We are introduced to Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. Peter Enns reminds readers that Jewish and Christian interpreters have struggled to understand it. Moderns are not the first people to rethink the text.
Enns begins his exploration into the biblical texts by reminding readers that Genesis is a tough text to understand before introducing readers to the recent findings of scholarship. He mentions the many, many questions that arise from the text itself (not from the critical approach scholarship, per se). Some examples include the following:
Why does God say, “Let us make humankind” (1:26; 3:22)?
If Adam and Eve are the first humans, and Cain their only surviving offspring, how can Cain be afraid of retaliation for murdering his brother (4:13–16)? Where did he get his wife (4:17)?
Who/what is the serpent in the garden, and what is it doing there in the first place (3:1–7)?
In Genesis 1, how can there be days 1, 2, and 3 (1:3–13) before a sun and moon are created on day 4 (1:14–19)?
(Kindle Locations 492-509)
Lest someone think that modern scholarship led to people asking hard questions Enns clarifies, ”
“These questions are among those asked by the earliest known biblical interpreters—beginning with Jewish interpreters living two hundred years or so before Christ.” (Kindle Locations 512-513)
“For this reason the long history of Jewish biblical interpretation has been anything but bashful about engaging the many interpretive challenges of Genesis.” (Kindle Locations 518-520).
We see interpretive creativity and fluidity in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, Philo, Josephus, and later documents like the Mishnah, Talmud, Targums, and forms of midrashim. Likewise, Christians have read Genesis differently over the years, e.g. Justin Martyr, Melito of Sardis, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, Basil, Augustine and others. Speaking of Augustine Enns writes of his The Literal Meaning of Genesis ,
“…where he shows, among other things, how much intellectual effort is required to handle Genesis well, and how ill-advised it is to read the creation stories literally.
‘It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these [cosmological] topics, and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.’ ” (Kindle Locations 532-537)
This leads Enns to comment: “My point is that Genesis is not now and never has been an easy book to understand.” (Kindle Location 539)
In my next post I will relay Enns’ thoughts on how modern interpreters have understood Genesis.
Not directly related to your post, Brian, but on a related note I just started reading Vern Poythress’ newer book Inerrancy and Worldview. Apparently something motivated Poythress’ writing of this book was the kind of work that Enns’ is doing, in particular. So I will be interested to see how his counter-proposal to Enns’ kind of work fleshes out.
I think Enns’ hermeneutic and the attention that he is drawing is bound to provoke quite a few responses. Even Collins book has mentioned Enns already.
Would Enns be welcome as a professor at Western (Portland)?
Unlikely for two reasons (from the Faculty Teaching Position):
(1) These books were written by a process of dual authorship in which the Holy Spirit so superintended the human authors that, through their individual personalities and styles, they composed and recorded God’s Word without error in the autographs. (From paragraph 2 under “Concerning the Scriptures”)
(2) We believe God created Adam and Eve and all humanity in his image with the intention that they should glorify God, enjoy his fellowship, and fulfill his purpose on the earth. Created with integrity and without sin, our first parents fell into sin by disobeying the will of God. As a result of identification in Adamic sin and individual acts of sinning the human race is dead in sin, separated from God and subject to his wrath. While all people have dignity as the image of God, they are inherently sinful and hopelessly lost apart from divine grace and salvation in Jesus Christ. (From “Humanity and Sin”)
Perhaps you’ve answered this question elsewhere, Brian, but what is Enns view of Scripture? Is it just another text that attempts to provide answers to the questions about origins, identity, destiny, etc., in light of Messiah? Or does he view it as holding some type of authority over and above other similar literature when addressing those same issues?
Enns is an evangelical with a high view of Scripture (even if Adam is not historical he affirms these passages as Scripture that remain theologically authoritative for the church), though he does not affirm inerrancy. He teaches at Eastern University in Philadelphia, PA. This is their statement on Scripture:
• We believe that the Bible, composed of Old and New Testaments, is inspired by God and serves as the rule of faith and practice, being the authoritative witness to the truth of God embodied in Jesus Christ. (http://www.eastern.edu/welcome/doctrinal_statement.html)
So they seem to have a similar doctrine of Scripture as Fuller or George Fox.
So Brian makes a post about Enn’s book on Adam and Bobby wants to talk about Poythress’ new book and Tony asks about Enns view of scripture. If he doesn’t have the right view I guess we can dismiss whatever he says. Sorry to be so contrary but I am just feeling good today. Back to the subject Enns is right about people having questions about the stories from the beginning. Also I like the quote from Augustine at the end. Its ironic that Augustine’s doctrine of original sin is one of the major problems of a non-historical Adam
Blog conversations can be funny. I don’t mind “off the topic” as long as it isn’t militant “off the topic!” 🙂
It is ironic that Augustine’s views are a major hurdle for many considering what seems to be his call for a flexible reading of Genesis.
What I find interesting, is the sort of intellectual hypocrisy in this problem. Often, Evangelicals/Fundamentalists tend to repel attacks on the Bible by labeling the attackers as ‘Modern’ or ‘Post-Modern’ (depending on the nature of the attack). Yet they themselves are apart of a ‘Modern’ framework— I mean, look at the list of pre-Modern Christian and Jewish list you’ve provided. It seems that this literal view on the Bible is Modern!
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