By Michael Lynch
Every Wednesday in 2018, Michael Lynch (PhD candidate at Calvin Theological Seminary) and our own editor Danny Hyde (PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) will be blogging through Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. (2nd edition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003).
These volumes are currently out-of-print but used copies can be found online here. For a schedule of weekly readings, go here.
Week 11 (3/12-3/18): II.1.1 (pgs. 23–62)
Scholarship and Perspectives on the History of the Doctrine of Scripture
Muller begins this second volume noting the various difficulties facing the history of the doctrine of Scripture in the medieval and early modern period. First, the doctrine did not receive an independent treatment (loci) until the middle of the 16th century. Second, the investigation itself assumes a distinction between Scripture as source and doctrine as result, which is not always evident in theologies previous to the medieval period. Thus, Muller writes, “the explicit examination of Scripture as the proper basis for theology…is only scantily addressed before the rise of fully developed theological systems” (p. 25). The church fathers appeal to the inspiration and authority of Scripture but do not declare it formally. Muller warns against what has sometimes been called “Whiggish” historical theology, which allows theological concerns to impinge on the historical discipline in an unhealthy way. Muller suggests that the two disciplines ought to be distinguished. Historical theology is tasked with investigation, not dogmatizing.
The basic question Muller asks in this first section is: what are the continuities and discontinuities which exist as the doctrine of Scripture moves from medieval theology through the Reformation and into the post-Reformation context? The fundamental problem to reflect on, then, is the hermeneutical movement from authoritative Scripture to authoritative doctrine in the approach of the Reformed Orthodox in light of the medieval and Reformational approaches.
Canon, Inspiration, and the Interpretation of the Bible in Medieval Scholastic Theology
Many histories of the doctrine of Scripture have given the impression that medieval theology approached the text with philosophical and theological assumptions which overrode textual and exegetical questions. Muller, however, claims that this is not the case.
Interestingly, Muller points out that early medieval Bibles were not all agreed on what the biblical canon was; although, the Apocrypha were generally seen as “deutero-canonical.” Muller also notes the important role played by the medieval Glossa ordinaria. These running commentaries on Scripture began in the 12th century by Anselm of Laon and his pupils. The implicit assumption is that tradition and Scripture speak with one voice; the line between text and theology is not an absolute line. In the 13th century there was an increased emphasis on the original languages as well as the “literal” meaning of Scripture. This led to greater discussion of the merits of the medieval quadriga. As the scholastic era commenced, the literal meaning of the text is emphasized as having normative value in relation to the other three modes of reading Scripture. Muller demonstrates that the medieval doctors taught that the sacra pagina was to be the source of sacra theologia. Muller (p. 39) also notes Aquinas’ distinction between inspiration and revelation as laying the groundwork for later theologizing about Scripture. The former term refers to “the movement of the Spirit elevating the mind toward and giving it the capacity of divine knowledge.” The latter refers to “the actual presentation of the intellect of otherwise inaccessible knowledge.” Whereas the prophets received revelation, the holy writers received inspiration. Muller says that inspiration deals more with the affections, whereas revelation deals more with the intellect. Interestingly, Bonaventure (disagreeing with Aquinas) argues that prophets are inspired as well as given new revelation (with the former grounding the latter).
Late Medieval and Renaissance Approaches to Scripture and Interpretation
According to Muller, the 13th and 14th centuries saw Scripture (because God was its chief author) as the materially sufficient norm and standard for theology. According to Muller, Duns Scotus is to be credited for much of the development of the doctrine of Scripture in medieval theology. Duns Scotus takes what has been called a “tradition II” understanding of the relationship between tradition and Scripture, which saw tradition and Scripture as coequally revelatory. One of the important questions raised by scholasticism was the relationship between rational and supernatural truth. The theologians of the late middle ages, by and large, did not see tradition and scripture as in conflict. The difference (following Oberman) one finds in the late medieval ages is over the nature of tradition. Some theologians saw tradition as an ongoing means of God’s supernatural revelation while others saw Scripture as the norming norm while tradition stood in accord with Scripture. Though the sacra pagina was seen to be distinct from sacra theologia, the late medieval theologians generally differentiated between those truths derived from express statements of Scripture and those judgments of the church. An important historical reality in this late medieval period is the movement of some theologians away from the quadriga towards a more literal (or grammatical-historical) hermeneutic. However others, still holding on to a strong quadriga with an emphasis on the three spiritual meanings as having a normative role for theological development, led to friction between the two models. Finally, Muller points out that some began to suggest that the Christological reading corresponded to the spiritual meaning, others suggested that the literal meaning is the christological meaning. When one looks at the beginning of the 16th C. the humanists even give greater concern for the literal meaning, while frowning upon the scholastic method.
Join us next Wednesday as Danny Hyde blogs through the reading for Week 12 (3/19-3/25): II.1.2.1-2 (pgs. 62–119).
Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.
For previous posts in this series, see:
Week 1: I.1.1.1 (pgs. 27–46)
Week 2: I.1.1.2–3 (pgs. 46–84)
Week 3: I.1.2 (pgs. 85–146)
Week 4: I.2.3 (pgs. 149–176)
Week 5: I.2.4 (pgs. pgs. 177–220)
Week 6: I.2.5 (pgs. 221–269)
Week 7: I.2.6 (pgs. 270–310)
Week 8: I.2.7 (no post)
Week 9: I.2.8 (pgs. 360–405)
Week 10: I.2.9 (no post)
Meet the Puritans is the Alliance’s
voice of Puritan and Reformed Theology. It is supported
only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Meet the Puritans
and the mission of the Alliance.