Augustine Contra Biblicism

Or if anyone should think this is untrue, I am not going to quarrel about it. After all, I am clearly dealing with Christians, who rejoice over their knowing the holy Scriptures without human guidance; and if that is the case, it is a genuine good they are rejoicing over, one quite out of the ordinary. So let them grant me that each one of us, from earliest childhood, has had to learn our own language by constantly hearing it spoken, and has acquired a knowledge of any other language, whether Hebrew or Greek, or any of the rest, either in the same way by hearing it spoken, or from a human teacher. So now then, if you agree, let us advise all our brothers and sisters not to teach their small children these things, because after all it was in a single instant of time, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, that the apostles were filled and spoke in the tongues of all nations; or else none of us who have not experienced such things should consider ourselves to be Christians, or to have received the Holy Spirit.

But no, on the contrary, let us not be too proud to learn what has to be learned with the help of other people, and let those of us by whom others are taught pass on what we have received without pride and without jealousy.

Augustine, De doctrina christiana, prol. §5 in Teaching Christianity, trans. Edmund Hilll, The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1996), 104–05.


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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. It seems that to Augustine, Biblicicism is refusing to learn any Bible interpretations from anyone else. No one, surely can object to that – I certainly don’t….

    • John,

      1. Yes, there are hundreds of thousands (perhaps more) of American evangelicals who are weekly taught the very sort of biblicism Augustine anticipated. I suspect this occurs elsewhere. They really do seek to read the Bible in isolation from the history of the church, from the creeds and confessions of the church, and from theological study.

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