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The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible A richly illustrated account of the story of the Bible written by leading scholars.

Expounding the Bible

Sixtus's Bibliotheca covered both methods for discovering the sense of scripture and forms of presentation of its meaning once found. Among them was enarratio, the public exposition of scripture, the designation Martin Bucer gave to his Latin translation for the benefit of brethren in France of Luther's German homilies (postils) on the lections from the gospels and epistles (1525–6). As professor of the Bible in Wittenberg Luther had lectured in Latin on the Psalms, Romans, and Galatians before he challenged fellow scholars to debate over 95 propositions in 1517. In virtually every local situation where the Reformation put down roots, vernacular preaching went hand in hand with learned instruction more akin to lecturing. The whole Reformation movement was almost an orgy of preaching, from the masterly gospel expositions Luther delivered on returning to Wittenberg in May 1522 to retrieve the cause of moderate reform after Carlstadt's disruptive radicalism in his absence, to the remarkable sermon ‘on the plough’ (and ploughers) preached by Hugh Latimer, bishop of Worcester, at St Paul's Cross, London, early in January 1548, and John Knox's first public preachment, on Daniel 7 and the coming of Antichrist, at St Andrews in 1547.

Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg.

The simple plaque in St Peter's Cathedral in Geneva that honours Calvin describes him only as ‘servant of the Word of God’. One of his earliest biographies records what are in effect four forms that that service took in Geneva. Calvin was first a lecturer before he was made a pastor, and from his lectures came many of his published commentaries in Latin. Preaching in French consumed enormous energies, with an average ten sermons a fortnight, each an hour long, at the height of his Genevan ministry. Then every Friday at the pastors' open Bible study, called in French the Congrégation, whether at the outset or in rounding off Calvin frequently gave a short exposition. Finally, in the meetings of the consistory, the organ of pastoral discipline in Reformed communities like Geneva, Calvin regularly addressed a biblically grounded remonstrance to the person found wanting in some aspect of behaviour.

Calvin was to be sure exceptional, but not in the prominence and focused effort devoted to letting the biblical message have free course among the people. As Luther once memorably put it:

All I have done is to put forth, preach and write the Word of God, and apart from this I have done nothing. While I have been sleeping, or drinking Wittenberg beer … it is the Word that has done great things … I have done nothing; the Word has done and achieved everything.

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