Biblical Authority in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: A Question of Transition W. Robert Godfrey

Biblical Authority in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: A Question of Transition

W. Robert Godfrey


Sola Scriptura was one of the ringing cries of the Protestant Reformation. This affirmation spoke to the issue of religious authority and summarized the Protestant conviction that religious truth could be known with certainty, not from popes and councils, but from the Bible alone. As the declarations sola fide (by faith alone), sola gratia (by grace alone), and solus Christus (Christ alone) summarized the essence of the gospel, sola Scriptura pointed to the reliable source for all knowledge of that gospel.

Both historians and theologians have sought to understand the meaning of sola Scriptura for Protestants in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Recently they have given special attention to change and development in the understanding of the nature and authority of the Bible in this period. Most interpreters have seen a basic agreement and continuity between sixteenth-century Reformers and seventeenth-century orthodox theologians that the Bible was God’s Word and was absolutely reliable in all it said.1

Some theologians and historians in the past fifty years, often influenced by neoorthodoxy,2 have stressed the discontinuity between the Reformation and the following period of Protestant orthodoxy. This scholarship has argued that the contemporary evangelical belief in the absolute reliability or inerrancy of the Bible is a betrayal of the position of the early Reformers and grows instead from an innovation of seventeenth-century orthodoxy.

In the past decade, however, the stress on the discontinuity between the Reformation and the period of orthodoxy has been increasingly challenged. New studies have demonstrated that the lines of continuity between the Reformation and the period of orthodoxy are very strong and that the processes of change were much more gradual than had previously been seen.3 There were indeed changes: new enemies to be answered, old theological debates to be refined in ever more meticulous terms, and the perceived need for the more precise language of dialectics. But the fundamental theological direction remained the same.

This chapter will demonstrate that the continuity between sixteenth- and seventeenth-century theologies presented in recent scholarship applies to the question of biblical authority and that the period of orthodoxy faithfully received and maintained the basic position of the Reformation. While there were shifting emphases in the transition from Reformation to orthodoxy and while both eras may warrant criticism for some particular conclusions, Reformers and orthodox were one in their basic conviction about the Scriptures. For both the Bible is the only ultimate authority for Christians, and it is inerrant.

Examining in a single chapter the attitudes about biblical authority in two centuries requires that sharp limits be established. For this reason it will be useful for me to develop this chapter as a critique of one book that represents the position of those who deny that the Reformers accepted inerrancy and who see a belief in inerrancy as one of the bad products of orthodoxy. This recent book, Jack B. Rogers and Donald K. McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach,4 is an important one that demands careful evaluation. Rogers and McKim present a clear statement of the thesis that the Reformers did not accept the inerrancy of the Bible, a contention that must be tested against the primary and other secondary literature that reveals attitudes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries toward biblical authority.

Rogers and McKim develop their thesis on the foundation of a strict distinction between the function and the form of Scripture. They argue that church history bears eloquent testimony that the Bible is unfailing and absolutely reliable as it fulfills its function of presenting the message of salvation in Christ. They deny, however, that that infallible function is linked to an inerrant form. Indeed they insist that the greatest Christian thinkers, including the early Reformers, fully recognized errors in the form of the Bible while maintaining the faithful fulfillment of its function. They insist that by focusing on the function of the Bible the early Reformers (and the English Puritans until the time of John Owen) made Christ central and kept theology practical. The Reformers maintained Augustine’s view that one must believe in order to understand. They achieved this by recognizing that God had accommodated Himself to man. God’s Word is incarnated in man’s words. Errors are inevitable in such a process, Rogers and McKim maintain, but in no way detract from the saving function of the Bible.

According to Rogers and McKim, concern about an inerrant form is a serious departure from the position of the Reformers. Such concern reflects a loss of concern for the function of Scripture. In particular it means a loss of Christcenteredness, an exaltation of abstract theology, a failure to understand God’s act of accommodation in Scripture, and a return to the Aristotelian scholasticism that insists that one must understand in order to believe.

This chapter will demonstrate the inadequacy of the Rogers-McKim thesis in the light of the evidence in five key areas: (1) Luther’s thought, (2) Calvin’s thought, (3) the Reformed confessions and catechisms, (4) English Puritanism, and (5) continental Reformed orthodoxy.


Martin Luther (1483–1546) is one of the most heroic and fascinating figures of history. His reforming message radiated far beyond the pulpit and classroom of Wittenberg in electoral Saxony and continues to attract and stimulate students of his thought. There can be no doubt that his theology was profoundly centered in Christ and that he stressed that Christ was the message of the Scriptures. As Luther declared, “Christians receive Christ, the Son of God, as the central content of Holy Scripture. Having learned to know him, the remainder becomes meaningful to them and all scripture becomes transparent.”5 Thus Luther undeniably does stress the saving function of Scripture.

Luther does not accept, however, a dichotomy between the function and the form of the Bible as Rogers and McKim and others have suggested. Luther is concerned about questions relating to the form of Scripture, and his position on the form of Scripture is stated clearly: The Bible is inerrant. The following statements from Luther show his concern about inerrancy in matters of form: “But everyone, indeed, knows that at times they [the Fathers] have erred as men will; therefore, I am ready to trust them only when they prove their opinions from Scripture, which has never erred.”6 Also, “The Word of God is perfect: it is precious and pure: it is truth itself. There is no falsehood in it.”7 His concern for form is also expressed in terms of particulars: “Not only the words but also the expressions used by the Holy Spirit and Scripture are divine.”8 Luther argues further that “one letter, even a single tittle of Scripture means more to us than heaven and earth. Therefore we cannot permit even the most minute change.”9

Even in his most famous words Luther bore testimony to his concern for the form of Scripture. When Luther appeared at the Diet of Worms in 1521 before Emperor Charles V and the powers of this world, he pointed to the Bible as the religious authority that formed the foundation of the gospel that he preached. He declared, “Unless I am convinced by testimony from Scripture or evident reason—for I believe neither the Pope nor the Councils alone, since it is established that they have often erred and contradicted themselves—I am conquered by the writings cited by me, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God; I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor honest to do aught against conscience.”10 Inherent in this statement is Luther’s conviction that the Word of God, which holds him captive, does not contradict itself and does not err.

Luther also used his commitment to the absolutely reliable form of Scripture in his theology. Particularly in defending his eucharistic theology Luther showed his trust in the precise words of Scripture. In answering the Zwinglians he pressed the form as well as the function of the words of Scripture:

Therefore you can joyfully say to Christ, both at your death and in the Last Judgment: My dear Lord Jesus, there has arisen a strife about Thy words at the Last Supper. Some want them to be understood differently from what they say. However, since they cannot teach me anything certain, but only lead me into confusion and uncertainty … I have remained with Thy text as the words stand. If there should be an obscurity in them, Thou wilt bear with me if I do not completely understand them, just as Thou didst forbear with Thine apostles when they did not understand Thee in many things—for instance, when Thou didst speak to them about Thy suffering and resurrection, and yet they retained Thy words and did not alter them. As also Thy dear mother did not understand when Thou didst tell her, Luke 2, “I must be about my Father’s business,” and yet she kept these words in her heart and did not alter them: Thus, I also have remained with these Thy words: This is my body, etc. Lo, no enthusiast will dare to speak thus with Christ.11

Luther was quite willing to rest one of his major theological concerns on the precise form of the little word is because he believed that every word of the Bible is God’s Word.

The analysis of Luther’s theology by Rogers and McKim argues, contrary to Luther’s own testimony, that the great Reformer was not concerned about the form of Scripture. They point to Luther’s stress that God has accommodated Himself in speaking to man in the Scriptures. The Scriptures are accommodated to man in a way analogous to the incarnation of the Eternal Word. For Rogers and McKim this accommodation means that the Bible is written in “weak and imperfect human speech.”12 They cite Luther’s words, “Holy Scripture possesses no external glory, attracts no attention, lacks all beauty and adornment.”13

Rogers and McKim, however, seriously misuse the concept of accommodation in regard to Luther and others in their book. They assume, without real examination, the absolute truth of Seneca’s maxim: “To err is human.” If God accommodated Himself to human language in the Bible, then, they assume, it must contain errors. But is error absolutely inevitable in all things human? This question comes to sharpest focus when the principle of accommodation is related to the Incarnation. Is the incarnate form of Jesus Christ irrelevant to His saving function? Is not Jesus’ person (His form) foundational to His work (His function)? Is not the human speech of Jesus Christ without error? There is nothing in the principle of accommodation as used by Luther that conflicts with biblical inerrancy. In fact just the opposite is true.

Luther’s comments on the lack of beauty in the Scriptures also are in harmony with a doctrine of inerrancy. Luther wrote in the context of the Renaissance’s revived knowledge of ancient literature. Luther like others noted the Scripture’s commonness and lack of beauty when compared to Ciceronian eloquence. But Luther denied that the plainness and simplicity of the Bible detracted from the clarity, efficacy, or authority of its revelation of Jesus Christ. Luther’s recognition that Scripture does not speak with the eloquence of this world was not at all a recognition of error in the Bible. Lack of stylistic grandeur is not an error.

Further, Rogers and McKim refer to specific instances in which Luther supposedly recognized errors in the details of the Bible. Their list of errors is taken from the one-page discussion of this subject in Reinhold Seeberg’s History of Doctrines.14 Curiously they do not take serious account of several important secondary sources that argue a position very different from their own.15 For example, Paul Althaus in his highly respected work The Theology of Martin Luther summarizes Luther’s position: “Scripture never errs. Therefore it alone has unconditional authority.”16 A. Skevington Wood in Captive to the Word, Martin Luther: Doctor of Sacred Scripture concludes that “Luther’s doctrine of inspiration is inseparably linked with that of inerrancy.”17 M. Reu in his very careful study Luther and the Scriptures reaches the same conclusion.18

Those who try to deny inerrancy in Luther use other arguments as well. Often they refer to Luther’s questions on the canonicity of certain books. But such an argument is not relevant. Canonicity and inerrancy are quite separate theological subjects. However, Luther’s concern with questions of canonicity does show his concern for the form of Scripture, indeed it shows that he ties form and function (canon and the gospel message) closely together.

Sometimes Luther’s recognition of problems in harmonizing Gospel accounts is cited as evidence of his rejection of inerrancy. One notable example is Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple, which Matthew places at the end of Jesus’ ministry and John places near the beginning.19 Several scholars refer to Luther’s statement that the failure to harmonize this difference between Matthew and John cannot undermine one’s faith in Christ.20 In the context, however, Luther’s statement does not show either an indifference to form or a recognition of error in the Bible. Luther in this instance first suggested different possibilities of harmonization. He then suggested his own preferred solution to the problem. Yet he did not insist on his solution, acknowledging, “These are problems and will remain problems. I shall not venture to settle them. Nor are they essential.”21 He explained that such problems remain, in part, because the Evangelists do not necessarily intend to give a chronological order and because Christian faith does not require full knowledge of chronological details: “All the evangelists agree on this, that Christ died for our sins. But in their accounts of Christ’s deeds and miracles they do not observe a uniform order and often ignore the proper chronological sequence.”22 But the lack of chronological order is not an error for Luther as he shows in another place where he dealt with a problem of harmonization: “St. Luke testifies at the beginning of his Gospel that he wanted to record all things from the beginning in order.… Therefore there is no question that Matthew did not retain the exact order, but Luke has obligated himself to do so and does so in fact.”23 It is clear that Luther, in facing his problems of harmonizing certain texts and in recognizing different methodologies used by different Gospel writers, was indeed concerned about the form of the Scriptures and was not ascribing error to the Bible.

In concluding this brief look at Luther’s view of biblical authority, one must remember that Luther was influenced by Renaissance humanist study of literature. He recognized differences of style and was sensitive to the context in studying Scripture. He applied the best scholarly tools to the study of the Bible. But his commitment to scholarship was not based on a separation of function and form as Rogers and McKim suggest: “Luther’s faith, therefore, was in the subject matter of Scripture, not its form, which was the object of scholarly investigation.”24 Luther rejected any such dualism. Reason and scholarship are helpful tools in understanding the Scripture, but must be used with true faith and must ultimately submit to the form as well as the function of Scripture: “Believing and reading scripture means that we hear the Word from Christ’s mouth. When that happens to you, you know that this is no mere human word, but truly God’s.”25


John Calvin (1509–1564) was the most brilliant light of the second generation of the Reformers. He came from quite a different background from that of Martin Luther. He was raised in an upper-middle-class family in northern France. He received a fine humanist education in the classics and in the law. He was not steeped in scholastic theology as Luther had been. His life’s work was done largely in a Swiss city-state. While Luther wrote largely on specific theological topics or detailed and extended commentaries, Calvin was more a systematic theologian (as shown by his Institutes of the Christian Religion) and a commentator on many biblical books in his style of “lucid brevity.”

Despite such divergent personal histories, Calvin saw his own theology as very similar to that of Luther. While there were differences, especially on the Lord’s Supper, Calvin saw himself as part of the theological movement that Luther had pioneered. This unity certainly existed in their theology of biblical authority. Calvin, like Luther, stressed the primary importance of the Bible’s saving function: “This is what we should in short seek in the whole Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.”26

Calvin, again like Luther, did not separate function from form in his doctrine of Scripture. The form as well as the function were from God Himself, as Calvin’s famous words in the Institutes show: “Hence the Scriptures obtain full authority among believers only when men regard them as having sprung from heaven, as if there the living words of God were heard.”27 He could speak of the apostles as “sure and genuine scribes of the Holy Spirit, and their writings are therefore to be considered oracles of God.”28 In another clear statement Calvin linked the certainty of faith and the saving message of Scripture to the absolute truthfulness of its form:

Now, therefore, we hold faith to be a knowledge of God’s will toward us, perceived from His Word. But the foundation of this is a preconceived conviction of God’s truth. As for its certainty, so long as your mind is at war with itself, the Word will be of doubtful and weak authority, or rather of none. And it is not even enough to believe that God is trustworthy, who can neither deceive nor lie, unless you hold to be beyond doubt that whatever proceeds from Him is sacred and inviolable truth.29

In his commentaries Calvin also gave testimony to his belief in the truthfulness of Scripture in words that show a confidence in the inerrancy of its form. In speaking of the praise of the law in Psalm 119:105, Calvin noted, “Let us, then, be assured that an unerring light is to be found there, provided we open our eyes to behold it.”30 In commenting on 2 Timothy 3:16 Calvin distinguished yet bound together the form and function of the Bible as he spoke of its authority and its profit:

First he [Paul] commends the Scripture because of its authority, and then because of the profit that comes from it. To assert its authority he teaches that it is inspired of God, for, if that is so, it is beyond all question that men should receive it with reverence.… This is the meaning of the first clause, that we owe to Scripture the same reverence as we owe to God, since it has its only source in Him and has nothing of human origin mixed with it.31

His absolute confidence in the form of Scripture is shown in his reliance on the details of the Bible. After noting the differences of style between 1 Peter and 2 Peter and acknowledging that some in the ancient church denied the canonicity of 2 Peter, Calvin concluded, “If it [2 Peter] be received as canonical, we must allow Peter to be the author, since it has his name inscribed, and he also testifies that he lived with Christ: and it would have been a fiction unworthy of a minister of Christ, to have personated another individual.”32 Indeed Calvin judged that those who find fault with God’s Word have a serious moral problem:

And he affirms that his love to God’s word was not a rash, or a blind and inconsiderate affection, but that he loved it, because like gold or silver which has been refined, it was pure and free from all dregs and dross.… How few are there who are not guilty, either by their distrust, or waywardness, or pride, or voluptuousness, of casting upon God’s word some spot or stain! The flesh then being so rebellious, it is no small commendation of revealed truth, when it is compared to gold well refined, so that it shines pure from all defilement.33

Against such evidence as that cited above, Rogers and McKim, like others, have sought to show that Calvin did not accept the inerrancy of Scripture. Their procedure is to present various kinds of evidence that they believe shows that Calvin did not hold to inerrancy. Some of this material is similar to that cited from Luther. They note that Calvin saw God accommodating Himself to man in Scripture and they assume, without demonstration, that Calvin believed that the Bible was written in “imperfect language.”34 As argued above in reference to Luther, the principle of accommodation does not entail error.

Rogers and McKim also note Calvin’s recognition that the Bible was not always written in an exalted style,35 but they wrongly infer that this shows Calvin’s lack of concern for Scripture’s form. Calvin, like Luther, referred to the common style of Scripture, not to accuse it of error, but to defend it from Ciceronian humanist critics.

Rogers and McKim also present new lines of argument and evidence from what was discussed in relation to Luther. They point out that Calvin recognized that some New Testament quotations from the Old Testament were paraphrases rather than exact quotes. They infer that Calvin saw these as “imperfect” and as “inaccuracies.”36 But Calvin did not say that, and it is far from self-evident that a paraphrase is an error. Indeed Calvin recognized the legitimacy of the paraphrases precisely to vindicate the form the apostolic writings took and to preserve them from the charge of error. So too when Calvin noted that some New Testament uses of Old Testament texts were not full expositions but were rather allusions to or applications of those texts, Rogers and McKim believe that Calvin was recognizing an error. But in Calvin’s words, cited by Rogers and McKim, he made such observations to show that “there is nothing improper”37 in that apostolic practice. Calvin did not regard such practices as erroneous.

Another kind of error recognized by Calvin, Rogers and McKim argue, is in the area of science. They refer to Calvin’s argument that Moses wrote in Genesis not as a scientist, but as a theologian.38 Calvin was arguing the propriety of a theologian talking of scientific matters in popular language, oriented to human observation of natural phenomena (e.g., “The sun rises”) rather than in the language of scientific exactness. Calvin was arguing that such a procedure was proper and involved no misrepresentation of the truth. Calvin was not accepting a dualism by which “scientific” truth could be set in opposition to revealed statements of Scripture. While the vocabulary, purpose, perspective, and fullness of the discussion of natural phenomena would differ for the theologian and for the scientist, both were teaching the same truth, according to Calvin. In this area too, there is no evidence that Calvin perceived errors in the Bible.

Still Rogers and McKim offer one more piece of evidence that seems decisive: “In his commentary on Acts 7:16, Calvin declared that Luke had ‘made a manifest error.’ …”39 In this instance, however, the error is that of Rogers and McKim. Calvin actually said, “But when he [Luke] goes on to say that they were buried in the sepulchre which Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor, it is obvious that an error has been made in the name of Abraham.… This verse must be amended accordingly.”40 Calvin did indeed recognize an error in the text at Acts 7:16 and insisted that the text be changed. But he did not explicitly attribute the error to Luke. Indeed in the context it is likely that Calvin meant something quite different. Two paragraphs earlier Calvin wrote on Acts 7:14:

In saying that Jacob came into Egypt with seventy-five people, Stephen does not agree with Moses, whose reckoning is only seventy.… Therefore I conclude that this discrepancy arose by an error on the part of copyists [of the Septuagint]. But this was not such an important matter that Luke should have confused the Gentiles over it, when they were used to the Greek reading. And it is possible that he himself did write down the true number, but somebody erroneously changed it from the verse of Moses.… If anyone is to persist in disputing this, let us allow him a superiority of wisdom. Let us remember that it is not for nothing that Paul forbids us to be troubled and curious about genealogies (Titus 3:9).41

Several points emerge from these quotations. First, Calvin did not believe that one should be unduly troubled by problems of harmonization. Vain curiosity is a danger to the spiritual life. Second, in recognizing his problem in harmonizing the text, he did not conclude that Luke had made an error in his writing. Calvin was not indifferent to the form of the text but on Acts 7:14 he spent a long paragraph investigating various ways of accounting for and understanding the form of the text. Third, his own solution in Acts 7:14 was that copyists had made an error. It is most probable therefore that he assumed the same origin for the error in Acts 7:16. Indeed his insistence that the text of Acts 7:16 should be amended almost certainly means that he attributed the error to a copyist. Rogers and McKim want to conclude from such evidence that Calvin acknowledged “historical inaccuracies”42 in the text. But that simply is not the case.43

In concluding this brief look at Calvin’s doctrine of biblical authority, it is useful to reflect on John Leith’s stimulating observation: “Scholars disagree whether Calvin believed in verbal inerrancy. The evidence seems to point to a more liberal understanding than verbal inerrancy connotes today, though Calvin did certainly insist that the words of Scripture are the very words of God. The question can probably never be answered, for Calvin never faced the question in the way in which any man who has encounted critical historical studies must ask it.… For this reason it is futile to find answers in Calvin’s writings to new questions raised by modern historical consciousness.”44 Leith is right to insist that Calvin did not face modern criticism of the Bible. He may be right that some modern inerrantists would have problems occasionally with Calvin’s approach to a problem of harmonization.45 And Calvin certainly cannot be expected to have anticipated all specific questions raised by modern critics of the Bible. But when the “modern historical consciousness” rejects the Bible in part or wholly as God’s Word, when it stands in judgment of the Bible’s complete truthfulness and reliability, the position of Calvin is clear and relevant. The “words of Scripture are the very words of God.” Calvin would insist that the modern Christian as well as the sixteenth-century Christian must submit every thought to the Word of God and allow the Bible to stand as judge of man’s truth and even of man’s historical consciousness. Calvin was committed to the best of scholarship, but rejected all dualism between a saving function of the Bible, which is the concern of the pastor, and the form of Scripture, which is the concern of independent scholars.46 Calvin believed that every word of the Bible was God’s Word and that every word was true in all that it says. In Calvin then is clearly found a belief in biblical inerrancy.


The Reformed confessions and catechisms stress the saving message of the Scripture, for that was a principal distinctive of Protestants over against the Roman Catholic church. The Reformers maintained that the Bible contained the complete and clear message of salvation and that Christians did not need the additions of tradition or the authoritative interpretations of the church. The Reformers had no dispute with Rome over the truthfulness of the whole Bible. Thus defense of the Scripture’s reliability does not figure prominently in the confessions and catechisms. Still the confessions do assert a commitment to the full truthfulness of the Scripture. A few examples serve to demonstrate this commitment to an inerrant Bible.

Calvin’s Catechism of the Church of Geneva (1545) declared that one profits from Scripture when “we lay hold on it with complete heartfelt conviction as nothing less than certain truth come down from heaven.”47 The French Confession of 1559, which Calvin helped write, declared that the Word of God is “the rule of all truth.”48 The Belgic Confession (1561) is more extensive in its statements. It confessed that the Scriptures, “against which nothing can be alleged,”49 are the “infallible rule”50 of Christians who believe “without doubt, all things contained in them.”51

The Heidelberg Catechism makes the same confession in its definition of faith (A. 21): “I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his Word.” Zacharias Ursinus, one of the authors of the Catechism, in commenting on this statement, wrote that an essential element of faith “is to yield assent to every word of God delivered to the church.”52 He insisted that the faithful Christian “believes that every thing which the Scriptures contain is true, and from God.”53


English Puritanism has attracted many interpreters because of its great formative influence, particularly because of its place in the development of American church history. Puritanism was a theological movement with its own distinctive characteristics because of the unique environment in which it developed. Puritanism grew up within the Church of England, a church that was Reformed in doctrine, but according to the Puritans, not fully Reformed in practice. As a result the Puritans often focused their theological interests on matters of ecclesiastical and personal practice. Puritan theology had a distinctively practical cast to it.

Rogers and McKim emphasize the distinctiveness of Puritan theology as the foundation for their thesis that English Puritanism represents an exception to the early triumph of scholasticism in seventeenth-century Reformed theology. They argue that the practical, nonscholastic character of Puritan theology, flowing out of the unique ecclesiastical politics and philosophical orientation of England,54 preserved Puritanism from excessive concern about the form of Scripture and from the doctrine of inerrancy.

The distinctive interaction of Puritan theology with its environment, however, does not actually provide a foundation for the approach Rogers and McKim take.55 Both Puritans and continental Reformed theologians saw themselves as members of a cooperative international Reformed community. The English, for example, participated fully in the Synod of Dort,56 and Puritans like William Ames hailed Dort’s theological statements. English Puritans and continental Reformed theologians shared most theological viewpoints, including a belief in inerrancy.

Even more important than the unique ecclesiastical politics in England, Rogers and McKim argue, were the unique philosophical conditions. Among English Puritans the philosophy of Peter Ramus was dominant. This philosophical approach retained more of the Augustinian, rhetorical tradition and claimed to reject Aristotle. Rogers and McKim maintain that it was Ramus who kept English Puritanism focused on the message of the Scripture and free of concern about an inerrant form of Scripture.

Ramism, however, was not as theologically determinative as Rogers and McKim claim. The methodology of Ramism often yielded the same theological conclusions as the methodology of Aristotle. For example, the Ramist Arminius sharply attacked the Ramist Perkins for his strong supralapsarian views, while the Aristotelian Gomarus defended Perkins. Neither did Ramism necessarily keep one from rationalism as Rogers and McKim imply. For example, Moise Amyraut was very much influenced by the Ramist tradition,57 but he was at the same time a rationalist: “Amyraut was a rationalist in the sense that he submitted all truths to the test of reason.”58

William Ames is the strongest example of the inadequacy of Rogers and McKim’s efforts to show that the Puritans did not accept inerrancy. Ames was a militant Puritan (a nonconformist) and a Ramist. He wrote one of the most influential Puritan handbooks of theology, The Marrow of Theology (third edition, 1629). Yet in his Marrow, contrary to what one would have expected according to Rogers and McKim, Ames clearly teaches inerrancy. Writing of the manner in which the authors of the Bible were inspired, Ames stated:

Some things were known by a natural knowledge and some by a supernatural. In those things that were hidden and unknown, divine inspiration was a work by itself. In those things which were known, or where the knowledge was obtained by ordinary means, there was added the writers’ devout zeal so that (God assisting them) they might not err in writing.

In all those things made known by supernatural inspiration, whether matters of right or fact, God inspired not only the subjects to be written about but dictated and suggested the very words in which they should be set forth. But this was done with a subtle tempering so that every writer might use the manner of speaking which most suited his person and condition.59

This statement shows that Ames was indeed concerned about the form of Scripture and that he did explicitly proclaim the inerrancy of the Bible.


Reformed orthodoxy, as noted in the introduction to this study, has been the object of considerable scholarly investigation and debate. Many more thorough studies will be needed before more exact lines of continuity and discontinuity can be established between the early Reformers and the period of orthodoxy. Such investigation must be attentive to the new historical situation that seventeenth-century orthodox theologians faced. The particulars of orthodox theology cannot be examined in the abstract. Nor can the adequacy of its constructs be fully determined without considering the historical context that produced seventeenth-century orthodoxy.

Rogers and McKim enter this scholarly discussion with their chapter on Protestant orthodoxy.60 The first part of that chapter examines various stages and elements in the development of Protestant orthodoxy and the second part examines Francis Turretin, who epitomizes Reformed scholasticism. Rogers and McKim insist that the development of orthodoxy represents a steady erosion of the Reformation teaching on the centrality of Christ, faith, and the saving message of the Scripture. They argue that orthodoxy represents the progressive triumph of matters of form over the saving function of the Bible. In this era of decline, they argue, the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture arose in Protestantism.

Within the brief scope of this study it is impossible to examine all of the assertions of Rogers and McKim in this area.61 What should emerge from this study, however, is clear evidence that the orthodox remained concerned for the centrality of the saving message of the Scripture just as the early Reformers had been concerned about the inerrant form of the Scriptures. Also it should be clear that the orthodox discussion of the formal authority of Scripture retained most, if not all, of the emphases of the early Reformers. In this chapter I will discuss orthodoxy with a brief methodological observation first and then with a more extensive analysis of the work of Francis Turretin.

Methodologically Rogers and McKim begin by rightly recognizing the important new threats to Protestantism posed by the rise of Socinianism and of a revived Roman Catholicism in the late sixteenth century.62 But they fail to appreciate the seriousness of these threats. They seem quickly to forget that these heirs of the Reformation had new challenges to answer that necessitated theological development. Those new challenges were often in the area of formal authority of the Scripture: the Socinians insisting on a determinative role for reason and the Roman Catholics pressing the refined arguments of Robert Bellarmine and others for an authoritative church. The orthodox Protestants necessarily responded by refining and elaborating their arguments for the sole authority of a completely reliable Bible. But in their legitimate, scholarly concern for the form of Scripture the orthodox were only continuing the work begun by the early Reformers. The evidence also shows that the orthodox continued to insist on the importance of the saving message of the gospel.63

Francis Turretin (1623–1687) was born in Geneva to a Reformed family of Italian refugee stock. His father was a minister and a professor of theology. He received an education in Geneva from orthodox theologians and himself became a pastor and served as a professor of theology in Geneva from 1653 to 1687. His most noted work was his great systematic theology, Institutio Theologiae Elencticae.

For Rogers and McKim, Turretin epitomizes the deadly interest of Reformed scholasticism in the inerrant form of Scripture. They maintain that “Turretin apparently realized that Calvin’s approach to Scripture was antithetical to his own.”64 They particularly focus on Turretin’s understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit and of reason in attesting to the authority of Scripture. They also critique his scholarly approach to the Scripture and the role of the concept of accommodation in his theology of the Bible. While this study cannot offer a complete study of the historical forces bearing on Turretin or an exhaustive study of Turretin’s views of Scripture, it can demonstrate serious deficiencies in Rogers and McKim’s line of approach.65

Rogers and McKim criticize Turretin for not resting the authority of the Bible’s message—its saving function—on the internal witness of the Spirit. They see Turretin limiting the Spirit to the realm of belief in the inerrant form of Scripture.66 But Turretin could speak strongly of the role of the Spirit:

The Holy Spirit, the supplier, by whom believers should be God-taught, Jer. 31:34, John 1:43, 1 John 2:27, does not render the Scripture less necessary; because he is not given to us in order to introduce new revelations, but to impress the written word on our hearts; So that here the word must never be separated from the Spirit, Isa. 59:21. The former works objectively, the latter efficiently; the former strikes the ears from without, the latter opens the heart within: The Spirit is the Teacher, Scripture is the doctrine which he teaches us.67

The doctrine or message of Scripture to which Turretin referred is not some formal matter but the content of the Bible, which he could summarize elsewhere as

the wonderful sublimity of the mysteries, which could have been discovered by no sharp sightedness of reason; such as the Trinity, Incarnation, the Satisfaction of Christ, the Resurrection of the dead and the like. The holiness and purity of the precepts, regulating even the thoughts, and the internal affects of the heart, and adapted to render man perfect in every kind of virtue and worthy of his maker.…68

Contrary to Rogers and McKim,69 it is also clear that Turretin did not derive the authority of the Bible from its inerrant form. He did indeed argue that a Bible with errors would not be authoritative and labored at length to demonstrate the inerrancy of the Bible. But he was clear that its inerrant form was a result of its divine authority and origin: “Upon the Origin of Scriptures, which we have just discussed, depends their authority, for just because they are from God, they must be authentic and divine.” And further, “When the Divinity of the Scriptures is proved, as in the preceding question, its infallibility necessarily follows.”70

Turretin also discussed in some detail how man could know that the Bible was God’s Word. He said clearly that only the Spirit could convince a person of the Bible’s divine origin. In harmony with Calvin, Turretin argued that the Spirit does this convincing, not by the testimony of the church, but by the Scripture itself: “But concerning the Argument or principle motive which the Spirit uses in persuading us of its truth,” it is not “the inartificial argument of the testimony of the church, as the Papists say,” but it is “the artificial, derived from the marks of the Scripture itself, which we hold.”71 Turretin further claimed that not only the Bible’s claims about itself (its autopistic character) established its authority, but also the marks of the Scripture establish it:

The Bible proves itself divine, not only authoritatively and in the manner of an inartificial argument or of testimony, when it proclaims itself God-inspired: which although it may be well used against those Christians who profess to believe it, yet cannot be employed against those who reject it. But ratiocinatively, by an artificial argument, from the marks which God has impressed upon the Scriptures and which furnish indubitable proofs of divinity. For as the works of God exhibit visibly to our eyes by certain marks the incomparable excellence of the Artificer himself, and as the sun makes himself known by his own light; so he wished in the Bible, which is an emanation from the Father of lights and the Sun of righteousness, to send forth different rays of divinity, by which he might make himself known.72

Turretin in his discussion of the marks of the Bible distinguished between the external and the internal marks, of which the internal are the more persuasive.73 The external marks include the antiquity and survival of the Bible, the weakness of the authors who produced such a work, and the witness of the martyrs and all people.74 The internal marks are the matter of Scripture (Christ and the gospel), the style, the form (the harmony of the doctrine), and the end (the glory of God and the salvation of men).75

Turretin’s discussion of the possibility of proving the Bible by its marks is wholly in harmony with Calvin. Calvin insisted, “True, if we wished to proceed by arguments, we might advance many things that would easily prove—if there is a god in heaven—that the law, the prophets, and the gospel come from him.”76 Calvin even listed some such evidence: “What wonderful confirmation ensues when, with keener study, we ponder the economy of the divine wisdom, so well ordered and disposed; the completely heavenly character of its doctrine, savoring of nothing earthly; the beautiful agreement of all the parts with one another—as well as such other qualities as can gain majesty for the writings.”77 Calvin also discussed other confirmations such as the antiquity of the Scriptures, the miracles that accompanied the revelation, and the testimony of the whole church and the martyrs.78 Calvin’s list of confirmations is very similar to Turretin’s list of marks.

There is one significant difference, however, between Calvin and Turretin on the usefulness of these marks. Calvin insisted that one believes the Bible without marks or proofs. He declared passionately:

For even if it [the Bible] wins reverence for itself by its own majesty, it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through the Spirit. Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to it as to a thing far beyond any guesswork! This we do, not as persons accustomed to seize upon some unknown thing, which under close scrutiny displeases them, but fully conscious that we hold the unassailable truth!… we feel that the undoubted power of his divine majesty lives and breathes there. By this power we are drawn and inflamed, knowingly and willingly, to obey him, yet also more vitally and more effectively than by mere willing or knowing.79

While Calvin was not speaking of some irrational mysticism here, he did claim that acceptance of the Bible’s authority is more profound than knowing: it is feeling. He seems to be speaking of a direct intuition of the Bible’s truth: “As to their question—How can we be assured that this has sprung from God unless we have recourse to the decree of the church?—it is as if someone asked: Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter?”80 For Calvin proofs were “very useful aids,”81 but only to those already accepting the Bible.

Turretin went beyond and to some extent against Calvin in arguing that marks or proofs can (but do not have to) be useful in coming to an acceptance of the Bible. He maintained:

Although faith may be founded upon the authority of testimony, and not upon scientific demonstration, it does not thence follow that it cannot be assisted by artificial arguments, especially in erecting the principles of faith: because before faith can believe, it must have the divinity of the witness to whom faith is to be given, clearly established, from certain true marks which are apprehended in it, otherwise it cannot believe. For where suitable reasons of believing anyone are wanting the testimony of such a witness cannot be worthy of credence.82

Turretin said, as Calvin would have, that faith must have something to believe before it can believe, but further Turretin argued, as Calvin would not have, that rational demonstration can be used to support what needs to be believed.

While there is a difference between Calvin and Turretin here, this difference is not directly relevant to the subject of inerrancy. Both Calvin and Turretin agree with the doctrine of inerrancy and disagree only on the usefulness of the proofs of the Bible’s authority in bringing one to trust the Bible. This disagreement may represent a greater role for reason and for Aristotle in Turretin than in Calvin, but does not represent some fundamental betrayal of the Reformation perspective as Rogers and McKim seem to suggest.83

Further Turretin’s orthodoxy did not lead him away from the humanistic principles of interpretation developed in the early Reformation. He did not treat the Scripture simply as a series of propositions or proof texts laid out for the convenience of systematic theologians.84 He insisted on taking the context of any Scriptural text seriously:

To ascertain the true sense of the Scriptures, Interpretation is needed, not only of the words, which are contained in the versions, but also of the things.… But for this, after fervent prayer to God, there is need of an inspection of the sources, the knowledge of languages, the distinction between proper and figurative words, attention to the scope and circumstances, collation of passages, connexion of what precedes and follows, removal of prejudices, and confirmation of the interpretation of the analogy of faith.85

He also fully recognized that the authors of Scripture selected and ordered their material in various ways: “For these histories are not written so in detail as to contain every circumstance; many things were undoubtedly brought into a narrow compass, other things which did not appear to be so important, omitted.”86

Turretin also accepted the legitimacy of other scholarly opinions than his own in dealing with apparent errors in the Bible. He certainly did not hang faith on only one theory in this matter.87 He taught:

Others again think that a few very slight errors have crept into the Scriptures, and even now exist, which cannot be corrected by any collation of Manuscripts, not to be imputed, however, to the sacred writers themselves, but partly to the injuries of time, partly to the fault of copyists and librarians.… Thus Scaliger, Cappellus, Amamus, Vossius and others think. Finally others defend the integrity of the Scriptures and say that these various contradictions are only apparent.88

Turretin held to the latter opinion and argued vigorously for it, but recognized the former as orthodox.

In a related area, many have criticized Turretin for his prominent role in the preparation and propagation of the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675). They point especially to these words of the Consensus: “But, in particular, the Hebrew Original of the Old Testament, which we have received and to this day do retain as handed down by the Jewish Church, … is, not only in its consonants, but in its vowels—either the vowel points themselves, or at least the power of the points—not only in its matter, but in its words, inspired by God.…”89 They claim that these words demonstrate the intellectual absurdities into which proponents of inerrancy are led. Two observations are important here. First, in Turretin’s day the position of the Consensus was not absurd and was one defensible scholarly theory.90 Turretin and other supporters of the Consensus reasserted their conviction that they possessed the true text of the Scripture both in its consonants and in the force of the vowels. They were continuing a humanistic emphasis on the importance of the original sources. They believed that they had a reliable copy of the original Hebrew text and so rejected emendations of that text by an appeal to translations.91 They believed that the Masoretic vowel pointing faithfully presented the force of the vowels for the original text and so rejected criticism of that vocalization.

The second observation is that modern scholarship has indeed shown that the position of the Consensus on these matters of text is wrong. Turretin’s belief that he possessed a fully reliable copy of the Hebrew original cannot be maintained. But modern rejection of Turretin’s view of the Hebrew text does not demonstrate that his commitment to biblical authority was absurd. Turretin did regard his views on the Hebrew text as an element in his defense of the Bible’s inerrant authority. He argued that Christians possessed inerrant copies of the inerrant original. But the collapse of that one element of his defense, does not make the doctrine of the inerrancy of the original autographs untenable either for Turretin or for those who continued to share his concerns.

For Rogers and McKim Turretin’s formalization of Scripture’s authority climaxes in his abandoning the idea of accommodation. They declare that accommodation “was entirely absent from Turretin.”92 But here again Turretin is misrepresented. He declared clearly, “When God understands, he understands himself, as he is infinite, and so infinitely; but when he speaks, he speaks not to himself, but to us, i.e., in accommodation to our capacity, which is finite, and cannot take in many senses.”93 He also recognized this principle in other ways: “God is called the Ancient of days.… Days, therefore, and years are not ascribed to him properly, but after the manner of men, because we, who live in time, can conceive nothing unless by a relation to time, in which we are,”94 and: “Repentance is attributed to God after the manner of men, but must be understood after the manner of God.”95

Rogers and McKim criticize Protestant scholasticism in general because the practical concerns of theology are swallowed up in an excessive concern for an abstract and speculative theology: “Precision replaced piety as the goal of theology.”96 Here again Turretin does not fit such a description. Turretin defined theology as a mixed discipline partly theoretical and partly practical, concluding that “it is more practical than theoretical.”97 He insisted on theoretical elements (which he defined as the knowledge of matters like the Trinity and the Incarnation) in theology in opposition to the Socinians and Remonstrants. He believed that a purely practical theology was moralism. He warned “that Socinians and Remonstrants … say that Theology is so strictly practical, that nothing in it is positively necessary to salvation, unless what pertains to moral precepts and promises.… Their object is evidently to take away the necessity of the knowledge of the doctrines of the Trinity, Incarnation, etc.”98 But his commitment to theology as mixed did not lead him away from piety. Rather he had a vision of a vital theology in both its theoretical and practical elements, as the following statement demonstrates:

That theology is mixed, that is, partly theoretical and partly practical, the following proofs may be given. 1. The object, God to be known and worshipped, as the first truth and the highest good. 2. The subject, man to be made perfect in the knowledge of the truth, by which his understanding may be enlightened, and in love of good, by which the will may be adorned, in faith, which is extended to credible, and in love, to practical things. 3. The principle, both external, the word of God, which embraces the Law and the Gospel, the former setting forth the things to be done, the latter those to be known and believed, hence called the mystery of godliness and the word of life; and internal, the spirit, who is a spirit of truth and sanctification, of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.99

The preceding discussion of Turretin is by no means definitive. There are doubtless other elements in his thought that represent differences with the early Reformers than what have been highlighted here. What is clear, however, is the striking agreement of Calvin and Turretin on the basics of the doctrine of Scripture. Both stress the work of the Spirit in establishing the authority of Scripture. Both believe that the majesty and divinity of Scripture can be proved. Both recognize the accommodated, historical nature of Scripture. Both see the message of Scripture as central. For neither Calvin nor Turretin do concerns for the form of Scripture undermine the gospel message. Both teach the inerrancy of Scripture.


Exegesis and theology form the center of the battleline for champions of the inerrancy of the Bible. The strength of that center will ultimately determine the outcome of the struggle to understand the nature of the Scriptures. Yet in this conflict the history of the church’s attitudes toward the Bible has become an important flank of the battleline. Various skirmishes have contested whether inerrantists can legitimately claim the history of the church as one of their allies. Hopefully the foray represented by this study of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries will advance the discussion and help reassert the conviction that inerrancy is a vital element of historic Christianity.


1 See, for example, Richard Lovelace, “Inerrancy: Some Historical Perspectives,” in Inerrancy and Common Sense, ed. Roger R. Nicole and J. Ramsey Michaels (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), pp. 21–25; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Historical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), pp. 327–28; Edward A. Dowey, Jr., The Knowledge of God in Calvin’s Theology (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952), pp. 99ff.; see also studies by Robert Preus and John Robinson.

2 See, for example, John Warwick Montgomery, “Lessons from Luther on the Inerrancy of Holy Writ,” in God’s Inerrant Word, ed. John Warwick Montgomery (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1974), p. 69.

3 See, for example, Jill Raitt, The Eucharistic Theology of Theodore Beza (Chambersburg: Pa., American Academy of Religion, 1972); John S. Bray, Theodore Beza’s Doctrine of Predestination (Nieuwkoop: De Graff, 1975); W. Robert Godfrey, “Tensions Within International Calvinism: The Debate on the Atonement at the Synod of Dort, 1618–1619,” Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 1974.

4 Jack B. Rogers and Donald K. McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979).

5 D. Martin Luthers Werke, kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. J. F. K. Knaake et al. (Weimar, 1883–) (hereafter cited as WA), vol. 44, p. 510, cited by Willem Jan Kooiman, Luther and the Bible, (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1961), pp. 235–36.

6 Luther’s Works, edited by Jaroslav J. Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 32 (Philadelphia: Fortress, and St. Louis: Concordia, 1955–) (hereafter cited as LW), p. 11, cited by Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966), p. 6.

7 LW, 23, 236 cited by A. Skevington Wood Captive to the Word (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), p. 144.

8 WA, 40, iii, 254, cited by Wood, Captive to the Word, p. 143.

9 Ibid., ii, 52, cited by Wood, Captive to the Word, p. 145.

10 Cited by M. Reu, Luther and the Scriptures (Columbus, Ohio: Wartburg, 1944), p. 28.

11 Cited by Herman Sasse, This Is My Body: Luther’s Contention for the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1959), pp. 109–10.

12 Rogers and McKim, Authority and Interpretation, p. 79.

13 Ibid., p. 78.

14 Reinhold Seeberg, The History of Doctrines, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), p. 300.

15 Rogers and McKim, in a footnote (p. 133, n. 115), dismiss some of this secondary literature, particularly the work of M. Reu, by citing Otto Heick’s brief discussion of Luther on inerrancy in A History of Christian Thought, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1965), pp. 347–48. Heick’s list of errors parallels that of Seeberg. Heick does not offer any evidence for his rejection of Reu’s work. Reu was a recognized Luther scholar who carefully analyzed the context of Luther’s statements which allegedly ascribe errors to the Bible. Reu very convincingly shows that in context the kinds of references cited by Seeberg, Heick, and Rogers and McKim do not in fact show Luther ascribing any error to the Bible.

16 Althaus, Theology of Martin Luther, p. 6.

17 Wood, Captive to the Word, p. 144.

18 Reu, Luther and the Scriptures, pp. 65–76, 103. See also Montgomery, “Lessons from Luther,” pp. 88–90, for a review of Kooiman’s work; he generally praises it, but warns against some of his conclusions on the question of inerrancy.

19 LW, 22, 218–19.

20 Rogers and McKim, Authority and Interpretation, p. 87; Kooiman, Luther and the Bible, p. 228; Althaus, Theology of Martin Luther, p. 82.

21 LW, 22, 218.

22 Ibid., 219.

23 Cited by Reu, Luther and the Scriptures, p. 85.

24 Rogers and McKim, Authority and Interpretation, p. 88.

25 WA, 33, 144, cited by Kooiman, Luther and the Bible, p. 235.

26 John Calvin in Library of Christian Classics, vol. 23, p. 70 as cited by John H. Leith, “John Calvin—Theologian of the Bible,” Interpretation 25 (1971): p. 341.

27 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics, vols. 20 and 21 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960) (hereafter cited as Inst.), I, vii, 1.

28 Inst. IV, viii, 9.

29 Ibid., III, ii, 6.

30 John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), p. 480.

31 John Calvin, New Testament Commentaries, ed. D. W. and T. F. Torrance, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), pp. 329–30. Calvin is not denying here the use of human authors of Scripture nor is he teaching a mechanical dictation theory of inspiration. He is saying that every part of Scripture is ultimately of divine origin and that every part is to be received as one would receive God Himself. He is rejecting any notion of human error in the Bible.

32 Corpus Reformatorum: Joannis Calvini Opera Quae Supersunt Omnia, ed. Guilielmus Baum et al., vol. 55 (Brunsvigae: Schwetschke, 1863–1897) (hereafter cited as CR), col. 441, cited by Leith, “John Calvin …,” p. 343.

33 Calvin, Comm. on Psalms, vol. 5, p. 20.

34 Rogers and McKim, Authority and Interpretation, p. 99.

35 Ibid., p. 108.

36 Ibid., p. 109

37 Ibid., p. 110.

38 Ibid., p. 112.

39 Ibid., p. 110.

40 Calvin, New Testament Commentaries, vol. 6, p. 182. That Luke cannot be the subject of the crucial clause is obvious from the Latin: “in nomine Abrahae erratum esse palam est” (CR, 26, Acts 7:16 ad loc.). The older translation also makes this clear: “It is manifest that there is a fault [mistake] in the word Abraham” (John Calvin, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979], p. 265). The source of Rogers and McKim’s quotation is unclear, since neither the newer nor the older English translations have it as they have cited it. Perhaps Rogers and McKim are depending on John T. McNeill’s statement, “In Acts 7:16 Luke has ‘made a manifest error’ …” (J. T. McNeill, “The Significance of the Word of God for Calvin,” Church History 28 [1959]: 143) although they do not cite that work at this place. If this is their source, Rogers and McKim have just repeated McNeill’s error.

41 Ibid., pp. 181–82.

42 Rogers and McKim, Authority and Interpretation, p. 116.

43 For other discussions of Calvin’s view of Scripture, see Kenneth Kantzer, “Calvin and the Holy Scriptures,” in Inspiration and Interpretation, ed. John F. Walvoord (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957); John Murray, Calvin on Scripture and Divine Sovereignty (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960); J. I. Packer, “Calvin’s View of Scripture,” in God’s Inerrant Word, ed. J. W. Montgomery.

44 Leith, “John Calvin—Theologian,” pp. 337–38.

45 It is not clear what Leith has in mind when he refers to modern views of inerrancy. It is amazing how otherwise learned men can misunderstand the doctrine of inerrancy. John T. McNeill, an eminent Calvin scholar, is an example. He assumes that the doctrine of inerrancy is equivalent to an extreme, mechanical dictation theory of inspiration that allows no significant role for the human authors of Scripture. (See McNeill, “Significance,” pp. 139–40, and Inst. IV, viii, 9, n. 9.) But very few if any proponents of inerrancy have ever held such a view.

46 As in the case of Luther, Rogers and McKim wrongly attribute this dualism to Calvin (p. 111). Charles Partee shows how Calvin bound the pastoral and the scholarly, the functional and the formal, together in a quotation from Calvin: “None will ever be a good minister of the word of God except that he be a first-rate scholar” (cited by Partee, Calvin and Classical Philosophy [Leiden: Brill, 1977], p. 146).

47 John Calvin, Theological Treatises, trans. J. K. S. Reid (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954), p. 130.

48 The French Confession of 1559, Article 5. This and all the following quotations from confessions or catechisms are from Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977).

49 Belgic Confession, Article 4.

50 Ibid., Article 7.

51 Ibid., Article 5.

52 Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans. G. W. Williard (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), p. 108.

53 Ibid., p. 111.

54 Rogers and McKim, The Authority and Interpretation, pp. 200–202.

55 Rogers and McKim betray a fundamental misunderstanding when they simply say that “The Church of England stood between Roman Catholic and Protestant” (p. 200), an assessment that does not reflect the real Protestant theology of the Anglican church expressed in the Thirty-nine Articles, for example. So too they argue curiously that the English civil war retarded the growth of scholasticism (p. 247) when on the other hand they assert that scholasticism was triumphant on the continent long before the civil war.

56 At the Synod of Dort the English delegate Samuel Ward represented a Puritan perspective.

57 David Sabean, “The Theological Rationalism of Moise Amyraut,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 55 (1964): 213.

58 Ibid., p. 204.

59 William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, 3rd ed. and trans. J. D. Eusden (Boston: Pilgrim, 1968), p. 186.

60 Rogers and McKim, Authority and Interpretation, chap. 3: “Concern for Literary Form in the Post-Reformation Period,” pp. 147–99.

61 This entire chapter of Rogers and McKim’s book needs a thorough review because it is not at all reliable as a guide in the matters it discusses. For example, their three paragraphs on the Synod of Dort (pp. 164–65) contain several errors. They speak of Dort producing a “confession,” but the Synod actually adopted only certain canons as the authoritative interpretation of some of the articles of the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. They claim that Dort “purported to define the essential elements of Calvinism,” but the Canons were never conceived of as more than specific Reformed answers to the five errors of Arminianism. They were never intended to be a summary of Calvinism in its essential elements. Rogers and McKim call the Synod hyper-Calvinist and scholastic, though even they admit that the moderate Calvinism of infralapsarianism was dominant at the Synod. Also the Canons were written clearly in pastoral and not scholastic language. Rogers and McKim assert that Dort fixed continental Reformed theology in a “scholastic mold” and offer as one piece of evidence the claim that Dort taught eternal reprobation while Calvin did not. But Calvin clearly teaches eternal reprobation, see Institutes, III, xxii, 11 and III, xxiii, 1, 3.

62 Rogers and McKim, Authority and Interpretation, p. 147.

63 Rogers and McKim have a strange insensitivity to the reality of historical threats to the authority of the Bible. This naïveté is also manifested in the remarkable judgments that they make in the introduction to their book. There (p. xxiii) they seem to underestimate the threat posed by modernism to biblical Christianity and see scholasticism as the principal threat to the Reformed tradition in America.

64 Rogers and McKim, Authority and Interpretation, pp. 174–75. The only evidence offered to support this statement is that Turretin did not quote Calvin in his section on Scripture.

65 Rogers and McKim do not show any first-hand knowledge of Turretin’s Institutio. They appear to depend entirely on Leon McDill Allison, “The Doctrine of Scripture in the Theology of John Calvin and Francis Turretin,” a 1958 Th.M. thesis written at Princeton Theological Seminary. But even a cursory look at Turretin demonstrates serious problems with their characterization of Turretin.

66Rogers and McKim, Authority and Interpretation, pp. 176, 179, 182.

67 Francis Turretin, Institutio Theologiae Elenctiae, 1674, trans. George M. Griger, in a manuscript at Princeton Theological Seminary (hereafter cited as Inst. Theo.), II, 2, 9. (Since this chapter was written, an English translation on Scripture has been published: Francis Turretin, The Doctrine of Scripture, ed. and trans. John W. Beardslee III (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981).

68 Ibid., 4, 9.

69 Rogers and McKim, Authority and Interpretation, p. 176.

70 Inst. Theo., II, 4, 1 and II, 5, 1.

71 Ibid., 6, 5.

72 Ibid., 4, 6.

73 Ibid., 4, 7.

74 Ibid., 4, 8.

75 Ibid., 4, 9.

76 Inst., I, vii, 4.

77 Ibid, viii, 1.

78 Ibid., 3, 5, 12, 13.

79 Ibid., vii, 5.

80 Ibid., 2.

81 Ibid., viii, 1.

82 Inst. Theo., II, 4, 13. Rogers and McKim (p. 177) quote only part of this statement and give a distorted picture of Turretin’s position here.

83 Rogers and McKim, Authority and Interpretation, pp. 176–77.

84 Ibid., pp. 174, 177.

85 Inst. Theo., II, 19, 18.

86 Ibid., 5, 11.

87 Rogers and McKim allege this in Authority and Interpretation, pp. 180–81.

88 Inst. Theo., II, 5, 3.

89 From Canon II of the Formula Consensus Helvetica as printed in A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, enlarged ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972), p. 656.

90 John Bowman, “A Forgotten Controversy,” The Evangelical Quarterly 20 (1948): 55.

91 Canon III, Formula Consensus Helvetica, in A. A. Hodge, p. 657.

92 Rogers and McKim, Authority and Interpretation, p. 177.

93 Inst. Theo., II, 19, 8.

94 Ibid., III, 10, 14.

95 Ibid., III, 11, 11.

96 Rogers and McKim, Authority and Interpretation, p. 187.

97 Inst. Theo., I, 7, 2.

98 Ibid.                 

99 Ibid., 6.

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