In the fourth chapter of Peter Enns’s Inspiration and Incarnation, Enns turns his attention to the question of how the New Testament authors use the Old Testament. It is a question of hermeneutics or interpretation. Thanks to Rikk Watts at Regent College it is also one of my favourite topics in Biblical Studies. So, as with much of this book, I come at with preformed opinions. As I indicated in the previous post, I thought if I were going to find something “disagreeable” in this book it might come in this chapter. Yet, again, I found nothing in this chapter that accounts for the negative and sometimes viscious reaction of some evangelicals against Enns and his view of Scripture.
Now, it does not surprise me that someone like Ken Ham with his particular brand of Fudamentalism (which is more strict than those who wrote The Fundamentals at the turn of the century) has problems with Peter Enns’s writings. Ham and Answers in Genesis warn their readers about a slippery slope that supposedly undermines Biblical Authority. Yet, Ham and self-appointed gatekeepers like him stand part way up the slope, preventing anyone from passing them, and pushing back down all who attempt to push on.
What does surprise me is the rather viscious and, in my reading experience, uncharacteristic attack from G.K. Beale. In his book defending his view of inerrancy, Beale set Peter Enns and this book in particular in his sites. Why do I mention Beale here? Because Beale has written the book on the New Testament use of the Old Testament and edited the excellent single volume commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament. While I found myself disagreeing with Beale’s assessment of Enns, I still expected there to be something in this chapter of Inspiration and Incarnation that radically diverged from the approach taken in commentary which Beale edited and to which my own professor Rikk Watts contributed. I don’t see it. I do see differences but nothing so radical that warrants a monograph in which Enns becomes the particular target of seemingly uncharacteristic ire and fear.
In this chapter, Enns touches on something many of us feel when we take the time to look up an OT passage that a NT author has just cited. As Enns suggests, we tend to justify our misunderstanding based on prior and erroneous assumptions about the nature of the biblical text, apostolic authority, or our own ignorance.(115) Here, again it is striking, that Enns is concerned only with common evangelical scholarship and practice. He is not concerned to address the more extreme and often atognistic claims that the Apostles and NT authors were manipulating the text to serve their purposes.
As Enns and others note, Jesus and the biblical authors are never challenged with respect to how they use Scripture. Their hermeneutic seems to have been acceptable in their context. So, as Enns rightly notes, the task at hand is to understand their interpretive practices.
Before making his argument, Enns states his conclusions up front:
1. The NT authors were not engaging the OT in an effort to remain consistent with the original context and intention of the OT author.
2. They were indeed commenting on what the text meant.
3. The hermeneutical attitude they embodied should be embraced and followed by the church today.
To put it succinctly, the NT authors were explaining what the OT means in light of Christ’s coming. (115-116)
What Enns presents here is a Christotelic reading of the Scriptures.(154) At times, I have wished that we had a recording of what Christ did when he took his disciples through the law and the prophets. Yet, I think we have in the NT this hermeneutic in practice, a gospel hermeneutic or an evangelical interpretative practice that does far more and is more life-giving than the prophecy-fulfillment models that is pervasive in much of the apologetic literature.
Enns notes that often evangelicals want to distance the NT writings from the writings of their contemporaries. What have the Essenes to do with Jerusalem? Yet, he argues, and I agree,
“The incarnational analogy outlined in this book suggests another way of approaching the problem: we must begin our understanding of apostolic hermeneutics by first understanding, as best we can, the interpretive world in which the New Testament was written.“(116)
With this historical approach to the text in mind, Enns provides his readers with examples of interpretive practices in the Second Temple Period and then demonstrates how the NT authors employed similar hermeneutical practices.
In the final pages of this chapter, Enns grapples with the question of whether or not we are able to or should follow the apostolic hermeneutic. While acknowledging that their hermeneutical practices remain rather foreign to most of us, he argues quite forcefully that we can and should follow the Apostles. He suggests that we may need to separate the hermeneutical goal from the exegetical method. He suggests that the method serves the Christotelic goal rather than the other way around. That is, the “right” method does not necessarily take us to the goal. He reminds us that biblical interpretation is as much art as it is science. He may be understating things here. I will go out on a limb and say that biblical interpretation is more of an art than a science. (See Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative and V. Philip Long’s The Art of Biblical History)
I personally found the final pages of this chapter inspiring and freeing. After all, the Apostles did not right a hermeneutical method, they wrote narratives and letters.
For a good example of a Christotelic and gospel-focused interpretation in action, see Bob Ekblad’s Reading the Bible with the Damned.