Theology in the Medieval Era: William M. Marsh on Scripture and Tradition

Historical Theology for the Church is a new book from B&H Academic that treats the entire 2000 year history of Christianity with a focus on doctrinal development through major figures, events, and written works. By steering this work “for the church” this textbook shows the development of doctrine in history through congregations as well as provide a resource for contemporary congregations. The following is an excerpt from one of the contributing authors’ chapters.

William M. Marsh serves as assistant professor of theology and as Director of the MDiv programs at Cedarville University.


Even if the later medieval period gave occasion for the Reformers to recapture what has come to be regarded as Protestantism’s Scripture principle (i.e., sola Scriptura), the 1,000-year span that constitutes the Middle Ages should not be superficially reduced to a monolithic position on the relationship between biblical and ecclesiastical authority. The medieval period’s significant contribution to fields such as the history of the Bible, the doctrine of Scripture, biblical interpretation, and the role of tradition within the church witnesses to its lasting value and contemporary relevance while also offering a cautionary tale not to be quickly forgotten. This chapter will draw attention to the major developments representative of the three divisions of the medieval period (early, high, and late Middle Ages) pertinent to the church’s understanding of Scripture and tradition.

Historical Overview

1. Early Middle Ages (500-1000)

2. High Middle Ages (1000-1300)

3. Late Middle Ages (1300-1500)

Case Studies

1. The Literal Sense of Scripture, Authorial Intention, and Authority

2. The Literal Sense and Papal Infallibility

For the Church

It is the authors’ hope that this introduction to Scripture and tradition in the Middle Ages will persuade you that the medieval period should not remain darkened in our evangelical mind. This survey has only scratched the surface of the rich soil during this 1,000-year stretch of Christian history, ready to be plowed and resourced for the church’s ongoing faithful devotion to the Holy Scriptures.

In the meantime, evangelicals would do well to continue thinking carefully about how central commitments to scriptural sufficiency and authority properly relate to theological method, especially as it pertains to how one might answer the enduring question of what makes any given doctrine or position “biblical.”

Historical Theology for the Church
Jason G. Duesing & Nathan A. Finn, editors
B&H Academic, 2021

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