Friday, April 25, 2008

Peter Enns, Westminster, Inerrancy, and Textual Criticism

Sometime ago now Westminster Theological Seminary suspended Peter Enns, one of its OT faculty members. I was especially interested that the Christianity Today report opened with the following sentence:
“Two of the hottest issues in evangelical theology right now are the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament and evangelical textual criticism.” (Ted Olsen, ‘Westminster Theological Seminary Suspends Peter Enns’)

It is great that our blog is one of the two hottest issues in evangelical theology; but unfortunately I couldn’t detect much interest in textual criticism in Enn’s book Inspiration and Incarnation (2005); or in the debates initiated by it, for an introduction to these see e.g. Green Baggins and Digital Brandon.

Now, however, WTS have released some of the internal faculty documents (debating papers), which are quite helpful in clarifying (some of) the issues that have divided their faculty. At a fairly basic level this reflects an important debate about the role of the phenomena of Scripture in clarifying and modifying a doctrine of Scripture derived initially from Scripture’s direct self-testimony; with a predictable division between the biblical scholars (‘yes the phenomena are really important’ - see the Hermeneutics Field Committee’s Reply to the HTFC, pp. 28-97) and the systematicians (‘phenomena? ha! they didn’t pose a problem in the 17th century so why worry about them now?’).

But in this document we also have some discussion of textual criticism, as illustrating the principle that reformed theologians have had to adjust to the changes in the realia since the 17th century, and that Warfield in particular was at the heart of various theological adjustments in the light of hard evidence - in one case regarding the Long Ending of Mark (Hermeneutics Field Committee’s Reply to the HTFC, pp. 50-52).


  1. This is a very interesting issue, but one I think will be hard to grasp unless one is throughly versed with/in Reformed theology and believes it as "a more perfect representation of Christianity."

    I have not read this book, but I do recall a similar case when Dr. Norman Shepherd was called onto the carpet about his understanding and **articulation** of the relationship beheind faith and works.

    Without going into this issue further, I would just like to observe that I remember Dr. Peter Enns while he was a student and a remark of his once while we were sitting at he same table in the library at WTS. I was reading Ridderbos or someone else's book and asked Peter what he thought about some statement. He was reading the OT in Hebrew and candidly remarked that he would read the Hebrew text (through first, i.e. the whole OT in Hebrew) before he would or could comment upon an author's opinion.

    What surprises me is that the OT faculty did not proof read Dr Enns work first and suggest improvements on the way the matter was presented, esp. since so many ill-informed and less informed conceptualizations of the relationship between the human author's capacity and the divine responsibility and accountability are so widely and variously understood.

    One problem, as I see it, is the fact that the Reformed tradition already has had so many capable expounders of this issue, i.e. Alexander, Young, Hodge, Warfield, Berkhof, et al and the set ingrained manner that this doctrine is articulated in the WCF as well as other Reformed creeds.


  2. Is this an instance of a scholar/theologian deriving a doctrine of the Scriptures from the way the Scriptures are, instead of first filtering his statements through a creedal grid or lens?

  3. Anonymous wrote:

    "Is this an instance of a scholar/theologian deriving a doctrine of the Scriptures from the way the Scriptures are, instead of first filtering his statements through a creedal grid or lens?"

    This question is exactly the kind of response I was referring to in my previous post.

    The source of theology/principium theologiae are the Scriptures themselves. Historic Creeds are based upon them. They themselves represent slovo zdravnoe/ "form of sound words." They are viewed as summations of the contents of the Scriptural teachings themselves and are easily demonstrated to be adequate representations of such.

    The problem arises when one attempts to convey the conceptualizations behind the words in teaching.

    Consequently, do we have the Scriptures teaching infra or supralapsarianism? Or is the idea of free will taught in Scripture or is it so taught in relation to other issues (Erasmus/Luther dialogue). How does the mystery of prayer and predestination relate? Can a believer be demon possessed or simply at weak moments influenced and what is the difference between this and the flesh?

    So too, the relation of the biblical human author and that of the Divine author in inspiration. Is Philo's definition of inspiration adequate - that, the human author is like a flute played by the Almighty? Or is it more complex than that?

    Now, lets posed a question. Is Church discipline remedial or condemnatory only. And in addition, who is judge - Dr Enns' accusors or Dr Enns himself? Do they understand properly or has Peter Enns failed to adequately convey his findings? If the latter, are they heretical and detrimental to the historic Christian faith and naive and innocent readers of this book?

    Dr Enns was educated at both WTS and a certain bastion of liberal education. Is he a produce of his environment or simply a victim of both - misunderstood or ill understood by some?

    The faith has not changed, hAPAX is hAPAX (cf Jd 3). But the understanding of its contents has divided Christendom (at any rate externally) for quite some time.

    Finally, who determines meaning - the author or the interpreter. Was Origen correct with his four levels of meaning - somaticos, pneumaticos, psyxicos et cetera or is there simply a single intended meaning conveyed in a statement? Who knows - is it not God himself?

    One can not divorce theology from academia, esp when it concerns the holy. TC is not a sterile, mechanical, merely historical and profane undertaking. There are consequences - both now and then.


  4. Anonymous asked:
    "Is this an instance of a scholar/theologian deriving a doctrine of the Scriptures from the way the Scriptures are, instead of first filtering his statements through a creedal grid or lens?"

    I don't think that is the situation here. I think that PE would affirm that 'the way the Scriptures are' (the phenomena of Scripture) must have some contribution to make in developing a doctrine of Scripture, and in supplementing the creedal inheritance, which emphasises the authority of divine voice of Scripture, but is silent (underdeveloped) on the humanity of Scripture.
    I think where PE steps outside of 'normal' approaches is in extending this notion of "the phenomena of Scripture" beyond internal matters (use of OT in NT; synoptic parallels; diversity etc.) to external matters and issues of critical orthodoxy (the ANE setting of Gen 1-11 etc.).

  5. "Or is the idea of free will taught in Scripture or is it so taught in relation to other issues (Erasmus/Luther dialogue)".

    Erasmus deduced "free will" from Scripture and reason. Luther refuted Erasmus on the basis of Scripture and reason.

  6. I haven't read Peter Enns' book either, but regarding the statements about NT TC, a few comments:

    p. 50 ~ WH-1881/Revised version is described as "a revision involving the complete rejection of the Textus Receptus as late and unreliable."

    It's nice to see such an honest, candid assessment of WH's work.

    p. 51 ~ "Burgon's rejection of modern textual criticism" and "Burgon, in rejecting modern textual criticism . . ."

    The author either seems to have misunderstood Metzger's statement, which itself presents a caricature of Burgon. Burgon did not reject modern textual criticism. He rejected Hort's fixation upon Aleph-B, Hort's theory of a Lucianic Recension, Hort's approach to "Non-Western Interpolations," etc., but anyone who sits down and reads Burgon's works can see, I believe, that underneath a mildly bombastic style there is a clear commitment to sound text-critical principles, canons, etc. Burgon was describing the "Orthodox Corruption" of Scripture while Hort was insisting that no variants were doctrinally induced. So who's the more "modern" text-critic in this respect?

    p. 51 ~ "It seems as if Burgon, in rejecting modern textual criticism, was expressing the convictions of WCF 1.8."

    It may seem so, but it does not have to be so. All that needs to happen for WCF 1.8 to be true is that the Scriptures used by the church be kept pure. The default meaning of this statement, written by men who surely were not ignorant of patristic statements (by Origen, Tertullian, Jerome, etc.) to the effect that some copies of Scripture had been altered by various individuals, is that the Scriptures used by the church have been kept /doctrinally/ pure. Not textually pristine. All that WCF 1.8 means is that the non-original variants casually adopted by the church have not detracted from or diminished the truth which emanated from the original text; nor have these variants introduced non-truth.

    (The extra phrase in Acts 19:9 that appeared in the Geneva Bible (about the length of the daily lessons Paul gave) would be one example of this sort of benign accretion. So would harmonizations, generally speaking. But other passages might not be so easily accounted for, such as John 5:4.)

    p. 51 ~ "Warfield concurred with modern textual criticism in its rejection of the longer ending" --

    (I'd like to have a look at Warfield's entire article. Anyone have access to it? If Warfield discussed the external evidence in any detail, I suspect that I could find a few cracks in pedestal on which he set his conclusion that Mk. 16:9-20 is "no part of the word of God.") And thus Warfield departed not only from Justin, Irenaeus, Augustine, etc., but also from Calvin, Luther, the makers of the Geneva Bible, etc. The "paradigm shift" that the author posits on p. 51, as far as NT TC is concerned, rests on the premise that Mk. 16:9-20, and else that is rejected in the critical text(s) but accepted in the TR and Byzantine Text, are *impurities.* While many non-original Byzantine variants are, well, non-original, it is not so easy to find one that everyone at WTS would agree is doctrinally "impure."

    Finally, I rather wish the author had not referred to *a position held by many modern text-critics* as if it is the opinion of "modern textual criticism" itself.

    (Sorry this comment is so long. The WTS paper was a lot longer.)

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  7. I found Carson's review of the book rather condescending, putting it down to "angry young man" syndrome. It struck me that the loudest critics were not OT Studies people.

    Enns was trying to help poor Christian undergrads with a John MacArthur Study Bible in the one hand and the Gilgamesh Epic in the other to try and get a grip on it all. He was incredibly helpful, IMO.

  8. augustianian successor wrote:

    "Erasmus deduced "free will" from Scripture and reason. Luther refuted Erasmus on the basis of Scripture and reason."

    Yes, but in fact they spoke pass one another.

    The **interrelatedness** of God as sovereign and man's own free moral responsibility are not inseparable in Scripture - anymore than any other doctrine taught therein.


  9. James,

    I must beg to differ with you on certain representations/interpretations you have made here regarding the significance of certain issues.

    1. Dean J. Burgon in fact - in spite of his high level of erudition - rejected any and all advances made by TC scholars who departed from the textus receptus and the Authorized Version (KJV). His posture was one of defense, not progress.

    2. Dean John Burgon in fact confounded Divine providential preservation of the autographa (as taught and understood by WCF). In no way should one limit this understanding by WCF to mere doctrinal homogenity among the biblical MSS. WCF affirms the full and verbal inspiration of these documents while concomittantly affirming the preservation of its original written form in its own inherent purity "through the ages." The phenomena of textual variants in fact validates this understanding expressed by the Westminster divines and the "textual pristineness" is safeguarded within all copies of biblical MSS (although with varying degree and reliability). This fact is substantiated both by the MSS themselves as well as the science of textual criticism.

    Dean John Burgon failed to see and accept such a demarcation.

    3. B.B. Warfield and others of like mind (modern text critics) have not failed to acquaint themslves with the patristic evidence, but do differ with persons like Dean John Burgon on its apprasial and significance (e.g., Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tatian's alledged early witness to Mk 16:9-20).


  10. Contrary to Malcolm's assertion, Burgon did not reject "any and all advances made by TC scholars who departed from the textus receptus and the Authorized Version (KJV)."

    Even a cursory perusal of Burgon's works on NT textual criticism will show time and again Burgon arguing for a non-TR non-KJV reading, in almost every case supporting a reading found in the various current Majority Text or Byzantine Textform editions.

  11. Thanks Dr Robinson for the correcting clarification. I'll be sure in the future to differentiate between textus receptus, Majority., Byzantine and Koine as well as Ecclesiastical text etc.


  12. Knowledge gained from other disciplines should always inform theology. Who wouldn't jump at the chance to improve upon doctrinal formulations if they can be improved upon in light of biblical studies, for example?

    Again, what would be the most exciting thing to happen to textual criticism? A new set of first century manuscripts being found in some place of geographic significance, I would imagine. The very text of scripture would have to be reconsidered in light of such a finding, I'm sure. That's the way all scholarship proceeds, isn't it?

  13. I just realized that I have an unread copy of Enns' INSPIRATION AND INCARNATION (the book under discussion) that I bought on sale at Mardel who knows when. :)