I remember sitting in class at WTS listening to Dr. Enns explain his experience with unbelieving professors and their intellectual challenge to his faith. He expressed that he was particularly shaken by the strength of their attack on the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. His solution (my assessment of what I heard) was to accommodate himself to some of the presuppositions of his unbelieving, higher-critical professors at Harvard (-ahhhhd.)
In this post I want to focus on Enns’ (et. al.) notion of accommodation. I am using this term in a two-fold sense: 1) the accommodation Enns makes to unbelieving higher-critical (UHC) scholars, and 2) the accommodation Enns believes God makes in the Bible.
Enns’ Accommodation to UHC Scholars
Enns in principle accepts the affirmation from UHC scholars that extra-biblical sources of information provide irrefutable evidence that that Bible contains demonstrable falsehoods and mistakes. That is, the Bible contains provable factual errors.
Further these are not immaterial errors. Rather these are non-incidental errors; they are in things that matter to the exegesis of the doctrines of Scripture. (See Incoherent Inerrancy and Who Ya Gonna Believe for further explanation on these topics.)
Thus Enns begins with the presupposition that the Bible necessarily records things for which there is no other way to describe them but as errors. Accordingly, if he is going to maintain any semblance of belief in inerrancy, he must re-define it. This is what he attempts to do in the second sense of accommodation.
God’s Accommodation to Man
It is true that man himself is prone to error. He is prone to: 1) believing things that are not true, 2) teaching others to believe these false beliefs; and 3) building his life on these false beliefs. In God’s mercy, error-prone man actually achieves some degree of success via his error-laden convictions.
Enns’ argues that God accommodates his communication in the Bible to this error-proneness of man. This is not the accommodation position of Calvin and historic reformed doctrine (e.g., anthropomorphic language) in which God communicates the otherwise incomprehensibleness of his own being in terms that are comprehensible to us, but are not therefore premised on falsehoods or mistakes.
No, the accommodation Enns argues for is God knowing use of man’s erroneous understanding. The BIG example is found in Gn 1:1-2:4 (and other creational passages); where God (supposedly) accommodates his explanation of his sovereignty in creation to man’s (scientifically) erroneous understanding. Other material examples are scattered throughout the Bible, often historical “errors” in which the Biblical data does not match what secular knowledge has proven to be true.
The key to demonstrating that this accommodation is actually occurring in the Bible is not the narrowly the contradicting secular sourced information. No, it is a presupposition flowing what is called comparative religious studies. Particularly, the myths and legends of ancient near eastern (ANE) civilizations, civilizations that are neighbors to ancient Israel (in time and location), demonstrate (apparent) similarities wth corresponding Biblical passages. These (apparent) similarities are used by Enns to demonstrate that God was not trying to express himself factually accurately. Rather, he was using the cultural errors common to his people (the broader ANE cultural mileu, the historical-societal environment) to explain to them his truths in terms acceptable to their limited (error-prone) intellectual capacities.
In other words, these ANE myths/legends serve as the solution to the problem of how to maintain inerrancy in the presence of the Bible’s errors. God was merely accommodating himself to speak truth via the errors with which man was comfortable.
Aside from the fact that the supposed similarities between the ANE myths/legends is highly overrated; and aside from the fact that there is a better explanation for any similarities that do exist (corrupted transfer of fact), consider where this principle of accommodation leaves us:
God used stories he knew to be filled with non-incidental errors as the basis for his communication of the same “history,” with the intention of giving us a trustworthy record. He used known (to him) errors to communicate trustworthy truth.
Boiling it down to the critical focus, as the whole Bible has a Christocentric (Christ is the center) purpose, or as Enns prefers, a Christotelic (Christ is the goal) purpose, then – God used ANE superhero comic book stories to convince us that Jesus really is The Superhero!
There’s accommodation, and then there’s …?
- Reed DePace