Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 173pp. + glossary and index.
We will now finish our review of Enns’ book by looking at the third major section (ch. 4): The Old Testament and its Interpretation in the New Testament. In this section Enns addresses the difficult question of how the NT authors handle the OT. He begins this chapter with the observation that the NT authors’ “notions of what constitutes a proper handling of the Old Testament do not always square with our own instincts” (114).
Enns states his beliefs upfront. He believes:
- The New Testament authors were not engaging the Old Testament in an effort to remain consistent with the original context and intention of the Old Testament author.
- They were indeed commenting on what the text meant.
- The hermeneutical attitude they embodied should be embraced and followed by the church today. (115-16)
Many will disagree with some, if not all, of Enns conclusions. In my opinion, this is the most controversial section of Enns book.
Enns begins by trying to put the NT authors in context by examining the hermeneutical principles of the world they lived in. He begins by looking at places where the OT interprets other passages of the OT. Most notably he references Daniel’s new interpretation of Jer. 25:11; 29:10 in Daniel 9. There we see that Daniel understood Jeremiah’s ‘seventy years’ to mean ‘seventy years.’ However, “Gabriel then proceeds to explain to him the meaning of Jeremiah’s words: the seventy years really refer to ‘seventy sevens’ of years” (118). In other words, in Daniel’s new context, and because of the revelation from the angel Gabriel, Daniel is privy to “the deeper meaning contained in Jeremiah’s words” (119).
Enns then turns to biblical interpretation in the Second Temple Period. From his examination of the hermeneutical practices of the authors of the Apocrypha and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Enns concludes that “these early interpreters seemed to anchor their interpretations in what they knew to be right” (131). The hermeneutic of the day seemed less concerned with the original intent of the author of these biblical texts, but more concerned with the deeper meaning of the text and how it applied to the interpreters own context.
Enns then goes on to examine some NT text and attempts to place their method and interpretive tradition within the context of Second Temple Judaism. An example of method is found in the reference of Matt. 2:15 as a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1. When Joseph takes his family back out of Egypt, Matthew adds the comment: ‘And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”‘ The last part is a quote of Hosea 11:1. However, Hos. 11:1 is not talking about a future event but a past event. He is not talking about an individual but Israel as a whole. First, Enns notes, that Matthew’s “handling of the Old Testament would not have seemed strange [to his audience] but very familiar” (134). He goes on to argue that “By presenting Jesus this way, Matthew was able to mount the argument for his readers that Jesus fulfilled the ideal that Israel was supposed to have reached but never did. Jesus is the true Israel” (134). Matthew is convicted that Christ is the center of Scripture, and using the hermeneutical practice of the day makes an argument for that case that would have been exegetically accepted in his time.
As to the interpretive traditions that the NT authors inherited, Enns lists several, but one interesting one is Peter’s reference to Noah as a ‘preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5). As Enns notes, nowhere does the OT reference Noah preaching. However, Noah is depicted as trying to persuade his contemporaries in Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities 1.3.1 #74, and the later Sibyline Oracles 1.125-95. The point is that Peter is not pulling something out of thin air but working with the tradition that was familiar to his audience.
Enns compares reading Scripture to the reading and rereading of a novel. On the first read through you are there with the characters, you are confused when they are confused, you are in suspense when they are in suspense. In short, you don’t know what is going to happen. But on the second read through, you know where the story is going, you know how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. For this reason Enns prefers to describe the hermeneutic that Christ is the center of Scripture as christotelic, i.e., all things lead to Christ, rather than Christ is the center of every section of Scripture.
In conclusion, Enns argues that we must allow the context within which the biblical authors lived to explain their use of Scripture. We should be ok with the fact that the NT authors used the OT in ways that are uncomfortable to us, their context is different than our context. As he notes, their contextual interpretations, “should remind us that our own understanding of the Old Testament–and the gospel–has a contextual dimension as well” (161). He concludes that the “reality of the crucified and risen Christ is both the beginning and end of Christian biblical interpretation” (163).
My final thoughts on this book are 1) it was very challenging, 2) it was a succinct presentation of some of the more difficult issues of Scripture, and 3) it is in no way that I can see troubling to an evangelical Christian. The kind of level-headed and honest thinking that Enns portrays in this book should be emulated by all Bible believing Christians.