Article 6: the Scriptures

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 6 states:

VI. Of the Sufficiency of the holy Scriptures for salvation

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

Of the Names and Number of the Canonical Books

Genesis; Exodus; Leviticus; Numbers; Deuteronomy; Joshua; Judges; Ruth; The First Book of Samuel; The Second Book of Samuel; The First Book of Kings; The Second Book of Kings; The First Book of Chronicles; The Second Book of Chronicles; The First Book of Esdras; The Second Book of Esdras; The Book of Esther; The Book of Job; The Psalms; The Proverbs; Ecclesiastes or Preacher; Cantica, or Songs of Solomon; Four Prophets the greater; Twelve Prophets the less

And the other Books (as Jerome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:

The Third Book of Esdras; The Fourth Book of Esdras; The Book of Tobias; The Book of Judith; The rest of the Book of Esther; The Book of Wisdom; Jesus the Son of Sirach; Baruch the Prophet; The Song of the Three Children; The Story of Susanna; Of Bel and the Dragon; The Prayer of Manasses; The First Book of Maccabees; The Second Book of Maccabees

All the Books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical.

This is the Anglican version of the classic Reformation doctrine sola scriptura – that Scripture alone has infallible authority over and in the Church.  Today, the concept of sola scriptura is often misunderstood and stretched in a direction contrary to its original intent, often to uphold “the Bible” against “tradition” in a false dichotomy.  In light of such problems today, it is helpful for us to have our doctrine of Scripture spelled out so succinctly here in Article 6.

Without going into detailed arguments about buzzwords such as “infallibility” and “inerrancy,” our belief described here is simply that all dogma – everything that must be believed by a Christian in order to be a real Christian – is to be found directly in the Bible or can be proved from the study of the Bible.  If a teaching cannot be found in or proven by Scripture, then it cannot be required for a person to believe, and is relegated to the category of pious opinion.  Furthermore, as will be pointed out in another Article, if a teaching is contradicted by Scripture, then that teaching is false and to be discarded.

The books of the Old Testament are then listed, which is an interesting exercise for the modern reader as the familiar names differ slightly between when this Article was written and the present day.  Ezra and Nehemiah were known as 1 and 2 Esdras, the four greater (or major) prophets are what we call Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, plus the book of Lamentations is here considered part of Jeremiah where we often speak of it separately.

The books of the New Testament are not listed because there was no significant controversy over what those books are.

What’s particular to Anglicanism here in Article 6 is the listing of “the other Books.”  Protestants call them the Apocrypha, Roman Catholics call them the Deuterocanon, Anglicans historically used neither term.  For apocrypha is a derogatory term emphasizing a negative view of those books, and deuterocanon is an honorific term that places those books on equal footing with the rest of the Old Testament.  Instead, the Anglican position regarding “the other Books” is to note their distinction from the Old Testament without completely throwing them away.  As Article 6 describes, they are to be read in the church (thus they appear in our liturgies and lectionaries) for teaching about Christian life and manners (or morality) but not for establishing dogma or doctrine.

Thus the Anglican tradition remains faithful to the witness and practice of the Early Church, wherein many great teachers of the faith made frequent use of “the other Books” (such as Saint Augustine of Hippo) while others were critical of the nature of their authority (such as Saint Jerome, chief translator of the influential Latin Vulgate Bible).

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About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about spiritual formation, theology, biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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