Sola Scriptura And The Reformation: But Which Scripture, And What Translation? -- By: Ben Witherington III

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 60:4 (Dec 2017)
Article: Sola Scriptura And The Reformation: But Which Scripture, And What Translation?
Author: Ben Witherington III

Sola Scriptura And The Reformation:
But Which Scripture, And What Translation?

Ben Witherington III*

* Ben Witherington III is Jean R. Amos Professor of NT for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, 204 N. Lexington Ave., Wilmore, KY 40390. He may be contacted at

Abstract: While Luther is rightly famous for his strong insistence on sola gratia, sola fide, and of course justification by grace through faith alone, from an historical point of view, it was probably his translation of the Bible from the original languages into ordinary German that had the largest impact on the general public and most furthered the ongoing Reformation. The placing of the Bible into the hands of everyone was the most revolutionary result of the Reformation. As it turns out, sola Scriptura is perhaps the greatest legacy of what happened 500 years ago.

Key words: canon, Latin Vulgate, Renaissance, Authorized Version, Geneva Bible, Erasmus’s Greek NT

Since then your … majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. … May God help me, Amen.

— Martin Luther, Reply to the Diet of Worms, April 18, 15211

“While [the reformer] is always right about what is wrong, he is generally wrong about what is right.”

― G. K. Chesterton2

I. The Precursors And The Preliminary Tremors

In order to understand the Bible and its role in the various Reformations, German, Swiss, and English, it is necessary to go back to the period of the Renaissance

and get a running start.3 Shortly after 1266, the Franciscan Roger Bacon wrote in the first part of his Opus majus pleading for the study of “tongues” including the Semitic languages, Hebrew and Aramaic, not only because church life in the West was dominated by a secondary language that the Bible was not originally written in, namely Latin, but also because of: 1) the conversion of unbelievers, and 2) the presence of fundam...

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