27 September 2015 A.D. Doctrine of Scripture in the Thirty-Nine Articles
Lloyd, Marc. “Formulary Friday: The doctrine of Scriptures in the Thirty Nine Articles.” Church Society. 25 Sept 2015. http://churchsociety.org/blog/entry/formulary_friday_the_doctrine_of_scripture_in_the_thirty_nine_articles#When:05:00:00Z. Accessed 27 Sept 2015.
Formulary Friday: The doctrine of Scripture in the Thirty Nine ArticlesPosted by Marc Lloyd, 25 Sep 2015
Marc Lloyd explores what the Thirty Nine Articles have to say about the Bible
The Thirty Nine Articles don’t claim to be an exhaustive or timeless systematic theology – even if such a thing were possible. The Articles are, rather, a statement of some Church of England essentials on which all are expected to agree. Yet, if we ask what the Articles teach about Scripture, we’ll find that they provide some important fixed points for anyone wanting to be truly ‘Anglican’.
Firstly, the Articles tell us about the extent of Scripture. Article 6 gives a list of the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. Broadly speaking, it is true that the church has always recognised these books, and only these books, as authoritative. The books of the Bible, then, possess a God-given authority that the church discerns rather than creates. The books of the Apocrypha, by contrast, can be read “for example of life and instruction of manners”, but they do not have the authority to “establish any doctrine”.
Secondly, the Articles tell us about the sufficiency of Scripture. Article 6 speaks of “the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for salvation”. The notion of the sufficiency of Scripture here is a carefully limited one. The Bible is not sufficient as a car maintenance manual or as a cookbook, but as an effective guide to salvation. Reason and interpretation clearly have a place – since we are bound not only by the explicit statements of Scripture but also what “by may be proved thereby”. The sufficiency of Scripture limits the authority of the church. She may not require anything to be “believed as an article of the Faith” nor to “be thought requisite or necessary to salvation” which the Bible does not teach. Article 8, moreover, reminds us that we affirm the Creeds only because “they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture”.
Thirdly, the Articles tell us about the authority of Scripture. Article 20 restricts what the church may teach: it is “not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written”. The supreme authority of Scripture is implicit. The Bible trumps the church. The church retains a significant, though subordinate, role: “Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of salvation.” The Bible does not get its authority from the church but rules over it. Articles 19, 20 and 22 remind us that the church can err, and has erred – for instance in teaching non-Biblical doctrines such as purgatory. While the church can err, the Bible cannot.
Fourthly, the Articles tell us about the consistency of Scripture. Scripture is the truthful Word of the truthful God. It therefore follows that the church may not “so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.” God, the ultimate author of the Bible, must be assumed to speak rightly and consistently. Article 7 applies this point to the Old and New Testaments, which it asserts are therefore not contrary to one another. For in both “everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man.”
This also points us, finally, to the central theme and purpose of the Scriptures: they are about Jesus Christ, and in them everlasting life, through Christ, is offered to all mankind (cf. John 5:39-40).
We may, of course, want to say much more about the doctrine of Scripture, but by considering Scripture’s extent, sufficiency, authority, consistency, and central theme and purpose, the Articles usefully map out the boundaries of authentic Anglican teaching on the subject.
The Rev'd Marc Lloyd is Rector of Warbleton, Bodle Street Green & Dallington in the Diocese of Chichester.