The Central Role of Scripture

In response to actions at the Lambeth Conference in 1998, a Hermeneutics Study Group of the diocese developed a scholarly statement of interpretive principles by which we understand the Holy Scriptures,titled "Let the Reader Understand," which was published in 2002.

Read the full text of "Let the Reader Understand."


The Bible is the Defining Text
Episcopalians agree that the Bible, in the words of Article VI of the Articles of Religion, “containeth all things necessary to salvation.”

But the Bible Must be Interpreted: Scripture, Tradition and Reason
One of the defining ideas of Anglicanism is the theory, expounded by the 16th century theologian Richard Hooker, of a middle way (or, in Latin, a via media) between the extremes of the Roman Catholics on the one hand, and of the Puritans on the other.

Hooker argued that while the Scriptures were paramount, reason and tradition should be used to interpret them, and that they should be read as products of the historical contexts in which they were written (as, indeed, should the traditions that we receive and the reasoning that we develop within our own context).

Constant Tension
Since Hooker’s day, the tension has never ceased between Anglicans who emphasize the divine origin and immutability of Scripture alone, those who believe that Scripture should hold sway in combination with the particular tradition that they in their small corner of the world happen to have received, and those who believe that the Holy Spirit continues to work through the power of reason to set aside the injustices of humankind and transform the world.

Historically, these issues have been seen as ones of emphasis, resolved by agreeing to disagree; in recent years, however, gaps have undeniably increased within the Anglican Communion and inside individual national churches or provinces as more conservative members have fought what they see as the sacrifice of timeless truths to the moral relativism of contemporary society. Sparking points in this debate have been the ordination of women (and their later consecration as bishops), the new edition of the Book of Common Prayer issued in 1979 (which introduced modern language while simultaneously looking back to the Episcopal Church’s Catholic roots with its replacement of Morning Prayer with the Holy Eucharist (i.e. Holy Communion) as the main Sunday service), and the open acceptance of actively homosexual clergy, culminating in the election of an openly homosexual bishop in 2003. 

 Throughout all this, though, as throughout its history, the church remains essentially united by its agreement on one thing: that the Book of Common Prayer should be the guide to religious practice for all Anglicans.

For more information on the Anglican Communion, visit its website.

For a basic but cogent explanation of the ever-shifting interplay between Scripture, Tradition and Reason, you might consider viewing this short YouTube video by Father Matthew Moretz of Christ Church, Rye.


For a more “traditional” treatment of the subject, the Episcopal Diocese of Texas offers this.

Continue on to learn more about the Book of Common Prayer>

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