October 31, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, which set into motion the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. This Covenant Quarterly issue commemorates this watershed movement.
Sujin Pak, assistant professor of the history of Christianity at Duke Divinity School, discusses what the Reformers intended in their affirmation of Scripture’s perspecuity, how this affirmation was rooted in the concept of justification by faith alone, and how it impacted their understanding of the church’s role in the task of interpretation.
“[The Reformers’] point was not that any person, or even any Christian, has what they need to interpret Scripture in and of their own ability. More specifically, the Reformers’ point was not that by the gift of faith and the Holy Spirit one’s own abilities were purified and empowered. Rather, their very point was that Scripture is clear and accessible not by virtue of any human efforts or abilities, even sanctified abilities, but solely by virtue of the gift of faith through the work of the Spirit – precisely the gift of faith given when one is justified by faith alone. Just as the Protestant Reformers affirmed that only God can initiate faith and do the work of salvation in a person, so also they insisted that only God is the actor in any true interpretation of Scripture.”
Professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary, Stephen J. Chester, engages with the Reformers’ “new Pauline exegetical grammar” and its relevance for contemporary Pauline interpretation.
“How should we think about the Reformers as interpreters of Paul at the 500th anniversary of their transformation of church and society? Should our interest be antiquarian only, their interpretation of the Pauline letters of value for how we understand the sixteenth century and its conflicts but of little direct interest for our own task of interpreting the New Testament in and for the twenty-first century? Or, at the opposite extreme, do the Reformers provide for us exegetical and theological touchstones, departures from which must be resisted as a falling away from the truth of the gospel? … In my view, neither of these responses is helpful.”