Scripture, Tradition And Authority In The Second Century -- By: Bruce Shelley

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 06:2 (Spring 1963)
Article: Scripture, Tradition And Authority In The Second Century
Author: Bruce Shelley

Scripture, Tradition And Authority In The Second Century

Bruce Shelley

Jesus Christ is the supreme authority for all Christians. There has never been any doubt about this fact in the historic church. As the incarnate Son he taught as one having authority (Mark 1:22). He cast out unclean spirits (Mark 1:27); he forgave sins (Mark 2:10); he modified the provisions of the Law (Matt. 5:21, 27, 33); and he claimed that he would be man’s final judge (John 5:27) — all on the basis of his own divine authority. Standing at history’s mid-point, the period of the incarnation, and at history’s end, the second advent, he sums up in himself God’s purposes for humanity.

During this age, the period between the incarnation and the parousia, God grants to relative authorities a claim upon man’s obedience. In the civil realm he has given power to earthly rulers (Romans 13:1-2). In the functioning of the church he distributes a measure of authority to leaders (2 Cor. 10:13). And for the teaching of the church he has called and endowed select men called apostles (Acts 1:8, 21-22).

Christian theology during this time faces a double task. It must “hold fast the form of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13) and it must witness of Christ “unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). By preserving and propagating the first century message, it fulfills an apostolic ministry. By going into all the world in every age, it carries out a catholic mission. If it is to be true it must preach the Word; if it is to be relevant it must speak to the times. Christian theology is thus a blending of the changeless with the changing.

The classical “protestant” approach to authority, while not ignoring the development of doctrine, tries to anchor theology in the changeless by emphasizing the apostolic witness of Scripture. The “catholic” approach to authority, while professing to be truly apostolic, underscores the magisterium, the living authority of the church. Hence the problem of Scripture and tradition. A brief statement of these two positions will afford us a perspective in the consideration of second-century views of doctrinal authority.

The “protestant” position, classically expressed, for example, in the Westminster Confession of Faith, asserts that Scripture is the rule of faith and p...

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