The Bible Tells Me So is the latest book by Peter Enns, who is professor of biblical studies at Eastern University, St. Davids, Pennsylvania. The book has seven chapters, which are subdivided into short subsections, many of which have provocative headings such as “When the Bible Doesn’t Behave,” “Jesus Messes with the Bible,” and “Biblical Writers Get Cranky.” Because the book is written in such a captivating, lively, and interesting way, I had difficulty putting the book down even though I don’t agree with many of the things it says.
In chapter one, “I’ll Take Door Number Three,” Enns recounts his spiritual journey from a teacher in a conservative seminary to a well-known and respected “liberal” evangelical scholar. During his doctoral studies at Harvard University, he came to the realization that the Bible is not a heavenly instruction manual with the message “Follow its directions and out pops a true believer.” Rather, the Bible is a messy, troubling, and ancient book.
Adam and Eve, the parting of the Red Sea, and fire coming down from the sky, Enns came to regard more like scripts for a fairy tale than historical reports. So he had to make a choice—door one: ignore what he had learned; door two: push back against it; or door three: start thinking differently about the Bible. He chose door number three, which eventually cost him his job at Westminster Theological Seminary.
In chapter two, “God Did What?!” the author deals with the issue of genocide. To appeal to the God of the Bible, to condemn genocide today when God commanded the extermination of the Canaanites so that He could give their land to the Israelites becomes very hard, Enns says. His solution to the gory story: “God never told the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. The Israelites believed that God told them to kill the Canaanites” (54). Anyway, archaeologists have shown, he claims, that there was no Exodus and no extermination of the Canaanites.
In the third chapter, titled “God Likes Stories,” Enns discusses the Bible as history. For him, the writers of the Bible talk about the past as storytellers, not as historians. In the Old Testament, the books of Chronicles tell a different story from that found in the books of Samuel and Kings. For example, the author of Samuel and Kings does not hesitate to recount the personal foibles and sins of David. Chronicles presents a sanitized picture of David; with none of his failings mentioned. Storytellers shape history to get their point across, Enns believes. In the New Testament, he focuses on the differences in the Gospels—the Magi following a star, angels announcing the birth to shepherds, Herod killing babies. Most scholars believe that Matthew created some of these scenes to shape his story. None of the Gospel writers were eyewitnesses, Enns believes.
In chapter four, “Why Doesn’t God Make Up His Mind?” Enns addresses some of the seeming contradictions in the Bible. “Jesus is Bigger Than the Bible” is chapter five, in which the author claims that Jesus would get a big fat “F” in Bible because of the way He quotes and interprets the Bible, but this fits right in with the creative approach the Jews used at the time of Jesus.
“No One Saw This Coming,” chapter six, refers, among other things, to Jesus being crucified, His resurrection, and the Gentiles now being included in the chosen people. The last chapter, “The Bible, Just as It Is,” summarizes the topics in the book.
In The Bible Tells Me So, Enns wants to expose Christian’s fear-based contradictory beliefs and show a new way forward. Unfortunately, this new way forward considers the Bible an ancient book that “carries the thoughts and meditations of ancient pilgrims” and that “according to God’s purpose, has guided, comforted, and informed Christians” (234), but is not the inspired Word of God. It contains ancient stories, poems and myths, and does not always behave as we think it should.
While the book makes interesting reading, because of the author’s liberal theology, this volume will not strengthen anyone’s faith and trust in the Bible.
—Reviewed by Gerhard Pfandl, PhD, associate director (part-time), Biblical Research Institute, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.