October 24, 2020

IM Book Review: A Jester’s Take on the Bible


. . . the insights of these textual experts must be welcomed, even if they shake the foundations of religious dogma. To the extent they are correct, they are further iterations of the truth. And the pursuit of that truth, not self-deception or willful ignorance, is the task of religious adulthood.

• Jay Michaelson
How We Know the Bible Was Written by Human Hands

Joking decides great things, Stronger and better oft than earnest can.

• John Milton

• • •

Pete Enns wants Christians to have a grown-up faith. He encourages us to seek this maturity by addressing us with wit and panache in his new book, The Bible Tells Me So.

An important characteristic of being a grown up is that one accepts things as they are and then learns to work with them. This applies to how one approaches the Bible. Enns repeatedly encourages us to stop defending the Bible as something we want it to be so that we might read and benefit from the actual book we have before us.

If his style in doing so is like that of the court jester, so much the better. The role of the jester is to use humor and mockery to speak hard truth to power while defusing tension. The jester plays the fool in order to confound the wise. He capers about, acting the clown while making serious points and challenging the status quo.

Enns is flat out hilarious at times and his writing is always lively, often eliciting a knowing smile, a chuckle, an “Aha!” moment. Here are some of the chapter titles:

  • Why this chapter is so important and so dreadfully long
  • When biblical writers get cranky
  • Don’t quote the Bible at me, please. I’m God.
  • Good news! Our leader was executed by the Romans! Come join us!
  • “Why don’t you just go castrate yourself,” and other spiritual advice.

Here’s one of my favorite (funny) paragraphs from the book:

This moment was the straw that broke the camel’s back. All those beach balls I had managed to keep down below the surface now burst up through the water and shot into the air. Or, if you’re not tired of my metaphors yet, I saw I could no longer keep the sheep in the pen. I had stepped over a threshold into the light (next to last metaphor) and was staring plainly right into the face of a Bible (final metaphor) that wasn’t behaving itself and that I now knew I could no longer make behave.

Pete Enns plays the jester part, but the problem with jesters is that they threaten us and make us squirm. Some fear that the jester’s antics and subversive message will destroy the solid foundation upon which we stand.

Enns may write in a conversational, quirky, funny, self-deprecating, irreverent manner, but his purpose is completely serious. Here, in his own words, is why he wrote The Bible Tells Me So.

The Bible itself, taken on its own terms, raises difficult questions and challenges for faith. My goal for this book, then, is to assure people of faith that they do not need to feel anxious, disloyal, unfaithful, dirty, scared, or outcast for engaging these questions of the Bible, interrogating it, not liking some of it, exploring what it really says, and discerning like adult readers what we can learn from it on our own journey of faith. I want you to know that you are not being disloyal to God or “rebelling” if you have trouble accepting , for example, that God would command his people to commit genocide. I want you to know you are not alone. Hardly. And perhaps some who have walked away from any faith in God, because the Bible just couldn’t bear up under the impossible expectations placed on it, might take a second look and find a truer faith. I want pious people to see that— judging by how the Bible actually behaves— God did not design scripture to be a hushed afternoon in an oak-paneled library. Instead, God has invited us to participate in a wrestling match, a forum for us to be stretched and to grow. Those are the kinds of disciples God desires. This book, in other words, is a giant permission slip to let the wrestling begin.

The Bible Enns reads is filled with stories and poems and sayings that ancient people wrote. They describe their own encounters with God (which Enns believes were genuine) in ancient language and in the context of the ancient settings where they lived. It doesn’t look anything like the well-ordered “divine instruction manual” many Christian teachers say it is. Instead, Pete Enns says, we should accept it as a model for our own spiritual journeys today — a collection of narratives and writings as messy, troubling, bizarre, perplexing, and complicated as the lives we live in the here and now.

As he studied the Bible seriously, three characteristics of the book arrested Pete Enns’s attention and changed his mind and life:

1. God does a lot of killing and plaguing, orders others to do it (usually the Israelites), or stands by watching as the Israelites go ballistic on their own. Exhibit A is God’s command that the Israelites exterminate the inhabitants of the land of Canaan so they could move in.

2. What the Bible says happened often didn’t— at least not the way the Bible describes it. And sometimes different biblical authors have very different takes on what happened in the past.

3. The biblical writers often disagree, expressing diverse and contradictory points of view about God and what it means to be faithful to him.

PeterEnns300x300Much of the book explores these and other head-scratching parts of Scripture.

  • Why did God hate Canaanites so much that he commanded genocide? And how should we evaluate the kinds of biblical interpretation that justify it?
  • What about all those “weird” ways by which the Bible tells stories and reflects the past? Talking animals? God himself walking and talking with people? Strange and offensive laws and regulations? The “science” reflected in Scripture — a flat earth set on pillars with a dome over it, etc.?
  • Why two very different creation stories in Genesis? Why different collections of laws that sometimes contradict one another? Why two “histories” of Israel that are very different from each other? Why four books about Jesus whose details don’t always mesh?
  • Why do various Proverbs tell us to do opposite things? Why does the writer of Ecclesiastes have such a gloomy view of life and its ultimate meaning and purpose? Why does God seem to oppose his own “wisdom” in the book of Job?
  • Above all, why is God portrayed in so many different ways in the Bible? At times he is lofty, sovereign, transcendent. At other times he doesn’t act like “God”! He seems more human, gets taken off guard, is forced to respond to human behavior, and capitulates to human intervention. What do we do with the “ungodlike” God of the Bible?
  • Why do Jesus and the apostles interpret the Old Testament in the strange ways they do?

The Bible Tells Me So tackles these questions forthrightly and gives reasonable answers, in my opinion. The conservative evangelical inerrancy crowd will not like them. But in the end, I think Enns offers a saner, more mature perspective on what the Bible actually is.

Some things I liked best: (1) his descriptions of the Bible as a “story” book and what stories do, as well as his key point that “God let his children write the story,” (2) his appreciation of Jewish interpreters and the way they approach the text far differently than Christians are used to, (3) his courage to point out the various depictions of God in the Bible — a topic I’ve rarely heard addressed, (4) his perspective on reading the entire OT in the light of the Babylonian Captivity and how that influences our understanding of its meaning and purpose, (5) his grasp on how Jesus’ resurrection changed everything about the way early Christians read the Bible.

Congratulations to Pete Enns for facing these questions with humor and transparency, and for courageously pursuing honest inquiry and accepting reasonable answers, even though this led to him being forced “outside the gate” of the evangelical inerrancy crowd. I love the fact that his faith, his humanity, his wit, and his love for the Bible have only grown stronger, more adult, and more gracious as a result.

As one who has likewise taken up residence in the post-evangelical wilderness, I deem this book a gift.

• • •

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It
By Peter Enns
HarperOne (2014)


  1. The knock on Enns is that he is Charles Templeton, headed for apostacy; bound to be a Unitarian Universalist eventually. I’ve seen atheists comment on his site as to why he just doesn’t go all the way and give up the Jesus myth. He’s a …shhh… LIBERAL. He’s not only on the slippery slope, he’s greasing it for the rest of us. Fear and loathing in evangelical land. But Pete calls out that fear. I have to admit when I first encountered his writings that I felt that pang of fear. But there is no need to fear truth and honesty. Defending the Bible by disingenuity is ultimately no defence at all. The Bible doesn’t need to be defended by sophistry. Because the Bible reveals Jesus. He is Truth, He is the point all the OT was leading up to, He is the teleos, the end point the alpha and OMEGA, the beginning and the end. He is worthy of our trust. So I discern in Pete’s writings that trajectory of growing trust in Jesus. He’s not trying to break that trust down but build it up; in himself and his readers.

    • Well said, Mike.

      • Even looking at the Hebrew bible in and of itself, I get the impression that the compilers/editors/redactors kept the old – for them – stories for the purpose of bringing the meaning of their experiences together in the prophets. In essence, the prophets are the “lessons learned” portion of their bible, what they understand as the point God was attempting to make all along.

  2. Wow a book that is incredibly human and their dealings with a God that loves them so much even with all of their faults and His desire for them to have more through the pouring out of that love. The layers in depth and height for those that will look into the ideas of a long Hebrew poem that no matter what language you print it in it is saying the same thing. Only in a personal way that each reader can be brought up to a higher revelation to the person of Christ. Much like the example set by Him whose teaching while here was pointing to Himself and the love of the Father who sent Him. I can scream at Him, cry out to Him, be angry with Him and when all is quiet within me I can hear His answer which is always coupled in love especially when I am being corrected. When He corrects me I am lifted to a new place of honor in my new understanding of who I am in relationship with such a kind and merciful hand.

  3. Enns’ statement–actually a quote from one of his teachers–that “God let’s his children write the history” resolves so much of my earlier tensions about “inaccuracies”.

  4. David Emme says

    So did God create two worlds being how there are two different accounts of God creating the world in verse one compared to verse two? Are we to understand verse and chapter divisions which only came in the 16th century is the outline of how we should understand how Genesis is structured? I ask this because how you understand Genesis 1:1 and 1:2(unless your a dispensational gap theorist) is how to understand creation of man and Adam and Eve-God just giving more details. So Enns can make statements about the text without actually proving his thesis and this has to be the truth. Would probably take a scholarly book or two to do this but we are to believe what he says in a few pages without any evidence what so ever.

    Many just assume that Adam was the first human in the Bible, but humanity was already created by God earlier, on the sixth day of creation, according to the very first chapter of Genesis. Now we meet Adam in the second chapter of Genesis, whom God formed out of the “dust of the earth,” as the story puts it. If humans were already created in chapter one, this Adam guy God created in chapter two doesn’t seem to be the first human. So who is he? Adam is Israel’s whole story told in two chapters, Genesis 2– 3.

    Enns, Peter (2014-09-09). The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It (Kindle Locations 1591-1595). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

    • David I don’t really understand what your question is. I also don’t really get how you are reading Enns. Try again.

      • First-thank you for challenging me. I do appreciate these types of challenges. I see these as not necessarily challenging a position but perhaps a bunch of jumbled thoughts not concise enough to show where one goes with the other-kind of like I see it in my mind but everyone else might be thinking, “what the heck is he talking about”. So thank you in a true sense of appreciation. It does help me a lot. maybe I should hire you as an editor-but you would have to work for free!

        Enns tries to show Adam was not the first person created by showing in Genesis where God created man and then in chapter two shows God dealing with Adam.

        The point is interpretive and hermeneutical.

        Since the closeness of man created is Adam-his point would be it is an assumption to say Adam was the first man.

        My contention is God makes a statement and gives details of that.

        So you have God making a statement and then after this-God gives more details.
        So of course there is a difference in the accounts.
        Somehow, Enns tries making the point in his book that chapter one is God giving a general description of Creation and chapter two is about the history of Israel.

        My Illustration of the Gap theory was a hard one. Gap theorists see genesis 1:1 as one instance of God creating the world. Then verse two is seen as a second time God created the world. So there is this whole history of tens of thousands of years between verse one and two of Genesis one. The point would be verse one is a declaration of the work of God and verse two and onward is God giving the details.

        The errors are similar in reasoning in not seeing a declarative statement and then the rest being God giving more details of what he stated or declared.

        The point about chapter divisions is where he states chapter one is this and chapter two is that-about the history of Israel when God used no chapter or verse divisions when the bible was first written. This was probably my weakest point because we all use them even in this explanation. Was trying to use this with his interpretation of chapter two where we use chapters as a type of structure where interpretations hang on. Chapter and verse divisions are sometimes great tools and other times are the worst.

        Unless I got jipped on the Kindle version of the book-he gave us about 700 words give or take to make these points. Here is what I am speaking of in when I state-are we to assume what he says is the truth without any resources. He gives nothing showing anything about who ever wrote or advocated this. How can I consider this as any sort of a valid point in seven hundred words and no resources? Uses very little reasoning-or even consideration of other interpretations-yet the assumption comes-a person who believes Adam was the first person does not know what they are talking about-we are the assumptive ones.

  5. This is a really good, well written book that will (rightfully) spark a lot of discussion. He was very intentional about writing it for a popular non-scholar audience. Very readable. The style is so readable that it’s hard not to skip right by things that are actually huge paradigm shifters.

    A move away from a fact seeking “inerrancy” approach to the Bible is far more than just being okay with a few irrelevant details may not agree – it’s a paradigm shift. Some will argue that his is a low view of scripture, but I don’t think that’s true. If you agree with Enns on what scripture actually is – that it’s incarnational, multi vocal, ancient, narrative, has different genres and different purposes – than his is a high view because it reflects what the Bible actually is. It really tackles some tough subject matter.

    And even though pieces of the book make you feel like the rug is being pulled out from underneath you (especially for us non-scholars who are hearing this stuff and working out the implications for the 1st time) it’s a good read and a really important book.

  6. “I want pious people to see that— judging by how the Bible actually behaves— God did not design scripture to be a hushed afternoon in an oak-paneled library. Instead, God has invited us to participate in a wrestling match, a forum for us to be stretched and to grow. Those are the kinds of disciples God desires.”

    How does Eens know that God did not design scripture that way? How does he know that God has invited us to participate in a wrestling match?

    I am leary when people start claiming they know what God wants, or what God intended, or who God *really* is, without any proof or evidence. What’s to stop someone from making the opposite faith claims and still being right? Isn’t it all an interpretation?

    • He is making an observation based on the characteristics of the Bible that is actually before us rather than the one that is so often presented to us. It’s a messy, difficult, complex book that raises as many questions as it answers, not a neat, academic theological presentation of “the truth.” That’s what he’s trying to say. You may disagree, but if so, please give your reasons, not just criticism of an author on the basis of a metaphor he uses.

      • They weren’t criticisms, they were questions. It wasn’t a metaphor, it was a claim. A claim that is the foundation for this book. They are red flags that pop up in my head when approaching scholarly books. The problem I have is that I’ve heard this all before from authors who make very different faith claims and just as Eens does. I would like to know where the certainty and confidence come from and how he knows his interpretation is correct. That’s an important factor to me when choosing books that make claims such as these.

        I would agree that it’s a very messy and difficult book. I’ve watched the evolution of Christianity as it constantly tries to evolve and re-define what the book means. I’ve been guilty of doing it myself over the years. This is my main disagreement. It’s not that new evidence or proof has come to light, it’s simply a redefinition and approach to the Bible. It helps people reconcile and support their faith without addressing the messy and difficult parts.

        • I hear you – I get a little concerned when I see something about the “real” Jesus or what so and so “really” meant. Have you read the book though? Or just this one paragraph?

          In this case, part of what the book addresses is exactly the fact that new archaeological and historical evidence has come to light (along with scholarship about what the Bible is, has always been, and how it was formed). That’s one of the things that I most appreciated about it. Most popular books don’t address these type of things as directly as this one because they’re difficult and challenge cherished beliefs. I don’t think every argument is air tight but it’s a good thought provoking book.

      • Does Enns indicate that he sees Jesus, or any NT writer or character, “wrestling” with Scripture? Would not they be the best indicators of how we should use and understand it?

        As far as I can tell, they seemed to use it in light of Christ (and the Resurrection). It may challenge us, but I don’t see “wrestling” as part of its intention.

        • I think that the invitation to wrestle is not with the scripture, but with the God from whom it proceeds.

          “Wrestle” is such a freighted word. It implies a close and intimate encounter. It also implies a struggle, a contending for victory over another. The good news, however, is that when we actually wrestle with God, we are overcome for our own salvation. This wrestling is better than standing outside making potshots at an effigy of God that we mistake for the real thing.

          Again, I don’t read Enns as saying that we to “wrestle” the scripture — that is to dominate and force it to submit, or to push it into a box of our choosing. But rather that we should THROUGH SCRIPTURE encounter the God whose story it tells, as He is, up close and personal.

          I think we can safely say that God indeed invites us to such an encounter.

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

          I wouldn’t say “wrestling” so much as just totally re-interpreting. I’m not a 2TJ scholar, so maybe their approach was perfectly normal and expected by the original audience, but I think the NT authors probably had a different understanding of what the OT is/was than my default understanding might be.

        • I do think that you see the characters of scripture “wresting” with God, and with their own story – past, present, and future.

        • Marcus Johnson says

          Well, Jesus wouldn’t “wrestle” with Scripture for two pretty obvious reasons: a) much of Scripture had yet to be written (i.e., the entire New Testament) and wouldn’t be written until after Jesus’ earthly ministry, b) Jesus is the Word of God, while the Scripture is that Word as processed through earthly men to earthly men, so his comprehension level would far exceed yours, mine, or that of the writers of the Bible. In addition, Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels did not address the entire gamut of stories, poems, prophecies, etc. in the Old Testament, so some stuff is in there for us to struggle with, and I think we’re better for it.

          Some parts of the Word (not the Bible) require a greater degree of struggle to comprehend than others. God is love? Got it. Jesus is the way to salvation? A little tougher, but I can get there. Someone included a story of how God ordered a man to kill his son? That might require a little more time in the think tank. We don’t necessarily have to call it “wrestling,” but we should expect to strain our brains to varying degrees throughout the reading of this text.

    • The exact opposite viewpoint could have the same questions raised…

  7. There are those who read the Bible as they’re told, and there are those who read the Bible as it is.

    • Loren Haas says

      I am going to use this next chance I get. Thanks for helping me maintain my clever, edgy persona!

  8. Two things happened when I began studying the Bible in this “messy” way that is described, learning from some incredible seminary professors who had critical minds and faithful hearts as well as reading Enns and similar authors along the way:

    1. I became a happier person, because I understand “story.” Understanding stories as stories told from perspectives did not dampen any of the “truth” of the Bible, but instead made it much, much more relatable. Knowing some of the cultural context and reasons for recording these stories helped bring the Bible to within my reach, helped me empathize with the authors and the characters, and utterly softened my heart. They needed and experienced God in their particular ways, which frees me to need and experience God in my particular ways.

    2. It resolved lots of my leftover religious cynicism and birthed a new kind of faith, in which the intellect and emotions and experiences were all allowed to be in play. It gave me courage to pursue a more tangible relationship with God, especially a more robust pneumatology. It’s true: a more critical and understanding way of reading the Bible has helped me experience God in new ways. Walking in the Spirit has become more than a cliche for me. I’ve found the courage to ask God for things that I thought I had resigned myself to never having or never experiencing. I’m a different person than I was two or three years ago.

    All of this by taking the constraints off of the text via sound hermeneutics and scholarship, allowing myself to be fully human and embracing the God who blesses the human experience, especially when we reach out at our worst. Some call this a “second naïveté,” when one returns to a truer faith after working through he complications of the naive faith that was first sold to them, full of sure promises on the basis of works and superstition. It is a hard, worthy journey.

    • Well put, Sean!

    • Sean, a very insightful comment. Thanks.

    • Amen! That’s my hope as well.

    • Thank you for this great complement to CM’s post, Sean.

    • THIS.

      • To elaborate:

        “Understanding stories as stories told from perspectives did not dampen any of the “truth” of the Bible, but instead made it much, much more relatable.”

        “All of this by taking the constraints off of the text via sound hermeneutics and scholarship, allowing myself to be fully human and embracing the God who blesses the human experience, especially when we reach out at our worst.”

        Yes. yes, yes.

        Stories contain human characters, who encounter God in their particular circumstances and within their own insights and limitations. Well, who knew? Maybe ordinary experience and life within the messiness of history can be sacrosanct after all.

        And here I thought we need an objective reading of the book, using a perfect method, with only the most insightful teacher, who is selling a big workbook, complete with charts and diagrams for mapping concepts, and clever memory devices for recalling all the Life Application Principles. If we’re super lucky, he’s discovered power point.

    • Awesome.

    • +++++++++

    • +1

    • Thank you Sean

  9. Christiane says

    I love the idea that someone is calling the ‘inerrantists’ on the carpet for being in error about the Bible.
    It’s about time.

    The beauty of sacred Scripture gets lost in the raging scuffles of ‘the Bible says’ people . . . after a while you only hear what THEY say about what ‘the Bible says’ . . . but maybe that’s what they want after all anyway (?)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Because all too often, “The Bible Says” = “Ees Party Line, Comrade!”

      And once you’ve experienced that for a while, you’re never completely free of it.

  10. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

    Ok, so I haven’t finished the book, but here are my initial thoughts:
    1) Not a fan of the style. I would like something a lot more scholarly and serious – even from Enns, who is a pretty hilarious guy, even if he is a Yankees fan (American League isn’t real baseball, anyway). I am the kind of guy who reads every footnote and hunts down journal articles, and likes to take it all the way to arguments predicated on textual variants. This book is more of a 30,000 foot view. There is a place for a book like this, but I just am not one to accept what anyone says about much of anything, esp. Biblical interpretation.
    2) Which leads me to my second “beef” – part of changing how one reads the Bible is moving away from a dictatotrial “this is what it must mean because Very Important People say so” – because a lot of people read theology books as an exercise in confirmation bias. And yet, the book sometimes feels the same way to me.
    3) Perhaps this is the purpose of this book, but it left me hungry for more substance.
    4) Enns brings up some really interesting philosophical points that need to be expanded into a much more serious and technical tome – which are available, but not generally from scholars who actually maintain a vibrant faith. I would like Enns’ take on these issues. One of the biggest problems Enns points out is that for some segments of Christianity, we reinterpret the “plain meaning of the text” because it doesn’t fit with our preconceived ideas of what a Holy Book should look like. As Carson pointed out long ago (I think it was Carson), in this regard fundamentalists and liberals are indistinguishable. It is only the response to this approach that separates the two.
    5) A very easy read and a great addition to the library of anyone who thinks seriously about the Bible, even for one who disagrees en toto with Enns.

    • He has already written those more scholarly books — Inspiration and Incarnation, and the Evolution of Adam, as well as OT commentaries. This book is designed to bring these academic, critical issues to a lay audience.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

        Oh yes, I know – in fact, I own all of Enns’ books. I was just making some observations that might be relevant to all-comers.

    • George Christiansen says

      I have not read this one yet, but I’ve had enough of #2 (pun intended) too!

  11. “and there are those who read the Bible as it is.”

    And so what is it?

    • It is what it is.

      • Which is?

        (soon we will be discussion what the “definition of is, is”)

        • Read the review again. This is the whole point of Enns’s book – it’s a book in which God let his children tell the story, with all the mess as well as insight that this entails.

          • Yes, but EricW’s original line was:

            “There are those who read the Bible as they’re told, and there are those who read the Bible as it is.”

            Enns is in fact telling people how they should read it by telling what it is (or what he thinks it is). EricW is indicating that there is a way to read it without anyone telling us.

            My points are that: 1) we all come to the text at least partially instructed in how to read it, and 2) to bypass the church on this, and make it totally up to the individual, does not help.

          • I didn’t mean to go that far or imply that much. I was mainly contrasting letting one’s doctrines, creeds, traditions, pastors, churches, denominational publishing companies, apologists, etc., govern or tell one how to read and regard the Bible with trying to bring as few such filters or assumptions or demands or requirements of what the Bible should be or must be, or should be or must be saying or meaning, to their reading and understanding and use of it. Some of the ways to do the latter would be to learn the Biblical languages, the cultures and societies of those times, their literature and literary styles, etc.

          • EricW-

            But do you think that is realistic expectation for people? That each person would have to learn other languages and deep history just to understand the overall scope of the Bible (I am not speaking of myself, been there- done and doing that)? Is that what God intended?

            This reminds me of what one commentor said somewhere recently about Enns, which is that he sometimes comes across as advocating almost a gnostic view by putting so many requirements on people to even understand Scripture. There is a sense of a “secret knowledge”, or at least a high bar just to get the basics. I won’t go that far in accusing you nor Enns of that of course, but is this really what God expected when He utilized this method of communicating with us?

            Should not people expect their church leaders to be honestly doing much of that work and then communicating it to the people?

            I personally take more of an Anglican “3-legged stool”, or Wesleyan Quad. approach.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            You don’t have to know Greek to recognize that the Bible was not written in English, or in the 21st century, or in America and, as such, might have meanings and references that exist outside of your own cultural lens. I get your concern; claiming that the Bible has a deep historical and linguistic context, which must be understood to understand the overall scope of the Bible, does place an incredible onus on believers who may or may not be capable of getting it all. However, the context is there, and the bar is high, because this is a complex and mysterious God, and these were complex people who wrote it, and complex audiences who initially heard or read it.

            For those reasons, I say a resounding “maybe” to your final question. Church leaders really should be expected to have a much deeper grasp of Scripture than the surface-level “let me just give you what you need to get on with your day” type of interpretation. If they lead their congregations astray simply through lazy or inaccurate interpretation, I would hope that God would hold those folks accountable for their errant leadership. However, I feel very uncomfortable with individuals letting themselves of the hook, with the expectation that the church leadership will do all the work for them. In addition, if anyone, layperson or otherwise, is going to set standards of morality or influence public policy by stating, “the Bible says,” then they had better be prepared to tackle the harder questions of what the Bible does say and mean.

          • RDavid:

            Maybe it’s as simple as a Calvinist being willing to see and say that a text teaches free will, rather than: “This seems to teach free will but we know it doesn’t and can’t mean that, because” (and then pushes his thoughts under the doctrines & apologetics s/he’s been taught). Or the converse for an Arminian.

            Or a Catholic or Orthodox Christian seeing and admitting that the normal reading of Matthew 1:25 is that Mary & Joseph likely consummated their marriage after Jesus’ birth.

            Or seeing that some of the Synoptic accounts (let alone the Synoptics and GJohn) cannot be reconciled no matter how they’re “harmonized” – i.e., they can’t both/all be right, and hence one at least is “in error” rather than “inerrant.”

            I.e., letting the Bible say what it says, even if that upsets one’s or one’s church’s/leaders’, etc., teachings and doctrines.

            Be willing to live with and read and use the Bible as it is, and not as one or one’s group wants it to be or insists on presenting it as being.

    • To give you an example:

      To get licensed with a particular denomination, one of the requirements was that I had to pass a Bible Content quiz. One of the multiple questions was “Which Old Testament book is a metaphor for Christ’s love the the church?” The “correct” answer was “The Song of Solomon.”

      Reading “the Bible as it is” says that “The Song of Solomon” is erotic love poetry, and has nothing to do with Christ’s love for the church.

      • I’ll give another example. I went a Bible college that was known for its “literal” interpretation of the Bible, especially with regard to “prophecy.” Yet when our president gave a testimony about the greatest influences in his spiritual/theological development, one of them was “the allegorical interpretation of the OT history” and he specifically cited stories from Joshua.

        This literalist school avoided addressing the actual “history” depicting genocide and other troublesome issues for a devotional approach that talked about spiritual warfare and the conquest of the Promised Land as a metaphor for the victorious Christian life.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Yet he turned the wild imagery of Revelation into an End Time Prophecy Checklist of History Written in Advance/FACT FACT FACT.

      • Actually Mike Bell I like both approaches. It is what I find in some of the lines in secular songs. Some of those lines seem like they are straight from God himself IMO.

      • George Christiansen says

        I sure hope SOS has nothing to do with Christ’s love for me.

        • Do you mean the love that cries out for you without ceasing. The one that stayed focus on you at the cross through all the pain and anguish of being fully human and in torment that way. Actually looking forward to it because it would mean He could be with you forever. The same love that was never deterred from while knowing all along this was where it was leading. I can’t think of more powerful and romantic love in all my life. I guess if we relate it back to the purely physical kind of thing well that certainly would be hard to take but that isn’t love. The love we truly need and want is God and the beauty of God for me is in a women and it is that which draws me to her and it is the light and spirit of her that I truly crave not so much the physical. Take those things out of her and well you have a lifeless doll.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            I think the problem with your argument, w, is that it draws from a very valid perception of who God is, but then inserts that into the meaning of this poem. Sure, God is all-consuming, passionate love, but there are quite a few steps of logic that you have to skip over to reach the conclusion that this poem references this persona. This doesn’t invalidate the premise that God is love, only the one that assumes every book of the Bible carries the same tone, purpose, direction, etc. as, say, 1 John. Making that assumption makes Scripture the wrong evidence for the right argument.

  12. Asinus Spinas Masticans says

    This is probably off topic, but is there anybody who can point me to someone who deals with the issue of why the Bible stands out from other ancient literature?

    I love the Iliad and the Odyssey, Herodotus, the Vedas, etc. but I think that the raw material of the Old Testament is much older than anything else except the Vedas. Yet the Bible seems to inhabit a different mental universe than, say, the Vedas. The only way I can describe it is that the Bible is written as though the writers had taken a mental antihistamine. The stories in the Vedas and Hesiod are fabulous, whereas the ones in the Bible ring more true for the modern reader, even if sometimes it seems as if the source material is edited for the sake of a rousing good story, as in the Elijah/Elisha narrative or some of the stuff in Joshua/Judges.

    I know the inerrantists believe we are supposed to treat the histories in the Bible as actual journalism, but I guess what I am asking is why it so much closer to actual journalism than anything else being produced in this time period?

    • These two would serve as a good introduction:

      “Understanding Genesis: The Word of the Bible in the Light of History” by Nahum Sarna
      “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible” by John Walton

      Seeing how the OT texts fit into classical Ancient Near Eastern literary categories, while at the same time making a case for how YHWH is the best and most deserving of worship among all the gods of the time (hence “there is none like you”), is one of the coolest aspects of the scriptures to me.

      If you’ve ever seen 8 Mile, think of Eminem as the Bible and his battle rap competitors as the sacred texts of the Sumerians, Assyrians, etc. 🙂

      • May I have the attention of the class…

      • “If you’ve ever seen 8 Mile, think of Eminem as the Bible and his battle rap competitors as the sacred texts of the Sumerians, Assyrians, etc.”

        I think I owe you coffee, or beer, or some other vice of choice, for saying this out loud.

    • ” The stories in the Vedas and Hesiod are fabulous, whereas the ones in the Bible ring more true for the modern reader…”

      There are enormous teeming masses of modern Hindu readers who disagree with you.

  13. Gladwyne Geek says

    What I don’t like is being patronized: told it is childish to think the texts are historical in the way all history is (incomplete narratives of what happened told from a point of view); told we are now offered us a “grown up faith” that ridicules rather than argues, takes out of context and operates on an anachronistic and ethnocentric hermeneutic. How is that “grown up”? Most of the items that are trotted out as complex are complex. But they also have had rather sophisticated (not tortured) explanations that take into account the very things Enns seems to think haven’t. To be sure there is a lot of simplistic, anachronistic and ethnocentric exegesis and discourse on the part of the traditional Bible thumpers. But Enns misleads in suggesting he has finally had the scales removed from his eyes. As a fellow Harvard grad with him, I am not amused at his jester status.

    • Gladwyne – From your post, it seems you are trying to say something without actually saying it. Maybe you can provide some more details about what you mean or at least point to links that do. What sophisticated (not tortured) explanations are you referring to? If you were to post those, perhaps people here or Enns himself would be able to respond to them. Otherwise, all I really got from your post is that you feel you are being patronized and that you are a Harvard grad.

      • I think Gladwyne is pretty clear in his point when he says:

        “…ridicules rather than argues, takes out of context and operates on an anachronistic and ethnocentric hermeneutic.”

        I haven’t yet read the above book by Enns but I’ve read enough other material that sounds a lot like CM describes this book. These sorts of books provide some balance to the most obtuse bible thumpers, but in other ways they can be just as bad. But again, that’s just my initial impression not having read this yet.

    • Gladwyne, I don’t think Enns wrote this book wit “fellow Harvard grads” in mind.

  14. I don’t understand why people like Enns cite the genocide of the Canaanites as being a major stumbling block, but don’t consider the story of Noah and the Flood as a more troublesome genocide on a much larger scale, done directly by God. (Haven’t read his book yet, just going by this review.)

    Is it because they don’t think the flood ever really happened?

    Is it because they think it’s OK for God to destroy most of humanity, but not OK for this same God to tell some tribes of humans to destroy other tribes of humans? If so, does that mean they are not really concerned about (or are fatalistic about) the character of God, but are more nervous and super-cynical about what humans do in the name of God?

    The story of the flood ends with a rainbow, a promise that God won’t destroy the whole earth’s population again. That part of the story makes most Christians happy – it’s a sign of grace. So, when God later orders the execution of only a part of humanity, why is that even more troublesome to some people?

    • Is it because they don’t think the flood ever really happened?

      Did it? Did it really? Was there really a global flood millennia ago that wiped out 99.9% of the earth’s population, both man and animal and vegetation, drastically altered the entire earth’s surface, all orchestrated by God to reboot the entire earth using a brand new Adam and Eve and their children, ending with a promise constructed from nature (that didn’t exist beforehand) that God would never dare do such a thing again?

      Your question comes across as a bit misleading…or begging, actually.

      • Post-Flood is Third Creation? Just like there are three members of the trinity….

        Half-Life 3 confirmed.

      • Even if the Flood were a total myth or based on some historical event which details were different than the Genesis account (there are several accounts of a major flood in records of antiquity), Steve’s question, “Is it because they think it’s OK for God to destroy most of humanity, but not OK for this same God to tell some tribes of humans to destroy other tribes of humans?” is a valid rhetorical question which needs a better response.

        And even if the flood never happened, was the destruction of the Northern Ten Tribes by the Assyrians and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians any less violent and inhumane than the destruction of the Canaanites by the Israelites? Were not these also willed by God for the destruction of evil people? And does God not get to choose His own methods for the destruction of evil–along with some innocent bystanders (collateral damage, I believe that’s called)?

        Frankly, I don’t have a good answer for any of these questions. I’m content with the paradox that “God is love” (1 John 4.8,16) and God told Noah, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land…” (Genesis 6.7)

        • Very fair, CalvinCuban. I was responding to what I perceived to be the comment’s tone in that line. I’ve heard it often: ask a leading question such as the one above and use it to discredit a person entirely. Oh, you don’t believe the flood ever happened? It did, so you are a liar, and everything you say is silly and I’m done listening. etc

      • Stuart, Calvin Cuban summed it up: the main question I am asking is, why are people bothered by genocide by Isrealites, but apparently not so much genocide by God Himself? Notwithstanding Chaplain Mike’s comment below, I can only think of 3 reasons for them not to be more concerned about the flood:
        1. It’s a moot point anyway, because it didn’t really happen, so no use fretting about it.
        2. It happened, but who am I to complain about God’s judgement? (Fatalism). But I’m more concerned about Canaan because I get nervous anytime someone says God told them to do ethnic cleansing (cynicism).
        3. It happened, it was a natural event, just a really bad storm, and the writer of Genesis co-opted and backfilled the story to suit his purposes, so it doesn’t tell us anything about God’s morality anyway.

        • And I’m not using it to discredit the person and end all discussion. I’m asking, what is the basis for being morally opposed to the Canaan genocide, but not the flood?

        • In actuality, the Flood is a much more terrifying story about God himself. But one additional element that gives the Canaanite genocide another layer of questionability is that the text indicates God told his people to do it. We may not be able to grasp a universal flood (as many interpret it) and fathom such an apocalypse, but we have in our headlines every day people who say God told them to kill others in the name of religion and land.

          • I expected this response from someone, and it’s a good response. Namely, a catastrophe of nature can always be claimed to be “natural,” but there’s nothing which would be considered “natural” about a genocide.

            Still, the common denominator in the Flood story and the genocide stories (e.g., Israelites vs. Caananites, Assyrians & Babylonians vs. Israelites) is that we are told that they were the will of God to punish evil people.

            But that was a time when the rule was “hate your enemies”; we are now under the mandate to “love our enemies.” Sounds simplistic, I realize, but that is what it comes down to. And it pretty much forbids the use of genocide regardless of what we believe God wants us to accomplish.

          • CM, you said, “another layer of questionability is that the text indicates God told his people to do it”.

            That sentiment underlies the whole inerrancy debate: a real nervousness over the idea that God has chosen to reveal himself through the experiences and stories of fallible human beings:

            first in making us in his image,
            second in giving us free will and conscience, which including our own choosing the knowledge of good and evil over a relationship of trust in Him (original sin);
            third, His undertaking a series of drastic protective measures, which appear as cruel amputations on the human race to limit the fallout of human sin and spiritual blindlness, occasionally revealing himself to individiauls and to peoples to the extent that their fallen minds could comprehend;
            until such time that God became flesh, and spoke to us these last days in His Son, and effected an actual cure as the new Adam, as revealed to shepherds, fishermen and tax collectors and thieves, etc.

            There’s a part of me that wants inerrancy to be true, because I want the perfect rule book to guide me to live my Best Life Now. A book where God used fallible humans to write and transmit it then requires an even greater reliance on the continued work of the Holy Spirit to point me to Jesus, That is the better way, but the old nature in me would rather search the scriptures to find life in the perfect rule book.

          • Steve, you said, “There’s a part of me that wants inerrancy to be true, because I want the perfect rule book to guide me to live my Best Life Now.” There’s a part of me that wants an inerrant Bible or infallible tradition because I want to be sure that I’m in touch with Jesus Christ for real, and not with a mere illusion or fake or mirage, just like so many illusions and fakes and mirages I can see in the world around me. But there ain’t no such book, no such tradition. No sure things. That’s what I have to live with, and sometimes I’m okay with it, but sometimes it drives me to despair. When I’m in the grip of despair, I find myself again looking for a sure thing in the places I’ve looked before, because there is nowhere else to look; but the results are always the same: no nada.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

            What sometimes is missing in these discussions is the horror at what such a command would do to the Israelites. If little Johnny goes into the backyard with a magnifying glass and starts burning ants, we tell him to stop – not because we have any particular concern for the ants, but because we know what such actions will do to Johnny. In the same way, while commanding genocide is horrible for the Canaanites, let us not forget the devastating effect it would have on Israelite social development.

          • “There’s a part of me that wants an inerrant Bible or infallible tradition because I want to be sure that I’m in touch with Jesus Christ for real, and not with a mere illusion or fake or mirage, just like so many illusions and fakes and mirages I can see in the world around me. But there ain’t no such book, no such tradition. No sure things. That’s what I have to live with, and sometimes I’m okay with it, but sometimes it drives me to despair. When I’m in the grip of despair, I find myself again looking for a sure thing in the places I’ve looked before, because there is nowhere else to look; but the results are always the same: no nada.”

            Robert, in this we are ships that pass in the night. I’m sorry for this fact; it would be better if I were alone in this particular bit of mental ocean, with its capricious storms. But for what it is worth, due to that proximity you’ve from time to time said something that gives me hope. I’m grateful to you.

            I remember you when I pray. If you ever want them, you have friends in Baltimore.

          • Danielle, Thank you so much, for your prayers and friendship. That something I’ve said from time to time has given you hope gives me hope. I’m grateful for my friends in Baltimore. May God lead us all to safe harbor (or at least to more pacific seas) one day.

          • I can make that my prayer as well. Take care, friend.

        • Asinus Spinas Masticans says

          If I had the power, and the apparent permission of God, there are plenty of people who wouldn’t be here right now. I can’t say I don’t struggle with the genocide in the Bible, but we are a species whose answer to the problem of the Other has been genocide, or at the best, enslavement, until the last forty or so years.

          I am not so morally evolved as to be incapable of understanding my Iron Age brethren. What rankles me is that I think the Canaanites were probably genetically and linguistically impossible to distinguish from the Israelites dwelling in the same area. That would make them what we call “the near enemy”, somewhat like how the primary target of angry, fiery Muslims seems to be other Muslims who aren;t as angry and fiery as they are.

          The only thing that separated the Israelites from the Canaanites was religion.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

            Thank you for changing your icon 😀

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            “I am not so morally evolved as to be incapable of understanding my Iron Age brethren”

            Ditto. I believe American public high school in the 1980s provided plenty of the intellectual equipment to understand Iron Age morality. Fantasies of gruesome righteous violence abounded; and occasionally one of those fantasies leaked a little bit – just fortunately not in my case. Which I can attribute only to providence and cowardice [mine].

            I am convinced most people can perfectly understand genocide. They just don’t want to admit they can.

            Hopefully one reaches a moral maturity where at least cognitively you recognize that such impulses are madness.

            But that doesn’t require pretending they aren’t there.

    • Enns does discuss the Flood as a similar stumbling block. I did not in the review.

      • Asinus Spinas Masticans says

        I’ve always been somewhat creeped out by the fact that Noah’s Ark is the Biblical episode most often represented on the walls of preschools and other places devoted to children. I know it’s because of the animals. Usually Noah is depicted as a jolly Santa Claus type figure and the animals are smiling. Children dearly love animals.

        But I’ve often wondered if the actual watery holocaust [however it happened, and I’m certain something happened] would have been suitable for children.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          As someone said on one of these threads long ago “It’s Katrina on Steroids”. Or (as the Flood Geology explanations become more elaborate) that movie 2012 or those fringe “Coming Earth Changes” types’ predictions without the high tech.

          In archaeology, I’ve heard three hypotheses for at least some of the Flood as oral tradition:
          1) At the end of the last Ice Age (some 12,000 years ago), the oceans rose hundreds of feet in a relatively-short time. (Including submerging some Persian Gulf-bottom landforms that’s the closest RL match for the rivers in the Garden of Eden.) If you were a coastal people…
          2) When the oceans rose in (1), they overtopped the Bosporus, and the Mediterranean overflowed into a low basin to form what’s now the Black Sea. This would have happened almost fast enough to see with the naked eye. Fountains of the deep…
          3) Evidence for “a 10,000-year flood” in Mesopotamia in early Sumerian times — such a flood would have filled the Land between the Rivers to the horizon — no land visible from anywhere in that valley. If some Sumerian (let’s call him Ut-Napishtim) rode it out in a trading barge (as seems suggested by the earliest form of the Ark story…)

          • Faulty O-Ring says

            # 2 (the Ryan-Pittman hypothesis) is apparently no longer credible, based on new geological research which shows that.the expansion of the Black Sea happened gradually. On the other hand, I am convinced that the culture of the former Black Sea coast (of which some artifacts remain, thanks to the peculiarities of the water) will turn out to be the source of much Indo-European civilization.

        • I loved most everything about the recent movie adaptation of Noah, yet the scenes of the flood itself were especially poignant in that the horror of it was not shied away from.

  15. Christianity Today recently reviewed this book as well. The author’s take on the book is similar to my own thoughts about some of Enns’ other scholarly works.


  16. Faulty O-Ring says

    These are fairly old-school controversies, which do not really capture the challenge of newer, more skeptical approaches. It makes a difference whether one approaches the Bible with an eye to deriving a coherent worldview from it, or simply as a collection of ancient texts, with no expectation that it is any truer or more coherent than Greek mythology. Enns, by the way, was fired from a Presbyterian seminary for his theological liberalism (a relative term, of course), if that helps to identify the constraints under which he writes.

    I fear the “jester” / “fool” label may over-emphasize the humorous aspect of what seems to be a fundamentally serious (albeit popular) work.

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