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Inspiration and Incarnation

February 28, 2013

I need to get something out in the open right away.  I did not read this book this month.  Although, I read this book back in the fall, I am still linking up with the Transit Bookclub because I plan on reading the other books–mostly–except for The Politics of Jesus by Yoder, just can’t do it, despite being a fellow Menno like he is.  Phew.  Full disclosure complete.

Inspiration and Incarnation was one of the those books that changed my schema.  I have had relatively little Bible training–just what I received as mandatory classes at the Mennonite high school and college I attended.  In college, when I had the choice between Old and New Testament, I took New Testament, and to be honest, listened to very little of the lecture (so many notes were passed in that class and I am sure I giggled way more than the subject warranted (because I wasn’t talking about the New Testament when I was giggling).  That’s been the extent of it–no seminary courses, no grad school.  I’ve also discovered I don’t necessarily retain information the best over time.  I was telling a friend about this book, and she immediately connected it to the Disciple I course I took at my Methodist church.  I couldn’t have linked this to that.

I think this time, I finally got it.  Sometimes, I think you just need to be at the right place in your life to really take in information.  When I read Inspiration and Incarnation, I was more interested in the Old Testament than I’ve ever been.  Although I am sure at some point I had heard about Second Temple Literature or more of the Dead Sea Scrolls (I thought all of the Dead Sea Scrolls were incapsulated in our Bible–not the case at all), when I read about them this time, it was completely new.  I struggled with what it meant that our creation story is so close to the other creation stories of the ancient near Eastern peoples.  Enns did a great job of giving me something to hold onto though.

The opening chapters of Genesis participate in a worldview that the earliest Isrelites shared with their Mesopotamian neighbors.  To put it this way is not to concede ground to liberalism or unbelief, but to understand the simple fact that the stories in Genesis had a context within which they were understood.  And that context was not a modern scientific one, but an ancient mythic one…The question Genesis is prepared  to answer is whether Yahweh, the God of Israel is worthy of worship.

What kept pulling me back was his statement about what made the Judaic story different from the rest–just One God instead of a polytheistic story the other cultures had.  That difference provided me with an additional lens to read the Old Testament with.

The other piece that has been very influential on me was how the New Testament writers dealt with the Old Testament.  I am the type of Bible reader, these days, who look up the references the NT authors use.  More than once, I had thought, “Man, that’s a stretch.”  Enns helped me be at peace with the literary license Matthew, Luke, John, and Mark took.  Everything in the Old Testament was used to point to Jesus, according to Enns.  We are not expected to thoroughly understand the OT–it was written for a specific people living in a specific place and a specific time.  The Old Testament was God’s incarnation to Israelites and Jews, just as Jesus is the New Testament incarnation.  We wouldn’t expect the Israelites who wandered through the desert with Moses to understand e-mail and the internet.  Why should we expect to understand everything that was written in the Old Testament.

…This is what it means for God to speak at a certain time and place–he enters their world.  He speaks and acts in ways that make sense to them.  This is surely what it means for God to reveal himself to people–he accommodates, condescends, meets them where they are.

Reading the Old Testament as it points our eyes to Jesus has helped me focus my reading this year.  As I work my way through the Bible (I am reading the Bible chronologically, supposedly all within this year), I look for foreshadowing of Jesus’s coming.  I look for words that demonstrate what the Kingdom of God will be like.  I am amazed how much is there.  I know how the story ends.  Like Bridge to Terabithia or the Chronicles of Narnia, both which I’ve read countless times, I read knowing the ending–the girl dies, Aslan lives–and that makes the story all the richer.   Enns suggests we read the Old Testament and ask ourselves:

What difference does the death and resurrection of Christ make for how I understand this part of the Old Testament?

It makes all the difference in the world as I read Job.  I understand exactly why Jesus had to come as I read Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers and feel overwhelmed.

Since reading Inspiration and Incarnation, I’ve been compelled to read another of Enns’ books, Telling God’s Story, and was equally impressed with it.  I’ve referred back to I and I several times, including when I taught a Sunday School lesson on difficult texts of the Bible.  It will be one I continue to revisit, and one I will recommend to any one interested in struggling with the Old Testament.

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