Christian Theologies of Scripture

Christian Theologies of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction

EDITED BY Justin S. Holcomb
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 330
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  • Book Info
    Christian Theologies of Scripture
    Book Description:

    All religious traditions that ground themselves in texts must grapple with certain questions concerning the texts' authority. Yet there has been much debate within Christianity concerning the nature of scripture and how it should be understood-a debate that has gone on for centuries.

    Christian Theologies of Scripturetraces what the theological giants have said about scripture from the early days of Christianity until today. It incorporates diverse discussions about the nature of scripture, its authority, and its interpretation, providing a guide to the variety of views about the Bible throughout the Christian tradition.

    Preeminent scholars including Michael S. Horton, Graham Ward, and Pamela Bright offer chapters on major figures in the pre-modern, reformation, and early modern eras, from Origen and Aquinas to Luther and Calvin to Barth and Balthasar. They illuminate each thinker's understanding of the Christian scriptures and their views on interpreting the Bible. The book also includes overview chapters to orient readers to the key questions regarding scripture in each era, as well as chapters on scripture and feminism, scripture in the African American Christian tradition, and scripture and postmodernism.

    This volume will be indispensable reading for students and all those interested in the nature and authority of Christian scripture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9096-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Mapping Theologies of Scripture
    (pp. 1-8)
    Justin S. Holcomb

    What is scripture?¹ Wilfred Cantwell Smith challenges us to pause and ponder this question. All religious traditions that ground themselves in texts must grapple with certain questions. In worship services and public and private readings, Christians often turn to scripture for guidance: to the stories of Abraham or Moses, to the Psalms, to the prophecies of Isaiah, to the life of Jesus, to the letters of Paul, to the vision of John. Therefore, Christians must confront their own set of questions. Indeed, to ask the question, what is scripture? is to become mired in a muddy pool of questions: What...

  5. PART I: Patristic and Medieval
    • 1 Patristic and Medieval Theologies of Scripture: An Introduction
      (pp. 11-20)
      Lewis Ayres

      Pre-Reformation biblical interpretation has come to be of interest to scholars in all fields of Christian thought across a broad and ecumenical front in recent years. In order to introduce the chapters that follow, I will sketch some general categories for reading these early interpreters and consider the reasons for and scope of this growing interest.¹ Doing so will help to highlight questions that should be borne in mind when reading these initial chapters.

      We should begin by noting why patristic and medieval exegesis was of far less interest to scholars for much of the past two centuries. In Protestant...

    • 2 Origen
      (pp. 21-38)
      R. R. Reno

      Origen of Alexandria (c. 185–c. 254) lived through a turbulent period for the Christian Church, when persecution was widespread and little or no doctrinal consensus existed among the various regional churches. In this environment Gnosticism flourished, and Origen was the first not only to refute Gnosticism, but also to offer an alternative Christian system that was more rigorous and philosophically respectable than the mythological speculations of the various Gnostic sects. Although Origen was also an astute critic of the pagan philosophy of his era, he also learned much from it and adapted its most useful and edifying teachings to...

    • 3 St. Augustine
      (pp. 39-59)
      Pamela Bright

      St. Augustine (354–430) was born in Thagaste (present-day Souq Ahras, Algeria), in the Roman province of Numidia, North Africa, of a non-Christian father, Patricius, and a Christian mother, Monica. Augustine became an adherent of Manichaeism in his teens, but gradually grew disillusioned by Manichee teaching. He left Carthage, where he had been teaching rhetoric, and sailed for Rome, where he was soon appointed rhetor at the imperial court in Milan. There he encountered translated works of Neo-Platonist philosophers and heard the sermons of Ambrose, the great bishop of Milan, who helped him to overcome his earlier prejudices against the...

    • 4 St. Thomas Aquinas
      (pp. 60-80)
      Peter M. Candler Jr.

      St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274) was born in the castle of Roccasecca, near Naples, Italy. His parents were of noble lineage and were kin to the emperors Henry VI and Frederick II. As a young boy, he was sent to the care of the monks at the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, where he displayed an unusual precocity in intellectual and spiritual matters, not to mention a mastery of the liberal arts. Around 1236 he began study in the University of Naples, where he became acquainted with the nascent Order of Preachers. Despite the attempts of his aristocratic family...

  6. PART II: Reformation and Counter-Reformation
    • 5 Theologies of Scripture in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation: An Introduction
      (pp. 83-93)
      Michael S. Horton

      As with many periods in Church history, the position of the “mainstream” Reformation tradition (Lutheran and Reformed) on scripture has often been misunderstood, by friend and foe alike. At least in our North American context,sola scriptura(scripture alone) has come to mean not simply that scripture alone is master over tradition, but that it is somehow antithetical to it. As a prelude to this section, this chapter will seek to provide a general overview for the period, which includes the Reformation itself as well as the era of consolidation and refinement that followed. This latter era of both Roman...

    • 6 Martin Luther
      (pp. 94-113)
      Mickey L. Mattox

      Born in Eisleben, Germany, Martin Luther (1483–1546) was baptized on the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, for whom he was named. From 1501 to 1505, Luther attended the University of Erfurt, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. At his father’s urging, he embarked on the study of law but soon left and joined the mendicant order of Augustinian Hermits. He took final vows shortly afterward, and in 1507 he was ordained a priest. Luther was intellectually gifted, but a keen awareness of his own sinfulness left him frequently melancholy and fearful of God’s wrath. His superior,...

    • 7 John Calvin
      (pp. 114-133)
      Randall C. Zachman

      John Calvin (1509–1564) was born in Noyon, France, and studied law at Orleans and Bourges. During his legal studies, Calvin also developed a love of Latin and Greek classical literature. After his sudden conversion to the evangelical movement started by Martin Luther, Calvin used his skill in languages to teach doctrine and interpret scripture for the evangelicals in France. Calvin was called to be a reader of scripture and pastor in Geneva in 1536. He and his colleague Guiaumme Farel were expelled from Geneva in 1538, and Calvin spent the next three years in Strasbourg, where he taught in...

    • 8 Scripture and Theology in Early Modern Catholicism
      (pp. 134-154)
      Donald S. Prudlo

      The Counter-Reformation is a period in the history of the Roman Catholic Church during which the Church dealt with issues arising from the emergence of Protestantism. Though Catholic reform predated Martin Luther, nonetheless the challenges that he and other reformers presented led the Church to make serious and sustained changes. The focus of the Counter-Reformation was the Council of Trent (1545–63), an event that left few areas of Catholic life untouched. The Council issued broad dogmatic decrees on the sacraments, the scriptures, justification, and Church government, in addition to passing many ordinances on internal Church reform. The thorough reforms...

  7. PART III: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
    • 9 Theologies of Scripture in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: An Introduction
      (pp. 157-164)
      John R. Franke

      The Christian tradition has been characterized by its commitment to the significance of the Bible for life and thought. Indeed, Christian communal identity has largely been formed around a set of literary texts that together form canonical scripture. As David Kelsey remarks, acknowledging the Bible as scripture lies at the very heart of participating in the community of Jesus Christ, and the decision to adopt the texts of Christian scripture as “canon” is not “a separate decision over and above a decision to become a Christian.”¹ Yet the past two centuries have seen considerable change in the nature and function...

    • 10 Friedrich Schleiermacher
      (pp. 165-182)
      Jeffrey Hensley

      Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) was the most significant Protestant theologian between John Calvin and Karl Barth. A native of Breslau in Silesia, he was the son of a Reformed army chaplain and grew up within the community of the Herrnhuter Brethren (i.e., the Moravian Pietists). He was educated in Moravian schools, attending college at Niesky, seminary at Barby, and university at Halle. He was ordained in 1794 and was appointed Reformed chaplain at the Charité Hospital in Berlin. While there he was befriended by Friedrich Schlegel and others closely associated with the emerging Romantic movement in Prussia, and in response...

    • 11 Karl Barth
      (pp. 183-201)
      Mary Kathleen Cunningham

      Karl Barth (1886–1968) is considered one of the greatest Protestant theologians of the twentieth century. Born in Basel, Switzerland, he began his theological studies at Berne and then continued his education under the direction of many of the prominent liberal theologians of the period, including Adolf von Harnack and Wilhelm Herrmann, at universities in Berlin, Tübingen, and Marburg. In the years before and during World War I Barth held several Swiss pastorates. While serving as a pastor in the industrial town of Safenwil, he composed hisRömerbrief(1919), a commentary on Romans, in which he challenged the liberal theology...

    • 12 Hans Urs von Balthasar
      (pp. 202-219)
      W. T. Dickens

      Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–1988) was born in Lucerne, Switzerland. He was a man of remarkable energy, discipline, and talent, and the breadth and profundity of his publications place him at the forefront of twentieth-century Catholic theologians. He never held an academic post, and he adhered to none of the reigning theological movements of his day. Although he studied philosophy and theology as a Jesuit novitiate, his doctoral education was in German studies, a blend of philosophical and literary analysis. His theology was forged in critical debate with the biblical authors, Greco-Roman philosophy, ancient and medieval theology, and modern...

    • 13 Hans Frei
      (pp. 220-240)
      Mike Higton

      Hans Frei (1922–1988) was born to a secular Jewish family in Berlin. As Nazi anti-Semitism increased, he first was sent away to a Quaker school in England, and then emigrated with his family to New York. Somewhere along the way he became a Christian, and he eventually studied theology at Yale. After a period as a Baptist minister, and then as an Episcopal priest, he completed a doctoral thesis on Karl Barth at Yale under H. Richard Niebuhr. Soon afterward he returned to teach at Yale, where he remained until his death in 1988.

      He is best known for...

  8. PART IV: Contextual Theologies of Scripture
    • 14 Tradition and Traditions: Scripture, Christian Praxes, and Politics
      (pp. 243-260)
      Graham Ward

      We need to begin with a series of definitions that will allow us to have the topic of tradition at the center of the chapter clearly before us. Tradition needs to be distinguished from custom and convention. All three are forms of social practice that both produce (that is, give rise to) and reproduce (that is, give continuity to) a given society. The distinctions can never be rigid, as we will see, but they are helpful.

      Convention is a form of social action governing behavior that has no ritual or symbolic value. In Britain a friend may be greeted with...

    • 15 Scripture, Feminism, and Sexuality
      (pp. 261-281)
      Pamela D. H. Cochran

      On August 5, 2003, at the national gathering of the Episcopal Church USA’s leadership, its bishops confirmed the diocese of New Hampshire’s election of the Reverend Eugene V. Robinson as its Bishop Coadjutor. This action made Rev. Robinson the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Robinson and his supporters praised his election as a major step forward in the struggle for gay rights in America. Opponents decried the lack of biblical fidelity that Robinson’s election evidenced and predicted that it would split the Church asunder. Within months, this prediction came true, as churches renounced their denominational affiliation....

    • 16 Scripture in the African-American Christian Tradition
      (pp. 282-299)
      Lewis V. Baldwin and Stephen W. Murphy

      At St. John Baptist, a small African-American Baptist Church outside of Columbia, South Carolina, Pastor Roosevelt Robinson gathers the church elders in his office before each service to pray aloud for God’s blessing. One fall morning in 2002, Deacon Willie Simmons started off the prayers of the elders with the type of emotional appeal to God that would have evoked a vigorous or enthusiastic response from any black congregation:

      Lord—whatever’s crooked, would You make it straight!

      Whatever’s low, would You raise it up!

      Whatever’s too high, would You lay it low!¹

      Deacon Simmons’s prayer, delivered in his deep, trembling...

    • 17 Postmodern Scripture
      (pp. 300-322)
      Gerard Loughlin

      Postmodernism—the arrival of the “future now”—is already past. It is history. The postmodern may be what comes after (post) the present, the now (modus), but people are already seeking what comes after the postmodern, while others who once used the term have given up on it because it is so unhelpful. At one level, of course, talk of the postmodern was just a way of indicating the “up to date,” the newer than new. But at a more serious level it indicated something about modern times, about those characteristics of modernity that have become so intense that they...

  9. About the Contributors
    (pp. 323-326)
  10. Index
    (pp. 327-330)