Biblical Studies and the Teaching of Church History

By Prichard, Robert W. | Anglican Theological Review, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Biblical Studies and the Teaching of Church History


Prichard, Robert W., Anglican Theological Review


The exposition of biblical texts is not the responsibility of the church history department at Virginia Seminary. Nevertheless, it would be extremely difficult to trace the history of the Church without frequent reference to the Scriptures. This is certainly true for the early Church, which wrote the books of the New Testament and accepted the Bible as authoritative for its life. It is true as well for the Church in later periods. One cannot understand the motivation of the individual Christians who have shaped the Church's history without a deep engagement with the Bible. The actions of Antony of Egypt (251?-356), Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), Martin Luther (1483-- 1546), or William Wilberforce (1759-1833), to name just a few characters from the cast of church history, simply do not make sense, if one does not take into account their understanding of Scripture.

Any teacher of church history will, therefore, need to refer frequently to the Bible in the course of telling the history of the Church. Most Church historians will, for example, refer to the pivotal role played by a passage in the Epistle to the Romans for Augustine of Hippo's conversion. The evidence is hard to dispute; the story of conversion that Augustine left in his Confessions identified his reading of Romans 13:13-14 as critical. Beyond this point of agreement, however, differences arise among Church historians. All do not agree as to what precisely is happening when a biblical passage plays such a role. Was God speaking to Augustine through the text? Did Augustine grasp something that was intended by St. Paul when he wrote the Epistle to the Romans? Was Augustine's reading of the text in keeping with the intention of those second-century Christians who first began to read the Epistle to the Romans as a canonical text? Or was it the case that Augustine projected his ideas onto the text, as if the Bible were a bulletin board on which successive generations post their own self-understandings? Church historians cannot avoid such questions, although they may not always make them the topic of explicit conversation in beginning courses.

The purpose of this essay is to examine the basic assumptions with which such encounters with Scripture are handled in telling the history of the Church. This essay will contrast a set of assumptions about the role of the Bible in church history that was common in the early twentieth century with a discussion of the way in which the Bible is handled in church history classrooms at Virginia Seminary today.

Modern Church History in America

Although the chronicling of the story of the Church is an activity as old as the Church itself, modern critical history of the Church is of relatively recent origin in America. It was the creation of a generation of historians in the later half of the nineteenth century who learned about the critical handling of source material from German scholars. Williston Walker (1860-1922) earned a Ph.D. at Leipzig (1888) before teaching at Harvard (1889-1901) and Yale (1901-1922). Arthur C. McGiffert (1861-1933), another member of the generation, earned his Ph.D. in Marburg in the same year that Walker finished at Leipzig. McGiffert returned to the U.S. to teach at Lane Theological Seminary, Cincinnati (1888-93) and Union Seminary, New York (1893-1933). McGiffert, Walker, and other members of their generation shaped church history as a modern craft.

McGiffert and Walker took from their German teachers a low Christology and a low view of the authority of the biblical canon. In contrast, they had a high appreciation of their own critical abilities to distinguish the teachings of Jesus from later accretions. Their German teachers, such as Adolph von Harnack (1851-1930), regarded the Bible much like the site of an archeological dig before excavation; it was a collection of various strata of data, from which the skilled historian could reconstruct the original lay of the land. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Biblical Studies and the Teaching of Church History
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.