Thursday, June 21, 2012

Would Paul Have Made A Good Evangelical? On the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament (Part 3)

Would Paul Have Made A Good Evangelical? On the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament (Part 3) (First posted here).

It is fitting to delay posting the planned next installment for this series (read Part 1 and Part 2) in order to respond to a couple of recent blog entries published by Peter Enns. In two recent blog posts Enns poses two integrated questions. First he asks, Would Paul Have Made a Good Evangelical? Noteworthy is the fact that his negative response to this query leads him to a second question: Did Paul Have a High View of Scripture?”, which is the conclusion anticipated not only by his former blog entry but by his publication of Inspiration and Incarnation. Enns’s first blog entry contains the bulk of his argument that I will engage here while not ignoring the conclusion to which Enns presses his arguments.

So, why would Paul not have made a good Evangelical? Enns answers. Paul did not “treat the Bible” as Evangelicals do. He suggests that Evangelicals, some of whom he identifies—John Piper, John MacArthur, and R. C. Sproul—would not allow the apostle Paul to “lead a home Bible study” without supervision. What grounds this malapert assertion? Enns explains:
For Evangelicals, the Old Testament leads to the Gospel story. For Paul, the Old Testament is transformed by the Gospel.
For Evangelicals, the Old Testament, read pretty much at face value, anticipates Jesus. For Paul, the Old Testament is reshaped in order to conform to Jesus.
For Evangelicals, the Bible is God’s final authority. For Paul, Jesus is the final authority to which the Bible must bend.
Yet, for anyone who knows the beliefs and messages of the three named Evangelicals and also the letters of the apostle Paul, a moment’s reflection suggests that Enns has committed a couple of logical fallacies. His first and second dichotomies beg the question because with these two disjunctions he simply assumes his conclusion to be true, namely, that for Paul the gospel “transforms” the OT and the OT is “reshaped in order to conform to Jesus.” Though he asserts these claims, nowhere does he actually demonstrate the veracity of his claims. With the third dichotomy he affirms a false disjunction that Evangelicals reject. Surely, Peter Enns realizes that his disjunction does not accurately represent any of the Evangelicals he identifies or their equals, for they do not affirm Scripture’s authority as final over and against Jesus’ authority. Which of the identified Evangelicals or any of their equals, whether in the church or the academy, would not affirm that Scripture’s authority is subordinate to the Son of God since Scripture’s chief role is to testify concerning the Christ (cf. John 5:39-40)?

Thanks are due to Peter Enns for his companion blog posts, however, because here he offers greater clarity concerning his “Christotelic approach” to the NT’s use of the OT.[1] Enns distinguishes his “christotelic eschatological hermeneutic” from confusion with “christological” and “christocentric,” for the latter two describe approaches that “are susceptible to a point of view” he does not advocate. He explains, “To read the Old Testament ‘christotelically’ is to read it already knowing that Christ is somehow the end to which the Old Testament story is heading.”[2] Despite their brevity in comparison to his two published works on the NT use of the OT, his recent two blog entries bring much greater clarity to the view he advocates concerning how the NT writers use the OT. What he formerly kept somewhat ambiguous he now plainly affirms. Now he unequivocally sets his own beliefs concerning the NT’s use of the OT over against the beliefs that characterize Evangelical scholars.

Among the many issues and questions that Enns’s book raised, one is the interest of this blog entry. His “christotelic” view of the NT’s use of the OT, which prompted some to raise significant observation and concerns, becomes explicit now that Enns is neither at Westminster Theological Seminary nor has a need to present himself as a scholar who shares the high view of Scripture Evangelicals affirm. Though not alone with this observation, D. A. Carson published his concern that the view advocated by Peter Enns makes his “sound disturbingly like” the view Barnabas Lindars promotes in New Testament Apologetic: The Doctrinal Significance of the Old Testament Quotations.[3] Lindars argues that because the NT writers came to believe that the crucified and resurrected Jesus was the Messiah, they ransacked the OT for proof texts which they often lifted out of context in their zeal to validate their message. They engaged in eisegesis as they twisted passages to serve their apologetic agenda. Evidently the gospel they needed to validate was more important than the methods they employed to advance their message. Concerning the NT use of the OT, Carson acknowledges that Enns affirms and develops how recognition and belief in Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and Son of God preceded the NT writers’ understanding concerning how the OT bears witness to his identity. Nevertheless, Carson links Enns with Lindars because like Lindars, Enns fails “to see how Christian belief is genuinely warranted by Scripture.”[4] Enns’s recent blog entries confirm Carson’s concern. Hints that Enns shared in common with Lindars a diminished view of the OT Scriptures are no longer subtle but clear and obvious.

According to Peter Enns the apostle Paul did hold “a high view of scripture” [sic], but his view does not correspond to “what conservative Evangelicals insist on when they talk about a high view of scripture” [sic]. To be sure, Enns allows that Paul and conservative Evangelicals agree that Israel’s story reaches its conclusion “in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the creation of a new people of God” consisting of Jews and Gentiles without discrimination. Enns insists, however, that for the apostle Paul, this conclusion could be seen only retrospectively. Hence, Enns contends that the end of the story “transforms” and “reshapes” the Old Testament “to conform to Jesus.” The obvious implication is that the Old and New Testaments do not hold together the way Evangelicals believe and teach, with the OT discernibly leading to and anticipating fulfillment in Jesus. Instead, the two testaments correlate because the coming of Jesus, a revelatory act so compelling and independent of the OT Scriptures, that it constrains Christians to become “very creative” with how they read the OT.
According to Enns, Paul had a “monumental theological and hermeneutical” problem in his mission to bring the gospel to the Gentiles and to proclaim that they are united with believing Jews as God’s one people, Abraham’s descendants. The OT centers upon Israel’s need to obey the Mosaic law to keep covenant with God and to retain the Promised Land. Yet, the gospel Paul is called upon to preach (1) renders the Mosaic law a parenthesis, (2) treats retention of the Promised Land as irrelevant, and (3) avails Gentiles the right to claim Israel’s God as their own without submitting to circumcision. Enns claims, “Clearly something has to give. For Paul, it was the Old Testament.” The Old Testament had to adapt to the message of the gospel in Christ and become malleable in the hands of skilled exegetes trained in the hermeneutical tradition of Second Temple Jewish Bible scholars.

So, “Paul claims that Gentile inclusion without circumcision was God’s plan all along.” As Enns would have us believe, given the apostle’s conviction concerning the veracity of this proclamation, Paul had to scrounge through the OT to identify passages to which he could creatively appeal to persuade Jews and Gentiles alike. So, when Paul appeals to the OT in a “string of quotations in Romans 9,” he “cites two passages from Hosea and two from Isaiah to support his claim that Gentile inclusion is part of God’s plan.” Yet, according to Enns, it should not be surprising that there is a problem, for “all four of these passages have nothing to do with Gentile inclusion. They are all aimed at God’s mercy at restoring Israel.”

Enns leaves readers without doubt concerning the extent to which he believes Paul’s reading of the OT is inventive. “This is not a minor point” of innovation that the apostle engages. “Paul is not getting a little creative with some passages, tweaking them a bit, teasing some fresh angle out of them. He is saying that these passages support his Gentile agenda, even though a plain reading shows unequivocally that they are about Israel.” Likewise, Enns directs readers to consider Paul’s uses of the OT in Romans 10, where he cites Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:13-14. Admittedly, every Christian scholar acknowledges the difficulties of tracing Paul’s use of these passages in his reasoning within Romans 10, but most restrain themselves from summarily asserting, “Either Paul can’t read or something else is up.” The “something else,” according to Enns, is that Paul uses the OT as he does because (1) he follows Judaism’s “long history of manipulating scripture in the interest of supporting theological arguments,” and (2) his overriding objective is “to make the case that Jews and Gentiles are on equal footing before God. Thus, in his effort to show that the Mosaic law had this in view all along obligates Paul to “get very creative with the Old Testament.”

Enns, now assured that his belief concerning the NT writers’ use of the OT is indisputably settled, mocks Evangelical scholars who remain benighted because they have not yet come to share the view he has adopted since he has shaken himself free from the shackles of Evangelicalism. So, he sardonically wonders. How do Evangelical Bible scholars allow Paul and other NT writers to get away with this inventive hermeneutic? Enns derisively answers, “If anyone else were doing this—me, you, the Pope, Jehovah’s Witnesses, an emergent pastor, a liberal theologian, a first year seminary student—Evangelicals would call it ‘distorting the inerrant Word of God.’” Enns can think of only two possible explanations why Evangelicals permit the apostle Paul’s alleged “distorting the inerrant Word of God.” Either (1) Paul gets a free pass because he is an apostle, “and apparently it’s OK for apostles to do this”,[5] or (2) “Paul’s reading of the Old Testament is defended as being consistent with the Old Testament meaning (which leads to overly subtle and backbreaking arguments).”

In keeping with his question begging throughout his entire blog entry, Enns once more assumes the very point he set out to prove as he deals his coup de grâce upon pitiable and unenlightened Evangelicals. “Here is the great irony. Without question, as a first century Jew, Paul believed his scripture was God’s Word. He had what Evangelicals like to call a ‘high view’ of scripture.” But, convinced that he understands how Paul used the OT, Enns asserts with confidence, “It’s just that Paul’s high view and an Evangelical high view are clearly not the same. I’m just glad Evangelicals weren’t around at the time to try to stifle Paul, to keep him from landing his gig as apostle to the Gentiles. We would have missed out on a lot.”

“For Evangelicals, the Bible is God’s final authority.” Not so for the apostle Paul, Enns confidently assures. Indeed, “Paul had a high view of scripture. It just wasn’t the final word. Jesus was.” The fact that we would not know Jesus apart from the authoritative testimony of Scripture does not seem to embarrass Enns as he asserts his false disjunction to insist that, “For Paul, Jesus is the final authority to which the Bible must bend.” On this basis, then, Enns asserts that Paul’s inventive interpretation of the OT sets the “trajectory the church” is meant to follow: “the Old Testament is God’s Word that has to be re-understood, re-thought, re-read in light of Jesus.” By saying this Enns does not mean that the apostles and first followers of Jesus Christ discovered that they needed to correct their own misunderstanding, misreading, and misappropriation of the OT because of their unbelief which led to their failure to see Christ as the one to whom the whole OT was leading. To reiterate, Enns is not saying that the coming of Christ corrects our faulty interpretation or our misreading and misunderstanding of the OT Scriptures. Rather, by “re-understood, re-thought, re-read in light of Jesus,” Enns means that the gospel “transformed” the storyline of the OT Scriptures to such an extent that “the Old Testament is reshaped in order to conform to Jesus.” The gospel story, which is rather disconnected with the OT storyline recasts and alters the OT story so that to read the OT Scriptures other than the way Enns does is to misread and to mishandle the Scriptures.

Numerous points could be raised in response to Peter Enns’s two blog entries including the nature of progressive revelation, Scripture’s clarity (perspicuity), large biblical theological themes, the place and function of Israel in the land in relation to Christ and new creation, the relationship between the Mosaic law and Christ, the place of Gentiles within the promise covenant given to Abraham, and several other issues that Enns either ignores or runs over quite roughly. Others cited above have touched upon these in their lengthy and many responses to Enns’ earlier publications. Responses offered here to the two blog entries endeavor to keep the focus upon the theme of this series, the NT use of the OT.

Since Enns’s two blog entries tightly and rightly associate the apostle Paul’s use of the OT with what Enns calls a “high view” of Scripture it is fitting that we ponder how Enns’s view concerning Paul’s use of the OT coheres with three passages that concern Paul’s appeal to Scripture to validate the gospel he preaches. Two are from Paul’s letters (1 Cor. 15:1-5; Rom. 16:25-27); the other is from the Book of Acts (Acts 17:1-12). Enns addresses none of these passages in his published materials concerning the NT use of the OT. Yet, it isreasonable to observe that these three passages serve as guardrails to constrain and to preserve us from positing the ideas Enns now advances concerning the NT use of the OT.

To be continued. Tomorrow watch for: “Would Paul Have Made A Good Evangelical? On the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament (Part 4).”


[1] See Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 113-165; and “Fuller Meaning, Single Goal: A Christotelic Approach to the New Testament Use of the Old Testament in Its First-Century Interpretive Environment,” in Three Views of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, edited by Kenneth Berding & Jonathan Lunde (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 167-217. Enns wrote these when he was still Professor of Old Testament & Biblical Hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary. Now he affirms beliefs that he strongly denied holding prior to his departure from WTS. Now that he is less restrained he makes his views concerning Scripture, including Scripture’s use of Scripture, much clearer. While at WTS Enns presented himself as evangelical in his initial response and follow-up to Greg Beale’s critique and in his response to Beale’s critique in Themelios. See also Beale’s surrejoinder and subsequent publications, such as, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008). See Peter Enns, review of The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008, in Bulletin for Biblical Research 19.4 (2009): 628-631.
[2] Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, 154. In “Fuller Meaning, Single Goal,” Three Views of the NT Use of the OT, Enns explains, “A Christotelic approach is an attempt to look at the centrality of Christ for hermeneutics in a slightly different way. It asks not so much, ‘How does this OT passage, episode, figure, etc., lead to Christ?’ To read the OT ‘Christotelicly’ is to read it already knowing that Christ is somehow the end (telos) to which the OT story is heading; in other words, to read the OT in light of the exclamation point of the history of revelation, the death and resurrection of Christ” (214).
[3] Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic: The Doctrinal Significance of the Old Testament Quotations (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961). See Andrew Naselli’s instructive review of Lindars’s book.
[4] See the review of Inspiration and Incarnation by D. A. Carson, “Three Books on the Bible: A Critical Review,” available at Reformation 21 and in idem, Collected Writings on Scripture, compiled by Andrew David Naselli (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 197-235. Concerning the NT use of the OT, Carson acknowledges that Enns affirms and develops how for the NT writers their own recognition and belief in Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and Son of God came before their understanding concerning how the OT bears witness to his identity. Nevertheless, Carson criticizes Enns for failing “to see how Christian belief is genuinely warranted by Scripture” (Collected Writings on Scripture, 283).
[5] It is true that, for a time, some, perhaps many, Evangelicals followed the lead of Richard Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975). His argument that apostolic exegesis is not normative has largely disappeared from evangelical scholarly discussions of the NT’s use of the OT.

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