Muller: Sola Scriptura Was Essential To The Development Of Reformed Theology

Another precedent, already noted, was the confessional embodiment of the sola Scriptura of the Reformers. Insofar as confessional theology offered a primary basis for doctrinal development, the tendency of the Reformed confessions to begin with a doctrine of Scripture bore immediate fruit in the structure of the Protestant orthodox systems. This confessional pattern, moreover, was echoed in several of the early Reformed systems—notably, Calvin’s Institutes and Bullinger’s Decades and Compendium—in which the movement from a declaration of sola Scriptura to a full locus de Scriptura sacra,1 if not completed, was certainly confirmed and expedited. Debate with Roman Catholics, moreover, was not over the question of the definition and method of theology. As we have already seen, that issue was taken up in the latter half of the sixteenth century and as an institutional and didactic topic, not as a polemical one. Rather, debate was over the question of authority, with specific reference to the interpretation of Scripture and to the relationship of Scripture to the church and its traditions. The result of the debate, both in confession and in system, was the early development of a Protestant doctrine of Scripture that could serve, in fact, as a prolegomenon to theology in a formal sense, granting absence of actual prolegomena.

This confessional emphasis on sola Scriptura both maintained and transformed the medieval emphasis on a preliminary identification of principia.2 The sola Scriptura maintained, in both the Reformed confessions and the early orthodox systems, the logical priority of the discussion of Scripture over the doctrine of God but, because of the Reformation’s radical emphasis on Scripture over against other sources of doctrine, transformed the doctrine of Scripture into a separate locus no longer included in the general theological prolegomena. Similarly, the confessional sola Scriptura maintained the dynamic of drawing conclusions and identifying ends on the basis of revealed truths but transformed the language of a multitude of principia elicited exegetically from Scripture into a language of Scripture broadly understood as principium unicum theologiae, the sole foundation of theology and, hence, the source of the exegetically elicited truths from which theological conclusions and soteriological goals could be drawn.

Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 2.159–60.

HB EDITOR’S NOTES

1. A locus is a topic in theology. De Scriptura sacra = “concerning holy Scripture.”

2. In theology Principia are foundations or starting points.