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Christianity as a Historical Religion
The debate between evangelists and proponents of the critical approach focuses on the issues of the authorship of the Bible and the reception of the Old Testament by the authors of the New Testament. The purpose of this paper is to examine Peter Enns's book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament and explore his main argument. Taking the incarnation of God in the Scripture as a starting point, Enns states that the interpretations of the Old Testament should be viewed as the paths to a more profound understanding of God's message.
In his work, Enns attempts to solve the problem of the Bible as a sacred book, which the godly and human dimensions of the Scripture-inspired. The author is convinced that the Bible is God's gift to the church; in his view, it is the only acceptable position on the Scripture (1). Enns tries to combine the new vision of well-known things from Scripture with a belief that the Scripture is God's word (2). He states the starting point of the discussion in the following way: as Christ is both God and human, so is the Bible; thus, if Jesus is both God and human, the Bible relates to the divine and human dimensions as well (5). As a human, Jesus belonged to his community, spoke its language, and shared its customs. By analogy, the Bible was also connected with ancient cultures and interacted with them. Its creation was not accidental or quick. Enns recognizes that Christianity is a historical religion, which holds the traces of many historical shifts. Therefore, he offers to forget about the historical and cultural contexts of the Bible, which reflect the human dimension of this sacred text. This point of view is referred to as incarnational analogy Christs and Scripture incarnations are similar. Enns further emphasizes the idea that human marks in the Scripture are everywhere and should not be ignored. However, people must learn from them. Thus, based on Jesus' God-man nature and historical context of his life, Enns claims that the human dimension of the Scripture is its irreplaceable component although it may make modern Christians think that the existence of this element diminishes Bible's divine nature, which is not true. To reveal His words, God would have to speak human languages so that people could understand Him. What is more, He made ancient languages capable of recording His words, which might be interpreted as a sign of great love to people and the heart of revelation.
Enns underlines the theological diversity of the Old Testament and interprets it as multiply opinions of God expressed in the Bible. The author recognizes that the Old Testament contains many statements, which contradict each other and lead to the confusion of the modern reader. In this respect, numerous cultures, which have affected the Bible and felt its influence as well, explain the lack of coherence in the text. For instance, Enns illustrates the diversity of the Old Testament by citing archeological records about Mesopotamia, Nuzi tablets, Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, and Marduk for further comparing and contrasting the stories of the creation of different cultures. Next, he compared the Code of Hammurabi to the Exodus to demonstrate that the ancient texts had both similarities and differences. It means that the descriptions of customs and the stories from the Scripture have their historical origin. Therefore, to understand the Bible, one should comprehend these contexts; it explains both the human dimension and the theological diversity of the Old Testament. However, it may seem that the historical origin of some biblical stories makes the Scripture less unique and divine.
The interpretation of the theological diversity of the Scripture demonstrates crucial differences between Jewish and Christian perceptions of the Old Testament. It is worth noting that Enns emphasizes the following fact: critical and evangelical views on the diversity of the Bible demonstrate expectations of how the Bible ought to behave instead of defining how it really does. The author assumes that diversity is inherent in the Scripture and was not imposed on it as an argument against the unity of the Bible (63). According to the information mentioned above, God can change His mind He is dynamic in a cognitive sense although He remains omniscient and omnipotent. Enns underlines that God reveals himself throughout the Old Testament. No part gets more rights than others. Rather, they get different sides of God for ancient audiences (94). God chooses how people gain knowledge about Him; thus, the way, in which they see Him, is the demonstration of their ability to understand. However, if the Old Testament is a collection of historical texts, the Bible is expected to be a unified and coherent message (97). Considering this argument, Enns mentions that for God, to reveal Himself means to accommodate to being understood. For this reason, factual and theological diversity is inherent in the Bible.
Enns raises the issue of the interpretation of the Old Testament by the authors of the New Testament. He states that the New Testament authors were explaining what the authors of the Old Testament meant through the lens of Jesus. Discussing the attitude of the first to the authors of the Old Testament, Enns suggests the analysis of the interpretative world, in which the New Testament was created (106). Hence, through defining the historical context of apostolic hermeneutics, for instance, the circumstances that concern the Second Temple, he offers a grammatical-historical approach (107). Enns assumes that since Christianity is a historical religion, treating biblical interpretation as the path to understanding, not the protection of truth, is more fruitful.
Focusing on the principle of historicism, the author suggests that the Old Testament should be interpreted in the diversity of its facts and meanings, and the cultural context should be considered. However, when managing the New Testament, one should not think that its authors were trying to argue or defend the position of the Old Testament authors. If one recognizes the interpretative paradigm of the creators of the New Testament, he or she may see that certain historic events and the episodes from the apostle's lives had a significant impact on the way, in which the authors of this text perceived the Old Testament. Enns also repeats that people see the problems because of their expectations, not because these problems really exist. If the modern reader expects total coherence and the confirmation of the Old Testament from the Bible, he/she sees a range of problems that cannot be solved. However, if people understand the contradictions in the text as the diversity of the ways, in which God reveals Himself through the Scripture, a careful conversation with God replaces doubts about the divine origin of the Bible. In addition, the task of the modern church is to defend the interpretative principle of the New Testament although accurate analysis of the Old Testament should not be neglected.
In conclusion, Enns's central argument is that God incarnated himself in the Scripture. Taking into account the historical character of Christianity, one may note that God made the Bible comprehensible for people so that He put His word along with the cultures of various nations. Since Jesus is both God and human, his teaching and the Bible are of both divine and human nature. The fact that there are contradictions and ancient stories in the Bible does not make it less unique and trustworthy. I agree with Enns's approach because the way, in which people view things, determines the depth of their interpretations. Therefore, those who want to see the contradictions and divergences would necessarily find them. The author has made a successful attempt to demonstrate that the dilemma of whether the Scripture was a usual text, which people wrote, or a message from God concerned, in fact, the surface understanding of the matter. Using the scientific approach, which involved historical and linguistic aspects, as a key to comprehending the Scripture, he showed that faith and reasoning were complementary, not mutually exclusive things.