James K. A. Smith, Peter Enns, and the Evolution of Adam

There is a feature of Enns’ argument that could easily go unnoticed only because it is so ubiquitous: his account is entirely “from below.”  That is, Enns’ argument is predicated on the working assumption that the meaning of the Scriptures is tethered to—and determined by—the intent of the human authors.  Indeed, in this approach human authors seem to be the only relevant authors when it comes to understanding the Bible.  There is literally no mention (that I could find) in which the meaning of the Scriptures is linked to what the divine Author might have intended.  So when Enns speaks of what Genesis means, he always and only refers to “the biblical authors” (xvii) or “the Israelites” (42)—these are the only operative “authors” in the entire analysis.  The meaning of Genesis is determined by what the Israelites “placed” there (70) and is read as an “expression” of Israel’s faith (75).

Similarly, we are regularly told what “Paul’s gospel” is (93), with just a hint that Paul’s gospel should perhaps not be identified with “the” Gospel.  If any meaning is ascribed to Adam in the New Testament, it is Paul who is doing it: “Paul lays much at Adam’s feet, more than a straightforward reading of Genesis dictates” (133).   One can get a feel for how “flattened” biblical meaning is for Enns in this passage later in the book (in contrast, say, to the “ecclesiocentric” hermeneutic of Richard Hays, where meaning overflows human authorial intent).  Consider Enns’ summary:

Simply put, we cannot and should not assume that what Paul says about Adam is necessarily what Genesis was written to convey—any more than we should assume that what Paul says about Isaiah or Habakkuk is exactly what those authors had in mind…  If we fail to grasp that point and assume that Paul is an objective interpreter of Genesis [because we are?!], we will paint ourselves into a corner where we will expect to find something in Genesis that Genesis is not prepared to deliver (117).

Note who populates the terrain of biblical interpretation here: Genesis (or the “authors of Genesis”), Paul, and us.  Does it feel like anything is missing?  Or Anyone?

Read the entire review here.

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4 Responses to James K. A. Smith, Peter Enns, and the Evolution of Adam

  1. Paul D Baxter says:

    Thanks for passing those thoughts along. I’ll confess to using much of that same sort of language and style in discussing the Bible. I think probably it is not wrong to have discussion of (human) authorial intention in the scriptures, so long as it functions alongside ecclesial and theological readings.

  2. Paul D Baxter says:

    Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, there’s some interaction over this review at Daniel Kirk’s blog.

  3. hbcstoke says:

    Interesting! I have been finding a similar problem preaching through Revelation where many of the commentaries insist on stating John says this and John says that and little thought given to the fact that it is the revelation of Jesus Christ given to John. Revelation is possibly the most pronounced but the same principle applies elsewhere (1 Peter 1:10-12), surely?

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