CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY - THE DOCTRINE OF GOD - by the Rt. Rev. ARTHUR C. HEADLAM C.H., D.D. Bishop of Gloucester ; Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford ; formerly Professor of Dogmatic Theology in King's College, London, and Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford. First Published: Oxford University Press, 1934. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.


| HOME | << | The Canon of Scripture | The Apocrypha | The authority of Scripture | The Bible and tradition | The sufficiency of Scripture | The value of tradition | The inspiration of the Bible | Verbal inspiration | Allegorical interpretation | The inerrancy of Scripture | The claim to inspiration | Its spiritual appeal | Definition of inspiration | >> |

So far we have attempted to study religion as a natural phenomenon. We have endeavoured to discover by what methods and to what extent men are able to obtain a knowledge of the things that transcend experience. We have examined some of the characteristics of religion as exhibited in the human soul. As far as possible we have put on one side the particular claims of the Christian Religion, and the question of Revelation. It is, however, claimed that in Christianity there is revealed to mankind in a special manner a true knowledge of divine things. It is our task, therefore, to estimate the character, the contents and the authority of this Revelation, and to consider the relation between these two sources of knowledge, Christian Revelation and human reason.

The Christian Revelation is the knowledge of God and his dealings with mankind revealed to us through the history of the people of Israel, the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, and the tradition and theology of the Christian Church. It will be our business first to study the sources in which this Revelation is contained, or at any rate has been held to be contained. These are the Scriptures, Christian Tradition, and the doctrinal statements of the Christian Church. In relation to the Scriptures I propose to discuss the following four points: first, What are the Christian Scriptures; secondly, On what authority do we receive them; thirdly, What is the relation of Scripture to Tradition; and fourthly, How far and in what way is the Bible inspired?


What are the Christian Scriptures? Or to put it in a more technical form, What is the Canon of the Old and New Testaments? The word Canon, meaning rule, is the technical term used of the authoritative list of the books of Holy Scripture. The meaning of the question is this. We have a Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments, which we know well. Most people take it more or less for granted. It is there. They do not ask how it came there, or why it is that it contains just those books that it does and no others. Yet obviously these are questions of the greatest importance, and have a fundamental bearing on the sources of our theology. It is not our business here to study the history of the Canon in detail, but the principles underlying its formation demand our careful attention.

The Canon of the Old Testament « On the Old Testament Canon see especially H. E. Ryle, The Canon of the Old Testament (London, Macmillan, 1892); Fr. Buhl, Kanon u. Text des A.T. (Leipzig, 1890), (Eng. tr., Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1892); S. R. Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, pp. i-xi (Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, ); W. Sanday, Inspiration (London, 1893). is the Canon of the Jewish Scriptures accepted by the Christian Church on the authority of the Jewish Church. The main points in the history of its formation may be stated quite shortly. Historically it is divided into three portions, the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Of these the first consists of the five books of Moses, and their acceptance as the authoritative book of the Jews may be definitely assigned to the year 444 B.C., and the action of Ezra and Nehemiah. It was in the solemn assembly which is described in Nehemiah « Nehemiah viii, ix, x. that the possession of a Sacred book, the Book of the Law of the Lord, became part of the religious conceptions of Israel. It was an authoritative declaration of the Will of God, embodied in a written form, which would demand, as it was found, interpreters, but against which there was no appeal. The idea of Canonical Scriptures was definitely attained.

When once this was done, the inclusion of other books became possible. The second group consists of the Prophets; under which heading are grouped the historical works Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, the three great prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and the book of the twelve minor prophets. We have no knowledge of the exact time when this section of the Canon was formally received. It may have been very shortly after the definite acceptance of the Law. We do know, as is proved by the references in the book of Ecclesiasticus, that it was accepted by the Jewish Church not later than 200 B.C. The remaining books, the Psalms, Proverbs, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, the Chronicles, and the smaller writings, Job, Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, began to be grouped together before the year 130 B.C., as the three divisions of the Scriptures are definitely mentioned in the Greek translation of Ecclesiasticus, « See the Preface of Ecclesiasticus: 'Whereas many and great things have been delivered unto us by the law and the prophets, and by the others that have followed in their steps ... my grandfather Jesus, having much given himself to the reading of the law, and the prophets, and the other books of our fathers ... For things originally spoken in Hebrew have not the same force in them, when they are translated into another tongue: and not only these, but the law itself, and the prophecies, and the rest of the books, have no small difference, when they are spoken in their original language.' but the Jewish Canon was not finally fixed until about the end of the first century after Christ. The final decision which closed the Canon is generally, probably correctly, ascribed to a council held at Jamnia about the year A.D. 90. « The following is the tradition given in Midrash and Talmud about the fixing of the Canon: R. Simeon ben-Azai said: 'I have heard from the 72 elders that on the day when they gave R. Eleazar the presidency of the school, it was determined that the Song of Songs and Koheleth defile the hands." R. Akiba said: ' God forbid that any one in Israel should doubt that the Song of Songs defiles the hands; the whole world does not outweigh the day in which Israel received the Song of Songs. All the Kethubim are holy, but the Song of Songs is the holiest. If they have contested it was with reference to Koheleth.' But R. Johanan ben-Jeshua, R. Akiba's brother-in-law, said: 'As R. Simeon ben-Azai has laid it down, so they disputed, and so they decided' (Meg. Jadaim iii. 5, quoted in Buhl, p. 29). It may be noted that the technical name of the third division of the Canon is the 'Kethubim', that is 'The Writings'.

The Canon of the New Testament gradually grew up. « On the New Testament Canon see Theodor Zahn, Geschichte des neutestamentliche Kanons, 1888; Adolf Harnack, Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, 1893; and Chronologic der altchristlichen Literatur, 1897; B. F. Westcott, On the Canon of the New Testament, 1881; J. Moffatt, Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament, 1911; C. R. Gregory, Canon and Text of the New Testament, 1907; and A. H. McNeile, Introduction to the New Testament (Oxford, 1927). In the earliest days of the Christian Church the only authoritative scriptures were the Old Testament. The teaching of Christianity was a living tradition, at first unwritten, then gradually recorded in writing; but quite early the custom prevailed of reading the letters of leading Christian teachers, and, as they were called, the memoirs of the Apostles and Gospels in the Churches. When the living tradition of Christ's teaching had died out and differences of opinion became acute the need for authoritative documents arose. This need became urgent during the second century, owing to the wide prevalence of the teaching generally known as Gnosticism. The Gnostic heretics supported their teaching on the authority of a secret tradition which they claimed to have received from the Apostles, and on many apocryphal books. It became necessary therefore for the Church in opposition to them to define more accurately its Canon of Scripture, its doctrine, and its organization. The contact therefore with Gnosticism was of permanent importance in the development of the Church; but as some confusion appears to prevail, it is perhaps necessary to say that the only sense in which it is true that the New Testament arose out of the controversy with Gnosticism is that its contents were more accurately defined. The books of which it was composed were already in existence, were received in the Church, and read during the worship of the Church. But when many strange rivals appeared on the scene it became necessary for the Church to say which books she received and which she rejected.

We know quite well from the quotations in the writings of the Fathers which were the books that were in common use in the Church, but it was not until the fourth century that the Canon was fixed. I will give you two landmarks which will show you the main outline of the process, and will fix the limits within which difference of opinion prevailed. One is the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius of Caesarea written about A.D. 320, which gives an historical view. « Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. iii. 24, 25. The other is the 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius written in 367, which gives the final decision. « Athanasius, Ep. 39 (p. 551, Robertson).

Eusebius, whose acquaintance with the earlier literature of the Church was unique and who has conferred an immense obligation upon us by the many extracts of original documents which he has preserved, knew the history of the Canon and had studied it carefully. He enumerates the books about which in his opinion there had never been any doubt in the Church. They were the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the thirteen Epistles of St. Paul, the First Epistle of St. John, and the First Epistle of St. Peter. From these he distinguishes those about which for various reasons there had been doubt and discussion, the Revelation of St. John, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of St. James, the Second Epistle of St. Peter, the Epistle of St. Jude, and the Second and Third Epistles of St. John, to which he adds certain other books not now included in the Canon which had been publicly read in the churches. There were also a large number of spurious and heretical books. We know that his historical statement is substantially correct. The books which he considers certain were all widely used by writers at the end of the second and beginning of the third century, as we have ample testimony. It is I think important to grasp the limits of certainty and uncertainty in the early history of Christianity. For the hundred years after the close of the Apostolic age we have little information, but for the period from 180 to 250 we have many remains of Christian literature. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus are all represented by many and important books, and there are other lesser writers. We know on all the more important points what the Church was like in those days and it gives us a firm starting-point for carrying our investigations back to more obscure times. Eusebius then gives us the historical view. Athanasius on the other hand defines the Canon of the New Testament as it ought to be received and his Canon is the same as our own. This is the Canon also for the third council of Carthage held in the year 397. Since then this Canon has been universally accepted by the Church.

The Church thus took over three hundred years to settle the New Testament Canon, and only arrived at its decision after considerable doubt and discussion. The main principle by which it was guided was Apostolic authorship, and it is an interesting question how far it was correct. I think that if you are to look upon the New Testament as we have it as a record of Apostolic life and teaching in a wide sense its judgement is correct, but that as to the particular authorship of certain books its decision is in some cases doubtful, in some probably incorrect. As regards the Four Gospels it is quite correct in looking upon them as the authorities for the life of our Lord, and in distinguishing them from all the apocryphal Gospels, but while the second and third Gospels are probably correctly attributed to St. Mark and St. Luke it is doubtful whether we can say that the first was written by St. Matthew the Apostle or the fourth by St. John the son of Zebedee. As regards the Acts of the Apostles its decision would in the light of modern scholarship be considered correct. Of the thirteen Epistles of St. Paul the most sober scholarship of day would accept ten, but concerning the Pastoral Epistles there are some doubts. As to the Epistle to the lebrews there can be no doubt that it is a monument of Apostolic Christianity, but about its authorship there is lothing certain except that it was not written by St. Paul. The Johannine writings belong to the Apostolic Church, but is to the authorship of either the Apocalypse or the Epistles there is the same bewildering doubt as there is concerning the Gospel. The First Epistle of St. Peter is probably genuine; the Second Epistle, and those of St. James and St. Jude, are for different reasons and in different degrees doubtful.

It is, I think, important for us to estimate here, where its decisions can be tested, the value of the authority of the Church, for it is a question which will often come before us. The conclusion I think that we may arrive at is this, that the general standard of the Church is sound. We can test it positively and negatively. The books of the New Testament do give us an authentic record of the teaching of the Apostolic tradition of the Apostolic tradition of the life of Our Lord, and if we compare them with the books that the Church rejected, and the apocryphal literature, the superiority of the Canonical Scriptures is undoubted. But in some cases the particular judgement is probably erroneous. This suggests that if we look upon the Church as a wise and sound guide in the formulation of our religious opinions we shall be justified, but if we attempt to ascribe to it infallibility we shall find ourselves in a very difficult position.


So far we have been dealing with that part of the Canon which is accepted by the whole Christian Church, namely, the Old and New Testaments. We now come to some books about which there has been much dispute, namely those generally called the Apocrypha. It will be convenient first to examine the opinion of different branches of the Christian Church.

The Church of England in its Sixth Article says:

'In the name of Holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church. ... All the books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive and account them Canonical. And the other books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.'

The opinion of the Church of Rome is contained in the Decree on the Canonical Scriptures which was passed at the fourth session of the council of Trent in 1546. It anathematizes any who do not accept these books

'entire with all their parts as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the Latin Vulgate edition.'
« 'Si quis autem libros ipsos integros cum omnibus suis partibus, prout in ecclesia catholica legi consueverunt, et in veteri vulgata latina editione haben-tur, pro sacris et canonicis non susceperit, et traditiones praedictas sciens et prudens contempserit, anathema sit.' Concilium Tridentinum, Sessio IV (8 Apr. 1546), Decretum de canonicis scripturis.

The words 'entire with all their parts' refer to those additions to certain books which in our editions are contained in the Apocrypha, such as the additions to the Book of Daniel. This Canon is that of the Latin Vulgate which contains all those works which we call Apocrypha.

The Protestant Churches of the Continent, English Nonconformity, and the Scottish Presbyterian Churches reject the Apocrypha entirely. In the Westminster Confession for example it is stated that

'The books commonly called Apocrypha not being of divine inspiration are not part of the Canon of Scripture and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God nor to be in any other wise approved or made use of than other human writings.'

We come fourthly to the teaching of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and here we shall find greater uncertainty. The first opinion that I will give you is that of Cyril Lucar. He was a well-known Patriarch of Constantinople at the beginning of the seventeenth century, on friendly terms with the Church of England. It is to him we owe the gift to this country of the well-known MS., the Codex Alexandrinus. In the Eastern Confession of the Christian Faith he says,

'But those which we call Apocrypha we distinguish by this name because they have not the like authority from the All-Holy Spirit, as have the properly and undoubtedly Canonical Books.'
« The Eastern Confession of the Christian Faith, Question III. What Books do you call Sacred Scripture?, ed. J. N. W. B. Robertson, London, 1899, Synod of Jerusalem, p. 211.

The position of Cyril Lucar on this and other questions was condemned by the Synod of Jerusalem held in Bethlehem in the year 1672. That Synod represents the high-water mark of Roman influence on the Eastern Church.

'Following the rule of the Catholic Church, we call Sacred Scripture all those which Cyril collected from the Synod of Laodicea, and enumerated, adding thereto those which he foolishly, and ignorantly, or rather maliciously called Apocrypha. ... For we judge these also to be with the other genuine books of divine Scripture genuine parts of Scripture. For ancient custom, or rather the Catholic Church, which hath delivered to us as genuine the Sacred Gospels and the other Books of Scripture, hath undoubtedly delivered these also as parts of Scripture, iind the denial of these is the rejection of those.'
« Synod of Jerusalem, ed. Robertson, p. 155. Question III. What books do you call Sacred Scripture?

I do not think that this is the final opinion of the Eastern Church. The most sober opinion of that Church may I think be gained from the 'Longer Catechism of the Russian Church' issued by Archbishop Philaret in the year 1839. He gives the books of the Old Testament as received from the Hebrew Church according to the numeration of St. Cyril and St. Athanasius, and as regards the other books he does not include them but quotes Athanasius the Great

... 'that they have been appointed by the Fathers to be read by proselytes who are prepared for admission into the Church.'

The Roman Church thus accepts the Apocrypha as canonical, the Protestant Churches reject it entirely, the English and Eastern Churches accept it but place it on a lower level than the other Scriptures. Which of these positions is the right one? Let us look first at the historical facts. The Old Testament Canon is that of the Hebrew Church, and was certainly also that of the Christian Church for the first three centuries. The books we now call Apocrypha were mainly Jewish writings written in Greek, the work of Hellenistic Judaism. These were not accepted by the Rabbis, nor were the Book of Ecclesiasticus and the first Book of Maccabees, which were products of Palestinian Judaism originally written in Hebrew but with a strong Sadducean tendency. Many of the early Christians were converts from Hellenistic Judaism and they naturally brought over with them and made use of the books to which they had been previously accustomed, and so we find books of the Apocrypha quoted to a considerable extent in writings of the Early Church. It was during the fourth century that the tendency grew up to accept the enlarged Canon of the Old Testament, and this tendency was strengthened in the Western Church by the use of Jerome's translation which contained the Apocrypha. The enlarged Canon was accepted by the third council of Carthage in the year 397, and from that time onwards the Apocrypha came more and more to be looked upon as an integral part of Scripture. It must be remembered that the Bible of the medieval Church looked upon the Apocryphal books as of equal authority with the rest of the Old Testament. Its stories were well known, and Tobit and his dog play a great part in Church decoration.

So far the question had not been one which was discussed, but at the time of the Reformation dogmatic interests were aroused. There were certain passages in the Apocrypha which were supposed to support Roman doctrines, and therefore Roman controversialists insisted upon the recognition of these books. The tendency of the Reformers was to re-examine tradition, to see where it was sound and where it was not, and to go behind what was normally accepted. They discovered that the Canon of the early centuries did not contain the Apocrypha, and therefore they rejected it, and they rejected it the more decisively as they wished to deprive the Church of Rome of what was considered to be some support for its erroneous teaching.

Historical evidence shows that the Roman Church is wrong. The Canon of the first four centuries did not contain the Apocrypha. The right historical position is that of the Orthodox and Anglican Churches, which preserve the attitude of St. Athanasius and St. Jerome. Nor again is the controversial use of these books as supporting particular doctrines of any scientific value. The use of them for that purpose belongs to old-fashioned methods of dealing with the Bible. The controversial value or danger of the Apocrypha has gone and therefore the question is not as important as it was. On the other hand the real value of it is understood now in a way that was not possible in old days. It contains the record of the Jewish religion after the close of the Old Testament Canon; it helps us to learn what were the thoughts and ideas of the Jews when Our Lord came, and it is therefore of supreme value for studying the language and ideas of the New Testament.

The Old Testament dispensation, interpreted and completed in the New Testament, is for us the source of divine revelation. In this historical sequence, the Apocrypha takes its place. The books contained in it are not indeed all of equal value. We have learnt to recognize that there may be degrees of inspiration in the Old Testament. The Book of Esther is not of the same value as the Book of Isaiah. So in the Apocrypha, Bel and the Dragon and the story of Susanna are not on the same level as Wisdom or Ecclesiasticus. Both for its positive teaching and its historical testimony the Apocrypha is of real value. It provides a portion of the record, or at any rate the interpretation of the record of a divine revelation. We may be well content with the position of the Church of England in this matter. The Apocrypha is for us a part of the Bible; through it we acquire much knowledge of Jewish history and thought; it is a valuable instrument to help us in studying in a sound and scientific way the meaning of the revelation in the Old and New Testament.


The next question that we come to is, Why do we accept the Bible? On what grounds do we consider it a source of divine revelation?

An answer to this question which is often given is to quote the Bible itself, 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God', « 2 Tim. iii. 16 (A. V.). and there are various other texts to the same effect. Now there are two strong objections to the soundness of this argument. The first is that all these texts apply only to the Old Testament. The second is that it is not sufficient to make Scripture support itself. We want some external testimony.

A second argument would be that we accept the Scriptures on the authority of the Church. We shall see ultimately the element of truth in this; but stated baldly it is a dangerous argument. We immediately ask, but why am I to believe the Church, and it is probable that we shall find that the authority of the Church is proved from Scripture. There is great danger in fact that we may argue in a circle, although we may conceal the process a little skilfully. Then thirdly you have an argument such as that of Paley in his Evidences of Christianity, an argument of a type which used to be very popular and is not now quite unknown. It would give us a clear and definite logical proof. Paley begins by proving the authenticity of the books of the New Testament. He then points out that they contain adequate proof of miracles, and miracles he argues are a proof of revelation. Now here is an argument that can be put in syllogistic form. Miracles can only be worked by God, miracles therefore are a proof of God's working, and therefore are a proof of revelation. There are miracles in the Bible sufficiently well attested and therefore the Bible contains a revelation. Now any argument of this sort we are naturally now inclined to distrust. It is not possible to demonstrate religious teaching as a proposition of Euclid. The whole question of miracles will have to be discussed later from another point of view, but it is sufficient here to say that this argument in this form is no longer possible. The Pentateuch was not written by Moses, but many hundred years after the events described. There is no contemporary or first-hand evidence for the miracles of the Old Testament. As regards the New Testament the evidence is indeed of a different kind. But as will appear later, those who believe in miracles accept them because they harmonize with the spiritual character of the gospel narrative. They do not believe in the Gospel because of the miracles, but because they accept the Gospel they accept the miracles. No logical argument in favour of the Bible can be constructed on the basis of miracles.

Then fourthly there is the argument from the spiritual character of the Scriptures. You will find this worked out with great force in Calvin's Institutes. Calvin laid the whole burden of proof on this argument because he would have nothing to do with the authority of the Church. His great argument for the authority of the Bible was the direct appeal made to the devout mind by the spiritual teaching that it gives.

Now I do not think that you can prove the Bible quite as simply as any of those methods would claim to do. The reasons why we accept it are I think the following. First of all we receive the Bible from the Church. That is true in relation to every religious body separately, and to the Christian Church as a whole. Every Christian receives the Bible in the first instance because it is put into his hands by the religious community to which he belongs, and that religious community represents to him the authority of the Church. Then the modern world as a whole receives the Bible because it has been handed down by the Christian Church from generation to generation. The fact that we receive the Bible from the Church is one which naturally and rightly influences our minds, for the Church exists as a living society teaching religion. We learn our religion from it. It is there, something real, something actual, an immense spiritual force in the world, and if the Bible comes to us from such a body it gives us a natural predisposition in its favour. The Bible is not in the air so to speak. It is not like a work of philosophy with nothing behind it. The first point among the reasons why we accept the Bible is that it is put into our hands by the Church, and the Church exists as a living spiritual society through which we have received our living teaching. The Church too records for us the fact that these books have been received and testified to by Christian writers since the earliest days of Christianity. 'The Church', as our Articles tell us, 'is the witness and keeper of Holy Scripture.'

Then, secondly, we accept it because it corresponds with our spiritual aspirations and needs. No one would receive the Bible as an authority in religion, unless it made a real appeal to him. That is the truth which Calvin rightly emphasized, but I do not know that that alone can give it authority. That alone will not enable it to be used to prove the truth of the doctrines contained in it. It is I think true negatively that we could not accept a religious book which did not appeal to us spiritually, but I do not think the reverse is true. The fact that a book teaches us spiritual life is not alone sufficient to prove the truth of its statements. But certainly one reason for accepting the authority of the Bible is that it makes a religious appeal to us, and that it has for many hundred years made this similar religious appeal. Our own subjective impression is corroborated by the witness of the Christian conscience.

Thirdly, therefore, the question arises whether it tells us something which is not merely edifying but really true. That can only be answered by long and careful inquiry. We must know the history of the Canon, and of the transmission of the books to our own day, we must know the evidence for the dates of the books of the Old and New Testaments, we must examine them as historical records, we must consider whether all that we know about the history of the religion of Israel, about the teaching of Christ, and the work of the Church, give us adequate ground for thinking that we have an authoritative account of a real revelation. We accept the Bible because it comes to us from the living Christian society, we use it because it corresponds to our religious needs, but the ultimate acceptance of it as a true and inspired source of divine knowledge will come after a close and careful investigation. Throughout the whole of this work we shall be examining that question, and the result of our investigations must be the corroboration and verification of the authority with which we start.

The relation of the Church and the Bible can I think be best expressed by an analogy. A man is in possession of certain property. The fact of possession is a point in his favour, but if his ownership is challenged, it is necessary for him to produce his title deeds. If his deeds are sound, he is confirmed in his possession, but of course they must be capable of standing an independent examination. That is just the position as regards the Christian Church. The Church is in possession. It is the spiritual body through which we have learnt our religion. It appeals to the Bible as its title deeds, and we examine and investigate the documents it puts before us. We accept the authority of the Bible because it comes to us from the Church, which gives a certain evidence in its favour, and because on investigation it satisfies the tests we apply to it. We accept the authority of the Church because we are satisfied with these documents of which she is the keeper and custodian.


We now come to a question which has aroused considerable controversy. What is the relation of the Bible to Christian tradition?

If you turn to the council of Trent and to the same Decree on the Holy Scriptures which was quoted above as passed in the fourth session of that council and in the year 1546, you will find this stated:

'that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or by the Apostles themselves at the dictation of the Holy Ghost, have come down to our own time transmitted as it were from hand to hand.'
« Concilium Tridentinum, Sessio IV (8 Apr. 1546), Decretum de canonicis scripturis (Dentzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, ed. xiii, p. 261): 'perspiciensque, hanc veritatem et disciplinam contineri in libris scriptis et sine scripto traditionibus, quae ex ipsius Christi ore ab Apostolis acceptae, aut ab ipsis Apostolis Spiritu Sancto dictante, quasi per manus traditae, ad nos usque pervenerunt, ortho-doxorum Patrum exempla secuta, omnes libros tam veteris quam novi testamenti, cum utriusque unus Deus sit auctor, nee non traditiones ipsas, turn ad fidem, turn ad mores pertinentes, tanquam vel oretenus a Christo vel a Spiritu Sancto dictatas, et continua successione in ecclesia catholica conservatas, pari pietatis affectu ac reverentia suscepit et veneratur.'

This definition was directly concerned with the controversies of the day. At the time of the Reformation there was an immense doctrinal, ceremonial, and disciplinary system in existence which had grown up with the life of the Church. That was examined and criticized and the Reformers generally attempted to overthrow and condemn it. It was pointed out by them that a large part of it at any rate had no support in Scripture, so those who defended it appealed to tradition. It was said and said quite truly that if it was not all directly contained in the Bible, yet the Christian religion had been founded before the New Testament was written, by the teaching of Christ and of the Apostles who were themselves inspired by the Holy Spirit. It was maintained that while some things had been handed down by written tradition, other things had been handed down in the Church apart from the written Scriptures, and that, therefore, what was not contained in these might be accepted as taught by this tradition. An appeal was made to the Fathers and to the evidence of history to show that these customs had prevailed in the early ages of the Church. At the Reformation therefore the question of the relation of Scripture to tradition was one of great importance, and it still has some although not so great significance.

The Council of Trent gives the Roman position, but it must be noted that its language is ambiguous. It may be and has been interpreted in two different ways. It may mean that truth and discipline are to be found either in Scripture or tradition, making each of them an independent and sufficient source, or it may mean that that is to be accepted as truth which has the authority of both Scripture and tradition. In the one case it would give an authority to tradition equal to Scripture; in the other case it would make tradition equally necessary with Scripture for proving what was true, but would give it no independent authority.

Now let us turn to the Church of England. In the Sixth Article we read,

'Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.'

Holy Scripture then contains all things necessary to salvation; but we have to supplement that statement by two other Articles. The Twentieth tells that,

'The Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies, and authority in controversies of Faith.'

This is a statement of considerable importance although it is carefully limited to harmonize with the Sixth Article.

'It is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written',

nor ought it to enforce anything beside Scripture 'to be believed for necessity of Salvation'. Then there is the Thirty-Fourth Article on 'The Traditions of the Church'. It says that traditions and ceremonies need not 'in all places be one and utterly like', but that

'Whosoever through his private judgement, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly.'

Then thirdly it is stated that

'Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done to edifying.'

The Church of England is quite clear as to the paramount authority of Scripture. It contains all things necessary to salvation. In nothing essential can it be supplemented by tradition. Nor can anything be put forward on the authority of the Church inconsistent with it. Subordinate to the Scriptures it recognizes the authority of the Church both in controversies of faith and in custom. It recognizes the value of the traditions of the Church; they should not be altered except by lawful authority, but a National Church has power to alter them.

We come now to the Eastern Church. The following are the statements made on the subject in The Longer Catechism of the Russian Church already quoted. Holy Tradition is defined as

'the doctrine of the faith, the law of God, the sacraments, and the ritual as handed down by the true believers and worshippers of God by word and example from one to another, and from generation to generation.'

Then in answer to the question, Is there any sure repository of holy Tradition?

'All true believers united by the holy tradition of the faith, collectively and successively, by the will of God, compose the Church; and She is the sure repository of holy Tradition.'

Later we shall have to emphasize the importance of this definition of the Church; the Eastern Church always teaches that its authority lies in the whole body of the faithful and not in any particular section of it. The value of tradition in spreading the truth is emphasized, and then the relation of Scripture and tradition is discussed. 'We must follow that tradition which agrees with the divine revelation and with Holy Scripture.' And finally in answer to the question, Why is tradition necessary even now? it is said:

'As a guide to the right understanding of Holy Scripture, for the right ministration of the sacraments, and the preservation of sacred rites and ceremonies in the purity of their original institution.'

In the Westminster Confession, which we may take as a typical Protestant document, the statement is quite definite.

'The whole Counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.'

Here we have the different opinions of different branches of Christianity on this subject. Protestantism denies the value of tradition altogether. It would leave each man to form his own opinion from Scripture, and each Church to build up its own customs. The English Church is quite clear that nothing is to be believed as necessary which cannot be proved by Scripture, and thus it gives paramount authority to Scripture, but in the settlement of controversy, in the interpretation of Scripture, and in the building up of ceremonial and Church customs, it gives authority to the Church, and it is prepared to accept tradition if it be not inconsistent vith Scripture. The teaching of the Eastern Church is similar, jut its emphasis is somewhat different. It lays greater stress m tradition. It accepts Scripture and tradition as the two sources of religious knowledge and custom, but it places Scripture in the first place, and makes Scripture the authority by which the value of a tradition is tested. Fourthly the Roman Church, at any rate in the opinion of many of its supporters, makes Scripture and tradition of equal authority.

Let us now proceed to the solution of the questions which are thus raised. The first point is the sufficiency of Scripture. On this the authority of the Fathers is decisive. A long catena of passages may be quoted from their writings in which they tell us that Scripture contains all things that are necessary. Origen tells us:

'If anything remains which Holy Scripture does not determine, no other third Scripture ought to be received to authorize any knowledge, but we must commit to the fire what remains, that is, reserve it unto God.'
Origen, Hom. V in Lev.

So St. Athanasius:

'The Holy and divinely-inspired Scriptures are of themselves sufficient to the enunciation of truth ;'
Athanasius, Contra Gentes, I.

and again:

'In these alone the doctrine of salvation is contained. Let no man add to or take from them.'
Athanasius, Festal Letters, II.

So St. Basil:

'Believe those things that are written: the things which are not written seek not.'
Basil, Hom. 29.

And St. Augustine:

'In those things which are plainly laid down in Scripture, all things are found, which embrace faith and morals.'
Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, ii.

The same truth might be illustrated by the strong opposition which was raised against the admittance of the term Homoousios into the Creed. It was argued that as the word was not contained in the Scripture, it should not be used for formally defining Christian doctrine, and Athanasius had to argue that it was legitimate to use a word not contained in Scripture to defend a Scriptural doctrine. But the difficulty which was felt illustrates the great authority given to Scripture. « I am indebted to E. J. Bicknell, Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles, p. 170, for this selection of passages. As he says a long list of references could easily be compiled, and he refers us to Harold Browne, on Art. 6, p. 141 ff.; and to Palmer, On the Church, c. ii.

What then is the position of tradition? If you turn to the history of the Christian Church during the first four centuries, you will find great weight given to the ecclesiastical tradition, for instance in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History. He quotes constantly the Christian writers from whom it can be collected, and the succession of Bishops through whom it came. But when you inquire what he means by this ecclesiastical tradition, you find that it is the Scriptures which have been handed down by the Church. Tradition means primarily although not exclusively Scripture. It includes also the known and existing customs of the Church.

Stress is also laid especially in the second century on the open tradition of the Church as against a secret tradition of the Gnostics. Many of these supported their teaching on books ascribed to Apostolic authors which they said had been handed down by a secret tradition. Against them the Church laid stress on the open tradition, represented by the succession of Bishops in the great sees of the Church since the Apostolic age which had handed down the Canonical Scriptures, side by side with the faith and life, the worship and customs of the Church.

Tradition then meant primarily the Scriptures. But the question remains, what value is there in any unwritten tradition to supplement it. Let us remember that the historical value of unwritten tradition in life and thought is not great. Human thought and feeling change by slow and indefinable processes. If you had had the opportunity of a conversation with Irenaeus at the end of the second century he would have told you that the customs of the Church as they existed at that time were derived from the Apostles. If you had had a similar opportunity for conversation with Eusebius a little over a hundred years later he would have told you just the same thing about the customs of his own day, but you would have found that there had been a steady but often silent development in the elaboration of Church life. If you advanced another hundred years you would have found the same growth and the same development. An admirable example of this is given by the books called Church Orders. It was a natural thing to desire to record in writing the customs of the Church which were believed to be of Apostolic origin, and a considerable number of books dealing with this subject have been preserved. The earliest of all was the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles which belongs to the second century. Then there is the Apostolic Church Order of the third century, and the Apostolic Constitutions of the end of the fourth century, and others. The history of these documents is complicated, but that need not trouble us at present. Most of them are stated to have come direct from the Apostles or to have been written by them through the hand of Clement, or are authenticated by some other fictitious claim. One of them for example is called The Testament of Our Lord. The point is that these documents claimed to contain the exact directions given by the Apostles for the direction of religious worship, while actually they are a codification more or less idealized of the customs of the time when they were written. Now the documents issued in the third century were not satisfactory in the fourth and so had to be adapted to changed conditions, yet all alike claimed to represent the directions of the Apostles. This I think illustrates for us clearly the way in which tradition grows and changes. The change is gradual and therefore elusive. As time passes the customs, thoughts, and habits of each generation change. For instance what an extraordinary difference there is between the ecclesiastical customs of this country now and those of a hundred years ago. Tradition is in fact a most unsafe guide in faith and doctrine, in Church life and worship, or in any other direction.

Let me give you one further illustration which is I think interesting. Once when I was at Mount Athos I had a long talk with a Russian monk about the English and Greek Churches. He asked me a question about the Reformation. What did we in England do? I replied that we had done away with certain Romish accretions which had grown up in the Church and returned to primitive customs. But he said,

'Did not St. Paul say if an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you, let him be accursed? You confess that you have changed your customs, we have never changed anything from the days of the Apostles.'

Now of course such a statement implied ignorance of Church History, but there was this justification for it, that the development of the Eastern Church had been continuous and imperceptible, and there had been no violent cataclysms. When thought changes gradually and the customs of a country are only slowly modified, the idea can arise in people's minds that the Church does represent Apostolic teaching not only in broad outline but in details. I think what I have said will be sufficient for our particular purpose, to show that historically the value of tradition unsupported by written evidence is slight. The next question that I would ask is, can we collect from the writings of the early Church any tradition of historical value which will add anything to our knowledge of the life and teaching of our Lord and the Apostles? Had the Church of the second and third centuries any traditional information which is not contained in the New Testament? The answer is that it had some knowledge but very slight. There are a certain number of Agrapha as they are called, that is to say words of our Lord which are not contained in the Scriptures, and it is probable that some of them are genuine, although a large number are not. « On the Agrapha see: Agrapha, Aussercanonische Schriftfragmente gesatn-tnelt und untersucht von Alfred Resch. Texte und Untersuchungen XV, 3/4. There are also probably a certain number of authentic traditions about the Apostles. Here again the traditions which are authentic are very much fewer in number than those which are apocryphal. There is indeed an immense mass of apocryphal literature about both our Lord and the Apostles, but of genuine tradition there is singularly little.

Let us now try to estimate the value of tradition. In the first place it has a place in corroborating the New Testament. We have to remember, and it is an important point that we should do so, that the Christian Church did not grow out of the Bible, but that the Church was founded first, that Christianity had been taught for twenty years before any book of the New Testament had been written, and that for a considerable time after that the books of the New Testament had only a limited circulation and were probably not universally known. That means to say that the Christian Church grew up with the form of its teaching, its worship, and some of its customs established independently of the New Testament. The New Testament reflects them, it did not create them. If then we find as we do that the system of teaching contained in the Apostolic Fathers and other early writers corroborates the evidence of Scripture, it is additional evidence. Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp had learnt most of their teaching, not from books but from the oral traditions of the Apostles and those taught by them; yet their whole scheme of Christianity is the same as that of the New Testament. The records of the early theology of the Christian Church are of real value in corroborating the New Testament.

Then secondly, tradition is, I think, of value in teaching us the proportion of the Christian Faith. I will take two instances. The first is the exposition of justification contained in the Epistle to the Romans. The Epistle to the Romans was not written for the purpose of explaining what Christianity was; it was written to a Church which knew and had accepted the Christian message but was in difficulties about certain questions in relation to the salvation of the individual. Now at the time of the Reformation the Epistle to the Romans was studied as if it were an exposition of the Christian Faith and its teaching on justification and predestination was looked on as the Gospel. That was a wrong proportion. A study of the theology of the Early Church and in particular of the Creeds shows us that Christianity is built up on our acceptance of Christ as taught in the Gospel and not on a particular theory about salvation. The central belief of Christianity is the belief in Jesus Christ as put before us in the Christian Creed, and it makes a great difference whether our theology is built up on the person of Christ or on a particular theory of salvation.

A second illustration that I would give is the position of the Holy Communion as the central act of Christian worship. An acquaintance with the first three centuries of Christianity exhibits the life and worship of the Church as centred in the Liturgy. Now no one would deduce that fact with any certainty from the New Testament, because the New Testament presupposes the existing Christianity. Only in one of his Epistles does St. Paul directly refer to the Holy Communion, and then because he had to deal with difficulties which had grown up concerning it, but his reference implies what the general custom of the Church also teaches. Primitive Christianity of the second and third centuries is a sufficient guide not I think to details, but to the broad principles which were exhibited by Christian worship as preserving a direct Apostolic tradition.

I think that we are now in a position to sum up our conclusions on the value of Scripture and tradition.

1. The statement in our Articles that Scripture alone contains all things necessary for Salvation is correct and in harmony with the teaching of the Fathers.

2. No unwritten tradition can have any authority against the written tradition of Scripture because unwritten evidence is historically unsound.

3. There is no trace in the early Church of any knowledge of real importance about our Lord and the Apostles additional to that given in Scripture.

4. The early traditions of the Christian Church are of considerable value in corroborating Scripture.

5. The great value of Christian tradition is that in the Creeds, in worship, and customs it gives us the proportion of the Christian Faith.

6. Although it is right that we should develop our Church life in harmony with the traditions of the Church as they have been handed down to us, there is no reason for thinking that on any important points – other than those on which we have the authority of Scripture – they are apostolic in origin. They are the creation of the spiritual life of the Church.


We have discussed sufficiently the questions of the content and authority of the Christian Bible, and considered its claims to be the unique source of religious revelation. There remains the question of its inspiration. « On inspiration see W. Sanday, Inspiration (London, 1896); R. F. Hooker, Inspiration and the Bible, 1888; C. A. Briggs, The Bible, the Church, and the Reason (Edinburgh, 1892); W. N. Clarke, The Use of the Scriptures in Theology, 1906; Marcus Dods, The Bible, its Origin and Nature, 1905; J. B. Franzelin, Tractatus de divina traditione et scriptura (Rome, 1875). The Christian Church puts the Bible in our hands as Holy Scripture. It tells us that it is a life-giving revelation inspired by the Holy Ghost, but it never in any universally accepted document tells us what inspiration means or implies, nor does the Church of England. The Nicene Creed tells us that the Holy Ghost spake by the Prophets. The Council of Trent tells us that God is the author of both the Old and the New Testaments. The Westminster Confession tells us that all the books of the Old and New Testaments are

'given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life', and 'the supreme Judge in all controversies ... can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture'.

The Russian Catechism calls the Holy Scripture

'certain Books written by the Spirit of God, through men sanctified by God, called Prophets and Apostles.'

All are agreed that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Ghost.

The Church of England in its Articles is somewhat negative. In the Sixth it tells us that

'Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation',

and in the Seventh that

'the Old Testament is not contrary to the New'.

There are more explicit statements in the Ordination Service. That in the Ordination of Priests follows indeed the Article:

'Are you persuaded that the Holy Scriptures contain sufficiently all doctrines required of necessity for eternal salvation?'

But in the Ordination of Deacons it is asked :

'Do you unfeignedly believe all the Canonical Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament?'

This has seemed to many people to imply and require a very rigid belief, but I do not know that it does, because it does not define in what way the Scriptures are to be believed, whether they are to be believed only as authorities for the Christian faith and divine truth, or whether it means that every statement in them is to be considered true. The position of the Church of England, as that of the Catholic Church, is that we accept the Scriptures, we believe that they are of sufficient authority in matters of faith and are inspired by the Holy Spirit. No definition, however, is given of what inspiration means and no doctrine is imposed upon us. In this as in many other matters the self-restraint which has been exercised by the Christian Church in not imposing unnecessary belief is impressive.

But although the Church has shown this self-restraint, that has not been the case with theologians, and various theories have been maintained by them. Many have maintained the doctrine of verbal inspiration and the absolute truth of every statement contained in the Bible. It has been held that not only is every word of Scripture true, but that it is true apart from its context and the meaning of the passage in which it occurs, and this theory has been extended to translations. The Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the English Authorized Version have all been looked upon as verbally inspired. I do not think that it is possible at the present day to hold any such theory. We may argue in the first place deductively and point out that if God had intended the Bible to be verbally inspired he would not have allowed all the variations and errors which occur in the text. To have given the Church an authoritative inerrant document, verbally inspired, and to leave it in doubt as to what the words of the documents are, would be an action so inconsistent as to make us feel that it was not intended that we should hold any such theory about the Bible. Then secondly a very superficial acquaintance with the contents shows us that there are many variations and discrepancies in the subject-matter. Great ingenuity has been shown in attempting to reconcile these discrepancies, but that they are real no candid person can doubt. Then thirdly, if we attempt to hold any theory of verbal inspiration, we are faced with the gravest difficulties in relation to science, and modern thought, and modern criticism. There is much which the modern mind has discovered, which is in no way inconsistent with Christianity, but makes any theory of the inerrancy of Scripture untenable. No educated or thoughtful person at the present day can hold such a theory.

Now it must be realized that difficulties such as these were felt very strongly in the early Church. As soon as people began to study the Old and New Testaments side by side, they discovered that there were very serious differences between them, differences not only in detail but touching fundamental principles of morality. This was the cause of the heresy of Marcion, one of the most important of the Gnostic teachers of the second century. He pointed out what grave discrepancies there seemed to him in the moral teaching. The Old Testament says: 'An eye for an eye'; the New Testament says: 'Forgive your enemies, Bless them that curse you.' The idea of a progressive revelation had not been conceived, that God should gradually instruct the world, or that the world should gradually attain a knowledge of the truth. So he said that there were two Gods, the God of the Old Testament who was just and was the Creator, the God of the New Testament who was good and was the Redeemer. It was in consequence of this teaching among other reasons that the Creed emphasizes the belief in one God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, and that the early Councils said that the Old and New Testaments testified to the same God. It was a characteristic of early thought to hold that there must be a different reality corresponding to each separate mental conception. We of course think of different conceptions of the one reality, and say that the New Testament teaches a more perfect knowledge of the one God. So the difficulty of Marcion does not trouble us in the same way. But for those who started with the idea of the absolute equality of inspiration of the Old and New Testaments, who had no historical sense, or any idea of progressive revelation, the difficulties were very great.

It was these difficulties among others which caused the popularity of the allegorical method of interpretation. « On the allegorical method of the interpretation of Scripture see the Bampton Lectures of 1886 by F. W. Farrar, on The Interpretation of Scripture. That system was an inheritance from Greek sources. Homer has been described as the Bible of the Greeks. As thought progressed people became conscious that the behaviour of the gods and goddesses was not always harmonious with higher philosophical or religious teaching, and a tendency arose especially among philosophers to allegorize the stories. This method was taken over by Philo, the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, who applied it to the Old Testament and succeeded in thus deriving a system of philosophy which harmonized with Hellenic thought. The patriarchs, for example, he looked upon not as living persons, but as personifications of moral and spiritual ideas, and thus discovered in the Pentateuch the contemporary Platonism. From him and perhaps from other writers also this method passed to the Christian Church and was largely used by the Fathers. Here is an interesting example from the work called the Epistle of Barnabas. The author is commenting on the statement that Abraham circumcised all his household, in number, three hundred and eighteen. He points out that eighteen is formed out of ten and eight, and that ten is represented by the Greek letter ι and eight by η, and the two together make Ιη (Ἰησους). Then the 300 is represented by T and there you have the cross. So he finds in these words a prophecy of Christ and the Cross, and he adds:

'No man hath ever learned from me a more genuine word, but I know that you are worthy.'

If other illustration were wanted it might be found in the way in which any passage which mentions water is supposed to refer to baptism. For instance when Cyprian wished to prove that the baptism of heretics was invalid he quotes the text from the Song of Solomon:

'A garden shut is my sister, my bride; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.'
Song of Solomon iv. 12.

He argues as follows: if the Church is a garden shut up and a fountain sealed, how could he who is not in the Church enter into the garden or drink of the fountain? Therefore, the baptism of heretics is not valid. So the verse in Genesis:

'He hath washed his garments in wine, and his vesture in the blood of grapes,'
Genesis xlix. 11.

is habitually interpreted in Christian literature as referring to the Eucharist.

Now such a method of interpretation is both erroneous and dangerous. It is dangerous because it makes it possible to find arguments in the Bible for any superstitions, however harmful. It is a method which enables a man to prove anything that he desires. There is indeed a legitimate use of it. There are passages in the Bible which were intended to be so interpreted. A parable whenever it occurs is intended to teach a spiritual truth and not an historical fact. This use may be further extended. The apocalyptic language of the Old and New Testaments was not intended to be taken literally but symbolically. There is reason to suppose, as Origen has pointed out, that the story of the Temptation is not intended to be taken literally. Then this method may be used poetically, and if employed with taste and moderation, it may often serve to give a striking illustration. But as soon as it is used to prove doctrine it is harmful. For there is no standard of truth. Although rules were laid down for the spiritual interpretation of Scripture, it is really an entirely arbitrary method. It enables each person if he is sufficiently ingenious to find exactly what he wants, without any regard to the original meaning or a rational exegesis.

There is indeed one aspect from which the study of this method is valuable. It enables us to learn not indeed what the Bible means but what the Fathers thought. If a man finds Baptism and the Eucharist in every text of the Old Testament possible and impossible, it shows how full his mind was of these things and how strong was the belief in them in the early Church. In the same way the attempt of the Jews to find a Messianic meaning in passages of Scripture which have no such reference is of no value for the interpretation of those passages, but it is of great value as showing what were the Jewish expectations. It is not possible to find Scriptural proof for the Messianic expectation by using passages of the Old Testament which had a different meaning and have been allegorically interpreted, but the fact that they were so erroneously interpreted shows how strongly the Messianic belief prevailed among the Jews.

There are then two theories of inspiration which have prevailed widely. The one is verbal inspiration. That has always been found to be untenable when consistently applied, and is quite irreconcilable with modern beliefs. The other is the allegorical method, which largely arose out of the difficulties which any mechanical theory has always experienced. This has a certain value in poetry, in books of devotion and for mystical religion, although even in these directions it must be controlled by good sense, but for the proving of doctrine it is not only valueless but dangerous, and its use in sermons for edification is generally unwise.

Some attempts have been made to reconcile an a priori theory of inspiration with modern difficulties. This represents an attitude adopted by modern Roman Catholic apologists. St. Thomas Aquinas has stated that there can be nothing false in the literal sense of Holy Scripture. How can we reconcile that statement with facts? The answer that is given is this:

'If and whenever it is the manifest intention of a sacred author authoritatively to teach us a fact, however slight or unimportant, in any department whatsoever, the principle of Thomas Aquinas mmt find its full and irresistible application. ... There are, however, obviously many cases when such an intention is absent and can be introduced only by arbitrarily forcing one's private view on the text. . . . Who could, for instance, without assuming to himself the role of an authoritative interpreter of the mind of the sacred writer, maintain that the latter certainly meant to teach us that, at the battle of Gibeon, the sun itself stood still in the heavens in the literal sense of the words, and that any other interpretation of the text is positively excluded?'
Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, art. 'Inspiration' (Roman Catholic), vol. vii, p. 353.

This really means that if there is any statement of Scripture which we know to be untrue, it was not intended to be authoritatively taught, and that any statement which is authoritatively taught is therefore true. I am afraid that this seems to me to be an admirable instance of the difficulty of applying a priori theories to the inspiration of the Bible.


So far we have been considering theories of Inspiration which approach the problem from an a priori point of view, which construct a theory of what inspiration ought to mean and attempt to harmonize the fact with the theory; let us turn next to modern methods of approaching the problem represented most ably by Dr. Sanday's work on Inspiration. We must not start with a theory.

'Let the Bible', says Rothe, 'go forth into Christendom like any other book without allowing any dogmatic theory to assign it a reserved position in the ranks of books. Let it accomplish what it can of itself through its own character, and through that which each man can find in it for himself, and it will accomplish great things.'

We start our study of the Bible as we would that of any other book without presuppositions. Are there reasons for thinking that the result of our examination will be that we shall end in ascribing to it a very different position? There are two reasons given for thinking so. It is pointed out in the first place that there is a definite claim in Old and New Testament alike to be inspired. The prophets claim to speak the Word of God. They may vary in their literary methods, but throughout they give a message which they believe, as part of their experience, to come from God through his Spirit. 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.' Equally does St. Paul for example claim to speak through God's Spirit. This claim is made with a simplicity and strength which is most remarkable. It is a fact to which we are bound to give attention. It imposes upon us the obligation of examining the contents to see whether there is anything in it which justifies the claim.

It is pointed out again that these books appeal to the spiritual nature of man as no other book does. As Sir George Adam Smith says:

'Because the Bible is the only record of the redeeming love of God, because in the Bible alone I find God drawing near to man in Jesus Christ and declaring to us in Him his will for our salvation, and this record I know to be true by the witness of the Spirit in my heart, whereby I am assured that none other than God himself can speak such words in my soul,'

for such reasons we may hold that the claim made by the writers of the Bible is one that is justified. They did speak by the Spirit of God.

Such inspiration does not take the place of memory or reason. Rather we may say that the Spirit makes his presence felt by the influence which the narrative or teaching exercises upon us. The record is a human record, given by human means, but it is the record of divine action and behind all the narratives there is a spirit-filled Church.

'This inspiration was due not so much to the mysterious endowment of a few choice souls, but must be traced to the inspired life of all Christian believers.'

That is to say it is a record of religious experience shared by the Church as a whole, but put before us in greater strength and intensity by those of higher religious and moral experience. What are the limits of inspiration ? Dr. Sanday would put it to us as follows. It cannot be summed up in any single formula, but it includes all those points on which it is agreed that as a matter of fact the Bible does differ from and does excel all other books. It is what remains when the common element of the biblical religion and all other religions has been subtracted, when that which is peculiar to the Bible is left.


I would now conclude this investigation by suggesting to you a definition which may embrace those different aspects of the problem which have in turn presented themselves to us. The Bible is the record of a divine but progressive revelation delivered through the medium of human agents.

First, it is delivered through human agents. It is, therefore, coloured by the language, thought, and ideas of those through whom it was given. Revelation is given in relation to the thought and conceptions of those through whom it comes, and those for whom it was originally given. Everywhere throughout the Bible the religious teaching is adapted to the mental equipment of those who first received it. The science, philosophy, and mental environment is therefore in all cases that of the times and circumstances in which the book was first produced. Therefore, in order to find out what it means we must approach the Bible through a study of the thought of the age when it was produced.

Secondly, it is progressive. If we recognize that, we are able to approach the difficulties which have been raised about the Old Testament. We acknowledge that its morality is imperfect. In fact Our Lord himself says so. His righteousness is to exceed the righteousness of Scribes and Pharisees. Moses gave laws for the hardness of men's hearts. So again in the Hebrew Scriptures there is clearly a development in the conception of God. In fact the crude language of parts of the Old Testament was a difficulty to later Jews, and was modified or paraphrased in the Targums. The early ideas are anthropomorphic. The conception of God is henotheistic or mono-latrous. The God of the Jews was one among other Gods, although greater and more powerful than any. It was only gradually that Israel rose to the religious heights of the book of Isaiah, the belief in a God exalted in righteousness, who is God of the whole earth. Then came the still higher conception of the divine Father who cares for his children and the full teaching of Christianity that God is Love. This principle of progress and development will be found in the whole of the history of revelation from the earliest records to the coming of Christ. The Bible is the record of a revelation which is progressive.

Then thirdly, it may be reasonably asked, In what way can we learn from the earlier and clearly imperfect stages? In what way can we learn from the Old Testament? What can it teach us? The answer is that we must always interpret it from the point of view of the New Testament. We may apply the words of St. Augustine: Novum testamentum in vetere latet, vetus in novo patet. The New Testament lies hid in the Old, the Old Testament is revealed in the New. Modern criticism has taught us that the history of the religious development of Israel was different from the traditional view. The dates of the books of the Old Testament are changed for us. The Pentateuch was thought to represent the beginnings of the history of Israel; some parts represent the ultimate attainment. It is not our business now to discuss the details of this criticism; the point of view that I have to put to you is that to the Christian theologian these are matters of little importance. What are important for us are the spiritual and ethical values of the Old Testament, and the attainments of its theology and religion in its ultimate form. In our Lord's time there was an accepted Old Testament Scripture, and a religion based upon it which laid down great principles about God, truth, justice, righteousness, mercy, the mission and purpose of Israel. These great doctrines are taught in the Old Testament as a whole. They represent the ultimate attainment of Israel, the starting-point of Christianity. There can be no manner of doubt that they were taught and held by the Jews before the coming of Christ. If that be recognized the historical process by which that position was attained is a matter of secondary importance.

But fourthly, The Bible is the record of a revelation. It is a progressive revelation, it is a revelation delivered through human agents, but it is a revelation. It does reveal to man true things about the nature and being of God, about human life, about the purpose and end of man, about his conduct in the world, which man could not know or could only guess at. The Old Testament, through the experience of the Prophets, has revealed to the world the unity and transcendence of God, above all it revealed a righteous God. The New Testament, through the human experience of Jesus Christ the Son of God, revealed to us a God whose attribute is righteousness and who in his being and nature is love. He revealed to us righteousness, and duty, and service, and sacrifice, and love, as representing the ideal of human life because he exhibited them in the world as the attribute of deity. This is the revelation of God in Christ which the Bible records. It records too the process in history by which this truth was revealed to mankind, and the preparation for its revelation. But the Bible was not intended to reveal to us science, or political economy, or criticism, or any of those things which man by the exercise of the gifts which God has given him might attain. It is a revelation of God and of the things that transcend experience.

Let me put this to you in conclusion. There is no theory of inspiration or of the authority of Scripture which will save you or was intended to save you the trouble of finding out what the Bible means. A scientific investigator knows that he can only attain knowledge through hard and careful work, and the same is true of the theologian. There is indeed a simple interpretation of Christianity handed down by the Church, which brings its message to every person, however simple; but for the student whose business it is to interpret the Bible to his own generation, and who must, therefore, aim at understanding its most profound meaning, there is need for the same care and patience and industry as the man of science must exercise if he desires to know what is true. To interpret the Bible you need correct texts, and must recognize the immense labour expended and to be expended on that work. You must have studied and analysed the grammatical forms and the meaning of words. There too you inherit the erudition of generations of scholars, and here also a new field of exploration is presenting itself. Then you must know the historical situation and the method and thought of the times when the words were spoken. You have to recreate past life. And on that basis you have to recreate and interpret these records of the past. This is the scientific way of attaining Biblical truth. You cannot prove doctrines by using texts without reference to their original meaning and content, as though you were dealing with a legal code. The Revelation of God in the Bible is meant to enable us by the use of the reason which God has given us to attain to a knowledge of divine things. It is not meant to save us trouble.
<< | top | >>