Was Bullinger Right About the Preached Word? -- By: Greg R. Scharf

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 26:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: Was Bullinger Right About the Preached Word?
Author: Greg R. Scharf

Was Bullinger Right
About the Preached Word?

Greg R. Scharf

Greg R. Scharf is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and
Chair of the Department of Pastoral Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois

Praedicato verbi Dei est verbum Dei (“The preaching of the word of God is the word of God”). So reads, allegedly, the Second Helvetic Confession, written by Heinrich Bullinger in 1561. This paper explores what Bullinger actually wrote, what he meant, how defensible the statement is biblically, and the implications of our findings for preachers and teachers of preachers.

I. Introduction

Heinrich Bullinger (1505–1574) was a scholar, rector of a theological academy, pastor, and preacher. He succeeded Ulrich Zwingli in 1531 as pastor of the church in Zurich where he was known for community service, hospitality, and sacrificial care for those perishing during the plague epidemic of 1564. He wrote the Second Helvetic Confession originally as a codicil to his last will and testament to the Zurich church.1 Because of its concise clarity it became a widely appreciated summary of the best of reformed thinking.

II. Textual matters

Although the words quoted above are perhaps the most frequently cited part of the Second Helvetic Confession, they are not part of the original text itself. According to Edward Dowey, they are a marginal heading, which

reflects an authentic lifelong preoccupation of Bullinger with the viva vox, whether the viva vox Domini to patriarchs, prophets, and apostles (Decades I.i), or the oral and audible passing along “as if by

hand” of the gospel from Adam to Moses, or the living preaching which even “today” is the usual means of announcing the Gospel.2

Indeed, The Creeds of Christendom begins the fourth paragraph of the first chapter of the Confession, not with the words cited in the abstract, but with these:

Proinde cum hodie hoc Dei verbum per praedicatores legitime vocatos annunciatur in Ecclesia, credimus ipsum Dei verbum annunciare et a fidelibus recipe, neque aliud Dei verbum vel fingendum, vel coelitus esse exspectandum: atque in praesenti spectandum esse ipsum verbum, quod annunciatur, non annunciantem ministrum, qui, etsi sit malus et peccatur, verum tamen et bonum manet nihilominus verbum Dei.3

[Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by pr...

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