What is the Bible and what are we supposed to do with it?

Preacher

Before Christmas I reviewed Peter Enns’ book, Inspiration and Incarnation, and checked out his main ideas in a little more detail, finishing with Interpreting the Old Testament.

Now to his summing up – what does all this say about the Bible and how we should read it?

The story so far

As outlined in previous posts, Peter Enns discusses three aspects of the Old Testament which are well established by scholars and which appear to threaten some traditional views of the Old Testament.

Ancient near eastern literature

Parts of the Old Testament which appear to be God-given law have been found to be very similar to law codes in neighbouring countries. This may throw doubt on the Bible’s uniqueness.

Diversity of teachings

Some parts of the Old Testament appear to contradict other parts. This may cause us to question its integrity.

Interpretation in the New Testament

Jesus and the New Testament writers sometimes quote the Old Testament in accurately, and/or in ways that seem to change its meaning from what the original authors intended. This is contrary to modern interpretation which insists on quoting accurately and in context.

Taking the Old Testament on its own terms

Enns criticises the idea of ignoring the evidence and maintaining a theological view of the Old Testament that doesn’t seem to fit the facts.

“our expectations of the Bible must be in conversation with the data, otherwise we run the very real risk of trying to understand the Bible in fundamental isolation from the culture in which it was written”

Christians often use terms like inerrant, infallible, authoritative and inspired, but not all of these are Biblical terms, and not all of them represent clear Biblical concepts. We should be willing to modify or deepen our understanding based on the best in information we have.

“I have found again and again that listening to how the Bible itself behaves and suspending preconceived notions …. about how we think the Bible ought to behave is refreshing, creative, exciting and spiritually rewarding.”

An incarnational approach

Most christians belief that Jesus was (and is) God incarnate (i.e. in a human body), and that he was at once fully God and fully human. Enns suggests we perhaps should also consider the Bible as both a human and divine document, in that it is fully grounded in the language, culture and thought forms of its day, yet it is also God’s means of revealing himself to the world.

But instead of presuming we know how ‘God’s word’ ought to be, we should study and learn how it actually is …. and so learn more about God’s character.

“That the Bible, at every turn, shows how ‘connected’ it is to its own world is a necessary consequence of God incarnating himself …. God demonstrates he is ‘one of us.'”

Uniqueness, integrity, interpretation

When we look at the Old Testament in this light, we can see that it has these qualities in different ways than we might expect. For example:

Its uniqueness is seen not in holding human cultures at arm’s length, but in the belief that Scripture is the only book in which God speaks incarnately.”

Faith in the God of the Bible

In the end, Enns suggests, we believe in the Bible because we first believe in God and in Jesus – not the other way round.

“We trust the Bible, not because we can show there is no diversity, but because we believe, by the gift of faith, in the one who gave scripture to us”

Agreeing and disagreeing in love

Enns final point is that as christians we are always learning. Therefore we should have humility, love and patience about what we think we know, and towards those who think differently.

A personal assessment

For a couple of years I have been praying for God to give me a better understanding of the Old Testament. I feel thankful and excited to think that this book has started me on the journey to new understandings.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

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