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Friends (Quakers) and the Bible
by Bill Samuel
Originally published October 1, 1998 at Suite101.com
From the early days of the Religious Society of Friends in the 17th century, the Quaker approach towards the Bible has confused many and been controversial. It doesn't neatly fit the usual theological categories. Some charged that Quakers denied the authority of scripture, but Friends vigorously defended against that charge.
Barclay on the Scriptures
Most early Friends were not theologically trained. Robert Barclay was the notable exception. He wrote the premier theological work of early Friends, commonly known today simply as Barclay's Apology. As was the custom with theological works of that day, it was written in Latin and first published in 1676 as Theologiae verè Christianae Apologia. In 1678, it was published in English as An Apology For the True Christian Divinity, As the same is held forth, and preached by the People, Called, in Scorn, Quakers.
Barclay's Apology is organized around 15 propositions. Proposition 3 is on The Scriptures:
From the revelations of the Spirit of God to the faithful have come the scriptures of Truth, which contain: (1) a faithful historical account of the behavior of God's people in various ages and of the many unusual and remarkable acts of God which they experienced, (2) a prophetic account of some things already past, and of others yet to come, (3) a full and adequate account of all of the chief principles of the doctrine of Christ which were spoken, or which were written, by the motions of God's Spirit at various times in treasured declarations, exhortations, and maxims which were given to certain churches and their pastors.
Key PointsThe historical position of Friends (Quakers) regarding the Bible can be summarized in a few brief points:
As a noncreedal, noncentralized faith, different groups of Friends have gone in different directions on this matter of faith as well as others. Some have gone more towards the standard evangelical approach, and may have greater emphasis on the authority of the Bible and less on the primacy of the Spirit. Others have gone in the opposite direction, being less clear that the Bible is a fully reliable authority. However, I think the traditional understanding is still close to the center of Quakerism today,
Here are some sources on the Web for more light into Friends and the Bible:17th century documents
© by Bill Samuel. Do not reprint in whole or in part without prior permission of the author, except for limited quoting in accordance with "fair use" principles. You are welcome to link to this page.
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