The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The Meaning of Genesis - Peter Enns

A Pastor once told me that, were he to tell his congregation how the OT was developed, redacted, changed to suit the needs of believers in exile or other situations, half the congregation would leave. :smiley:
The technical term ‘inspiration’ needs to be fleshed out a bit, perhaps someone will take that on.


Interesting observation. I think it is precisely this reality that many pastors feel that they can’t share what they’ve been taught and come to believe about the nature of the Bible and how it it was shaped that motivated Enns to try to put in simple terms for typical ‘normal’ lay people what many scholars see in the Scripture (of Genesis). I often found my dilemma as a pastor was that succeeding in my profession required being careful about challenging my congregation’s views, rather than thriving by simply reinforcing what they already thought.

I can’t do any justice here to the subject of inspiration. But my old professor of N.T., Everett Harrison, grabbed my attention when he said that we can’t determine what kind of Book inspiration produces if we avoid examining what kind of book the Bible actually is (for him who remained an inerrantist, this meant that ‘inerrancy’ must be far more broadly defined than his former teaching post at Dallas Seminary allowed). Also, Enns most (in)famous book is probably the one he wrote on Inspiration and Incarnation. I haven’t read it, but I gather that he discusses the nature of inspiration in light of the reality of the text that appears to show a combination of both human and divine elements.

Bob - thank you for that response. Pastors are really the ones that weigh this and other subjects in light of their flock’s needs. And making some subjects ‘pastoral’ has got to be a challenge.

I don’t have time for another book, so I&I is not in my near future. i would really like to know your thoughts on the question I’ve been struggling with: well, basically: 2 Tim 3:16. Would a study of the speculations of Enns (as far as you know) or other authors be necessary to equip members of, say, your church, to accomplish the purposes Paul is talking about? (I’m not a ‘naive’ reader of scripture by any means, and I fall along the lines of ‘critical realism’ that N.T. Wright develops) Or, put another way, is the Enns approach intended to be a ‘sword to the heart’ of those who hold to inspiration in some form? Are the speculations intended, do you know, to build up the church, or mainly aimed at scholars?

You can pm to me if you don’t feel this is the appropriate place to discuss these things.

Thanks Bob



I sympathize, feeling there’s too much else on my plate to tackle I & I myself (you notice I only invested time in his easiest book for ‘normal’ folk)! While I love intellectual depth and would love others to have a more ‘scholarly’ appreciation for the Bible, I suspect this is way down the list for letting Scripture equip us in the way 2 Timothy desires. This seems to me to reflect a practical concern for Scripture strengthening us in our trust in God and in the course we take in our life. For me, a central concern of Scripture’s trajectory is to equip us to fulfill the great commandment, and my wife who has no interest in these scholarly questions, often puts me to shame in processing God’s concern to lead us toward a life of love. 2 Timothy leads me to think that a lot of our controversial questions are not really central to the Bible’s focus of concern, and that a ‘naive’ Bible reader with a good heart will be able to pick up on what God cares about.

I don’t think Enns desires to attack the heart of those who hold inspiration. I sense his desire is to defend inspiration for those whose intellectual nature may be tempted to reject it because of difficulties they see. When Westminster was considering releasing him because of I & I, I read several letters from students pleading that he was the one who had enabled their faith in Scripture to be sustained. I suspect Enn’s interest in tweaking our conception of inspiration arises especially from his own need as an evangelical with a Harvard Ph.D. to reaffirm how he can remain ‘evangelical.’ And being a professor, it is that more studious side of the “church” in the modern world for which his heart is naturally burdened.

Despite paragraph one, I do worry that conservatives can get so involved reading the Bible apologetically to defend their modern dogmas and concerns (e.g. age of the earth, justification by faith in substitutionary atonement as encompassing the Bible’s main concern, the nature of hell as endless, etc) that what even a naive reader could gain from Scripture sometimes gets buried. So for me, as an intellectual, Enns’ look at its’ views in light of an historical analysis actually helps uncover what is refreshing for my walk with God. For example, reading Genesis in light of struggling with exile, brought it alive for me, because I sensed that the Biblical writers were doing much of what I need to do as a contemporary person of faith. Like them, I experience life as often short of being what it seems God ought to be making it, and I have to ask whether I can trust in God, and how to approach my plight. I think these are ultimately not questions which have answers that are scientifically 'provable." They ultimately call for faith as we respond to the message of the Good News. And I hear Enns saying that despite our difficult experiences and questions, we too, like Israel, are to affirm that God embodies a righteous goodness and is committed to our good, is at work bringing value out of chaos, even as He lets us suffer consequences of our choices, and calls us toward the blessings of being more faithful.

Grace be with you,


Well said Bob.

On inspiration… I believe in it with regards to “the originals” it’s just that we have none and what is extant are “copies” and translations wherein the variations lie etc.

Thanks again Bob. It sounds like many of the points Enns wants to reinforce are points that have been around for some time. And I totally dig what you are saying about naive readers - I’ve know a number of remarkable servants of God, filled with wisdom and good works and love, who have never heard of JE?D. God isn’t limited.

Davo - could it be that God, having inspired the scriptures and the whole process of their coming about, could also providentially provide that the copies, even with minor mistakes and such, still are able to do the work He had designed them for? That’s one way I deal with not having the originals.

Yep I guess that is possible, but for mine… “inspiration” and “mistakes” don’t go so well on the same page, hence my way of handling with it.

Well I did not mean the mistakes were inspired, just that, in spite of copyists errors etc, the inspired teaching still shines through clearly. That’s all I meant.

Yep all good. :slight_smile:

Hi all,

I found this essay on Enns’ssite which I found excellent regarding an incarnational approach to I’ve ordered I&I and hope to have it in hand soon. (along with another of Enns’s books) I find it hard to disagree with anything Enns says in this essay and, if anyone gets a chance, I think it’s well worth reading.(and I’m sure it’s shorter than I&I :wink: ) On his site, Enns says this about this particular essay:

Steve - geez, now I HAVE to read it, don’t I?? :smiley:
I found I&I on kindle for $9.99, I guess I’ll take the plunge.

I characterized some people, now without compassion, in another post as those who are daily walking that narrow ridge between despair and hope, who cling to some certainties like they cling to life, and if the certainties are questioned, they perceive it as an attack. A sanity thing.

Well, I’m in that camp, and I recognize that I am. I sometimes see an attack when it is actually the hand of a friend. I no longer cling to inerrancy as I once did - but I’m pretty careful about adopting any model that Appears to shake the foundations - I think the foundations are pretty solid - God as he has revealed himself will always and forever be our God and Father; his revelation in the scripture is inerrant along the lines that Jason and Goetz and others have pointed out; Jesus Christ is the same today and forever as well.

Those things, if explicity challenged, bring out either the yappy little terrier, or the reasoned semi-mature man. I hate the yappy little terrier. :laughing:

Anyway, I see the hand of a friend here, and I’m probably going to take the plunge. I was glad to see that Enns is not really saying anything ‘new’ - he is trying to enlarge on the hermeneutics we normally use in our understanding of scripture.

Edit: I meant “NOT without compassion”

:laughing: Dave

You make me think of my mom’s little dog. He’s not a terrier, but he’s sure yappy when I come into the house. It won’t do to just reach down an pet him either. I have to go to “his” little end table. He hops on the back of the couch and runs the ridge to get to his “throne” where I am permitted to do PROPER homage. Then he’s fine. He’s the sweetest little guy (only I wish he weren’t quit so, um, fluffy – Mom can’t help feeding him too many treats) No one could help loving him, but he does have his ways. The lamp on “his” table is firmly glued down (my brother did that) and nobody had better set a drink there! Doggies are great.

Love, Cindy

Very nice, Dave!
I really like this…

I’m someone who scraped off the house of straw I’d built in my old literalist /annihilationist (in the mode of C.S. Lewis) days. I’m rebuilding now on that ‘foundation’ and I think some of Enns’s approachs to scripture may be very helpful —using inspiration and inerrancy in the fashion he does in this article.

I said : now without compassion

I meant: NOT without compassion

Like a little proof-reading wouldn’t hurt, would it? :smiley:

Yeah, I knew you meant that. I’m used to reading Dick’s posts after all. :laughing: And of course even I occasionally make a typo. :wink:

I thought this was a good synopsis, Bob. I haven’t read this particular book, but Enns makes a lot of similar points in The Evolution of Adam, which is a great book for enlightening us on these same topics and thereby helping us think through how we might reframe the evolution/ creation dialogue.

I really like Enns’ work, and I follow his blog now.