Excerpts from “A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles”

by Matthew C. Harrison 

I was a blissfully unaware 12-year-old when the “Walkout” of all but five professors occurred on that fateful day in 1974. It wasn’t until I attended Concordia, Seward, in 1984 that I realized the event had even occurred. Soon I met and would come to know two of the “Faithful Five” who defended the LCMS’ public confession on the Gospel and the inerrant Scriptures. The Rev. Dr. Robert Preus was president of the seminary I attended (Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne).

Though I had met the Rev. Dr. Ralph Bohlmann many times prior to serving as LCMS president, it was in those years after 2010 when I had the opportunity to speak with him privately on several occasions about the events culminating in the Walkout. As a student around 1960 at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Bohlmann had written an extensive paper for a class with Robert Preus. Preus took the manuscript to CPH and urged the publication of Principles of Biblical Interpretation in the Lutheran Confessions. No one could have known how significant that preparation and much that followed would be.

In 1973, LCMS President Rev. Dr. J.A.O. Preus needed a standard to evaluate the doctrine and teaching of professors at Concordia Seminary on contemporary issues of concern. He asked Bohlmann to write that tool. It was titled “A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles” and was adopted by the LCMS in convention as an official statement. The document endures as a confessional testimony against historical criticism of the Bible.

I give you three sections of particular importance for those times and ours, and I encourage you to study the entire document found here. Thanks be to God for our faithful fathers in the faith.

— Pastor Matthew C. Harrison

The Gospel and Holy Scripture (Material and Formal Principles)

We believe, teach and confess that the Gospel of the gracious justification of the sinner through faith in Jesus Christ is not only the chief doctrine of Holy Scripture and a basic presupposition for the interpretation of Scripture, but is the heart and center of our Christian faith and theology (material principle). We also believe, teach, and confess that only “the Word of God shall establish articles of faith” (SA, II, ii, 15), and that “the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments are the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraised and judged” (FC, Ep, Rule and Norm, 1) (formal principle). The Gospel, which is the center of our theology, is the Gospel to which the Scriptures bear witness, while the Scriptures from which we derive our theology direct us steadfastly to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We reject the following distortions of the relationship between the Gospel and the Bible (the material and formal principles):

  1. That acceptance of the Bible as such, rather than the Gospel, is the heart and center of Christian faith and theology, and the way to eternal salvation.
  2. That the Gospel, rather than Scripture, is the norm for appraising and judging all doctrines and teachers (as, for example, when a decision on the permissibility of ordaining women into the pastoral office is made on the basis of the “Gospel” rather than on the teaching of Scripture as such).
  3. That the historicity or facticity of certain Biblical accounts (such as the Flood or the Fall) may be questioned, provided this does not distort the gospel.
  4. That Christians need not accept matters taught in the Scriptures that are not a part of the “Gospel.”

The Authority of Scripture

We believe, teach and confess that because the Scriptures have God as their author, they possess both the divine power to make men wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (causative authority), as well as the divine authority to serve as the church’s sole standard of doctrine and life (normative authority). We recognize that the authority of Scripture can be accepted only through faith and not merely by rational demonstration. As men of faith, we affirm not only that Holy Scripture is powerful and efficacious, but also that it is “the only judge, rule, and norm according to which, as the only touchstone, all doctrines should and must be understood, and judged as good or evil, right or wrong” (FC, Ep, Rule and Norm, 7).

We therefore reject the following views:

  1. That the authority of Scripture is limited to its efficacy in bringing men to salvation in Jesus Christ.
  2. That the authority of Scripture has reference only to what the Scriptures do (as means of grace) rather than to what they are (as the inspired Word of God).
  3. That the Scriptures are authoritative for the doctrine and life of the church, not because of their character as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, but because they are the oldest available written sources for the history of ancient Israel and for the life and message of Jesus Christ, or because they were written by the chosen and appointed leaders of Israel and of the early church, or because the church declared them to be canonical.
  4. That the Christian community in every age is directly inspired by the Holy Spirit and is therefore free to go beyond the doctrine of the prophets and apostles in determining the content of certain aspects of its faith and witness.

The Infallibility of Scripture

With Luther, we confess that “God’s Word cannot err” (LC, IV, 57). We therefore believe, teach and confess that since the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, they contain no errors or contradictions but that they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth.

We hold that the opinion that Scripture contains errors is a violation of the sola scriptura, for it rests upon the acceptance of some norm or criterion of truth above the Scriptures. We recognize that there are apparent contradictions or discrepancies and problems which arise because of uncertainty over the original text.

We reject the following views:

  1. That the Scriptures contain theological as well as factual contradictions and errors.
  2. That the Scriptures are inerrant only in matters pertaining directly to the Gospel message of salvation.
  3. That the Scriptures are only functionally inerrant that is, that the Scriptures are “inerrant” only in the sense that they accomplish their aim of bringing the Gospel of salvation to men.
  4. That the Biblical authors accommodated themselves to using and repeating as true the erroneous notions of their day (for example, the claim that Paul’s statements on the role of women in the church are not binding today because they are the culturally conditioned result of the apostle’s sharing the views of contemporary Judaism as a child of his time).
  5. That statements of Jesus and the New Testament writers concerning the human authorship of portions of the Old Testament or the historicity of certain Old Testament persons and events need not be regarded as true (for example, the Davidic authorship of Psalm 110, the historicity of Jonah, or the fall of Adam and Eve).
  6. That only those aspects of a Biblical statement need to be regarded as true that are in keeping with the alleged intent of the passage (for example, that Paul’s statements about Adam and Eve in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 11 do not prove the historicity of Adam and Eve because this was not the specific intent of the apostle; or that the virgin birth of our Lord may be denied because the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke did not have the specific intent to discuss a biological miracle).
  7. That Jesus did not make some of the statements or perform some of the deeds attributed to him in the Gospels but that they were in fact invented or created by the early Christian community or the evangelists to meet their specific needs.
  8. That the Biblical authors sometimes placed statements into the mouths of people who in fact did not make them (for example, the claim that the “Deuteronomist” places a speech in Solomon’s mouth which Solomon never actually made), or that they relate events as having actually taken place that did not in fact occur (for example, the fall of Adam and Eve, the crossing of the Red Sea on dry land, the episode of the brazen serpent, Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree, John the Baptist’s experiences in the wilderness, Jesus’ changing water into wine, Jesus’ walking on water, or even Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead or the fact of His empty tomb).
  9. That the use of certain “literary forms” necessarily calls into question the historicity of that which is being described (for example, that the alleged midrashic form of the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke suggests that no virgin birth actually occurred, or that the literary form of Genesis 3 argues against the historicity of the Fall).

Read the rest of Bohlmann’s document here.

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