The Old Testament and Inspiration

jI recently read an article authored by OT scholar and professor Peter Enns in which he discussed the compilation process of the OT (link to article here). This has been of particular interest to me as of late due to my desire to understand the nature of Scriptural inspiration. I believe that understanding the process of inspiration is concomitant with how we understand the very mind and heart of God, a quest which presumably all Christians have embarked upon (cf. Jn 17:3).

In a nutshell, Enns explains that the OT writing process most likely started around the time of David’s reign, when there was relative peace and tranquility within the kingdom, and ended during the postexilic or second temple period (referred to by some as the “inter-testamental period”). Contrary to what many think about the second temple period, in that it was largely silent especially from a prophetic point of view, this was most likely an extremely active time for Israel’s scholars in terms of recording, editing and compiling the nations long-held oral tradition as well as historical records (e.g. The Chronicles of the Kings of Israel is referenced in the book of Kings as a source). The motive behind this activity was Israel’s desire to make sense of their national failure; they wanted to look back at their history, which was inextricably permeated with broad-sweeping theological ideas, in the hopes that it would provide some clear answers for their present plight as well as a road map for the foreseeable future. Enns quotes Old Testament scholar and theologian, Walter Brueggeman [1] who says,

It is now increasingly agreed that the Old Testament in its final form is a product of and response to the Babylonian Exile. This premise needs to be stated more precisely. The Torah (Pentateuch) was likely completed in response to the exile, and the subsequent formation of the prophetic corpus and the “writings”  [i.e., poetic and wisdom texts] as bodies of religious literature (canon) is to be understood as a product of Second Temple Judaism [=postexilic period]. This suggests that by their intention, these materials are…an intentional and coherent response to a particular circumstance of crisis….Whatever older materials may have been utilized (and the use of old materials can hardly be doubted), the exilic and/or postexilic location of the final form of the text suggests that the Old Testament materials, understood normatively, are to be taken precisely in an acute crisis of displacement, when old certitudes—sociopolitical as well as theological—had failed.

While no interpretive model is free of erroneous thinking, this particular model is one that deeply resonates with me. Even from a casual reading of the OT, it is fairly obvious that an editing process took place and, upon further inspection, that all of the texts put together as a whole present a cohesive theological and historical message. In terms of the editing process, we have the death of Moses recorded at the end of Deuteronomy, which would be implausible had he been the sole author of the book. I’ve seen quite a few strain mightily to reconcile phenomena like this; for instance some would say that Moses’ death was revealed to him beforehand, thus giving him the ability to record it. I am the type of person who likes to look at the evidence, regardless of how unpleasant it is, head on. In light of the scholarship of the past century or so that has informed Enns’ interpretive model, I can no longer embrace interpretations which vociferously attempt to hold on to fantastical and implausible ideas concerning the authorship of the OT. This being the case, I do not subscribe to naturalism or materialism; I believe in the occurrence of the type of miracles which are recorded in the Bible.

An Inspirational Analogy

I am by no means a conspiracy theorist, therefore I do not believe that there existed a nefarious or duplicitous motivating reason as to why the OT was edited the way it was. The way I see it is that God certainly inspired those who were editing and compiling what would eventually be known as the Old Testament; he used a multiplicity of human agency for this creative, thoughtful and expansive (in terms of both time and geography) reflective process. This kind of inspiration comports somewhat analogously with how the Christian community today finds its bearings and maps out a future for itself in human history.

As those indwelt by the Holy Spirit, believers are powerfully moved, with great effect, to contribute their godly gifts to the furtherance of His cause. They pray for guidance, think, write and speak reflectively about their current collective place in history as well as ponder and plan out their future endeavors. Many are convinced that they are being inspired by God both directly as well as indirectly through one another, in various ways. And this proves true when something radically heart-changing and truly impactful in human history takes place through the church, of which there are many examples.

Destructive Dividing Lines

My previous point speaks to another issue I have with a narrow or rigid view of Scriptural inspiration. Often times, the church marks out its intellectual limits by way of its interpretation of particular passages of Scripture. This may be beneficial in some cases, but recently, it has led to the loss of the creativeness, thoughtfulness and fearlessness of the church, thus preventing its message from resonating with those in our present day and age.

The entire evolution vs. creationism/intelligent design debate is a perfect example of this. The creationist (young and older earther alike) hopelessly binds themselves to such a narrow interpretation of what the first several chapters of Genesis “clearly say” as to become a laughing stock and a source of derision to those espouse well-founded, modern scientific findings. This is absolutely tragic and unnecessary because in the first place the OT was never meant to address everything under the sun, so to speak, but rather was meant to inform the theological thought processes of an ancient people group.

Therefore, this particular assertion from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which is to be taken as authoritative by evangelicals, places a burden upon Scripture which it simply cannot bear (and was never intended to, for that matter):

We deny that biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may be properly used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood. (Article XII)

And secondly, if the saying “all truth is God’s truth” is accurate, then certain parts of the body of Christ are needlessly and harmfully demonizing those who embrace certain observational truths discovered by modern science.

Of course, many will argue that Enns introduces a slippery slope, which in some respects may indeed be true. For instance with an interpretive model like his, how much of the OT should we take to be true or historically reliable? What if archaeological evidence eventually reveals that some of the things recorded in the OT are embellishments or outright false? What does this then say about the nature of inspiration and furthermore about the character of God?

These are genuine concerns, but might I submit that there is already present a slippery slope on the other side of the argument which is driving the church further and further back into a brand of fundamentalism which says that it is “the church versus those godless and agenda-driven scientists” or “biblical inerrantists versus those syncretistic, liberal bible scholars” or what have you.

A Weight Lifted

For my part, I desperately wanted to believe that there was a magic bullet that would prove everything in the Bible as factually true; that if given enough time and with enough archaeological investigation, scholars would exactly match every claim stated in our sacred text. To be honest, this type of view ironically led me to be very uneasy because for instance, the veracity of the Bible and thus the trustworthiness of God rested on the claim that, at one point in history, humans lived for several hundreds of years or that there was a literal Noah’s ark, that the entire world was flooded or that Isaiah was the sole author of his eponymous book.

Through modern scholarship, there appears to be very convincing alternative explanations for the things written in Scripture that chafe against our modern sensibilities. Are these findings mere coincidences or could this be evidence of God leading us into necessary, deeper, albeit uncomfortable truth? Some critics would shoot back that in the liberal scholar’s attempt to think outside of the box on theological matters, they run the risk of going so far off the deep end that they will lose God altogether or sully his name. But I echo the Franciscan friar, Richard Rohr’s sentiment in which he says that ideological boxes are good for a time; they provide a necessary foundation for many things, however they are never a good way to continue or to end.

At some point we have to put ourselves in the midst of the uncomfortable and inconvenient facts that reality presents to us for this is ultimately where life-changing, beneficial truth is found. As Christians we should know that, both factually and experientially, standing in the center of various paradoxes is where we begin to discover the nature of God. While views like Enns’ introduce a different kind of uncertainty to my walk with God and the Christian community, I believe that this will ultimately help me to continue in a healthier type of communion with Him and his people.

Some questions for our readers

  • What is your view of biblical inspiration and why does it matter to you?
  • In what way is the church’s battle against certain ideologies held by secular society helpful or harmful?
  • How can an interpretative model like that of Enns serve to either add to or detract from our view of Scripture and/or God?

[1] W. Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 74-75.


  1. Peter Enns’ article made a lot of sense. But it WILL greatly bother, even infuriate, inerrantists and modernists (aka the Ken Hams of the world!) who hate uncertainty, because truth be told it is unnerving and destabilizing. But our God is greater than my weakness, uncertainty and instability! Now I am left with the unenviable and honestly undesirable task of “how the heck am I now going to teach Genesis credibly and intelligently, after teaching Genesis to dozens of people over the last 3 decades?!?

    When you more or less posed the question, Was there a literal Noah’s ark, I immediately googled and found this (helpful I think) FAQs:

    Loved your article. Thanks!

  2. Thanks, Ben. For many years, views like Enns’ bothered me quite a bit because it threatened that sense of certainty you spoke of. Richard Rohr aptly says that we are addicted to a desire to possess absolute certainty about our reality and the various things which fall under that scope. I used to mistakenly think that this desire stems from our thirst for truth, as beings made in God’s image. But now, I’m beginning to realize that this is the result of an urge for self-centered, self preservation. We don’t necessarily want absolute truth at all times (this would be too threatening to us), rather we often want our view of the truth to be confirmed so that life will go as its supposed to. Better to admit our uncertainties and put our faith in a God who knows what he’s doing, as you intimated.

    And yeah, I’m doing a total overhaul in how I think about and teach Genesis. Enns, along with others, recently published a curriculum on the Bible for grades k-high school. He starts with talking about Jesus and the NT and later in junior high delves into the OT due to the complex issues he wrote about in his essay. But I’m open to various ideas in how to teach Genesis, specifically (in another thread, I posted a series of articles on how Genesis can be taught from a wisdom perspective, rather than a literal-historical one).

    As far as Noah goes, the link you posted is helpful. I remember reading about the physical impossibility of the construction of the ark and the world-wide flood scenario some time ago. I reasoned, as probably many evangelicals do, that God could have miraculously “made things work”.

    On another line of thinking, what’s instructive for me today is understanding how the ancient Israelites regarded the story of Noah. Enns wrote a good series on the comparisons between Noah and other ancient myths that are very similar here. The evidence seems to strongly indicate that they constructed Noah’s story from other stories for the purpose of communicating how and why Israel’s God would have orchestrated something like the flood event.

    • Never had any difficulty in believing Genesis as it is after believing in the Creator. I lived in the country that taught atheism at every school and university. In 90s many good books became available in Russia. I liked Henry Morris’s (from ICR)the most. He is a good scientist and his books were and are very helpful for many Russian believers with phisics-like minds.

    • Vitaly, I read Morris’ wiki page and he reminds me of young earth creationists (age of earth = 6000 years or so) who argue against modern geological methods and findings (such as the dating of rock structures and sediment layers showing that they are several billion years old) in an effort to uphold the validity of a historical-literal reading of the first several chapters of Genesis. He has been roundly criticized for this, as are most young earthers in this regard.

      While I want to refrain from debating about the age of the earth, I am curious to know if you have read such critiques and if so what is your response to them. Also, Enns and other scholars argue that Genesis 1-11 were written to make a theological rather than a literal-historical point, hence they were never intended to be historically or scientifically accurate. Would you be open to hearing the points of such scholars?

    • Yes, David, I read and lived in such qritiques atmosphere. There was a time when I didn’t hear anything about young earth age. But I found (from scientific point of view) that those critiques are usually very weak. I liked Morris’s works and some others’ for their pure scientific approach. Morris and others offered open scientific debates with the best Soviet scientists in 90-92s. I am not a scientist myself and I like that Morris (as a representative of believers like me:) is very open to every critique. I am glad that I can trust the Bible even scientifically and historically. My wife is a physicist, and I studied lingustics and we believe Genesis as it is. I read many books about the “genesis” of speech and language and have perfect peace in my mind because I know even the scientific truth from the Bible. It is interesting that when you go deeper in some scientific study you find more and more proves that the Bible is true (my experience). It seems to me that when teaching Genesis it is possible to focus at different “points” but it is not possible to say “Thus says the Lord” if you don’t believe the word of God youself. Maybe it’s better not to become a teacher (James3:1). Genesis is the foundation of Christian faith. It is the foundation for believing in Jesus and his miracles and his resurrection. Did Jesus rise from the dead? Did it take millions of years? About what flood myth did Jesus speak in Lk.17:26-32? What do modern geological methods and Enns say about it? :) I also want to refrain from debating just wanted to say that I spent some time in reading different sides works and it was mostly “in the beginning” of my (former atheist)Christian way. BTW I am reading The Biblical Basis for Modern Science by Morris now :) Found the book in our church library…

    • It is interesting that when you go deeper in some scientific study you find more and more proves that the Bible is true (my experience). It seems to me that when teaching Genesis it is possible to focus at different “points” but it is not possible to say “Thus says the Lord” if you don’t believe the word of God youself. – See more at:

      Thanks Vitaly, for sharing your perspective. I personally do not think that the Bible can be used to verify modern scientific findings, but if you view it the opposite way, I can respect that. Whether someone holds to a literal or allegorical view of Genesis should, in my opinion, be an open-handed issue.

      While I do believe that Genesis is foundational, I think that we are liable to miss some of the theological richness and nuance of what is contained in the text if we stick to a purely literal interpretation of it. There are challenges to viewing it allegorically, e.g. you pointed out the fact that Jesus and Peter spoke of Noah, additionally Adam and Noah are included in genealogies in 1 Chronicles, Hebrews speaks of Noah’s faith and Paul compares Adam and Jesus. However, I think that there are good explanations for these occurrences that allow us to still hold an allegorical view.

  3. forestsfailyou

    There is a view that early Jews were polytheist. That is why it is said not to worship any Gods before God. It is why there are multiple names given to God, Eloheim, Jehova, and Yaweh. The view is that Jehova was a God of war, Eloheim was the God of Abraham and Yaweh is the God who came to Moses. The view goes on to say that the blessings of these gods were tied to the land. In ancient times a god had sovereignty over a place. Ancient cities all had city gods. So the exile would have in there minds meant that they had lost god.

    The view goes onto say that the book of law was suddenly found around this time, written by a priest class. In these times the law of Moses was first written down, and surprisingly God was one. And he was not limited to a certain place.

    This view is very jarring. It relies on a lot of textual analysis on old testament books. It claims there is a ‘e’ ‘p’ and ‘q’ source. The ‘e’ source is the oldest and is eloheim source. This source wrote about Abraham and his covenant up until Jacob. The ‘p’ source is the priestly source, it wrote Deuteronomy, the story of Joesph and Jacob. The q source if I remember correctly wrote the creation up to Abraham.

    This makes some sense to me. The Jewish people had a great oral tradition, but in exile their culture (and with it identity as God’s chosen) would have been under attack. A written account would have become the solution to preserve their heritage. As for the view of the Jews thinking they were different Gods, even if they did it is no challenge to the scripture. That God does not reveal himself to be one until Moses is no more damaging than when God reveals himself to be love on the cross. But this view goes along way towards explaining why the early jews were so quick to abandon God to worship other God’s and idols. They likely believed those things could save them, but then again that is not so different from all the other points in human history.

    • Forests, the documentary hypothesis, which you linked to below is discussed by Enns in his essay. He says that it was perhaps one of the most significant developments of modern biblical scholarship because it legitimized the pursuit of understanding how the OT was actually written. This is indeed jarring to those who hold to a very strict view of inerrancy because it calls into question the bible’s claims concerning the authorship of certain books and the accuracy of particular historical events. But for me, knowing that the OT was compiled and organized in order to aid Israel’s process of reflection indicates that it’s was not necessarily concerned with hard historical accuracy; it was written for a very specific purpose thus it would simply be unfair to put it in an idealistic box.

      You also mentioned the polytheism of Israel. Some say that Israel was ‘henotheistic’ before the second temple period. This means that they acknowledged that many gods existed but that only one god, namely Yahweh, deserved their allegiance. Again, some take issue with this, because it indicates that Israel went through a type of evolution in terms of their theological understanding of God. They reason that Israel, from the beginning, held fast to theism and thus were more enlightened than the surrounding nations; God somehow radically changed their thinking overnight. But the Bible clearly indicates otherwise; they acknowledged other gods and grew into monotheism over time.

  4. forestsfailyou

    It looks like I remembered this slightly wrong.

    the Yahwist source (J) : written c. 950 BCE in the southern Kingdom of Judah.
    the Elohist source (E) : written c. 850 BCE in the northern Kingdom of Israel.
    the Deuteronomist (D) : written c. 600 BCE in Jerusalem during a period of religious reform.
    the Priestly source (P) : written c. 500 BCE by Kohanim (Jewish priests) in exile in Babylon.

  5. The first thought that comes to mind when I read your article David is the memory of when I put away my big honking 3 inch bible in a drawer. I haven’t opened once in the past many years. Now I read Scripture online or on my phone because I can easily read a number of translations and do instant searches for words and phrases.

    I came to realize that I had made my physical bible into an idol. I felt proud of the “spiritual” cover I had for it and often made sure to carry my bible around. I had been treating the bible as a magical spell book, even personifying the physical pages of my bible, as if it had become a mini=Jesus or something.

    I don’t know how common this kind of thing is but in my case, I went beyond inerrancy and was into the magical in my view of the bible.

    • Brian, I can relate to your prior sentiment. For a long time, the bible was a kind of sacred talisman, rather than something that should be humbly, yet critically and vigorously engaged. Pete Enns wrote a good article on how he has learned to regard the Bible text (using a gardening analogy):

      Read the Bible with a pitch fork, garden rake, and shovel in your hands–not with rubber gloves and tongs delicately turning over crackling pages of an ancient

    • Love that quote from Enns!

      In the second phase of my recovery from ubf, I discovered that exact point. I compared my bible “study” with dissecting an alien creature. It was helpful for me to examine the question of “Why did I join?” in my second book:

      “My first bible study at University Bible Fellowship (UBF) was on Genesis chapter 1. I remember counting how many times various words occurred in the chapter and drawing various pictures and diagrams, as the bible text was super-analyzed, as if we were dissecting some newfound, alien creature.”

      Goodness Found: The Butterfly Narratives, pg. 10

  6. “What is your view of biblical inspiration and why does it matter to you?”

    My view has been changing rapidly. I too once embarked on an intense search to discover how all the pieces of the bible fit together. Surely all science is incomplete and just not up to par with the biblical explanations directly spoken by God, I thought! I treated the bible like a spell book. But once all the voices of ubf shepherds went silent in my mind, my view of the bible has been going through a transformation.

    I now see the bible as the Holy Scriptures. This means that I believe God is alive and does speak through the bible. And it means I view the bible more realisticly now: it is a text, to be studied and examined and not simply blindly and thoughtlessly put into practice. I feel that I respect the bible vastly more than in the past. You might even say I went “From a bible idolator to a Holy Scripture examiner!” Instead of claiming I knew what God meant in the bible and was God’s teacher of the bible on this earth, I now see myself as a bible learner, not fearfully trying to obey every iota, but joyfully exploring the amazing treasure of the texts that make up the bible.

    • You might even say I went “From a bible idolator to a Holy Scripture examiner!” Instead of claiming I knew what God meant in the bible and was God’s teacher of the bible on this earth, I now see myself as a bible learner, not fearfully trying to obey every iota, but joyfully exploring the amazing treasure of the texts that make up the bible. – See more at:

      I concur, Brian. One pastor put it this way: the Bible is not so much a map that leads us to treasure, but rather it is a treasure chest that should be opened with joy and it’s contents thoroughly and excitedly examined.

  7. “In what way is the church’s battle against certain ideologies held by secular society helpful or harmful?”

    The helpful aspect is that the church formed a cocoon of sorts around itself. The intent, I think, from all the ideological wars was to “protect the truth”. In a sense that is what happened the past 500 years since the birth of Calvin. But the war is over. The protest is done. Those who continue to stay in the cocoon risk dying and withering away. God is leading many through His Spirit to come out of the cocoon/ideologies and live as butterflies (love/goodness).

    The harmful aspect is that we now have a splintered Body. Some are so divided that if they see the name “Rob Bell” or “John MacArthur” they immediately dismiss what is said. We have excluded so many from church. We have forbid people from marrying. We have stood on our own wisdom and darkened the counsel of God. People are hungry for third-option, trinitarian thinking!

    • I was recently reading something about The Radical Reformation, which was a vehement reaction toward the Catholic church in the 1500’s (which even opposed Calvin and Luther on some points). One of the key figures was a man named Sebastian Franck. He marked out guidelines for what the true church was considered to be. He went so far as to say that Augustine and Jerome were antichrists figures simply because they helped to establish the Catholic church. He also rejected the teachings of the church fathers and held to a mostly Bible-only view. As influential as Calvin and Luther were (who were much more reasonable than Franck) it seems as though The Radical Reformation view persists strongly to this day. It is essentially fundamentalism. I can understand such a view when you’re trying to recover what is true after many years of corruption. But it should not persist, as you pointed out. It’s much easier to espouse this black and white type of view rather than live in between the tension that an ecumenical or trinitarian stance presents to us.

      I don’t know if you’ve read anything by Richard Rohr, but he speaks to the transformational paradigm you mentioned. In his book, Falling Upward, he talks about life in terms of two stages; first is the cocoon phase where we learn to build a container, which serves to frame who we are and are not. This is necessary because it provides identity and a foundation for life. Then in the second stage (essentially gospel transformation) we break out of this and learn to think and behave ecumenically rather than in a self-protective stance.

    • I’m convinced there are 3 stages :) The caterpillar, the cocoon and the butterfly.

    • Brian, I’m curious to know what the difference between the caterpillar and cocoon stage is.

    • The caterpillar stage is when the Promise (Abraham) comes. It is a time of innocence and joyful discovery. It is a time a promises.

      The cocoon stage is when the Law (Moses) steps in. It is a time of seeking out right and wrong, a time of trying to build something and a longing for the promised land.

      The butterfly stage is when the Messiah (Jesus) arrives. It is an amazing time of joy, growing and learning. It is a time of peace and contentment, and full of incredible activity.

    • It is unfortunate, but seemingly necessary, that we all pass through a cocoon of some kind. I wish I could spare our children the cocoon, but I can’t. I can however, share the hope of the butterfly. Perhaps the cocoon stage does not need to be so long…

    • Brian, I agree that the cocoon phase can be bewildering for us, especially as parents. I want my kids to be free to experience God to the fullest and the last thing that I want for them is to become fundamentalists of some sort. But as you said, it seems necessary for them to go through this so as to learn right from wrong, to gain basic wisdom and formulate some kind of vision or purpose for their lives.

      A while back, my wife and I attended a parenting conference led by Christian author Tim Kimmel. The best nugget of wisdom I got from him is that, since our kids will inevitably go through the cocoon phase (and also rebel against the constraints that it presents), we have to relate to them not as one who is mainly an enforcer of the constraints of the cocoon but as a wiser person who can relate to them in a way that shows gospel love; we still provide them with rules, but we show them how the rules can be flexed so that a greater good may be achieved. Above all, he advocates displaying mercy toward your children rather than holding them to a standard that they cannot bear. Here are some good quotes from his books:

      “Some of your children’s rebellion against your spiritual lifestyle might be a necessary step in their finding an authentic relationship with God. But beware: If they find it, it might look quite different from what you’ve always thought it should be.” – (Why Christian Kids Rebel: Trading Heartache for Hope)

      “Those who think that the wisest way to groom a child for spiritual maturity is to isolate him from the evil, corrupted world system or airbrush his childhood environment so much that it exposes only him to the good and never teaches him how to process the bad (or the counterfeit) will set a child up for a life of mediocrity at best and spiritual annihilation at worst.” – (Grace-Based Parenting)

  8. “How can an interpretative model like that of Enns serve to either add to or detract from our view of Scripture and/or God?”

    On first glance, I like what I see in Enns’ model. I certainly don’t think for a moment that the writer of Genesis had all the scientific proof of eons in mind! And as I said, I no longer view the bible in a magical sense. I reject the idea that there was/is a God who hide all kinds of secret knowledge in the bible about how the earth was formed. Really only God knows that as the book of Job makes abundantly clear.

    So the models are helpful. Models are however just more ideologies really so I think we need to be careful. We all have ideologies and methodologies and that’s ok. My point is that we need to be flexible and adaptable– and most of all not fearful! For example, evolution is a much better model to use when studying the bible than creationism.

    Above all I think two things are more important than models of interpretation: love and the Spirit. These last three years have been exhilarating! The Holy Scripture is so much more alive and meaningful with the Holy Spirit’s help. The new wine began for me when I surrendered 100% to grace and accepted cheap grace.

    • So the models are helpful. Models are however just more ideologies really so I think we need to be careful. We all have ideologies and methodologies and that’s ok. My point is that we need to be flexible and adaptable– and most of all not fearful! – See more at:

      Again, fully agree here. I don’t want to present Enns’ view as an end-all-be-all tyoe of deal. But I like his view because he is refreshingly free in his pursuit of understanding scripture rather than fearful, which is what I am accustomed to seeing in church settings. In my experience, this greatly hampers being led by the Spirit and above all, love, as you’ve said. Christians like to cite, “perfect love casts out fear” but I often wonder how much we truly believe this.

    • “Christians like to cite, “perfect love casts out fear” but I often wonder how much we truly believe this. – See more at:

      Precisely the point of my entire chapter 1 of my new book (still in progress)!

      I like what Gittins says about fear:

      “With peace comes God’s liberating hand which frees from fear. ‘Do not be afraid’ is said to occur 365 times in the Bible—one for every day of the year. If that is encouraging for the fearful, it is also a reminder that fear does tend to stalk us through life. The consolation is that as we respond increasingly to God’s call, we are weaned from our fears and nourished on God’s words of life.” –Anthony J. Gittins, “Reading the Clouds”, Kindle Edition, Loc. 409-12

  9. “I’m convinced there are 3 stages :) The caterpillar, the cocoon and the butterfly.” – See more at: According to Rohr’s two stages, your caterpillar and cocoon stage would be Rohr’s stage I and your butterfly stage would be his stage II.

    I find Rohr’s two stages useful, as most countries, peoples, governments, institutions, organizations and churches seem stuck in the stage I frame of mind, attitudes, impositions and expectations: dichotomous either/or thinking, elitist, exclusive, judgmental, success driven, insistence on one’s superiority, identity and validation, conditional love, etc.

    Though every person needs to pass through stage I, which is needed and necessary for one’s growth and formation, it eventually becomes stifling and restrictive to one’s continued development.

    Thus, stage II requires the painful unlearning and letting go of stage I, which then enables the delightful discovery of freedom, inclusivity (both/and frame of mind), non-dichotomous thinking and attitudes, forgiveness, unconditional love, etc.

    • Ben, I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, but in his talks he’s shed a bit of light on how to engage people who have not even had a stage 1 experience (e.g. those who come from very trying circumstances or who have never accepted responsibility). Does he say anything about how those, who are in stage 2, can/should engage or regard those who have not exited stage 1 yet, who might very well be advanced in terms of physical age? If we could take an example from the Bible, Jesus and the Pharisees comes to mind. I believe that some of them genuinely knew the grace of God, but the system as a whole was corrupt and myopic. It seemed as though Jesus’ response was a mixture of righteous indignation, deep sorrow and at the same time hope (for eventually many were saved on Pentecost). It appears as though it would take a massive amount of wisdom, love and nuance (which I admittedly don’t possess) to engage this group tactfully and effectively.

      I would like to think that I am in stage 2, but then I look at how irrationally and emotionally I react toward those who I perceive to be in stage 1 and I step back and think maybe I’ve still got a long ways to go; maybe I don’t know the gospel of grace well enough to engage these people in a loving way. Perhaps I shouldn’t presume that I am in stage 2 just yet. In my time away from organized religion + listening to Rohr, these thoughts often come to mind.

  10. This discussion may be very important for the church moving ahead.

    I saw this video, which has the gist that Genesis was not a detailed description of creation so much as it was a response to other mythological explanations. I really appreciated it and I think you might, too.

    I think it fits in well with the interpretation that the OT as we know it was compiled from a number of sources by Godly people.

    • Thanks, Matt, I really enjoyed this video. I appreciate perspectives like this because they speak to the rich theological messages of the text rather than focus on a list of supposedly historically accurate facts that we must assent to in order to be deemed bible-believing Christians. The former is so much more important for our spiritual formation than the latter, imo. And unfortunately, several of the scholars in this video are viewed by some as either heretics or as those who do not respect the authority of the Bible due to the fact that they do not uphold a literal interpretation of texts such as Genesis.

    • And it’s very ironic that those who argue for a literal reading of the text, as if they are somehow taking it at face value, are the ones who are reading into the text.

  11. Darren Gruett

    David, you asked what my views are on the inspiration of Scripture based on your article. Speaking briefly, I would consider myself an inerrantist in a strict sense, aligning with people like Charles Hodge as well as the propositions put forth in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. And while I certainly appreciate all that science has contributed to our knowledge of the world, it is not convincing enough to overturn my views on things like creation.

    I love the Bible because I know that it is the one thing that is true in a world that is often filled with so much uncertainty and falsehood. I suppose that is why my views on inerrancy matter so much to me. It fills me with comfort knowing that when I open God’s Word I can trust everything that it says.

    One of my favorite quotes is from Proverbs 30:5, “Every word of God is tested.” Because I know that every single word has been proved true, I have great confidence in what it says, even when it goes against reason, observation, or scientific knowledge.

    • Darren, you are making one implicit but important assumption, namely that the Word of God as understood by the author of Proverbs is the same as the Bible that was canonified 1000 years later and that you are opening at your desk in a modern translation. You trust that the whole process of writing the various parts of the Bible, passing them down, and the whole process of canonization was inspired, and that its result somehow destilled the exact Word of God. To me this idea has become more and more like an additional faith of its own, not like the genuine faith in God. In my time of UBF I would say “I believe in the Bible,” like this was completely equivalent to “I believe in God.” But nowadays I understand that it’s a big difference. Interestingly the Apostles’ Creed does not contain an article that resembles the articles of the Chicago declaration.

    • Darren, thanks for your comment. I think that I understand your sentiment because I too deeply want a reference point that is utterly true and trustworthy given that we live in an imperfect world. And as I stated before earlier, I appreciate the work and skill of someone like Hodge. And I would also say that it is important to historically frame the writing of the CSBI and Hodge’s work of promoting inerrancy. Their’s was a reactionary stance, to a degree, because textual criticism was a fairly new endeavor that was seen as a potential threat to undermining the Bible’s integrity. All of those who worked on framing inerrancy were extremely intelligent and well-meaning people, but my feeling is that they over-reacted to the times that they lived in along with the perceived threats. I say this because among several of the early church fathers and even up to the times of the Reformation, the concept of inerrancy was not as a significant concern as it is today. They used the term “infallible”, meaning that God communicated perfectly what he wanted to communicate. They were not hung up on fitting their understanding of science into the creation account or vice versa. Rather they were supremely interested in 1) who was God and 2) what was edifying and profitable for the spiritual maturation of the church.

      You stated Proverbs 30:5 which I believe to be utterly true. What I mean by true is that I believe that all of Scripture was inspired by the Holy Spirit and that it communicated what God wanted to say to all people. However, I don’t mean true in the scientific sense because there are glaring errors of science in the bible, e.g. 1 Kings 7:23 would yield a value of pi equal to 3, also the sky would be a solid dome via Gen 1:6-8. But this is of little concern to me because the truth that the Bible is concerned with centers on communicating the nature of God and what is spiritually profitable for us, which ultimately culminates in our intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ. As Jesus says, the Bible is about him (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39; Heb. 10:7).

    • Darren Gruett

      David, I’m not sure that 1 Kings 7:23 is a glaring error. Most people probably read that and never even bother to do the math. But I know what you’re saying. Here is a rather fascinating explanation about that, in case you’re interested: It may only explain this particular issue, but I think it demonstrates that there are reasonable explanations for things that may at face value appear to be errors. Furthermore, is it wrong to express the value of pi as 3, rounding it to the nearest whole number? After all, what is it’s true value? It’s a number that cannot be expressed with absolute accuracy. Anyway, those are some of my thoughts.

    • Darren, thanks for the link. I also checked another site that presents an alternative explanation that is similarly convincing. So I’ll say that I stand corrected on this particular issue. Also, it isn’t too much of a burden to hold Israel to a value of pi that displays some kind of precision because its value and importance was commonly known centuries before their nation was founded.

      You asked if it is wrong to express pi as three. The short answer is yes. So much of our modern technology and engineering depends on pi, from global positioning, the transistors that that make computing possible, probability distributions, quantum mechanics and particle physics, the proper functioning of machined parts and a slew of other things that rounding pi to three would bring about the collapse of modern civilization as we know it (just kidding).

      Even still, my central argument is that the Bible’s writers were not concerned with scientific observation and accuracy. The Bible is mainly a theological text. Even the history that is recorded is set against the backdrop of answering the question of who God is and who are his people. We put too much burden on the Bible when we say that it should hold up under the scrutiny of our modern-day understanding of science. It’s just not necessary and furthermore by doing so some have promulgated very dubious science, namely in the field of geology (for instance in order to prove the historicity of the flood event). Rather what seems prudent to me is to understand that the Bible’s writers were 1) mainly concerned with theological questions and 2) when they did relay observational information about the earth and nature, it was based upon their then understanding of the world around them.

      If you’re interested, this is a good article about the “solid dome” (“raqia” in Hebrew), that we know as the sky or atmosphere, featured in Gen 1:6:

      It is unreasonable to suggest that Genesis 1 knowingly describes only what Israelites perceived, while holding back any commitment that what they saw was in fact reality. The meaning of raqia is likewise a description not only of what the Israelites saw but also of what they actually believed to be true. They were in good company, for their understanding of what was “up there” was in harmony with what ancient peoples believed in general. God spoke to the ancient Israelites in a way they would readily understand.

      The arguments for a non-solid raqia can only gain traction by swimming against the strong current of what we know of the ancient world. But the problem is not just the arguments themselves. Rather, it is the very fact that the arguments are made in the first place. Feeling the need to make the arguments at all asks Genesis to be involved in a discussion it is not designed

  12. This is a snippet from an interesting article about the pre-modern views of Genesis 1 (i.e, how people like Origen, Augustin, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin viewed this passage.)

    Calvin directly addressed the question of the relation of Scripture’s authority and infallibility to its scientific accuracy. Specifically, he took issue with the fact that Genesis 1 names the sun and moon as the two great lights. Calvin noted that astronomers in his day already know that the moon is much smaller than Saturn, so is Scripture to be considered wrong here, since it is not scientifically accurate to call the moon one of the great lights?

    Calvin contended that Scripture should not be considered wrong nor should one reject the findings of science. Instead, he insisted that Moses’s intention is not to be a scientist; rather, Moses uses what can be seen by the common eye in order to instruct all persons. All persons can see the sun and moon and learn about God’s providence, sovereignty and beneficence towards creation.

    For these pre-modern Christians, then, Scripture’s authority and infallibility were not staked upon its scientific accuracy; rather, Scripture’s authority and infallibility meant that all Scripture is inspired by God “and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Simply put, the authority and infallibility of Scripture meant that all Scripture should edify the church—namely, be useful and build up the church in right teaching and an ethical life.

    Indeed, the insistence that Scripture is intended by God to train us in righteousness may be seen at the heart of all of these pre-modern readings in one way or another. When Origen reads Genesis 1 allegorically to illustrate the Christian’s journey from having one’s mind dwell on earthly things to the maturity of placing one’s mind on heavenly things, he precisely envisions a training toward righteousness and conformity to Christ. Likewise, Augustine’s allegorical reading also envisions the days of creation as the Christian’s ethical journey toward fuller

  13. Darren Gruett

    David, thanks for the links to those articles. I didn’t have a chance to read them through, but I did peruse them. I will try to read them when I can. This is an interesting discussion, but honestly, I cannot see my views of Scripture being seriously shaken by science, or anything else for that matter. Any struggle for me in this area was settled many years ago, and I have never looked back since or felt that God’s Word was in error because science “discovered” something. Personally, I think it takes as much faith to believe some of the claims of science as it does the Bible. Not only that, but I couldn’t make science the arbiter of what’s true. All the same, I would agree that the Bible is not a science book; it’s purpose is to reveal Christ to us. And although I believe in the end it will stand up to the scrutiny of science—even if it does not entirely today—that is not the reason for which it was written.

    • Darren, I’m glad that we’re able to have this kind of generous dialogue given the fact that this is issue has been somewhat of a dividing line among evangelicals. My aim is not to convert you over to my view of scripture. What I can say is that I hope that evangelical culture will acknowledge more deeply how moderners are being, at times, unnecessarily pushed away from genuinely grappling with parts of the bible text due to our unwillingness to look at scripture from different, yet still valid, angles.

      I misspoke, or better yet I made an error, when I said that the bible contained scientific errors. Instead, I think it is valid to assert that the bible’s writers, who were inspired by God, wrote within the confines of their respective cultures. I have found that this kind of interpretation of scripture eliminates a formidable barrier to those trained as scientists who would otherwise write off the bible for being patently wrong about some of its assertions. It lends the bible much more credibility when we say that God was communicating information to a culture at such and such a time, thus taking into account their then understanding of natural phenomena; after all, this reflects the incarnational nature of God in that he humble himself to meet us where we are at. It’s very interesting that this view has been closer to the stance of the church throughout history (e.g. Augustine, who framed the doctrine of original sin, even reasoned that theistic evolution might be plausible) more so than it is today. I honestly think that our current view of scripture is largely a reaction to the Enlightenment, but this needn’t be the case anymore. Anyway, I’d like to prepare an article on this and flesh my thoughts out a bit more.

      Also, you said,

      I think it takes as much faith to believe some of the claims of science as it does the Bible.

      I’m not sure what you mean by this. Valid scientific theories and findings are verified by physical and repeatable tests in a real setting; if a hypothesis cannot be tested and observed in real time, then it is not valid from a scientific point of view.

      Thanks again for the discussion, brother, and Merry Christmas.

    • Darren Gruett

      David, I too appreciate the dialogue. You too, have a Merry Christmas and a blessed holiday.

  14. Great discussion. I think this all has a lot to do with how we interpret and learn from the bible text, and greatly affects many other aspects of our journey. Personally, I line up with the Progressive Christian Alliance approach to the bible (in 16 points) quite well.

    I normally don’t like to just post quotes, but these 16 points are really good and better than I could express them.

    1. We embrace the many variations of the view expressed by many great Christian thinkers that “We take the Bible too seriously, to read it all literally.”

    2. We don’t think that God wrote the Bible. We think it was written by fallible human beings who were inspired by (not dictated to by) the Holy Spirit. Hence, we don’t consider it to be infallible or inerrant.

    5. We seek to apply full attention to Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience (and that includes the insights of contemporary science).

    6. We realize that there is no “objective, one, right way” to interpret a passage – and we recognize that there is no reading of any text – including the Bible – that doesn’t involve interpretation. We also realize that each person interprets the text via their own personal experiences, education, upbringing, socio-political context, and more.

    • Brian, I agree with these points here (though not all of the points on the site you linked) and interestingly, this seems to be closer to the classical reformed view than many would like to think.

      For instance in (1), both Luther and Calvin advocated a historical-critical approach to scripture which sought to interpret the text in light of its contextual meaning to the audience that it was given to. Hence, if it was to be narrative then so be it, similarly with metaphor or poetry. This is also where modern scholarship has helped a great deal because it has given us further insight into the minds of those who inhabited ancient Israel. (Also, this is a good analysis, from both a pre-modern and modern perspective, of the word ‘literal’ when speaking about the bible.)

      Also with (2) equating the process of biblical inspiration to that of dictation (I.e. God controlled the writer as he spoke) has been historically rejected by the church.

      Again (5) is a point that many, before the pre-modern era would agree with. We have historical proof of this in that the church overturned its espousal of geo-centrism in light of scientific evidence. And as for (6), I would say that while Christ is the telos or end of scripture, there are indeed multiple layers to the bible. And again, most throughout church history held this kind of position.

      The reason I’ve stated the above is that I know for some evangelicals, those points would cause some suspicions to arise within them. They might view these as a kind of gateway into liberalism, when in fact this is not the case at all. I just find it very ironic that our modern view of scripture is more restrictive or narrow than that of our predecessors.

    • I would also add that for me personally, while agree with the points above, its entirely another thing altogether to apply those in a practical way within a communal setting (especially in terms of implementing (6)). It would involve a godly amount of patience, understanding and broad-mindedness toward myself and others. and I think that’s the rub; we often like to think that we are so accepting of other views and opinions but in reality we don’t realize how much Christ-like transformation it takes to truly be so.

  15. Here are some further thoughts, centered on your questions in the article, David:

    What is your view of biblical inspiration and why does it matter to you?

    I have struggled through similar points like you express in the article. Here is where I’m at now. As RogerW points out in the PCA 16-point list I shared above, I don’t consider the bible to be infallible or inerrant. I do however consider the bible to be my gold standard. We won’t have pure gold this side of Heaven, but I do know that gold does exist.

    So now I trust the bible. I check every belief I have against the whole of the bible, searching for something that directly contradicts my thoughts. When I find such verses, I change my thinking. I find that I no longer believe the bible is the literal word of God, but I do take the bible far more literally than ever before. I’m not sure if I am explaining this clearly. I now simply take the bible at face value, but I check the bible against itself, against reason, against tradition and against logic. I am willing to make adjustments both reason and tradition, but will not compromise logic and the written text. I look now for explicit statements and build my faith on those, not on implied ideologies.

    For example, I used to believe, teach and preach that everyone needs to be a bible teacher. I thought that being a bible teacher is the highest calling of God, and is irrevocable. But then I read James at face value, taking it literally and checking what it says against the Gospels and the other books such as Hebrews and Galatians. I found that the bible directly and explicitly contradicted my belief that everyone I meet and invite to bible study should be a bible teacher. Furthermore I adjusted my paradigm of approaching the bible because of this–from a bible teacher to a bible learner.

    I also always scan the Old Testament. I find the OT full of wisdom and insight into who Jesus is and what it meant for Him to fulfill both the Law and the Prophets on the cross. I reject any label of me as a antinomian. I do claim that the OT Law is no longer our guardian and was replaced by the Spirit as the object of our obedience. But unlike the Nazi Christians, I do not claim we should get rid of the OT Law or the Prophets. I just claim they have a new purpose and that the cross and the Spirit fulfilled their old purpose.

    In what way is the church’s battle against certain ideologies held by secular society helpful or harmful?

    This is a great question, some of which would require another book to answer :) In my 4th book, to be published 1/1/2015, “The Lambhearted Lion: Why Christianity Needs Gay People”, I will be making these claims:

    “Above all this, the corrective gay people will bring to the church is the re-connecting with the righteousness Jesus preached—the upside-down nature that confounded some and brought joy to many. In order to genuinely welcome gays, the church is forced to start with love. Instead of beginning with the logos of moral statements, I contend the church should start with the pathos of love.”

    And also:

    “So many people have told me “Trust my good intentions” while their actions prove to be very harmful. I say Jesus is right. Beware of false prophets, who come to us in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? It is high time we look at people’s actions to judge them, not merely their words. All this speaks to the need for the church to find a theology deeply rooted in the triune thought fabric that considers logos, ethos and pathos. For too long we’ve focused only on logos, deeming pathos as evil or irrelevant—all at the expense of our ethos. Welcoming LGBTQA people with full-rights, full-inclusion and full-blessing will correct this thought fabric in brilliant fashion!”

    • I look now for explicit statements and build my faith on those, not on implied ideologies. – See more at:

      I’m going through a similar process and sort of trying to unlearn many implicit messages that have been ingrained over the years, replacing them with more orthodox and biblical views. I credit the discussions on this site with helping me a great deal to sift through some bad/heterodox ideologies. So for me, not only is personal bible study and reading commentaries necessary, but also engaging with others in healthy discussions.

  16. I know we discussed “first truth” vs. “second truth” somewhere, but not sure where. Anyway, I can across a book by Nouwen that seems to express my thoughts on 3 truths…I look forward to reading this:

    “Nouwen views our spiritual “ascent” as evolving in three movements. The first, from loneliness to solitude, focuses on the spiritual life as it relates to the experience of our own selves. The second, from hostility to hospitality, deals with our spiritual life as a life for others. The final movement, from illusion to prayer, offers penetrating thoughts on the most mysterious relationship of all: our relationship to God. Throughout, Nouwen emphasizes that the more we understand (and not simply deny) our inner struggles, the more fully we will be able to embrace a prayerful and genuine life that is also open to others’ needs.”

    “Reaching Out”, by Henri Nouwen