The bible in protestantism from 1750 to 2000

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It may be hard to think of ‘the modern world’ without Protestantism, and conversely modernity is very much bound up with the Protestant phenomenon. Yet if Protestantism defined itself by ‘Scripture alone’, the modern age could paradoxically be characterised by the Bible’s eclipse, with the de facto authoritative canon shrinking to disappearing point. At the start of this period the Bible on the one hand inspired a mission to restore the world to its pristine integrity through trade and science as well as through gospel and ethics, and yet on the other it seemed to encourage an increasingly world-denying withdrawal from the world of politics and even institutional religion. Either way, the Bible was read as a narrative with one literal sense, which mediated the divine action of a time gone by. Whereas the emergent experimental natural sciences brought the future into the present, the human–divine science of Protestant theology brought ancient wisdom to bear on matters of culture and politics, so as to demand analogous obedient action from God’s present-day covenantal partners. However, the shift towards regarding both Testaments as books about the past was by 1750 so great that biblical prophecies were no longer to be seen as demanding fulfilment in the events of the present day: such an attitude had been the cause of the religious and civil wars of the previous two centuries. Rather, the Old Testament’s ethical histories of divine–human agency as spiritualised through the New Testament thrust ordinary humans into seeing themselves as responsible for the world and its improvement. The Bible became fuel for private piety. As for being a witness to the word of God shaping world history, it was only through the public outworking of those private visions that the Bible would have any impact on the wider world.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe New Cambridge History of the Bible
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9780511842870
ISBN (Print)9780521860062
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


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