FOUNDATIONS OF THE
PILLARS OF THE
Just as the Old Testament claim for inspiration finds
support in the New Testament, so the New Testament claim for
inspiration finds support in the testimony of early Christian writers,
the Pillars of the church, also referred to as the church
Although their testimony is not authoritative or inspired,
it does reveal the orthodox doctrine of inspiration that prevailed
throughout the history of the church.
Their testimony, with hardly a dissenting voice,
reflects the traditional view of the origin and nature of
Scripture from apostolic times to the rise of
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
THE EARLY CHURCH
(c. A.D. 70-c. 350)
The exhortation from Paul to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:2):
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses
entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
The promise of Peter (2 Peter 1:13-16):
I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent
of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our
Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every
effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the
power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his
If you are familiar with Scripture, you owe it largely to
these primitive witnesses to its Canon and its spirit.
By their testimony we detect what is spurious, and we identify what is
Is it nothing to find that your Bible is their Bible, your faith
their faith, your Savior their Savior, your God their God?
Let us reflect also, that, when copies of the entire Scriptures were rare
and costly, these citations were "words fitly spoken, - apples of gold in
pictures of silver." We are taught by them also that they obeyed the
apostles precept, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in
all wisdom; teaching and admonishing," etc.
Thus they reflect the apostolic care that men should be raised up able to
teach others also.
(from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1, PC Study Bible formatted electronic
database Copyright © 2003 by
All rights reserved.)
Clement of Rome
[ A.D. 30-100.]
Clement was probably a Gentile and a Roman.
He seems to have been at Philippi with Paul ( A.D. 57) when
that first-born of the Western churches was passing through great trials
of faith. There, with holy women and others, he
ministered to the apostle and to the saints. As this city was a
Roman colony, we need not inquire how a Roman happened to be there.
He was possibly in some public service, and it is not improbable
that he had visited Corinth in those days. From the apostle,
and his companion, Luke, he had no doubt learned the use of
in which his knowledge of the Greek tongue soon rendered him an adept.
A co-presbyter with Linus and Cletus, he succeeded them in the
government of the Roman Church.
Clement fell asleep, probably soon after he dispatched his letter.
It is the legacy of one who reflects the apostolic age in all the beauty
and evangelical truth which were the first-fruits of the Spirit's presence
with the Church. He shares with others the aureole of glory
attributed by Paul (Phil 4:3).
And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me
in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose
names are in the Book of Life. (NKJV)
Ignatius of Antioch [A.D.
Ignatius (c.110) wrote his seven epistles en
route to martyrdom in Rome. Although he did not give references to
particular citations from the Scriptures, he did make many loose
quotations and allusions to them.
That he and Polycarp were fellow-disciples under John is a
tradition by no means inconsistent with anything in the Epistles of
65 (100) -155]
The disciple of John, Polycarp referred to the New Testament
several times in his Epistle to the Philippians (c. 110-135). He
introduces Galatians 4:26 as "the word of truth" (chap. 3) and citations
of Philippians 2:16 and 2 Timothy 4:10 as "the word of righteousness"
(chap. 9). In chapter 12, Polycarp cites numerous Old and New Testament
passages as "the Scriptures."
The Epistle of Polycarp is usually made a sort of preface
to those of Ignatius, yet he was born later, and lived to a much
later period. They seem to have been friends from the days of
their common pupilage under John; and there is nothing improbable in
the conjecture of Usher, that he was the "angel of the church
in Smyrna," to whom the Master says, "Be thou faithful unto
death, and I will give thee a crown of life."
His pupil Irenaeus gives us one of the very
few portraits of an apostolic man which are to be found in antiquity,
in a few sentences which are a picture:
Thus he unconsciously tantalizes our reverent curiosity.
Alas! That such conversations were not written for our learning. But there
is a wise Providence in what is withheld, as well as in the inestimable
treasures we have received.
| "I could describe the very place in which the
blessed Polycarp sat and taught; his going out and coming in;
the whole tenor of his life; his personal appearance;
how he would speak of the conversations he had held with John
and with others who had seen the Lord. How did he make mention
of their words and of whatever he had heard from them
respecting the Lord."
Irenaeus tells us more concerning him, his visit to Rome, his rebuke
of Marcion, and incidental anecdotes, all which are instructive.
His death, in extreme old age under the first of the Antonines, has been
variously dated; but we may accept the date we have given, as rendered
probable by that of the Paschal question, which he so lovingly settled
with Anicetus, Bishop of Rome.
The so-called Shepherd of Hermas (c. 115-140) follows the pattern
of the Apocalypse, although no direct quotations of the New Testament
appear in its text.
Such is the case of the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve (c.
100-120), as it too makes loose quotations and allusions to the New
In about A.D. 130-140 Papias wrote five books entitled Exposition
of the Oracles of the Lord, which included the New Testament. That is
precisely the title ascribed to the Old Testament by the apostle Paul in
Epistle to Diognetus [A.D.
Finally, the so-called Epistle to Diognetus (c. 150)
makes loose quotations and allusions to the New Testament; however, no
direct title is given to them.
The above material illustrates the early (by c. 150) and widespread (West
and East) acceptance of the New Testament claim for inspiration. The
Fathers looked upon those books with the same regard as the New Testament
writers did the Old Testament Scriptures. Where no direct reference is
given nor title presented, the loose quotations and allusions lend support
to the esteem extended the New Testament writings. That is especially true
considering the scarcity of available copies during this early period.
These writers further support the New Testament claims for inspiration.
Justin Martyr (d. 165).
In his first Apology (c. 150-155), Justin Martyr
regarded the gospels as the " Voice of God " ( chap. 65) .He further
stated of the Scriptures, "We must not suppose that the language proceeds
from men who were inspired, but from the Divine Word which moves them"
(Apology 1.36). Elsewhere, he went on to say that Moses "wrote the Hebrew
character by divine inspiration" and that "the Holy Spirit of prophecy
taught us this, telling us by Moses that God spoke thus."
Tatian (c. 110-180)
The disciple of Justin, Tatian called John 1:5
"Scripture" in his Apology (chap. 13). In this work he made a passionate
defense of Christianity and regarded it as so pure that it was
incompatible with Greek civilization. He is also noted for his pioneer
effort in writing a harmony of the gospels, Diatessaron (c. 150-160).
Irenaeus (c. 130-202)
As a boy, before he moved to Rome for studies prior
to his ordination as a presbyter (elder) and later bishop of Lyons
(France), Irenaeus is reported to have actually heard Polycarp.
himself was a seminal figure in the development of Christian doctrine in
the West, and his role makes him a key individual in understanding the
doctrine of Scripture in the early church.
In his treatise Against Heresies (3.1.1), Irenaeus referred to the
authority of the New Testament when he stated, For the Lord of all gave
the power of the Gospel to his apostles, through whom we have come to know
the truth, that is, the teaching of the Son of God This Gospel they first
preached. Afterwards, by the will of God, they handed it down to us in the
Scriptures, to be "the pillar and ground" of our faith.
In fact, he entitled the third book of this treatise "The Faith in
Scripture and Tradition," in which he acknowledged the apostles to be
"above all falsehood" (3.5.1). He called the Bible "Scriptures of truth,"
and he was "most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect,
since they are spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit."
Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215)
Clement of Alexandria appeared on [
the scene about a century later than Clement of Rome. He became head of
the Catechetical School at Alexandria in 190 but was compelled to flee in
the face of persecution in 202. Clement held to a rigid doctrine of
inspiration but allowed that the Greek poets were inspired by the same God
in a lesser sense.
In his Stromata Clement notes:
There is no discord between the Law and the Gospel, but harmony, for they
both proceed from the same Author, differing in name and time to suit the
age and culture of their hearer by a wise economy, but potentially one,
since faith in Christ and the knowledge of the Gospel is the explanation
and the fulfillment of the Law.
He does call the gospel "Scripture" in the same sense as the Law and the
Prophets, as he writes of "the Scriptures in the Law, in the Prophets, and
besides by the blessed Gospel [which] are valid from their omnipotent
authority." Clement of Alexandria went so far as to condemn those who
rejected Scripture because "they are not pleased with the divine commands,
that is, with the Holy Spirit."
Tertullian (c. 160-220)
Tertullian, in "Father of Latin Theology," never
wavered in his support of the doctrine of inspiration of both the Old and
the New Testaments, neither as a Catholic nor as a Montanist. In fact, he
maintained that the four gospels "are reared on the certain basis of
Apostolic authority, and so are inspired in a far different sense from the
writings of the spiritual Christian; 'all the faithful, it is true, have
the Spirit of God, but all are not Apostles.' "
For Tertullian, apostles have the Holy Spirit properly, who have Him
fully, in the operations of prophecy, and the efficacy of [healing]
virtues, and the evidences of tongues; not particularly, as all others
have. Thus he attached the Holy Spirit's authority to that form [of
advice] to which he willed us rather to attend; and forthwith it became
not an advice of the Holy Spirit, but, in consideration of His majesty, a
Little is known of his early life. His parents were pagan, and his father
may have been a centurion (i.e., a noncommissioned officer) in an
African-based legion assigned to the governor of the province. After
completing his education in Carthage, he went to Rome, probably in his
late teens or early 20s, to study further and perhaps begin work as a
lawyer. He is most likely not the jurist Tertullian mentioned in the
Digest, a collection of Roman legal opinion compiled under the aegis of
the 6th-century Byzantine emperor Justinian, though this is disputed.
While in Rome, he became interested in the Christian movement, but not
until he returned to Carthage toward the end of the 2nd century was he
converted to the Christian faith. He left no account of his conversion
experience, but in his early works, Ad martyras (“To the
Martyrs”), Ad nationes (“To the Nations”), and Apologeticum
(“Defense”), he indicated that he was impressed by certain Christian
attitudes and beliefs: the courage and determination of martyrs, moral
rigorism, and an uncompromising belief in one God. By the end of the 2nd
century the church in Carthage had become large, firmly established, and
well organized and was rapidly becoming a powerful force in North Africa.
By the year 225 there were approximately 70 bishops in Numidia and
Proconsularis, the two provinces of Roman Africa. Tertullian emerged as a
leading member of the African church, using his talents as a teacher in
instructing the unbaptized seekers and the faithful and as a literary
defender (apologist) of Christian beliefs and practices. According to
Jerome, a 4th-century biblical scholar, Tertullian was ordained a priest.
This view, however, has been challenged by some modern scholars.
Hippolytus (c. 170-236)
A disciple of Irenaeus, Hippolytus exhibited the
same deep sense of the spiritual meaning of Scripture as has already been
traced in his immediate teacher and in earlier writers. He writes of the
inspiration of the Old Testament, saying,
The Law and the Prophets were from God, who in giving them compelled his
messenger to speak by the Holy Spirit, that receiving the inspiration of
the Father's power they may announce the Father's counsel and will. In
these men therefore the Word found a fitting abode and spoke of Himself;
for even then He came as His own herald, showing the Word who was about to
appear in the world.
Of the New Testament writers, he confidently affirms, instruments, and
having the Word within them, as it were to strike the notes, by Him they
were moved, and announced that which God wished. For they did not speak of
their own power (be well assured), nor proclaim that which they wished
themselves, but first they were rightly endowed with wisdom by the Word,
and afterwards well fore taught of the future by visions, and then, when
thus assured, they spoke that which was [revealed] to them alone by GOD.
Novatian (d. c. 251). Novatian, the individual after whom the heretical
sect was named, claimed the Old and New Testaments as authoritative
Scripture in widespread references in his writings. His "monarchian" views
are known largely through the writings of his critics and the schismatic
activities of his followers.
Origen (c. 185-c. 254).
Origen was successor of Clement at the
Catechetical School in Alexandria. Although he deviated from orthodox
theology as a result of his allegorical method of interpretation, Origen
appears to have held that both the writer and the writing were inspired.
He believed that God "gave the law, and the prophets, and the Gospels,
being also the God of the apostles and of the Old and New Testaments." He
wrote, "This Spirit inspired each one of the saints, whether prophets or
apostles; and there was not one Spirit in the men of the old dispensation,
and another in those who were inspired at the advent of Christ."
His view of the authority of the Scriptures is "that the Scriptures were
written by the Spirit of God, and have a meaning not known to all, but to
those only on whom the grace of the Holy Spirit is bestowed in the words
of wisdom and knowledge ." He went on to assert that there is a
supernatural element of thought "throughout all of Scripture even where it
is not apparent to the uninstructed."
Cyprian (c. 200-258)
Cyprian was bishop of one of the largest cities in
the West during the persecution under Decius (A.D. 249-51). In his
treatise The Unity of the Catholic Church, he appeals to the gospels as
authoritative, referring to them as the "commandments of Christ." He also
adds the Corinthian letters of Paul to his list of authorities and appeals
to Paul's Ephesian letter (4:4-6).
In the same passage, Cyprian reaffirms the inspiration of the New
Testament, as he writes, "When the Holy Spirit says, in the person of the
Lord." Again, he adds, "The Holy Spirit warns us through the Apostle" as
he cites 1 Corinthians 11:19.16 These and several other examples in his
writings lead to the conclusion that Cyprian held that both the Old and
New Testaments are "Divine Scriptures."
Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 263 or 265-340)
As a church historian, Eusebius
spent much time espousing the Old and New Testaments as inspired writings
that were commented upon by the successors of the apostles. He also wrote
much about the canon of the New Testament in his Ecclesiastical History.
It was Eusebius of Caesarea who was commissioned to make fifty copies of
the Scriptures following the Council of Nicea (325).
Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 295-373)
Known by the epithet "Father of
Orthodoxy" because of his contributions against Arius at Nicea (325),
Athanasius was the first to use the term "canon" in reference to the New
Testament books, which he called "the fountains of salvation."
Cyril of Jerusalem (c.315-86)
Cyril adds interesting light to round out
the early church period. In his Catecheses, he informs his catechumen that
he is offering a summary of "the whole doctrine of the Faith” which "has
been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures." Then he proceeds to
warn others not to change or contradict his teachings because of the
Scripture's injunction as found in Galatians 1:8-9.
In his treatise Of the Divine Scriptures, he speaks of "the
divinely-inspired Scriptures of both the Old and the New Testament." He
then proceeds to list all of the books of the Hebrew Old Testament
(twenty-two) and all of the books of the Christian New Testament except
Revelation (twenty-six), saying, "Learn also diligently, and from the
Church, what are the books of the Old Testament, and what are those of the
And, pray, read none of the apocryphal writings." For Cyril the matter was
drawn clearly when he wrote, "With regard to the divine and saving
mysteries of faith no doctrine, however trivial, may be taught without the
backing of the divine Scriptures. For our saving faith derives its force,
not from capricious reasoning’s, but from what may be proved out of the
Such evidence, coupled with the other writings of that era of church
history, has led many to conclude that virtually every church Father
enthusiastically adhered to the doctrine of the inspiration of the Old and
New Testaments alike.
J. N. D. Kelly affirms that position as he writes,
There is little need to dwell on the absolute authority accorded to the
Scripture as a doctrinal norm. It was the Bible, declared Clement of
Alexandria about A.D. 200, which as interpreted by the Church, was the
source of Christian teaching.
His greater disciple Origen was a thorough-going Biblicist who appealed
again and again to Scripture as the decisive criterion of dogma. .."The
holy inspired Scriptures," wrote Athanasius a century later, "are fully
sufficient for the proclamation of the truth." Later in the same century
John Chrysostom bade his congregation seek no other teacher than the
oracles of God. In the West Augustine [and] a little while later Vincent
of Lerins (c. 450) took it as an axiom [that] the Scriptural canon was
"sufficient, and more sufficient, for all purposes."
In short, the Fathers of the early church believed that both the Old and
New Testaments were the inspired writings of the Holy Spirit through the
instru- mentality of the prophets and apostles. They also believed these
Scriptures to be wholly true and without error because they were the very
Word of God given for the faith and practice of all believers.
THE ESTABLISHED CHURCH
(c. AD 350-c. 1500)
The established church period covers a much larger span of
time and space, and, as a result, will necessitate an even more cursory
treatment of the subject matter. This period extends to the rise of
Rationalism, including the medieval church, the Reformation church, and
the early modern church in its scope.
The medieval church may be represented by several
outstanding men who had widespread influence. These individuals represent
large and varied segments of Christianity and their collective voices
reflect what is known as the traditional teaching on the doctrine of the
inspiration and authority of Scripture.
Ambrose of Milan (340-397)
Ambrose had the distinctive honor of guiding
Augustine in his early Christian experience. The Bishop of Milan also did
much work with the Christian Scriptures. His Letters gives a clear insight
into his view of the New Testament. In his letter to the Emperor Valentinian II, Ambrose cites Matthew 22:21 by using the familiar
introductory statement "It is written" (20.19) as he proceeds to quote
loosely John 6:15 and 2 Corinthians 12:10 (20.23). He also appeals to "The
Divine Scriptures" (10.7) in his letter to the Emperor Gratian, where he
presents his disputation with the Arians.25
Jerome (c. 340-420)
According to H. F. D. Sparks, "Jerome was, next to
Origen, the greatest biblical scholar of the early Church." Since he and
his canonicity and authority of the New Testament as it has come down to
the modem world. According to B. F. Westcott, "The testimony of Jerome may
be considered as the testimony of the Roman Church; for not only was he
educated at Rome, but his labors on the text of Scripture were undertaken
at the request of Damascus bishop of Rome; and later popes republished the
canon which he recognized." Jerome needs only to be mentioned in passing.
His writings include many references to the "Holy Scriptures" and to their
authority. Much of his life work centered on translating the Bible and
disputing with others over the canon of the Old Testament.
In addition, he assumed the inspiration, In a letter to Nepotian in A.D.
394, Jerome set forth a systematic treatise on the duties of the clergy
and the rule of life they ought to adopt. In it he writes, "Read the
divine scriptures constantly; never indeed, let the sacred volume out of
your hand." In the same year he wrote to Paulinus to make diligent study
of the Scriptures, and he enumerates the books of the New Testament as he
I beg you, my dear brother, to live among these books, to meditate upon
them, to know nothing else, to seek nothing else. Does not such a life
seem to you a foretaste of heaven here on earth? Let not the simplicity of
the scripture offend you; for these are due either to faults of
translators or else to deliberate purpose: for in this way it is better
fitted for instruction.
In his discussion of the difference between righteous ignorance and
instructed righteousness, Jerome answers the question, "Why is the apostle
Paul called a chosen vessel?" His response is, "Assuredly because he is a
repertory of the Law and of the holy scriptures."
The Syrian School at Antioch
John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) and
Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350-428) are representative exegetes and theologians of the
Syrian School at Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians
(Acts 11:26). During the early centuries of the Christian church, Antioch
was the chief rival to Alexandria in the struggle for theological
leadership in the East.
As in the general Antiochene conception of redemption, Theodore and his
contemporaries held that the primary author of all Scripture was the Holy
Spirit. He viewed the Holy Spirit as providing the content of revelation
and the prophet (in cooperation with the Holy Spirit) as giving it the
appropriate expression and form. Such a notion formed the basis for their
literal approach to hermeneutics.
Augustine, the "Medieval Monolith," wholly endorsed
the claims of the New Testament for its inspiration. An example of this
view may be seen in his Confessions (8.29), where the reading of Romans
13:13-14 was sufficient for him to be converted. His monumental work The
City of God contains much Scripture, and he indicates the authority of
Scripture therein in contrast to all other writings (see 11.3; 18.41).
All through his letters and other treatises, Augustine asserted the truth,
authority, and divine origin of Scripture. In The City of God he used such
expressions as "Sacred Scripture" (9.5), "the words of God," (10.1),
"Infallible Scripture" (11.6), "divine revelation" (13.2), and "Holy
Scripture" (15.8). Elsewhere he referred to the Bible as the "oracles of
God," "God's word," "divine oracles," and "divine Scripture." With his
widespread influence throughout the centuries, such a testimony stood as
an outstanding witness to the high regard given to the Scriptures in the
church. Speaking of the gospel writers, Augustine said,
When they write that He has taught and said, it should not be asserted
that he did not write it, since the members only put down what they had
come to know at the dictation [dictis] of the Head. Therefore, whatever He
wanted us to read concerning His words and deeds, He commanded His
disciples, His hands, to write. Hence, one cannot but receive what he
reads in the Gospels, though written by the disciples, as though it were
written by the very hand of the Lord Himself.
Consequently, he added, "I have learned to yield this respect and honor
only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly
believe that the authors were completely free from error."
Gregory I (540-604)
Gregory I, "the Great," wrote his Commentary on Job
in which he refers to Hebrews 12:6 as "Scripture." He, being the first
medieval pope, set the tone for the succeeding centuries just as he
epitomized the preceding ones. Louis Gaussen summarized the situation very
well when he wrote, that with the single exception of Theodore of
Mopsuestia, (c. A.o.400), that philosophical divine whose numerous
writings were condemned for their Nestorianism in the fifth ecumenical
council, it has been found impossible to produce, in the long course of
the eight first centuries of Christianity, a single doctor who has
disowned the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, unless it be in the
bosom of the most violent heresies that have tormented the Christian
Church; that is to say, among the Gnostics, the Manicheans, the Anomeans,
and the Mahometans.
Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)
In his famous Cur Deus Homo? (chap. 22),
Anselm continued to state the orthodox view of inspiration when he wrote,
"And the God-man himself originates the New Testament and approves the
Old. And, as we must acknowledge him to be true, so no one can dissent
from anything contained in these books." As Archbishop of Canterbury,
Anselm addressed the question of authority in another treatise, where he
said, "Leaving aside what is said in Scripture, which I believe without
doubting, of course."
Outstanding men of the Abbey of St. Victor in Paris in the
twelfth century followed the historical and literal approach to biblical
interpretation in the tradition of the Syrian School at Antioch. Its
Hugh (d. 1142), Richard (d. 1173), and
1175). They insisted that liberal arts, history, and geography are basic
to literal exegesis, which gives rise to doctrine, and that doctrine forms
the natural background for allegorization of Scripture. Such literal
interpretation they held to be basic to the proper study of the Bible,
which they assumed to be the very word of God.
Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274)
The foundations for medieval theology were
laid by such outstanding scholars as the categorizer Peter Lombard (c.
1100-c. 1160) and the encyclopedist Albert the Great (c. 1193 or 1206-
1280). With them the age of medieval Scholasticism emerged. But the chief
spokesman of Scholasticism was Thomas Aquinas, the great systematic
Thomas Aquinas clearly held to the orthodox doctrine of inspiration. In
his Summa Theologiae Aquinas, the Roman Catholic theologian, states that
"the Author of Holy Scripture is GOD." Although he asks the question of
"senses" of Scripture, he assumes the "inspiration" of both the Old and
New Testaments. He concurred with the traditional view that the Scriptures
are "divine revelation" (la. 1, 1; la. 1, 8) and "without error" (2a2ae.
1, 6, In Job 13.1).
After the time of Aquinas and his critic John Duns Scotus (c. 1265-1308),
Scholastic philosophy moved into its period of decline. This trend
culminated in the nominalistic skepticism of William of Ockham (c.
1300-1349), and it set the stage for the removal of theology from the
untrained during the period between the death of Ockham and the
Reformation. Nevertheless, the great scholars, theologians, and doctors of
the established church believed, as did the early Fathers, that the whole
Bible is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God written. They
accepted it as the divinely authoritative standard for the Christian
church without hesitation and without reservation.
In the meantime other movements were making their appearance in Europe and
the church. Long before the Reformation era (c. 1500-c. 1650) there was a
strong desire among the common people to return to the Scriptures. This
desire was evidenced in such movements as the Waldensians, the Lollards,
and the Hussites.
Valdes, also known incorrectly as "Peter
Waldo," was a rich merchant of Lyons. His followers, the "poor men of
Lyons," came to be known as the Waldensians. At the Third Lateran Council
(1179) Valdes and his followers sought ecclesiastical recognition and
produced vernacular translations of the Bible. They were forbidden to
preach except by invitation of the clergy, but they were soon placed under
the ban of excommunication (1184).
They began to organize themselves increasingly apart from the church,
ignore its decrees and sanctions, and appoint their own ministers. Their
movement was based on the traditional doctrine of the inspiration and
authority of the Scriptures. They tended to doubt the validity of the
sacraments administered by unworthy ministers, and they appealed to the
Scriptures for support of their opposition to various practices within the
church as well as of their right and duty to preach.
Soon they spread to Southern France and Spain, and then to Germany,
Piedmont, and Lombardy. Their numbers were decimated after the time of
Innocent III, the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), and the Inquisition.
Although they developed no central leadership or organization, they
quickly contacted the Reformers in the sixteenth century.
John Wycliffe (c. 1320-84)
Wycliffe marks a turning point in the
transmission of the Scriptures, but not in the history of the doctrine of
the inspiration of the Scriptures. From the time of his death onward his
name has been associated with the movement for the translation of the
Bible into English. The pioneer work of the English reformer and
theologian was directed toward the translation and distribution of the
Scriptures, which he and his followers, the Lollards, believed to be the
very Word of God.
Wycliffe felt that the Bible alone in the hands of the people would be
sufficient for the Holy Spirit to use among them. So confident of that was
he that he advocated the Scriptures as the only law of the church, and he
devoted his life and energies to their dissemination. Although Wycliffe
and his immediate followers worked within the pale of the church, there
was opposition to translations based on several grounds. According to
In England, the question of the legality of biblical translations and
their use did not come to the fore until the last quarter of the
fourteenth century. Old English versions of biblical books seem to have
aroused no antagonism, and to judge by the number of manuscripts extant,
Rolle's Psalter must have had a fair popularity, and possibly therefore
official countenance. But the aim of the Wycliffe translators was
undoubtedly to set up anew and all-sufficient authority in opposition to
By now the Church sanctioned much that was un-biblical and did not satisfy
Wycliffe's criterion for ecclesiastical institutions: that they should
conform to the practice of Christ and his followers as recorded in the
Scriptures. The Wycliffites therefore appealed to 'Goddis lawe' and 'Christis
lawe'-their regular names for the Bible and the New Testament. Moreover,
they asserted that these laws were open to the direct understanding of all
men on the points most essential to salvation.
For such understanding it was necessary that all men should be. able to
study the Gospels in the tongue in which they might best understand their
Wycliffe's use of allegory in interpretation was based on his
predisposition that the Words of Scripture were utterly reliable. His view
of the plenary inspiration of Scripture was the basis for Wycliffe's
efforts in Bible translation and theology, which made such an impact on
John Hus, Martin Luther, and others that he is known as "The Morning Star
of the Reformation."
John Hus (c. 1372-1415)
Born of a peasant family at Husinec in Bohemia,
John Hus earned his Master's degree at the university in Prague (1396)
before being ordained (1400). He became a well-known preacher at Bethlehem
Chapel in Prague just as Wycliffe's writings became widespread in Bohemia,
and he became a champion of Wycliffe's views.
In 1411 a new pope, John XXIII, (Obviously not the same as the more recent
pope (1958-63) who took the same name.) excommunicated Hus and placed his
followers under interdict. Disputations led Hus to publish his chief work,
De Ecclesia (1413), the first ten chapters of which were taken directly
from Wycliffe, and in 1414 Hus left Bohemia for the Council at Constance.
He was later arrested and executed at the stake in July 1415. His view of
the Scripture was the same as Wycliffe's.
In fact, when Martin Luther began his own work of reformation and made his
appeal to the Scriptures rather than to the established authorities of the
Church, he was frequently chided for following the "error of Hus." The
common ground of the Bohemian Hussites (sometimes referred to as Waldenses)
and Martin Luther was their appeal to the authority of Scripture.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
When Martin Luther appeared on the scene, he was not entirely original on
his point that the Scriptures are the ultimate source of authority for
Christians and that the pope is not their sole interpreter. Just as the
Old Testament claims for inspiration found support in the New, so the New
Testament claims for inspiration found support in the writings of the
In the early church the evidence is early and widespread for the
acceptance of the New Testament claims for inspiration. In the established
church the evidence is consonant with the former period. Throughout the
Middle Ages and into the period of the Reformation, church Fathers,
scholars, reformers, and others followed the traditional doctrine of the
inspiration of Scriptures even when they differed over their
Roland H. Bainton attested that the Reformers were in this very stream of
continuity concerning the inspiration and authority of Scripture. He
noted, William of Occam had already said that to be saved a Christian is
not called upon to believe that which is not contained in Scripture or to
be derived from Scripture by manifest and inescapable logic.
The counciliarists appealed to the Bible against the pope.[and in their
Leipzig disputation in 1519] when John Eck told Luther that his teaching
betrayed the Bohemian virus, in his reliance 'more on sacred Scripture
than on the supreme pontiffs, councils, doctors and universities' Luther
replied that he did not disdain the opinions of the most illustrious
Fathers, but that clear Scripture is to be preferred. The authority of
Scripture is beyond all human capacity.