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Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Christian, Don’t Expect More from the Bible Than You Would of Jesus

bible and jesus

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

The grand mystery of the Christian faith is that God has entered the human drama. God incarnate—literally “in-fleshed,” as the theologians say.

This Jesus was born of a Jewish woman in first-century Galilee. Like everyone else, he grew from an infant to an adult. He learned how to speak the local languages, how to read and write, how to tie his sandals, and eventually learned a trade, carpentry.

He learned through his parents and good old trial and error the ways of his culture and the subtle social rules that never make it into any history book. He figured things out and made mistakes along the way. He would feel frustrated, angry, happy, relieved, sorry, ashamed, surprised, happy, sad.

Jesus, in other words, was not an alien, nor was he God simply dressed up as a human being. He was, as the Christian theologians have always said, human through and through, and a particular kind of human (as Christian theologians sometimes forget): a Jewish male living in the Roman world of first-century Judea.

If you saw him walking down the street back then, you wouldn’t notice anything all that special—no glow around his head or lightning bolts shooting out of his eye. And, like the rest of us, he had periods of suffering and then eventually died.

That is how Christians believe God showed up—in-fleshed in humility, in culture, in the human story, a peasant who fit right into the day-to-day world of the first century and then suffered the humiliation of execution.

No entourage, no special treatment, no red carpet, no clout among the power brokers.

This is the offense of the incarnation, what makes Christianity an “irreverent religion” as C. S. Lewis put it (the preface to J. B. Phillips’s translation of the New Testament).

If Christians are right and this is the ultimate way God showed up, we shouldn’t expect anything else from the Bible.

A well-behaved Bible is one that rises above the messy and inconvenient ups and downs of life. A Bible like that is an alien among its surroundings, a brittle scroll kept under glass, safe and sound from the rough handling of the outside world.

Such a Bible is nothing like Jesus.

It also doesn’t exist.

The Bible looks the way it does because, like Jesus, when God shows up, it’s in the thick of things—as Matthew’s Gospel says, Immanuel, God with us. This is the paradox, the mystery, and the Good News of the Christian faith.

If we let the Bible be the Bible, on its own terms—on God’s terms—we will see this in-fleshing God at work, not despite the challenges, the unevenness, and ancient strangeness of the Bible, but precisely because of these things.

Perhaps not the way we would have written our sacred book, if we had been consulted, but the one that the good and wise God has allowed his people to have.

If we come to the Bible and read it this way, in true humility, rather than defending our version of it, we will find God as he wants to be found.

[Adapted from the last chapter of The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It]

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