illusion.” pg. 116.

            “But why would a being independent of the universe wish to bring a universe into being? There is only one compelling answer: out of the selfless desire to make space for otherness that, for want of a better word, we call love.” pg. 24.

            “…to preserve meaning in desperate circumstances we must be able, or be helped, to do a number of things. First is the refusal to believe that we are victims of fate. We are free.” pg. 36

            “For if God created the physical universe, then God is free, and if God made us in his image, we are free.” pg. 38

            “The changeless, unmoved mover was the God of Plato and Aristotle. The God of history was the God of Abraham. They simply did not belong together.” Pg. 83

            “From the outset, the Hebrew Bible speaks of a free God, not constrained by nature, who, creating man in his own image, grants him that same freedom, commanding him, not programming him, to do good.” pg. 124

            “Faith is not certainty. It is the courage to live with uncertainty.” pg. 97

            And finally, one I cannot resist:

            “Why did he divide the Red Sea? Because the Israelites needed to get to the other side.” pg. 80

          • Hi Bev,

            There are two “Gary’s” on this thread so I am not sure to which Gary your comment is addressed. It appears to be directed to the “other Gary” but then you start out asking what my agenda is, which was a question directed to me by Pete.

            So here is my two cents (and by the way, my “agenda” is to be intellectually challenged and to hopefully return the favor to those with whom I engage in discussion):

            I am not an atheist. I am an agnostic. I do not believe that it is empirically possible to disprove the existence of an invisible supernatural being, whether they be gods, goblins, or ghosts. I believe that there are certain aspects of the universe that certainly could be seen as evidence for a Creator. However, until that evidence points to WHOM exactly that Creator is, I am not going to grovel on my knees to Allah, Krishna, Yahweh, or Jesus. Give me good evidence, and I will.

            However, just because there may be evidence for a Creator does not mean that there is evidence for Yahweh/Jesus being that Creator. In fact, I believe that the evidence both Jews and Christians use for asserting the identity of the presumed Creator is pretty poor. Orthodox Jews base their claim of Yahweh being the Creator based on the “testimony” of three million Hebrews hearing his voice at Sinai. This belief has no good evidence for it whatsoever. This belief is based on assumptions and hearsay.

            And Christians do no better with their assertion that Jesus/the Triune God is the Creator. As Paul said, the entire Christian belief system rests entirely on the historicity of the resurrection, and the evidence presented by Christians for the Resurrection is very, very weak: no verifiable eyewitness testimony; no contemporaneous corroborating testimony from Roman or Jewish sources; and the testimony of one vision-prone, possibly bipolar and delusional, Jewish Pharisee who says he saw a ghost. Most of the “evidence” used by Christians is assumption and second century hearsay.

          • Bev Mitchell

            Gary (of the avatar),

            I think the above is my first response to the other Gary (of the generic avatar). I did refer to Pete’s response to you, so my opening remark (above) is directed at you, to which you responded well.

            Sorry, Gary (of the generic avatar) for any confusion. The remainder of my response, re Plantinga and Sacks, was to you.


          • Gary

            Thanks. I guess I’m generic Gary. Alas. 🙂

          • Gary

            I’m familiar with most all this.

          • peteenns

            I think we’re all getting our Garys mixed up here. My comment wasn’t meant for this Gary but the other.

          • Gary

            Sorry. Maybe I need a cool avatar here.

          • newenglandsun

            Are you placing your knight on c6 or f6?

    • Ross

      I don’t think it’s just a problem of two paradigms jousting for control. The main problem is that the inerrantist paradigm is actually irrational, whilst espousing its own rationality.

      Inerrantists state that scripture is without contradiction whereas it obviously isn’t.

      Due to the “rules of engagement” I cannot point out the contradictions to an inerrantist and they could never convince me of it’s inerrancy. I can’t point to any particular “proof” of the merits of one argument over the other, however a dispassionate reading of the bible itself will provide the answer. (preferably on ones own without any sort of systematic theology text nearby to queer the argument!)

      • Daniel Fisher


        That may be, I wasn’t trying to comment on the legitimacy or lack thereof regarding the critique of paradigms. Your critique of inerrantist presuppositions here, while i don’t share it, is yet reasonable and discusses the particular issues involved. And I appreciate, while not sharing, your conviction that one paradigm is inherently more rational than the other. But I wouldn’t find your critique to be a “conversation stopper,” in and of itself.

        in contrast, though, surely you can see why i might describe those other types of rhetoric I observed in various comments on this post as “conversation stopping” in tone – describing inerrantists as running to their tower, worshipping their idols, motivated by fear….?

        • Ross

          Sometimes out of frustration I may come to those “rhetorical” conclusions myself, but I agree that they are not always particularly helpful and have more of a satirical/critical role. They will only get the back up of one side of the argument and maybe gain concurrence with the other.

          The general conclusions I come to is that some inerrantists do run to their towers, seem to worship an idol (or close to it) and have motivations of fear, I’m not sure of a better way of reacting when I come to these particular impasses.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Just your use of the word “some” there shows that your are open to conversation with those willing to discuss the actual issues – that is appreciated. On my side, I would wholeheartedly agree that “some” inerrantists most certainly exhibit such patterns. When a certain person does engage in such a particular tactic, I have no issue with you or anyone else calling them out on that. It is just the broad brush that all of us inerrantists get painted with, that starts to look like the proverbial “conversation stopper.” The comments i noticed in this thread wereof that sort…. not a qualified, “*some* inerrantists arrive at their position due to fear…”…. that would be a quite legitimate observation.

            But when I am accused of all these things for no other reason than that I do believe in the absolute inerrancy of the Scripture, I can safely assume I am not being invited to a “conversation.” Hence my main point… if Hoffmeier’s accusation that his opponents are beholden to enlightenment paradigms is an illigitimate conversation stopper, then certainly such categorical accusations tossed against all inerrantists are no less illigitimate conversation stoppers.

            Your approach, as you describe it here, though, does not strike me as that sort…, yours seems a reasoned conclusion based on individual conversations, rather than generalizing and tossing the accusation against all who embrace the position you are challenging.

          • peteenns

            Daniel, i think you’re missing the rhetorical force of Hoffmeier’s opening line. He clearly has Sparks in his sights (still smarting from God’s Word in Human Words) and he is claiming that Enlightenment Rationalism is the philosophical undergirding for denial of mosaic authorship. To call out that bit of intellectual nonsense as a stock evangelical/fundamentalist conversation stopper is not a “tactic” but the truth. And yes, to call it out is intended to be a “stopper”–but not of a conversation, rather of a obscurantism so that the true conversation can be had, free of such idiosyncrasies.

          • Daniel Fisher


            I have no reason to doubt your critique of Hoffmeier as being perfectly legitimate. I have no issue with examining underlying presuppositions and assumptions (including one’s own), but I understood your critique of him as being that this was simply used as a way of ignoring, disregarding, and, without warrant simply dismissing the actual facts and specifics of his opponent’s position without engagement – hence, why it may (rightly) be described as a conversation stopper. I haven’t read that work yet, but I have no reason to doubt your critique, as I’ve seen it plenty from other conservative positions. And I agree…. Calling out that irrational logic is perfectly legitimate and appropriate.

            My only point was that I saw a particular irony when i read through the comments posted by others on this page…. They categorically described all inerrantists as being motivated by fear, retreating into their tower, bowing to their idol of inerrancy, etc.

            I found that rather ironic…. They were demonstrating the very thing (even more clearly) that you were critiquing Hoffmeier for doing, if from the other side of the proverbial fence.

          • Daniel Fisher


            I have no reason to doubt your critique of Hoffmeier as being perfectly legitimate. I have no issue with examining underlying presuppositions and assumptions (including one’s own), but I understood your critique of him as being that HE used this as a way of ignoring, disregarding, and, without warrant simply dismissing the actual facts and specifics of his opponent’s position without engagement – hence, why it may (rightly) be described as a conversation stopper. I haven’t read that work yet, but I have no reason to doubt your critique, as I’ve seen it plenty from other conservative positions. And I agree… Calling out such faulty logic and methods is perfectly legitimate and appropriate.

            My only point was that I saw a particular irony when i read through the comments posted by others on this page…. They categorically described all inerrantists as being motivated by fear, retreating into their tower, bowing to their idol of inerrancy, etc.

            I found that rather ironic…. They were demonstrating the very thing (even more clearly) that you were critiquing Hoffmeier for doing, if from the other side of the proverbial fence.

          • Ross

            Daniel, Although I am not an inerrantist (but more and more an anti-inerrantist), for me the important issue is can I have a conversation with someone who is?

            Issues about the inspiration of scripture are very secondary to attempting to live as Jesus would have us, in communion with him. I have many dear friends in various positions up the “inerrantist paradigm” and I can still worship and pray with them in equality.

            However, there are those who have used this particular “viewpoint” unjustly. The previous church I attended would not let me be a full member due to my refusal to say that I believed in the inerrancy of scripture even though I could happily state my belief and devotion to God Jesus etc. This led to many bad feelings within me and luckily I could easily move to freely worship elsewhere.

            Personally I am very happy to accept those with inerrantist beliefs as long as they do not cause unjust division.

            Where I do start getting bitter though, is when “inerrantism” goes against God’s purposes. We could spend all day discussing the merits of the “philosophical

          • Ross

            Ooh I seem to have got interrupted mid flow and posted too early!

            As I was saying, I have no problem discussing the merits of Inerrantism, but where I find the major problem with it, beyond what I see as it’s inherent “irrationality” is where it is used to oppress and divide. If people who cling to and worship Jesus are told they can’t be doing it right because of a viewpoint on a book, and if fellow believers are effectively “demonised” on the grounds of how they understand the origins of a book, then inerrantism is inherently anti-people and anti-God. I have no problem with inerrantists as long as they take a good inward look and stop this belief from setting themselves apart from brothers and sisters in Christ.

            I don’t see that non-inerrantists have the same issue, although I’m sure we may otherwise discriminate unfairly.

          • Daniel Fisher

            As for having a conversation with someone who is, please feel welcome to discuss with me, I try to be fair and give a good hearing.

            And i appreciate your thoughts very much, and for taking the time. If I may defend those of us who take inerrancy as a vital doctrine…. I personally would not quibble so much in terms of fellowship with folks who had various understandings along the spectrum of the authority of the Bible. But you brought up the key point yourself very well:

            “Issues about the inspiration of scripture are very secondary to attempting to live as Jesus would have us, in communion with him.”

            I hear you…. , the only fly in the proverbial ointment is that Jesus himself seemed to speak to the very question about the inspiration of the Scripture…. So I can’t see that we can put that question aside and focusing on “following Jesus”….. It is a bit like saying that we can put the question of loving enemies aside and just focus on following Jesus. Granted I realize these aren’t the same, but I trust you follow my point.

            Ultimately, the reason I embraced an inerrantist paradigm is because of an attempt to follow and believe all that Jesus taught, including his belief about the inspiration of Scripture. Granted, I may be wrong and mistaken about what, exactly, he believed, taught, and thought about it, but for what it is worth, that is my starting point.

          • Ross

            Daniel, I generally stand at a point of recognising the inspiration, authority and with several caveats, uniqueness of scripture, have not slid down any slippery paths on this over many years and probably won’t shift anywhere on those points (but who knows).

            I have not been convinced by the reported sayings of Jesus that these are very great reasons to assert an “inerrantist” belief now, whether or not he may or may had a typical 1st century view on what scripture was (whatever scripture may have been at that time not-withstanding). I tend to find these particular references very lacking in being used as “proofs” to support the argument.

            I also think that how he in particular used scripture, at least reportedly, was quite different to how many with inerrantist viewpoints seem to use it today. Many talk of him using a “midrashic” approach and to me it really does seem that much of his quotations are not in line with a literal surface reading of the original texts, nor are many of the quotations used elsewhere in the NT.

            In terms of how this may effect the relationship between myself and someone more inclined to “inerrantism” I presume it will very much depend on the context at any one time.

            I have some sympathy towards what I believe to be the underlying reasons why inerrancy has developed latterly as a “doctrine” and recognise that actually there are people who will attack the bible to undermine belief in God. I think at times there is a very real threat for what appear to be malevolent reasons behind attacking scripture.

            But the main thing that gets my goat is when I am judged as “less than” on the grounds of my views. Particularly when the expressed view appears to imply that a belief in inerrancy is a prerequisite to salvation. (I’m not aiming this at you, just how others have expressed their view.

          • Daniel Fisher

            I hear you. To advocate for the proverbial devils that may seem to suggest or imply inerrancy as necessary for salvation…. while I certainly wouldn’t agree and would challenge any such implication, I can at least sense where I think they may be coming from, and I can appreciate the small kernel of insight. I think the logic would flow like this:
            –if someone claimed to love Jesus, and to follow him, but made no effort whatsoever to forgive their enemies, and gave numerous excuses for why they didn’t need to forgive their enemies, etc., I might very well doubt just how genuine is their professed love for Christ and desire to follow him. I’m not talking about someone who struggled, or who found it difficult – talking about someone who just utterly refused and dismissed that command. At that point, I might suggest their devotion to Christ is quite suspect.
            –Similarly, if someone claimed to love Jesus and to follow him, yet completely disregarded his example in how to respect the authority of the Scripture, I might doubt their sincerity – again, I’m not speaking about someone who lands on a different conclusion than I do after sincerely reading Jesus’ examples and teachings, but if someone utterly and completely dismissed Jesus’ teachings about Scripture, then I think I may be justified in expressing doubt about their sincerity in “following Christ.”
            –The mistake, I fear, is that some Christians think their particular understanding of Scripture is the only one a person could legitimately arrive at if they are sincerely following Christ’s example…. and hence, any divergent conclusion they would take as evidence that their sincerity in following Christ is false, hence the conclusion that said person would lack salvation, etc.
            I don’t share that, of course, but I think I can at least follow the (faulty) logic there.
            Of course, I have landed on my nuanced belief in inerrancy specifically because I am unconvinced of any alternative way to follow Jesus’ teaching and example on the topic, and his sense that Scripture was absolutely authoritative over us in its entirety, not simply insightful. But I completely acknowledge how someone could sincerely follow Jesus, seek his example in the NT, nuance the view from additional reason, insights, etc., and land on a conclusion with which I disagree. You gave some common examples above, which while I disagree, I can respect as legitimate pursuits of understanding and applying Christ’s example.
            (For what it is worth, why I’ve landed where I have on the topic…. I can’t see how any position that rejects the absolute authority of Scripture as a whole can keep from devolving into a ‘cherry picking’ model…. Wherein the parts of the Bible I agree with or that resonate with me are of course those which are in fact eternal, true, inspired, universal, reflect God’s true nature and intent, etc., and those that I don’t like are of course those that are culturally conditioned, historically inaccurate, erroneous, reflect the author’s limited knowledge, primitive morality, etc. I just can’t read the way Jesus spoke of the Bible and see it giving sanction to any approach that would allow any such cherry picking – that is in large part why I’ve landed where I have.)

          • Ross

            For me I can understand, if not agree with the point about “cherry picking”. But I do agree that there is a real danger that many may well be accepting only that which suits them and avoiding being challenged by the living God. However as a counter I would say that even those of an inerrantist position have to “cherry pick” to an extent or get into an impossible tangle attempting not to, plus I have met inerrantists who do not appear to be following God in any meaningful way, often in seeming devoid of showing any real love.

            Generally in some areas I am fairly conservative others fairly liberal, but in probably a greater number of cases just throw my hands up and say I haven’t a clue.

            As mentioned before my greatest concern is that the issue creates great division within the Christian body and really cannot see that unity is achievable if it is “be inerrantist or be out”. Which I would put on par with “be Catholic or out”, be whatever or out.

            In terms of your example above it’s interesting to really look at those things which should unite and which are core as a focus, in the hope that inerrantists and others could at least find some common uniting factors.

            There seems to be, at least superficially, a spectrum of approach toward scripture, with a belief that scripture is effectively dictated from God at one end, to a belief that it is purely of human construct at the other. For me it is a co-production of the two.

            For what appears to be “classical” inerrantism to be true, then a considerable part of the human input to that scripture has to have been overwritten. For me the evidence does not support this. I think it also comes close to home on a daily basis. In some way the relationship between God and man in how we view scripture to have arisen says a lot about how God meets with us in the here and now. So far I am not aware of my own inerrancy despite the indwelling of His spirit. You may justifiably point out that we are not quite comparing apples with apples here, but I find it a very pertinent point myself.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Ross, appreciate the cordial conversation.
            “I have met inerrantists who do not appear to be following God in any meaningful way, often in seeming devoid of showing any real love.”

            On this point, I cannot agree more.

            “even those of an inerrantist position have to “cherry pick”

            I agree insofar as I recognize it as a weakness that I know I fall into – but bottom line is that it is a tendency I *fight*, rather than embrace. When I recognize those places that I have done it, I repent of it as best i can, and continue to try to purge it wherever I find it, rather than justify or celebrate it.

            ‘For what appears to be “classical” inerrantism to be true, then a considerable part of the human input to that scripture has to have been overwritten’

            I’m not quite sure what you mean by the ‘classical’ position here – I would certainly deny that inerrancy means human input is in any way overwritten. When people speak, they sometimes get things right, sometimes wrong… in providence God could have ensured that what became encapsulated in Scripture was 100% right, or corresponded 100% to what he wanted to have communicted. I don’t see how it would require overriding the completely human nature of what was written?

            Plus, the ‘classical’ Chicago statement explicitly denies this as well – can you clarify for me how you perceive inerrancy as requiring overriding of human personality, including cultural influence, personal preferences, etc.?

            “So far I am not aware of my own inerrancy despite the indwelling of His spirit”

            Amen to that. But occassionally, I actually do say inerrant things. I explained to my son the other day that 10 squared is 100. I also told him that our current president is Barack Obama. Those statements happened to be inerrant. Paul, Isaiah, Luke, all said and probably wrote lots of erroneous things (not to mention being sinners themselves). Occasionally, though, they inevitably wrote some things that happened to be inerrant. It doesn’t seem a stretch to me that God could work through providence that the things he intended to be incorporated into Scripture happened to contain nothing but true things, even if they were true things selected, filtered, and otherwise influenced by both their own personality, shortcomings, cultural assumptions, prejudices, and the like. This is all that inerrancy requires — inerrancy of these particular writings in no way requires or implies infallibility, omniscience, or the like on the part of the authors themselves.

            Moreover, a robust understanding of inerrancy *requires* a good understanding of the motivations, weaknesses, doubts, hurts, anger, hope, and the like, of the authors. This is perhaps most evident in the Poets of the OT. It is precisely because I recognize the psalms of lament, doubt, frustration, anger, and the like as inspired and inerrant that I believe them to be communication directly from God giving me similar permission and blessing to pray and wrestle in such ways.

          • Ross

            Daniel, I also appreciate the amicable and cordial discussion:-) I’m sure there are different shades, even interpretations of inerrancy, as there are different people holding to an inerrantist view. So one problem that can arise is semantic misunderstandings between people holding “different views”. What I may class as a “classical inerrantist” position is to some extent a generalisation based on my experience of “inerrantists” and probably be unfair on many with that viewpoint.

            When it comes to “cherry picking” I could class such things as whether women have to cover their heads in meetings, whether a congregation feels women can talk in meetings, structure of church positions etc. I don’t think there are any common approaches to all that is stated in scripture among inerrantists. Where do people stand on baptism for the dead? etc etc etc. I mean this rather than say wilfully going against or avoiding that which may generally seem quite clear.

            In terms of overwriting people, it also sort of depends on the particular brand or flavour of inerrantism being held. People are fallen and weak and live in particular cultural places and so on. To what extent is this removed from the writer whilst writing scripture? I can see this in terms of say references to Adam in the NT, whether reportedly of Jesus or others. Because they may have believed in a historical Adam of a few thousand years earlier does this mean we must? or do we have to recognise that we know things today which weren’t known then. Because there are definite contradictions between the gospels, must we somehow force John’s Thursday to be everyone else’s Friday, or come up with ingenious ways how different people may have been the first to see the empty tomb? At these points there can be much semantic befuddlement as to what we even mean by error or inerrant.

            Getting back to God including “true things” then we could again have a semantic nightmare over what is “true” what is a “thing”. I would have to say that yes, God has inspired to bring much “truth” into scripture which may not have got there from a purely “human” set of inputs.

            Because I reject inerrantism doesn’t mean that I stand on a point of errancy. I don’t support inerrantism (A) so could be said to support non-A, however this does not mean I support B. (Admittedly I have heard of some definitions of inerrantism and infallibility which I probably could support in good conscience, but there again these seem to involve an awful lot of “nuancing” which seem to go far from a plain understanding of the terms). You can put B down as any of a number of things which I don’t believe either. Maybe one thing which annoys me the most is that a very high number of people supporting an inerrantist viewpoint hear that I don’t and start from assuming all sorts of things that I must therefore believe which in fact I don’t. In fact I probably hold very classical Christian views on much of what God and the bible says and is.

            In terms of our enjoyable discussion it would be interesting to know what if anything we disagree on, as I think a lot of arguments are often caused by semantic misunderstandings, maybe more so than any difference of underlying belief!

          • Daniel Fisher

            One reason my view of inerrancy is not particularly disturbed by the contradictions often catalogued is that so many of those are either exaggerated or simply false…. And please forgive my soap box, but I fear you brought up what I find to be perhaps the most egregious example…. 😉

            Jesus’ crucifixion happening on different days between the synoptics and John is simply fictitious. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all explicitly detail that Jesus died on ‘the day of preparation’ (all using that exact word)…. and Mark, Luke, and John all explicitly specify/clarify that this refers to the day before the Sabbath. Nonetheless, this myth of different days (Thurs vs. Friday) gets tossed around without any basis and makes the rounds like those urban legends that just won’t die.

            I’m guessing you heard or read this from others, rather than something you discovered by reading the texts yourself? I don’t blame you for trusting what you read – but I am dumbfounded the way that trained scholars like Bart Erhman and others simply absorb and perpetuate such myths. But when I examine the claims, much of the evidence put forward for the ‘errancy’ of the Bible starts to crumble as I give it a critical eye.

            The other example you gave I grant is more substantial, though not particularly troubling to me. The differing number of the women at the tomb is at least found in the text – though I find it lacking as a ‘contradiction’ as it is more a question of what details each author chose to include – Many similar examples of such ‘contradictions’ are similarly more of a different selection of details…. selective inclusion of material that we don’t call ‘contradictions’ when we find them in any other genre. I’m getting long winded, sorry for that soap box 🙂 …. let me touch on your other points in another post.

          • Ross

            Daniel I’d have to say that the reason I do not believe in inerrancy is precisely because I have and do read the bible, more frequently than most people I know. In fact the reasons I would state against it are practically indistinguishable from the reasons you give for it.

            regarding the particular Friday, Thursday thing, I can’t remember where that got in my head from, but generally speaking Peter and Kenton Sparks have written much more eloquently and exhaustively than I can on these matters. I found it quite comforting to find books writing about things I had been thinking for a long time, and bless them, they came to the same conclusions as me without my influencing them at all! In fact the vast majority of “theological” reading I have done is within the “inerrantist milieu”, which is precisely why I have come to reject its precepts.

            Sorry if I sound flippant, but it does feel to me as if you seem to think that I have come to my point of view “under the influence” of other peoples writings.

            The truth is that having read the entirety of the bible over and over again for more than 30 years it is plain to me that it is not as “inerrantists” would state. It contains noticeable contradictions, errors and complexities which just do not bear out the inerrantist argument.

            Another reason I am not impressed by the inerrantist argument is that the argument itself is deeply flawed. Various statements, particularly exemplified by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy are fundamentally flawed intellectually in many profound ways. I find it particularly ironic, that in order to defend the bible it has become necessary to create an extra-biblical doctrine to state what the bible does not say about itself.

            Generally I find that I always come to an impasse over this issue of disagreement, particularly if it starts to turn into a point by point refutation. I also find a similarly frustrating impasse when getting into similar discussions with anti-theists. It just seems that there are areas where only friction can occur in these discussions where strongly held opinions, which at least seem antithetical put up massive immovable obstacles.

            I generally despair of what Peter calls “the culture war”. I definitely stand on a different side of the wall from conservative Evangelicalism, but hate the fact that there seems to be a wall there at all.

            I think the most grating point, which does seem personal, is that a noticeable number of inerrantists do seem to think that someone not holding that viewpoint is “in the wrong” and a subset of them will conclude that if you are not an inerrantist, you cannot be a Christian (Thankfully The Chicago Statement opposes this view, but only in a grudging and condescending manner).

            As you may have gathered I do not agree with the points you have made in support of your view, but I would hope but do wonder about where this would leave us in terms of “being in communion”.

            My general feeling is that non-inerrantists on the whole can freely accept communion with inerrantists (unless they’re being hounded), but it does not work so well the other way round. Where we do get uppity though is when we feel judged by the “other side”. I feel that “separatism” is much more of an inerrantist standpoint than it is of non-inerrantists, so there is little moral equivalence here. Admittedly non-inerrantists can often be fairly judgmental against the “other side”, sometimes without warrant or unkindly, but on balance I think it may be more out of defensiveness against offence.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “Jesus himself seemed to speak to the very question about the inspiration of the Scripture”

            Mark 10:5 pretty much drives the nail through the coffin of this argument, but as I believe I said to you before, Jesus never makes any statement in the Gospels that would be affirming a doctrine of inerrancy. In fact, Jesus’s use of Scripture (or over-riding Scripture) is completely opposed to it. And you can’t point to Matthew 5:18 because Christians chucked out large swaths of Torah long ago.

            There’s a reason nothing akin to a modern evangelical notion of “inerrancy” never arose until the 19th century. It’s not only a fundamentally Protestant stance alien to the first 1500 years of Christianity, but’s a fundamentally modern stance in response to higher criticism and science.

          • Daniel Fisher

            “I have learned to hold the Scriptures alone inerrant.”

            “It is heretical to say that any falsehood whatsoever is contained either in the gospels or in any canonical Scripture.”

            “I am sure that, if I say anything which plainly opposes the Holy Scriptures, it is false.”

            These sentiments are from Augustine, Aquinas, and Anselm, so you’ll have to explain to me exactly what you mean that this view never arose until the 19th century?

  • AlanCK

    What a mess. Commit to apologetic and sooner or later one is a defense attorney for God along the lines of Job’s so-called friends. One wonders if a young Bart Ehrman would have argued in a similar manner.

    I’m beginning to think that the utility of this “views” series by Zondervan is quite minimal, especially with regards to subject matter like Genesis 1-11. The authors are all playing golf, but one is playing according to the rules of St. Andrews while another is playing according to the rules of Muirfield while another is playing according to the rules of Dornoch. There is a little white ball they are all hitting around, but what is out-of-bounds for one author is playable for another.

    A more necessary book from Zondervan would be “views” on the freedom of the Word of God with Biblical scholars participating. This, of course, would necessitate the playing of one’s theological cards but it would be nice to hear from the scholars themselves as to what they think the text is in actuality. Plus, it might afford the opportunity for the vestiges of fundamentalism to finally be expunged from evangelical scholarship.

  • Mr. Enns: Why are you deleting my comments? I am commenting on-topic or responding to questions posed to me by your readers. Please explain to me what comment rules I am violating so that I can conform to your standards.

    Thank you. I very much enjoy your blog.

    • peteenns

      Gary, I moderate comments and I was very busy yesterday.

      I was going to ask you, though, what is your end game here? I ask because you seem to be more about pissing people off than engaging. Or am I wrong?

      • I am engaging in a discussion that interests me. Please show me where I have attempted to “piss people off” and I will apologize to the appropriate party.

        • Ross

          Dear Gary, I think the reason Pete has stated that you are attempting to “upset people”, is that the force of your discussion points seem to be critical of those who have a belief in God, and that the belief in a resurrected Jesus is without grounds. It may be that the way you come across is to appear to ridicule deeply held beliefs.

          Anyone who is hostile or vehemently critical of someone’s deeply held beliefs is likely to “piss them off”. I think Pete’s point is that your comments appear hostile.

          Now if you were to state your comments in a different way, saying that you have a different viewpoint, may not like someone’s beliefs, but communicated in an “amicable” manner, then Pete may approach you in a more conciliatory manner. It may be that some of your “satirical comments” come across as less than amicable.

          • I will attempt to change my tone. Thank you for clarifying this for me.

  • Frank

    Could not God, who raises the dead to life, create the universe in six days?

    • The question is not could He, but did He.

      • Frank

        I don’t know but if he could why would anyone argue against the possibility? Isn’t that limiting God?

        • I cannot speak for Richard, but the question of “could” is much murkier than whether or not God actually did do thus-and-such. It’s also not, as you put it, “limiting God” if we clarify what he couldn’t or wouldn’t do. These cannot lead to reliable conclusions, as they are based on speculation and hypothetical constructs. Couldn’t God zap everyone into his kingdom without Christ and atonement and faith? It doesn’t limit God to reject the question itself, nor does it do a single thing to advance an argument for the history of what God did in fact do to save his people from their sin.

    • Ross

      As Richard says, “did he”. There is a large amount of planet earth which seems to dispute a literal six day creation. Innumerable Christians have no problems with accepting that much of the “creation story” is metaphorical. Why does any one need to strongly hold to a literal six day creation?

      • Frank

        I’m not claiming that it was a literal six day creation. All I’m asking is of God can raise the dead to life couldn’t he easily create the universe in six days?

        • Ross

          Frank, Personally I’d have to say yes. My knowledge of God and the universe is patchy to say the least, so I might still wonder what it might take to do such a work and what if any limitations God may have on doing such a large task and maybe what his own desires and choices would effect it.

  • Just re-read this post and relish very many things about it: your thoroughness and depth of understanding about a vast and complicated topic; your clarity as you make your points; and your ability to clearly call someone out without being nasty. And your final statement is punchy and clear re. evangelicals participating, with scholarly respectability, in a conversation that is irreducibly Christian (as it regards the first book of the Christian Bible).

    I had one other thought that I’d love to know anyone else’s thoughts–especially Peter here: Am I being naive (as a layperson regarding academics–particularly science and / or biblical studies) to say that this is not an issue worth dividing over? That may sound rhetorical. Is it worth drawing a deep line in the sand over seven literal 24-hour periods vs. day=age? Surely the two choices implicate the age of the earth, but … I am one who assumes that the earth is older (and I’m married to a science teacher who has given me reason to think this is correct).

    Because I’m not part of the academic community–like you (Peter) and the writer’s that you respond to–I mostly couldn’t care less whether someone believes differently on this issue. So, (honestly), is this just head-in-the-sand, conflict avoidance? Is it wise? Is it neither, and purely a benign individual choice?

    • Ross

      For me I tend to think lots of points of disagreement within christianity ought to be thought of as a purely benign individual choice, many will agree but for many others I think that “certainty and agreement” over matters which they find important are “worth” dividing for and won’t come to any compromise.

      Dale, I’m not 100% sure if I’ve understood your comment (and am not an academic), so forgive me if I’ve gone wrong here. But there are greater than just the two choices you mentioned. These two choices are possibly “divisive” within a certain narrow perspective, but many would reject both choices as being so similar as to have little significant difference. I myself would probably reject both literal 24hr periods and day=age.

      I would suggest that, regardless of the intent of the author(s) of Genesis and the understanding of Jesus, Paul etc, we cannot treat any of the narrative as history and maybe therefore see it mainly in terms of metaphor.

      • Thanks so much Ross! My question wasn’t so much about how many possibilities there are for interpreting the early chapters of Genesis. I tried to qualify my tremendous respect for Peter from everything I’ve read by him (thoughtfully/carefully written; academically rigorous; accessible–often clever and humorous–presentation). When I’ve heard someone be so strident in a particular view on this matter, like, in this case, Piper (who essentially says it’s damning to believe in evolution), I want to pan back and ask higher level questions, such as: if I have a high regard for God and Christ, what would practically alter, day-to-day for me, if I had one view or another regarding clarity on the early chapters of Genesis as they relate to origins and cosmology. That said, one reason why I’m not inclined to see these chapters as metaphor (or, better, allegory) is the highly practical problem of the Fall, without which, much–if not all–of the New Testament would be null. In terms of the goodness of the Christian gospel and the life of the Christian, are either one of these effected by having one or another view on the age of the earth?

        • Ross

          Dale, whilst waiting for people who know what they’re talking about to weigh in I thought I’d make a couple of (speculative) comments.

          It seems to me that some feel that the “fall” account is necessarily “true history” to explain the origins of our current state. I think they rightly see that if it is not seen as historic then it is possible to dismiss guilt/sin and maybe not see a need for “repentance” and “redemption. I think this is why many fiercely oppose any view which does not see Adam and Eve and the Fall as a real historic event.

          From my point of view, I think there is a considerable body of thought which is reasonable to cast doubt on the historicity of “the fall”. However I can see that reading the Adam and Eve narrative as allegory/metaphor, one quite easily see that it describes our fallen state, even if it is not actually giving the reality/cause of how this occurred.

          So I can see that both views on the early parts of Genesis can get us to exactly the same place. We are fallen, the World is somehow wrong and we need something to “make us/it better”.

          This is one reason I am not particularly impressed with an inerrantist/literalist view which says that you have to believe in a literal fall. Both views get us to exactly the same place and it is manifestly untrue that you need to believe in the historical fall for the rest of the Christian message to make sense or be followed.

          • Ross, Thanks again. I respect and appreciate your thoughts about this. They definitely make me think, and I am not at all closed-off to your premise. I’m not a literalist or inerrantist, as you mention. It’s interesting that the comment stream began with my quasi-ambivalence over various origins narratives, as I’m not sure that, a.) the answers are explicitly clear, and, b.) that one’s position on origins practically impacts day-to-day life, let alone the grandness of the gospel. But, as you keenly wrote your most recent reply, I cannot think that the same is true re. the origin of evil, classically referred to as the “fall.” I’m “thinking” out loud here Ross, but–whether the Genesis narrative is a chronicle or whether it’s a story, my own heart is wicked, and this is described in various parts of the Bible as accurately as could possibly be. What “seems” self-evident is that all of humankind “seems” fallen/selfish/bent inward, which sometimes is manifested as wickedness or cruelty. When I read Paul’s account in Romans 7 of, what I take to be, his reflection on his day-to-day reality, it is my exact day-to-day reality as well. So, thank you again for your very thoughtful reply, and for not assuming that I was stumping a literalist take on Genesis or elsewhere. I’m still just trying to figure some of this stuff out. Evil came from somewhere. It’s universal. Christ came for a reason, which wouldn’t have been the case without some source or cause of real (not pure allegory) fallenness or separation from God. All of this, Ross, I take as straight-forward, irrespective of my (or anyone’s) view of the nature of the canon of Scripture. Make sense? Thank you very much! Dale

          • Ross

            Dale, thank you for your gracious comments.

            A great part of me wants to know “why”, for many things, why does my laptop not want to work today? why is there pain in the World? Why am I like I am? As you say, Paul’s description is also very much like my own experience.

            For the past few years I’ve been thinking that whatever the “objective reality” is of say, the fall, heavenly battles etc, maybe we just haven’t been given all the answers. Maybe we don’t need them, maybe we aren’t capable of understanding whatever it is.

            I quite like the idea of the “sufficiency of scripture”. It gives enough for us to do what we need to do. Of course we also get other help from our fellow man, fellow believers, the community of believers over the millennia.

            I would like to think that if we concern ourselves with these issues and cry out that we need God, because we can’t understand and can’t do it all on our own, that he will come and help us, meet us where we are. Which sounds all a bit trite and doesn’t necessarily reflect how I feel about it day to day!

    • dhebler

      Genesis 1:1-5
      The answer you seek is there, hidden in God’s own.

      It starts in Genesis with the heavens above and the earth below verse one–(Elohim–creator). Verse two; the age that was became void. And the light that was there, was for God’s own to see–verse three. And our beginnings to a new age–verses four-five is day one–a new beginning!

      The bible does not conflict with science; its science that conflicts with God’s word from the beginning. Carbon dating has the earth to be over 4 billion years old. The question becomes; who do you trust in for knowledge, is it man or God?

      The dividing line is drawn in the sand in verses four and five. If you choose to ignore in what I say, then you buried your head in the sand like a ostrich. And a ostrich never sees anything with its head buried in the sand!

    • newenglandsun

      I don’t think you’re being naive. From the standpoint of the Christian community as a whole, it is fruitless to divide over specifics of Genesis because no one was there when God created and so we don’t know how God created and if we assume anything is possible with God then we are already out of boundaries of science any way.