Thursday, April 03, 2008

Biblical Criticism and Confessionalism - The Round-Up

We've had some good discussion on the post below about Biblical Criticism and Confessionalism. In particular, we've had a good mix of comments from a systematician in Martin Foord, a biblical theologian in Jim Hamilton, and from a text critic in Peter Head. A dream-team colloquium on the subject! For what's it's worth, let me give a run down on my approach:

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?

For me this question is about balancing two reformed distinctives: (1) Using scripture to interpret scripture, and (2) Ad Fontes or "back to the resources" - both principles are valid. The first principle is justified based simply on how often NT authors cite, allude, and echo the OT. Indeed, the OT was the only "Bible" of the Church for the first century of its existence and it provides the sub-structure of a NT Theology. But let's take a phrase like "works of the law" which does not really occur in the OT, but it does occur in 4QMMT. Is it theologically legitimate to allow a study of 4QMMT to shape our view of what Paul means by "works of the law" just as much as we would allow the OT to do the same? In my view, it is not merely a theological possibility, but a theological necessity that we do so! We must excavate and interrogate every crumb of evidence, canonical and non-canonical, in order to be able to understand, obey, proclaim, and theologize the text. To quote Foord, "The Bible is sufficient to lead one to salvation" but the inspiration of human beings requires us to investigate the human language, culture, and context in which the revelation was given. This is what Enns was trying to do even if he did not bring the divine element back into the equation to everyone's satisfaction.

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

I am naturally resistant to thinking of the Bible as "myth" since that conjures up notions of "fairytales" or else a fancy way of expressing ideas of things that "never were, but always are" and other ahistorical concepts (although I do recall Derek Kidner's TOTC Genesis commentary saying that Genesis 1-11 contains a mixture of "history and parable"). Enns tries to nuance his definition of "myth" but I think that he probably could have done a better job of assuaging his critics. I also think Foord and Hamilton are right when they point out that one possible explanation for the simililarity is that Genesis 1-3 is a concerted polemic against ANE creation stories. Thus, Enns' view of a shared conceptuality is one possibility and a polemic against ANE creation stories is another possibility. But on what basis does one prefer one possibility over the other? Is there strong internal evidence from Genesis 1-3 that implies a deliberate and aimed polemic at the Enuma Elish and ANE stories, or is this inference made in order to safe guard one's doctrine of Scripture? In other words, can and should one allow theological implications to determine the historical and literary relationship between two or more documents? To give another example, I have come across people who strenuously deny any notion of literary dependence within the Synoptic Gospels because in their view it would undermine inerrancy. Do we want to go there? I am not necessarily embracing Enns' view point (although I certainly understand its attraction), nor am I denying a polemic in Genesis 1-3 against ANE creation stories as an alternative, but I want to know why does one prefer one view over another? A theology of Scripture must surely include the phenomenon of Scripture (Enns and Carson agree). If not, there is always the danger that inferences about the text will inevitably replace listening to the text and hinder our entrance into the world of the text that we are being drawn into when we study Scripture.

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)?

I heartily endorse Hamilton when he points out that Paul certainly considered the OT "true and trustworthy". Hamilton is also right when he says that each OT citation and allusion needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis as to what it does with each OT text. I would also be prepared to argue that in most cases the original context was of paramount significance for Paul (e.g. his usage of Hab. 2.4), but at other times it was a key word that drew his attention (e.g. Gen. 15.6 and Ps. 32.2 in the LXX). But if Paul felt free to approximate, re-word, and modify his text then he was more concerned with the meaning and significance of the text than with preserving the exact words of an autograph. I think it evident that Paul was not operating with modern standards of precision. While alot is made of 1 Tim 3.16, I think Rom. 15.4 is the place where we get Paul's quinessential view of Scripture. In other words, perhaps Paul was more concerned with how the divinely given Scripture functioned in the believing community than with finding the best way to describe their veracity.

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?

This is topic is as hairy as an Italian gorilla called Harry! I am of the view that Jude is quoting a version of 1 Enoch 1.9. Here I confess that I do not think that Enoch made this prophetic announcement and this was a legendary story written to fill in the gaps of the biblical story typical in Jewish expansions on Scripture. Every bone in my body wants to say Jude and his readers knew that this text was a legend, but I'm not 100% sure. Peter Head gives us food for thought: "'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". Rather than presume upon what Jude and his readers did or did not think about 1 Enoch 1.9 (which we simply don't know for sure), I'm more inclined to say, at a minimum, that Jude cites this text/tradition simply because it made his argument more compelling and perusasive to his audience. Jude and his readers regarded this text/tradition as valid and veracious on some level. But it is a genuine possibility that Jude and/or his valued 1 Enoch 1.9 in the same way that they valued narratives from the Torah about Balaam's error and Korah's rebellion, and perhaps for the same reasons. Is there anything in Jude that indicates otherwise (if there is I'd love to know)? I suspect that the only reason to discard this possibility is a theological presumption based on what that possibility would entail for a doctrine of Scripture. As with the Enuma Elish, to what extent do we allow theological implications to determine the why and how biblical authors used non-biblical documents?

Thanks for all who chimed in. Finding an answer to these questions that satisfies everyone's sensibilities and concerns is practically impossible. I suspect that we (and I include Peter Enns here) would all agree with what the BCP says:

"Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience, and comfort of your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which You have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ."


sujomo said...

Thanks for the helpful post, Mike. For someone so caught up with the challenges of pastoral ministry I scarcely have time to read the blogs - to my detriment.

But re point 2. Have your fellow bloggers read the work of John Currid? I think he is on the ball when he argues that Genesis 1-3 is a polemic against an Egyptian world view rather than against the Enuma Elish (which might be argued is more directly referred to by Isaiah who thundered that there is no god besides YHWH)

But the beauty of Genesis 1-3 is that, in the providence of its author, it is a polemic against all world views throughout the centuries.


Frozen Choson said...

Thank you Dr. Bird for your answers to the questions. I thought they were soberly, insightfully, yet honestly written. If I may point you to some parties from the Westminster side of the "Reformed Orthodox" perspective (I am a graduate of Westminster Seminary in California). We were taught a very robust and, I think very orthodox, approach to the use of extra-biblical sources. For example, Dr. Meredith Kline made it required reading to read the ANE creation narratives, including the Enuma Elish, and portions of ANE 2nd and 1st millenium Suzerainty Treaties. We also read the comparative work of K.A. Kitchen on these same matters. It was an eye-opening experience and faith-building and -edifying education as well. We were taught by Dr. Kline to use these extra-biblical sources, with the presuppositions of innerrancy and infallibility. Everyone has these presuppositions, admitted or not, but whatever they are we need to be aware of them. Anyhow, one explanation I found convincing was Dr. Kline's use of common grace as a context for God's redemptive revelation and grace. The ANE treaties was the historical context by which the Lord divinely took up a well-known and utilized form of treaty-making for his redemptive purposes, i.e. the Sinai Covenant. He entered into a covenant relationship in a form and manner that the Hebrews would understand in their historical situation. It's similar to the idea of allowing the providential development of the various Semitic languages and then at a specific time, place, and to a specific people, speak to them in Hebrew, a language of the time, not one that dropped from the sky.

By the way, Dr. Kline taught us that there may have been both a shared conceptuality AND a polemic aspect to Gen. 1-3. I don't think it is an either/or proposition. He taught us that there were ANE accounts, told mythologically, that reflected shared traditions of true events, such as creation and the flood. However, the tradition that comes to and through Moses is the divinely inspired tradition set down by him in the Pentateuch, as polemic and narrative history. So, of course, they will share both of those aspects.

We, "Reformed Orthodox" of the Old Princeton-Westminster stripe, don't shy away from these questions, we just acknowledge our views of Scripture as we engage in them. Dr. Kline's work in "Treaty of the Great King", along with Kitchen's work have been the model for me in grappling with these issues. Tremper Longman, has a very good article in Dr. Kline's festschrift, "Creator, Redeemer, Consummator", that gives a good summary of Dr. Kline among others, entitled, "Evangelicals and the Comparative Method".

PS- Dr. Enns assumes that he is the "only" one asking questions about the "human situatedness" of the Scriptures from an incarnational model. This perspective seems to me, a bit, condescending to those who, like Dr. Kline and his students, actually do real comparative studies and, even, in the case of the Gordon-Conwell OT faculty do archaeological work to better understand the OT human context. Enns seems to think that he is the only one who has seriously grappled with these questions and ignores everyone who asks these questions with their inerrancy intact.

Tony Stiff said...

Frozen chosen what statement has Peter Enns made that makes you say "Dr. Enns assumes that he is the "only" one asking questions about the "human situatedness" of the Scriptures from an incarnational model."?

At most one could argue that Peter sees this posture as a minority posture in Evangelical OT studies, but nowhere does he say the he came up with this or that he is the only one doing this.

And FYI I think Peter doesn't take an either or position on Enuma Elish he says its an example of the biblical text being part of its cultural setting in its dependency on a mythic worldview and that ultimately "The question that Genesis is prepared to answer is whether Yahweh, the God of Israel, is worthy of worship." Peter goes as far as to say, "Some scholars argue, quite persuasively in fact, that the differences between Genesis and Enuma Elish are so great that one cannot speak of any direct relationship. I feel this is essentially correct..."(pg.55, I&I)

Frozen Chosen Peter's driving point with Enuma Elish and other ANE creation stories is to help his readers see that myth is not an obstruction to inspiration.

I'm a Westminster East student who studied under Enns and graduated with an MDiv in 07. I also did an independent study under him in Pseudepigraphal & Apocryphal literatur. Pete's style of pedagogy is to raise difficult questions and not answer them finally because he desires both his readers and students to wrestle with the nature of scripture for themselves. But this is one instance where I think Pete did tip his hat and say I'm thinking in this trajectory/direction...