- The Protestant Bible includes both the Hebrew Old Testament (the Jewish scriptures) and the Greek New Testament, though it is almost always read in translation in the vernacular of each national church. To understand Protestantism, one must consider its special reverence for the Bible, as compared with that of other Christians. The Bible's role in challenging Roman Catholic practices in the 16th century helped give it its unique role in Protestant life.Crucial to the Reformation was a widespread perception that the Roman Catholic Church had wandered from the teachings of the Bible by promoting an unbiblical system of salvation and by maintaining practices that had no foundation in the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Martin Luther used the Bible to refute what he saw as the errors of popes and church councils; he was thus forced to challenge the exclusive authority of the church in interpreting the Bible. He summarized his stand at the Diet of Worms: "Unless I am convinced by Scripture or by right reason (for I trust neither popes nor councils, since they have often erred and contradicted themselves) - unless I am thus convinced, I am bound by the texts of the Bible, my conscience is captive to the word of God."The position would later be reflected in various Lutheran and Reformed creedal statements. For example, the Second Helvetic Confession (1561) opens: "We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men. For God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures."The 39 Articles of Religion of the Church of England echoed this idea, stating: "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith. ... In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church."At the time of the Reformation, the text of the Bible was also called into question. Luther denied canonicity to the books of the Apocrypha, a set of books found in the Latin vulgate Bible apparently written in the centuries just prior to the Christian era. He found these books of disputed and questionable authority, though he conceded they were "good and useful." At times, he also expressed questions about other biblical texts including James, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation. As the Catholic Church continued to affirm the canonic-ity of the Apocrypha, Protestant statements of faith frequently included a list of what they considered to be the canonical books.In the 19th century, the Bible's authority was questioned from a variety of sources. Geologists rejected a literal reading of the timetable of Genesis, asserting that the earth was much older than the Bible suggested. Biologists claimed that species evolved out of other species and were not created separately by God as the Bible told. Biblical critics claimed that the Bible's text had gone through a complicated editing process, and they challenged the traditional authorship of many sections. They also rejected the historicity of many of the events recorded in the Bible. A variety of skeptical voices challenged belief in the miracles revealed in the pages of the Scripture.Christian modernists tried to absorb the criticisms in a positive manner and to adjust their understanding of biblical authority accordingly. Approaches varied greatly, especially as BIBLICAL criticism grew more sophisticated. Some developed an evolutionary approach to the Bible, seeing it as an evolving tradition that developed an increasingly insightful understanding of God. They often spoke of the Bible as containing the Word of God along with other material.The popular Neo-Orthodox view expounded by Swiss theologian Karl BARTH saw the Bible as analogous to any other book, but set apart by the regular action of the Holy Spirit in revealing truth to those who read it. That is, the believer (and occasionally the unbeliever) can encounter God through the Bible, both individually and collectively through the church. Such a view conforms with the findings of biblical criticism, while continuing to hold a high view of the Bible and its authority.Other equally sophisticated Protestants developed an apology for its authority, in an attempt to defend traditional Protestant creeds. These attempts paralleled the conservative Roman Catholic defense of papal authority with claims to infallibility and inerrancy. The most popular statement of this view was in the PRiNCETON theology developed late in the 19th century by people such as A. A. Hodge (1823-86), Benjamin Warfield (1851-1921), and J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937). Hodge and Warfield wrote a seminal book on biblical inerrancy in 1881.In the 20th century, a language of biblical authority based on Princeton theology has become common in Fundamentalist and Evangelical circles. Believers are asked to affirm the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, the former referring to the biblical statements on faith and morals and the latter to statements on other matters such as science and history. The Bible is seen as possessing verbal plenary inspiration, which means that every word is God-given and that every passage is equally authoritative.The Princeton position was often attacked by biblical critics who pointed out "errors" in the text, for example discrepancies between different accounts of the same event such as the Flood, for which two distinct accounts appear in Genesis 6-9. Some writers attempted to explain away all the discrepancies; others suggested that errors had entered as ancient texts were copied; only the original texts (which no longer exist) were inerrant.The debates have continued. Thus, the Affirmation of Faith of the Baptist General Conference (1951) reads: "We believe the Bible is the word of God, fully inspired and without error in the original manuscript, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that it is the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct."In 1932, the conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod summarized its position thusly: "We teach that the Holy Scriptures differ from all other books in the world in that they are the Word of God. . . . We teach also that the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is . . . taught by direct statements of the Scriptures . . . [the Scriptures] contain no errors or contradictions, but . . . they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth, and also in those parts which treat of historical, geographical, and other secular matters."Churches in the Wesleyan Methodist tradition, though often equally conservative, have generally stayed away from the Princeton theology approach to Scripture and have argued instead for the sufficiency of the traditional statement found in the Methodist Article of Religion that Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation. Typical is the affirmation of the Salvation ARMY:"We believe that the scriptures of the old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God and that they only constitute the divine rule of Christian faith and practice."in 1967, the united Presbyterian Church [now a constituent part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)], showed its movement away from Princeton theology by its primary affirmation of Christ as the Word of God to which the Scripture bears witness. It affirmed: "The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word of God written. . . . The church has received the books of the Old and New Testaments as prophetic and apostolic testimony in which it hears the word of God and by which its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated."While Protestants have differed on how they understand the Bible and its authority, their consensus on its centrality has inspired a vast literature to assist believers in understanding the Bible, whose books are several thousand years old and written in archaic forms of Hebrew and Greek. The Bible is the product of cultures that are vastly different from those in which most Christians now live. Scholars have produced a huge number of Bible commentaries, expositions, theological word studies, and historical critical interpretations.See also Bible societies; Bible translations; inspiration of the Bible; King James version of the Bible; Revised Standard Version of the Bible; Sola Scriptura.Further reading:■ Paul J. Achtemeier, The Inspiration of Scripture: Problems and Proposals. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980)■ Robert Gruse, The Authority of the Bible: Theories of Inspiration, Revelation, and the Canon of Scripture (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1985)■ J. Gordon Melton, The Encyclopedia of American Religions: Religious Creeds, 2 vols. (Detroit: Gale Research, 1988, 1994)■ John W. Haley, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible (Nashville, Tenn.: Gospel Advocate, 1974)■ Benjamin B. Warfield, Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, ed. by Samuel G. Craig (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Press, 1970).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.