Tying Up Some Loose Enns, part 1

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A few weeks ago Dave and I went to an Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Nyack, NY at the Alliance Theological Seminary. The two main speakers were Peter Enns and John (Jack) Collins, the topic addressed was the historicity of Adam. Dr. Enns’ presentation was thoughtful and articulate. His words were measured as he had clearly wrestled with some problematic questions. I certainly respect his desire to come to sound biblical conclusions, but as with all wrestling, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

For Dr. Enns, Adam is simply a myth. He’s a part of Israel’s origin story, which had as its’ backdrop other Ancient Near Eastern literature (i.e. other origin stories with some parallels, The Enuma Elish, for example) After his presentation there was some Q&A. One person mentioned that Paul believed Adam was a historical figure, as clearly stated in Romans 5. Professor Enns advised that Paul was a 1st century Jew who believed the conventions of his day. Following this, someone else brought up the fact that Jesus himself believed in a historical Adam. To which Dr. Enns advised that Jesus too was a 1st century Jew who believed the conventions of the day. In other words, Paul and Jesus were mistaken.

This presents us with some interesting questions. If Paul was mistaken about this matter, what else was Paul mistaken about? Was he right with regard to doctrinal formulations and propositional truths, but confused about material facts? Was he correct about his interpretation of OT texts, or was he wielding them for his own purposes in seeking to proclaim and exhalt the One whom he thought was the Christ?

But further than this, what if Jesus was mistaken about Adam? Could Jesus himself believe something which was untrue, and then apply that error in making a theological point about God’s original intention in marriage (Mt. 19:4-5)? And if so, where does it stop? How do we discern what is true and false?

Let’s ask an additional question. If Jesus as a man was mistaken about historical facts, how do we know he was correct about any statement he made? What kind of duality does this create? Jesus could be wrong in his humanity, but never wrong in his divinity? He knew heavenly things, but not earthly things? Of course, no one with an orthodox view of Christology suggests that Jesus knew everything in his humanity (like how to speak French or do complicated algorithms), but that when he spoke he knew everything truthfully and accurately pertaining to the things he said.

Dr. Enns’ presentation deflated rather quickly after this. The implication of his position could be re-stated this way:

Jesus was a man of his times and subject to the conventions of his day, therefore with regard to Adam, Jesus was wrong.

Paul was a man of his times and subject to the conventions of his day, therefore with regard to Adam, Paul was wrong.

Peter Enns, in spite of being a man of his times and subject to the conventions of his day, is correct with regard to Adam.

This is one of those situations where to state the position is to refute the position, but I’ll let you be the judge.

C.M. Granger

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3 thoughts on “Tying Up Some Loose Enns, part 1

  1. I am sorry I missed this conference — especially after listening to Gregory Beale last year at this same conference. When a person starts questioning the words of Jesus, he will very soon embrace all kinds of deviant behavior. I am not declaring that this is where Enns is going, but I will be curious to see what the result of this suppression of LIGHT will be in his life.

  2. Hi Brian,

    Professor Enns would not say that Jesus was wrong or mistaken per se, but that he was using the origin stories of his religious tradition and culture in order to make a theological point. His acceptation of these stories is a part of the Incarnation, which accounts for his limitations of knowledge. Therefore Jesus wasn’t wrong except with regard to modern notions of what it means “to be right” in our scientific age.

    This, of course, resolves no more problems than it begins.

    In my interaction with Dr. Enns, I could not get him to affirm any doctrine of Scripture based solely on the text. Not the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, nor even the Incarnation itself. That is where this approach leads, and who can say where it will end up?

  3. Pingback: Tying Up Some Loose Enns, part 2 | Coffee Rings

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