Enns On Jesus Creed

Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog is hosting a discussion involving a book I reviewed not too long ago called Inspiration & Incarnation by Peter Enns. Dr. Enns has been generous enough to participate in the discussion and answered a question I posed from an old Themelios article. The issue at hand is discerning where we begin when we formulate our doctrine of Scripture. Does it begin with certain clear statements, or “self-attestations” of Scripture, or do we start with the phenomena of Scripture itself? The question has been longstanding and an issue of controversy since the 1960s.

Here is what I quoted (Nicole comments on Dewey Beegle’s book, The Inspiration of Scripture):

Dr Beegle very vigorously contends that a proper approach to the doctrine of inspiration is to start with induction from what he calls “the phenomena of Scripture” rather than with deduction from certain biblical statements about the Scripture…. This particular point needs to be controverted. If the Bible does make certain express statements about itself, these manifestly must have a priority in our attempt to formulate a doctrine of Scripture. Quite obviously, induction from Bible phenomena will also have its due place, for it may tend to correct certain inaccuracies which might take place in the deductive process. The statements of Scripture, however, are always primary. To apply the method advocated by Dr Beegle in other areas would quite probably lead to seriously erroneous results. For instance, if we attempted to construct our view of the relation of Christ to sin merely in terms of the concrete data given us in the Gospels about His life, and without regard to certain express statements found in the New Testament about His sinlessness, we might mistakenly conclude that Christ was not sinless. If we sought to develop our doctrines of creation merely by induction from the facts of nature and without regard to the statements of Scripture, we would be left in a quandary. The present remark is not meant to disallow induction as a legitimate factor, but it is meant to deny it the priority in religious matters. First must come the statements of revelation, and then induction may be introduced as a legitimate confirmation, and, in some cases, as a corrective in areas where our interpretation of these statements and their implications may be at fault’ (Gordon Review, Winter 1964-1965, p. 106).

Enns responded, and I thought it was insightful and worth reproducing (with some minor editing–for easier reading)

Nicole: start with induction from what he calls “the phenomena of Scripture” rather than with deduction from certain biblical statements about the Scripture.

Enns: It is clear. For Nicole over against Beegle, “biblical statements about Scripture” are not “phenomena.” This distinction, which is not demonstrated but assumed, drives the rest of the argument to follow. If it is not granted, the argument comes to an end rather quickly.

Nicole: If the Bible does make certain express statements about itself, these manifestly must have a priority in our attempt to formulate a doctrine of Scripture.

Enns: Yes, if. And by “express” apparently what is meant is passages that are understood by different modes of exegesis by which any other biblical statement is handled.

Nicole: To apply the method advocated by Dr Beegle in other areas would quite probably lead to seriously erroneous results. For instance, if we attempted to construct our view of the relation of Christ to sin merely in terms of the concrete data given us in the Gospels about His life, and without regard to certain express statements found in the New Testament about His sinlessness, we might mistakenly conclude that Christ was not sinless.

Enns: This is a nonsensical argument. No one is advocating that we limit the passages we consider when addressing inspiration like failing to address the NT letters when talking about Jesus. Frankly, it is the “express statement” people who are doing that by saying that only certain passages have priority.

Nicole: If we sought to develop our doctrines of creation merely by induction from the facts of nature and without regard to the statements of Scripture, we would be left in a quandary.

Enns: This is either dubious argumentation or there is a serious communication block between what Nicole is saying and what I think he is saying. Where in the world did “facts of nature” come into all this? The entire issue is how biblical passages–not just a few over against the whole, but all of them– should be handled in talking about inspiration. To give a simplistic example, if I concluded from certain “express passages” that, by virtue of being God’s word, and since God cannot lie, the Bible’s reporting of history must be accurate, and then I stumbled upon the synoptic issue on the Gospels or the OT, I would not be a very good reader of Scripture if I did not allow the latter “phenomenon” to correct those express statements. And that is not just a hypothetical example. Some people will twist and turn every which way to harmonize or adjust the phenomena to fit the supposedly crystal clear express passages. Indeed, this is precisely what Nicole and many/most inerrantists, at some level, seem to argue for–but see below.

Nicole: The present remark is not meant to disallow induction as a legitimate factor, but it is meant to deny it the priority in religious matters.

Enns: I am glad Nicole allows induction: it is unavoidable, and even the express passages he adduces are found through induction. Moreover, the language of “priority” only makes sense if you grant the opening distinction between statement and phenomena. What I see here is a series of assertions, not argument.

Nicole: First must come the statements of revelation, and then induction may be introduced as a legitimate confirmation, and, in some cases, as a corrective in areas where our interpretation of these statements and their implications may be at fault.

Enns: I am not sure what Nicole is getting at with the first clause since all Scripture is considered revelatory. However, most of this final expression is very good and, ironically, fits very well with what I am arguing here: exegesis of phenomena must inform our doctrine of Scripture. Our understanding of “express statements” must pass the test of being compatible with the Bible. As I like to say, we must labor to have a doctrine of Scripture that Scripture can actually support, not one where much of Scripture becomes an embarrassment. I am trying to see how Nicole’s last statement doesn’t undermine his previous points. It is possible I have completely misunderstood him.

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