Let me begin by stating how thankful I am for the scholarly work and ministry of Peter Enns. As with other evangelical students of the Old Testament, I have benefited greatly from his books, edited works and articles in the past. He has raised many good questions for evangelicals studying the Old Testament. I am most thankful for the following aspects of this book:
First, I appreciate the openly apologetic nature of the book. Enns states in the introduction that his intention is to stop any "unecessary and tragic obstacles to belief," and that a driving concern in the book is "preparing the church for the future." The book is intended for Christians from an openly Christian scholar. Thus, Enns does not attempt to argue from a neutral perspective, but from within a Christian worldview.
Second, Enns seeks to bring all information to the table in his analysis of Scripture, but doesn't dwell on areas outside of his expertise. He doesn't intend to sweep anything under the rug, which is admirable, but also doesn't claim to be a biologist.
Third, Enns seeks to present a biblical theological interpretation of the the biblical data. He wants to think theologically in light of the entirety of Scripture, so what Paul says concerning Genesis matters for his interpretation of origins.
Despite these positive aspects of the book, I would probably not recommend the book as an introduction to the topics for the following reasons. Let me clarify that I do not dispute the evidence presented in the book, but find the interpretive framework flawed. My objections are thus largely hermeneutical:
First, the connections between pagan origin stories and biblical ones are exaggerated by Enns. A direct connection has not been demonstrated in this book or elsewhere. There are similarities, but this says little. There are similarities between ancient Chinese war texts and modern war manuals, but similarities alone do not prove evidence for one text being written polemically against another, or even the familiarity of one text with the other. The ANE texts that have been found are at times separated in origin by hundreds of miles and up to a millennia, and the connections between the two groups are not as clear as Enns suggests. One of the shocking moments in my studies were actually reading these other creation stories for myself. Having done my undergrad work at a mainline seminary, I had heard of all the parallels. Upon reading the texts though, I was shocked at how radically different they were. In all of our discussions about possible similarities, we seem to jump over the radical differences which are far more numerous than the similarities.
Enns would probably argue that they present a similar worldview and we have to read the text from within an ancient ANE worldview to see how these differences explain the polemic at work, but this is simply impossible. We have no access to the minds, worldviews or intentions of the authors. All we have are texts or anachronistic reconstructions of what we think they might have been thinking based on those texts. As such, it is a fools errand to attempt to get into the mind of the author. God inspired texts and not authors nor their worldview and I will say more on this in my third and final points of criticism.
Second, Enns discussions of biblical criticism seemed to begin and end in the 19th century. Whereas de Wette, Welhausen and company began the rethinking of the compositional history of the text, it did not end there. Biblical studies moved from source criticism to form criticism and other methods where scholars attempted to break up the text into parts searching for the origins of the text, but most of the 20th and 21st century has seen scholarship move in the opposite direction. Wellhausen was brilliant and unquestionably the most profound Old Testament scholar of his day, but the discussions didn't end with him. Many of his insights were taken in different directions and some were overturned. Others became the basis for other types of criticism, but in the 20th century things changed and scholars started analyzing the compositional strategies and final form of the text. Discussions today center on complex literary unities in the text to the point that some scholars are struggling to find how you could separate either Deuteronomy from the rest of the Pentateuch on one end and Deuteronomy from the following Deuteronomistic history on the other. Criticisms of the early critical methods of analyzing the text have not stopped, and new ways of analyzing the text such as narrative and canonical criticism have taken central stage in the last century.
With all of that said, Enns adequately describes the current consensus of seeing the final edition of the Pentateuch only reach completion in the post-exilic period. Most conservative scholars are in agreement that at minimum a prophetic shaping of the text occurred in this time period to point the text in a forward direction.
Unfortunately, Enns exaggerates the results of Wellhausen's work at this point. He states, for instance, that if Welhausen is correct, he "obliterated-any sense of the Pentateuch's value as a historical document." Of course, this is simply an exaggeration. As the eminent scholar Jeff Tigay has shown, even in texts such as the Gilgamesh epic where we have literary evidence of vast textual evolution an historical core remains and most likely originates in an historical Gilgamesh. There is no need to exaggerate your case in order to create a dichotomy that doesn't really exist.
Third, a key component of Enns argument comes through his method of constructing a worldview behind the text centered on Israel's crises from exile. A crisis unquestionably happened, as any people placed in exile by God would naturally consider the meaning of the event, and interpret their situation in this light. My problem at this point is that Enns runs into the same problem presented in my first criticism. We have no access to the Jewish mind at this time beyond the words that we are attempting to interpret. Creating a mythological mindset through which we then attempt to reinterpret the very words we used to create that mythological construct seems unhelpful. We have no access to the author's intention or motives. All we have are words on a page.
Thus, I think Enns falls prey to the same critique lobbied against young earth creationists who are criticized for reading their post-scientific revolution worldview back into an ancient text. Instead, Enns reads a 21st century construct of a two millennia old Jewish worldview back into the text. Since we have no access to a mindset immersed in the crisis of exile, cannot "follow the trajectory of the postexilic Israelites" in reading Genesis. Enns rightly says that "Literalism is a hermeneutical decision (often implicit) stemming from the belief that God's Word requires a literal reading." I agree, and it's a hermeneutic largely created in the 19th century. At the same time, why should we read the text through a similarly mythical lens constructed by critical scholars in the 20th century?
Enns desperately wants the mindset of the original authors to be our interpretive grid for these texts. He emphasizes this in both sections of this book. This is why he focuses so much attention on the enculturation of the text and its humanity. This is why he spends so much time explaining the hypothetical Second Temple Judaistic lens through which Paul read Genesis. This was the thrust of his book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. But when you combine this hermeneutic with the reality that we are incapable of getting into the original mindset of the author, then the entire project is doomed. But maybe the problem is the hermeneutic? More on this in my final point.
Fourth, I have one issue with Enns discussion on human origins. This can be found briefly in his nine theses at the end of the book (many with which I agree). He says at one point, "Christians misread Genesis when they try to engage it, even minimally, in the scientific arena," and also "Genesis and the modern scientific investigation of human origins do not overlap." Fair enough. Then why conflate the biological origins of homo sapiens sapiens with Adam in your critique against those who want to say that God selected an original human pair to come into relationship with? Ron Choong has recently argued that discussions of this matter should separate out three "Adams." The first is the biological Adam, which is the original homo sapiens sapiens male. The second is the historical person Adam, to which the text points, but only gives us an interpretation of the historical character. The third is the theological character Adam, which is the literary persona in Genesis, Romans and 1st Corinthians.
Evolutionary biology, as it currently stands, suggests that no individual male stood at the head of the homo sapien line. It says nothing about whether or not God created an historical person from the "stuff of the earth" with DNA in accordance with any who may have arisen elsewhere through different means. It says nothing of whether or not God came into relationship with said historical individual. It also says nothing about the theological character of Adam, with whom the texts of Romans and 1st Corinthians interact. These three Adams may cross paths, and I personally think that the historical and theological Adam are one and the same, but I think so for theological reasons that are not affected by evolutionary biology. Furthermore, evolution has little to say about the doctrine of original sin, even if we take it to be hereditary. As Douglas Rohde showed while at MIT, a trait can quickly spread through the entire population in only a matter of generations (search for his paper "On the Common Ancestors of all Living Humans"). Enns has presented nothing to contradict this perspective beyond calling any attempt to maintain an historical Adam "ad hoc." Unless one assumes that the meaning of the text can only be found in what the author of Genesis or Paul thought, then I don't think his book challenges this position though. And that brings me to my final questions for critique.
What if the text means more than what the human authors thought? Who is the author of the text? For Enns, this question is critical, because the meaning of the text can only be found through the lens of the human author. What if the divine author speaks through a compositional strategy interwoven in multiple texts stretching beyond any one period of authorship? What if there is a message in the "grammar" of the Law and the Prophets that shapes the Old and New Testament, as suggested in the recent work of Christopher Seitz? What if, as evangelicals have always held, there was both a message to the original community and all subsequent communities that doesn't require a special knowledge of ANE worldviews? After all, we know so little of that world now, and have such little data to work from. Enns holds that the ultimate author of Genesis 1-3 and Romans 5 are one and the same, so why not interpret with this in mind? What if God's meaning is for the church to understand Genesis 1 through Colossians 1? Enns clearly wants to read both texts together, but only thinks we should read in the direction of Genesis to the NT. What if the proper reading of Genesis is the Christian reading? See for instance, Seitz's recent Character of Christian Scripture, The: The Significance of a Two-Testament Bible (Studies in Theological Interpretation).
To conclude, even if you agree with my critiques against Enns, the data that must be dealt with still remains. Furthermore, many of his nine final theses still stand. This issue does not have a readily available and easy solution at the time, but as with many other issues, things will become clearer in the future. Thankfully, good and godly scholars are working hard at finding solutions. In the end, I probably wouldn't recommend this work to a church member interested in the topic for the reasons I've outlined above. Instead, I might offer C. John Collins Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care or John Sailhamer's Genesis Unbound: A Provocative New Look at the Creation Account, although neither of these are perfect. At the same time, if you are already familiar with the discussions and want more or a different perspective, then you need to read this book.
About two years ago, I attended a conference with Tremper Longman, Walter Kaiser, John Walton and Jack Collins who were all discussing this topic. At the end of the conference Andy Crouch gave a wonderful closing speech. Something he made clear was that in 100 years, the church won't even be discussing this issue because it will have been settled, and probably in our day. What a profound truth! With that future realization in mind, let's not devour ourselves in the process today and may we honor God both in our interpretation of the text and in our interactions with each other.