Perhaps you’ve made it through the previous four posts(Post 1, Post 2, Post 3, and Post 4) already, or maybe you’re joining us for the first time today. I’ve been taking the time to write out some thoughts on Rachel Held Evans’ (RHE from now on) new book Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again (Thomas Nelson, 2018). Today, I want to examine her issues with the Old Testament.
RHE likes to use the phrase “many scholars” to make certain points about the history of the Old Testament. Sometimes she footnotes these “many scholars” and sometimes she neglects to do so. And of course, the “scholars” quoted are all one-sided. Her premise is that the Old Testament “really gained momentum during the Babylonian invasion of Judah” (pg. 7). Of course, we can make a solid case that 25 books or so in the OT canon were written before 600 BC. But her thoughts are that the reason we have an Old Testament is basically that it’s just an answer to why the Jews were being taken away into exile.
“Contrary to what many of us are told, Isreal’s origin stores weren’t designed to answer scientific, twenty-first-century questions about the beginning of the universe or the biological evolution of human beings, but rather were meant to answer then-pressing ancient questions about the nature of God and God’s relationship to creation…Our present squabbles over science, politics, and public school textbooks were not on the minds of those Jewish scribes seeking to assure an oppressed and scattered people they were still beloved by God…We instinctively sense upon reading the stories of Adam and Eve and Noah’s ark that these tales of origin aren’t meant to be straightforward recitations of historical fact” (pgs. 9-11).
You can pick your way through that as you will, but I share it to say that what we believe about the history of the Old Testament does matter. Do we believe it to be only a response of Jewish Scribes to encourage the scattered masses? Or do we believe that the purpose of the writing of the Old Testament is to show us who God is and point us to the coming hope first mentioned in Genesis 3:15?
One of the things about false teachers is that they do sometimes say true things. Genesis is not to be read as a science textbook. That’s true. The Old Testament absolutely contains a variety of genres. That’s true! The problem in RHE’s book is that she uses genres to make the argument that God allowed human authors to write what they would without His involvement so that what we are left with is a collection of inspiring fairy tales. Several times in the book she quotes G.K. Chesterton’s famous words “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist…Fairy tales tell children dragons can be killed.”
So, since there is poetry, narrative, and wisdom literature in the Bible, it’s “obvious” (to RHE) that Scripture is not really “God-breathed” but instead is a collection of stories meant to encourage mankind to protest, resist, and feed the poor (etc.). Then she goes on to say:
“There’s a curious but popular notion circulating around the church these days that says God would never stoop to using ancient genre categories to communicate. Speaking to ancient people in their own language, literary structures, and cosmological assumptions would be beneath God, it is said, for only our modern categories of science and history can convey the truth in any meaningful way.” (pg. 11)
In response, I do not know of this “curious but popular notion” about churches denying the genres of Scripture. Who is doing this? Is she talking about conservative churches or liberal? This is a strange and unsubstantiated claim.
Furthermore, I categorically deny some of the “genres” she lists in the Old Testament. For example: Deliverance Stories (chapter 2), War Stories (chapter 3), and Resistance Stories (chapter 5 – and I’m actually still not quite sure what a ‘resistance story’ is supposed to be).
Now, is the Old Testament filled with different genres? Absolutely! That’s one of the beautiful things about the Bible. God did use genres to preserve His inerrant word. The issue of genres in Scripture doesn’t mean it’s meant to be read as an inspiring fairy tale but rather shows us that God is willing to actually work through human authors to give us an inerrant, infallible beautiful Bible.
Furthermore, RHE doesn’t get to create her own meaning of the genres to prove her point. She’s the one imposing 21st-century categories onto Scripture, thus actually doing the very thing she says she has an issue with. She is taking the Bible and superintending her own idea of genres upon it. So, for example, she uses Proverbs 26:4-5 (pg. 104) as an example of the Bible’s inconsistency in wisdom, when in reality she has failed to grasp that she is reading a (drum roll) Proverb. You don’t get to force the Bible’s genres into your own 21st-century categories so that you can “prove” that Scripture is “obviously” unreliable.
Reading the Bible through the lens of the genres in which it was written (not invented ones) is key to properly interpreting its message.
Of course, the big point in all of this (as discussed in post 3) is that RHE does not see the Old Testament as breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). She even tries using Midrash interpretations as credible alternatives to understanding the Old Testament. I could probably write more on that, but this post is getting long! The point is, she is attempting to get out of the idea that every syllable of Holy Writ is breathed out by God.
Referring to the Exodus she writes: “This single event, whether historical or legendary or a bit of both, has shaped the faith of millions of people, inspiring artists and activists and world leaders for centuries. Never should it be discounted as just a story” (pg. 37). Essentially she is saying “it doesn’t matter if these stories in Scripture are true as long as they still inspire us.”
What I’m saying is it does matter if these are true. The Exodus is a historical narrative, not myth or fairy tale. It’s genre is one that presupposes the readers believe the author is presenting factual events. So if the Exodus event as recorded in Scripture is untrue in any way, then the God of the Bible cannot be trusted. Exodus is not meant to inspire us to resist the patriarchy. It’s meant as a self-revelation of the God of Scriptures and His wonder-working salvation for the glory of His name and the good of His people. And if it’s not true, God cannot be trusted. And if He can’t be trusted, He’s not worthy of our worship.
The Bible Says
RHE says “we should be wary of grand pronouncements that begin ‘The Bible says…'” (pg. 98) She also says the Bible does not contain an “internally consistent and self-evident worldview” (pg. 99). Her real problem then is not with the Scriptures per se, but the God who breathed them out. If the Bible is not consistent and giving us a clear message, then God is ok with us being confused about Him.
That’s the very opposite of what the God of the Bible says! “Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth” (Jeremiah 9:24). How could we ever know a God who hides Himself under layers of falsehood in the Scriptures? We couldn’t. And if we could, we shouldn’t want to.
But thankfully, the god of RHE’s book is not the God of the Bible. The triune God of the Bible has made Himself known to us in His Word. We can trust the Old Testament as a reliable collection of books, written in various genres. The Old Testament wasn’t written by the Grimms, but men who “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). In conclusion, we can trust what the Lord Jesus has said, rather than what “RHE says.”
Here are all the posts in the series: