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The New Testament ( Greek: Καινή Διαθήκη, Kainē Diathēkē) is the name given to the final portion of the Christian Bible, written after the Hebrew Bible (also called by Jews Tanakh), known to Christians as the Old Testament. It is sometimes called the Greek Testament or Greek Scriptures, or the New Covenant – which is the literal translation of the original Greek. The original texts were written in Koine Greek by various unknown authors after c. AD 45 and before c. AD 140. Its 27 books were gradually collected into a single volume over a period of several centuries. The New Testament is a central element of Christianity, and has played a major role in shaping modern Western culture. Although certain Christian sects differ as to which works are included in the New Testament, the vast majority of denominations have settled on the same twenty-seven book canon (see also, Biblical canon): it consists of the four narratives of Jesus Christ's ministry, called " Gospels"; a narrative of the Apostles' ministries in the early church, which is also a sequel to the third Gospel; twenty-one early letters, commonly called " epistles" in Biblical context, written by various authors and consisted mostly of Christian counsel and instruction; and an Apocalyptic prophecy, which is technically the twenty-second epistle. Although the traditional timeline of composition may have been taken into account by the shapers of the current New Testament format, it is not nor was it meant to be in strictly chronological order. Though Jesus spoke Aramaic, the New Testament (including the Gospels) was written in Greek because that was the lingua franca of the Roman Empire.
Each of the Gospels narrates the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. The traditional author is listed after each entry. Modern scholarship differs on precisely by whom, when, or in what original form the various gospels were written.
- The Gospel of Matthew, traditionally ascribed to the Apostle Matthew, son of Alphaeus.
- The Gospel of Mark, traditionally ascribed to Mark the Evangelist, who wrote down the recollections of the Apostle Simon Peter.
- The Gospel of Luke, traditionally ascribed to Luke, a physician and companion of Paul of Tarsus.
- The Gospel of John, traditionally ascribed to the Apostle John, son of Zebedee
The first three are commonly classified as the Synoptic Gospels. They contain very similar accounts of events in Jesus' life. The Gospel of John stands apart for its unique records of several miracles and sayings of Jesus, not found elsewhere.
The book of Acts, also termed Acts of the Apostles or Acts of the Holy Spirit, is a narrative of the Apostles' ministry after Christ's death, which is also a sequel to the third Gospel. Examining style, phraseology, and other evidence, modern scholarship generally concludes that Acts and Luke share the same author.
- Acts, traditionally Luke.
The Pauline epistles (or Corpus Paulinum) constitute those epistles traditionally attributed to Paul, though his authorship is disputed, and in one case (Hebrews) nearly universally rejected (see section on authorship below). Paul appears to have dictated his epistles to scribes, and some specifically mention his habit of appending a salutation in his own handwriting. These are marked with an * below.
- Epistle to the Romans*
- First Epistle to the Corinthians*
- Second Epistle to the Corinthians
- Epistle to the Galatians
- Epistle to the Ephesians
- Epistle to the Philippians
- Epistle to the Colossians*
- First Epistle to the Thessalonians
- Second Epistle to the Thessalonians*
- First Epistle to Timothy
- Second Epistle to Timothy
- Epistle to Titus
- Epistle to Philemon*
- Epistle to the Hebrews
General or Catholic epistles
Includes those Epistles written to the church at large (Catholic in this sense simply means universal).
- Epistle of James, traditionally by James, brother of Jesus and Jude Thomas.
- First Epistle of Peter, traditionally ascribed to the Apostle Simon, called Peter.
- Second Epistle of Peter, traditionally ascribed to the Apostle Simon, called Peter.
- First Epistle of John, traditionally ascribed to the Apostle John, son of Zebedee.
- Second Epistle of John, traditionally ascribed to the Apostle John, son of Zebedee.
- Third Epistle of John, traditionally ascribed to the Apostle John, son of Zebedee.
- Epistle of Jude, traditionally ascribed to Jude Thomas, brother of Jesus and James.
The final book of the New Testament has had a profound impact on Christian theology of the whole work.
- Revelation. The authorship is attributed either to the Apostle John, son of Zebedee or by John of Patmos. For a discussion of authorship see the authorship article.
It is worth noting Revelation is sometimes called The Apocalypse of John. It is also not read or used during church services by the Orthodox church.
See also: Bible prophecy
The New Testament books are ordered differently in different Church Traditions. For example the normal Protestant order follows the Roman Catholic order, but the traditional Lutheran order is different. Outside the Catholic/Protestant world there are different orders in the Slavonic, Syriac and Ethiopian Bibles.
In ancient times there were dozens of Christian writings claiming Apostolic authorship, or for some other reason considered to have authority by some ancient churches, but which were not ultimately included in the 27-book New Testament canon. These works are considered "apocryphal", and are therefore referred to as the New Testament Apocrypha. It includes not only writing favourable to the position of the orthodoxy, but also a large amount of Gnostic writing, and non- canonical books. These apocryphal works are nevertheless important insofar as they provide an ancient context and setting for the composition of the canonical books. They also can help establish linguistic conventions common in the canonical texts. Examples of early apocryphal works are the Gospel of Thomas, the Epistle of Barnabas and the Epistle to the Laodiceans.
The common languages spoken by both Jews and Gentiles in the holy land at the time of Jesus were Aramaic, Koine Greek, and to a limited extent a colloquial dialect of Mishnaic Hebrew. However, the original text of the New Testament was most likely written in Koine Greek, the vernacular dialect in 1st century Roman provinces of the Eastern Mediterranean, and has since been widely translated into other languages, most notably, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic. However, some of the Church Fathers seem to imply that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, and there is another contention that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote in Hebrew, which was translated into Greek by Luke. Neither view holds much support among contemporary scholars, who argue that the literary facets of Matthew and Hebrews suggest that they were composed directly in Greek, rather than being translated.
A very small minority of scholars consider the Aramaic version of the New Testament to be the original and believe the Greek is a translation (see Aramaic primacy).
Some believe the English term New Testament ultimately comes from the Hebrew language. New Testament is taken from the Latin Novum Testamentum first coined by Tertullian. Some believe this in turn is a translation of the earlier Koine Greek Καινή Διαθήκη (pronounced in postclassical Greek as Keni Dhiathiki). This Greek term is found in the original Greek language of the New Testament, though commonly translated as new covenant, and found even earlier in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that is called the Septuagint. At Jeremiah 31:31, the Septuagint translated this term into Greek from the original Hebrew ברית חדשה (brit chadashah). The Hebrew term is usually also translated into English as new covenant.
As a result, some claim the term was first used by Early Christians to refer to the new covenant that was the basis for their relationship with God. About two centuries later at the time of Tertullian and Lactantius, the phrase was being used to designate a particular collection of books that some believed embodied this new covenant.
Tertullian, in the 2nd century, is the first currently known to use the terms novum testamentum/new testament and vetus testamentum/old testament. For example, in Against Marcion book 3 , chapter 14, he wrote:
This may be understood to be the Divine Word, who is doubly edged with the two testaments of the law and the gospel
And in book 4 , chapter 6, he wrote:
For it is certain that the whole aim at which he has strenuously laboured even in the drawing up of his Antitheses, centres in this, that he may establish a diversity between the Old and the New Testaments, so that his own Christ may be separate from the Creator, as belonging to this rival god, and as alien from the law and the prophets.
Lactantius, also in Latin, in the 3rd century, in his Divine Institutes, book 4, chapter 20 , wrote:
But all Scripture is divided into two Testaments. That which preceded the advent and passion of Christ—that is, the law and the prophets—is called the Old; but those things which were written after His resurrection are named the New Testament. The Jews make use of the Old, we of the New: but yet they are not discordant, for the New is the fulfilling of the Old, and in both there is the same testator, even Christ, who, having suffered death for us, made us heirs of His everlasting kingdom, the people of the Jews being deprived and disinherited. As the prophet Jeremiah testifies when he speaks such things: [Jer 31:31–32] "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new testament to the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not according to the testament which I made to their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; for they continued not in my testament, and I disregarded them, saith the Lord." ... For that which He said above, that He would make a new testament to the house of Judah, shows that the old testament which was given by Moses was not perfect; but that which was to be given by Christ would be complete.
The Vulgate translation, in the 5th century, used testamentum in 2nd Corinthians 3 :
(6) Who also hath made us fit ministers of the new testament, not in the letter but in the spirit. For the letter killeth: but the spirit quickeneth. ( Douay-Rheims)
(14) But their senses were made dull. For, until this present day, the selfsame veil, in the reading of the old testament, remaineth not taken away (because in Christ it is made void). ( Douay-Rheims)
However, the more modern NRSV translates these verses from the Koine Greek as such:
(6) Who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
(14) But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside.
Thus, it is common to translate using either of two English terms, testament and covenant, even though they are not synonymous.
The New Testament is a collection of works, and as such was written by multiple authors. The traditional view--that is, the authors according to most early orthodox Christians--is that all the books were written by Apostles (e.g. Matthew and Paul) or disciples working under their direction (e.g. Mark and Luke). However, since the second century or perhaps even the second half of the first century, these traditional ascriptions have been rejected by some. In modern times, with the rise of rigorous historical inquiry and textual criticism, the authenticity of orthodox authorship beliefs have been rejected in large part. While the traditional authors have been listed above, the modern critical view is discussed herein.
Seven of the epistles of Paul are now generally accepted by most modern scholars as authentic; these undisputed letters include Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, First Thessalonians, and Philemon. Raymond E. Brown has this to say about Colossians: "At the present moment about 60 percent of critical scholarship holds that Paul did not write the letter" (An Introduction, p. 610; cited by earlychristianwritings.com). Liberal scholars usually question Pauline authorship for any other epistle, although there are conservative Christian scholars who accept the traditional ascriptions. Almost no current mainstream scholars, however, Christian or otherwise, hold that Paul wrote Hebrews. In fact, questions about the authorship of Hebrews go back at least to the 3rd century ecclesiastical writer Caius, who attributed only thirteen epistles to Paul (Eusebius, Hist. eccl., 6.20.3ff.). A small minority of scholars hypothesize Hebrews may have been written by one of Paul's close associates, such as Barnabas, Silas, or Luke, given that the themes therein seemed to them as largely Pauline.
The authorship of all non-Pauline books have been disputed in recent times. Ascriptions are largely polarized between Christian and non-Christian experts, making any sort of scholarly consensus all but impossible. Even majority views are unclear.
The Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, unlike the other New Testament works, have a unique documentary relationship. The dominant view among critical scholars, the Two-Source Hypothesis, is that both Matthew and Luke drew significantly upon the Gospel of Mark and another common source, known as the "Q Source", from Quelle, the German word for "source". However, the nature and even existence of Q is speculative, and thus scholars have proposed variants on the hypothesis which redefine or exclude it. Most Q scholars believe that it was a single written document, while a few contest that "Q" was actually a number of documents or oral traditions. If it was a documentary source, no information about its author or authors can be obtained from the resources currently available. The traditional view supposes that Matthew was written first, and Mark and Luke drew from it and the second chronological work; although not founded in textual criticism, some scholars have attempted to use their modern methods to confirm the idea. An even smaller group of scholars espouse Lukan priority. Despite the lack of a unanimous consensus, however, the majority view certainly agrees with the two-source hypothesis.
Modern scholars are also skeptical about authorship claims for noncanonical books, such as the Nag Hammadi corpus discovered in Egypt in 1945. This corpus of fifty-two Coptic books, dated to about 350–400, includes gospels in the names of Thomas, Philip, James, John, and many others. Like almost all ancient works, they represent copies rather than original texts. None of the original texts has been discovered, and scholars argue about the dating of the originals. Suggested dates vary from as early as 50 to as late as the late second century. (See Gospel of Thomas and New Testament Apocrypha.)
To summarize, the only books for which there are solid authorship consensuses among modern critical scholars are the seven Pauline epistiles mentioned above, which are universally regarded as authentic, and Hebrews, which is nearly always rejected. The remaining nineteen books remain in dispute, some holding to the traditional view, and others regarding them as anonymous or pseudonymic.
Date of composition
According to tradition, the earliest of the books were the letters of Paul, and the last books to be written are those attributed to John, who is traditionally said to have lived to a very old age, perhaps dying as late as 100, although this is often disputed. Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 185, stated that the Gospels of Matthew and Mark were written while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome, which would be in the 60s, and Luke was written some time later. Evangelical and Traditionalist scholars continue to support this dating.
Most critical scholars agree on the dating of the majority of the New Testament, except for the epistles and books that they consider to be pseudepigraphical (i.e., those thought not to be written by their traditional authors). For the Gospels they tend to date Mark no earlier than 65 and no later than 75. Matthew is dated between 70 and 85. Luke is usually placed within 80 to 95. The earliest of the books of the New Testament was First Thessalonians, an epistle of Paul, written probably in 51, or possibly Galatians in 49 according to one of two theories of its writing. Of the pseudepigraphical epistles, Christian scholars tend to place them somewhere between 70 and 150, with Second Peter usually being the latest.
In the 1830s German scholars of the Tübingen school dated the books as late as the third century, but the discovery of some New Testament manuscripts and fragments, not including some of the later writings, dating as far back as 125 (notably Papyrus 52) has called such late dating into question. Additionally, a letter to the church at Corinth in the name of Clement of Rome in 95 quotes from 10 of the 27 books of the New Testament, and a letter to the church at Philippi in the name of Polycarp in 120 quotes from 16 books. Therefore, some of the books of the New Testament were at least in a first-draft stage, though there is negligible evidence in these quotes or among biblical manuscripts for the existence of different early drafts. Other books were probably not completed until later, if we assume they must have been quoted by Clement or Polycarp. There are many minor discrepancies between manuscripts (largely spelling or grammatical differences).
The process of canonization was complex and lengthy. It was characterized by a compilation of books that Christians found inspiring in worship and teaching, relevant to the historical situations in which they lived, and consonant with the Old Testament.
Contrary to popular misconception, the New Testament canon was not summarily decided in large, bureaucratic Church council meetings, but rather developed very slowly over many centuries. This is not to say that formal councils and declarations were not involved, however. Some of these include the Council of Trent of 1546 for Roman Catholicism (by vote: 24 yea, 15 nay, 16 abstain), the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 for the Church of England, the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 for Calvinism, and the Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 for Greek Orthodoxy.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Canon of the New Testament: "The idea of a complete and clear-cut canon of the New Testament existing from the beginning, that is from Apostolic times, has no foundation in history. The Canon of the New Testament, like that of the Old, is the result of a development, of a process at once stimulated by disputes with doubters, both within and without the Church, and retarded by certain obscurities and natural hesitations, and which did not reach its final term until the dogmatic definition of the Tridentine Council."
In the first three centuries of the Christian Church, Early Christianity, there seems not to have been a New Testament canon that was complete and universally recognized.
One of the earliest attempts at solidifying a canon was made by Marcion, c. 140 AD, who accepted only a modified version of Luke ( Gospel of Marcion) and ten of Paul's letters, while rejecting the Old Testament entirely. His unorthodox canon was rejected by a majority of Christians, as was he and his theology, Marcionism. Adolf Harnack in Origin of the New Testament (1914) argued that the orthodox Church at this time was largely an Old Testament Church (one that "follows the Testament of the Creator-God") without a New Testament canon and that it gradually formulated its New Testament canon in response to the challenge posed by Marcion.
The Muratorian fragment, dated at between 170 (based on an internal reference to Pope Pius I and arguments put forth by Bruce Metzger) and as late as the end of the 4th century (according to the Anchor Bible Dictionary), provides the earliest known New Testament canon attributed to mainstream (that is, not Marcionite) Christianity. It is similar, but not identical, to the modern New Testament canon.
The oldest clear endorsement of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John being the only legitimate gospels was written c. 180 C.E. It was a claim made by Bishop Irenaeus in his polemic Against the Heresies, for example III.XI.8: "It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh."
At least, then, the books considered to be authoritative included the four gospels and many of the letters of Paul. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian (all 2nd century) held the letters of Paul to be on par with the Hebrew Scriptures as being divinely inspired, yet others rejected him. Other books were held in high esteem but were gradually relegated to the status of New Testament Apocrypha.
Eusebius, c. 300, gave a detailed list of New Testament writings in his Ecclesiastical History Book 3, Chapter XXV:
- "1... First then must be put the holy quaternion of the Gospels; following them the Acts of the Apostles... the epistles of Paul... the epistle of John... the epistle of Peter... After them is to be placed, if it really seem proper, the Apocalypse of John, concerning which we shall give the different opinions at the proper time. These then belong among the accepted writings."
- "3 Among the disputed writings [ Antilegomena], which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name. Among the rejected [Kirsopp Lake translation: "not genuine"] writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books. And among these some have placed also the Gospel according to the Hebrews... And all these may be reckoned among the disputed books."
- "6... such books as the Gospels of Peter, of Thomas, of Matthias, or of any others besides them, and the Acts of Andrew and John and the other apostles... they clearly show themselves to be the fictions of heretics. Wherefore they are not to be placed even among the rejected writings, but are all of them to be cast aside as absurd and impious."
Revelation is counted as both accepted (Kirsopp Lake translation: "Recognized") and disputed, which has caused some confusion over what exactly Eusebius meant by doing so. From other writings of the Church Fathers, we know that it was disputed with several canon lists rejecting its canonicity. EH 3.3.5 adds further detail on Paul: "Paul's fourteen epistles are well known and undisputed. It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul." EH 4.29.6 mentions the Diatessaron: "But their original founder, Tatian, formed a certain combination and collection of the Gospels, I know not how, to which he gave the title Diatessaron, and which is still in the hands of some. But they say that he ventured to paraphrase certain words of the apostle [Paul], in order to improve their style."
The New Testament canon as it is now was first listed by St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in 367, in a letter written to his churches in Egypt, Festal Letter 39. Also cited is the Council of Rome, but not without controversy. That canon gained wider and wider recognition until it was accepted at the Third Council of Carthage in 397. Even this council did not settle the matter, however. Certain books continued to be questioned, especially James and Revelation. Even as late as the 16th century, theologian and reformer Martin Luther questioned (but in the end did not reject) the Epistle of James, the Epistle of Jude, the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation. Even today, German-language Luther Bibles are printed with these four books at the end of the canon, rather than their traditional order for other Christians. Due to the fact that some of the recognized Books of the Holy Scripture were having their canonicity questioned by Protestants in the 16th century, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the traditional canon (that is for Catholics the canon of the Council of Rome) of the Scripture as a dogma of the Catholic Church.
The early New Testament manuscripts can be classified into certain major families or types of text. A "text-type" is the name given to a family of texts with a common ancestor. It must be noted that many early manuscripts can be composed of several different text-types. For example, Codex Washingtonianus consists of only the four gospels, and yet, different parts are written in different text-types. Four distinctive New Testament text-types have been defined:
The Alexandrian text-type is usually considered the best and most faithful at preserving the original; it is usually brief and austere. The main examples are the Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus and Bodmer Papyri.
The Western text-type has a fondness for paraphrase and is generally the longest. Most significant is the Western version of Acts, which is 10% longer. The main examples are the Codex Bezae, Codex Claromontanus, Codex Washingtonianus, Old Latin versions (prior to the Vulgate), and quotes by Marcion, Tatian, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Cyprian.
The Caesarean text-type is a mixture of Western and Alexandrian types and is found in the Chester Beatty Papyri and is quoted by Eusebius, Cyril of Jerusalem and Armenians.
The Byzantine text-type is the textform that is contained in a majority of the extant manuscripts and thus is often called the "Majority Text." The origin of this text is debated among scholars. Some scholars, observing that few Byzantine readings exist among early uncial manuscript witnesses, contend that the text formed late and contains conflated readings. Other scholars look to the shear number of consistent witnesses to the Byzantine textform, and the existence of readings which parallel the Byzantine textform in very early translations, as evidence that the Byzantine textform is probably the closest text to that originally penned by the New Testament authors. The Byzantine textform can be found in the Gospels of Codex Alexandrinus, later uncial texts and most minuscule texts. A variant of the Byzantine text, called the Textus Receptus, is the basis of Erasmus's printed Greek New Testament of 1516, which became the basis of the 1611 King James Version of the English New Testament.
Most modern English versions of the New Testament are based on critical reconstructions of the Greek text, such as the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament or Nestle-Alands' Novum Testamentum Graece, which have a pronounced Alexandrian character.
Over the years, there have been a number of possible additions to the original text, such as:
- Mark 16:9-20
- Luke 22:19b-20,43-44
- John 7:53-8:11
- 1 John 5:7b–8a
In addition, there are a large number of variant readings, see Bruce Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (1994) for details.
All Christian groups respect the New Testament, but they differ in their understanding of the nature, extent, and relevance of its authority. Views of the authoritativeness of the New Testament often depend on the concept of inspiration, which relates to the role of God in the formation of the New Testament. Generally, the greater the role of God in one's doctrine of inspiration, the more one accepts the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy and/or authoritativeness of the Bible. One possible source of confusion is that these terms are difficult to define, because many people use them interchangeably or with very different meanings. This article will use the terms in the following manner:
- Infallibility relates to the absolute correctness of the Bible in matters of doctrine.
- Inerrancy relates to the absolute correctness of the Bible in factual assertions (including historical and scientific assertions).
- Authoritativeness relates to the correctness of the Bible in questions of practice in morality.
Christian scholars such as Professor Peter Stoner see the Bible having compelling and detailed fulfilled Bible prophecy and argue for the Bible's inspiration. This is argued to show that the Bible is authoritative, since it is argued that only God knows the future. A common objection in the West regarding this matter is that the burden of proof is on miracles, which, by Occam's Razor, should only be considered when all ordinary explanations fail. C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and Christians who engage in Christian apologetics have argued that miracles are reasonable and plausible. PDF (133 KiB) . On the other hand, in the West those who do not believe in miracles often use the arguments of David Hume, Benedict de Spinoza, or the arguments of Deism. .
All of these concepts depend for their meaning on the supposition that the text of Bible has been properly interpreted, with consideration for the intention of the text, whether literal history, allegory or poetry, etc. Especially the doctrine of inerrancy is variously understood according to the weight given by the interpreter to scientific investigations of the world.
Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy
For the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, there are two strands of revelation, the Bible, and the (rest of the) Apostolic Tradition. Both of them are interpreted by the teachings of the Church. In Catholic terminology the Teaching Office is called the Magisterium; in Orthodox terminology the authentic interpretation of scripture and tradition is limited, in the final analysis, to the Canon Law of the Ecumenical councils. Both sources of revelation are considered necessary for proper understanding of the tenets of the faith. The Roman Catholic view is expressed clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992):
§ 83: As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.
§ 107: The inspired books teach the truth. Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.
Following the doctrine of sola scriptura, Protestants believe that their traditions of faith, practice and interpretations carry forward what the scriptures teach, and so tradition is not a source of authority in itself. Their traditions derive authority from the Bible, and are therefore always open to reevaluation. This openness to doctrinal revision has extended in Liberal Protestant traditions even to the reevaluation of the doctrine of Scripture upon which the Reformation was founded, and members of these traditions may even question whether the Bible is infallible in doctrine, inerrant in historical and other factual statements, and whether it has uniquely divine authority. However, the adjustments made by modern Protestants to their doctrine of Scripture vary widely.
American Evangelical and fundamentalist Protestantism
Certain American conservatives, fundamentalists and evangelicals believe that the Scriptures are both human and divine in origin: human in their manner of composition, but divine in that their source is God, the Holy Spirit, who governed the writers of scripture in such a way that they recorded nothing at all contrary to the truth. Fundamentalists accept the enduring authority and impugnity of a prescientific interpretation of the Bible. In the United States this particularly applies to issues such as the ordination of women, abortion, and homosexuality. However, although American evangelicals are overwhelmingly opposed to such things, other evangelicals are increasingly willing to consider that the views of the biblical authors may have been culturally conditioned, and they may even argue that there is room for change along with cultural norms and scientific advancements. Both fundamentalists and evangelicals profess belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. In the US the fundamentalists' stronger emphasis on literal interpretation has led to the rejection of evolution, which contradicts the doctrine of Creationism.
Evangelicals, on the other hand, tend to avoid interpretations of the Bible that would directly contradict generally accepted scientific assertions of fact. They do not impute error to biblical authors, but rather entertain various theories of literary intent which might give credibility to human progress in knowledge of the world, while still accepting the divine inspiration of the scriptures.
Within the US, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978) is an influential statement, articulating evangelical views on this issue. Paragraph four of its summary states: "Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives."
Critics of such a position point out that there are many statements that Jesus makes in the Gospels or that Paul makes in his epistles, even to the point of making them commands, which are not taken as commands by most advocates of Biblical inerrancy. Examples of this are Jesus' command to the disciples to sell all they have and give the money to the poor so as to gain treasure in the Kingdom of Heaven (Mark 10:21), or Paul's calls to imitate him in celibacy (1 Cor 7:8). Other sections of the Bible, such as the second half of John chapter six, where Jesus commands that the disciples eat his flesh and drink his blood, are interpreted by most adherents of Biblical Inerrancy as symbolic language rather than literally, as might be expected from the statements of the doctrine. Supporters of Biblical Inerrancy generally argue that these passages are intended to be symbolic, and that their symbolic nature can be seen directly in the text, thus preserving the doctrine.
American Mainline and liberal Protestantism
Mainline American Protestant denominations, including the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church USA, The Episcopal Church, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, do not teach the doctrine of inerrancy as set forth in the Chicago Statement. All of these churches have more ancient doctrinal statements asserting the authority of scripture, but may interpret these statements in such a way as to allow for a very broad range of teaching—from evangelicalism to skepticism. It is not an impediment to ordination in these denominations to teach that the Scriptures contain errors, or that the authors follow a more or less unenlightened ethics that, however appropriate it may have seemed in the authors' time, moderns would be very wrong to follow blindly. For example, ordination of women is universally accepted in the mainline churches, abortion is condemned as a grievous social tragedy but not always a personal sin or a crime against an unborn person, and homosexuality is increasingly regarded as a genetic propensity or morally neutral preference that should be neither encouraged nor condemned. In North America, the most contentious of these issues among these churches at the present time is how far the ordination of gay men and lesbians should be accepted.
Officials of the Presbyterian Church USA report: "We acknowledge the role of scriptural authority in the Presbyterian Church, but Presbyterians generally do not believe in biblical inerrancy. Presbyterians do not insist that every detail of chronology or sequence or prescientific description in scripture be true in literal form. Our confessions do teach biblical infallibility. Infallibility affirms the entire truthfulness of scripture without depending on every exact detail."
Those who hold a more liberal view of the Bible as a human witness to the glory of God, the work of fallible humans who wrote from a limited experience unusual only for the insight they have gained through their inspired struggle to know God in the midst of a troubled world. Therefore, they tend not to accept such doctrines as inerrancy. These churches also tend to retain the social activism of their Evangelical forebears of the 19th century, placing particular emphasis on those teachings of Scripture that teach compassion for the poor and concern for social justice. The message of personal salvation is, generally speaking, of the good that comes to oneself and the world through following the New Testament's Golden Rule admonition to love others without hypocrisy or prejudice. Toward these ends, the "spirit" of the New Testament, more than the letter, is infallible and authoritative.
There are some movements that believe the Bible contains the teachings of Jesus but who reject the churches that were formed following its publication. These people believe all individuals can communicate directly with God and therefore do not need guidance or doctrines from a church. These people are known as Christian anarchists.
Messianic Judaism generally holds the same view of New Testament authority as evangelical Protestants.