Awesome revolutionary theological contributions began in the Middle Ages as Augustine of Hippo emerged as, “the single most influential figure of the first four centuries after the apostles…” (Carson, 38) Augustine’s City of God emerged during the time of the fall of the Roman Empire thus refuting pagan accusations that Christians had been responsible for the disaster of Rome, and at the same time Augustine was able to make the case for a earthly city and a heavenly city that comprised a city that is temporal and a city that is eternal respectively (Carson, 38). The work of Augustine of Hippo thus emerged as a sudden powerful voice, that even today offers tremendous value; in its time the theological work of Augustine was like the corona of light in a time daunted by a full solar eclipse of civilization only to bring back the noon day light during the reformation (so to speak).
Although the seven great ecumenical councils managed to standardize Christian doctrine for the word (especially the western world), the theological passion that would drive the middle ages came from Augustine while the biblical passion came from Jerome that translated the Latin Vulgate. Unfortunately, “Latin, long dominant, virtually snuffed out remaining vestiges of what was once a deep knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. As the Middle Ages progressed … countless rules, even powerful ones, were illiterate or semi-literate.” (Carson, 41) In 1229, “The Bible was forbidden to laypeople and was actually placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Council of Valencia.” (Carson, 42)
Christian faith was even rocked much harder when in the Middle Ages Crusades, bad conflicts with Islam, immoral popes, black death, illiteracy of the masses, relics viewed to have magical powers, and trade of indulgences all made their appearances. (note Carson, 43) Despite the problems of the Middle Ages, powerful theologians emerged such as Anselm of Canterbury, Peter Abelard, William of Ockham, Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus. As powerful theologians arose prior to the Renaissance, much work was done in clearly categorizing such as with Carson’s example of the four fold ‘layer of interpretation’ model (Quadriga) arising as well and Aquinas discovering three categories of Old Testament laws. (Carson, 44) Carson along with many other scholars often make the same claim about the depth of late Middle Age theologians by saying, “Inevitably they also had the effect of making the Bible a closed book, reserved for experts, rightly interpreted only by the authorities of the church, and closed to most laypeople…” (Carson, 44) What Carson may fail to realize is that the fall of the Roman Empire caused new political groups to enter the lands of Roman civilization causing cultural differences to propagate illiterate masses along with political frictions that brought about immoral behaviors, and not only that but at the same time the most devout ‘manual servant’ Christians would have cared for the sick during the back death causing them to die prematurely thus causing a gap between the illiterate masses and the powerful theologians.
Carson appears to attempt to link the Renaissance with the fall of Constantinople in 1453 as Greek scholars would have brought their manuscripts with them. (Carson, 44-45) The story that Carson then goes on to tell is that the Renaissance became suspect of the four level of interpretation model hallmarked by the Middle Ages. Carson then goes on to say about the Renaissance that, “they wanted to read the primary sources for themselves, and they tried to read them more ‘literally’ or more ‘naturally.'” (Carson, 45) The problem, untold by Carson, is that modernism emerging through the Renaissance caused a change in epistemology as increasing individuals saw truth as emerging from within themselves with some value given to external sources to reinforce this, but Middle Age epistemology generally held to truth being established through the ‘collective’ and central to the collective was the church and central to the church was the scholarship of the theologians that traced their work throughout the centuries all the way back to the Bible while often criticizing ancient Greek Philosophy along the way.
Carson appears to favor the view that Erasmus provided the talent that Luther capitalized on, but the conversions of humanists such as Zwingli, Melanchthon, Calvin, and Beza (Carson, 45) caused a band of misfits that most likely would be condemned as terrorists if they had converted to Protestantism today with their historical zeal still hallmarked in many sermons still spoken today about the history of the Reformation. Carson clarifies the theological contribution of the reformation by saying, “Over against the Catholic view that revelation is a deposit entrusted to the church, a deposit of which Scripture is only a part, the Reformers insisted that while there is much to learn from Christian tradition, much indeed that holds us to account, only the Bible has final authority.” (Carson, 45) The two points that Carson makes about the reformation is that first it promoted the bible being read in its original languages and second it encouraged the message of the bible to be disseminated to as many people as possible causing the need for new bible translations. (Carson, 46) Unfortunately, the Protestant reformers rejected the Apocrypha as part of canon (despite its millennial use in the Vulgate), and they eventually rejected the four fold method of interpretation that hallmarked the Middle Ages (note Carson, 46).
Although Augustine had some good intentions and correct theology with his distinction of separating church and state into the tale of two cities, we now have a growing problem with secularism caused by the Church being forced out of state affairs to the extent that now Christian secular leaders have to operate under one set of principles while at work and another set of principles while at Church as a result of the fear of persecution caused by Christian subjects that seek to have freedom of religious expression of often alternative denominational doctrine that conflicts (Consider for example a Catholic principle at a school dominated by Assembly of God students). The prospect of secularism may not have hampered the Middle Ages since the church was unified in the west and central to all people thus causing both church and state to be harmonious, but the harmony of church and state in its centrality to citizen life lead to the downfall of the Bible being treated like a weapon that only the elite could operate for the sake of public security and thus was locked away out of the reach of the illiterate masses that if they had it, then they would not hesitate in finding a way to use it. The Reformation, thus combined with the printing press, was like mass producing weapons and putting them in the hands of people that had never operated a weapon before, and thus terror broke out all throughout the western world as the sward of the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17) was wielded by new and emerging groups of people that turned the western world into a land of ‘spiritual civil war’ with many losses and high causalities.
Although biblical theology has become the hallmark of our times among godly Christians and is well received by people that are serious about Christianity, it nevertheless arises out of a rejection of utilizing many epistemological views in favor of supporting a more natural inductive reading of the scripture. Carson makes this clear as he says with the example of the formation of biblical theology, “…the prevailing Protestant (Lutheran) orthodoxy … had returned to the Aristotelianism Luther had rejected. Thus, ‘biblical theology’ took on an overtone of protest, of being ‘more biblical’….” (Carson, 47) Biblical theology thus comprises the study of the scripture using simple historical and literal critical tools, systematic theology, and the obvious study of both what the text means as well as what the text meant. (Carson, 53)
Although biblical theology appears to be the best approach for study of scripture today, we should not be closed, in my opinion, to the historic work of the Church of Jesus Christ to read the scripture. The four layer interpretation method of the Middle Age Church, in my opinion and estimation, could be proven (with enough intensive scholastic research) to have existed in a little bit different form in first century Judaism and was used by Paul the Apostle of Christ. If my speculation is true, then it would not condemn biblical theology but instead would add a valuable addition to the work that godly people are already doing in teaching the scripture by way of biblical theology.
Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005.