Erasmus and the New Testament: Humanist Scholarship or Theological Convictions? -- By: Joi Christians

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 19:1 (Spring 1998)
Article: Erasmus and the New Testament: Humanist Scholarship or Theological Convictions?
Author: Joi Christians

Erasmus and the New Testament:
Humanist Scholarship or Theological Convictions?

Joi Christians*

* Joi Christians is finishing her M.A. degree in Christian Thought with an emphasis in Church History and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

The Renaissance and the Reformation periods have been hailed as ages of great change, particularly in the area of religious belief and learning. The Renaissance introduced changes in scholarship, which fostered its development independent of the church’s guardianship. Scholasticism, the dominant form of medieval learning, was criticized for raising intricate and often trivial philosophical questions, glorying in disputations, and developing elaborate, but speculative, theological frameworks, rather than dealing with the realities of life. In response, many scholars called for a new approach to learning. At the same time, the “rediscovery” of classical texts and philosophical systems prompted new questions, and different methods were developed in order to answer them. Thus a new way of learning was born, which came to be known as humanism, for its focus on the moral and intellectual development of man.

I. The Rennaisance Tension Between Secular And Sacred

Although humanism entailed a criticism of learning for which the church had been responsible, the new approach did not, in and of itself, separate religious beliefs from secular scholarship. But for a great many people humanism came to be seen as an attack on true faith. The new questions and answers had implications for how truth was to be found, and almost all areas of learning, which had been accepted by generations of scholars, were reexamined by new methods. Eventually the Scriptures themselves came under the scrutiny of the humanist scholars. This meant that those who had not chosen the church as their vocation were taking part in biblical scholarship, studying and criticizing the very book that was the source of the true beliefs of the Christian faith. With the rigid lines drawn between the secular and the sacred, this was a move which a

medieval lay scholar would make only if he were willing to endanger his soul. The popularity humanism enjoyed as a literary, philosophical, and pedagogical movement was lost for many when it overstepped the boundaries into the sacred realm of theology.

Opinions came to be divided into two positions. Some feared that advances made by scholars not under the authority of the church would bring harm to the faith. They perceived the new scholarship as a challenge to the authority of the church and its theologians, the inspiration of Scripture, and traditional doctrine. Through harsh criticism of the new learning and its proponents, which often d...

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