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The Old Testament as History

Posted Friday, December 22, 2006 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Old Testament  

The last report is actually a collection of presentations from the Old Testament as Historical Literature study group. The focus this year was a book that came out at ETS last year by Peter Enns: Inspiration and Incarnation. The book was interesting, I thought, but not excellent. But it has gotten a lot of attention and multiple book reviews, with the reviewers strongly stating their opinions either for or against the book. In this series of presentations, Peter Enns gave a talk, and then three others responded to specific aspects of his book (but I only went to the first two responders). It was a very full session, with people spilling out into the hallway, and many of the top evangelical OT scholars were present.

Peter Enns went first and responded to a point of criticism. The main point of his book is that we should treat the Bible like we treat the Incarnation: truly human as well as truly God. He says that evangelicals have overly deified the text and ignored its human aspects. The three areas he mentioned in the book were ANE parallels, such as myth, the use of the OT in the NT, and the theological diversity present in the OT. But he has been criticized for not explaining his incarnation analogy very well, and so in his talk “Preliminary Observations on the Incarnational Nature of Scripture” he delved into the topic. Or at least I thought he would. The bulk of his talk was quoting from older respected writers who also viewed the Scriptures according to this model, four Reformed authors (Warfield, AA Hodge, Bobink, and Ribberdos) and CS Lewis. But then he didn’t really seem to be clearer on what he meant when it comes down to the text. Is Genesis myth? What is myth? Can the Bible contain any form of error? He did give a beautiful mixing of metaphor, though: “Dominoes unraveling down the slippery slope.” The danger he stated for the view he is arguing against is that an overly divine Bible causes people to lose their faith when humanness is seen in Scripture. One person in the audience, a young man in his twenties, said during the question and answer time that the book had been a great encouragement to him when he was having difficulty with the Bible.

            Richard Averbeck began with the first response, “Compositional and Theological Implications for the Pentateuch from the Early History of the Hebrew Language.” He focused on one specific statement of Enns, that Hebrew was relatively young and did not extend back into the second millennium. This has obvious implications for the Pentateuch. For Enns, this supports his idea that Genesis is myth. So Averbeck tried to show that Hebrew does indeed exist before David. He brought up several interesting points, such as the Amarna Letters. If there were trained scribes during the Amarna period, then why not later as well, when the Israelites enter the land?

Richard Schultz was up next with “Theological Diversity and the ‘Messiness’ of Scripture: Peter Enns and Divine Accommodation in the Old Testament.” As you can tell, he focused upon theological diversity in the OT, but his review was fairly critical of the book. He kept on referring to Enns and saying negative things about the book while Enns was sitting about two feet to his right. His main point, from what I remember and what few notes I took, was that theological diversity did not bother him too much. But what did bother him and his students was historical criticism. If there was an issue that should be looked at, it is historical criticism. This is the area that causes people to fall away from the faith, not the issues that Enns brought up. Schulz brought up many other thoughts as well, but this was one that was highlighted.

Overall, it was a fascinating and rather tense series of presentations. The issue is not going to go away, especially the connection between myth and Genesis. I am guessing that this study group next year will focus upon that topic.

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