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  • One or more Jewish scribes living during the Babylonian Exile or sometime thereafter.
  • God 

Jewish scribe(s): Oh Lord, we’ve had it pretty rough lately, what with the exile and all. We thought it would be a great idea if we had super clear instructions on what you want from us so we can avoid this sort of thing in the future. We’re thinking of something like a collection of old stories (with some editing, of course) and some new stories to recount this long journey we’ve been on.

God: Hmm. . . . Can I inspire it?

JS: Yes! Of course! We’re counting on it. After all, we’re thinking of this as your authoritative word to us.

G: OK, I suppose, though I’m not super thrilled with the idea. I mean, I get your point about wanting some direction from me, but you know what happens when you put something profound in writing.

JS: Actually, we don’t. We’re new at this.

G: If I’m going to have a hand in a book like this, I’ll bet you an unblemished heifer that many—now and more so as time passes—are going to expect from it all sorts of firm and unchanging answers rather than seeking me directly. They might even begin thinking that knowing this book is the same as knowing me.

JS: <chuckling> Yeah. Like that would ever happen.

G: Fine, but just so no one gets the wrong idea, here’s what I’m going to do.

Right out of the chute, we’ll start with a creation story, and then immediately after I’ll throw in another creation story that contradicts it—I mean, obviously. The order will be all different. You can’t miss it.

Oh, and in that second creation story, I’m going to have two magical trees and a talking serpent—an obviously symbolic and ambiguous story, which means you’ll have to dig to understand it, and more than one meaning will be valid. If that doesn’t get the point across, nothing will.

Right after that, I’ll have a story of two brothers that involves animal and grain offerings as if it’s no big deal, even though those sacrifices won’t be instituted until after the exodus from Egypt.

To drive the point home, I’ll follow that up with two genealogies that are similar and yet different enough to raise all sorts of questions.

I’ll follow that with a flood story where the details don’t match up—like what animals are involved and how long the ordeal takes.

And then I’ll offer two different versions of how people came to populate the earth—a positive story about Noah’s sons and then a less flattering one about Babylonians trying to build a tower to heaven.

There. Great stories. All full of wonderful things to ponder and debate. But I can’t see anyone elevating these stories to some divine status or something.

But just in case . . .

I will proclaim laws to Moses from Mt. Sinai that say different things about the same thing and that even contradict each other.

My commands will generally be so ambiguous that you’ll need to think through what exactly you’re supposed to do rather than expect me to hand you answers.

I will portray myself both as a violent and ruthless warrior against other nations and as someone who has compassion on the nations.

I will change my mind about a bunch of things and at times appear to not really know what’s going on and be caught by surprise.

And I’ll include two utterly different and irreconcilable stories of Israel’s kings.

I’ll make sure that some writers have major disagreements with other writers.

That should do it. I may think of some other things.

Actually, hold on. We haven’t even gotten to the Jesus part. I know you don’t know what I’m talking about, but you’ll see what I mean when you get there.

Four different and conflicting versions of the central character of the entire story.

A messiah who claims to be connected to Israel’s long story but then dies at the hands of the enemy and does and says other things that don’t square with that story.

And this guy Paul.

He’ll write some letters about following Jesus, and yet the core of his message—Jews and Gentiles are both reconciled to God through Jesus’s death and resurrection—are never once uttered by Jesus.

He’s going to be impossible to pin down on what he thinks about women and slaves.

He’s going to make a big deal about how laws I expressly gave to Moses aren’t necessary to obey anymore.

What’s more (if you can wrap your head around this), he’s going to make the case that this is what I was after all along. Yeah, Paul will give them real fits.

You want a book, you’re going to get one.

And you’re going to love it. Trust me.

But not if you’re looking to it to be a stand-in for my Spirit, or if you’re looking to it to give you some certainty about what I want you to do or think—like I’m some sort of helicopter parent.

I just don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I’m not going to be doing the heavy lifting. You are.

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.