The title of Timothy George’s Reading Scripture With The Reformers can be somewhat misleading. The book itself is not a collection of various Reformers’ readings of Scripture. Nor is it a book with extended discussions on the method the Reformers used to read Scripture. For those topics, you may want to look into the Reformation Commentary on Scripture (RCS), to which this book stands as a kind of introduction, but not really. I say “not really” because it’s not explicitly written as an introduction to that commentary series. However, you might notice that the front cover of this book and the front covers of the volumes in the RCS share the same picture, a sign that clearly IVP Academic intends them to go together.
“How then do they go together?” you ask. I think the connection between the books is one of stage setting. George is not only the author of this book, but is also the general editor of the RCS series. In Reading Scripture With The Reformers, he introduces the social and cultural setting that the Reformers worked in, and how that shaped their approach to Scripture. So while not directly commenting on the commentary series, this book does an admiral job of getting you into the 16th century world and giving a background to its major players. If you really want to read Scripture with the Reformers, then grab one of the available commentaries in the series. If you want to understand why the Reformers read Scripture the way they did, then pick up this book first.
“Why should we care to read with the Reformers?” you might ask. As George explains in the opening chapter, “the reformers of the sixteenth century shared with ancient Christian writers and the medieval scholastics who came before them a high regard for the inspiration and authority of the Bible” (18). Further, “the reformers of the sixteenth century were guided by this rule of faith [the apostolic summary of the biblical storyline] in their interpretations of the Bible” (32). Interestingly as well, while “postmodernism calls for us to recognize our limitations,” this is not a new idea, and “as it turns out, these are habits of reading already deeply embedded in the Christian tradition. They are found, among other places, in the hermeneutical legacy of the Protestant Reformation” (37). So, by reading with the Reformers, we can see a way to read Scripture simultaneously holding a high view of Scripture’s inspiration and authority, and also our own subjective limitations in coming to the text.
In short, reading Scripture with the Reformers recovers the premodern approach to biblical interpretation which combines the benefits of modern and postmodern approaches without giving into either’s excesses. While the Reformers did not create the premodern approach, they certainly stood in more continuity with it than we do now. By understanding their vantage point, I think we’re in a much better position to navigate our own postmodern cultural challenges.
As for the rest of the book, the second chapter details how the Reformers advocated returning to primary sources (Ad Fontes!). George gives a thoroughly interesting historical survey of the events and people involved in getting the Bible printed and available to the common man. Chapter 3 is focused on Erasmus and his role in the return to primary sources, specifically in putting together his Greek New Testament. While it does paint him in a more sympathetic light than some would expect (Luther after all hated him), he isn’t presented without fault. Rather, he is pictured faults and all to show his unique contributions to the period, and to set the stage for a more extended discussion of Luther.
Chapter 4 is a turning point in the book and as you might guess, highlights the clash over the Bible and tradition between the Reformers and Rome. Much of the debate centered on the clarity of Scripture and whether it was intelligible to the average person. As George points out, “the emphasis on internal clarity of Scripture became a major axiom of Reformation exegesis” (130). To see this play out further, chapter 5 turns the focal point to Martin Luther, which is also extended in chapter 6. In chapter 7, George offers a brief historical look “along the Rhine” to other somewhat unknown players in the fight to keep the Bible in the hands of the people, and then closes in chapter 8 with a look at how the Reformers emphasis on the primary of the word filtered into their approach to preaching and its impact on the liturgy of the church.
I found this book to very helpful for historical study. While it wasn’t quite what I expected when I requested it, George does such a good job weaving together historical narrative that I didn’t mind. For someone looking for an accessible introduction to the 16th century world that focuses on how that world shaped the transmission of the Bible into the common man’s possession, this is it. Likewise, if you want a good snapshot of Martin Luther’s understanding of Scripture and how that affected his role in the Reformation, this is the book for you. It’s certainly not exhaustive, but George uncovers many lesser known figures in his historical survey while still keeping the focus on the main events. Throughout it all, the reader is able to see how the Reformers recovered approaches to reading Scripture that were more in line with the early church and how we might be look back to them in order to understand both groups better.
- Author: Timothy George
- Title: Reading Scripture With The Reformers
- Publisher: IVP Academic (September 6, 2011)
- Paperback: 270pgs
- Reading Level: Bible School/Seminary
- Audience Appeal: Kings who want to see a historical study of the interpretive methods of the Reformers
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of IVP Academic)