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Religion Library: Anglican/Episcopalian

Sacred Texts

Written by: Russell P. Dawn

Absent from the Thirty-nine Articles and from Anglican pronouncements generally is a proclamation regarding the nature of scripture itself.   In contrast to, for example, Reformed Protestantism, there is no reference to the scripture's having been inspired by the Holy Spirit, no statement that its books are not merely human documents.  Subsequent attempts officially to acknowledge scripture's nature as God's revealed word have never received adequate support.  Later statements have effectively returned to the substance of the Thirty-nine Articles.

Since the late 19th century, many Anglicans have embraced the historical, critical approach to scripture put forward by the liberal movement .  Darwinism has also strongly influenced many Anglican thinkers, moving them to doubt the biblical account of creation.  As a result, the view has emerged that the scriptures do not, and were not intended to, speak on matters that are properly the subject of scientific inquiry.  Although aimed at disputes over Darwinism, the effect of this approach is potentially much broader.  Indeed, history itself may be deemed properly the subject of scientific inquiry, eviscerating the Bible's authority to speak on central matters of the faith such as the Incarnation and the Resurrection.

In sum, the Anglican approach is that the scriptures are authoritative and primary; they provide what a person needs for salvation, and they are the standard of faith.  Matters such as divine inspiration are open to interpretation, and the Bible's purpose is not to speak on matters of science.  This is not to claim that all or even most Anglican clergy persons and laity agree with this approach in all its particulars.  Numerous Anglicans accept biblical authority and sufficiency, but reject the exclusion of science and would prefer to add a clear and positive pronouncement of the divine origin of the scriptures.  Many others agree with the omission of a statement of divine origin and embrace the inclusion of science, but also reject claims of scriptural authority and sufficiency.

Study Questions:
     1.    What role did Hebrew scriptures have prior to the Protestant Reformation? What did they include?
     2.    What is the Apocrypha? How did Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Anglicanism view these scriptures?
     3.    What is the Mosaic Law? What does it include?
     4.    What are the Thirty-nine Articles?
     5.    How do Anglicans view the Bible? Why does it differ across the tradition?


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