In 2014, Old Testament scholar Peter Enns began a series of posts in which he invited biblical scholars to share key moments when their inherited conservative view of the Bible was challenged, and subsequently modified.
Here’s the (very) distilled essence of each entry in the series:-
- Peter Enns – realised that Paul accepted, apparently without demur, the extra-biblical legend about a ‘moveable rock’ (1 Corinthians 10:4).
- John Byron – found that Jesus (or Mark) was mistaken about what 1 Samuel 21:1-9 says about David and his men eating the consecrated bread from the tabernacle.
- Daniel Kirk – was struck by apparent differences in the time-lines of the last week of Jesus’ life, as indicated in the four Gospels.
- Michael Pahl – discovered that Genesis does not require belief in a 6-day creation and a young earth, that that Gospels do not provide a word-for-word transcript of Jesus’ teaching, and that Paul’s gospel is not an account of how individuals get saved so that they can go to heaven.
- Charles Halton – came to the conclusion that the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 conflict with modern science and with one another.
- Christopher W. Skinner – puzzled over the differences between the two genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3.
- Chris Hays – concluded that the author of 2 Peter was confused about a historical detail (giving Balaam of Beor a nonsensical origin – Bosor).
- Michael Ruffin – learned that Moses did not write everything in the Pentateuch.
- Anthony Le Donn – concluded that the Bible is not an ‘owner’s manual’ (after all, some of its moral teaching is actually immoral), but rather a many-voiced conversation.
- Chris Keith – was troubled by the harmonisation attempts of some inerrantists, and by their attitude towards those who disagreed.
- Megan DeFranza – realised that the Gospels do not contain the actual words of Jesus who, after all, spoke Aramaic and not Greek.
- Carlos Bovell – was troubled that inerrancy rules out certain scholarly outcomes before the text itself has been examined.
- Lindsey Trozzo – found that broadening scholarly horizons led to a questioning of all forms of dogmatic certainty.
- Jeannine Brown – experienced her biggest “aha” moment when she realised the gap that might exist between her inherited presuppositions (about women’s ministry, specifically) and what the Bible actually teaches.
- Michael Halcomb – his moment came when he opened up the Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Malina & Rohrbaugh) and realised that the Bible had to be read and understood within its ancient context. Halcomb now sees Scripture as ‘sacred dialogue and God-inspired conversation’.
- Rob Dalrymple – found that the Bible does not behave in the way that, when a fundamentalist, he had expected it to. He had put God in a box, making it supply scientific answers to modern questions. He realised that, in fact, it provides ancient answers to ancient questions. And this was liberating for his view both of the Bible and the God of the Bible.
- Jared Byas – encountered the work of scholars such as Walter Brueggemann and Jon Levenson, and learned to abandon himself imaginatively to the text of Scripture, with all its conflicts and tensions.
The shared message of the entire series is something like this: “We were raised on fundamentalist, inerrantist (mis)understandings of the Bible, but now, thanks to our exposure to scholarship, we have learned better ways. But don’t worry: we love the Bible more now than we ever did.”
In almost every case, the contrast is between a former, non-scholarly inerrantist position and a latter, scholarly, errantist one. There is, accordingly, very little reflection on what a scholarly inerrantist viewpoint might say about the various issues discussed.
All of the concerns that are raised are known to inerrantist scholars, and, in most cases, do not constitute a serious challenge to a reasonably nuanced inerrantist position (still less to a non-inerrantist, but solidly evangelical, approach that I favour).
As any avid reader of the blog will know, I don’t affirm biblical inerrancy anyway. What I do affirm, however, is biblical inspiration. These non-inerrantist scholars are good at pointing out the human side of Scripture. But they seem very confused about its status as God’s word.
The aforementioned Daniel Kirk was Associate Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. In a recent episode of Pete Enns’ podcast The Bible For Normal People, Kirk concludes his discussion on ‘Understanding the Human Jesus’ by confessing (about 50 minutes through), “I’m still working on the inspiration thing.” Enns himself gives no help, because all he does is to mock the obsolete notion of inspiration as ‘dictation’ (“God speaks, and Matthew says, ‘What was that? OK I’ll write this down…'”). I’m sorry, gentlemen, but this isn’t good enough. If you can say so much about the human side of Scripture, and so little about its divine side, then you have a problem. No amount of pleading, “Our esteem for the Bible is even greater, now that we have abandoned inerrancy” will excuse your neglect and irresponsibility.