Tradition, Scripture and Religious Authority

  • Stephen T. Davis
  • Frank Rogers
Part of the Claremont Studies in the Philosophy of Religion book series (CSPR)


How should Christians decide what they are to believe?1 What constraints limit a person who wants to think Christianly on some topic? What criteria can Christians use in determining what they are to believe? What are the proper sources of religious authority to which they should look?


Christian Faith Religious Authority Christian Tradition Christian Theology Christian Belief 
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  1. 3.
    See Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Mentor Books, 1950), p. 144. Bainton quotes Luther as follows: ‘Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of Popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other — my conscience is captive to the word of God.’Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    See The Church Teaches: Documents of the Church in English Translation, ed. John Clarkson S.J. et al. (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1955), p. 45.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Thus Gustav Weigel: ‘If there is no objective decisive norm for the understanding of scripture, then every reader in all sincerity will get a different message out of it.… The [Protestant] biblical test for belief, then, is not an effective device for the validity of the belief.’ Gustav Weigel, S.J. and R.M. Brown, An American Dialogue (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1960), p. 208.Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Josef R. Geiselmann, ‘Scripture, Tradition, and the Church: An Ecumenical Problem’, Christianity Divided, ed. D. Callahan, H. Oberman, and D. O’Hanlon, S.J. (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1961).Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    George H. Tavard, Holy Writ or Holy Church (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1959).Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    This is the argument of Geiselmann. See pp. 43–8. See also R.C. Sproul, ‘Sola Scriptum: Crucial to Evangelicalism’, J.M. Boice (ed.), The Foundation of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervans Publishing House, 1978), p. 108.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    The Documents of Vatican II, ed. Walter M. Abbott, S.J. (New York: Guild Press, 1966), pp. 111–28. See also Rahner, ‘Scripture and Tradition’, pp. 1550–1: ‘It may therefore be held that the only task of post-biblical tradition is to transmit the Scriptures as such, to interpret them, and to explicate their implications. In other words… tradition functions at all times by listening to Scripture, subject always to Scripture as the critical norm which is universally necessary to distinguish “divine” tradition, the transmission of revelation in Christ, from human traditions.’Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    John Calvin The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Library of Christian Classics, Vol. XX), ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), I, V, 1.Google Scholar
  9. 21.
    Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Study of the Faith, trans. Sierd Woudstra (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979), p. 93.Google Scholar
  10. 23.
    This is from his 1832 book Symbolism, excerpted in Peter Hodgson and Robert King, Readings in Christian Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), p. 39.Google Scholar
  11. 29.
    See Richard Bauckham, ‘Tradition in Relation to Scripture’, in Richard Bauckham and Benjamin Drewery (eds.), Scripture, Tradition, and Reason (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1988), pp. 123, 126.Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. I, 1 (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1960), p. 119.Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    I am influenced here by the argument of Robert E. Webber in his helpful article, ‘An Evangelical and Catholic Methodology’. See Robert K. Johnson (ed.), The Use of the Bible in Theology: Evangelical Options (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985). I should add, however, the obvious point that ‘the consensus of the fathers’ is not a binding criterion. We are not obligated to accept everything the early fathers agree on, e.g. the Platonism many of them seem to presuppose, and especially the sexism and anti-Judaism that we see in many of them. We should not follow the Fathers here because sexism and anti-Judaism can be shown, by convincing theological reasoning, to be contrary to Scripture and to the core of the Christian message.Google Scholar
  14. 34.
    See Avery Dulles, ‘Scripture: Recent Protestant and Catholic Views’, in Donald K. McKim (ed.), The Authoritative Word (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1983), p. 248; cf. also pp. 250, 260.Google Scholar
  15. 35.
    James Barr, Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983), pp. 31–2.Google Scholar

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© Claremont Graduate School 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen T. Davis
  • Frank Rogers

There are no affiliations available

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