Biblical Scholarship and the Church | Book Review
The sixteenth-century was a period of theological transformation and debate unlike any other time in the history of Western Christianity. In their work Biblical Scholarship and the Church, Allan Jenkins and Patrick Preston encounter issues of scriptural authority, translation, and interpretation within the context of sixteenth-century Christianity. In this work Jenkins and Preston examine three examples of controversy concerning the authority of scripture for Christian teaching and practice, especially scholarly concerns with the authority of the Latin Vulgate. In offering a philologically based historical survey of various sixteenth-century concerns, Jenkins and Preston provide numerous insights and source texts for any study of authority and structure within sixteenth-century Christianity.
The authors break this work up into two parts, the first dealing with various sixteenth century controversies and the second providing translations of relevant source texts. They argue that the roots of the sixteenth-century crisis of authority lay in the historical debate between Jerome and Augustine concerning the level of appropriate authority that could be afforded a translation of scripture such as the Vulgate or Septuagint. In examining the debate between Erasmus and catholic traditionalists, the authors argue that Erasmus’ philological principle of ad fontes remained a central tenet for appropriate study, translation, and interpretation of scripture and that the original Greek of the New Testament, within its historical context, was the best basis for an empirical study and accurate translation of the text. They conclude that Erasmus’ approach to scripture posed numerous challenges to traditional understandings of authority, perhaps most directly by his questioning aspects of authority that had until then been unquestioned.
Turning to the controversy between Thomas More and William Tyndale, the authors examine their positions on translation and interpretation and conclude that variant philological concerns, principles of translation, and theological convictions kept separate More and Tyndale’s positions. While concluding that both followed Erasmus in desiring to see scripture restored to centrality within Christian theology, the authors ultimately side with More’s perspective as the most exegetically consistent and convincing. A third controversy examined in this work is that between Catharinus and the commentaries of Cardinal Cajetan. Whereas Catharinus argued for a Christocentric interpretative model that very nearly followed the fourfold method of interpretation of Nicholas of Lyra, Cajetan argued for strict adherence to original language versions of the scriptures. The authors conclude that clear divergences existed concerning understandings of Jerome’s importance, the viability of vernacular translation, and views on canon and the manner in which the Biblical text was to be interpreted.
In the second part of Biblical Scholarship and the Church, Jenkins and Preston offer numerous annotated sixteenth-century texts, which are useful both for considering the respective arguments presented in Part One, as well as sources for further scholarship. Many of these documents are the first translations into English for the source texts, making this work a valuable resource for English-reading scholars working in period fields of canon and scriptural authority. The authors conclude by arguing that the sixteenth-century’s controversies included in this volume were each concerned with the authority of scripture for Christian teaching and practice, especially authority derived from translations of scripture.
Jenkins and Preston’s overarching argument, based on the wide array of historical and philological sources that are employed in this work, appears to be highly persuasive. The plethora of first hand sources used and included in this work aptly demonstrates the centrality of differences in conceptions authority among sixteenth-century theologians. This work devotes careful consideration to the nuances and details of each of the included arguments that were surveyed in a manner that places each perspective within its socio-historical context and interaction. This work would complement other works regarding scripture and authority in the Christian tradition, studies of the historical diversity of Christianity, and any survey of reformation era Europe that touches on authority structures, as the work has clearly been written towards those studying reformation era theology, ecclesiology, and historiography. Overall, Biblical Scholarship and the Church provides numerous insights and source texts for any study of authority and structure within sixteenth-century Christianity, and this work is to be recommended for the serious scholar.
Allan K. Jenkins, Patrick Preston. Biblical Scholarship and the Church: A Sixteenth-Century Crisis of Authority. Hampshire, England: Ashgate Press, 2007.