The Bible And Protestant Orthodoxy: The Hermeneutics Of Charles Spurgeon -- By: Duncan S. Ferguson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 25:4 (Dec 1982)
Article: The Bible And Protestant Orthodoxy: The Hermeneutics Of Charles Spurgeon
Author: Duncan S. Ferguson


The Bible And Protestant Orthodoxy: The Hermeneutics Of Charles Spurgeon

Duncan S. Ferguson*

I. Spurgeon’s Heritage

Protestant orthodoxy is a direct descendant of the Reformation. More than Luther or Zwingli, its patron saint is John Calvin. It was Calvin’s theological system with its extremely high view of Scripture as the depository of the apostolic tradition that formed the cornerstone of orthodoxy’s understanding of the faith. Second to Luther in his depth perception of the Bible, Calvin was superior in his systematization of its teachings. In Calvin, theories regarding the inspiration of the Biblical documents began to appear that became characteristic of the Protestant scholastics of the seventeenth century. These seventeenth-century divines found in Calvin a source book for their doctrine of verbal inspiration. His legal mind needed a codebook, a document, a systematic statement of God’s revelation to humankind, and he found it in Scripture. The writers of Scripture were “amanuenses,” “penmen,” “clerks.” “The Holy Spirit dictated to the prophets and apostles,” he wrote in his commentary on Jeremiah.1

It should be remembered in fairness to Calvin that in the days that preceded the historical and literary analysis of the Bible, such assertions did not lead to the complications they would today. It should also be noted that the later generations of theologians who hardened Calvin’s views into dogmatic categories did not do justice to the Reformer’s own witness to the human dimension of the revelation in the Bible. As we observe in Luther, so there is in Calvin as well a responsible respect for Biblical authority, but this was accompanied by a freedom of interpretation that allowed him to question the text and to see a superior value in the NT where God’s redeeming activity was more explicit in his once-and-for-all revelation in Jesus Christ. From the OT to the NT there was an increasingly explicit view of revelation, from the hint in the promise to Adam to the open declaration at Calvary.

Calvin’s heirs were not as balanced in their views.2 The sense of liberty in interpreting the text was replaced by dogmatic tradition and an airtight doctrinal system. The reverence for Scripture was superseded by an overstated doctrine of verbal inerrancy and a rigidity in interpretation. Uniformity took the place of living thought and originality. The arbitrary tradition that the Reformers had torn away reappeared in a new form. Once again the Bible began to be read through the eyes of elaborate theological formulations. The “analogy of faith” was distort-

*Duncan Ferguson is chairman of the department of ...

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