for The Authority of Scripture, by Steve Clark
1. Kierkegaard presents one of the most penetrating
analyses of the necessity of being addressed by God personally in scripture.
See especially S. Kierkegaard, "For Self-Examination," in For Self-Examination
and Judge for Yourselves tr. Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1908) pp. 50-74. fie also makes this point forcefully in the Philosophical
I Fragments (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962), esp. pp. 01-07,
and in the Concluding Unscientific PostScript (Princeton: Princeton Universitv
Press, 1941) esp. pp. 339, 536 538.
2. For a contemporary example of the view of the authority
of scripture flowing from the genius of its authors, see C.H. Dodd, Tht,
Authoritu of the Bible (London: Collins, 1900), pp, 13-40, 264-274. Kierkegaard
deals with this position with great insight in "The Difference Between
an Apostle and a Genius," in Aiithoritv and Revelation tr. Walter Lowrie
(New York: Harper and Row, 1956). Dodd significanitly modified his views
on this subject in later life.
3. This chapter focuses on the question of scriptural
authority. Many of the same observations might be made about the authority
of Christian tradition or church authority depending on the view of the
normativeness of tradition or of church bodies that one holds. The issue
of Christian teaching authority, however, can be adequately discussed in
terms of the authority of scripture, and will be the focus of this chapter.
4. For a helpful summary of the authority of scripture
in the period of the New Testament, see R. Longenecker, Biblical I in the
Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975 especially for Jewish
exegesis, pp. 19-20; for Jesus' Use of the Old Testament, pp. -51-78, and
for the Evangelists', pp. 79-103. Important statements of the authority
of scripture can be found in Theophilus of Antioch, Ad autolycum 2, 22;
3, 12, 14; Athenagoras, Apol., 7; Legatio pro Christianus 7, 9; Irenaeus,
Adc. Haereses 3, 11, 18; Clement of Alexandria, Strornata 2, 2, 9; Origen,
Philocalla 13; Gregory of Nvssa, Contra Eupioni. 1, 114, 126; 107; Augustine,
Dt, doctrina Christiana 11, 5, 6; Aquinas, S.T. 1, 1, 8; Quodlibeta XII,
26; Council of Florence (1442) D.S. 1334; Luther, D. Martin Luthcrs Werkc,
Kritische Gesamtausgabe (Weimar, 1883) 7, 315; 7, 317; 7, 453; 7, 455;
8, 108; 30", 420; 40, 119; 50, 206; Calvin, Institutes, 1, 7, 1; Council
of Trent (1556) D.S. 1501; Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1563) IV,
Second Helvetic Confession (1566) 1; Westnimstcr Confession (1646) 1, 2,
4; Twenty-Five Articles of Religion (1784) V; Abstract of Principles (18,59)
1; Second Vatican Council, (1965) Dci Verhum, 21.
5. A discussion of the normative nature of the scripture
raises a number of questions, among them the question of the kind of authority
the Old Testament has. The range of this book does not allow for a treatment
of the various issues involved. It is enough here to observe that the New
Testament books present themselves as a unity with the Old. The submission
of Christians, however, is preeminently to the New Testament. They submit
to the Old Testament as it is interpreted by the New Testament and by Christian
tradition. For this reason, the principles discussed in this book will
apply most readily and directly to the New Testament.
6. The authority of the Bible in its traditional formulation
is founded in the authority of God as someone other than man, over him,
and deserving of man's submission by the nature of who he is. The appropriate
response to divinity is reverence and submission. The rightness of this
response is not dependent upon God's use of force (although the scriptural
teaching indicates that he is willing to do so), nor upon his making the
rightfulness of his demands evident. It is rather primarily dependent upon
the intrinsic nature of the relationship between God and man. In this sense
it is analogous to the authority of a father over his children which likewise
is founded in the nature of the relationship. For this same reason, even
though the term "authority" is "legal," it is more than legal. It expresses
an important aspect of many personal relationships.
7. Barr, in The Bible in the Modern World, pp. 23-29,
criticizes the use of the term "authority" for describing the status of
the Bible. Much of the critique is centered upon the way in which the term
is unacceptable to many modern thinkers because of their dislike of authority.
He does not observe with the same clarity that the reality claimed by those
who use the word is, in fact what is disliked and not just the word itself.
The issue is fundamentally an issue about how God and the things of God
are to be approached.
8. Augustine states the practical application of the
authority of scripture by saving: "If I do find anything in these books
which seems contrary to t truth, I decide that either the text is corrupt,
or the translator did not follow what was really said, or that I failed
to understand it" (Epistle 82, 1, 3 (PL 33, 277)).
9. The Sumerian root of the Greek kanon has as its primary
meaning "reed" (see, e.g., I Kgs 14:15; Job 40:21). In Greek it can mean
a straight rod or bar, staves which preserve the shape of a shield, the
line which carpenters and masons use, or metaphorically, a rule, standard,
model or paradigm. In the KI New Testament it occurs as "rule," (Phil 3:16;
Gal 6:16) and in the RSV as "limit" (2 Cor 10: 13). It is first used in
reference to scripture by Athanasius. For good summary descriptions of
the concept, see R. It. Pfeiffer, "Canon of the Old Testament," IDB 1,
p. 499; Brown, "Canonicitv," Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 518.
10. In various formulations this traditional understanding
of the nature of scripture is shared by many contemporary theologians.
Among those who reflect this approach are: Pierre Benoit, "Inspiration
and Revelation," in The Human RcaliLij of Sacred Scriphirc, eds. P. Benoit,
R. E. Murphy, B. van lersel, Concilium 10, (New York: Paulist Press, 1965)
pp. 6-24; Louis Bouver, The Meaning of Sacred Scriptim, (Notre Dame: Universitv
of Notre Dame Press, 1958): Yves Congar, The Revelation of God (New York:
Herder and Herder, 1968) pp. 20-23 ; J. Norval Geldenhuvs, "Authority and
the Bible," in Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl F. IT. Henry (Grand Rapids:
Baker, 1969) pp. 371-386; Rene Latourelle, Thcology of Revelation (New
York: Alba House, 1966) p. 444; Paul S. Minear, Commands of Christ (Nashville:
Abingdon Press, 1972) pp. 12-21; Anders Nvgren, The Significance of the
Bible for the Chtirch (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963); Karl Rahner,
"Scripture and Theolop," in Theological Investigation ', vol. 0 (New York:
Seaburv Press, 1974) pp. 89-93; Herman Ridderbos, Stialics in Scripttire
and its Arithorittl (St. Catherine's: Paideia Press, 1978) pp. 20-36; Karl
Hermann Schelkle, "Sacred Scripture and Word of God," in Dogmatic vs. Biblical
Theologil, ed. Ti. Vorgrimler (London: Burns and Oates, 1964) pp. 11-30,
Luis Alonso Schokel, The Inspired Word (New York: Herder and Herder, 1965).
11. Two other terms are also commonly used for referring
to scripture's origin from God: (1) revelation, (2) the Word of God. The
scripture contains revelation, but not all of it originally came to man
through revelation (much of what is related in scripture could have been
known through experience, e.g., the historical narrative); therefore, the
term "inspiration" is better than "revelation" for characterizing in an
overall way how scripture comes from God. The result of inspiration is
that the scripture is the Word of God, but there is some ambiguity here,
in that certain parts of scripture could be said to contain the Word of
God in a more direct sense. Prophecy or the gospel message, for instance,
are sometimes described in scripture as the Word of God, while genealogies
and annals never seem to be. Hence, "inspiration" is the word used here
for an overall characterization of scripture, but the other two words are
acceptable. The above comments should not be confused with the view that
the scripture contains the Word of God or revelation but is not the Word
of God or revelation.
12. For good discussions of this and related issues,
see Carl F. 11. Henry (ed.), Revelation and the Bible; J. Baillie, The
Idea of Revelation in Recent Thought (London: Oxford University Press,
1965); K. Rahner, Inspiration in the Bible (New York: Herder and Herder,
1961); K. Rahner and J. Ratzinger, Revelation and Tradition (New York:
Herder and Herder, 1966); J. T. Burtchaell, Catholic Theories of Biblical
Inspiration Since 1810 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969).
13. For a good discussion of this concept see C. K.
Barrett, "Paul and the 'Pillar' Apostles," in Studia Paulina in hon. J.
DeZivann, ed. W. C. van Unnik and G. Sevenster, (Haarlem: E. F. Bohn, 1953),
pp. 1-19. See also, Rahner, Inspiration in the Bible, pp. 26-28.
14. 1 Clem. 42.
15. The Second Vatican Council clearly enunciates the
Catholic principle that all that the Catholia Church teaches must be measured
by scripture. See Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum 11, 10, in Austin
Flannery, O.P. (ed.), Vatican Council 11 (Northpoint: Costello, 1975),
p. 756. On the relationship between the authority of the church and that
of scripture in Catholic theology, see K. Rahner, Inspiration in the Bible,
p. 77. See also, footnotes Chapter Twelve, p. 284.
16. Second Vatican Council, Dei Verburn 111, 11 in
Flannery, pp. 756-757.
17. The canon has currently received a great deal of
discussion. The issue is not only the formation of the original canon and
its finality (see David L. Dungan, "The New Testament Canon in Recent Study,"
Interpretation 29 (1975), pp. 339-351, for a good survey of this area),
but more importantly calling into question scriptural material already
received as canonical. Some researchers would consider significant portions
of the New Testament as non-canonical in fact. Their approach would logically
call for a new New Testament. One reason that a new canon constructed along
these lines has not been published is the fact that the criterion of selection
differs from scholar to scholar. There would be little agreement among
them as to what should be considered canonical and what not.
There are also many who
simply deny the authority of scripture, yet claim to be presenting a Christian
approach. For an example of a straightforward denial of the authority of
scripture see Robin Scroggs, "Tradition, Freedom and the Abyss," in New
Theology No. 8, ed. Martin E. Marty and Dean G. Peerman (New York: Macmillan,
1971), pp. 86-87. He states, "Neither from a theological nor from a historical
point of view can there be the slightest hope of claiming the New Testament
as canon" (p. 92). Others would accept the New Testament as the canon,
but in fact deny it any normativeness other than that which each Christian
reader gives it. Ernst Kasemann presents such an approach in "The Canon
of the New Testament and the Unity of the Church" in Essays on New Testament
Themes (London: SCM, 1964), pp. 95-107. Dennis Nineham in The Use and the
Abuse of the Scripture (London: Macmillan, 1976) presents a more fully
developed view of such an approach. Gregory Baum in "The Bible as Norm"
in New Horizons (New York: Paulist, 1972) provides a Catholic example.
Barr in The Bible works to reestablish a concept of canonicity that would
be acceptable to most modern scholars He expounds the view that the scripture
contains the classical model for the Christian faith and asserts that faith
must "relate itself to classically-expressed models" in order to be Christian
(p. 118). He recognizes the chaos that Christianity would be in without
any canon, but is unable to provide it with enough authority to effectively
function as a norm. His article "The Authority of Scripture," The Ecumenical
Review, 21 (April 1969), pp. 135-166, provides a good synopsis of current
challenges to scriptural authority.
Neoorthodoxy is more difficult
to locate in relation to these issues. It attempted to bridge the gap between
the traditional and Liberal interpretations of scripture by accommodating
the modern critical approach of the Liberals to a more traditional understanding
of scripture. Its champions held that, although scripture could be said
to contain God's word and revelation, not all of scripture was God's word.
This attempted accommodation was ultimately unsuccessful. For good critiques
of this attempt see Langdon Gilkey, Naming the Whirlwind (New York: Bobbs-Merrill,
1969), pp. 80-101; Childs, pp. 103-104; Barr, Fundamentalism, pp. 213ff.
The result of the denial
of the authority of scripture among many modern scholars is the loss of
a consensus about the substance of Christianity. Their sources of authority
are no longer in Christian revelation, but elsewhere. Hence, beyond agreement
about historical views of the scripture and of Christianitv, they are unable
to agree upon or even present a statement of faith in Christ.
Childs, pp. 99-107, gives
an excellent analysis of the weakness caused to Christian Biblical studies
by a failure to accept the authority of the canon as well as a very helpful
exposition of the role of an authoritative scripture.
At root, the issue is one
of which authority people will accept for their lives. Occasionally this
issue comes to clarity of expression among some who do not accept scripture
as having authority. Baum, in "The Bible as Norm," expresses his own personal
choice this way, "I prefer to think that man may not submit to an authority
outside of himself: the ground on which he builds his life must be within
him. He must stand on his own feet" (p. 49).
18. The word hypotage is here used for submission to
teaching. The term "submission" as used in the text is an English equivalent
of a Biblical usage and expresses another aspect of the concept of "subordination"
19. For an accurate reflection of the role of personal
freedom in modern secular thought, see Gilkey, pp. 365-397. The locus classicus
for modern man's abhorrence of authority is Adorno, et al., The Authoritarian
Personality (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950). See also the critique
of H. H. Wyman and P. B. Sheatsley, "The Authoritarian Personality," in
Studies in the Scope and Method of 'The Authoritarian Personality' (Glencoe:
Free Press, 1954). A good example of reading this modern notion of freedom
back into the scriptural texts is found in Rudolf Pesch, "Jesus, a Free
Man," in Jesus Christ and Human Freedom, ed. E. Schillebeeckx and B. van
lersal, Concilium 93, (New York: Herder and Herder, 1974) pp. 56-70.
20. Paul, "the apostle of freedom," uses the vocabulary
of slavery almost twice as much as he does that of freedom. See David Stanley,
"Freedom and Slavery in Pauline Usage," The Way, 15, 2 (April, 1975) p.
21. In the New Testament, freedom (eleutheria) is never
presented as personal autonomy. Rather, it is presented as freedom from
sin (Rom 6:18-23; Jn 8:31-36), freedom from access to God only through
the performance of the Law (Rom 7:3f; 8:2; 10:4; Gal 2:4; 4:21-31; 5:1,
13; but, see also Rom 2:25; 7:12; 8:7; Gal 5:3; 6:13), and freedom from
death (Rom 6:21f; 8:21). For helpful summaries of the New Testament view
of freedom, see, Schlier, TDNT, 11, pp. 487-502 and Kleinknecht, Gutbrod,
TDNT, vol. IV, pp. 1022-1090. See also Stanislaus Lyonnet, "Christian Freedom
and the Law of the Spirit According to St. Paul," in Stanislaus Lyonnet
and Ignace de la Potterie, The Christian Lives by the Spirit (New York:
Alba House, 1971), pp. 145-174.
22. The "law" (nomos) can refer either to the obligations
imposed by the Old Covenant (the "Mosaic Law") or to the standard and judgment
of God. Paul states that the law of the obligations of the Old Covenant
is fulfilled and superseded in Christ and in the New Covenant. Thus he
says: "Christ is the end of the law in its connection with righteousness
to all who believe" (Rom 10:4). However, in Romans 2 and elsewhere he stands
by the law as the continuing standard and judgment of God. The ethical
prescriptions of both the Old and New Covenant are not abrogated in Christ.
For helpful presentations of Paul's approach to freedom from the law, see,
R. Longenecker, Paul: Apostle of Liberty (New York: Harper and Row, 1964)
pp. 144-147; C.E.B. Cranfield, "St. Paul and the Law," in New Testament
Issues, ed. Richard Batey (New York: Harper, 1970), pp. 148-172; C.A.A.
Scott, Christianity According to Paul (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1927) p. 42; and C. H. Dodd, "Ennomos Christou," in Studia Paulina,
p. 110, where Dodd changes from his earlier view found in his The Meaning
of Paul (Manchester: John Rylands Library, 1934), pp. 146-148. See also
the discussion in Chapter Six, p. 140.
23. For descriptions of the development of the notion
of "human rights," see W. G. Andrews, Constitutions and Constitutionalism
(Princeton: Van Nostrand, 1968); Richard P. Claude "The Classical Model
of Human Rights Development," in Comparative Human Rights, ed. Richard
P. Claude (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), pp. 650; Maurice
Cranston, "Some Aspects of the History of Freedom," in Theory and Politics,
ed. Klaus von Beyme (Haag: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971) pp. 18-35; C. H. McIlwain,
Constitutionalism Ancient and Modern (Ithaca: Cornell University Press,
24. In relation to God, we have no rights. This is
not meant to deny, however, that many speak about human rights in a way
consonant with scriptural teaching. God did create the human race according
to his purposes, and even sovereign states are not free to treat human
beings in whatever way they wish. This fact can be expressed in terms of
"rights." The discussion in this chapter is elaborated in the context of
the authority of scripture, not in the context of constitutional rights
and modern states. To import terms from the latter discussion into discussions
about the life of the Christian people leads to a subtle attitude of unsubmissiveness,
and leads to calling God or the scripture to account.
25. For helpful treatments of the Israelite constitution
see John Bright, History of Israel, pp. 140ff; Adolphe Lods, "The Religion
of Israel: Origins" in Record and Revelation, ed. H. Wheeler Robinson (Oxford:
Oxford Universitv Press, 1968), pp. 187-215; Albrecht Alt, "The Origins
of Israelite Law" in Essays on Old Testament History and Religion (Oxford:
Basil Blackwell, 1966), pp. 81-132, see especially pp. 122-126, 129-132.
26. There is an approach held by some theologians in
the last 60 years that holds that scriptural revelation is not propositional.
The real revelation of God is "the Christ event" (e.g., L. Thornton, P.
Tillich, R. Bultmann) or God's acts (e.g., G. E. Wright, W. ParmenDerg),
or something similar. The position as a whole goes beyond the scope of
this book to discuss. Chapter Eleven of this book contains the developed
alternate understanding. There are many ways in which viewing scripture
as primarily "propositional" is distorting, but the non- propositional
view of scriptural revelation cannot be pushed to the point Dt leaving
no role for the teaching in scripture without being seriously at odds with
what the writers of scripture understood themselves to be doing. Barr makes
a very helpful contribution to the discussion in The Bible, pp. 122-126.
27. The patristic distinction was between fides (faith)
and mores (sometimes translated "morals"). Mores, however, meant more than
what recently has been covered in moral or ethical theology. Mores referred
to a whole way of life and included matters of social structure and community
order. The scripture and the Fathers understood Christian revelation to
include all of those matters. In recent centuries, the term "discipline"
has been used by some theological traditions to refer to those matters
of church life which have not explicitly been made a matter of revelation,
but which are subject to disciplinary regulation by Christian authorities.
If such a distinction is used, all matters of order cannot automatically
be classified as disciplinary. See Congar, Tradition and the Traditions
(London: Burnes and Oates, 1966), p. 10, for a good discussion of this.
28. On this point see Bartlet, Church Life and Church
Order During the First Four Centuries (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1943) p.
32; E. Schweizer, Church Order in the New Testament (London: SCM Press,
1961), pp. 12, 28e, 28f.
29. See, for example, Schweizer; W. D. Davies, "A Normative
Pattern of Church Life in the New Testament?" in Christian Origins and
Judaism (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962) pp. 199-229; R. Brown, "Unity
and Diversity in New Testament Ecclesiology," in New Testament Essays (Milwaukee:
Bruce, 1965) pp. 36-47; J.D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diveriity in the Neu, Testament
(London: SCM Press, 1978) p. 103-123. This concern reflects a more general
approach taken by some theologians to the diversity within the New Testament
in general. This approach is related to the issues surrounding the "canon
within the canon" and the "new quest for the historical Jesus." For some
examples see Dunn; Misemann, "The Canon"; and G. Ebeling, "The New Testament
and the Multiplicity of Confessions" in The Word of God and Traditions
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968) pp. 148-160.
30. This position is developed by R. E. Brown, "The
Ordination of Women" in his Crises Facing the Church (New York: Paulist
Press, 1975) pp. 52-55.
31. This position is, of course, denied by the advocates
of a "charismatic church order" in Pauline churches. The issue is treated
in Chapter Five, footnote, p. 128.
32. The most developed treatment of the question of
diversity in the New Testament, Dunn's Unity and Diversity, finds only
one unifying factor: "Christ," "the unity between Jesus the man and Jesus
the exalted one" (p. 371). He observes that there are others, such as love
of neighbor, but avers that they can all be "narrowed back down to" the
one unifying strand. The book is valuable as the most complete study of
the area available. His methodology, however, makes his view of the unity
in the New Testament too narrow. The principles he uses that are most relevant
to our subject are a tendency to assume diversity and expect unity to be
proved, a tendency to assert diversity on the basis of difference in formulation
when the realities being asserted could be identical, a tendency to neglect
the unity that is not distinctive of Christianity irk relationship to other
groups, especially Judaism, and a failure to consider fully the stream
of ethical teaching in the New Testament which provides some other strands
of unity which are less tractable to his form of gospel reductionism. Finally,
and most significantly, his methodology does not allow for combining the
New Testament teaching into a synthesis, where all the elements of the
synthesis are not presented by all the authors of the New Testament (an
approach that someone who looks on the New Testament as a whole as a teaching
authority would instinctivelv adopt). There is much diversity in the New
Testament, but the New Testament approach to roles of men and women contains
some important areas of uniformity.
33. Barr's critique of related approaches in The Bible,
p. 77, is perceptive and helpful.
34. As, for example, in A. Kosnick, et al., Hunian
Sexuality (New York: Paulist Press, 1977), pp. 86, 151-152.
35. The formulation here sounds much like Lutheran
theology. This is somewhat unavoidable in that Lutheran theology has been
the origin of much of the modern theological concern to avoid legalism
and to avoid turning the gospel into law. However, traditional Lutheranism
and the best in modern Lutheran theology have by no means fallen into lawlessness
or the neglect of obedience. The traditional Lutheran concept of the "third
use" of the law, the use which instructs us how to live in a godly way
as distinguished from the use of the law in civil society and the use of
the law to accuse and lead to grace, would be the locus of concern for
this paragraph. To summarize the point in terms of the traditional Lutheran
distinction, avoiding legalism does not mean eliminating the third use
of the law. On the other hand, there are clearly currents in modern Lutheranism
which would follow precisely the pattern of thought referred to in this
section. However, their approach is only superficially Lutheran. Rather
than representing a traditional Lutheran approach, or Luther's approach,
they instead are representing in Lutheran guise a modern desire to find
freedom from standards other than self-chosen ones. Moreover, this phraseology
is not limited to Lutherans. For an example from Catholic and Anglican
writing, see, S. Brown and R. Corney, "Responsible Use of the Scriptures,"
in Pro and Con on the Ordination of Women (New York: Seabury Press, 1976),
pp. 48-49. The debate within Lutheranism is exemplified in the exchange
between Theodore R. Jungkuntz and William H. Lazareth on the "Third Use
of the Law" in Confession and Congregation (Valparaiso: Valparaiso University
Press, 1978), pp. 12-15, 48-56, 57-59. Further clarification is found in
an exposition of the Lutheran confessional position by Jungkuntz entitled
"The 'Third Use of the Law': Looking for Light on the Heat" in Lutheran
Forum, Vol. 12, 4 (Advent 1978), pp. 10-12.
36. With regard to submitting to scriptural teaching,
there are two questions which regularly arise:
1. Does submitting to scriptural teaching in the area of men-women
roles mean that Christian women have to wear headcoverings in worship?
The answer depends on giving an answer to yet another question: Is the
headcovering itself the point of the passage, or is it more likely some
kind of external expression of men-women order? To put it another way,
when Paul laid down the rule about headcoverings, was he mainly concerned
with headcoverings as the only proper expression of men-women roles, or
was he primarily concerned about men-women roles and order being properly
expressed and would he accept a different expression that was culturally
the proper one in that society? The question itself is difficult, as the
discussion in Chapter Seven showed, but insofar as the question of submission
to scripture is concerned, it would be easier to believe that somebody's
concern was the intent of the passage if that person was working to find
an expression that was suitable to our culture than if that person was
simply content to leave the whole passage aside claiming uncertainty This
point is posed well in R. C. Sproul, "Controversy at Culture Gap," Eternity,
May 1976, pp. 13-15, 40.
2. How does a Christian submit to the Old Testament? It is not enough
to say that we are no longer obligated to follow the Old Testament. Jesus
approached the Old Testament as his authority, as did Paul and every other
New Testament author, as well as the early Fathers. The Old Testament is
likewise inspired, canonical teaching that is God's message to us. However,
a Christian cannot approach the Old Testament the same way a Jew would,
either now or in the time just before the birth of Jesus. There is a Christian
interpretation of the Old Testament that allows us to know which things
were for a stage of God's dealing with man and which things are for the
times after the coming of the Messiah. For example, divorce was given according
to the law of Moses for hardness of heart, but a Christian would not approach
divorce the same way a Jew following the law of Moses would, because followers
of the Messiah would approach it according to what was established by God
from the beginning (see Mt 19:3-9).
37. James Barr, in an appendix to his Old and New
in Interpretation (London: SCM Press, 1966), proposed that we view Fundamentalists
primarily in terms of their holding to traditional doctrinal orthodoxy.
This has some merit in explaining the ensemble of opinions that the original
Fundamentalists came up with as the fundamentals. They were certainly traditional
Protestant Evangelicals and today's Fundamentalists are likewise. However,
such a view misses the thrust of the anti-Modernist movement. The Fundamentalists
have not been strong on tradition, not even their own. Their reaction was
more on the basis that the Modernists were jettisoning Christian realities
that were essential to a living Christian faith. Their commitment was more
to the content of the fundamentals than to their own tradition. Barr's
recent book Fundamentalism (London: SCM Press, 1977) takes up the discussion
in a different and more developed way. He focuses, however, more on the
approach of current Fundamentalists (and Evangelicals) to scripture interpretation.
The issue of the origin of Fundamentalism in a response to Modernism-Liberalism,
however, is not focused on in the book, perhaps as C.F.H. Henry points
out in his review of Barr's book "Those Incomprehensible British Fundamentalists"
in Christianity Today, 22, 1978, pp. 1092-1096, 1146-1150, 1205-1208, because
Barr himself takes very much of the Modernist-Liberal position. Barr's
emphasis on the doctrine of inerrancy in analyzing Fundamentalism is perceptive
and helpful, but the doctrine of inerrancy was more part of the intellectual
underpinning of an attempt to defend what was seen as the essentials of
the Christian faith.
For a good short summary
of the history of Fundamentalism, see Sidney Ahlstrom, A Religious History
of the American People, (New Haven: Yale Universitv Press, 1972) pp. 808-816,
38. A good summary of the fundamentals is found in
William Bell Rilev's "The Faith of the Fundamentalists" Current History,
XXVI, (June, 1927), p. 434-5. He writes:
Fundamentalism undertakes to reaffirm the greater Christian
doctrines .... It does not attempt to set forth every Christian doctrine.
It has never known the elaboration that characterizes the great denominational
confessions. But it did lay them side by side, and, out of their
extensive statements, elect nine points upon which to rest its claims to
Christian attention. They were and are as follows:
Bell's premillenialism was by
no means universal throughout the Fundamentalist movement. Premillenialists
draw upon certain New Testament passages (especially Rv 20:4-6) to support
the historicity of Christ's 1000-year reign with certain martyrs as an
interregnum at the end of time. Premillenialists understand Christ's return
to precede this reign, while postmillenarianists argue that his coming
follows upon the millenium.
1. We believe in
the scriptures of the Old and New Testament as verbally inspired by God,
and inerrant in the original writings, and that they are of supreme and
final authority in faith and life.
2. We believe in one God,
eternally existing in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
3. We believe that Jesus
Christ was begotten by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary, and
is true God and true man.
4. We believe that man was
created in the image of God, that he sinned and thereby incurred not only
physical death, but also that spiritual death which is from God; and that
all human beings are born with a sinful nature, and, in the case of those
who reach moral responsibility, become sinners in thought, word and deed.
5. We believe that the Lord
Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, as a representative
and substitutionary sacrifice; and that all that believe in him are justified
on the ground of his shed blood.
6. We believe in the resurrection
of the crucified body of our Lord, in his ascension into Heaven, and in
his present life there for us, as High Priest and Advocate.
7. We believe in "that blessed
hope," the personal, premillienial, and imminent return of our Lord and
Savior Jesus Christ.
8. We believe that all who
receive by faith the Lord Jesus Christ, are born again of the Holy Spirit
and thereby become children of God.
9. We believe in the bodily
resurrection of the just and the unjust, the everlasting felicity of the
saved, and the everlasting conscious suffering of the lost.
The importance of millenialism
for Fundamentalists is sometimes overstressed. For example, see, Sandeen,
The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism 1800-1930
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970); Barr, Fundamentalism, pp.
190-207. For a more balanced approach see, George Marsden, "Defining Fundamentalism,"
Christian Scholars Reviezv (Winter, 1971); and "From Fundamentalism to
Evangelicalism: A Historical Analysis" in The Evangelicals, ed. David F.
Wells and John D. Woodbridge (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975), pp. 122-145.
39. See, Lamentabili, The Holy Office, 1907, and the
encyclical letter of Pius X, Pascendi, of the same year for a statement
of the official Catholic position.
40. The term "Fundamentalism" is used more in the United
States and perhaps British commonwealth countries for these approaches
to questions of scriptural interpretation. European Protestant scholars
might be more inclined to use the term "Biblicism." Since this term does
not involve using a name of an existing group for an approach to scriptural
interpretation that is not clearly coextensive with the group in question,
it is much preferable.
41. See footnotes, p. 654. See also Vinson Synan, The
Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1971) p. 188.
42. Those who hold what is often called a "dictation
view" of inspiration (the view that the exact words of the text were given
to the human author by the Holy Spirit) will also often be termed Fundamentalists
by those who hold a different view. This, however, is not as common a concern
as it once was and does not come into the scope of this book.
43. It is a measure of the prejudice against Fundamentalists
that it is not recognized that Fundamentalist churches often contain scholars.
They rarely obtain academic recognition outside of their own circles, because
of a refusal to accept the dominant principles of scriptural interpretation.
Their refusal, however, is often a thoughtful and educated refusal. The
statement in the text is especially true if one includes scholars who would
prefer the title Evangelical to that of Fundamentalist, but who likewise
reject many of the principles in much of modern Biblical criticism.
44. The phrase "reading/interpreting the scriptures
literally" is an unfortunate one, however, as it is beset with unclarities.
It could be understood to refer to those who favor interpreting scripture
solely in the literal sense, as contrasted with the spiritual senses or
"fuller senses" (sensus pleniores) of theological exegesis, or perhaps
as contrasted with accommodation. Yet those who are against "Fundamentalism"
(and who define a Fundamentalist as one who interprets the scripture literally)
are themselves generally in favor of interpreting the scriptures in the
literal sense (as contrasted with the other senses mentioned above). More
commonly "reading the scriptures literally" seems to be a more shorthand
way of defining Fundamentalists as those who take some of the above approaches
to the interpretation of scripture (see e.g., Gregory Baum, in "The Bible
as Norm" in New Horizons. (New York: Paulist, 1972), p. 36, for such a
definition). Historically, however, this definition is also somewhat inaccurate,
since Catholic, Orthodox, and Liberal writers can also often take passages
out of context, ignore the intention of the author and manifest other critical
failings. In fact, one of the most widespread incidences of disregard in
exegesis for the intention of the author is to be found among those who
practice "liberationist" exegesis. The term "interpret the scriptures literally"
is also very inexact and confusing as a description between Fundamentalists
and others. James Barr takes issue well with the "literalist" stereotype
in The Bible, pp. 171ff, and Fundamentalism, (Philadelphia: Westminster,
1978), pp. 40ff, observing that real Fundamentalists frequently do not
"take scripture literally," especially in comparison with Biblical critics.
Moreover, many are ready to find spiritual meanings in the text and move
beyond the literal sense.
Clark is a founder and former president of the Sword
of the Spirit, a noted author of numerous books and articles, and a
frequent speaker. This article is excerpted from the book,
Man and Woman
Copyright © 1980 by Stephen B. Clark, Chapter
14 (entire book now online).
It was originally published by Servant Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A.
Nihil Obstat: Rev. George A. Kelly; Imprimatur: Most Reverend Kenneth Povish,
Bishop of Lansing. A new edition of the book is now published by
See related articles:
Unity of the Scriptures, An introduction by Don Schwager
In All the Scriptures, by Dr. John Yocum
to Read the Bible, by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
Authority of Scripture, by Steve Clark
Scriptures Are One Book in Christ, quotes from early church fathers
Scripture As God's Word, by J.I. Packer
the Bible It Is God Who Is Speaking to Us, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Can Understand the Bible, by Peter Kreeft
Versus Informational Reading of the Scriptures, by M. Robert Mulholland
to Silence the Scriptures, by Soren Kierkegaard
the Scriptures with the Early Church Fathers, by Don Schwager
Study Course, by Don Schwager