Binding Testimony- Holy Scripture and Tradition

on behalf of the Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians in Germany

by Theodor Schneider (Volume editor) Wolfhart Pannenberg (Volume editor)
©2014 Others 173 Pages


Recently, voices were raised in the worldwide Christian ecumenical movement that it was high time the Protestant-Catholic fundamental topic «Holy Scripture and Tradition» was approached and ecumenically reviewed. In Germany, this has already been achieved by the «Ökumenischer Arbeitskreis evangelischer und katholischer Theologen» (Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians; founded in 1946). The results of this study group were published in the 1990s under the title «Verbindliches Zeugnis» by Theodor Schneider and Wolfhart Pannenberg. This edition provides the essence of the three volume work for the first time in English. The treatment of this age-long dispute in Protestant and Catholic theology, but first of all its fundamental settlement can thus be recognised and discussed in the international ecumenical dialogue.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Translator’s Preface
  • Introduction
  • A. Joint Statement: Canon – Holy Scripture – Tradition
  • I. Holy Scripture as the Word of God
  • 1. Our Faith
  • 2. The Understanding of Scripture in the Early Church
  • 3. Our Task
  • II. The Canon of Holy Scripture: Historical Observations
  • 1. The Genesis of the Canon of the Hebrew Bible
  • 2. The Genesis of the Septuagint Canon
  • 3. The Genesis of the New Testament Canon
  • 4. The History of the Adoption of the Canon
  • 5. Conclusions
  • III.  Fundamental Considerations
  • 1. Ecumenical Convergences
  • 2. The Canonicity of the Canon and Its Justification
  • 3. The Size of the Canon
  • 4. The Problem of Authentic Scriptural Interpretation
  • 5. Frame of Reference for Contemporary Ecumenical Teaching on Scripture
  • B. Concluding Report: The Understanding and Use of Scripture
  • 1 Introduction: The Ecumenical Context and Our Objective
  • 1.1 Our Shared Conviction
  • 1.2 The Previous Ecumenical Discussions
  • 1.3 Our Efforts
  • 2 Holy Scripture as the Word of God
  • 2.1 Our Shared Confession
  • 2.2 Divine Inspiration
  • 2.3 God’s Word in Human Words
  • 3 Worship as the Location Where God’s Gospel Is Proclaimed
  • 3.1 The Connection between the Bible and the Liturgy
  • 3.2 The Relationship between Faith and Celebration
  • 4 The Unity and Totality of Holy Scripture
  • 4.1 The Task
  • 4.2 The Profession of the Oneness of God and the Unity of Scripture
  • 5 The Two Testaments in the One Holy Scripture
  • 5.1 The Significance of the Old Testament
  • 5.2 The Significance of the New Testament
  • 5.3 The Tension-filled Unity of the Old and the New Testament
  • 5.3.1 Models of Interpretation in History
  • 5.3.2 Foundations of a Contemporary, Ecumenical Definition of the Relationship
  • 6 The Center of Holy Scripture and the Diversity of Its Theologies
  • 6.1 The Evangelical-Lutheran Tradition
  • 6.2 The Reformed Tradition
  • 6.3 The Roman Catholic Tradition
  • 6.4 The Discussion Today
  • 6.4.1 The Need to Make Distinctions in Keeping with the Gospel
  • 6.4.2 The Discussions concerning a “Canon within the Canon” and a “Center of Scripture”
  • 6.5 Unity through Diversity – Diversity through Unity: An Ecumenical Perspective
  • 6.5.1 The Entire Holy Scripture in Its Orientation towards God and towards Christ
  • 6.5.2 The Unity and Diversity of Scripture – The Unity and Diversity of the Church
  • 7 Law and Gospel
  • 7.1 Lutheran Theology
  • 7.2 The “Catholic” Precursors
  • 7.3 The New Testament
  • 7.4 Hermeneutical Significance Today
  • 8 The Interpretation of Scripture in the Life of the Church
  • 8.1 The Interpretation of Scripture as a Fundamental Activity of the Church
  • 8.2 The Interpretation of Scripture in the Liturgy
  • 8.2.1 The Use of Scripture in the Liturgy – Fundamental Considerations
  • 8.2.2 The Scripture Reading
  • 8.2.3 The Sermon as Interpretation of Scripture
  • 8.2.4 The Psalms in the Liturgy
  • 8.2.5 Other Old and New Testament Hymns of the Liturgy
  • 8.2.6 Hymns and Songs Based on Biblical Quotations and Motifs
  • 8.2.7 Liturgical Prayer
  • 8.2.8 The Diversity of Scriptural References and the Unity of the Liturgical Witness to Faith
  • 8.3 The Scholarly Interpretation of Scripture in Exegesis and Systematic Theology
  • 8.4 The Significance of the Interpretation of Scripture for Ecumenism
  • 8.4.1 The Development in Protestant Theology and in the Protestant Church
  • 8.4.2 The Development in Roman Catholic Theology and in the Roman Catholic Church
  • 8.4.3 The Ecumenical Significance of the Scholarly Interpretation of Scripture
  • 8.5 The Significance of Scholarly Exegesis for the Church’s Interpretation of Scripture
  • 8.5.1 The Doctrine of the Multiple Senses of Scripture
  • 8.5.2 The Search of Exegesis for the Historical Sense of Scripture and the Question concerning the Binding Nature of Scripture
  • The Hermeneutical Approach of Exegesis
  • The Theological Significance of Scholarly Exegesis
  • The Tension between Historical and Contemporary Scriptural Interpretation
  • The Task of Scholarly Exegesis in the Service of the Gospel
  • 9 The Interpretation of Scripture and the Binding Teaching of the Church
  • 9.1 Our Starting Point and Procedure
  • 9.2 The Biblical Understanding of Doctrine and Teaching Office – A Summary
  • 9.2.1 Doctrine
  • 9.2.2 The Teaching Office
  • 9.3 Holy Scripture as the Sole Criterion for Proclamation and Tradition as the Location for Attaining Certitude
  • 9.3.1 Our Shared Convictions
  • 9.3.2 Denominational Characteristics
  • Protestant Theology
  • Catholic Theology
  • 9.3.3 Conclusions
  • 9.4 The Overall Responsibility of the People of God as Bearers of the Faith Tradition
  • 9.4.1 Our Shared Convictions
  • 9.4.2 Denominational Characteristics
  • 9.4.3 Conclusions
  • 9.5 “Teaching Office of the Church” – the Special Responsibility of Ordained Ministers
  • 9.5.1 Our Shared Convictions
  • 9.5.2 Denominational Characteristics
  • 9.5.3 Conclusions
  • 10 Epilogue: God’s Spirit in God’s Word

← 8 | 9 → Translator’s Preface

Brief mention should be made of a few points to assist the English readers of the texts published here.

The German word “evangelisch” has, for the most part, been translated as “Protestant”. For example, the source of the present volume is the German-speaking “Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians.” On the Protestant side this group includes theologians of both the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, but not theologians from other Protestant denominations. In the texts “Protestant” also refers to the German-speaking Reformation tradition of the 16th century and is used as a general description for the positions of the Reformers over against the Roman Catholic tradition. In this sense the text often speaks of “two sides” or “two churches.” The term “Protestant” is thus restricted in its use here, and this should be borne in mind.

If the information was available, the bibliographical data for the English translations of German books appear in the footnotes. If it was not possible to obtain the English edition and to provide the page numbers in the English book, the footnote gives the information for the German edition.

The authors of the texts quote different German translations of the Bible. Unless otherwise noted this English edition uses the New Revised Standard Version throughout, sometimes abbreviated NRSV.

For Church documents the first reference is to Denzinger-Hünermann, abbreviated DH, which was used in the German texts: H. Denzinger, Kompendium der Glaubensbekenntnisse und kirchlichen Lehrentscheidungen, improved, enl., transl. into German and ed. by P. Hünermann in collaboration with H. Hoping, 39th edition, 2001, Freiburg in Breisgau, Basel, Rome, Vienna ← 9 | 10 → 1991. The second reference, placed in brackets, is to Neuner-Dupuis, abbreviated ND, if the documents or at least parts of them can also be found there: J. Neuner and J. Dupuis, The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, ed. by J. Dupuis, 7th rev. and enl. edition, New York 2001.

The texts of the Second Vatican Council were taken from Walter M. Abbott, gen. ed. and Joseph Gallagher, transl. ed., The Documents of Vatican II, New York 1966; the texts of classical Protestant documents were quoted from The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, transl. and ed. by Theodore G. Tappert, Philadelphia 1959.

Any explanations or remarks appearing in brackets [ ] have been added by the translator. In the English edition errata found in the German text have been corrected.

I would like to thank Mildred M. Edwards for her skillful and patient editing and her excellent advice and encouragement. I alone am responsible for any remaining errors in the translation.

Martha M. Matesich

← 10 | 11 → Introduction

A Brief Explanation

Theodor Schneider

With the completion of the third volume of papers our project “Binding Testimony” has come to an end for now and the work of the Ecumenical Study Group on the fundamental topic “Sacred Scripture” is finished for the time being.

Our study group devoted itself to the project “Scripture – Tradition – Interpretation of Scripture” in the spring of 1986 following the conclusion and publication of our studies on the condemnations of the Reformation era.1 The subtitles of the three volumes of “Binding Testimony” now available in our series “Dialogue of the Churches”2 illustrate that during our twelve years of work we definitely tried to consider the entire range of problems and see it in all its details: Canon – Scripture – Tradition (volume 7); Interpretation of Scripture – Teaching Office – Reception (volume 9); The Understanding and Use of Scripture (volume 10). A closer look at the topics and subject matter of the individual papers and at the compilations of the results in the “Joint Statement” of the first volume and the “Concluding Report” of the third volume, for which we are jointly responsible, reveals that the individual thematic complexes have been presented and discussed in varying detail. That was by no means the original plan. But a gathering of about forty scholars, including the recent addition of some women, which meets once a year for a week-long conference is a living entity. Its opinions and wishes cannot simply ← 11 | 12 → be planned and predicted; they are instead influenced by exterior and interior spontaneity and, in no small degree, also by the professional workload of the members. Thus the fact that nearly all the colleagues are kept unduly busy by their assorted involvements in committees and projects in addition to the regular business of the university also made itself felt. Individual specialists in certain subject areas were not always in a position to contribute their knowledge of the subject to the greatest extent possible at every phase of the preparation of a topic which caused some delays. On the other hand it happily turned out that the exceptional expertise of individual members or their special interests as determined by their situations enhanced their tremendous involvement in and contribution to certain thematic sections.

Thus we could present and reassess thoroughly and in detail the history and theology of the biblical canon as well as our shared scriptural understanding of the Bible, the Old and the New Testament. By contrast, the thorny and huge problem of identifying or developing an appropriate, authentic, and binding interpretation of Sacred Scripture caused us considerably more trouble. This was, of course, due above all to the complexity of the matter. Nevertheless, the various papers written over 10 years present and discuss the central themes and concerns of the denominations and their diverse emphases, terminologies and customary ways of speaking.

Our efforts to compile and organize the widely diversified treatment of the controversial points, the settled misunderstandings, the successful clarifications, the newly opened approaches for understanding, and the respective advances in knowledge as well as to merge all this into a precise, sufficiently detailed, yet manageable text spanned a full three years and resulted in the “Concluding Report” printed at the end of the third volume.

After discussing and clarifying the issue that the topic of the “infallibility” of the church and its magisterium, which is of course also connected to the topic of scriptural interpretation, should not be handled within the framework of this project because it needs a thorough treatment of its own in the future, we began our consultations on the content and form of a concluding joint statement ← 12 | 13 → at Castle Hirschberg (Beilngries) during the annual conference of 1995. The group, chaired by Eduard Lohse, decided that the text planned for the conclusion should be entitled “The Understanding and Use of Scripture” and that, in addition to an introduction outlining the ecumenical context, it should initially include six thematic sections, namely: The Essence and Unity of Scripture; Law and Gospel; The Word of God in Human Words; Criteria for Interpretation; The Use of Scripture in the Liturgy; The Use of Scripture and Doctrinal Decisions. A number of colleagues volunteered to prepare draft texts for the individual sections.

At the two annual conferences which followed in 1996 (at Castle Friedewald) and in 1997 (at the Catholic Academy of Hamburg) we were thus able to discuss the texts of varying lengths.

In the course of these consultations which spanned several years our experience was similar and the result comparable to what had occurred during the earlier project, “The Condemnations of the Reformation Era.” The more specifically and more precisely we viewed, pondered and described the separate issues, the more detailed the written version necessarily became. The outline changed and the length of about 40 pages originally planned in 1995 was more than doubled – but, at least in our opinion, not to the detriment of the achieved clarifications and convergences.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (May)
Heilige Schrift Vielheit der Theologien . Evangelisch-Katholischer Ökumenischer Dialog Lehramt der Kirchen
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 173 pp.

Biographical notes

Theodor Schneider (Volume editor) Wolfhart Pannenberg (Volume editor)

Theodor Schneider is Professor emeritus Dr. of Dogmatism and Ecumenical Theology, Faculty of Catholic Theology at the University of Mainz. Wolfhart Pannenberg is Professor emeritus Dr. of Fundamental Theology and Ecumenics, Faculty of Protestant Theology at the University of Munich.


Title: Binding Testimony- Holy Scripture and Tradition
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176 pages