reconstructing daniel?

February 4, 2010 at 1:11 pm 6 comments

Biblical scholar Peter Enns says of his book Inspiration and Incarnation that it is “an attempt to bring an Evangelical doctrine of Scripture into conversation with the implications generated by some important themes in modern scholarship.” My paraphrase of that statement would be that Evangelicals should not automatically reject the findings of modern biblical scholarship. In discussing the fear some Evangelicals have towards the implications of modern biblical scholarship, Enns writes:

“…fear cannot drive theology. It cannot be used as an excuse to ignore what can rightly be called evidence. We do not honor the Lord nor do we uphold the gospel by playing make-believe. Neither are those who engage the kinds of issues discussed in this book necessarily on the slippery slope to unbelief.”

In my previous post I included the quote below, relating a view of the book of Daniel as a later writing rather than as literal history and prophesy:

Like his New Testament counterpart, the Revelation of John, Daniel was written to strengthen his people during a difficult time. Whereas John wrote to Christians under the persecution of Domitan, Daniel wrote to Jews under the persecution of Antiochus. By casting his history as a series of predictions, Daniel hoped to show that the present sufferings were indeed a part of God’s plan for his people.

Accepting this view can lead to a couple of different conclusions:

  • Rejection of the inerrantist view and seeing the story as the work of men and not of God.
  • Rejection of the inerrantist view but seeing the story as still divinely inspired.

The theory in support of the second conclusion would state that the author did not intend to deceive his readers. This genre of prophetic literature was common at that time (so the theory goes), and the audience would have known to read the book allegorically. The book still communicates that the sufferings of the readers were part of a bigger plan and that God had not departed from Israel.

I do not know Enns’ view of the book of Daniel in particular, but this view is generally consistent with his approach, accepting some modern conclusions and findings about the bible without giving up his trust in its divine inspiration.

While I do not hold the same kind of faith in the inspiration of the bible, I find his approach engaging and honest. Enns’ analyses of biblical history seems trustworthy, in contrast to scholars (apologists?) who place certain presuppositions higher than evidence in reaching their conclusions. Regardless of your view on what kind of book the bible is, grappling with issues like these is essential for understanding its real meaning.


Entry filed under: apologetics, belief, bible, evangelicalism. Tags: , , , , .

deconstructing daniel the greatest of these is love

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ian  |  February 4, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Another way out that I’ve seen is to say something like this:

    Some particular book may have been written for a particular people at a particular time by a fallible person with sinful motives. But that book was recognized and adopted as part of the canon. The people who so adopted it recognized the voice of God within it. Speaking through it and transforming it into scripture. The original author could have written with the worst of motives, could have lied, or could have been deceived himself. But that makes no difference to the book’s status: the Spirit moved through its writing and made it something to speak God’s word to His People.

    This view then allows you to say that Daniel is *really* about the Messiah, even though whoever wrote it didn’t know that, had no clue, and could even have been perpetuating some fraud. Authorial intent is irrelevant. Historical or textual scholarship is irrelevant. The bible is as it is because God wanted it to be, and he wanted it to be that way because he wants to speak to us through it.

    Needless to say, I don’t buy it, but it is at least an attempt at reconciling both perspectives.

  • 2. atimetorend  |  February 4, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    Ian, I have seen that argument applied to some nastier parts of the bible, like the prayer for the enemies babies to be dashed upon the rocks, or Jephtha’s (?) sacrifice of his daughter, or Lot proffering his daughters to the lusting mob, etc. Makes sense.

    It sounds like a justification of midrash being used as a divine process, which much of the new testament relies upon. Are you familar with Paul and his use of the word seed as plural in Galatians? Paul’s use of “seed” as singular is outside the boundary of what was intended in the OT as plural (my rudimentary understanding).

    Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.
    Galatians 3:16

  • 3. Ian  |  February 5, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Yes, Gal 3:16 is a fascinating text. It is unfortunate that in English there is a flexibility between talking about ‘seed’ (non-count noun), ‘seeds’ (plural noun) and ‘seed’ (singular noun). Which allows English translations to blur the issue completely. But yes, I think Paul is doing midrash here against authorial intent.

    Jub 16:17 has also been used as evidence that he wasn’t alone in making this particular interpretation of the messiah.


  • 4. atimetorend  |  February 5, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    I think those perspectives or processes, midrash, incarnational model (Enns), set up the argument of divine hiddenness. If the processes appear to have a natural explanation (man doing the writing) we cannot distinguish between a process driven by God or apart from God. I say that’s good, because then it is really faith in God to believe he wrote the book and it takes the pretzel logic required for biblical inerrancy out of the equation.

  • 5. Lorena  |  February 5, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Rejection of the inerrantist view but seeing the story as still divinely inspired.

    In that sense, then, all writing is inspired. Shakespeare, Dickens, and everybody’s. Most people write with a good purpose in mind. And those who don’t are easily detectable.

    That’s why I read Shakespeare. His writings reflect an ample knowledge of human nature. I find that quite enlightening.

  • 6. critiquing evangelicalism « a time to rend  |  September 1, 2010 at 11:26 am

    […] Inspiration and Incarnation, Peter Enns […]

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