The Struggle for Biblical Authority Rages On

By David Gunn

It isn’t much of an overstatement to say that Scriptural authority was the foundational issue for the Protestant Reformers.

According to medieval Catholicism, there were two parallel sources of ultimate truth: Holy Scripture and church tradition. Moreover, the relationship between these two authorities was such that one had to understand church tradition first to rightly interpret the Scriptures. In this way, God’s Word was effectively subordinated to the traditions and dictates of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Reformers roundly rejected this view. For them, Scripture was supreme. No one could overrule it. No council could claim supremacy over it. No scheme of man could ever unseat it from its privileged position. Luther’s comments are typical of the Reformed emphasis on Scriptural authority: “The authority of Scripture is greater than the comprehension of the whole of man’s reason.” And again, “A simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it.”