Luther’s Doctrine And Criticism Of Scripture -- By: Kemper Fullerton

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 063:249 (Jan 1906)
Article: Luther’s Doctrine And Criticism Of Scripture
Author: Kemper Fullerton


Luther’s Doctrine And Criticism Of Scripture

Prof. Kemper Fullerton

We are unable to appreciate the full significance of Luther’s doctrine of Scripture unless we understand how he arrived at it. We cannot understand how he arrived at it until we understand what, in essence, was the religious situation in his day. Two facts furnish us with the key to this situation.

1. Ecclesiastical tradition had superseded Scripture; and the Pope as the mouth of tradition, rather than the Bible as its source, was the supreme authority. Theoretically the Bible was still the ultimate authority (the Pope supported his claims by the appeal to Scripture1 ), but practically it was not so. The Bible was a book of heavenly mysteries. The allegorical method of interpretation, received from the early church and elaborated by the Schoolmen, had turned the Bible into an enigma. It needed a competent interpreter. This competent interpreter was the church as represented by the Pope. Was he not the possessor of apostolic tradition as to the meaning of Scripture? But the one who has the authority to explain

the meaning of the Bible is the one who possesses the real and final authority. Theoretically the law is supreme. Practically the court which interprets the law is supreme.

2. The hierarchy, as the conservers of the apostolic tradition and the dispensers of the sacraments, had arrogated to themselves divine powers. They held the keys of heaven and hell. Through them alone men could find access to God. The right of the individual to approach his God directly through Jesus Christ was denied. The priest blocked the way. Salvation was the reward of merit which the church had largely at its own disposal, not a gift of grace directly from God to the individual soul. But at this point the individual soul rebelled. Luther’s position was developed in the sharpest and most direct antithesis to the two principles of the papacy just described.

1. The Reformation was born in a great spiritual experience. Luther found God without the church’s mediation. It was the realization of this possibility by one who had the strength to accept its consequences, that initiated a new epoch in the world’s history. In the great spiritual struggle through which Luther passed in the convent at Erfurt, his sins weighed him down. The thought of the anger of a just God gave him no peace, do what he would to earn merit and forgiveness. He was only finally comforted by the words of an old monk, who reminded him of the article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the remission of sins,” and of Paul’s assurance that the sinner is justified by faith. Then, in ...

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