Reading Scripture with the Reformers

These books have recently found a way to my shelves: the “….with the Reformers” mini-series by IVP. I’ve already mention Karin Maag’s contribution, Worshiping with the Reformers here and here. At some other point I’ll highlight Gerald Bray’s Doing Theology with the Reformers. For now, I’d like to share an excerpt of Timothy George’s Reading Scripture with the Reformers. This morning, following my Logos reading plan, I read the first chapter of George’s book. In chapter one, George gave five Reformation principles that guided the Reformers’ reading and understanding of Scripture:

The Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God. Recent debates on biblical inspiration and inerrancy have obscured for some what has been the received wisdom for all orthodox Christians: Scripture is a divinely bestowed, Spirit-generated gift of the triune God and should thus be received with gratitude, humility and a sense of reverence. Christians do not worship the Bible, but the God they do worship—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—has revealed himself and his plans for them and for the world through the words and message of the Bible.

The Bible is rightly read in light of the rule of faith. …The pattern of Christian truth found in the Bible and recognized by the church since the days of the apostles as the regula fidei, the rule of faith. What is the rule of faith? It is the apostolic summary of the Bible’s storyline. It is the story of how the God of Israel created all that is, the drama of his redemptive mission in the life, death and resurrection (and coming again) of Jesus Christ, and the account of his sending the Spirit to gather to himself a people called by his name. The rule of faith is the plot of the biblical canon. Its earliest forms are found already in the hymns and creeds of the New Testament and in the first baptismal confession of faith: “Jesus is Lord!” As the early church confronted new threats from within and from without, the rule of faith found fuller expression in what we now call the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381. The reformers of the sixteenth century were guided by this rule of faith in their interpretations of the Bible…

Faithful interpretation of Scripture requires a trinitarian hermeneutics. The rule of faith demands that Scripture be read as a coherent dramatic narrative, the unity of which depends on its principal actor: the God who has forever known himself and who, in the history of redemption, has revealed himself to us as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. …The doctrine of the Trinity could not be surrendered because it had to do with the nature and character of the God whom Christians worship. This God, the triune God of holiness and love, was not a generic deity who could be appeased by human striving, but rather the God of the Bible who had made himself known by grace alone through the sending of his Son, Jesus Christ, “for us and for our salvation.” To enter into the mind of Scripture with a trinitarian hermeneutics is to come to know this God and not another.

The Bible is front and center in the worship of the church. The reformers of the sixteenth century inherited a Christian tradition in which the Bible, for more than a thousand years in the Latin Vulgate edition, had been at the heart of the church’s liturgy and life. They inherited manuscripts of the Bible painstakingly copied by Benedictine monks whose motto was ora et labora, pray and work. But the monk’s engagement with Scripture did not end when the day’s work of copying was done in the scriptorium. The monk continued to pray, sing and recite the Scriptures in the daily liturgy of the hours. This did not mean that the Bible was never read by an individual apart from corporate worship—think of Augustine and his encounter with Romans 13:11–14 in the garden in Milan. Yet Augustine had been prepared for that encounter with Paul’s text by first hearing the Bible prayed and proclaimed by Bishop Ambrose in regular services of worship in the cathedral, and even earlier by the Scripture-soaked prayers and tears of his mother, Monica. 

The study of the Bible is a means of grace. The post-Enlightenment split between the study of the Bible as an academic discipline and the reading of the Bible as spiritual nurture was foreign to the reformers. They all repudiated the idea that the Bible could be studied and understood with dispassionate objectivity, as a cold artifact from antiquity. When the Cambridge scholar Thomas Bilney discovered the meaning of salvation while reading Erasmus’s new Latin translation of 1 Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” he tells us that “immediately I felt a marvelous comfort and quietness insomuch that my bruised bones leaped for joy.”  …Bilney’s experience led to his becoming an evangelist, and this eventually resulted in his being put to death in 1531, one of the first martyrs of the English Reformation.

Timothy George, Reading Scripture with the Reformers (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2011).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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