Susan Wise Bauer, “Why Paul Would Have Flunked Hermeneutics”

by Ken Ham

Yes—that is the subtitle of her review (written in 2006) of Peter Enns’ book entitled Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. The full title of her article was “Messy Revelation: Why Paul would have flunked hermeneutics.”  By “hermeneutics” here she means a class that would study the principles used in properly interpreting the Bible (from the Greek word hermeneuo, which means to interpret or translate).

Susan Bauer is well known in homeschool circles. A number of homeschoolers have used her books—and have heard her speak at the ‘Great Homeschool Conventions’ over the past few years.

Dr. Susan Wise Bauer is an English professor of writing and American literature at The College of William and Mary. According to a bio we have read, she holds a Master of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA, a Master of Arts in English and a Ph.D. in American Studies from The College of William and Mary. She received her B.A. from Liberty University.

She is well known for authoring The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had. She also authored a four-volume world history series for children entitled The Story of the World, published by Peace Hill Press (which she founded).   She co-authored The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, that established Bauer as a central figure in the modern classical education and home education movements. She ocassionally writes reviews for Books & Culture—a publication of Christianity Today.

Recently, I have written items dealing with the content of the curriculum created by Dr. Peter Enns (from BioLogos) as part of a homeschool curriculum.  I detailed quotes from Dr. Enns’ Telling God’s Story, A Parents’ Guide to Teaching the Bible, (Charles City, Virginia: Olive Branch Books, 2010). This book is intended to be used in conjunction with the first year book in the series Telling God’s Story. Peter Enns states:  “I have been working on a Bible curriculum for Olive Branch Books, the religious instruction imprint of Peace Hill Press founded by well-known author, historian, and homeschooling guru Susan Wise Bauer.”

For my previous items on this curriculum go to:!/note.php?note_id=187216417990499!/note.php?note_id=187124177999723

Bauer’s review of Enns’ book (a book that led to his dismissal from the faculty of Westminister Theological Seminary in Philadelphia) has the shocking headline, “Messy Revelation.”  I presume this is because Peter Enns (see the first link above) basically calls the Bible a “mess”—something like a child’s room.

Nowhere in her review is there any negative statement about the book.

Bauer states concerning Enns’ book:

The uniqueness of the Old Testament as a piece of literature has been seriously dented by the discovery of more and more ancient texts that predate (and anticipate) biblical forms. Creation story, flood story, prophecy, proverb: all of these were in use in Mesopotamia long before the first biblical book was penned.
Such a belief concerning ancient texts together with his acceptance of evolution and millions of years are really the foundation that strongly influences how Enns views Scripture.  And Enns and Bauer seem not to have considered that the truth and even text of Genesis 1-11 was known and preserved by Noah and his family before any of the Ancient Near Eastern literature was written.  The toledoth (“these are the generations of”) verses that occur 11 times in Genesis tie the whole book together as a unit and the second one in Genesis 5:1 (“This is the book of the generations of Adam”) strongly indicates that there was writing at the time of Adam and that the pre-Flood history was taken on board the Ark and preserved till Moses incorporated it into his writing of Genesis under the inspiration of God’s Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).  The fact that the ANE literature predated the first book of Moses (Genesis) does not mean that the text (or at least the accurately preserved oral tradition) of Genesis 1–11 was not in existence before the ANE texts were written.

Bauer continues in her review:

So how can we claim that the Old Testament—and it alone from all the texts of that pre-Christian age—is divine communication from God to man? It's an interesting question, but it turns out to be small potatoes compared with the next problem that Enns, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, sets before us: It seems as though the Old Testament was also puzzling for Matthew and Luke and Paul. In fact, from where we sit, it looks as though the apostles were lousy at exegesis.
Wow!  The “apostles were lousy at exegesis.”  And she has already stated in the subheading “why Paul would have flunked hermeneutics.”

In the review, she states:

Enns gives us a number of startling New Testament passages that use the Old Testament by wrenching the original words violently out of context and even altering them … In other words, Matthew is shamelessly proof-texting, in a way that would get any student enrolled in Practical Theology 221 (Expository Skills) sternly reproved.
Further on, Bauer states:
Changing the words of Scripture to suit your own purposes? Paul wouldn't get past the first week of New Testament 123 (Hermeneutics) like that. He is breaking every rule of thoughtful evangelical scholarship, which holds that the proper way to approach inerrant Scripture is with careful grammatical-historical exegesis: painstaking analysis of each word of the Scripture and its relationship to other words, the setting of the sentence in the verse, the verse in the chapter, the chapter in the book, and the book in the historical times of its composition.

Of course Paul breaks those rules, Enns says; they are our rules, not Paul's. Inspiration and Incarnation offers us passages from such extrabiblical texts as the Wisdom of Solomon and the Book of Biblical Antiquities in order to show that, far from doing something extraordinary and super-apostolic, Paul and Matthew were doing exactly what most of their contemporaries did. Both apostles had been trained by the scholars of their day, the so-called "Second Temple" period, to come to a text looking for the "mystery" beneath the words: the deeper truth that an untrained reader might not see. Both of them came to the Old Testament already convinced that they knew what that mystery was: the incarnation, death, and resurrection of God in Jesus Christ.

Later on in the review she states:
Nevertheless, Enns is willing to plant his feet on the slope and stand there long enough to ask two disturbing questions. The first is this: Are we really saying that the apostles used an interpretive method that was not particularly inspired, and which in the hands of many Second Temple scholars led to enormous distortions of the original texts? And that this "mishandling" of the Old Testament produced, somehow, an inspired and trustworthy New Testament? Enns' answer to this is an unequivocal yes. "This makes revelation somewhat messy," he writes, "but … it would seem that God would not have it any other way. For the apostles to interpret the Old Testament in ways consistent with the hermeneutical expectations of the Second Temple world is analogous to Christ himself becoming a first-century Jew."
Bauer then explains:
In other words, the God who spoke to man through Christ also speaks to man through Scripture, and in much the same way: he enters into our world and uses our own cultural patterns to reveal himself. We cannot insist that there is a separate, ahistorical, all-divine message in any part of the Bible that somehow triumphs over all contemporary thought and custom. This, Enns writes, is a modern version of the ancient Docetic heresy, which held that Christ only seemed human. "What some ancient Christians were saying about Christ," he writes, "… is similar to the mistake that other Christians have made (and continue to make) about Scripture: it comes from God, and the marks of its humanity are only apparent, to be explained away."
I know of no orthodox Christian who thinks that “the marks of [the Bible’s] humanity are only apparent, to be explained away.”  The Bible is fully human and fully divine in its composition (and therefore without error), just as Jesus was fully human and fully divine in His natures (and therefore without sin).  So Enns has erected a straw-man argument here.

Later, Bauer concludes:

This means, unfortunately, that we cannot cling to the comforting notion that grammatical-historical exegesis is a kind of high road to truth. Like the Second Temple exegesis of Paul and Matthew, it is a method—the method produced by our own time and place. Like the Second Temple exegesis, it can produce both truth and error. "Our own understanding of the Old Testament—and the gospel—has a contextual dimension," Enns writes. "As subjective as this sounds, it is nevertheless inescapable… . If any of this is troublesome, it may be because we have not adequately grappled with the implications of God himself giving us Scripture in context."
At the end of Bauer’s review, she states:
I do have to stand face-to-face with the Old Testament and its excessive, contradictory, harsh, alien texts. Enns encourages us to recognize the Old Testament for what it is: the anteroom of the Incarnation, the practice ground where we are brought nose-to-nose with the true difficulty of believing that God ever came to earth.
The Old Testament has “excessive, contradictory, harsh and alien texts”?  That is certainly not an orthodox Christian view or Jesus’ and the apostles’ view of the Old Testament.  Really—I believe the correct “review” of Enns’ book (which when understood does mean he has a different view of inspiration from that held by orthodox Christians down through the centuries including us at Answers in Genesis)  can be summed up  by Bible scholar Moises Silva:
If we refuse to pattern our exegesis after that of the apostles, we are in practice denying the authoritative character of their scriptural interpretation—and to do so is to strike at the very heart of the Christian faith. – Silva, Moises. 1983. “The New Testament Use of The Old Testament: Text Form and Authority,” in D.A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, eds. Scripture and Truth. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, p. 164.
Bottom line—this book strikes at the very heart of the Christian faith!

How we need to pray for the church to return to the authority of the “God-breathed” Word. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 NKJV).

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,


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