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A study in the development of Tertullian's use and interpretation of Scripture, with special reference to his involvement in the New Prophecy

Atkinson, Philip Charles


Philip Charles Atkinson


J. E. Bickersteth

W. Richardson


The original aim of this thesis was to be a consideration of the North African writer's use and interpretation of Scriptural texts in which a change in exegesis could be detected after he became involved in the New Prophecy. From this analysis, I hoped to draw some useful conclusions. However, I soon realised that the task in hand was not such a simple one as at first appeared, for a number of reasons.

First of all, investigation into the origins and nature of the movement led me to realise that adherence to any movement which is centred on the activity of the Spirit cannot be easily rationalised and compartmentalised. It must often be preceded by a period of questioning in which old values and beliefs are re-assessed. Tertullian's adherence to the movement must be seen, not as a specific event, but as a gradual progression. No clear-cut division can be drawn at which a definite change in his use and interpretation of Scripture can be detected. His ideas were constantly being formed, modified, and even reversed, as his sympathies towards the next movement grew.

Secondly, a separation of key texts in order to note a change in their usage is no, in itself, a valid approach. Only by a consideration of such texts in relation to specific theological and practical issues can a development in Tertullian's thought be legitimately and convincingly traced. Allowance must be made also for the fact that the New Prophecy which Tertullian made his own may have differed in both form and content from that which had existed originally in the East, several decades earlier.

A third point to be noticed is that Tertullian's use of Scripture is governed by a variety of exegetical principles and influences. These must be considered also. In this connection, it must be emphasised that Tertullian was a man of his own age and place. His education in rhetoric, law, and philosophy cannot fail to have influenced his outlook.

Fourthly, Tertullian's dependence on Scripture must be weighed against the other supports which he uses to confirm his argumentation. His sympathy towards the New Prophecy would certainly offer help, and possibly hindrance, to this task.

Finally, in order to make a valid assessment of the development in his thought in relation to Scripture, it is impossible to study his writing in isolation. Only a careful comparison with the writings of his predecessors and contemporaries will provide an assessment of his originality.

It is therefore the revised aim of this thesis to take into consideration the above points, and to draw up a detailed analysis of the resulting information. The thesis takes the form of a close examination of Tertullian's use of Scripture in the context of various dogmatic and practical issues, which were to become of increasing importance in his later life. A comparison of these texts will reveal some interesting developments, and will allow an assessment of his originality to be made.

The literature on Tertullian's interpretation of Scripture is limited to several works, which, in the main do not pay great attention to the development of his thought in this matter. Where the development is considered, it is frequently fragmentary. I hope that this thesis will go beyond any work hitherto produced.


Atkinson, P. C. (1976). A study in the development of Tertullian's use and interpretation of Scripture, with special reference to his involvement in the New Prophecy. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Feb 5, 2013
Publicly Available Date Feb 22, 2023
Keywords Theology
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Theology, The University of Hull
Award Date Mar 1, 1976


Thesis (21.6 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 1976 Atkinson, Philip Charles. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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