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Peter Enns

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Peter Enns

Peter Eric Enns (born January 2, 1961) is a biblical scholar, theologian, and writer. He has written widely on hermeneutics, the relationship between science and religion, Christianity and evolution, and Old Testament interpretation. Outside of his academic work Enns is a contributor to the Huffington Post and Patheos.[1] He has also worked with Francis Collins' BioLogos Foundation.[2] He is perhaps best known for his book Inspiration and Incarnation, which challenged traditional Evangelical methods of biblical interpretation.[3][4][5] He is also notable for his book The Evolution of Adam, in which he questions the belief that Adam was a historical figure.[6][7]


Peter Enns was born in Passaic, New Jersey, (January 2, 1961) to German American immigrant parents. He grew up in River Vale, New Jersey and graduated from Pascack Valley High School (Hillsdale, New Jersey) in 1978. He is married to Susan (1984) and has three children, Erich (1987), Elizabeth (1990), and Sophia (1993). He holds a B.A. in behavioral science from Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania (1982), an M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1989), and an M.A. (1993) and Ph.D. (1994) from Harvard University (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations).[8]

Enns returned to Westminster Theological Seminary in 1994 to begin his teaching career. He was tenured in 2000 and promoted to full professor in 2005 as Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Hermeneutics. Among other duties, he served as Associate Academic Dean from 1998 to 2001, chair of the Hermeneutics (Ph.D.) Field Committee (1997-2000), and edited the Westminster Theological Journal (2000-2005).[9]

Enns is formerly Senior Fellow, Biblical Studies with The The Huffington Post: Religion.

Enns is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and has served on the Wisdom in Israel and Cognate Literature Session steering committee since 2006. He is also a member of the Institute for Biblical Research, where he served on the board of directors from 2004 to 2007 and the editorial board for the Bulletin for Biblical Research from 2002 to 2004.

Academic work

Enns's academic interests include . won the gold award in the Religion category of the 2012 ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Awards. Enns has also contributed to a Bible curriculum for grades 1-12 Telling God's Story, and a book on the hermeneutical implications of the discussion between Christianity and evolution, He has also taught courses at Princeton Theological Seminary, Harvard University, Fuller Theological Seminary, Eastern University, and Biblical Theological Seminary.

Inspiration and Incarnation

Enns garnered significant attention for his 2005 book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. His stated purpose for writing the book is “to bring an evangelical doctrine of Scripture into conversation with the implications generated by some important themes in modern biblical scholarship—particularly the Old Testament—over the past 150 years”.[15] Enns’s primary audience is those readers who find it difficult to maintain their faith in God because “familiar and conventional” evangelical approaches often mishandle the challenges raised by modern biblical scholarship.[16] Enns writes that evangelicals commonly take a defensive posture to new ideas, and that such defenses are “exercises in special pleading, attempts to hold on to comfortable idea despite evidence that makes such ideas problematic. It is precisely the ineffectiveness of certain ways of thinking about the Bible that can sometimes cause significant cognitive dissonance for Christians who love and want to hold on to their Bible, but who also feel the weight of certain kinds of evidence”[17]

Enns looks at three issues raised in modern biblical scholarship that he feels are mishandled by Evangelicals: (1) the strong similarities between the Old Testament and the literature of other ancient societies; (2), theological diversity among the Old Testament authors; (3) how New Testament writers interpreted the Old Testament in inventive ways that reflect Jewish practices of the time.[18]

In all three cases, the Bible behaves in ways that don’t seem very “inspired,” but rather very “human.” Enns argues for an “incarnational” understanding of the Bible as a way to take seriously these types of challenges. This model draws an analogy between Jesus and the Bible: “In the same way that Jesus is—must be—both God and human, the Bible is also a divine and human book”.[19] The Bible is not “an abstract, otherworldly book, dropped out of heaven. It was connected to and therefore spoke to those ancient cultures….precisely because Christianity is a historical religion, God’s word reflects the various historical moments in which Scripture was written”.[20] Enns feels that the problems raised by the “human dimension” of the Bible for many evangelicals “has less to do with the Bible itself and more to do with our own preconceptions” of how the Bible “ought” to be[17]). Enns advocates an incarnational model to help evangelicals reorient their expectations of Scripture and so come to peace with new developments in their understanding of the Bible.

Inspiration and Incarnation has been endorsed by such notable scholars as H.G.M Williamson, Bill T. Arnold,, the official web site of the book.


Enns's book, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, proved controversial at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS). WTS President Peter Lillback expressed that it "has caught the attention of the world so that we have scholars that love this book, and scholars who have criticized it very deeply…. We have students who have read it say it has liberated them. We have other students that say it's crushing their faith and removing them from their hope. We have churches that are considering it, and two Presbyteries have said they will not send students to study under Professor Enns here."[21]

The general content of Inspiration and Incarnation was taught by Enns over his fourteen-year teaching career at Westminster Theological Seminary. It was only after the book’s publication in 2005 that a lengthy controversy ensued in the wake of major administrative changes, most notably the election of Peter Lillback as president in 2005. The main point of contention was whether the book was within the theological boundaries of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Westminster faculty members take an oath that their teaching will be in line with that confession.

Lillback initiated a series of regular faculty meetings ("Faculty Theology Fellowship") to discuss Enns and his book. Those meetings, moderated by Lillback, took place over a two-year period and led to the preparation of two written reports, at Lillback's direction, to aid the faculty in determining whether or not Enns was in violation of his oath. (It should be noted that, although Westminster has had a Board of Trustees for some time, it has historically been governed by its faculty, particularly in theological matters.) These reports were written by the two field committees: the Historical and Theological Field Committee, composed of faculty members generally opposed to Enns's book, and the Hermeneutics Field Committee, composed of members generally favorable towards Enns's ideas. After both committees reported their findings in the form of written reports, as well as written response by each committee to the other's report, faculty members William Edgar and Michael Kelly prepared a motion (known as the Edgar-Kelly Motion) declaring that Enns's writing and teaching were within the bounds of his faculty oath. All official documents used in these faculty debates, including both field committee reports and the Edgar-Kelly Motion, can be downloaded from the Westminster Theological Seminary web site here [1]. The motion was approved by the faculty, 12-8, in December 2007. Despite the work of these committees and the resulting faculty vote, President Lillback referred the matter immediately to the Board of Trustees.

On March 26, 2008, the Board of Trustees at Westminster Theological Seminary voted 18–9 to suspend Enns from his position effective May 23, 2008.[22] Though the faculty voted 12–8 that the work falls within the parameters of the Westminster Confession of Faith,[22] the chairman of the Board said that a majority of the members on the Board at that time felt the book was incompatible with the Confession.[21] As of August 1, 2008, Enns and the seminary agreed to part ways.[23] Following the Board's vote, nine trustees resigned from the board.

In September 2011, Enns's contract with BioLogos was not renewed. As January 2012, Enns has been on the faculty of Eastern University (St. Davids, PA) teaching in the biblical studies department.

Selected works


  • The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins, Grand Rapids: Brazos, forthcoming, 2012.
  • "The Bible and the Believer: How to Read the Bible Critically and Religiously" (co-written with Marc Brettler and Daniel Harrington); Oxford University Press, forthcoming, 2012
  • Baker Bible Dictionary (Co-editor with Tremper Longman and Mark L. Strauss; Grand Rapids: Baker, forthcoming 2012)
  • Ecclesiastes, (Two Horizons Commentary Series) Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011
  • Telling God's Story (children's BIble curriculum; Parent Guide and 1st grade lessons) Olive Branch Books, 2010
  • Three Views on the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament (Co-written with Walter Kaiser and Darrell Bock; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008) ISBN 978-0-310-27333-2
  • Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings (Co-editor with Tremper Longman; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008) ISBN 978-0-8308-1783-2
  • Invitation to Genesis (Disciple Bible Study; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006) ISBN 978-0-687-49492-7
  • Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005) ISBN 978-0-8010-2730-7
  • Exodus (NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) ISBN 978-0-340-75660-7
  • Exodus Retold: Ancient Exegesis of the Departure from Egypt in Wis 10:15-21 and 19:1-9 (Harvard Semitic Museum Monographs 57; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997) ISBN 978-0-7885-0403-7
  • Poetry and Wisdom (IBR Bibliographies. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997) ISBN 978-0-8010-2161-9

Articles and essays

  • "Pseudo-Solomon and His Scripture: Biblical Interpretation in the Wisdom of Solomon," CBIEJ, Ed. M. Henze, Eerdmans, forthcoming, 2008.
  • "Preliminary Observations on an Incarnational Model of Scripture: Its Viability and Usefulness," Calvin Theological Journal, forthcoming fall 2007.
  • "Exodus, the Problem of Historiography, and Some Theological Reflections," Act 3 Review 15/4 (2007): forthcoming.
  • "Response to Professor Greg Beale," Themelios 32/3 (2007): 5-13.
  • "Westminster Theological Journal 68 (2006): 203-18.
  • "Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49/2 (2006): 313-26.
  • "Some Thoughts on Theological Exegesis of the Old Testament: Toward a Viable Model of Biblical Coherence and Relevance," Reformation and Revival Journal 14/4 (2005): 81-104.
  • "col haadam and the Evaluation of Qohelet’s Wisdom in Qoh 12:13, or The ‘A is so, and What’s More, B’ Theology of Ecclesiastes," The Idea of Biblical Interpretation (James Kugel FS; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2003), 125-37.
  • "Westminster Theological Journal 65 (2003): 263-87.
  • "William Henry Green and the Authorship of the Pentateuch: Some Historical Considerations," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45/3 (September 2002): 385-403.
  • "Westminster Theological Journal 63 (2001): 97-105.
  • "Wisdom of Solomon and Biblical Interpretation in the Second Temple Period," The Way of Wisdom (B. K. Waltke Festschrift), eds. J. I. Packer and S. Soderlund, Zondervan, 2000, 212-25.
  • "Expansions of Scripture," Justification and Variegated Nomism, ed. D. A. Carson. J. C. B. Mohr/Baker, 2000, 73-98.
  • "Yankees and Westminster: Personal Reflections on Tradition," unpublished paper (1998).
  • "The ‘Moveable Well’ in 1 Cor 10:4: An Extra-Biblical Tradition in an Apostolic Text." Bulletin for Biblical Research 6 (1996): 23-38.
  • "A Retelling of the Song at the Sea in Wis 10,20-21." Biblica 76 (1995): 1-24. Republished in The Function of Scripture in Early Jewish and Christian Tradition, eds. C. A. Evans and J. A. Sanders, 142-65. JSNTSup 154/SSEJC 6. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
  • "Westminster Theological Journal 55 (1993): 255-80. (Partially republished as “The Interpretation of Psalm 95 in Hebrews 3.1-4.13.” Early Christian Interpretation of the Scriptures of Israel: Investigations and Proposals, eds. C. A. Evans and J. A. Sanders, 352-63. JSNTSup 148/SSEJC 5. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.)


External links

  • Enns' blog
  • Official Site of Inspiration and Incarnation - The Book - Official site of the book Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns
  • WHYY-FM Radio Times interview with Peter Enns by Marty Moss-Coane, audio interview (downloadable mp3 file)
  • The Discarded Image interview with Peter Enns by Brandon G. Withrow

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