The Disregarded Doctrine Of The Atonement In The Exposition Of Hebrews By John Oecolampadius (1482-1531) -- By: Jeff Fisher

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 74:2 (Fall 2012)
Article: The Disregarded Doctrine Of The Atonement In The Exposition Of Hebrews By John Oecolampadius (1482-1531)
Author: Jeff Fisher


The Disregarded Doctrine Of The Atonement In The Exposition Of Hebrews By John Oecolampadius (1482-1531)

Jeff Fisher

Jeff Fisher is a Ph.D. candidate in historical theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., and an ordained minister of the Word in the Christian Reformed Church in North America. This article was originally presented at the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference, October 2011, in Fort Worth, Tex.

I. Introduction

At the center of the Christian faith is the death of Christ. Yet there is significant disagreement about what was actually accomplished by the death of Christ. In recent theological scholarship, atonement theology has been the subject of intense criticism, heated debates, and widespread controversy. These arguments have primarily focused on what model or theory of the atonement is most appropriate for the Christian faith.1 This dispute has compelled scholars to reassess the traditional understanding of the doctrine, to revisit what the biblical texts say, and to explore what the history of Christian witness reveals about the development of theological classifications.

This study seeks to correct an oversimplified portrayal of the teaching of the first-generation Reformer in Basel, John Oecolampadius (1482-1531) and the development of atonement theology in the early Reformed tradition coming out of Switzerland.2 Correctly understanding his teaching is important because Oecolampadius was an influential reformer, who taught during a very significant transitional period in the history of theology. Oecolampadius is best known for assisting Erasmus with the first edition of the Novum Instrumentum in 1515 and standing alongside Zwingli at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529. Yet he was regularly considered an important figure in his own right, frequently receiving praise

from his contemporaries for his philological, exegetical, and theological abilities. Even one of his opponents, the papal nuncio Aleander, recognized Oecolampadius as “learned in three languages, and one of the outstanding scholars in the world of German scholarship.”3 Hans Guggisberg summarizes the perception of Oecolampadius among his contemporaries as “undoubtedly a courageous man and the most knowledgeable theologian among the reformed preachers.”4

By the age of 21, Oecolampadius had earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theology from the University of Heidelberg. He was ordained as a priest at s...

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