In a previous post I discussed Peter Enns’ fallacious diagram of biblical cosmology. As you can see below, it depicts a solid, hemispherical dome (the raqia, translated as expanse or firmament), containing the Sun, moon and stars, held up by distant mountains on a flat earth. I contended that this picture was not taught by Scripture and was not even proven to be uniformly held by ancient people. Also, it was contrary to common sense since it implied, for example, that the Sun would be at a fixed point in the sky and could not set.
Ben persists, “But even though I don’t understand how their system can work in a mechanical or natural sense, I do not then conclude that Ancient Mesopotamians could not have believed in a solid sky over a flat earth. I need to realize that they lived in a totally different culture than me, and some things they do and believe will not make sense to me.”
But if ancient culture was so different that we can’t understand it, how can we be so certain that their talk of a solid sky could not have been figurative or mythological? Why the insistence that they believed in a solid sky/flat earth? As I noted before, scholars are by no means unanimous; several (e.g., Noel Weeks, G.K. Beale) have presented detailed refutations of Enns' thesis.
The main question, however, is not what ancient civilizations may have believed but what the Bible actually teaches. In my last post I argued that, contrary to Enns and Seely, Genesis 1 does not teach erroneous cosmology. In particular, Genesis 1 says nothing explicit about the solidity or shape of the raqia. There is no exegetical reason why raqia cannot simply be taken to refer to the sky or space.
The basic problem with Enns is his denial of full biblical inspiration and authority. Let me elaborate. Ben notes that Enns is well aware of the discrepancy between a solid raqia and the observed movement of the celestial bodies. Indeed he is. When this objection is raised, Enns responds,
“You are probably aware that the points you raise come up fairly quickly in this discussion. I wish I could ask some ancient Hebrews how they hold some of things [sic] together, but what we would consider logical inconsistencies do not call into question the Israelite participation in a commonly held cosmology. Inconsistencies are not just in Gen 1, but between chaps. 1-3, in fact throughout 1-11.”
Note Enns' hermeneutic. He assumes that Moses knew no more about cosmology than other ancients. Hence the raqia of Gen.1:7 must be solid. When this contradicts Gen.1:14, which implies moving celestial objects, Enns does not revise his view of Gen.1:7, which after all does not actually state that the raqia is solid, but simply concludes Moses erred once again. Would Enns have us believe that Moses largely plagiarized Gen.1-11 from Pharoah's library, and that he was too stupid to realize that what he wrote in Gen.1:14 contradicted what he had just scribbled a mere seven verses earlier?
It seems that Enns' agenda is to bring evangelicals in line with the results of mainline liberal scholarship. This necessarily entails a downgrading of the Bible. Thus Enns, in his book Inspiration and Incarnation, stresses the humanness of Scripture. Just as Christ incarnate had two natures, so the Bible is both human and divine. The humanness of the Bible, according to Enns, is manifested in the Bible's numerous errors and contradictions. Enns says that God was "willing and ready to adopt an ancient way of thinking," such as the categories of "ancient myth" (pertaining to creation, the flood, etc.) [p.56]. Enns contends that Gen.1-11 is full of ancient myth, which the Bible narrator mistakenly accepted as factual.
A proper Biblical view of divine inspiration, on the other hand, would affirm that, regardless of what the Bible writers personally believed, the Holy Spirit would have led them to write truth and prevented them from writing error. Since God is omniscient we can expect His word to be inerrant and authoritative, also in Gen.1-11. Since God is Truth, His word will be internally consistent.
For a detailed critique of Enns I refer the reader to G.K. Beale (The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism 2008). Recently, another excellent analysis of Enns has been written by James W. Scott, in a pair of articles in the Westminster Theological Journal: "The inspiration and interpretation of God's Word, with special reference to Peter Enns" [WTJ 71 (2009): 129-83 & 247-79]. Among other things, Scott refutes Enns' view of the raqia (pp 248-253). His main concern, however, is Enns' faulty approach to Scripture. Here are Scott's concluding words:
"There are two ways of approaching problem passages in the Bible. If we are confident that Scripture, because of its divine authorship, is entirely true and self-consistent, then we will approach them on the assumption that inconsistencies are only apparent. We will search diligently for reasonable harmonizations or other solutions, and we will find them convincing (or at least sufficiently plausible not to draw the biblical view of Scripture into question). That is the approach taken in this article. On the other hand, we have the approach taken by Enns. He begins with the conviction that the Bible is characterized by inconsistencies of various sorts (which he attributes to its "incarnational" nature), and so when he comes to an apparent inconsistency, he assumes (unless there is an immediately obvious explanation) that it fits in with the overall pattern of inconsistency (the "accumulated evidence"), and he therefore "quickly" pronounces any proposed harmonization or similar explanation "unconvincing." Such impatience does not characterize serious scholarship. And such a dismissive attitude certainly does not characterize Christian scholarship
"...the view of Scripture propounded by Enns is greatly mistaken and must be rejected. However unintentionally, he undermines the truth and authority of Scripture, debases the Author of Scripture, and jeopardizes the Christian faith based upon Scripture. He seeks to justify his view of Scripture by basing it upon a certain view of the incarnation, but that view is equally erroneous and likewise threatens the Christian faith, and so too must be rejected. Only when Scripture is properly respected as the inspired word of our omniscient and immutable God, and therefore completely true, can it be interpreted correctly. The truth of inspired Scripture is the only reliable and authoritative foundation for Christian teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness."