[K:NWTS 24/1 (May 2009) 36-54]

Book Review

Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725. Volume Two: Holy Scripture, The Cognitive Foundation of Theology. Second edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003. 537pp. Cloth. ISBN:0-8010-2616-4. $44.99.

As a student at Chandler School of Theology, I remember seeing Dr. John Hayes reading in the library. He pointed out a book to me—this second volume, in its first edition. Very fine work he implied. Later he told our class that Dr. Muller had rightly critiqued his book (which he coauthored with Dr. Frederick Prussner). Hayes and Prussner’s book Old Testament Theology: Its History and Development had wrongly claimed that Johannes Cocceius was a precursor of modern critical Biblical theology. But Dr. Hayes added (with his characteristic wry humor), “Prussner wrote that part.”

This acknowledgment by Dr. Hayes (a scholar who was known among his colleagues to be one of the most voracious scholars on the faculty) is just one indication of the esteem this book has received—and deserves. In this second edition, Dr. Muller has given us another quality revision. While he has not changed the order or titles of the chapters, he has rearranged some of the materials and “entirely recast some of the sections” to highlight two sub-themes that he is trying to develop throughout the four-volume set. These include “the placement of the Salmurian theology within the boundaries of confessional orthodoxy and the congruence of English Reformed and Puritan theology in its dialogue with the continental Reformed” (15). He has also updated the bibliography both in the footnotes to this volume and in the cumulative bibliography at the end of volume four. 

Scripture’s Infallibility

This second volume first introduces us to medieval views of Scripture. Dr. Muller highlights both the nature of Scripture and hermeneutics. In this section, he suggests that Thomas Aquinas made a distinction between Scripture and Word that influenced Reformed views of Scripture. The reviewer found the initial treatment of this distinction imprecise. One may think that Dr. Muller is giving Aquinas a Neo-Orthodox interpretation. However, he continuously denies that the Reformers (who followed them) held to a Neo-Orthodox view of revelation.  

One example of this is Muller’s refutation of Emil Brunner. Brunner claimed that (for the Reformers) the Word is exclusively Christ. Then he contrasted this to Post-Reformation Reformed Scholastics, who held that the Word is exclusively Scripture. Muller counters these assertions by claiming that the Word is both Scripture and Christ both in the Reformers and the later Reformed Scholastics. Of course, Muller does not mean by this that Christ speaks to his people apart from the Scriptures. No, Christ now speaks to his people by the Scriptures alone, not through dreams and personal revelations. But Christ is Word since he is the Ontic Word of God. With regard to Scripture, the point is (as Muller says of Bullinger) Scripture is not simply a witness to the Word (the Barthian view), but the Word itself (or an aspect of the Word).

By showing that the Word and Christ are not separate, Muller can counter the Neo-Orthodox view that the Word witnesses to Jesus Christ. At the same time, he claims that the Word is not so equated with Christ as to deny revelation outside of Christ (here presumably countering the Neo-Orthodox denial of natural revelation,155).

Muller expands on this when he refutes the Barthian appeal to Luther. “It is not accurate, however, to equate Luther’s sense of the whole of Scripture as bearing and witnessing to Christ with the Barthian concept of Scripture as a witness to the Word or revelation. Luther understood all of Scripture to bear witness to Christ precisely because he viewed Scripture as God’s revelatory Word and Christ as the fulfillment of God’s revelation—Barth understood Scripture as witness to Christ because he viewed Christ as the Word and as God’s revelation in an ultimate and ultimately restrictive sense and Scripture as Word only in a derivative sense, and not as revelation. For Barth, Scripture can be said to become God’s Word in the event of God speaking through it to believers concerning the revelation that is Jesus Christ” (67). Clearly Muller distances the Reformers from their Neo-Orthodox interpreters.

At the same time, as in After Calvin, Dr. Muller claims that Calvin held to a looser view of Scripture than that found among his later Reformed followers. Yet his assertion is weakly supported and inconclusive. Again, as in our review of After Calvin (this journal 22/3 [December 2007]: 64-71), we ask, why doesn’t Muller argue continuity between Calvin and his successors on this point as he does elsewhere, especially since his support for this assertion is so weak?

Further, Dr. Muller is unwilling to use the term “inerrancy” to describe the Reformed Scholastics’s view (300, n. 26). He prefers to use the term “infallibility” to describe their position because it was the term they used. In this comment, Muller may not be denying that the Reformed Scholastics held to inerrancy, but he is not affirming it either. This slight of hand is a common practice in academia, a way to keep all your constituency happy and stay cozy with the club. We think, after making such comments, he should not remain ambiguous, considering the present climate of theological debate. All he had to say was that he used the term “infallibility” to be historically accurate, but that the position was essentially the same as the modern view of inerrancy.

Why not make this assertion? Muller leaves open the possibility that the answer is the same as the one he gives to use the term infallibility instead of inerrancy: the Reformed Scholastics simply claimed that the Scriptures did not err. That is, they only used the verb to describe their view. They do not use the noun inerrant. In this reviewer’s opinion (insofar as Dr. Muller leaves open the possibility that the Reformed Scholastics did not substantially hold to inerrancy), he is making a distinction without a difference. If the authors of Scripture did not err, then certainly the result of their work was inerrant. If it wasn’t, then what was the result? The only other option would be errant (for there is no tertium quid between the two; they are contradictories, not contraries). And the Orthodox certainly wouldn’t assert that the Scripture is errant.

But perhaps Dr. Muller is claiming that, when saying the authors of Scripture did not err, they did not assert one way or another whether the text was inerrant as a result. If so, what practical significance can their failure to err have for the church? For the church has no other access to the fact that they did not err than the texts that resulted from this process. Thus, if the result wasn’t inerrant, then it is wrong to assert that they did not err. We do not think the Orthodox were blind to these implications, since they were well trained in language and logic. And we do not suspect that Muller wishes to go in this direction either since he appeals to the Reformed defense of the apographa.

In his unwillingness to assert inerrancy, Muller thinks he is acting historically, i.e., just describe what the Reformed Scholastics believed. Don’t try to relate this to modern views. However, if we of the 21st century are to steer clear of misunderstanding the 17th, then we have to compare and contrast it to our own situation at certain points. In refusing to do this, instead, Muller leaves the impression that they did not essentially believe in inerrancy. Further, Muller himself does not consistently stick to this historical objectivity. He criticizes the Hodges and Warfield for defending the inerrancy of the autographa instead of the apographa (414, n. 192). Clearly, he is contrasting the views of the 17th century Reformed Scholastics to a later view (rightly or wrongly—as the reviewer believes) and giving a theological judgment on the latter.

Further, it is not clear to us why Muller could not compare the 17th century view to inerrancy and remain consistent with his historical objectivity. For, in his historical method, he continually compares and contrasts Post-Reformation Scholastics to their 19th and 20th century interpreters. In some cases, Muller must interpret the views of these 19th and 20th century interpreters in the process—then compare and contrast them to the 17th century. Thus, after noting why he did not use the term inerrancy, why not make a simple statement affirming the essential similarity between the Reformed Scholastic view of infallibility and the modern view of inerrancy?


At many points, Muller’s discussion of inspiration is well done yet unsurprising. Here we will note some of his comments on the historical process of inspiration, the nature of accommodation, and the inspiration of the Hebrew vowel points. Helpful to this discussion is the distinction between revelation and inspiration. Muller suggests that revelation is the content conveyed, while inspiration is the manner in which that content has been conveyed in writing.

His comments on the historical nature of revelation and inscripturation presume this distinction. Muller points out the pattern in which revelation is sometimes separated historically from inscipturation. We find revelations given to Abraham, but they were not inscripturated until the time of Moses. Muller states that some of the Reformed recognized the same historical movement (from personal revelation to inscripturation) in the prophets. Elijah and Elisha received personal revelations, but did not themselves record those revelations. They were followed by the writing prophets.

It is well known that numerous people appeal to Calvin’s doctrine of “accommodation” to defend their view of cultural accommodation. Muller believes this is not justified. “This traditional view of accommodation stands in contrast with the notion of a necessary accommodation of truth itself to the conventions of language or to particular cultural contexts, an alternative understanding of accommodation that, in rationalist hands, pointed toward the replacement of a Scriptural norm in theology with rationalist philosophy” (305). Muller associates this later view of accommodation with “latitudinarian theologies” and Rationalism.

Muller also discusses the debate over the inspiration of the Hebrew vowel points. While the Reformers did not hold to the inspiration of the points, later Reformed theologians (such as John Owen) believed it was necessary to do so. They did so in order to counter the Roman Catholic claim that (without inspired vowel points) one needs the church to interpret Scripture. Muller points to Louis Cappel’s arguments against their inspiration and its association with the Salmurian (Amyraldian) theology of France, of which he was a part.

Muller’s discussion of the vowel point debate leads up to the Helvetic Consensus (1675) in a unique way. He points to Reformed authors who followed Cappel and did not believe that the vowel points were inspired. However, such Reformed writers argued that the Masoretes had faithfully pointed the text according to the traditional use of the Hebrew language. Also, the original text implied these vowel sounds insofar as the meaning conveyed by the points was implicit in the original text. The original text was not a set of meaningless consonants. Therefore the sense of the vowel points was inspired. According to Muller, John Owen argued against this view and defended the inspiration of the points themselves, not simply their sense. However, Muller suggests that the authors of the Helvetic Consensus (like Francis Turretin and John Henry Heidegger) moved beyond Owen when they stated that either the vowel points themselves or the sense of the points was inspired. Thus Muller suggests that the Helvetic Consensus does not argue for the inspiration of the physical ink points on the page, but only leaves this as one of two possibilities. However, as with previous Reformed authors (once opposed by Owen), they argue that at least the sense of the points was inspired.

The Authority of Scripture and its Self-Authentication

Muller has a very helpful chapter on the divine character of Scripture in which he discusses the authority of Scripture and its self-authentication, which will be our present focus.

Muller claims that for Reformed Scholastics the authority of Scripture is the first principle from which its inspiration and everything else is derived. For this to be the case, Scripture must be self-authenticating. Its authority is not derived from any authentication outside itself. Other forms of authentication (such as the miracles of Christ and the apostles) are confirmatory. They do not substantiate the validity of the word to an imago Dei which otherwise was completely indifferent to its truth or falsity. Instead, when people hear the message of Scripture they know that the voice of God speaks therein. And to trust in the message savingly they must receive the internal testimony of the Spirit, who thereby confirms the word to their hearts.

This requires further clarification on both the teaching of self-authentication and the internal testimony of the Spirit. Muller claims that the Reformed Scholastics (noting John Owen) are more precise than Calvin. For they emphasize that the internal testimony of the Spirit is not a personal communication given to each individual believer (266). Instead, the internal testimony of the Spirit involves the intimate union of Word and Spirit. It is (we might say) the combination of the objective Word of God and the subjective regenerating work of the Spirit. It does not involve the Spirit (in his subjective work) communicating information directly to the individual Christian. Instead, the objective communication of information only takes place through the Word, whose author is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in his subjective testimony simply works in the heart to make it receptive to the Word. The Scripture of itself, however, is self-authenticating and does not need the Spirit in his subjective work to communicate information to the sinner, testifying that the Word is true.

Muller presents the broader picture of Scripture’s self-authentication by noting that (for the Reformed) three aspects of revelation are self-authenticating: natural revelation, the internal testimony of conscience, and the Scriptures (268). Muller seems to suggest that each of these forms of revelation independently witnesses to its truthfulness apart from the testimony of the other. This reviewer would like more proof of this. It seems to him that natural revelation and the testimony of conscience are (for Francis Turretin and Wilhelmus a Brakel) the precondition without which Scripture could not connect to the imago Dei and command its authority. If this is the case, the Scriptures are still self-authenticating (see below). For every human being already possesses these preconditions. As such, when the Word of the gospel comes to them, they immediately apprehend its authority (at some level). They do not wait in abeyance, completely uncertain whether the gospel is true, until it is confirmed from without. However, if we take Muller at his word, his view would suggest more than this view of self-authentication. It would require that Scripture is self-authenticating apart from its relation to natural revelation and the sensus divinitatis.  And on the flip side, it would imply that natural revelation testifies to its own authority apart from the Scripture’s substantiation. As I read him, Muller is suggesting three forms of independent self-contained authority.

Muller certainly argues that Scripture’s self-authentication means that Scripture’s authority never remains in abeyance in any human heart, waiting for external evidences to substantiate it. Instead, Scripture testifies to its own authority with its own internal evidences. Still, Muller can speak of the “divine self-attestation” found “extrinsically, in the miracles that occur throughout Scripture and in the conversion of the world by means of Scripture” (274), even though he places them on a “lesser level of significance” (276) and sometimes speaks of them as confirmatory.

Muller is clearly suggesting that self-authentication is connected with the marks of Scripture. Brakel “notes the divine self-attestation in the text, the profundity and majesty of the teachings, and the fulfillment of prophecy,” thereby connecting self-attestation to the internal marks (271). Thus, Muller can follow up this sentence on “self-attestation” with an elaboration of the “argument for divinity based on ‘intrinsic evidences’ or ‘marks’” (271). Such internal marks include the subject matter, the grandness of style, and the consistency of all the parts. Insofar as any element of Scripture portrays these, it is self-authenticating.

Muller also connects the authority of Scripture to its self-attestation. This does not subjugate the authority of Scripture to the subjective apprehension of human beings. For both self-attestation and its concomitant authority have an objective nature grounded in God that is prior to their subjective apprehension in the human subject—a distinction Muller notes from Turretin.

Muller also claims that Scripture is self-authenticating as a whole. Individual verses are not necessarily as self-authenticating as others except when seen in connection in their context and in relation to the Bible as a whole. Even some books of Scripture are more self-authenticating than others. As Muller states (with quotes from Turretin), “The evidences or marks of divinity do not appear uniformly throughout Scripture: like the stars in heaven, some books ‘shine’ more brightly than others—so that the Gospels and Pauline Epistles offer fuller evidence of divinity than Ruth or Esther—but no book so lacks evidences of divinity as to call it into doubt. Nor is it necessary that each chapter of a canonical book evidence all the marks: it is ‘sufficient’ if all the marks are present in the ‘divine writings considered collectively and as a whole’” (269-70).

Thus, we might say, while Muller believes the words “thus saith the Lord” are marks of divine authority (274), taken out of their context they are not necessarily as self-authenticating as when found in context. Nor perhaps would the words “Let your foot rarely be in your neighbor’s house, lest he become weary of you and hate you” (Prov. 25:17). These may require their broader context to be as fully self-authenticating Words of God as other texts that more fully bear the marks of divinity.

At the same time, all the individual books of Scripture are self-authenticating to some degree; otherwise they would not possess the criteria by which the church judged them to be canonical and consonant with the rest of the canon.

Further, since self-authentication and authority are intimately connected, the authority of individual passages (removed from their contexts) is dependent on the degree to which they are self-authenticating. And (presumably) their authority (as their self-authenticating nature) is strengthened to the degree that they are connected to their broader context—and finally to their connection with all the parts. Thus, if Muller is correct, does this suggest that the more the Scriptures unveil their organic nature the more they strengthen their authority?

While Muller does not make this point, it appears to us that there is one internal mark more fundamental than any other when considering the degree to which an individual passage (standing alone) is self-authenticating to those not familiar with the rest of Scripture: this mark is that of subject matter. For the issue of the consistency of all its parts (when a verse is considered alone) only comes into consideration insofar as the verse is itself internally coherent. It seems that the Reformed are suggesting that to the degree that a verse or book reveals the majesty of God, the sinfulness of man, and the redemption in Christ, to that degree it is self-authenticating. This would accord with Muller’s own claim that the Reformed believed the gospels to be more self-authenticating than Esther and Ruth when seen in isolation of the whole.

While Muller is not given to relating these issues to modern issues of Systematic and Biblical Theology (that is too unhistorical for him), we may point out a possible implication of these points. Namely, we would propose that the more the Scriptures unveil their organic connections (the consistency of all the parts), the more they reveal their self-authenticating authority.

Yes, of course, the Scripture’s self-authenticating authority is grounded in God and his authority as the one who speaks therein. Yet Muller helps us to see that the marks are part and parcel of this reality; that (by implication) they are grounded in God; that they are the finger-print of God himself. Thus, we should not think of self-authentication without them.

Thus, we may say that the authority of Scripture is ultimately grounded in God’s own independent eschatological nature—a nature he eternally possessed prior to revelation and its human apprehension.  At the same time, he has embodied this self-attesting authority in the objective organic continuum of special revelation. This is the finger-print of God, the mark of his workmanship. Thus, Scripture’s self-authentication and its authority in both its parts and the whole is more fully apprehended the more the church apprehends this objective organic continuum of revelation in all its unity and multiformity.

Returning to Muller’s discussion, he also deals with the testimony of the Holy Spirit as an essential aspect of the divine authentication of the Word. At the same time, as noted, the Spirit does not inwardly communicate objective knowledge to the heart apart from Scripture. Instead, he inwardly persuades the heart of the objective marks of Scripture itself.

Finally, Muller notes that with the “decline of orthodoxy,” Herman Venema apparently gave up “the claim of a distinctively ‘theological’ external certainty” (283). Venema, being influenced by Rationalism, distinguished mathematical certainty from moral certainty. As a result, he believed that theological certainty “cannot be argued of the tangible, external sources themselves, granting the inward and spiritual nature of the certainty of faith” (284). Instead, after a long quote from Venema, Muller concludes, “Such arguments cannot be ‘admitted in establishing the divinity of Scripture’; rather, they produce ‘conviction’ in the heart of one disposed already to the truth of Christianity” (284). Venema’s position shows the influence of German Pietism and together with it prepared the way for the Kantian revolution (284). The implication seems to be that the self-authenticating character of Scripture was undermined, setting the stage for the assaults of the 19th and 20th centuries with its Kantian division between the historical veracity of the text and theology.

The Canon of Scripture

Before embarking on an examination of Muller’s overriding arguments regarding canon in the Reformation era, our readers may be interested in how Muller deals with the issue of the canon as it developed. In other words, how could the canon Israel possessed at various stages of its development be considered perfect before the canon was completed? This question is especially pressing since “The ‘perfection’ of the individual books of Scripture is relative to the purpose of the book and does not imply that any book of itself ‘is sufficient to the common end,’which is the salvation of the church” (315). Thus, how could a limited collection be considered sufficient for the former era?

Respecting the canon, Dr. Muller’s main claim is that the Reformed did not articulate a defined canon until the Council of Trent. According to Muller, the Council of Trent was the first official definition of the canon in church history. Since Trent defined the canon to include the Apocrypha, the Reformed felt compelled to strictly define their own canon of Scripture. However, before this point, there were two issues of canon that remained ambiguous. First, did the Old Testament include those books found in the Septuagint that were not in the Hebrew Scriptures (the present Protestant Apocrypha)? Second, the fathers and the Medieval Church distinguished New Testament writings into two categories: Homolegomena and Antilegomena. Thus, some New Testament books possessed uncertain authority. According to Muller, the early Reformers worked with this distinction in mind, as we see in Luther’s famous claim that the epistle of James is an epistle of straw (67-68).

To further support this claim, Muller points to early Reformed theologians such as Peter Martyr Vermigli and Wolfgang Musculus, but especially Musculus. He notes places in Musculus’s writings where he supposedly makes the distinction between the Homolegomena and the Antilegomena (374). According to Muller, Musculus refuses to make a final decision (as an individual) on the authority of the disputed New Testament writings—the Antilegomena (374-76).

While the present reviewer does not have the expertise to examine all of Muller’s arguments, we believe there is reason to reexamine his conclusions. Muller began this argument when discussing canon in the Medieval period (30-31). There he presents several arguments to support his claim of a “relative fluidity of the canon” in the Medieval Church. “The most prominent examples” are the “the occurrences in medieval bibles and in the works of medieval commentators and theologians of the text and of references to the Shepherd of Hermes and the Epistle to the Laodicenes.” As an example, he refers to the “seventh-century Codex Claromontanus which includes Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermes, the Acts of Paul and the Revelation of Peter mixed together with our present New Testament writings.” He also mentions that the Epistle to the Laodicenes was included in numerous medieval Bibles.

However, this of itself does not prove that these works were regarded as canonical. It only indicates that these works were regarded as edifying to the church. With the expense of books during the period, it would make sense to include such “edifying works” with a book already copied for purchase, namely the canonical text. Muller himself notes that the medieval commentator Haimo of Halberstadt regarded the Epistle to the Laodicenes as an “edifying work” and that John of Salisbury regarded the “Shepherd of Hermes among the Old Testament Apocrypha.” How do we know that their inclusion in medieval Bibles was intended as anything more than edifying, but not canonical? (See also 381 for their edifying use among the Reformed).

The same thing can be said for the Old Testament Apocrypha. Muller himself states, “They were quite commonly singled out by medieval teachers as deuteron-canonical. Thus Hugh of Saint Victor noted that the Apocrypha do not belong to the canon but ought to be read for edification.” Why then doesn’t Muller conclude that this was the reason why they were included in medieval Bibles? Why instead does he say, “The fourfold exegesis…rendered a strictly defined canon unnecessary”?

Perhaps, one of Muller’s other proofs for their quasi-canonical status comes from his allusion to the Roman Catholic theologian Gregory Martin. “The Calvinists, notes Martin, with reference to the problem of New Testament antilegomena, accept James while rejecting the rest, for no more reason than it pleased Calvin to do so—even though Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, and the books of Maccabees ‘were allowed and received for canonical by the same authority that St. James’ epistle was’” (382). But why should we be persuaded that Martin (even though a contemporary of the period) was correct in his assessment of these issues? How do we know that he was not biased by his Roman Catholic polemic rather than persuaded of this by a careful reading of the fathers and Medieval doctors?

Muller presents other arguments for his position. Perhaps he thinks the arguments are cumulative. However, we think they may be merely circumstantial (for instance, Muller seems to imply that the Reformed only defined a clear canon after they were pressed to do so by the Council of Trent, thus Reformed Confessional statements on the canon followed, 379-380).  In this case, we believe Dr. Muller would admit that these confessions simply articulate positions already argued by Calvin. Thus, we are not convinced the reasons Dr. Muller has given for a pre-Tridentene “fluidity of the canon” are conclusive.

In fact, there are reasons to question his conclusions and to pursue further research in this area. For we might ask, where do the church fathers make a distinction between Homolegomena and Antilegomena? And do they consider this distinction substantive after the fourth century? Do not lists such as the Muratorian Canon and the letter of Athanasius imply that the books contained in the lists are authoritative, not questionable? If so, would the Medieval doctors depart from the fathers on such a fundamental issue? Of course, any serious reexamination of these questions would require in-depth study of the original sources, even more than Muller has been able to pursue on this particular issue.

Biblical Interpretation

Chapter 7 on “The Interpretation of Scripture” is well worth reading in its entirety and is a fitting conclusion to the book. Here we will highlight section 7.3 entitled “The ‘Divers Senses’ and the Unity of Scripture,” while making a few comments on 7.5.

In this discussion of hermeneutics, Muller points to the importance of the literal sense of Scripture expounded by Thomas Aquinas and developed by Nicholas of Lyra for the later Reformed development of the literal sense.

Dispensationalists take note; according to Muller the literal sense is not equivalent to the immediate signification of the words. (The Reformed made this claim contrary to Cardinal Robert Bellarmine.) For example, “if your right hand offend thee, cut it off” is absurd if understood according to the immediate signification of the terms (478). In this case, the literal sense is figurative. At the same time, Muller offers some rules of clarification that follow along the lines of Benedict Pictet’s warning that we not “hastily depart from the literal sense, but only when it is contrary to the analogy of faith, and offers an absurd meaning” (479). On the surface, this would seem to support the Dispensational hermeneutic that “if the plain sense makes sense seek no other sense.” However, the Reformed used the analogy of Scripture to decide what was absurd in a way that Dispensationalism often fails to do, especially in the interpretation of prophecy. Also, as we will see, Muller suggests that the Reformed argued for both the historical and prophetic referents of sacred history in a way that we do not think is consistent with Dispensational hermeneutics.

Citing Edward Leigh, Muller states that the Reformed criticized the Roman Catholic hermeneutical method “first, in the definition of the literal sense as ‘that which the words immediately present’ which frequently in the Old Testament ignores the primarily figurative significance of the words; second, in the claim that there may be several literal senses of a text; and third, in the ‘division of the mystical sense into Allegorical, Tropological, Anagogical’ (477).

As noted in the above text from Matthew, the Reformed concluded that the literal sense is sometimes figurative (478). The literal sense is unitary and includes figures in the text. As Muller puts it “there are allegories in the text, according to the intention of the Spirit, but allegories of human invention, brought to the text from without, must be excluded” (479). In this respect, the Reformed used the medieval scholastic dictum “theologia symbolica non est argumentativa” with one clarification—that “the sensus mysticus can serve as a ground of doctrine, but only when it is the sense ‘offered by the Holy Spirit by means of the sacred writers,’ as distinct from the added sense, not inherent in the text” (479).

Typological meanings are to be indicated by the text itself by means of the analogia scripturae. But this typological or mystical sense cannot then “be divided into a series of distinct senses: this would be a reversion to the quadriga” (480). Instead, “tropology, allegory, and anagogue, if they are real meanings, are literal ones” (481). That is, if the literal sense indicates them then they are real meanings; otherwise they are not.

Yet this should not be interpreted to mean that a text cannot refer both to the immediate history of Israel and to Christ typologically. The literal sense of the text must be judged by the analogy of Scripture. Thus “Hosea 11:1, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son,’ and Exodus 12:46, ‘Thou shalt not break a bone of him,’ are not unclear in their historical context, but they also have a prophetic referent” (481). To support this position, Muller quotes William Whitaker’s Disputation to the effect that “the Son in the former passage denotes not only the people of Israel, but Christ also; and the bone in the latter, is to be understood of Christ as well as of the paschal lamb” (481). Muller comments on Matthew Poole to the same effect—that “Poole expressly objects to an exclusively prophetic reading of the text on the basis of Matthew 2:15: the text refers both to Israel and to Christ—both are to be given their ‘proper share’ in the meaning so that ‘the letter and the history are verified in both’” (481). Muller concludes from this that “The orthodox exegete, therefore, finds a reading similar to the double-literal sense of Lyra, but argues that it is a single, broad sense—a sense that allows both the immediate sense of the text in its ancient setting and the extended prophetic meaning relative to the fulfillment of God’s promises” (481).

In this discussion of typology in the 17th century, there is still room for research on specific areas of interpretation. For example, did the Reformed use the example of the way Scripture interprets itself to interpret other texts not explicitly interpreted in other areas of Scripture? Muller claims that “Other allegories or figures, not indicated directly by the Spirit in another text, such as the use of the story of David and Goliath to indicate Christ’s victory over the devil or to point to the war in our members and the need to overcome our passions, these comments Whitaker, are ‘true and may be fitly said: but it would be absurd to say that either the one or the other was the sense of the history’” (482).

At least in respect to David being a type of Christ in this battle, did all the Reformed take this view or did Whitaker (in what appears on the surface to be a wholesale lumping of Davidic typology together with allegories about our passions) represent one of several positions among the Reformed? Muller has already mentioned the range of interpretation between Calvin and the Federal school. Does this comment rest somewhere on that trajectory without representing Reformed scholastics as a whole? Do other writers allow for typological interpretation of specific individuals in the Old Testament when the New Testament does not mention them specifically, but only suggests that the category of which they are a part (such as Prophets, Priests, and Kings) are types of Christ? And do they regard these types (based on categories) as intended by the history rather than as imposed from without?

Now we turn briefly to the question of the modern historical critical method and its relation to the 17th century Reformed Scholastics. In light of the fact that the Cocceians engaged in typological exegesis, it is surprising that Prussner believed they were precursors to modern critical Biblical theology. Nonetheless, Muller clearly refutes this and other arguments found in Hayes and Prussner’s book (121-122, 511-514). For instance, the argument that the Reformed scholastics degraded Scripture to a confessional orthodoxy based in atomized proof-texts (512). Interestingly, Muller says elsewhere that it is the “historical-critical approach” that “atomizes the text and segments individual statements of Scripture off from the larger theological concerns generated by the scope of the whole Bible (504).”

Concluding his refutation of Prussner and Hayes, Muller argues against those who try to tie the Reformers to the historical-critical method and contrast them with the Reformed Scholastics of the 17th century. This position wrongly suggests that “the great divide in the history of exegesis and hermeneutics” occurred at the Reformation and the Reformed Scholastics missed it. Instead, this “great divide” occurred in “the eighteenth century, specifically the period from Semler to Gabler.” Thus the Reformed Scholastics should not be judged by the criteria of the modern historical critical method. “Before the dawn of this radically historical method, the overriding concerns of the exegete were grammar and theological meaning, not historical context (even when the historical context was noted as an element in the understanding of the text), and the underlying assumption of hermeneutics was the lively address of the inscripturated Word to the present-day life of the church, not the problem of a religious ‘truth’ lodged in the alien culture and strange thought-forms of long-dead peoples” (513).

Christ the Center of Scripture

What does Dr. Muller suggest the Reformed believed about the centrality of Christ in Scripture? At least one modern Reformed writer has suggested that those who seek Christ as central in all of Scripture are following a central-dogma theory. However, this is a misapplication of Muller’s critique of 19th century central-dogma theories. Muller’s second volume is even clearer on this point than his first. “These arguments…point away from the central-dogma theory inasmuch as they manifest Christ and covenant, rather than the eternal decree, as the hermeneutical focus of Reformed orthodox system and the ‘basis’ of its ‘scientific nature, and method in principle of Reformed dogmatics’” (213). Christ as the hermeneutical focus of Scripture does not equal the central-dogma theory. Nothing could be clearer.

Of course, Muller would not say the same thing about the Neo-Orthodox view of Christocentrism. As in volume one, we suspect he implicitly criticizes this system once again (even while commenting on the Lutheran critique of the Reformed). “Thus, the Reformation era Christocentrism that identified Christ as the scopus Scripturae never intended that Christ be understood as the interpretative principle in all points of doctrine, the heuristic key to the entire range or extent of doctrinal meaning” (212). Here Muller is not denying the Christocentric nature of redemptive revelation. Instead, he is pointing out the Reformed distinction between the pre-incarnate Son of God and the incarnate Son. The pre-incarnate (not the incarnate) Son was at work in creation. Thus for Calvin, “Creation, providence, the doctrine of human nature and sin, and even the doctrine of the Trinity fall outside the doctrines of redemption governed specifically by the revelation of God in Christ” (211).

Still all doctrine, presumably even the doctrines of creation, providence, fall, and Trinity point to Christ. As Muller states: “Christ does not point out the meaning of all doctrine—instead, all Scripture and all doctrine point toward the person and work of Christ as the core of the Christian message, the central soteriological truth but not the overarching meaning of all Scripture, confession, and system” (212).

In this light, Muller says of Calvin, “Christology does not impinge interpretively on every exegetical issue or point of doctrine” (212). At the same, Dr. Muller suggests differences among the Reformed on exegetical issues related to Christological interpretations of the Old Testament, suggesting that Calvin was restrained in his use of typological interpretation, while the Federal school was more prone to it (222).

In his discussion of the foundation or scope of Scripture (i.e., the center or bull’s eye of its target, 209), Muller gives numerous examples of Reformed theologians who argued that Christ is the center to Scripture. Boquinas wrote a “full system of doctrine organized around the principle of union with Christ” (215). His younger colleagues at Heidelberg, Caspar Olevianus and Zacharias Ursinus, followed a similar perspective. Cocceius developed this view of the fundamentum Scripturae, saying that (in the first of two respects) it is “Christ, the one in whom we are joined, in whom we live, and on whom we rest in faith” (218). Other federal theologians like Hermann Witsius argued, “the doctrine of Christ is the key of knowledge (Luke 11:42) without which nothing can be savingly understood in Moses and the prophets” (219).

However, Dr. Muller suggests that as Reformed theology progressed in the 17th to 18th century (with a greater emphasis on praxis, 223) the concept of the fundamentum or scopus Scripturae became less important. The Federal school retained it longer than others. However hermeneutics developed “toward an increasingly literal, textual, and comparative linguistic method that increasingly excluded the allegorical and typological approach not only of the middle ages but also of the early Reformers” (222). This involved a movement away from the claim that the goal of each text is Christ. “In this altered hermeneutical context, it became impossible to claim that the goal or direction of each text was Christ, but quite acceptable to affirm that the goal of Scripture in whole and in part was the redemption of believers” (222-23).

The Reformed and the Amyraldians

There is one more issue that deserves comment. As with his first volume, Dr. Muller claims that 17th century Reformed theologians generally regarded Amyraldians to be Reformed. He implies that some Reformed Confessions (obviously alluding to the Consensus Helveticus) distanced the Reformed from the Amyraldians. However, he suggests that the majority of the Reformed embraced them as members of their camp, while rejecting their errors. Dr. Muller has made this claim elsewhere. However, we find this conclusion questionable. Benjamin Swinburnson has written a fine article questioning this claim. We suggest that the Helvetic Consensus should be seen as the crystallizing of views held by previous Reformed theologians, not an alternative position. Francis Turretin, one of its signers, saw no discrepancy with signing this document and at the same time (in his Institutes) referring to the Amyraldians as “our men.” That is, the Amyraldians came out of the Reformed camp historically. And they were closer to the Reformed than the Arminians. Nonetheless, they represented a serious aberration of Reformed theology, one that required the Amyraldians to be bared from teaching in the church—thus the Helvetic Consensus.


In conclusion, Dr. Muller’s book is well researched and well worth reading. Readers will gain new insights into Medieval, Reformation and Post-Reformation Reformed views on Scripture, on Scripture as the Word of God and the Principiium Cognoscendi Theologiae, on Scripture’s properties and divinity (with its authority and self-authentication), as well as its interpretation. We have expressed more reservations about Dr. Muller’s presentation on the canon, yet scholars researching the subject need to interact with it due to the significance of the work. Unfortunately, Dr. Muller also continues to suggest that Calvin held a looser view of Scripture than his orthodox successors. That said, the book is a wealth of information and will open up new vistas of understanding to its readers, vistas that should spark them to explore in greater depth the riches of the Reformed tradition. We owe Dr. Muller a debt of gratitude for his labors.

—Scott F. Sanborn