Monday, April 27, 2009

Waltke & Enns on Inspiration

Peter Enns has posted links to a recent response to Inspiration and Incarnation by Bruce Waltke in the Westminster Theological Journal.  Waltke's review and Enns's response are available. The interaction highlights the challenge of distinguishing apologetics from exegesis as one is engaged in biblical scholarship. What struck me as I read Waltke's comments was how he repeatedly insists that his "apologetic" is based on "exegetical data and a posteriori reasoning, not on doctrine and a priori reasoning" (83-84). Methinks he doth protest too much. It seemed to me that his exegesis was colored by his a priori theological commitment to an orthodox position on inerrancy - a point Enns was quick to point out in his response.

Enns notes that there was also a surrejoinder by Waltke but implies it was outside the bounds of the type of exchange they'd originally agreed on. For that reason, he didn't link to it. Was that an unfair thing for the journal to allow the last word to come from the defender of the faith? Or is it common practice?

In passing, Waltke also had me scratching my head over his insistence that Proverbs is universally true, not situationally true. Anyone who's studied Wisdom Literature knows that proverbs are contextually-appropriate guidelines, not dogmatically true doctrines.  If such is Waltke's approach to Proverbs, it may not be worth the time to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

At any rate, I commend the exchange to all who are continually wrestling with the issue of inspiration and inerrancy.


  1. The surrejoinder is standard fare. When Enns and Beale went back and forth in the Themelios journal it took the same format: Beale - Enns - Beale. If you're ever interested in reading that exchange I've linked to the articles here.

  2. Nick,

    Thanks for giving another example, but is showing that it's happened before proof that it's "standard fare"?

    There's also a difference between that being the standard, agreed-upon format of the exchange and giving someone additional space to defend their view that the second person didn't get or didn't know about. That's what I was wondering about since Enns' comment was ambiguous. Did he not know about the surrejoinder or did he choose not to respond to it in order to keep the exchange from devolving into the response on a response on a response, ad nauseum?

    I'm not saying the surrejoinder isn't standard or typical, but it seems like a way for a mainstream theological journal to give the last word to the party they're supporting as theologically right.

  3. Doug,

    I've seen the same format a number of times in WTJ. Off the top of my head I can think of Moisés Silva's review of Chyrs Caragounis' book where Caragounis responded and Silva ended with a surrejoinder. Nothing past that from Caragounis as far as I remember. Being that Enns used to teach at WTS and is more than likely familiar with their journal, I'm fairly confident that he was aware that Waltke would have a surrejoinder. I suppose you can always ask him though. Does his blog allow comments? If not he'd probably answer an email.

    And I'm not so sure that it has much to do with supporting the party they think is theologically right. I've seen a similar format in HTR in an issue dedicated to Lewis Ayres' book Nicaea and Its Legacy. He offered an introduction, John Behr gave a response, as did Khaled Anatolios, then Ayres offered his response to his critics, with the final word was given to Behr & Anatolios. I don't think HTR had any stake in either Ayres or Behr/Anatolios being theologically correct, especially since the critcisms were over matters of history more than anything and even in that I can't see that HTR had any particular position to support.

  4. I just took a look at Enns' blog. It looks like you won't be able to ask him in a comment and I'm not confident that he'd answer an email either given the message on his sidebar. Oh well. I'd interpret his comments in the latter sense of his not wanting everything to devolve into a perpetual back and forth. I just can't believe that the editors (or Waltke himself) wouldn't let him know ahead of time that Waltke was getting a surrejoinder.

  5. I haven't read Enns' response, but your statement about Waltke's a posteriori reasoning made me want to look into what he had to say. Waltke says, even after making the a posteriori remark, this:

    I did not come to these exegetical conclusions to defend my understanding of an orthodox interpretation of Scripture. I approached the data a posteriori, not a priori. From that perspective I find none of Enns’s data supports his understanding
    of inspiration. And should I find that the a posteriori data supports his notion of inspiration, I would still not accept his theory as Enns represents himself, for
    I could not hold his theory with integrity. My heart has priority over reason. My conscience, informed by holy Scripture, persuades me that our inerrant God
    represents truth in infallible Scripture.
    Evidence doesn't really matter. He admits it! At this point, I'd say one can safely ignore his claim to a posteriori reasoning!!

  6. Just to clarify,
    Enns still holds to inerrancy and was still in the ETS the last time I they are both "defenders of the faith" in regards to the doctrine.

    I think this also highlights the difference in our definitions of apologetics. It's clear that Enns is being apologetic. He is defending to WTJ and everyone else the fact that you can still hold a high view of Scripture and be a critical scholar at the same time. Of course, those of us who don't hold to inerrancy and are faithful believers are like, "duh." In the world of WTS that's what Enns has to defend.

  7. Nick: thanks for helping me understand the response-surrejoinder thing.

    Alan: I was similarly surprised by Waltke's comments there. In the section I quoted he goes on to say that even though he's not arguing a priori, it would have been ok to do so in this context. It's just odd to me that he goes overboard stressing he's not doing something (arguing a priori) even though that thing would have been ok and even though he's really doing it.

    Ranger: True...thanks for clarifying. I meant the defender of the faith in the sense of the defender of the orthodox position on this issue. I'm not saying only Waltke is involved in apologetics here either. Enns has chosen to engage a topic that sits right where the results of bible scholarship intersect with theology. To even be having the discussion necessarily means one is involved in apologetics. Academic biblical studies outside of faith-based institutions doesn't concern itself with the question of inspiration.

  8. >>Academic biblical studies outside of faith-based institutions doesn't concern itself with the question of inspiration.<<

    Doug, you have been to SBL, right? You've walked the floor at the book display? You've overheard conversations in and out of the meetings, right? The theological issue is everywhere at SBL, often right under the surface.

  9. Alan, I think I meant that formally in-print and on-the-surface, it's a non-question if you're writing for JBL, for example, in the sense that you can conduct your research without being compelled to address the theological implications.

    It's true though that it's a strong undercurrent overall in biblical studies since many have come to the field through their religious traditions. Separating the two is not so simple, and it seems to be absolutely necessary for some scholars/believers to show how their theology is rooted in the hard facts - exegetical data - not in philosophically reasoned conclusions.

  10. Waltke's approach to proverbs does indeed seem problematic. Taken too far, it could lead to a denial of faith. I've outlined this problem on my blog


  11. Thanks for the link, Steve. I enjoyed your post on reading Proverbs.

  12. I was also quite surprised at Waltkes argument regarding the differences between the fourth commandments in Exodus and Deut.