In this essay, a Lutheran understanding of the development of doctrine is developed, in contrast with what George Lindbeck calls ‘historical situationalism’, the limitations of which are analysed. While the final authority of doctrine is a function of its evangelical content, a particular historical development of church teaching can possess a subordinate, distinct, formal authority as an authoritative sign of the material authority of its content. Such developments of doctrine can be irreversible. This understanding is placed in relation to the most prominent doctrine on the development of doctrine, the Catholic teaching on papal infallibility. The comprehensive narrative of the Western church’s struggle over authority since the late Middle Ages should be seen as including both Catholic and non-Catholic developments and as still unresolved.