Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Biblical Criticism and Confessionalism

In light of recent discussions on the blogsophere, I have a number of questions for leading figures in the Reformed Tradition concerning how they answer historical-critical questions in light of their confessional committments (let me add that these are genuine questions, I honestly want to know how Reformed Theologians address these issues, and I imagine that many others what to know as well).

1. What is the "Reformed Orthodox" view of using extra-biblical sources in exegesis? What led you to this answer and what (if anything) makes your answer prescriptive?

2. Why is Genesis 1-3 similar to the Enuma Elish? On what do you base your answer?

3. Did the Apostle Paul believe in the inerrancy of the autographa? Why are Paul's citation of Scripture often different from the wording and meaning in the original Hebrew Bible and even the Septuagint (to give one example: Isa. 59.20 cited in Rom. 11.26-27)?

4. Did the historical person of Enoch prophesy about the coming of the Lord (Jude 14-15)? Why does Jude cite this extra-canonical source (an Enochic tradition?), without differentiating it from the Hebrew Scriptures that he also quotes in his short epistle?

Moreover, what I want to know is:

- What is the evidence and reasoning behind your answer?
- How do you differ from Enns' answer?
- What are the theological implications of your answer (if any)?

Let me tag a number of eminent Reformed thinkers and scholars with these question (in other words, I would like you to hear their answer to these questions). Justin Taylor - Reformed Baptist, prolific blogger, and publishing editor at Crossway. Scott Clark - Historical Theology Professor at Westminster West. And I would especially love to hear from the good folk at Reformation21. Others can chime in on the comments section.


Clint said...


Thank you for these questions. They get to the heart of things.

Among the baptistic sector of the Reformed Orthodox, John Gill was particularly fond of employing Rabbinic lit to gain understanding of biblical texts.

I haven't read the Enns book. I don't know his conclusions. But your questions should be quite answerable within a Reformed Orthodox perspective I should think.

Peter M. Head said...

Well, good luck with the attempt. I don't suppose they'll take you up on it.
BTW: re 4: "Why does Jude cite this extra-canonical source (an Enochic tradition?), without differentiating it from the Hebrew Scriptures that he also quotes in his short epistle?"
Actually Jude does differentiate this one, because there are no other citations from the Hebrew scriptures in Jude. Allusions aplenty, but surely this is the only citation (and perhaps v9, but that is another story).
Presumably the Truly Reformed must think:
a) Jude believed (and wrote and taught) that the historical Enoch uttered this prophecy;
b) Hence the historical Enoch must have actually uttered this prophecy (since it says so in the Bible);
c) Hence, the historical-critical consensus on 1 Enoch is wrong and we should think that this individual citation, dominating the opening of 1 Enoch and giving shape to it as a whole, warrants the conclusion that 1 Enoch as a whole (whichever whole you chose) is both authentically and essentially Enochic and genuinely prophetic.
d) Some might not want to extrapolate from one genuine prophecy to a whole literary work. They would think that the Enochic literature preserved a genuine prophetic utterance from the historical Enoch, and that that historical core was added to and adapted (kind of like a Deutero-Enoch and a Trito-Enoch). Obviously these would be the slightly more lib'rul Truly Reformed.
e) I think I would stop at (a).

Marty said...

Dear Mike,

I have a spare 5 minutes so I'll answer in a way that I suspect you'd hear from the conservatives at Westminster Philly who opposed Enns.

1. What is the "Reformed Orthodox" view of using extra-biblical sources in exegesis? What led you to this answer and what (if anything) makes yours answer prescriptive?

The Bible in and of itself is sufficient to lead one to salvation. However, inspiration entails that Scripture is written by humans, hence they wrote in a real historical context, and thus understanding the background is a responsible aspect of exegesis. Historical background will help determine the meaning of words, genre, cultural issues etc. etc.

2. Why is Genesis 1-3 similar to the Enuma Elish? On what do you base your answer?

It has enough similarities and enough differences (God as absolute creator of all) with Enuma Elish to show that it is probably a polemic against other accounts of origins.

3. Did the Apostle Paul believe in the inerrancy of the autographa? Why are Paul's citation of Scripture often different from the wording and meaning in the original Hebrew Bible and even the Septuagint (to give one example: Isa. 59.20 cited in Rom. 11.26-27)?

It all depends on how one defines inerrancy. According to say the Chicago statement, the definition of error must come from Scripture itself and not modern constructions. Hence, Scripture doesn't see approximations as errors per se (as we don't in certain contexts, for example, when someone asks how many people were at the party last night we give an approximation because the context doesn't demand absolute precision; we don't see this as an error).

Paul believed in something akin to inerrancy when we examine the sorts of things he says about Scripture as being God's very words (e.g. Rom. 3:2) and also affirming that God is truthful (Rom. 3:4) and doesn't lie (Titus 1:2).

4. Did the historical person of Enoch prophesy about the coming of the Lord (Jude 14-15)? Why does Jude cite this extra-canonical source (an Enochic tradition?), without differentiating it from the Hebrew Scriptures that he also quotes in his short epistle?

No, Enoch is seen here as a legendary figure, who made a true affirmation that can be cited. This does not negate the introduction to the citation of prophecy because "prophecy" has a wide semantic range. For example, Titus 1:12 can speak of a Cretan writer (Epimenides?) as a "prophet". In this case a prophet appears to be "a title of honor that attached itself to various historical (and legendary) figures known to have been great teachers and poets" (Towner NICNT).

The issue surrounding Enns, (as I see it) for WTS, was not so much the questions he raised but the answers (or lack thereof) that Enns gave (see Don Carson's review). Other RO scholars (like Kline, Blocher, Collins etc.) have addressed the same questions but given, in many people's eyes, more robust, articulate, and intelligent answers surrounding the messiness of Scripture.

Every blessing,


beckalippy said...

Thanks for the posting. As a current student at WTS philly, I appreciate your contribution to the conversation on this matter. I especially appreciate your (at least seemingly) sincere questions and would be interested to hear or read what those who charge Enns with being heterodox have to say on these points.

Jim Hamilton said...


I appreciate Marty's responses above, 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!


Nick Hill said...


Thank you for such an excellent response. God bless,


J. Byas said...

I too have studied under Pete for quite some time and appreciate the questions being asked. What I feel like we are lacking in the Reformed community is a serious look at the questions rather than parroted answers that keep up the slowly-sinking evangelical status-quo.

My question is along the line of Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions: At what point do all the exceptions lead us to realize that we need a paradigm shift.

I have no doubt that we are able as evangelicals to finagle and argue our way to 100 "it is possible that..."'s but how many does it take to admit that some of our paradigms just aren't that helpful anymore, especially when another paradigm of looking at Scripture seems to make better sense of the evidence.

I am not at all interested in upholding a paradigm but in trying to make sense of the fact that Scripture is God's Word, a fact that Pete undeniably admits and clings to.

Peter M. Head said...

On the Jude detail. Jim quoted Tom: "Jude's wording does not demand that he thought we have an authentic oracle from the historical Enoch."
I'd rather start from somewhere a little different: 'what is the most natural conclusion to be drawn from what Jude actually says?' Hence I get to my first point above: "Jude believed (and wrote and taught) that the historical Enoch uttered this prophecy." Let the Scriptures speak without constraining them beforehand. That is part of Prof Enns' point which I would support (even if I would differ in about 93 ways on other issues).
On a general point I would also agree with Enns (and Carson in his review) that the actual phenomena of Scripture simply must be factored into our doctrine of Scripture, and a fair bit more than many TR doctrine types seem able to do (his incarnational model is an attempt to do this which I also think is worth exploring). This in no way requires a down-playing of the divine origin and nature of Scripture but is actually an aspect of it (unfortunately Prof Enns, despite affirming this quite often in the book, expected readers to believe his assertions, but never really backed it up with any detail on the divine side of the incarnational analogy - as Carson quite rightly points out).

Peter M. Head said...

I have another question. Do all the NT scholars at Westminster have to believe that 2 Thess 2 refers to the Pope (as the Westminster Confession affirms)? I suppose they do, but I would find this use of the Westminster Confession to control biblical interpretation unacceptable.

Geoff Hudson said...

"The deliverer will come FROM Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob" (Rom.11.26) is not only a misquote of Is.59:20, but it is the Pauline editor's substitute for the covenant that one would expect to be there following the words:" 'This is my covenant with them' " (11.27). The deleted covenanting words were: "says the Lord, 'My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth.' " (Is.59.21). The editor knew that the words of Is.59:20 preceded Is.59:21 so he substituted them in Rom.11:26 and then changed them to suit his rendering of the original text. The original point was that NOT all Israel will be cleansed, because they didn't all obey the Spirit.

Ben said...

The American Presbyterian churches revised the WCF in 1789. The first point that was removed was a point dealing with the duties of civil governments, and the second was the identification of the pope as the antichrist.

WTS/E holds to the WCF with the 1789 revisions. I think this shows how the confessions are not held to be above Scripture. On the other hand, it also shows that Presbyterians do not alter their doctrinal standards without consulting the collective reasoning of all of their churches and ministers.

Denny Burk said...

To Jim and Marty:

Tru dat.

Geoff Hudson said...

There is inconsistency between Jude 4 about "certain men" who "have secretely slipped in among you" and the subsequent extensive criticism of their blatant opposition. So perhaps the strong criticism (including 14 and 15) is the work of a later editor, reflecting later conditions of the church. This would mean the original Jude was little more than a note.

Matt Foreman said...

I also am an '03 WTS grad who studied under Enns. However, I disagree with J.Byas's notion above that the Reformed community opposing Enns is guilty of parroting answers and not dealing seriously with the questions. Such statements are incredibly arrogant - and unfortunately, that's what Enns has been accusing others of doing for years.

I have spoken to several well-known Reformed biblical scholars who say this is part of their frustration with Enns. Enns acts like he's asking questions no one else has asked. They have asked them and given different answers but Enns refuses to interact with those answers. His book accents all the liberal scholarship but avoids even dealing with well-known, scholarly conservative responses. It reminds me of professors I had in my liberal undergraduate college who hadn't even heard of, let alone read, any well-known conservative thinkers.

Men like Gaffin, Trueman, Poythress, Oliphant, Jue, Tipton, let alone many others in the Westminster tradition who think Enns is a problem, can hardly be called light-weight thinkers.

J. Byas said...

You're probably right, I think I let my frustration with the issue take over for a minute. I certainly don't think Gaffin, Trueman, et al are light-weight thinkers at all and that would be an (unjustifiably) arrogant thing to think.

But on the other hand, none of the others you mention are ANE scholars. So if I at all question their judgment in this area it is not because of their mental capablities but because of their area of expertise. Just because I don't want my optometrist doing my brain surgery doesn't mean I think they are ignorant, only not an authority in that particular area.

But I don't think Enns thinks (nor do I) that folks haven't asked these questions before, but that the answers don't seem that helpful. I am sure Enns has interacted with the scholarship you mention but we have to remember what Enns point for writing the book was. It was to possibly help people who have been confronted with the liberal scholarship and have found the classic answers un-convincing.

Again, I do apologize if my comment came off unnecessarily harsh and condescending. I am wrestling with these issues just as much as the next guy/girl.

Matt Foreman said...

J.Byas, I appreciate your humility to acknowledge a mistake. I also was unclear in my response. The faculty members I mention at the end are not the same biblical scholars I mention vaguely earlier, but they are among those who have concerns about Enns representing the Westminster tradition. One personal remark - remembered from my days as a student - Enns is to be commended for the questions he asks; it's his answers (or lack thereof) that have left many scratching their heads.

J. Byas said...

I would love a list of some OT/ANE scholars who review Enn's book. Do you know of any? That would be very helpful to see those arguments.

Marty said...

Dear J Byas,

Thanks so much for your frank thoughts.

FWIW I studied under Bill Dumbrell who himself was an ANE expert (a Harvard ThD and knew 9 semitic languages). He asked the same questions as Enns, but he gave very different answers. In particular he approached the use of the OT by the NT authors very differently (and IMHO more cogently) than Enns.

Enns says that I&I is a popular book, hence we don't see any interaction with those who've given different answers. Fair enough. But this is the problem. I'd like to see Enns give an analysis of the answers that others have given because (again IMHO) they're way more convincing.

God bless you,


John said...

C. John Collins is an Evangelical Presbyterian who has written an excellent book on Genesis 1-4. I am not sure if he qualifies as an ANE scholar, but his linguistic and textual analysis was firm. He doesn't come to any of the conclusions that Enns does.

J. Byas said...

Thanks for the resources, I'll definitely pick those up and see how they answer the difficulties.