Book Review: Reading Scripture with the Reformers by Timothy George

  • Paperback: 270 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (October 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830829490
  • Wtsbooks
  • IVP

Many thanks to Adrianna and IVP for this review copy of Reading Scripture with the Reformers by Timothy George, noted Reformation historian.

An Overview

Reading Scripture flows quite well.  The writing style is neither dry or dull but quite lively, something of a page turner, if you will.

Reading Scripture is part of the story of how the Bible came to have a central role in the 16th century movement for religious reform that we now call the Protestant Reformation.  For example, by the time of Luther’s death in 1546, it is estimated that half a million copies of the Bible were in circulation.

Chapter 1: Why Read the Reformers?  This is something of a treat for the newcomer on the place given to Scripture by the reformers.  And the oft-quoted sola scriptura, which is largely misunderstood today, must be given its proper place as used by the reformers.  For example, “the reformers read, translated and interpreted the Bible as part of an extended centuries-old conversation between the holy page of God’s Word and the company of God’s people” (p. 40).

Chapter 2: Ad Fontes.  This chapter features several unsung heroes and their struggles to read Scripture and share it with common folks.  It also covers the first printing press, the rise of renaissance humanism, the trilingualism, that is, the study of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, which the biblical humanists required to have complete and reliable texts of the Bible.

Chapter 3: The Erasmian Moment.  Yes, Desiderius Erasmus who embodied the ideals of biblical humanism.  Reading Scripture with the church fathers, which was something of a stable among the reformers, was part of the ecumenical bequest of Erasmus to the church of the sixteenth century (p. 78).  Erasmus gave the reformers The Greek New Testament.  It is said that “Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched.”

Chapter 4:  Whose Bible?  Which Tradition?  It is in this chapter that the formal principle of sola scriptura is best understood, as it was appropriated by the reformers against Rome.  It is here we encounter Luther’s 95 Theses and the Diet of Worms in 1521.

Chapter 5: Doctor Martinius.  In this chapter, we meet Luther to exegete and the theologian and the methods he employed and the principal themes in his theology.  For Luther, receiving the doctor of theology meant “Then I had to accept the office of doctor and swear a vow to my most beloved Holy Scriptures that I would preach and teach them faithfully and purely” (p. 139).

Chapter 6: Lutheran Ways.  Meet Master Philipp, often overshadowed by Luther, but who, according to Timothy George, was “Neither a cipher for Luther nor an echo of Erasmus, he was a leading interpreter of Scripture and a creative formulator of the Reformation tradition” (p. 75).  Here Luther becomes the translator, which precipitated a flood of Bibles.

Chapter 7: Along the Rhine.  The Reformation has already spread all over Germany and beyond.  Meet Cologne, Mainz, Strasbourg, and their Reformation and counter-Reformation efforts.  Here we encounter William Tyndale, Bullinger, Bucer, Zell, Calvin, Hubmaier, and others.

Chapter 8: Preach the Word.  It is here we discover the priority given to preaching by the reformers–a priority it never had before.  It is also here we encounter Zwingli’s Prophecy, which Professor George considers the greatest contribution of the Zurich reformers to the tradition of preaching.  Following the pattern established by Zwingli and Bullinger in Zurich, Calvin adopted the discipline of the lectio continua, preaching through books of the Bible expositorily.

A Critique

The title Reading Scripture with the Reformers is a bit misleading.  At least, I think so.  Here’s why?  When I think of “reading Scripture with the reformers,” I’m thinking about how the reformers went about formulating their theology.  Perhaps I’m wrong here.

Also, though Calvin was mentioned a few times, especially in Strasbourg, I was expecting a bit more on Calvin.  But I supposed Luther’s journey and contribution, especially as a translator, is more compelling.  In all fairness to Professor George, Reading Scripture with the Reformers is only part of the story.

At any rate, as a Baptist, who belong to the wider Reformation tradition, I appreciate the journey Professor George takes his readers on, especially in his dealing with the many unsung heroes of the pre-and-16th century Reformation.  Professor George’s dealings with Erasmus is something of a historical treat, raising somewhat my appreciation of Erasmus, even though he straddled the fence, playing it safe, and never really casting his lot with the reformers.

If you’re looking for a solid, historical read on the fight for the Bible and its place during the 16th century Reformation, the contribution of the biblical humanists, and a better understanding of sola scriptura, then I recommend Reading Scripture with the Reformers.


This entry was posted in Baptists, Book Reviews, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Reading Scripture, Reformation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Book Review: Reading Scripture with the Reformers by Timothy George

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