Pete Enns The Bible For Normal People Sat, 27 May 2017 13:33:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 I Wonder if Greg Gianforte Knows that Montana is not a “Biblical Concept” (or, fun with politicians quoting the Bible) Sat, 27 May 2017 13:33:32 +0000 "The concept of retirement is not a biblical.” Another American political leader with Bible in hand ready to speak truth.

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It hasn’t been a good week for Montana Republican (and now state senator) Greg Gianforte. On the last day of the campaign he was charged with assault after losing his cool with a reporter, who apparently was being mean at him (pressed him on a policy question).

No worries, though. The charges amounted to a slap on the wrist, and, with his party’s loyal support, arose the next day Phoenix-like from the ashes of controversy to win Montana’s lone congressional seat.

Plus, he apologized—I’m sure with complete sincerity, and not at all for damage control.

But just when the dust seems to be settling on this fisco, news comes to light that Gianforte (I hope you’re all sitting down) has a record of violence: he assaulted the Bible two years ago.

And I can’t let this go. I just . . . can’t.

According to the Washington Post, Gianforte, while speaking at Montana Bible College in 2015, declaimed,

“There’s nothing in the Bible that talks about retirement. And yet it’s been an accepted concept in our culture today. . . . Nowhere does it say, ‘Well, he was a good and faithful servant, so he went to the beach.’ It doesn’t say that anywhere.”

“The example I think of is Noah. . . . How old was Noah when he built the ark? 600. He wasn’t like, cashing Social Security checks, he wasn’t hanging out, he was working. So, I think we have an obligation to work. The role we have in work may change over time, but the concept of retirement is not biblical.”

Another American political leader with Bible in hand ready to speak truth.

But do you think, Mr. Senator . . . just maybe . . .  that the reason the Bible doesn’t speak of retirement is that the Bible reflects Iron Age tribal culture where people didn’t have “jobs” they “retired” from? But I digress.

Gianforte is correct, though: retirement is not a “biblical concept.”

But—at the risk of getting beat up—I’d like to press the Senator on this point. I can think of a few others things that likewise aren’t “biblical concepts” but that Gianforte likely embraces with heretical abandon, like:

  • Montana
  • Republican
  • United States of America
  • Bill of Rights
  • cars
  • white people
  • NRA
  • recycling
  • health care
  • English

There is, however, one “biblical concept” relevant to Gianforte’s abysmal week that he seems to have overlooked, namely, that people who claim to be guided by biblical standards shouldn’t beat anyone up for asking annoying questions.

Leaving that unfortunate incident to the side, Gianforte is hardly alone among politicians who make shallow appeals to the Bible to baptize their political opinions. But still  . . . I mean . . . “ The Bible doesn’t say anything about retirement, so it’s wrong. Oh, and Noah was 600 years old when he built the ark, so there’s that.”

Sheesh. Can you just leave the Bible out of this nonsense? Or if you really have to quote the BIble, find those verses about caring for the poor and destitute and how God absolutely hates it when the rich get preferential treatment.


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A Quick Note on What Suffering Does Fri, 26 May 2017 11:16:52 +0000 Sometimes suffering opens up the heart when nothing else can.

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Below is a brief quote from Jon D. Levenson’s recent book The Love of God: Divine Gift, Human Gratitude, and Mutual Faithfulness in Judaism (see also here).

His point is simple and, I feel, self-evident, but something about which we need to be reminded now and then.

But deserved or not, suffering has a powerful capacity to turn sufferers away from the illusions of self-sufficiency and invulnerability, both of which appeal very readily to the successful but both of which, in the traditional Jewish view, powerfully inhibit the love of God and the strength and healing it brings. Sometimes suffering opens up the heart when nothing else can.

The Love of God, p. 36

There is a reason, I suppose, why both Old and New Testaments deal so honestly with suffering.

Of course, a Christian angle would include something of how we “participate” in or even “complete” the suffering of Jesus when we suffer (Philippians 3:10, Colossians 1:24).

I would also add the suffering of Jesus can and should be seen an embodiment of Israel’s story—a “fulfillment” (as it were) of the Old Testament that doesn’t get as much airtime as it probably should. And so when we suffer “in Christ” we connect with, are “invested” in, the Old Testament narrative on a very practical level.

The suffering pilgrim is part of a long tradition.

[For those interested, I lay out my own view on the role of doubt (which is a mental/emotional suffering) in the life of faith in The Sin of Certainty.]

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Why Rituals Are Really Really Important for Your Faith Wed, 24 May 2017 12:01:04 +0000 Rituals are not beholden to our thinking but shape our thinking and when necessary step in the gap when our minds are tired and our feelings empty.

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[W]e need to beware . . . of shallow talk about “empty rituals.” To be sure, rituals can indeed become empty, performed habitually and thoughtlessly, without regard to their meaning and the ethic that is supposed to be associated with them. The prophets of Israel were unstinting in their condemnation of just that sort of pro forma religion. But it is also important to remember that, like other habitual behaviors, rituals are hardy—like habits, difficult to break—and thus likely to survive the spiritual dry periods when faith and feelings are just not there.

The ritual without the theological truth to which it bears witness, the act without the affect, can come alive—the empty ritual can be filled up—when the dry period passes. Indeed, the very existence of the ritual can help the spiritual dryness pass from the scene. Conversely, when the ritual is no longer observed, the likelihood declines that the message with which it is associated will survive, and the likelihood that old practice will come to be associated with new meanings declines still further.

Jon D. Levenson, The Love of God, pp. 32-33

I just finished Levenson’s most recent book The Love of God: Divine Gift, Human Gratitude, and Mutual Faithfulness in Judaism, and like anything the man writes it is überdeep, thoughtful, and insightful. I swear the man can write a to-do list and you’d think, “Wow. Yeah. Never saw that.”

Anyway, I’ll likely throw up a few more quotes over the next few days/weeks. But this quote resonates with me and explains why several years ago my gut moved me toward liturgical worship, including The Book of Common Prayer and an iPhone liturgy app based on Common Prayer Pocket Edition: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

It goes without saying that in expressions of Christianity that historically are overly intellectualized (i.e., the American Evangelical and Fundamentalist experience), the value of rituals (other than “daily devotions” and “going to church”) is hardly taught.

But rituals are indeed valuable, as other iterations of the Christian faith know well and as the history of the Christian church attests (not to mention Judaism). Rituals are a practice of the faith that provide the structure for our spiritual lives. Rituals are not beholden to our thinking but shape our thinking and when necessary step in the gap when our minds are tired and our feelings empty.

Sooner or later we all need that kind of help.

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Was There a “Fall” or Did Augustine Really Screw Everything Up? Tue, 23 May 2017 11:49:36 +0000 The “fall” of humanity, as some Christians understand it, completely dependent on Augustine's misreading of one verse in the book of Romans.

The post Was There a “Fall” or Did Augustine Really Screw Everything Up? appeared first on Pete Enns.

st-augustine-of-hippo-432x242Following up on my last post, 5 Old Testament Reasons Why Original Sin Doesn’t Work, let’s reflect on a 2015 article that caught my eye (thank you, Facebook feed) by Orthodox theologian (and walking thesaurus) David Bentley Hart.

The article is called “Traditio Deformis,” and in it Hart explains in no uncertain terms, and with his usual wit and punch, that St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) really screwed up our understanding of the story of the “fall” of Adam (Genesis 3) because he absolutely screwed up what Paul was saying about Adam in Romans 5:12-21.

And let there be no mistake: the doctrine of the Fall, as it is understood by many (but not all) Christians, is absolutely dependent on this one passage filtered to us through Augustine’s understanding of Paul, and remains a view usually championed in the Reformed tradition (especially neo-Calvinism; and hence Hart’s title, “Deformed Tradition”) and middle-of-the-road American Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism.

It’s clear Hart really doesn’t like Calvinism—not one bit. I don’t have the same mount of bile in my throat for Calvinism as does Hart—it is a broad tradition, after all, and the “hyper-Calvinists” (aka, Fundamentalist wolves in Calvinist-sheep’s clothing) are just one flavor.

But speaking as a biblical scholar with no small interest in Paul and Adam [click <<here>> or blog categories <<here>> and <<here>>],  I do most definitely share Hart’s assessment of how Augustine’s handling of Paul’s reading of the Adam story and other portions of Romans have left us with an unhelpful—an unPauline—theological legacy.

You should read the article, of course, and Hart goes in some interesting directions that I won’t engage here. But as for me, the three issues Hart raises that resonate most with me about mistaken readings of Paul rooted in Augustine and perpetuated in western Christianity are the following:

1. Romans 5:12, translated properly (as in the NRSV and other translations), says: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—“

the-fall-raphael-lThe “one man” is, of course, Adam. And Paul seems to be saying, quite clearly in fact, that death spread because all have sinned. Now what that means exactly needs some clarification, but that isn’t the issue here. The issue is that Augustine, working from a poor Latin translation of Romans 5:12, has “in him” where the Greek has “because.”

You can see the problem. Augustine’s reading is that death spread to all because all sinned in him [in Adam]. In other words, death spread to humanity because all humanity was somehow “present” in Adam’s act of disobedience.

This bad reading of Romans 5:12, rooted in a bad Latin translation of the Greek, has led to the notion that all humans are culpable (guilty) with Adam for what Adam did—all humanity sinned in him.

Augustine’s reading is what many Christians believe Paul actually said, and which is why Augustine’s notion of “original sin” is defended with such uncompromising vehemence as the “biblical” teaching. But neither Romans nor Genesis or the Old Testament supports the idea.

2. Augustine—and those who have followed him—do not seem to understand that when Paul refers to “works” he is referring to the Law of Moses and not to a general “human effort to please God” or some such thing.

When Paul contrasts “works” and “faith” he is not saying, “You are such vile creatures that there is nothing you can do to please God—so works are worthless. Stop trying to earn your way into heaven. Have faith instead.”

As odd as it may seem to some readers, Romans doesn’t address this either/or and very individualistic (see below) topic. Rather Paul’s focus is the Law of Moses and its function of setting apart the people of God (Jews) from Gentiles (Greeks and Romans).

Actually, in Romans, Paul seems to have two specific Mosaic laws in mind: circumcision and dietary laws (see Genesis 17 and Leviticus11). These laws served at the time as “boundary markers” for Jews to identify them as a people faithful to the covenant amid a pagan culture (not unlike how the Amish mark themselves off from modern culture).

Paul is arguing in Romans that what marks off the people of God amid the pagan culture isn’t these particular segments of the Mosaic Law, however cherished and biblical they were, but “faith” in Jesus (which is rooted in the “faithfulness” of God for sending Jesus and Jesus’s “faithfulness” for going through with the crucifixion.)

Why am I getting all into this? Because Paul’s central concern in Romans isn’t “Here’s how you go to heaven.” And thus the entire “works vs. faith” model many Christians work with and assume is as clear as the sun at noon is right off the table.

But Paul’s central concern is really a question: “Who consitutes the people of God?” Paul’s answer (if I may paraphrase):

“Jews and Gentiles together, on equal footing, united in and marked off by not by observing circumcision and dietary restrictions, but by their common faith that Jesus is God’s final answer to how all the world will be reconciled—and that is why you have to get along and love each other. All of you, Jew and Gentile together, are the new ‘people of God’” (see Romans 13-15).

If you get “works” wrong in Romans, you get the whole book wrong. It feeds into the notion that Romans is a “salvation” tract, which is a reading where “original sin” plays a central role. But these are questions Romans was not written to answer.

3. The third issue I have with an Augustinian inspired reading of Romans is the notion that election is personal rather than corporate. 

Try reading Romans 8:28-29, so often quoted on the personal level, not as referring to individuals but as referring to Gentiles as a group—i.e., as supporting the larger point Paul is making in Romans (in #2 above).

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 

Who are the “those” Paul is referring to? Individuals who happen to have a conversion experience, invite Jesus into their heart, convert to Christianity?

Or does it refer to the shocking truth, now revealed, as Paul claims, by God through him, that Gentiles now are in Christ and therefore every bit as “elect” in God mind as Israel?

In fact, as Paul goes to great lengths to argue in chapter 9, maybe this full and equal inclusion of Gentiles was God’s plan all along—not a last minute change of plans, but what he had decided and known (foreknew, predestined) long ago, even as Israel’s story was unfolding from the days of Abraham?

That is the point of those supposed “election of individuals” prooftexts in chapter 9: they are about Gentile inclusion into the family of Abraham is God’s plan from of old. Of course, Gentiles are made up of individuals, but again, that is not the argument Paul is making. He signals as much in 9:6-7 (where he says that “children of Abraham” does not equal “Jews” but Gentiles, too).

OK, well. . .whenever I open my mouth about Romans it’s hard to shut it again. This post is more involved than I’d like it to be, but Romans does that to you.

Let me bring this to a close.

Reading Romans through Augustine’s eyes obscures more than illuminates the letter. The consequences are huge, including,

  • how we discuss evolution
  • the role of “good works” in the Christian life
  • the relationship between Christianity and Judaism
  • the nature of the human condition
  • what exactly “salvation” means
  • and much more.

Hart’s article is a good one. Hope you have a chance to read it.

[An earlier version of this post appeared December 2016. For other posts on Paul and Romans, see <<here>> and <<here>>. You can also read more about this sort of thing in The Evolution of Adam (Baker, 2012) and The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne, 2014).]

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B4NP Podcast Episode 10: “The Israelites Believed in Many Gods” with Pete Mon, 22 May 2017 11:33:42 +0000 Today’s podcast is all about Pete coming at you with Israel’s belief that, though many gods existed, their God Yahweh was the only deity worthy of worship—a concept referred to as monolatry. This idea is simply one angle for addressing the big questions: what is the Bible, anyway, and what do we do with it?

The post B4NP Podcast Episode 10: “The Israelites Believed in Many Gods” with Pete appeared first on Pete Enns.

Today’s podcast is all about Pete coming at you with Israel’s belief that, though many gods existed, their God Yahweh was the only deity worthy of worship—a concept referred to as monolatry. This idea is simply one angle for addressing the big questions: what is the Bible, anyway, and what do we do with it?

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5 Old Testament Reasons Why “Original Sin” Doesn’t Work Thu, 18 May 2017 10:34:42 +0000 Does the Old Testament portray Adam's disobedience in the garden of Eden as the cause of universal human sinfulness and guilt? No it doesn’t. Not even remotely.

The post 5 Old Testament Reasons Why “Original Sin” Doesn’t Work appeared first on Pete Enns.

I think I’ve always been a bit uneasy with the idea that God holds me responsible for something Adam did at the beginning of the Bible. I know God’s ways are not my ways, but this never made much sense.

Of course, my uneasiness doesn’t make something right or wrong. I’m just putting it out there.

Of course, I’m talking about “original sin”—the idea all humans are the objects of God’s anger from conception on because Adam’s deed of disobedience in the Garden of Eden has hardwired sinfulness into us all. Not only that, but for many Christians, original sin also means humans actually bear the guilt of what Adam did—which takes this to yet another level.

That seems rather alarming if true, and thus raises the question: does the Bible actually say this?: Where in Genesis or in the Old Testament as a whole is Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden described as the cause of universal human sinfulness and guilt?

For much of my adult life, my subconscious mind never allowed myself to look at this issue too carefully, I think for fear of what I might find. But several years ago, as I was writing The Evolution of Adam, I didn’t have much of a choice but to pony up.

Now, before I go on, let’s be clear about a couple of things. First, I’m only asking whether the Old Testament paints Adam as the one to blame for all the misery of the human race. I’m not talking about what the New Testament says about Adam (namely Romans 5:12-21, which is hardly the clearest passage we’ll ever read in the NT, but I digress).

Second, by wondering out loud about “original sin” I’m not saying “I’m OK, you’re OK, and God’s OK with it all, so let’s just get along.”

George Steinbrenner: sinner

I believe that what the Bible calls “sin” is real—and you don’t have to read about Hitler, Stalin, or George Steinbrenner to find examples. Each us of carries around an alarming ability to harm each other in a seemingly non-stop variety of new and inventive ways.

Add to that the endless capacity we have to find ways to be miserable and harm ourselves. Few are truly at peace with themselves. The biochemical and environmental contributors to the common list of emotional struggles we face betray a deep sense of disquiet in our own hearts. We are all “sinners”—we all bear witness that things are not as they could be and we bear that burden daily.

Whatever words we want to use to describe it, this self-evident reality of repeated, relentless sin remains a consistent fact of human existence. We clearly need help. The Gospel is about what God has done through Jesus to come to our rescue.

But all I’m asking here is whether the Old Testament says that Adam is the cause of it all. It doesn’t. Not at all. Not even a hint.

June Cleaver: also sinner

1. Inherited sinfulness is not one of the curses on Adam. Adam is introduced in Genesis 2, and for one chapter seems to hold it together. But then in chapter 3, Eve is outcrafted by the talking serpent, takes a bite of the forbidden fruit, and then hands it to Adam, who does likewise.

All three parties are cursed by God for this act of disobedience, and those curses have lasting consequences for the human drama. Fair enough, but note the consequences for Adam: from now (1) growing food will be hard work, and (2) death will be a fact of life.

Note what is not said: “And a third thing, Adam. From now on all humanity will be stained by your act of disobedience, born in a hopeless and helpless state of sin, objects of my displeasure and wrath.” If Genesis did say that, it would clear up a lot. But it doesn’t.

2. Throughout the Old Testament, pleasing God through obedience is both expected, commanded, and doable. Nowhere in the Old Testament do we read that humanity is under God’s condemnation simply by being born and therefore helpless to do anything about it, and thus no actions are truly pleasing to God.

[And don’t even bring up that one verse, Psalm 51:5. That’s not the prooftext for original sin in the Old Testament but David’s hyperbole after the Bathsheba incident.]

Yes indeed, God is terribly mad about sinful acts, especially when his people, the Israelites, do them. But—and I can’t stress this enough—implicit in all of God’s acts of wrath and punishment is the idea that the Israelites were most certainly capable of not sinning. That’s the whole point of the law: follow it and be blessed, disobey and be cursed. The choice is clear and attainable, so do the right thing.

[For example, see Deuteronomy 30:11-20: the Law God has given the Israelites isn’t far off across the ocean or way up in the heavens, but it is “very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe” (v. 14).]

In fact, some Old Testament figures actually seem to pull it off pretty well: Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. No, they weren’t “perfect” but that’s exactly the point. God seems fine with some of his people getting it basically right and using them for some key task. Nowhere does God say to these people, “Great effort guys, but . .. you know . . . that Adam thing. Sorry. My eternal wrath remains upon you.”

3. With one exception, Adam disappears after Genesis 5. After Genesis 5, Adam wanders off the Old Testament stage until 1 Chronicles 1:1, the beginning of the nine-chapter list of names in 1 Chronicles 1-9. Adam’s name is first (of course), but he’s just one name along with the pages of other names. He’s not the bad guy.

Throughout the entire rest of the Old Testament story, Adam doesn’t even warrant a mention. If Adam was really the person who set the whole world on a downward sin cycle, again, I’m not sure why it’s kept such a big secret.

[And no, “Adam” in Hosea 6:7 is not evidence to the contrary. There “Adam” is a place name, which the context makes perfectly clear. (See also Joshua 3:16b where “Adam” is a place name).]

Some argue “Adam’s sin and its consequences don’t have to mentioned because they are obvious.” To be blunt, that is nonsense—especially given #2.

4. Adam is not blamed for Cain’s act of murder. Back to Genesis. Adam’s son Cain killed his brother Abel. Here we have the immediate follow-up story to Adam and Eve an where is great sin is committed.

If Cain’s act were caused by a hardwired state of sinfulness due to what Adam did, here is where you would mention it—at least hint at it. Instead, Cain’s act is seen as a repeat of Adam’s disobedience (there is a lot of overlap in vocabulary between chapters 3 and 4) rather than a result.

God asks Cain, “Why are you angry?” as if it’s not obvious, and then offers Cain the same choice the law would later offer the Israelites.” You’ve got a choice, Cain. Make it a good one.” He didn’t. And the fact that Adam already “had it in him” to disobey suggests that Cain’s choice to sin was, like his father’s, not imposed on him from elsewhere.

5. Likewise, Adam is not blamed for the flood. God wipes out all life in a flood because of the complete and thorough mess humans have made of it all. But look at Genesis 6:6-7. There we see that this escalation of sinfulness, which has now reached its boiling point, seems to take God by surprise.

He doesn’t say, “Well, of course, we all saw this coming, what with Adam’s disobedience in the Garden and all. I just wanted it to get really bad before I acted.” Rather, God is “grieved” and “sorry” about how out of hand all this has gotten.

Bottom line, there is ample time in the OT to say what so many people think the Bible says but in fact never does.

I know how some will respond to all this:

“But what about Paul!?” Fair enough, in Romans 5:12-21 Paul does mention Adam’s disobedience as having a universal effect—but that effect is “death” not “inherited sinfulness.” And even if Paul sees Adam as the cause of human misery and alienation from God (which I don’t think is the best reading of Romans 5), we still need to grapple with why the Old Testament doesn’t see it that way. Paul, regardless of how he is interpreted, doesn’t make 1-5 above go away.

Others will respond: “But if Adam isn’t the cause of it all, we no longer have a good explanation for why people are so messed up?” Agreed, but that doesn’t mean we would settle for a bad answer just so we can have one. The fact that questions arise that muddle our theology doesn’t make the Old Testament magically fall into line.

[Incidentally, Jewish theology simply says that humans are “inclined” toward “evil”—aka the “evil inclination,” which is the language taken from the Flood story in Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” Sin is seen as a fact, but—wisely—no attempt is made to explain where this “evil inclination” came from. It does not have a cause. It is, rather, a fact of existence.]

Still others will respond: “But without Adam as the cause of human sinfulness, the entire gospel falls apart.” I disagree. Rather, I think only a version of the gospel that needs this kind of Adam falls apart. Perhaps there are other ways (and there are).

I’m raising nothing new here—and I treat it all in a bit more detail in The Evolution of Adambut as far as I am concerned these are rather obvious problems to be dealt with, especially for those who claim that the Bible forms their theology.

[An earlier version of this post appeared in February 2013.]

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meteorologists: those godless liberal heathen deniers of truth Tue, 16 May 2017 02:17:44 +0000 As foolish as we may look in resisting the so-called “scientific consensus,” we are bound by Scripture.

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As someone who stands on God’s Word as the only sure guide to faith and life, I would like to make the following courageous observation: meteorologists daily launch an insidious attack upon the Word of God by claiming that snow, rain, hail, and lightening are “natural” phenomenon, and not kept in heavenly storehouses awaiting to be unleashed by God, as the Bible clearly says.

He makes lightnings for the rain, and he brings out the wind from his storehouses. (Jeremiah 10:13)

 Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war? (Job 38:22-23)

We have here incontrovertible biblical proof of where snow and hail actually come from as well damning proof of the godlessness parade of misinformation to which the innocent and gullible are subject on a daily—nay, 24/7 (damn you Weather Channel)—basis.

Friends, do not be deceived  The very truth of the Christian faith is at stake, for if any one part falls, all else false with it.

As foolish as we may look in resisting the so-called “scientific consensus,” we are bound by Scripture, which does not err, since it is God’s Word. We are not free to “pick and choose” what parts of Scripture we agree with. Better to be mocked by man than disobey God.

[I shouldn’t have to say this, but experience suggests I provide the following disclaimer: This post makes a serious point through the use of humor, specifically, it exposes the absurdity of an argument—a literalistic reading of the creation story in Genesis—by applying its logic and premises to an analogous issue covered in Scripture—weather. If you still insist that I am either serious or mocking the Bible, you are without hope ion this life. If you don’t think this is at all funny, that’s fine—you’re wrong, but that’s fine—because at least you see that humor is my aim. If you dispute the point being made, you are free—as far away from here as possible—to make your case for where snow comes from.]

[An earlier version of this post appeared October 2013 and linked this post.]

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B4NP Podcast Episode 9: “Understanding the Human Jesus” with Daniel Kirk Mon, 15 May 2017 10:34:56 +0000 Understandong the human Jesus and a God who is bound to the story of humanity.

The post B4NP Podcast Episode 9: “Understanding the Human Jesus” with Daniel Kirk appeared first on Pete Enns.

This week’s guest is New Testament scholar Daniel Kirk. Our discussion is all about Jesus as human and why we shouldn’t skip over that part too quickly for the life of faith.

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Is “Trusting” the Bible a Good Idea? Thu, 11 May 2017 11:11:09 +0000 Christian theology, if it wishes to be compelling and speak into people's lives, needs to incorporate the Bible’s messiness, not shy away from it.

The post Is “Trusting” the Bible a Good Idea? appeared first on Pete Enns.

Here’s a question I get now and then.

Pete, I hate you—but I digress.

You keep talking about the messiness of the Bible—historical problems, tensions, and contradictions. How can such a messy book be God’s authoritative word to us? How can we now trust the Bible? 

My answer: These questions—though genuine and heartfelt— presume something of the Bible that the “messiness” supposedly “takes away.” That presumption is that a book worthy of being called “sacred scripture” or “God’s word” would not behave these ways but instead be neat and tidy.

I simply reject that presumption of how the Bible should act. The Bible is what it is. The Bible is messy. The only question for us is whether we will take up the challenge of incorporating the Bible’s messiness into our theology.

I also balk a bit at the thought of “trusting” the Bible. I understand the point, but perhaps the Bible shouldn’t be the object of our trust to begin with. Maybe—as the Bible repeatedly says—the object of our trust is God alone.

And God and the Bible aren’t the same thing.

Calling the Bible “God’s word” doesn’t elevate it to an object worthy of trust. Rather, as I see it, the Bible bears witness to God. Christians will say that the Bible bears witness ultimately to what God has done in Christ.

But here’s the catch: The Bible bears witness in ancient and cultural diverse ways. That’s why the Bible is such a “mess.” And that is why working out how the Bible functions in the life of faith is an ongoing task.

The Christian Bible was written (roughly) between 2000 and 3000 years go. We are as distant from the “world of the Bible” as we are from the years 4000 to 5000 CE.

Respect that distance.

The writings that would eventually make up the Bible were composed and eventually collected over a period of about 1000 years, in times of war and peace, triumph and tragedy, under Assyrian, then Babylonian, Persian, and Roman rule, in a plethora of social settings, written by simply folk, kings, priests, prophets, and who knows who else, in three languages.

Respect that diversity.

The Bible we have is ancient, diverse, and therefore gives us multiple perspectives on many things, including how we are to understand God.

The Bible is in that sense messy and that messiness cannot be corralled into a seamless and consistent object that we are called to “trust.”

The Bible doesn’t say, “Look at me and trust me!” It says, “Look through me so you can learn what it means to trust God.”

The Bible, if we are paying attention, decenters itself and drives us to center our trust in the living God, whose actions are neither restricted by nor fully described in these ancient and diverse writings that bear witness to God’s actions.

The Bible is, however, worthy of serious reflection precisely because of its diverse and ancient ways. That is why the interpretation of the Bible and Christian theology are hard work and not simply a matter of leafing through the Bible or expecting things to line up in a handy index of topics we can point to to get the right answers.

A theme of The Bible Tells Me So is that the Bible does not work well as an owner’s manual, a rule book, or a field guide to the Christian life. It does work well, though, as a diverse and ancient model of the journey of faith, which is for us as diverse, contextual, and messy as the Bible itself so patiently lays out for us.

We just need to accept the Bible for what it is, not for what we would like it to be. The Bible bears the marks of messiness. Christian theology, if it wishes to be compelling and speak into people’s lives, needs to incorporate that fact, not shy away from it.

[An earlier version of this post appeared in October 2015. Remember that all comments are moderated and it can take me as long as a day to get to them. I read them all and I answer what I can when I can. Also, feel free to express yourself, but show due respect to others. So no baiting or trolling. And no sermons, please.]

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Land and the Transformation of Israel’s Story in the New Testament Tue, 09 May 2017 11:26:17 +0000 The early followers of Jesus, like the Gospel writers and Paul, took up the challenge of transforming Israel's scripture—with its focus on Land, Temple, and Law—to connect it to the story of Jesus, where those elements were no longer central.

The post Land and the Transformation of Israel’s Story in the New Testament appeared first on Pete Enns.

In my last post, we looked at the main point of the Old Testament—Israel’s struggle with land. A good time was had by all and lives were forever changed.

As I said in that post, there is no central theme in the Old Testament, but boy oh boy is “land” important. Think about it: where in the Old Testament are the Israelites not,

  • anticipating receiving their own land,
  • fighting to get it,
  • fighting to keep it,
  • fretting about losing it,
  • or fretting about getting it back in once it was lost?

Israel’s entire existence is connected in one way or another to the possession of the land—their inheritance, their gift from God.

The Israelites were also given laws that mark them off as a separate (i.e., “holy”) people from the nations—laws of what they can eat and not eat, what is clean and unclean, what to sacrifice and when, keeping the Sabbath, the feasts, male circumcision, etc.

None of these laws, these distinguishing marks, was given an expiration date. And remaining faithful to the laws would insure that they retained possession of the land.

Then there’s the sanctuary—first the tabernacle in the wilderness and then their permanent structure in the land, the Temple built by Solomon. This Temple in the land was decreed as the only place where God was to be worshiped and where sacrifices could be made to atone for sin.

The very idea of a Temple assumed possession of the land. Hence, the exile posed a huge problem. God’s dwelling place was leveled to the ground and the exiled Jews couldn’t simply continue as is in some other sacred structure on foreign soil. Rebuilding the Temple was, therefore, the Judahites’ top priority once they returned from Babylonian exile.

It is hard indeed to speak of “Israel” in any meaningful sense without the land. The exile posed a major dilemma: how to be “Israel” when their entire religious system is predicated upon the ancient promise of Land, Temple, and the Laws that need to be kept there? One reason synagogues arose in the wake of the exile was as a response to this dilemma: study of Torah became a means of connecting with God when the land-and-temple-locked means of connection were not available.

Now think about these thee core elements of Israel’s story—Land, Temple, and Law—and what becomes of them in the New Testament.

  • The continued existence of a people of God in the land as a sign of being in harmony with God is no longer seen as God’s will. Now God’s people are sent out to the nations.
  • According to the Gospels, the destruction of the Temple is not so a cataclysmic end for this new movement but a sign of a new era dawning.
  • Gentiles are now welcomed as children of Abraham without needing to hold to practices that had been core distinguishing marks of Judaism—namely circumcision and dietary laws.

Tying together Israel’s story and the Gospel has been the grand challenge of the church since the very beginning. In the New Testament we see the early followers of Jesus, like the Gospel writers and Paul, taking up that challenge. They are doing the work of connecting Israel’s scripture—with its focus on Land, Temple, and Law—to the story of Jesus—where those elements were no longer central.

To bring those two stories together, Israel’s scripture could no longer be followed, but had to be transformed beyond its original intentions. The New Testament writers took up this task of explaining how the Gospel, which goes beyond the parameters of Israel’s story, is still connected to Israel’s story. The center point of that explanation was the transformative effect of Jesus.

Engaging this “hermeneutical challenge” has been the church’s task ever since: “How do we understand Israel’s story in light of Jesus?” Tracing the theme of “land” throughout the Bible is an entry point to observing this pervasive transformative process.

[An earlier version of this post appeared in July 2013.]

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