The Doctrine Of Inspiration Since The Reformation -- By: William E. Nix

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 25:4 (Dec 1982)
Article: The Doctrine Of Inspiration Since The Reformation
Author: William E. Nix


The Doctrine Of Inspiration Since The Reformation

William E. Nix*

An important but neglected point in the current discussions of the inspiration and authority of Scripture concerns the development of the various conflicting positions as they have entered into the twentieth century. The four centuries between the Reformation and the New Reformation have been characterized as the time of”the making of the modern mind.” During the period between the Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther and the Commentary on Romans by Karl Barth, a growing divergency within the intellectual and theological worlds set a climate of opinion that would enable the scientific method to be used to challenge the very Word of God within the Church. Although critics and supporters alike would come to apply the so-called “dialectical method” to develop their own doctrine of the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the actual historical process suggests that something quite different was involved between the deviations and departures from the historic teaching of the Church on the one hand and the attempts by Christian apologists to defend the traditional doctrine of Scripture on the other. The following investigation will attempt to address these matters as they affected all the major branches of Christianity during these four centuries.

The first major deviations from the orthodox doctrine of the inspiration and authority of Scripture emerged following the Reformation of the sixteenth century. They arose in the period that ushered in the modern era of scientific and secular thought. When these departures did arise, they were neither universally accepted nor directly focused on the traditional teaching of the various branches of Christianity concerning the doctrine of Scripture. As one writer puts it,

Christians early inherited from the Jews the belief that the biblical writers were somehow possessed by God, who was thus to be reckoned as the Bible’s proper author. Since God could not conceivably be the agent of falsehood, the Bible must be guaranteed free from error. For centuries the doctrine lay dormant, as doctrine will: accepted by all, pondered by few. Not until the 16th century did inspiration and its corollary, inetfancy, come up for sustained review.1

Even then the mainstream ,of Christian thought continued to adhere to the doctrine of the inspiration and authority of Scripture.

In the following discussion, a survey of the more-or-less official and formal expressions of the teachings from each of the major traditions within the Christian communion will reflect the central Christian position on the doctrine of Scripture as it entered the twentieth century.

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