Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sola Scriptura and the Versification of Scripture

excerpts from an excellent book review of Mark Noll's

In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783
In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-178

" Protestant biblicism, which necessarily dominates Noll's narrative, begins with Martin Luther's sola scriptura, an axiom Noll regards as inherently unstable because of the constant intrusion of other authorities, whether civil or ecclesiastical, on the authority of Scripture alone. Luther and the other magisterial reformers, in fact, still accepted a great deal of church tradition as a complement to biblical authority, and were profoundly uncomfortable with the populist radicals who interpreted Scripture apart from established expertise...

The introduction of versified Bibles was momentous for culture. I never had thought about the impact of the versification of scripture, but this fits with Peter Harrison's thesis about how the rise of modern science is linked to the Protestant approach to texts.

"With enduring effect," Noll writes, versification tilted instincts about scripture away from the human toward the divine. It made it much easier to assemble proof texts from throughout the sacred volume that the assembler could present as authentic divine teaching."  ... Versification abetted, among others, the Westminster divines, whom Parliament directed in 1646 to append an apparatus of proof texts to their  Confession of Faith. Noll regards this parliamentary directive as “proto-democratic” because it suggested that the empirical evidence of Scripture was open to examination and interpretation by anyone. But the treatment of the Bible as “a reservoir of fact,” he contends, also came at the expense of older modes of reading, including the medieval vision of the Scriptures as a web of types.


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