Book Review : The Bible Tells Me So
I feel ambivalent about Peter Enns’ book, The Bible Tells Me So, which has made this book review difficult to write. There were some parts I disagreed with so strongly I nearly stopped reading, yet later parts were incredibly helpful and insightful. I initially enjoyed his sense of humour, perhaps that’s why I kept reading, but as the book progressed, I found it overdone as he trivialises important issues.
There are two main areas I struggled with. First Enns’ treatment of Joshua’s conquest. He adopts a very literal reading of it, more literal than Moses! Moses told the Israelites not to intermarry or make treaties with the Canaanites which would have been rather difficult if they were “completely destroyed” (Deuteronomy 7:1-5). God, and therefore Moses, wanted the Israelites to completely destroy the Canaanite religion. The Bible writers expressed themselves in ways that were consistent with their culture.
Enns also overlooks the significance of Rahab and her family, who weren’t “completely destroyed.” This story is a major indication of God’s intentions since every other Canaanite had the same information as Rahab. Enns’ tone in this section is also different to later in the book as if you would be crazy to think Joshua’s account could be anywhere near factual. While I agree at this time Israel was a tribal nation with a limited understanding of God and would have viewed him as a Warrior God, he goes too far in saying these ancient stories are mostly fiction.
Another area of difficulty is with the accounts of Jesus’ birth. Mark and John don’t record anything about Jesus’ birth. Enns finds this strange and it causes him to doubt the accuracy of Matthew and Luke’s accounts, whereas I don’t think it is surprising at all. Jesus didn’t draw attention to the details of his birth as we can tell from John 7:41-42 so it’s not strange that Mark and John didn’t either. We don’t become Christians because we believe in the virgin birth, but because we put our faith in Christ.
Luke “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (Luke 1:3) so it’s reasonable to think he spoke to Mary and thought these details were important to Theophilus, who he was writing to. We don’t know who Theophilus was, where he lived, or his political persuasion so there may be good reasons why Luke omits other details such as Herod’s killing of the Bethlehem’s babies. While this incident isn’t recorded in documents from this period, Matthew’s account of Herod’s behaviour is consistent with what we find in these records. Bethlehem was a small town at this time and there may not have been many babies. I do agree that these gospel writers had different priorities and perspectives. They were writing to different audiences at different times so it’s not surprising their accounts contain variations.
Enns states his purpose in writing this book is “to show Christians that ‘the Bible as a rulebook is a human intervention and not what God intended or wants’” and also that our faith needs to be in God and not in a book, not even in the Bible. I agree with both of these premises, but I feel Enns will get many of the people he’s trying to reach off-side by his almost sarcastic attitude in the early part of the book, which is a shame because he does have much to say that is worthwhile.
Despite all this, the book has encouraged me to hold the Bible more lightly and trust God more deeply.