Book Review - The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism

Image of The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism
by Gregory Beale
Crossway 2008
Paperback 304

In recent years, Evangelicalism has seen a number of challenges to the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. Chief among these have been new insights into the cultural and historical background of the Old Testament provided by newly found ancient near eastern sources (ANE for short). A recent turmoil was raised by a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary named Peter Enns who published a controversial book, Inspiration and Incarnation. Eventually he was deemed to have violated the Westminster Confession of Faith in his views and was removed from his teaching post at Westminster.

In scholarly journals, G.K. Beale responded to Enns’ book and open questioning of the popular understanding of biblical inerrancy. Enns and Beale responded back and forth to each other in a series of journal articles, which in a slightly emended form make up the first four chapters of this book. I’m glad that G.K. Beale chose to put the discussion into a book for a wider evangelical audience. He has done us all a great favor. His book, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority addresses the issue of inerrancy and ANE studies head on and offers a confessionally faithful model of approaching ANE parallels to Scripture.

I must admit that when I began this book, I was skeptical of Beale’s position and open to what Enns had to say. By the end of the book, I realized that Enns had indeed erred, and that Beale’s efforts represented a careful scholarly approach worthy of consideration. Still, the objection could be raised that Beale is making a mountain out of a molehill and is just interested in muddying Enns’ image, even as he threatens the scholarly evangelical community with the same if they dare tip the sacred inerrancy cow. Such is not the case, however. Let me allow Beale to explain his rationale for the book:

Furthermore, most of the problems that [Enns] poses are not that hard to solve, though he gives the impression that they are difficult to square with a traditional view of inerrancy. Indeed, this is partly why I felt a burden to write the review [of Enns’ book] that I did. Instead of helping people in the church gain confidence in their Bibles, Enns’s book will likely shake that confidence—I think unnecessarily so. (p. 66-67)

After laying out the issues, Beale jumps right in to the back and forth between Peter Enns and himself. He splits the discussion into two topics: recent OT studies developments and the study of the Old Testament in the New. For each, he includes his rejoinders to Enns and Enns’ responses. While at times the back and forth might leave the typical reader dazed and confused (at times one feels like he’s looking over the various scholars’ shoulders or that the discussion is moving on too quickly to follow), key issues and main points are driven home through these first four chapters. These chapters flesh out the differing approaches to ANE myths and their implications for Genesis and second Temple Judaistic hermeneutical principles as well as their bearing on our understanding of the New Testament.

The unity of Isaiah

After the various approaches are displayed through the back and forth of chapters 1-4, the book moves on to the unity of Isaiah as a case study. Will we trust the Bible’s witness to itself when it comes to Isaiah’s unity, or move with the scholarly winds and deny what Jesus and the apostles appeared to assume? While Beale is a NT scholar, he handles the Isaiah question capably, referring to recent scholarly evangelical assessments on this point.

Beale then provides a fascinating discussion of Genesis 1 and a biblical cosmology model in the form of the universe as God’s temple. In this section, Beale really shines, as he develops a compelling case for the tabernacle, Jewish temple—and indeed Eden and the universe as a whole—as all being models of God’s true cosmic temple. This study relates to the book in general because understanding Genesis 1-2 as a temple cosmology allows one to assimilate insights from ANE studies without defaulting to teaching that the early chapters of Genesis are intended to be taken as a myth.

Two appendices are also provided. One is a rather detailed discussion of postmodernism, epistemology and the like. The second is an exposition of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

This book is not for the average reader. Beale develops a case and brings you into the world of biblical scholarship today. He explains how one can maintain a high view of Scripture and assimilate insights from scholarship successfully. He also warns of the dangers of forsaking inerrancy. I learned a ton in reading this book, but the part I enjoyed most was when Beale left polemics aside and focused on a positive development of his cosmic temple idea concerning Genesis 1-2. Beale has written an entire book on that subject (The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God), and I’m interested in picking it up soon.

I recommend this book but have to admit it was put together in a piecemeal fashion. Still, it has great value and needs to be read by anyone interested in OT scholarship or recent developments in inerrancy.

[node:bio/bob-hayton body]

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There are 9 Comments

CPHurst's picture

I think I would like to read this book for the exposition on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy alone.

CAWatson's picture

Bob,

I appreciate your review, and when I taught OTI this past year, I actually required both Enns' book and this book. I was somewhat disappointed with this book, however, in that it was far more of a polemic against Enns, than an apologetic for inerrancy. In my opinion, Beale holds up the Chicago statement as if it is the end-all position for evangelicals (Granted, Enns, a few years later, argues that the Apostle Paul was completely wrong on his view of Adam...).

Concerning Beale's position on the temple - in this book he actually relates his position to that of John Hill Walton (Also of Wheaton, although Beale has (ironically) since moved on to teach at Westminster) in "The Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament" and "The Lost World of Genesis 1." Enns actually has reviews where he greatly appreciates what Walton has done (with the cosmology of the temple in Gen 1), and then criticizes Walton for not applying what he believes about the ANE texts and the OT to the doctine of inerrancy.

Enns states: "That being said, however, one criticism I have is Waltonʼs failure, at some crucial and perennially perplexing points, to connect the dots between the evidence and the conclusions drawn with respect to the nature of Scripture. To put it a bit more directly, with respect to Waltonʼs efforts in his “Comparative Explorations” sections, there are numerous places where, in my view, he drops the ball theologically."

http://peterennsonline.com/book-reviews/ancient-near-eastern-thought-and...

In other words, Enns would agree with both Beale and Walton with the importance of the temple as an answer; however, Enns rightly states that such an approach does not aid in a right understanding of inerrancy. In reality, such a view leaves the interpreter with the permission (although that is probably not the right word) to hold the text as "myth," leaving open the possibility that the text itself is not historical (although myth and history are not necessarily mutually exclusive).

Charlie's picture

The Temple and the Church's Mission is probably the finest work of biblical theology I've read, both for its content and its method.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Bob Hayton's picture

Chris,

I disagree with your assessment about Beale's temple cosmology. Beale doesn't let it become a myth as in not true historically. As you said Enns' view differs from both Beale and Walton. Beale's book came out before Walton's Lost World book, and I don't think he directly approves of all Walton states, necessarily. But his position is similar.

If you haven't been introduced to the temple cosmology position which sees the creation of the world as a temple-creation, with the world designed like an ancient Temple, with Eden as a Garden Temple itself, then you're in for a treat in those two chapters where Beale explains this viewpoint. It doesn't have to deny the historicity or literalness of Gen. 1 at all. It just sees a much more colorful act going on than just the creation of substance. It is the shaping of this world as a temple for God's presence.

Now the book is quite polemic, and I agree it is kind of put together from several journal articles and doesn't entirely flow all that well. But the issues it tackles are important enough to be addressed and he does a good job answering Enns so I think it is important. The Chicago statement surely is a good place to start, wouldn't you think?

I could wish the book was more than it is, but as such it introduces readers to the debate, and lets them see there are many like Beale who are defending inerrancy against the Enns' of today.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Bob Hayton's picture

Charlie wrote:
The Temple and the Church's Mission is probably the finest work of biblical theology I've read, both for its content and its method.

I've only started this book, but from what I've already seen, and from hearing Beale teach on Revelation, and from some of his work in the book I reviewed here, I expect that I'll have a similar assessment of the book when I'm finished.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Bob Hayton wrote:
Charlie wrote:
The Temple and the Church's Mission is probably the finest work of biblical theology I've read, both for its content and its method.

I've only started this book, but from what I've already seen, and from hearing Beale teach on Revelation, and from some of his work in the book I reviewed here, I expect that I'll have a similar assessment of the book when I'm finished.

I respect all of your guys who have posted here, so I plan to add The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God to my wish list for future reading. Thanks!

"The Midrash Detective"

pgepps's picture

It is a great book. I do agree with some who felt that once Beale descended into the nitty-gritty of the argument with Enns, much of the "big picture" suggested in the title was lost. However, it was wonderful to see someone putting together the evidence from the NT use of the OT so methodically. I cited Beale several times in my dissertation ( https://beardocs.baylor.edu/handle/2104/5375?mode=simple ).

Bob Hayton's picture

Beale's work on the NT use of the OT is on prime display in his commentary on Revelation and his work for the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament,w here he was a general editor with D.A. Carson, and he also contributed quite a bit of the content.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Mike Durning's picture

Just finished the inerrancy book this morning. Great read. It addresses some issues with which I have long been concerned. In fact, in Genesis/Creation Day discussion here at SI, some of these same topics have been debated. So thanks for bringing this to our attention, Bob.

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