Responses to Mike Bird’s Questions

My friend Mike Bird posted some questions in response to what is happening at Westminster Seminary with Peter Enns as a result of Enns’s book, Inspiration and Incarnation.

My responses to those questions in the comments section on Bird’s blog became such that I thought it might be useful to post them here.

For the questions, see Mike’s post here. My response was as follows:
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Mike, 

I appreciate Marty’s responses above [the third comment in response to Bird’s post], and I want to add that it seems to me that the way you’ve framed the questions doesn’t exactly match the way that the opposition to Enns understands the issues. 

It may be that the way you’re framing the issues is the way that Enns thinks they should be framed, but I don’t think those who think he doesn’t fit at WTS approach the questions the way you do here. So, I’ll briefly add my two cents on your 4 points, which I think will get at the way the Enns-opposers would think about the issues (I can’t speak for them, but being sympathetic with their concerns, I’m giving you the rationale behind my concerns): 

1. My guess is that they would say there isn’t only one orthodox way of dealing with extra-biblical sources. I suspect they would be very sympathetic with Greg Beale’s objection to the way that Enns narrows things down to only one possible explanation–that the biblical authors shared mythological notions reflected in extra biblical lit–then from this Enns concludes that the biblical authors held some mythological ideas that they wrote up in the Bible. Beale lists 4 different ways that evangelicals have explained the kinds of things that lead Enns to think there are mythological notions in the Bible: 1) biblical polemic against these ideas; 2) general revelation shared by biblical and extra-biblical authors; 3) common reflection of ancient tradition; and 4) a productive use of truth found in extra-biblical literature. (I’m referring to the Beale review in JETS, which I think is worth reading carefully).

All this to say, there isn’t one and only one orthodox way of dealing with these kinds of things, there are many orthodox ways of explaining these things. There are also unorthodox ways of explaining them, and the folks at WTS think that saying that the Bible contains myth is on the unorthodox side. I agree. 

2. Couldn’t it simply be that Genesis 1-3 is engaged in polemics against the false notions current in the day? 

3. With Marty’s points above, I would add that Paul would have held that the Bible was totally true and trustworthy (inerrancy), and I think he would have seen enough manuscripts to recognize that God didn’t re-inspire every scribe who decided to copy a manuscript of a biblical text (the point of saying that the autographs are inspired and inerrant). 

As for the kinds of things we see in Paul’s citation of Isa 59:20 in Rom 11:26-27, we have to take these things on a case by case basis. The Greek translator of Isaiah was working with an unpointed Hebrew text–as was Paul if he was looking at the Hebrew rather than the Greek (I don’t need to tell you that the pointings don’t come in until the middle ages, ca. 6th-7th c. AD, but maybe some readers will benefit from that note). Just a cursory glance at this leads me to think that the Greek translator of Isaiah has carried over the subject from the first half of the line (“the redeemer will come”) to the second half of the line, so that whereas the Masoretes pointed the text to read “to those who turn”–taking ulshavey as a masc. pl. ptcpl in construct with the following word, the Greek translator perhaps read the yod as a vav (easy to do if the tail on the yod was a little long–or maybe it was a vav and the Masoretes misread it as a yod) and perhaps the Greek translator, seeing ulshavo, took this as an infinitive construct whose 3ms (the vav) pronominal suffix pointed back to the subject of the first half of the line, resulting in the reading “and he will turn back ungodliness” in the LXX instead of “and for those who repent of sin” in the Masoretic text. I only put this out as a possibility. A definitive explanation would require, among other things, an examination of the translation technique employed by the Isaiah translator. But this possibility should show that we should not draw overly rash conclusions about the kinds of things we see happening in the texts as we move from the Masoretic text to the Greek translations of the OT to the New Testament. Other changes in Paul’s rendering appear to have come in from the influence of Psalm 14:7. On these issues I highly recommend Peter Gentry’s article, “The Septuagint and the Text of the Old Testament,” BBR 16.2 (2006), 193-218. 

Having said all this, I would also say that my presupposition is that Paul has rightly understood the meaning of the OT text–even if that meaning is dependant upon his interpretation of the wider context of not only Isaiah but the whole OT–and so perhaps Paul does introduce changes (maybe as Earle Ellis argues he selects from all the translations/interpretations known to him) and these changes that Paul introduces into his citations are intended to communicate more clearly what he thinks is the true meaning of the OT text in context. So the variations that we see point us to the way that Paul is interpreting the OT. Now the question becomes, has Paul rightly understood the OT? I think he gets it right, and I think it is incumbent upon us to patiently seek to understand him and not too quickly arrive at the conclusion that Paul has done violence to the OT text or assumed some mythological interpretation. 

Even if Paul is alluding to the movable well, as Enns argues, how do we know that by asserting that the rock was Christ he is not opposing what he views as a silly fable? In several texts Paul calls his audiences to reject Jewish myths that promote speculations (e.g., 1 Tim 1:4). Maybe the movable well thing was one of those speculative myths. In my opinion, Enns has taken what is at best a dubious possibility–that Paul believes in the movable well–and from that dubious possibility Enns wants to construct his doctrine of Scripture. I think his critics who have objected that he’s trying to build a doctrine of Scripture from “problem texts” are right on the money, and I think the Beale is right to point out in his Themelios review that when you count up the problem texts that Enns cites, there aren’t more than a dozen! Maybe as few as 8 to 10.

4. Marty’s answer is very helpful. Schreiner rejects the idea that the prophecy was really made by the historical Enoch, and he states, “It is better to conclude that Jude quoted the pseudepigraphical 1 Enoch and that he also believed that the portion he quoted represented God’s truth. Jude’s wording does not demand that he thought we have an authentic oracle from the historical Enoch. We do not need to conclude, however, that the entire book is part of the canon of Scripture . . . Jude probably cited a part of 1 Enoch that he considered to be a genuine prophecy” [Schreiner cites Moo as being in general agreement with him on this point]. Schreiner then suggests that Jude’s opponents might have valued Enoch, so he quoted this unremarkable prophecy against them, concluding, “Jude simply drew from a part of the work that he considered true” (Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 469-70).

I think that Greg Beale’s three reviews of Enns’s book are worthy of careful study, and I hope that what I have written here is helpful. 

So thankful for the reliability of the Bible! 

Jim

3 Comments

Filed under Bible and Theology, Evangelism and Apologetics, History, OT in the NT

3 responses to “Responses to Mike Bird’s Questions

  1. John

    Well put, Dr. Hamilton. What surprised me the most about I&I was the idea that evangelical Biblical scholars have a “problem” (which Enns does not define) with ANE texts and Biblical innerency. Considering the work by evangelical and fellow Presbyterian C. John Collins, I found this posture disingenuous.

  2. Jim,

    As to point number two, “Couldn’t it simply be that Genesis 1-3 is engaged in polemics against the false notions current in the day?”, I think there might be a safer and more satisifying answer. If you only leave it at the level of polemic, you run the risk of implying that Genesis 1-3 is not so much historical but polemical.

    Therefore, I prefer to think that the Enuma Elish, as with other mythical accounts of creation, the fall, the flood, etc., are all based in the historical accounts as passed down through oral history. Since man oppresses truth, the accounts begin to vary, much like we see in the linguists’ favorite game, telephone. We should not be surprised to find similar accounts if there is some basis in history. I should think that it would be far more surprising to find no other similar accounts of creation. Then we might truly wonder if we were not just reading some myth.

    Warmly,

    CT

  3. CT,

    Amen. And that’s the third of the four possibilities Beale enumerates under the first point above.

    Thanks!

    Jim

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