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

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 063:250 (Apr 1906)
Article: Luther’s Doctrine And Criticism Of Scripture
Author: Kemper Fullerton

Luther’s Doctrine And Criticism Of Scripture

Professor Kemper Fullerton


Thus far, it will be noticed, no direct statements of Luther have been cited illustrative of his views of inspiration. This may seem to be an oversight. But it was intentional, and the explanation of it is simple. We have seen that, while the Bible as a formal authority in the strict sense of the term probably influenced Luther to some degree, yet its role as a formal authority in his development was a very subordinate one. The whole emphasis fell on the content of the Bible. The Bible was true for him because authenticated in his experience through the work of the Holy Spirit. The formal authority of Scripture was practically resolved into the sole authority of Scripture, not apart from, but including its content, as against all other external authorities. In the light of this peculiar attitude of Luther toward Scripture, determined by his historical development, his statements upon the canon and historical contents of Scripture have been examined. They have been found to be surprisingly free. Why? Because Luther was influenced by the religious content of Scripture far more than by its form. In other words, his religious experience, and not an inspiration theory, is the only key by which to explain Luther’s criticism of the Bible. It was proper, therefore, to look at these criticisms from the point of view of his religious experience, rather than from the point of view

of a possible inspiration theory. If, on the other hand, the formal authority of Scripture, in the strict sense of the term, had received the chief emphasis in Luther’s development, the method followed in this article would have been highly improper. If we start from the formal authority of Scripture as distinct from its content, and place the emphasis here, this necessarily involves an inspiration theory. The Scripture as materia is self-authenticating, but the Scripture as forma can scarcely be so. If Scripture is not primarily true because of the truth of its content, it must be true because of the truth of its origin, i.e. because it is divinely inspired.

The practical inference from these considerations is simply this, that, if the controlling fact in Luther’s doctrine of Scripture is his religious experience of its content, we are to examine his inspiration theory in the light of his criticisms which are explicable only by this fact, and not vice versa. Hence it is that those statements which seem to express or imply a more or less rigid theory of inspiration have been reserved to the present point in the discussion.1 But, as Luther nowhere elabor...

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