Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bruce Waltke on "Inspiration and Incarnation"

The Spring 2009 issue of The Westminster Theological Journal includes some excellent articles on the issues of biblical inerrancy and interpretation. Of particular interest is the interaction between Bruce Waltke and Pete Enns. Dr. Waltke critiques Dr. Enns' book Inspiration and Incarnation. Enns then responds to Waltke to which Waltke offers a response to the response. Follow that?

Waltke writes:

Professor Enns invites evangelicals to interact with his provocative ideas for sharpening theological discussion about the nature of Scripture. Upon my first reading I was struck with his commendable, unflinching honesty. Not allowing dogma to overwhelm data, he attempts pastorally to assist students who think the Reformed doctrine of Scripture is not viable. Enns holds with conviction the concept that both the Word of God as Scripture, and the Word of God as Jesus Christ, become incarnate: fully divine and fully human, as Warfield propounded in his concursive theory of inspiration.

Upon my second reading and more reflection, however, I questioned whether Enns’s answer helped doubters to keep the faith. This forced me to reflect more deeply upon the theologically disturbing cache of texts that Enns so helpfully collected, categorized, and then sought to resolve by his ‘‘incarnation’’ model of thinking about Scripture. A model, however, that represents the Mosaic Law as flexible, the inspired religion of Israel in its early stage as somewhat doctrinally misleading, the Chronicler’s harmonization as incredible,NTteachings as based on questionable historical data, and an apologetic for Jesus of Nazareth’s Messianic claim as arbitrary,would not be helpful to me inmy theological education. Nevertheless, I owe Enns a tremendous amount of gratitude for challenging me to think honestly and soberly about these texts that are troubling to all who hold Reformed convictions about the inspiration of holy Scripture.

Waltke then goes on to critique Enns' handling of texts of Scripture he considers problematic. For example, in Inspiration and Incarnation Enns writes:

If disobedience leads to God’s curse (Deut. 28:15-68), then it is not too hard to reason back the other way: if you are cursed, you must have done something to deserve it. This is the assumption [of Job’s friends]. . . . Anyone well versed in Old Testament teaching would likely have drawn the same conclusion [as Job’s three friends].
(p. 81)
Waltke's response is as follows:

But this statement is not accurate or helpful to me. Is it true that anyone well versed in theOT would draw the conclusion that it teaches that a person who is cursed—I take it that Enns uses the word loosely, for the friends never use it of Job—must have done wrong? A person well-versed in Scripture—so it seems to me—certainly knows that righteous Abel ismurdered by Cain and, while Abel’s blood cries out for justice, themurderer lives out a normal life-span. After Abraham by faith arrived in the Promised Land, God inflicted a famine on the land, a drought so severe that Abraham felt compelled to leave the Promised Land. Innocent Joseph was sold into slavery where he suffered hard iron. Job points to numerous situations where the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper within the divine scheme of things, and that surely his friends also knew. (A person less well-versed in the OT literature may not be aware that in the book of Proverbs the father’s first lecture represents the wicked as dispatching the innocent to a premature death while the wicked fill their house with plunder taken from him [Prov 1: 11-14].)Moreover, one does not have to be well-versed in theOT literature to know from the NT that the righteous Son of God was nailed to the cross and that his apostleswere martyrs for their faith in Jesus Christ. In sum, the three friends illogically drew a conclusion that did not square with the teachings of Proverbs, which is also well aware that the wicked are full while the righteous hunger (cf. Prov 16:8)—but that is not the whole story.

I found this format to be very helpful. Again and again Dr. Waltke demonstrates why he is considered one of the foremost Old Testament exegetes in the world. It also demonstrates why Dr. Enns' book was met with a great deal of dismay among many in the scholarly community.

Read the entire article HERE.


bennyg612 said...

I attended Enns' class (Spring 2008) on Proverbs and Poets, which included the book of Job. Enns' teaching on the theology of Job's three friends, specifically their equating suffering with sin, is consistent with Watke's as described in this essay. Enns agreed that the interpretation of scripture as "if one is suffering, then one has sinned" was inconsistent with biblical teaching, including the Old Testament. At least in his class, he emphasized the unfortunate prevalence of the "suffering=sinful" theology even up to Jesus' own day (John 9:2), despite the fact that it is contrary to Scripture.

I would be interested in reading the entire quote from Enns' book to see if Watke's critique is accurately portraying Enns' intent. If it is, then this is definitely a different direction the Enns went in his class.

Foolish Sage said...

"....Dr. Enns's book met with a great deal of dismay among many in the scholarly community."

Only among that part of the "scholarly community" who are more committed to preserving a certain narrow doctrine of Scripture than they are to true scholarship.

Have you ever wondered why it took such a "great scholar" as Waltke two readings of I&I before he decided he didn't like it? I'll answer for you: it's because the first time he really did like it. It is largely in the trajectory of many of his own readings of the OT, readings for which he gets a free ride. But someone got to him after that first reading, a reading he affirmed well enough to post a glowing blurb with his name on the back of Enns's book.

Your post leaves the impression that Waltke has said the last word on I&I and closed Dr. Enns's mouth, but this is not true. Enns has been posting a series on his blog of further responses to Waltke's "last word" in the WTJ. The first one can be foundhere, and you can scan the home page at to find the rest.

Waltke had to write these retractions of his original praise for I&I to save face with the conservative Evangelical establishment (most of whom must not have read his OT commentaries too closely, or they'd be as upset at him as they are at Enns). Enns's latest series of posts demonstrate that Waltke may have saved face with the already convinced, but his critiques are far from scholarly and full of holes.

Foolish Sage said...


I was in that same class, and I'm having a hard time figuring out what your critique is. It seems you might have confused the words consistent and inconsistent in a couple of places. Exactly what (if anything) are you accusing Dr. Enns of?

As I recall, in class Enns was making the point that the theology of Jobs' friends ("if you have bad things happening to you, you must have disobeyed") was consistent with the deuteronomic tradition: those who obey get blessing; those who disobey get cursed. In other words, the friends were being quite "biblical." The surprising aspect of the book of Job is that even though the friends were just following good biblical theology (as most Jews would have recognized it), the Job narrative makes them out to be wrong! Enns was using this as an example of diversity of theological approaches in the OT.

Foolish Sage said...

By the way, though Blogger only shows my Blogger login name of Foolish Sage, I am quite happy to sign my own name to the comments above.

Mark Traphagen
WTS M.A.R. Biblical Studies 2009

bennyg612 said...


I was not intending to accuse Dr. Enns of anything. While I have not read I&I, I felt that Dr. Watke's critique of Dr. Enns may not have been charitable or accurate given what I recall from attending his class. Based on Dr. Watke's critique, one would surmise that Dr. Enns believes that the "suffering=sinful" theology is a correct interpretation of the whole of Scripture. While Dr. Enns may argue that Job's friends were a part of a Deuteronimic tradition that held this interpretation, he did not agree (from what I recall in class) that this interpretation was proper understanding of Scripture as a whole (or even Deuteronomy or the OT in part). In class, his intention was that we empathize with Job's friends; to see how they, and many others in their time, could have arrived at their theology. I do not believe that it was his intent to propogate their theology or to propose that their understanding of Scripture was a Spirit-inspired and proper understanding.

I do not intend to speak for Dr. Enns, but only to relay what I recalled from his lecturing. I have not read I&I, and so if I am mistakenly representing his thoughts I apologize.

Ben Gustafson

Foolish Sage said...

Thanks, Ben. Rereading your comment, I see that's exactly what you were saying. I think I got lost in trying to untangle "consitent" from "inconsistent."

So, yeah, I agree with you. Waltke definitely misread Enns on this.

Todd Pruitt said...


Apparently you and I read different books. When I read I & I it was before I was even aware of the controversy. I could not believe the lack of foot notes. Nor could I understand the number of general and sweeping statements that lacked entirely any substantiation. Bottom line - I & I is not a very good book. Sorry if that offends.

Not sure how you are able to get into the mind and motives of Bruce Waltke. But if I have to stand on either man's scholarship I will choose Waltke's.

Foolish Sage said...

Enns was clear in the book, and has said often since, that it was not a scholarly book. It was written as an intro to the subject for a popular audience. He does include guides to further reading in the book, and the many articles on now serve as the "footnotes" his critics have carped for.

And if one is choosing Waltke as the better scholar (and not just because one likes his conclusions better), then one should be prepared to answer the challenges to Waltke Enns has raised in his latest series of posts which I linked above.

Todd Pruitt said...

To use the "it's not a scholarly book" defense is nonsense. If he was writing for a popular audience then all the more reason to back up his claims.

Sorry you think it is "carping" to expect a scholar to provide footnotes. I was expected to do that in all my freshman undergrad papers.