John Knox: A Man of the Old Testament -- By: Richard Kyle

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 54:1 (Spring 1992)
Article: John Knox: A Man of the Old Testament
Author: Richard Kyle

John Knox: A Man of the Old Testament

Richard Kyle


While many individuals and events influenced John Knox, he was first and foremost a man of the Bible. The Scottish Reformer depended heavily on Scripture as the source of his thought and actions. Knox believed the Word of God to be primarily the canonical Scriptures, i.e., the books found in the Old and New Testaments, excluding the “apocryphal” writings. Nevertheless, he did not limit the Word of God to the text of Scripture. To him the Word was also a vibrant, living power. Occasionally, he equated the Word with the person of Christ, the power of God, and the gospel message.1 But for the most part, Knox made God’s Word, as revealed in Scripture, his sole authority. In questions pertaining to the faith, Knox subordinated all other authorities, whether they be the Church of Rome, church councils, tradition, individual conscience, majority opinion, or even princes and parliaments to God’s Word.2

While the entire Bible was important to Knox, he was primarily a man of the OT. Knox’s theological trademark bore the imprint of the OT. The sources of his radicalness and uniqueness came largely from the OT and the way he interpreted it.3 In all probability such an emphasis governed Knox’s approach to Scripture because the Reformer was preoccupied with issues that are more readily addressed by the OT, namely, the purification of religion, the covenant, the reformation of corporate religion on a national scale, and resistance to ruling authorities who promoted idolatry (i.e., Catholicism).


That John Knox was a man of the OT becomes quite evident when his methods of biblical interpretation are examined. While he employed a variety of methods to discern the meaning of Scripture, two related features dominated his approach to the Bible and in turn his religious beliefs, namely, an overemphasis on the OT and a pronounced literalness. Though not as all-pervasive, a third related method also pointed him toward the OT, that is, a prophetic hermeneutic.4

There exists between the teachings of the Old and New Testaments a large degree of both continuity and discontinuity. Jesus Christ himself illustrated this. He demonstrated continuity in his insistence that he came to fulfill the law, but fulfillment of these commandments can be seen as discontinuity because Christ proceeded to give a deeper, more searching meaning to God’s moral law. In respect to overemphasizing continuity at the expense of discontinuity, Knox ...

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