Aquinas, Luther, Melanchthon, and Biblical Apologetics -- By: Jonathan Selden

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 05:2 (Fall 1984)
Article: Aquinas, Luther, Melanchthon, and Biblical Apologetics
Author: Jonathan Selden

Aquinas, Luther, Melanchthon,
and Biblical Apologetics

Jonathan Selden

Viewed historically and theologically, the apologetical views of Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and Philip Melanchthon may be understood in terms of a dialectical schema, that is, in relationship to one another these three views fall into the pattern of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. If the relationalist apologetic of Aquinas is viewed as a thesis position, then the reformed apologetic of Luther stands in antithesis to Aquinas and scholastic rationalism. Although Melanchthon upheld Luthers biblical apologetic during his early career, he diverged from this reformed position in later life. His apologetic, then, may be described as a synthesis of Aquinas rationalist view and Luthers scriptural view. Although the Protestant tradition eventually strayed toward a more scholastic view of apologetics, with Martin Luther we have a clear example of a thoroughly reformed and thoroughly biblical apologetic.

* * *

Throughout the history of the church great effort has been undertaken to provide an adequate defense of the Christian religion. In Athens at the Areopagus, the apostle Paul gave a defense of his faith against the Stoics and Epicureans, reasoning with them that, although they were religious, their religion was false. Beginning with “the God who made the world and everything in it,” Paul asserted that man, “God’s offspring…should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill” (Acts 17:17, 24, 29; NIV). Paul’s defense began with an unproven assumption of God as Creator, not with human speculation about divinity. It was to counter Greek speculation about divinity that Paul built his defense of the Christian faith.

The challenge of Greek speculation did not end with Paul’s encounter at the academy in Athens. Throughout the first several centuries of church history, various speculative heresies such as Arianism and Gnosticism threatened to stifle the Christian religion. The early church, however, responded as Paul did, basing its defense,

often embodied in a creed, upon the revelation of God. Such creeds as those of Nicea and Chalcedon affirmed the revealed truth of the deity of Christ and the tri-unity of the God-head.

As the Church developed as an institution, and as it granted more and more authority to its bishops, especially the bishop at Rome, it subsequently moved from its creedal foundation and espousal of scriptural suprema...

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