The Bible and Ancient Tradition

In his review of Dr. Pete Enns' book Inspiration and Incarnation John Frame writes:

"In the first section, I have a hard time seeing where the problem lies. Enns’ point is that Old Testament Israel spoke languages and had institutions (temples, prophets, priests, kings, legal codes) that were in some ways like the other nations of its time. He admits that the fact that the OT uses human languages like Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek “hardly poses a theological problem” (19), except for a few people who once thought that NT Greek was a special “Holy Spirit language.” Nor, certainly, is there anything particularly odd or challenging about the fact that nations other than Israel had temples, priests, etc. That these nations had such institutions is plain in the OT narrative. In fifty years of studying the issues of biblical authority, I have never once heard or read anybody who said that the existence of such parallel institutions was any kind of problem for the Bible’s inspiration or authority.

"I have heard and read a lot of reflection about the parallels between Israel’s laws and narratives to those outside Israel. Israel’s laws are somewhat like those of the Code of Hammurabi; non-Israelite nations have their own creation stories and flood stories, their own wisdom literatures, which are both like and unlike those in the Bible. Perhaps there have been some evangelicals who have found these parallels problematic, but I think not very many. The fact that non-Israelite traditions are different, even older, does not prove or even suggest that there are any defects in the biblical versions.

"God wanted his people to have a well-functioning legal system, geared to its life in its ancient environment. For this purpose, there was no need to re-invent the wheel. The Code of Hammurabi and other ancient codes addressed that same need, in similar cultures, and so it should be no surprise that God’s laws reflected the legal tradition of which Hammurabi’s Code was an instance. Moses, or some source he made use of, may well have found in a pre-existing set of laws, statutes that would fit Israel’s situation. The traditional doctrine of organic inspiration says that there is no contradiction between divine inspiration and human efforts to determine the right thing to say. The former often makes use of the latter.

"Similarly, God wanted Israel to know something about the creation and flood. If we assume that these events actually happened, it is not surprising that the literature of non-Israelite nations bear witness to them. And it is not surprising that God would inspire Moses to give Israel true accounts, or that these accounts are like the others in some respects. These accounts are similar, not only because they presuppose similar literary conventions, but also because they are describing the same event. Here too it would not be contrary to the doctrine of organic inspiration to believe that Moses depended on pre-existing sources from other nations.

"Enns asks, “if the Bible reflects these ancient customs and practices, in what sense can we speak of it as revelation?” (31) I reply, why not? It is revelation because it’s God’s word and therefore true. It’s like asking, “Luke and Josephus both speak of Jesus, so how can Luke be revelation?” Easy. Luke is an inspired apostle and Josephus is not. Is Enns attributing to some the view that a book cannot be revelation unless it reveals an entirely unique culture? I know nobody who says that, and such a view would be so implausible as to be undeserving of refutation. Maybe this is Enns’ own point, that a document can be God’s word even if it doesn’t reflect or establish a unique culture. But I can’t imagine why he thought this needed to be argued.

"We do often refer to Scripture as unique. But we don’t call it unique because it reflects a unique culture, rather because it is the written word of God and bears a unique witness to Christ."

You can read the rest of Dr. Frame's review HERE.