Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 173pp. + glossary and index.

I know I am late on the bandwagon of talking about Peter Enns’ now controversial book. But I had not heard of Enns’ book until this whole controversy erupted. So I am thankful for the controversy for introducing this book to me. I decided that this book is worth reviewing in three parts because it is so nicely divided into three very different issues, and I feel differently about each chapter. So here is the review of the first part of Enns’ book: ‘The Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern Literature.

Enns’ basic thesis that runs throughout his book is that the Bible is best understood through the incarnational analogy. This basically means that “as Christ is both God and human, so is the Bible” (17). Therefore, when we study the Bible we must both the divine inspiration of Scripture and the role that the human authors played.

Enns surveys some of the ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature that is most influential for biblical interpretation, the Enuma Elish, Atrahasis and Gilgamesh, the Code of Hammurabi, etc. He asks three questions of the relationship of this ANE literature to the Bible: 1) Given the parallels of ANE creation and Genesis, is Genesis myth or history? 2) Given the parallels of legal material in ANE and biblical literature is revelation unique? 3) Is Israel’s historiography objective or biased?

Enns answers the first question by saying that “the reason the opening chapters of Genesis look so much like the literature of ancient Mesopotamia is that the worldview categories of the ancient Near East were ubiquitous and normative at the time” (53). Genesis, despite what we might want, is not addressing the question of how God created the world. “The question that Genesis is prepared to answer is whether Yahweh, the God of Israel, is worthy of worship” (55). The author of Genesis uses the conventions that the people of the ANE would understand to make the case that God is the Creator and therefore the only one worthy of worship.

The legal material of Israel has many parallels to other legal material of the ANE. How is this possible if Israel’s law was handed down from God on Mount Sinai. Israel’s laws may be similar to other ANE laws but the purpose of these laws were very different. “What makes Israel’s laws revelatory is not that they are new . . . but that these are the laws that were to be obeyed in order to form Israel into a godlike community” (57).

Postmodernity has helped us recognize that no history is objective. As Enns puts it “historiography is not the mere statement of facts but the shaping of these facts for a particular purpose” (60, italics original). Historiography is, by its very nature, interpretive. Therefore, it should not surprise us that Israel’s recorded history is slightly different than the other records we have. Israel’s biblical record is not interested in how great a king was by the worlds standards, but whether or not that king ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.’ 

Enns concludes this chapter by pointing out that all of the above observations must be taken into account in our doctrine of Scripture and our interpretation. I don’t see this section as overly controversial but for me this was the most helpful part of the book. As someone who is coming from a very canonical emphasis of Scripture this is helpful. Even if we are to hold the Canon as the most important tool for interpretation, as I think we should, we must understand that unless we propose a strong reader-response theory of understanding a text we must do everything we can to recognize how a text was meant to communicate with its original audience. So I guess my own view is a modified canonical view where only the canon is authoritative for interpretation but we recognize that we can only understand the original meaning of a text by taking into account its historical context. Once we have established the historical context (what it meant), we can then understand it within the canon and in light of Christ (what it means), and thus apply it to ourselves.