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Dear Paul,

First of all, thank you for writing so much of the New Testament.

Thank you for also teaching inerrancy, not only of the Bible you have (the Old Testament) but of your own letters and those other parts of the New Testament that hadn’t even been written yet, like the Gospels!

The actual reason for my letter is to ask you to clear up some confusion for me. I’m reading through Romans, and I see that you quote the Old Testament on pretty much every page.

[Which, by the way, is another thing I appreciate that about your work: you show that the Old Testament writers were already writing about the coming of Jesus, and you quote chapter and verse to prove it.]

But, getting to my question—and if this is a minor point or I’m missing something obvious, please feel free to ignore—I’m having some trouble in a few places where you quote the Old Testament.

Now, I know you believe, as we all do, that the Bible, being God’s word, is perfectly consistent all the way through, meaning it doesn’t mean one thing in the Old Testament and another thing when you quote it. It goes without saying that you respect the intention of the original author more than anyone, and you’d never mistreat the Bible like that.

But I’m reading along, a little more than halfway through (we call it Romans 9:25-26), where you are making your point about how God has called a people not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles.

Here you quote from Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 to show that this whole business of including the Gentiles was on God’s mind all along.

Those who are not my people I will call “my people,” and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved.”

And in the very place where it was said to them, “you are not my people,” there they shall be called children of the living God.

It looks like you’re saying “those who are not my people…not beloved” are the Gentiles who are now included because of Jesus. I’m happy for Gentile inclusion, being one myself, but I went back and read Hosea and I’m confused.

It seems pretty clear to me that the original meaning and intention of Hosea is that God is restoring disobedient Israel after a period of rejection and punishment. I’m not seeing anything there at all about Gentiles, and so I’m not sure why you would say “here are two verses about Gentile inclusion.”

I have some Christian friends who think that, because you’re Jewish, you might actually be engaging in a little creative Jewish midrash here, but I’ve told them that you are a Christian and would never play fast and loose with scripture! You understand that the very doctrine of inerrancy that you teach—maybe even the gospel that you preach—hangs in the balance.

I think you see my confusion, though.

So I’m asking you to help me defend you better. Perhaps point me to other places in your letters where you don’t do this sort of thing, which would really help to balance things out.

Or maybe slowly and clearly explain how your use of Hosea’s words is aligned with what God actually intended, and why it’s OK for God to intend something Hosea doesn’t when it’s not OK for us to do that.

I have to say, too, this lingering uneasy feeling has been growing since I began Romans. Please help me see better what I know you’re actually doing.


Your Fellow Soldier

P.S. If you have some time, could you also clear up why you’re not a zealous supporter of the “eternal covenant” of circumcision God gave Abraham and why all of a sudden the list of clean and unclean foods God gave Moses on Mt. Sinai is optional. Only if you have time.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

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  • lbehrendt says:

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    • While you’ve got Paul on the line, ask him about the Trinity. Since it could be argued that he invented Christianity, he must know all about it.

      • Gary says:

        +1 on the Virgin Birth while we’re at it.

        • newenglandsun says:

          it always seems strange to me why paul hardly ever refers to the virgin birth. it was a classic doctrine in christian theology…probably the most ancient doctrine we have to date. even the apostles’ creed mentions the virgin birth.

          • The Gospels were written after Paul’s epistles. Maybe he wasn’t aware of it.

          • Gary says:

            The Jesus who Paul believed in was whoever or whatever said on the road to Damascus, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” How people authenticate these claims is beyond me. And with even greater complexity through a level of redirection, how people authenticate indirect claims of others is further something I don’t get how people have the skill. Sure, I could lucidly give a head nod but the whole scheme of revealed religion seems to be based upon this wager that someone is who they say they are and that their intentions are good and their end will be beautifully gracious and just.

          • newenglandsun says:

            idk…or didn’t emphasize it in his teachings. the church has historically maintained it as historical fact as preposterous as it seems (resurrection also quite preposterous). very odd…nevertheless. it’s possible, he was unaware of the historical event. there’s a lot of current events i’m not aware of.

          • Yeah. It all really depends on what Paul had heard about Jesus, because the only Jesus he actually knew was the resurrected one. I doubt people were making a big deal out of a virgin birth -except for- the fact that that the pertinent Isaiah passage is that Emmanuel’s birth will be a sign to Judea and the nations that God is about to act in that tried and true scheme of judging Israel -> judging the nations who persecuted Israel -> restoring Israel.

            Since this was the hope for those who believed Jesus was the Messiah, I could envision them making a big deal out of the virgin birth because of the connection with Isaiah, but we don’t really know they did or what Paul might have heard.

          • Andrew Dowling says:

            ? there’s no evidence of the virgin birth narratives existing before the late 1st century.

            The apostle’s creed in a primitive form comes from the late 2nd century at its earliest.

          • newenglandsun says:

            historically, the virgin birth precedes when the writings of the gospels were and come over 50 years before paul wrote a single epistle. only two gospels actually speak about the virgin birth though–matthew and luke. as to when exactly these gospels were written in comparison to paul’s, no one really knows. some would say as early as the mid-60’s ad which would mean they circulated at the same time, some say later. history is mostly guess-work.

            i know of very few christians who outright reject the virgin birth. it was ingrained early on into christianity prior to even the trinity. from a “history of dogma perspective” we have the resurrection, the incarnation, the virgin birth, the deity of christ, the trinity. this is all my comment was trying to say.

          • Andrew Dowling says:

            Your assuming historicity. The first Gospel Mark, which most scholars believe was written somewhere around 68-73AD, doesn’t have any virgin birth. Matthew was written in the 80s, and Luke’s virgin birth narrative was likely not composed until the 2nd century (and tacked onto an earlier Luke that became what we know as canonical Luke, but I digress). Thus, the virgin birth is mentioned in no 1st century Christian sources besides Matthew. And it’s not likely Paul knew of any virgin birth tradition; he would’ve clearly alluded to it in his many theological treastises of the meaning of Jesus

          • newenglandsun says:

            Of course I’m assuming the virgin birth is historical. Most Christians presume the virgin birth is historical. Next, you’re going to tell me how only inerrantist scholars believe in the virgin birth and then I’ll be able to ask if this makes Raymond Brown (and for that matter, the Catholic Church) an inerrantist. This is the official position of the church. There is no evidence whatsoever that provides us with the *exact date* for when the gospels were written. They’re just guesses. The major traditional view is that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written much earlier than the dates provided by most modern Bible scholars.

            I don’t know if Paul knew about it. If Paul did know about it though (which seems reasonable), then it just seems odd why he doesn’t mention it. The event was defended probably an equal amount to the resurrection in early Christianity. Even combated were heresies concerning the virgin birth such as that Mary did not remain a virgin afterwards, or that Mary was raped by some Roman soldier, or that the Christians stole it from the pagans. If you look at post-NT Christianity, the two doctrines early Christians defend the most are the virgin birth and the resurrection. The Apostles’ Creed which gives us the first definition of what Christians believe even declares that Jesus was born of a virgin.

          • Andrew Dowling says:

            Brown doesn’t even claim the virgin birth stories are historical.

            Historical scholarship is not just “guesses” . .it’s informed probabilities based on existing evidence and analysis of that evidence.

            Your claim that the Apostles Creed is the earliest declaration of Christian faith or that the Virgin birth was probably defended as much as the Resurrection” in the 1st century has no evidence.

          • newenglandsun says:

            “Some liberal critics contested that I was unscientific and unconsciously (or even consciously) dishonest in introducing a theological factor such as church teaching…I had submitted the book for a nihil obstat and imprimatur” (The Birth of the Messiah, updated ed., 701)

            The VAST majority of historical scholarship are guesses. Albeit informed guesses. Do we actually know if Jesus existed? No. Do we actually know how ancient minds thought? No. Most of the stuff we can do is guesswork. Most historians will admit that most of the stuff they have concluded is guesswork.

            Remember that charity (accurately presenting your opponent’s position no matter how much you may disagree with them) is VERY important in discussion. I never claimed that the virgin birth was as much defended as the resurrection in the FIRST century. I said in EARLY Christianity (second century Christianity up through fourth century Christianity) defended the virgin birth as much as the resurrection. Unless you can find some other statement of Christian belief prior to the Apostles’ Creed, my position on that shall stand for now.

          • Andrew Dowling says:

            You made claims about both the VB stories and the AC being some of the oldest confessional materials in Christianity. Thus we are talking about the 1st century/early 2nd . . .what someone argued in the 3rd or 4th century is fairly irrelevant from a historical standpoint.

            If you want to call the entire enterprise of historical scholarship a bunch of educated guesses, so be it. But some are much more educated/informed/probable than others.

          • newenglandsun says:

            there is no more probable evidence against the traditional view than there is for the traditional view. i am not attacking the enterprise of historical scholarship as i myself will be earning a b.a. in history soon. however, i have learned throughout the course of my studies in the liberal arts that there really, all honesty, is only so much we can be certain of.

            when it comes to defining early christianity is where we also meet problems. some scholars would state that there wasn’t even christianity until second century. even if we presume biblical christianity gives creeds/confessions, we still encounter problems as we can’t strictly use biblical evidence alone to tell us what the bible writers believed. so we are left with the projections that have been put on to the biblical authors by people who came late second century and into the fourth century.

            i personally don’t see a problem dividing periods of christianity into biblical christianity, early christianity, medieval christianity, reformation christianity, modern and post-modern christianity. when we look at the period i reference as early christianity, i would say it is undeniable they spend more time defending the virgin birth and resurrection than they do anything else.

          • newenglandsun says:

            yes, the apostles’ creed is generally said to be written in the late second century. the apostles’ creed emphasizes the virgin birth, the trial under pontius pilate, jesus’s death, resurrection, etc.

          • newenglandsun says:

            “the Apostles’ Creed…is the oldest and simplest creed of the church” (Alister E. McGrath, “I Believe: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed”, 14)

          • Andrew Dowling says:

            Simply putting this quote down is not telling me anything (McGrath is not a biblical scholar, he’s an apologist). Again,
            i) There is no evidence of even a primitive version of the Apostle’s Creed before the late 2nd/early 3rd century, and even then that is giving its existence the benefit of the doubt based on Patristic quotes that “perhaps” allude to pieces of the Creed but none which directly quote or affirm it.

            ii) To say the AC is earlier than 1 Corinthians 15 is simply absurd.

          • newenglandsun says:

            mcgrath is an historical theologian and was formerly the head of the department of theology at oxford university. i don’t know where you got the idea he was an apologist. he’s done some apologetic work but he is definitely a quality scholar in the field of historical theology and a recognized authority within the given field.

        • What’s hard to understand? Isaiah 7 has a 3-verse section that talks about a boy who would be named Immanuel, born in the ordinary way, whose youth was to be used to measure time.

          Matthew and Luke talk about a boy prophesied to be named Immanuel (but who wasn’t) born to a virgin who came to save the world.

          How it’s not obvious that these are the same kid, I can’t imagine.

          • Gary says:

            Nor El & YHWH being the same God, nor a snake and haSatan and an Isaiah’s fallen being the same Devil. Hosea had a project. Paul had a project. Lots of people. Lots of projects. A Sola Scriptura should retain all this delightfulness. Systematizing is Tradition but more a tradition layered onto the texts than revealed within the texts. When someone says they have a high view of Scripture it’s often code for having a high view of one’s own camp’s view of Scripture. Also, if someone would fix my pastor’s preaching about these things, it would make church-going better and in ways I think more consistent with the Bible itself as well as fear-of-God over fear-of-man [and social stability and income]. Are any readers here teachers at seminaries or folks who get pulpit time themselves? If you could help us out please.

          • Dre'as Sanchez says:

            Wo . You’re spot on. Im currently at seminary now; hoping to be a Pastor just like the one you mentioned 🙂

  • Duncan Pugh says:

    I also have problems that he calls himself an apostle on a par with the original disciples. Furthermore his biography would seem to be an attempt to steal the limelight from Jesus at the same time as providing a particularly perverse, and sadly very influential, interpretation of his life and teachings?

    • Paul D. says:

      The way Paul uses phrases like “Christ in me”, you almost get the idea he thinks he is channeling Christ. He claims his teachings are visionary revelations to him from Christ himself, so why shouldn’t they trump (in Paul’s mind) whatever anyone else is preaching?

      • Andrew Dowling says:

        That’s actually a standard theological tent of conservative evangelicalism and Reformed theology. Jesus’s ministry/ the SOTM are not eternal teachings from God; they were simply articulated to show how humans can never meet God’s standards for moral behavior. Thus the need for the PSA/cross. Then Paul, with Jesus basically speaking in his right ear, “correctly” articulates the Gospel. This of course basically supercedes everything Jesus says in the 4 Gospels.

        The first time I heard the above I was horrified, to say the least, but its fairly common.

      • Duncan Pugh says:

        I think they do don’t they … in his own mind … he carried on in his role as ‘enforcer’ after the miraculous event that put him on a par with the original apostles. He is the anti-Christ as far as I and Nietzsche are concerned.

        Scorsese’s ‘Last Temptation of Christ’ is quite unequivocal on this point too!

  • AlanCK says:

    Dear Soldier,

    It’s at moments like these we just need to remember the words of our Lord himself, “The seventeenth-century you will always have with you.”

  • Ken Temple says:

    Just wondering why my comments were not accepted. Why?

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