Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Evangelicals and the Bible in the Middle Ages

MacKenzie, Cameron.  "Evangelicals and the Bible in the Middle Ages."  All Theology Is Christology: Essays in Honor of David P. Scaer. Fort Wayne, IN: Concordia Theological Seminary Press.  2000.  329-348.

What were the arguments for and against the Lollards and their support of Wycliffe and his movement to bring the Bible into a new English translation?  The Oxford Constitutions condemn not only the version of the Bible produced by Wycliffe and his followers, but they challenge the idea that it is wise to translate Scriptures into a different language.

It appears that the chief arguments from both sides were that the Bible contains the words of life, that it should be learned and believed, and that it reveals what we need for salvation.   However, the followers of Wycliffe argued that the Bible should be available in everybody's native language so that each individual could consider it from personal reading and judge for himself.  The argument advanced against making a translation into the vernacular is to protect from an individualization of interpretation, misinterpretation, and the view of salvation that is self-mediated rather than delivered through the Church as God's administrator of grace.  So we can see that the same arguments cut both ways in this dispute.  There was a second argument put forth, indicating that because of the inferiority of the English language and its limited ability to articulate important doctrines it was impossible to translate the Scripture adequately.

The followers of Wycliffe apparently moved to a very populist argument, basically saying that anyone who was a supporter of the Church would be acting out of greed for power, protecting himself rather than bringing the true Gospel to people.  Therefore salvation should take on this character of being mediated through the individual rather than through the Church.  Likewise, in pastors, piety was exalted above purity of doctrine or understanding of Scripture.  From this point of view, it would be appropriate to start a new movement, making the Scriptures as broadly available as possible in the vernacular, regardless of the room for misinterpretation.

The followers of the Church apparently stood with their traditional views and assumed they could stop any objections.

Obviously, the idea of the vernacular has won out.  What are the consequences?  Do we need to look any farther than the modern English paraphrases of the Bible which make serious doctrinal inquiry and understanding next to impossible?  How about the tendency of modern evangelicals to ordain themselves to ministry with little or no training but a commitment to piety?  Looking at it from about 600 years later, what do we think of the outcome?

No comments: