Luther and Inerrancy: Is There A Connection?
David G. McDowell
Description of Topic
I have chosen for my topic to look at the theology of Martin Luther, specifically his doctrine of biblical authority and how that may compare to the current doctrine of biblical inerrancy as expressed by the signers and adherers of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI). I will look at Luther’s thoughts and doctrines on the authority of Scripture and see how it may have affected current thoughts on Biblical Inerrancy. I will seek to answer the question, “How does Luther’s view of the authority of Scripture compare to the modern evangelical view of inerrancy as expressed by the signers of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy?”
Statement of Purpose
The purpose of this project is to compare Lutheran thought and doctrine to the theology of the signers and adherers to the CSBI and to see if the two are compatible. To accomplish this, I will examine Luther’s doctrines and thoughts on Scripture in depth, his approaches to Scripture, and to some extent, his methodology. I will then take this and compare it to current doctrines and thoughts from signers and adherents to the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy as well as to the document itself.
Significance of the Study
The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) is spurned from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It was the ICBI that produced the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) in 1978-79. In addition to this document, they have also produced the Chicago Statement of Biblical Hermeneutics, which was produced in 1982. The ICBI original members were some of the leading Reformed theologians of the day, including R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, Greg Bahnsen and Norman Geisler, among others. Current members include John Piper, John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, and C.J. Mahaney. All of these men are leading Reformed theologians.
Reformed theology traces its roots back to Martin Luther and his 95 Theses. Other reformed thinkers of the 16th century include John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, but it is Martin Luther who holds the distinction of being the author of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, meaning “Scripture Alone.” This is one of the major tenets of Reformed theology, one of the “five solas,” the others being Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone).
Since Reformation Theology seems to be the basis of some of the foundational beliefs of the doctrine of Inerrancy, then there must be a line of thought that connects the doctrine of Inerrancy, directly or indirectly, back to Martin Luther and his doctrines and thoughts regarding the place of Scripture. It is this line of thought that I wish to research and thus attempt to place the doctrine of Inerrancy in its historical place. By looking at one end of the spectrum, Martin Luther’s 16th century doctrine of biblical authority, and the other end of the spectrum, the 20th century doctrine of the Inerrancy of Scripture, it is my belief that the comparison will show a line of thought or thinking that lead, directly or indirectly, to late 20th century thought on Scripture and may even show us the direction Christian thought will take further into the 21st century.
Description of Methodology
I will examine in depth Martin Luther’s thoughts and doctrines regarding Scripture up to and including his doctrine of Sola Scriptura and what affect that may have had on the CSBI. This will include examining his very own writings and examining the claims that those who have written about him have made. I will also examine the CSBI document itself, examine the claims that it makes, tracing back Scriptural references, and compare the articles of the documents to Luther’s doctrine and thought. In the event that the CSBI draws from a creed or confession of faith, I will also seek to understand Luther’s understanding of that creed or confession of faith, if possible.
Preunderstanding and Limitations
I am presupposing a direct or indirect line of thought between Luther and the signers and adherents to the CSBI. I am doing this because I believe that the signers and adherers to the CSBI claim that they hold to several Reformed confessions of faith including, but not limited to, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Westminster Confession of Faith, among others.
I will also try to focus specifically on the work of Luther and only include works of the other Reformers when they are appropriate or show influence on Luther or on the CSBI. In other words, I will do my best not to draw lines of thought or conclusions when they do not flow directly or indirectly from the works of Luther unless they are appropriate and fall within the parameters of the comparison.
Althaus, Paul. The Theology of Martin Luther. Translated by Robert C. Shultz. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966.
Lienhard, Marc. Luther: Witness to Jesus Christ. Translated by Edwin H. Robertson. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1982.
Lohse, Bernhard. Martin Luther: An Introduction to His Life and Work. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986.
Luther, Martin. Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings. ed. Timothy F. Lull. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989.
Mathison, Keith A. The Shape of Sola Scriptura. Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2001.