He objected to the Epistle to the Hebrews because it seems to deny (in chs. 6, 10, and 12) the possibility of repentance after baptism, contrary to the Gospels and to Paul, and betrays in ch. 2:13, a post-apostolic origin. He ascribed the authorship to Apollos by an ingenious guess, which, though not supported by ancient tradition, has found great favor with modern commentators and critics, chiefly because the authorship of any other possible writer (Paul, Barnabas, Luke, Clement) seems to offer insuperable difficulties, while the description of Apollos in Acts 18:24-28compared with the allusions in I Cor. 1:12, 3:6, 4:6, 16:12, seems to fit exactly the author of this anonymous Epistle.
He called the Epistle of Jude an “unnecessary epistle,” a mere extract from Second Peter and post-apostolic, filled with apocryphal matter, and hence rejected by the ancient fathers.
He could at first find no sense in the mysteries of the Apocalypse and declared it to be “neither apostolic nor prophetic,” because it deals only with images and visions, and yet, notwithstanding its obscurity, it adds threats and promises, “though nobody knows what it means”; but afterwards he modified his judgment when the Lutheran divines found in it welcome weapons against the church of Rome.
The clearest utterance on this subject is found at the close of his preface to the first edition of his German version of the. New Testament (1522), but it was suppressed in later editions.
Luther’s view of inspiration was both strong and free. With the profoundest conviction of the divine contents of the Bible, he distinguished between the revealed truth itself and the human wording and reasoning of the writers. He says of one of the rabbinical arguments of his favorite apostle: “My dear brother Paul, this argument won’t stick.”
Luther was, however, fully aware of the subjective and conjectural character of these opinions, and had no intention of obtruding them on the church: hence he modified his prefaces in later editions. He judged the Scriptures from an exclusively dogmatic, and one-sidedly Pauline standpoint, and did not consider their gradual historical growth.
A few Lutheran divines followed him in assigning a subordinate position to the seven Antilegomena of the New Testament; but the Lutheran church, with a sound instinct, accepted for popular use the traditional catholic canon (not even expressly excluding the Jewish Apocrypha), yet retained his arrangement of the book: of the New Testament. The Rationalists, of course, revived, intensified, and carried to excess the bold opinion of Luther, but in a spirit against which he would himself raise the strongest protest.
The Reformed divines were more conservative than Luther in accepting the canonical books, but more decided in rejecting the Apocrypha of the Old Testament. The Reformed Confessions usually enumerate the canonical books.
Zwingli objected only to the Apocalypse and made no doctrinal use of it, because he did not deem it an inspired book, written by the same John who wrote the fourth Gospel. In this view he has many followers, but the severest critical school of our days (that of Tubingen) assigns it to the Apostle John. Wolfgang Musculus mentions the seven Antilegomena, but includes them in the general catalogue of the New Testament; and Oecolampadius speaks of six Antilegomena (omitting the Hebrews), as holding an inferior rank, but nevertheless appeals to their testimony.
Calvin had no fault to find with James and Jude, and often quotes Hebrews and Revelation as canonical books, though he wrote no commentary on Revelation, probably because he felt himself incompetent for the task. He is silent about Second and Third John. He denies, decidedly, the Pauline authorship, but not the canonicity, of Hebrews. He is disposed to assign Second Peter to a pupil-of Peter, who wrote under the auspices and by direction of the Apostle; but he guards in this case, also, against unfavorable inferences from the uncertainty of origin.
Calvin clearly saw the inconsistency of giving the Church the right of determining the canon after denying her-right of making an article of faith. He therefore placed the canon on the authority of God who bears testimony to it through the voice of the Spirit in the hearts of the believer. The eternal and inviolable truth of God, he says, is not founded on the pleasure and judgment of men, and can be as easily distinguished as light from darkness, and white from black. In the same line, Peter Vermilius denies that “the Scriptures take their authority from the Church. Their certitude is derived from God. The Word is older than the Church. The Spirit of God wrought in the hearts of the hearers and readers of the Word so that they recognized it to be truly divine.” This view is clearly set forth in several Calvinistic Confessions, such as the Second Helvetic Confession, the Belgic Confession, the Gallican Confession, and the Westminster Confession. In its exclusive form it is diametrically opposed to the maxim of Augustine, otherwise so highly esteemed by the Reformers: “I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Church.”
But the two kinds of evidence supplement each other. The human authority of tradition, though not the final ground of belief, is indispensable as an historical witness of the genuineness and canonicity, and is of great weight in conflict with Rationalism. There is no essential antagonism between the Bible and the Church in the proper sense of the term. They are inseparable. The Church was founded by Christ and the apostles through the preaching of the living Word of God, and the founders of the Church are also the authors of the written Word, which continues to be the shining and guiding light of the Church; while the Church in turn is the guardian, preserver, translator, propagator, and expounder of the Bible.
3. The liberal views of the Reformers on inspiration and the canon were abandoned after the middle of the sixteenth century, and were succeeded by compact and consolidated systems of theology. The evangelical scholasticism of the seventeenth century strongly resembles, both in its virtues and defects, the catholic scholasticism of the Middle Ages which systematized and contracted the patristic theology, except that the former was based on the Bible, the latter on church tradition. In the conflict with Romanism the Lutheran and Calvinistic scholastics elaborated a stiff, mechanical theory of inspiration in order to set an infallible book against an infallible pope. The Bible was identified with the Word of God, dictated to the sacred writers as the penmen of the Holy Ghost. Even the classical purity of style and the integrity of the traditional text, including the Massoretic punctuation, were asserted in the face of stubborn facts, which came to light as the study of the origin and history of the text advanced. The divine side of the Scriptures was exclusively dwelled upon, and the human and literary side was ignored or virtually denied. Hence, the exegetical poverty of the period of Protestant scholasticism. The Bible was used as a repository of proof texts for previously conceived dogmas, without regard to the context, the difference between the Old and New Testaments, and the gradual development of the divine revelation in accordance with the needs and capacities of men.
4. It was against this Protestant bibliolatry and symbololatry that Rationalism arose as a legitimate protest. It pulled down one dogma after another, and subjected the Bible and the canon to a searching criticism. It denies the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, except in a wider sense which applies to all works of genius, and treats them simply as a gradual evolution of the religious spirit of Israel and the primitive Christian Church. It charges them with errors of fact and errors of doctrine, and resolves the miracles into legends and myths. It questions the Mosaic origin of the Pentateuch, the genuineness of the Davidic Psalms, the Solomonic writings, the prophecies of Deutero-Isaiah and Daniel, and other books of the Old Testament. It assigns not only the Eusebian Antilegomena, but even the Gospels, Acts, the Catholic Epistles and several Pauline Epistles to the post-apostolic age, from A.D. 70 to 150.
In its later developments, however, Rationalism has been obliged to retreat and make several concessions to orthodoxy. The canonical Gospels and Acts have gained by further investigation and discovery; and the apostolic authorship of the four great Epistles of Paul to the Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians and the Apocalypse of John is fully admitted by the severest school of criticism (that of Tubingen). A most important admission: for these five books teach or imply all the leading facts and truths of the gospel, and overthrow the very foundations of Rationalism. With the Christ of the Gospels, and the Apostle Paul of his acknowledged Epistles, Christianity is safe.
Rationalism was a radical revolution which swept like a flood over the continent of Europe. But it is not negative and destructive only. It has made and is still making valuable contributions to biblical philology, textual criticism, and grammatico-historical exegesis. It enlarges the knowledge of the conditions and environments of the Bible, and of all that belongs to the human and temporal side of Christ and Christianity. It cultivates with special zeal and learning the sciences of Critical Introduction, Biblical Theology, the Life of Christ, the Apostolic and post-Apostolic Ages.
5. These acquisitions to exegetical and historical theology are a permanent gain, and are incorporated in the new evangelical theology, which arose in conflict with Rationalism and in defense of the positive Christian, faith in the divine facts of revelation and the doctrines of salvation. The conflict is still going on with increasing strength, but with the sure prospect of the triumph of the truth. Christianity is independent of all critical questions on the canon, and of human theories of inspiration else Christ would himself have written the Gospels, or commanded the Apostles to do so, and provided for the miraculous preservation and inspired translation of the text. His “words are spirit, and are life.” “The flesh profiteth nothing.” Criticism and speculation may for a while wander away from Christ, but will ultimately return to Him who furnishes the only key for the solution of the problems of history and human life. “No matter,” says the world poet Goethe in one of his last utterances, “how much the human mind may progress in intellectual culture, in the science of nature, in ever-expanding breadth and depth: it will never be able to rise above the elevation and moral culture which shines in the Gospels.” —end of quote from Philip Schaff on his “The Reformation and Rationalism” as written by him in Volume VII, pages 26-42. We will continue, the Lord willing, with this subject of Rationalism in our following article.