Scripture as Printed Text
For both Catholics and Evangelicals Scripture was the premier authority. All parties agreed that the church and its beliefs rested ultimately on Scripture.1 At issue, then, was not the authority of Scripture but its authoritative interpretation. Who had the right to say definitively what Scripture taught when church Fathers could be cited on both sides of an issue, when university theological faculties divided into opposing camps, and when academics could not convince each other of the correctness of their reading? Catholics answered that the pope or an ecumenical council or both had that right. But at Worms Martin Luther made his stand against these authorities in favor of Scripture alone. "Unless I am overcome through testimony of Scripture or through evident reasons (for I believe neither the pope nor the council alone because it is apparent that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves), I am overcome by the Scripture that I have cited and my conscience is captive to the word of God."2 Scripture was the sole authority. It was even the authority on its authoritative interpretation. Scripture, Luther insisted, interpreted itself.
Whatever the cogency of this position from a theological standpoint,3 in practice Scripture did not interpret itself. Human beings interpreted Scripture, and they disagreed. The inability of Catholics and Evangelicals to reach the same interpretation of Scripture was readily explicable to both sides and caused little anxiety among Evangelicals, who on the whole shared the reading of Scripture that condemned the papacy and many traditional practices and beliefs. But it