The Bible Tells Me So: a review
Published: 23 December 2014 (GMT+10)
The Christian’s relationship with God is mediated through Scripture. He speaks to us today through His inspired Word. Everything we need for salvation and living the Christian life is contained in the Bible. So the question of what we think the Bible is and why it was given to us is one of the most important questions the Christian has to answer, and it will have effects in every area of our life.
In his latest book, Peter Enns is quick to say what the Bible is not. The Bible is not “a holy rulebook” (p. 3), “a cookbook”, “an owner’s manual”, or “a contract” (p. 23). Instead, Enns says, “When we open the Bible and read it, we are eavesdropping on an ancient spiritual journey” (p. 23). He says, “This kind of Bible—the Bible we have—just doesn’t work well as a point-by-point exhaustive and timelessly binding list of instructions about God and the life of faith. But it does work as a model for our own spiritual journey. An inspired model, in fact” (p. 24).
Enns spends the rest of the book showing us how the Bible is a ‘messy’ book, how it doesn’t follow our expectations, and how we have to let it speak for itself. But he never actually spells out what that means practically for how Christians should interpret the Bible.
Enns says: the Bible is wrong about God, and wrong about history
Enns rejects the idea that “What the Bible tells us about God simply has to be the way God is … That mentality has produced all sorts of stressful solutions, not to mention a few atrocities” (41). However he seems to fail to see that if the Bible could get God wrong, how wrong can we say it is? Is it wrong about the deity of Christ? How can we tell between the things the Bible gets right and the things the Bible gets wrong? This would seem to be a fairly important matter to explain.
For instance, Enns says “God never told the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. The Israelites believed that God told them to kill the Canaanites” (54). But it’s okay that Israel collectively misread that memo, because “Biblical archaeologists are about as certain as you can be about these things that the conquest of Canaan as the Bible describes did not happen: no mass invasion from the outside by an outside army, and no extermination of Canaanites as God commanded” (p. 58). So according to Enns the Bible gives a wrong view of God, and a wrong view of history.
Enns says that “The Bible looks the way it does because ‘God lets his children tell the story,’ so to speak” (p. 63). This means that Moses (or whoever wrote Exodus in Enns’s view) wrote things that God didn’t say and do because Moses had a limited (and wrong) view of God, “but we do get a good picture of how these ancient Israelites experienced God” (p. 64). Of course if this is true then Enns is overturning one of the central teachings of the Protestant church, Biblical inerrancy. This concept (based in Scripture itself) means that the Holy Spirit guided people in writing exactly what He wanted them to write (2 Timothy 3:16).
Enns doesn’t address the fact that God really cares how His people perceive Him. For instance, when Israel chose to portray God as a golden calf, He killed a whole bunch of them—they were not free to ‘experience’ God through idolatry. And Nadab and Abihu were God’s priests, in God’s Temple, only doing one thing wrong in offering unauthorized fire, and God killed them. So God’s children don’t have nearly the latitude that Enns seems to think they had.
Did Jesus get creative in His interpretation of the Bible?
Enns doesn’t think Jesus was any better at interpreting His Bible than the Jews were at writing it. In fact, he blasphemously titled a chapter “Jesus Gets a Big Fat ‘F’ in Bible”. He says:
But my main point holds. Loosey-goosey handling of the Bible gets you a bad grade, because you can’t just make the Bible mean whatever you feel like making it mean. You have to stick with what it says. Everyone who takes the Bible seriously knows that. Except for Jesus (p. 168).
To make his point, Enns quotes Matthew 22:23–33, and argues that “No reasonable connection exists between what the burning bush story says and what Jesus says it says” (p. 169).
Now a Christian, for whom Jesus is Lord and Saviour, would probably want to pause and give this passage a few moments of careful reflection before stating summarily that Jesus is pulling interpretations out of thin air. For one thing, the Sadducees were unable to answer his argument. They didn’t come back and say “Wait a minute, Jesus! No reasonable connection exists between what the burning bush says and what you say it says!” Too bad they didn’t have Enns around to bat for their team!
Jesus was interpreting Scripture as a first-century Jew, with a couple of innovations which the early Church carried into its interpretive tradition (though the constraints of this article do not allow for elaboration on this concept). However, Jesus was also doing so infallibly.
Note as well that Enns contradicts himself when he says (in the quote above) that “You have to stick with what it [the Bible] says”. But he obviously doesn’t do that elsewhere as we have seen. So ultimately Enns has positioned himself as somehow knowing when and where the Bible should be taken as plainly written and where it should not based on his own fallible human mind. But he doesn’t explain it.
Enns makes use of an argumentation strategy all too common in Bible books by liberal authors: he appeals to what “we know” about the Bible, while conveniently omitting mention of the many respected scholars who think we can believe quite a lot more of the Bible than he does. There are many inerrantist scholars who do not feel the need to reject large parts of the biblical narrative.
In fact, the inerrantist has an advantage over Enns. Enns assumes the Bible errs, and so it is easy for him to essentially ‘give up’ and say “Oh well, what do you expect from ancient people!” While an inerrantist believes that God is behind the text, and so will work harder to find a logical solution.
Also, Enns seems to use a fallacious argument to make his point in at least one place. Enns says:
How do we celebrate properly the Passover meal?
Exodus 12:8–9 and 46: Make sure you roast the Passover lamb (and whatever you do, definitely do not boil it or eat it raw) and eat it at home.
Deuteronomy 16:7–8: Boil the lamb and eat it only in the central sanctuary.
But as Dr Brian Mattson explains, this is fallacious. He is worth quoting at length:
The word b-sh-l in Exodus 12 is modified by a rather important prepositional phrase: “in water”. If you want to say “boil”, you add this prepositional phrase to give it the proper specificity: “cook in water”. In other words, b-sh-l is a general term meaning, “cook”. If you add “in water”, voila! You get, “boil”.
Deuteronomy doesn’t give a prepositional phrase. It just says, “b-sh-l and eat it.” In other words, “Cook it and eat it.” Not a word or hint about H2O, water, rain, steam, precipitation, or boiling. Just, “cook it”. If Deuteronomy wanted to say “boil”, it would’ve added the necessary, “in water”.
If Pete wants to argue otherwise, he can feel free to believe that in 2 Samuel 13:8 Tamar took dough, kneaded it, made cakes in the presence of Amnon and then boiled (b-sh-l) them. Uh, say what?
Exodus says “Don’t boil it. Roast it.” Deuteronomy says, “Cook it.”1
So this is a case of Peter Enns presenting a contradiction that doesn’t really exist, and as someone who knows Hebrew, he should certainly know better. What possible motive could he have, other than to cause people to doubt the plain reading of Word of God?
When we conflict with Scripture
Anyone who thinks about their faith at all will come to parts of Scripture that clash with preconceived ideas. At some point, practically everyone wants the Bible to allow their pet sins or some aspect of the culture. But when the Bible and the believer clash, the true believer has to bring him or herself into alignment with Scripture, not the other way around.
The Christian who believes the Bible has the ultimate authority has some assumptions that help us along the process of coming to alignment with difficult passages. First, we believe that God has inspired Scripture, and so the true interpretation of Scripture will be true, and will be morally good because God is good. Second, because God cannot err, God would not inspire error in Scripture, therefore there is a solution to any perceived problem. Third, because Jesus is God’s ultimate revelation of Himself, we will interpret Scripture in light of Christ (even the majority of it that was inspired before the Incarnation).
Resolving these sorts of conflicts is actually an opportunity to grow in our faith and in our understanding of God’s revelation to us. However, Peter Enns seems to lack any faith that there are answers. In fact it seems like he is glad there are (supposed) contradictions because it undermines a plain reading of the Bible which means it helps it conform to his unbiblical ideas. And while he still calls himself a Christian, one strains to see how far that definition can be stretched before someone falls into the category of a ‘false teacher’ described in the Bible. One would like to ask him, “Is there a teaching of Scripture that you would affirm despite the opinion of current scientific theory or cultural norms? What about virgins giving birth, men walking on water that isn’t frozen and dead people coming back to life for example?” In what way is Scripture different in authority from the latest offering from Oprah Winfrey in regards to day to day living or National Geographic discussing world history?
In Eden, the serpent invited Eve to reinterpret God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Today, Peter Enns and many others like him are inviting us to reinterpret God’s word—but there is absolutely no reason for the Christian who trusts in Scripture to listen to him.
References and notes
- Mattson, B., This argument has reached retirement age, drbrianmattson.com/journal/2014/10/29/this-argument-has-reached-retirement-age, 29 October 2014. Return to text.
Dear Lita. (That's such a beautiful name, you've got there... it's lovely) Thanks for posting my comment on your site, here. I've literally 'found a home away from home', by reading this site's articles.
I did, however, forget to add that we should PRAY for guys such as Enns... even though, often times ~ it galls me... we still need to, and I forgot to add that in my post.
Men (and women) such as he, are 'blinded by this world' in who knows HOW many ways... (Only his Creator knows for certain, for only He 'knows' this 'Peter's' heart...) But, my supposition is that Peter is blinded by his intellect. I assume this because after 'this world' chewed me up and spit me out, as it were ~ the ONLY thing it 'told me' was that I was 'smart'. (IQ of over 132...and my "guidance councilor' said to me (an abused, introverted 17 year old) that my intellect was 'all I had'.
So, I was 'set up' in a myriad of ways and began to rely on it, solely. Our intellects are a truly HEAVY aphrodisiac, and I well imagine you stellar writers, have had YOUR OWN 'challenges' in this area, as our Creator, our God, our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ ~ began to lead us all...
So, I suggest that as we now contemplate His Birth (though I believe He was born in September, no biggie) AND His Death on our behalf, that we also ask Him to take the 'blinders' offa this Peter, just like He took them off His 'Friend' a few thousand years ago... ;-)
My heart-felt desire is that each of your staff and families feel the Warmth and the Peace that only Jesus can impart ~ both at this (decidedly pagan) season... and Always.
Til we all 'meet at His Glorious Feet', dear Lita...
from a woman SAVED by Jesus's Grace and blessed by each of you.
Cynthia Lauren Thorpe
Kingston SE, South Australia
Just from the few examples given of his work, it sounds like this guy is an amateur. He simply didn't do any research. I mean the Deuteronomy passage is very clear about what to do with the Passover Lamb. The vast majority of Bible translations have it as either cook or roast and only one has hie "preferred" translation of boil it. A simple check of how it is translated by many translations is a good check to see who people understood the word and how nuanced the word is, but even checking a concordance will show how wrong he is. This is a minute's work and he simply couldn't be bothered to do that. Quite simply he is a lazy "scholar" who never put any effort but rather kept to what he believes even if the evidence is contrary to what he believes. I would almost say this article was a waste of time since people like Peter are not worthy of response if this is their argument.
I am a theology student. So they make you read all kind of "critical scholars" like Walton and Enns and all those liberal destructive works of my German neighbors of the last 2 centuries They give me the creeps.
BUT I am protected. I read - since 2006- every day your article. Your website keeps me always focused on the Truth of Gods Word.
We pray for your work and protection.
Keep up this fantastic ministry of Truth!
I grieve for Peter Enns. I grieve for his wife and 3 children. Please pray for them.
They must have felt a deep pressure—from family loyalty, and from harshness that highly likely has occurred in some of the negative criticism of him—to take his side and to believe the way he has taught. May they instead be spiritually protected from now on.
Peter Enns is perhaps the most vivid example today of an (apparent) believer self-destructing spiritually. He is self-destructing because of his refusal to obey Col. 2:8, to do the due-diligence critical inspection of the evolution-notion. He has been battlefield-captured-unto-slavery to false obligation to “hollow-deception” evolution, within that verse’s 3 listed “according to” dynamics. (1) “tradition”—the dynamic of thought-package transmission (and promotion). At Harvard, getting 2 degrees, he must have experienced a strong insistence that he accept evolution. From all evidences, he submitted, without critical inspection. (2) Wrong interpretive presuppositions—“foundational principles of the world”. Not doing due diligence, he never noticed the highly speculative nature of evolution, scientifically, never saw that he could keep his intellectual honesty (better) if he rejected evolution. (3) “not according to Christ (/the Word)”. Brother Enns is now famous for damaging clear Bible-text signal, towards reducing the perceived reliability of the bible until it cannot inform him against evolution.
And he is probably doing all this as a perceived virtue—within his captured / misinformed conscience. Some time ago, he became a heretic. He is trending toward agnosticism. May he not reach there. May he repent, also for his family’s sake.
One think, in my opinion, some Bible critique do have in common when interpreting the Bible, their lack of an overall-view of it so useful to keep in line with any issue at study. The Bible explains itself. This is a rule that shouldn't be forgotten.
Mr. Enns seems to be positioning himself as a pope without a college of bishops. His preference of interpretation alone becomes the meaning of any particular passage while the"settled" opinions of naturalistic scholars are uncritically accepted. By his twist of logic the best defense of the Scripture is to relegate it to the realm of unassailable myth from a dark yet charming fossilized culture.
Jesus clearly stated that false teachers and false prophets will come and try to deceive believers and that there would be increased apostasy in the churches. These warnings are being fulfilled at an increasingly alarming rate in today. The only way not to be deceived is to know and understand the Bible and hold firm to sound doctrine. Enns is yet another false teacher. Thanks for this excellent article Lita and may God continue to bless CMI for its sound and faithful ministry..
This man's arguments are simply pathetic, and desperate at best. The text mentions simply nothing of boiling. He literally decided to make it say boil, when it clearly doesn't. Regarding the Matthew passage, in that God says, "I AM the God of..." He is evidently claiming he is currently the God of them (present tense), thus they truly still exist and serve him still, to suit the statement. This guy sounds like an atheist trying to invent reasons to disbelieve. Its like the whole "The bible says bats are birds... ha ha ha, so it must be false!" kind of argument. That one is one of the funniest failures of common logic. Laughably baseless, and revelatory to a surprising lack of basic reading comprehension. People get desperate in excusing unbelief or "not so literal interpretations."
Thanks for the article.
This touches on an interesting point. Some atheists/agnostics question what sort of a 'god' would instruct that thousands of innocent people be killed. In doing so, they are giving credence to the Old Testament writings. But their response to this is to not believe in God and therefore not believe the Bible.
They therefore don't believe in God because of something written about God that they also don't believe.
Great article! I strongly believe that true Christianity as a whole is facing its greatest threat not from athiesm but from what I like to describe as a "diluted" concept of faith in the God of the Bible. We must accept the scriptures to be the infallable inspired word of God or not at all! once you start entertaining personal idiologies and perspectives on scripture there is nothing to stop you from falling into relativism and ultimately agnosticism. We must fight these worldly temtations and strong urges to bend the word of God to an interpretation of our liking as Enns has done.
Thank you Lita for this helpful article; I'm grateful to see someone analysing and clarifying the material put out by Enns. I admire your ability to come to grips with his book and expose it for what it is - I personally have found his writing style as slippery as an eel - one minute he claims to believe, the next he viciously attacks the foundations of the gospel. I struggle to follow his logic and wonder why he would want to call himself a Christian at all since he seems to despise most aspects of Christianity and loves to mock Christian beliefs on his Facebook page and Patheos blog.
And I love this statement by Lita "Resolving these sorts of conflicts is actually an opportunity to grow in our faith and in our understanding of God’s revelation to us." This is so very true - I think resolving issues in scripture is an essential part of the Christian struggle. And if comes down to whether the Bible is wrong or we are, guess whom we should rely upon.
Thanks Lita, great review.
It amazes me that Enns thinks he's closer to God than David, who in Ps 19 wrote that God's commands are to be desired more than much fine gold. How can they be valued so highly if we can't know for sure what they are? Of course, he mustn't take Ps 19 as inerrant either. It's a horrible spiral into self-serving elevation of ourselves above all the prophets, culminating in elevation above God himself as Jesus' words are disregarded too.
As Solomon said, there's nothing new under the sun.
Thank you for your article, and I whole-heartedly agree with the comment, as well. It's 'understandable' that we will be 'invited' into the logic and traditions of men, rather than to adhere to the precepts of the Bible. It behooves us to expose this agenda so that others may not fall into it's entanglements. Thank you. Also, it's an 'interesting point' to note the title of this deceptive work. 'the Bible tells me so.' So, where do we find/remember those words...? When I saw your article and read it, immediately our little song came into my mind... "Jesus loves me, this I know...' That is the crux of the issue. This person is merely a Greek wolf in supposed sheep's clothing. Trading the Wisdom of God for the wisdom and traditions of mere men, is folly indeed. And, it's folly that leads us astray, as it's intent is to lead.
Again, thank you for exposing this book to the Light that God gives us all. This 'Enns' character, is yet another form of anti-Christ, ie: anti-Logos, His Holy Word, regardless of the 'man made degrees' he places upon his wall. *Of interest as well, is the 'changing and modifying' of the Word of God in such 'works' as The Good News bible, in which they literally destroy the Messianic promise in Haggai 2:6-9. I find it 'amazing', truly amazing, that these people find 'rest' when they sleep at night ~ that is, IF they even can sleep at night. I find that I stand ever more increasingly on the Words of Jesus in John 3:19. "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." It's MORE than 'high time' to keep vigilant and read God's Word in it's least messed with, Integrity, my friends.
Great piece. Enns is clearly a disciple of Karl Bath, the 20th century German 'liberal' theologian who said that God can be seen in the bible 'like a bird in flight': IE the individual acts and pictures are irrelevant, but the general idea is right.
It is a false position. Bath also said a great deal about what the bible doesn't say and precious little about what it does say. This false teaching is swept away by the fact that the bible contains verifiable propositional statements, as the excellent article says.