Prima Scriptura

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Timothy George has written an article honoring one of his professors, David C. Steinmetz, “one of the leading church historians of our time,”  the late Ragan Kerns Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the History of Christianity at Duke Divinity School.  Reading this was my introduction to Steinmetz, whom I now also admire.  From the article:

In 1980, Steinmetz published in Theology Today an essay with an edgy title: “The Superiority of Precritical Exegesis.” He did not deal directly with sixteenth-century exegesis in this article—a line of research he and his students would exploit in the decades to come. Rather, he offered a frontal assault on what C. S. Lewis—one of Steinmetz’s favorite authors—once called the “chronological snobbery” of scholarly methods that dismiss as antiquated traditional ways of reading the Bible. Returning to Augustine and the early church, Steinmetz showed how “the fourfold sense of Scripture” that became widely used in the Middle Ages was a way of taking seriously the words and sayings of Scripture, including implicit meanings beyond the original intentions of the human authors…

Much of what is known today as the theological interpretation of Scripture proceeds from assumptions clarified by Steinmetz. A new generation of scholars have come to see the exegetical tradition of the church not as a problem to be overcome but rather as an indispensable aid for rightly dividing the inspired Word. As Steinmetz once said in my hearing, sola Scriptura does not mean nuda Scriptura but rather prima Scriptura—not Scripture “only” but Scripture as the norm by which all other writings and teachings are judged.
Not just a scholar, Steinmetz was also an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. He took seriously both his ecclesial and his academic calling. He had a high view of the ordained ministry and encouraged young ministers to remain faithful, rather than seeking to be original, in their preaching of the Gospel…

In a sermon titled “Turned from Idols and Still Turning,” preached at Resurrection United Methodist Church in Durham in 1987, Steinmetz reminded his hearers that the God who raised Jesus from the dead always keeps his promises, in contrast to the idols which so often lay claim to our loyalties.  Part of that sermon:
“God keeps the promises he makes, never abandons his worshipers in their distress, and can be counted upon to be faithful to them even when there seems to be no earthly reason he should be. Someday a funeral procession will go to a cemetery and after a brief ceremony, everyone will go home except me. At that moment, the vain and threadbare claim of the idols to be the final arbiters of human destiny will be shown up as the poor and empty thing it is. Only God can be God; only God has the power and the will to be God. Whatever claims to be God but is not God will abandon us one final time at the grave’s edge. On that day, the only question that will matter is whether underneath us are the everlasting arms of the living and true God.”

Amazon lists several of his books, including Luther in Context, Calvin in Context, Reformers in the Wings, and Taking the Long View, the one pictured above.


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