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Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers…

Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers

by Daniel L. Dreisbach

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LibraryThing, Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers, Daniel L. Dreisbach, Oxford University Press, 2017, 2.27.17

Theme: the influence of the Bible on the founding era
Type: nonfiction historical research with conclusions
Value: 1-
Age: college

4 basic argument: Bible knowledge/reading was so pervasive, people thought in terms of KJV 6, 7, 49, 229, 231
23 right/wrong known only by the book-Abe Lincoln, 49-John Adams, 50-founders tutored from pulpit
27 highest literacy rates in recorded history were in America (which “promoted education more generally”)
28 interpret for self “Alister E. McGrath’s words, ‘Christianity’s dangerous idea’ [was that it was the right of the individual to interpret the Bible for himself rather than be forced to submit to ‘official’ interpretations]”
29 shaped English language “The language of the English Bible over time transcended regional dialects and linguistic variations and promoted a common tongue throughout the British Isles.” 73 “the English of the KJV was the lingua franca of 18th century America”
31 KJV – as pure literature  Greek/Hebrew (originals) “from the point of view of pure literature the Bible is better in English than it is in Greek or Hebrew”
34 laws required possession “Some colonial laws even required households to possess a copy of the Bible”
41 nations flourish according to reverence for Bible/read Bible in schools—Benjamin Rush
51 entertainment value (et al) Elias Boudinot president of Continental Congress “…were you to ask me to recommend the most valuable book in the world, I should fix on the Bible as the most instructive, both to the wise and ignorant. Were you to ask me for one, affording the most rational and pleasing entertainment to the inquiring mind, I should repeat, it is the Bible: and should you renew the inquiry, for the best philosophy, or the most interesting history…”
60 Francis Hopkinson, signer of Declaration, New Jersey jurist, America’s first native-born musical composer
66 our founding document, some see Bible as more than Constitution, great political textbook of the patriots
67-8 need for self-gov’t, possible only thru religion, people must be both educated and religious 101, 146, 147, 148, 149-50, 170
84 Hebrew-republican gov’t “The Hebrew commonwealth, they believed, was republican in form, committed to political liberty and the rule of law, and characterized by representative government and the voluntary consent of the governed. God had authorized the popular selection of the form of government, a specific government administration, and the civil magistrates who served in that administration. The Hebrews had a federal arrangement with a centralized government and multiple regional (tribal) governments. Their government also included multiple distinct, separated branches of civil government, including a chief magistrate, legislature, and judiciary. It also had a multi-tiered judicial system providing the appeals.”
85 Scripture as authority source “Interestingly, the Bible was cited at the Constitutional Convention as authority in support of or opposition to specific provisions… [Franklin] informed his audience in unambiguous language that his source was ‘Scripture,’ and then quoted a specific biblical text.”
110 submission texts “The two most cited biblical texts in support of the doctrines of unlimited submission or passive obedience and nonresistance are Romans 13:1-7 and I Peter 2:13-17.”
97, 99 Micah 6:8 was most popular text
113-123 history of resistance community, beginning with Reformers! 122, 126-7
118 much thought and publication on right to resist tyrants, most famous and influential was The Vindiciae, Contra Tyrannos 119 “The English political philosopher John Locke was familiar with the Vindiciae and the more expansive resistance literature of which it was a part.” 120 “The political theory advanced in the Vindiciae can be summarized briefly: legitimate political order in all civil states is based on two contracts (or national covenants)…”
122 “A private person who draws his sword against the prince is guilty of sedition no matter how just his cause may be… …not only be anarchy but also the deception that comes from one’s willingness to confuse one’s private interests for God’s will.”
122-3 Lex Rex
124 choice of community “Thus the authority of princes is divine in origin, but in granting (or withdrawing) the office to a particular individual, God acts through the choice of the community.” 146 “Virtue is the spirit of a Republic; for where all power is derived from the people, all depends on their good disposition.”
125 levels of resistance, Rutherford: defense by words, then flight, then passive and finally active disobedience, (K’s) evocate (to God), educate, supplicate (to man), negotiate, litigate, evacuate, pugillate!
128 Jonathan Matthew sermon “[Reverend Jonathan] Mathew’s sermon, entitled ‘A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers,” was described by historian Bernard Bailyn as ‘the most famous sermon preached in pre-Revolutionary America.’”
145ff Pro. 14:34 “Whether [America’s independence] will prove a Blessing or a Curse, will depend upon the Use our people make of the Blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If thy are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary Character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt a them as a Nation. Reader!, whoever thou art remember this; and in thy Sphere, practice Virtue thyself, and encourage it in others.” Patrick Henry 148 “God calls nations, as well as individuals, to righteousness. … A nation’s greatness ultimately depends on its relationship with the Almighty, not on political, economic, or military might.” 149 “… [also] with the desires of the heart and a right relationship with the Divine.” 158 “…the true greatness of a nation is not measured by military divisions or gross domestic product; rather, a nations’ greatness is found in her character.”
152 punishment only in this life
153 characteristics of a nation “Government should promote liberty, virtue, legal equality, and due process; and it should oppose injustice resulting from favoring the rich and powerful over the poor and weak, aligning with wicked actors, accepting bribes and false testimony and the like.” “A righteous nation is endorsed by God and identifies itself with God. The true pursuit of the righteous nation is a right and faithful relationship with God. An often-cited biblical text in support of this proposition was Leviticus 26:12: ‘I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be My people.’”154
154 godliness of people changes neighborhood “Could we see a people in general, humble themselves under the mighty hand of God, in the evils that are come upon us—could we see a general disposition in them, to break off from their sins by righteousness, and from their iniquities by turning to the Lord—could we see practical piety and religion prevailing among all ranks of men—how much would the prospect brighten up?” “...a good constitution, and a code of just laws in each state, form a conspicuous part of national righteousness… To this we add, that another interesting part of national righteousness consists in a thorough execution of the laws. … Men should not govern the laws, but the laws should govern men.” 157 “Let us for a moment, admit the supposition, that the doctrines of Christianity were firmly believed…”
158 greatness of a nation See above 145ff
166ff Pro. 29:2 righteous rulers
168 Pro. 28-29 manual for magistrates
174 Christian duties to cg “The election sermons dispensed specific advice on how righteous citizens should be involved in civil government, especially in sustaining righteous rulers. First, the believer is instructed to pray for those in authority… Second, pious citizens should participate in the selection of civil magistrates to the extent permitted by the political process… Third, the righteous citizen is instructed willingly to honor, obey, and support those in positions of civil authority… Finally, citizens must willingly and cheerfully pay tribute (that is pay their taxes)…”
179 difficult to draw lines between church-state “By the end of the eighteenth century, this was becoming increasingly delicate topic, not because the clergy had come to doubt the value and utility of public religion, but because of growing uncertainty about the best and appropriate way for civil magistrates to promote public religion. The religiously diverse, newly independent American communities were beginning to embrace emerging principles of religious liberty and to redefine traditional establishmentarian arrangements between church and state, and there was increasing debate about the prudential and legal role of civil magistrates in promoting religion, especially in preferring some religious sects or denominations over others.” 182
190 difficult to define liberty “Liberty was a difficult word to define; it had no fixed, uncontested meaning. Although not easy to define, it was an essential term in the founding generation’s political lexicon because liberty is what they said they yearned for…” “The argument advanced here is that, in their struggles with Great Britain, patriotic Americans were drawn to the NT rhetoric of Christian liberty to express their yearning for political liberty, even though they knew their critics viewed this as a misappropriation of Scripture [Gal. 5:1; II Cor. 3:17; Jn. 8:36]…” 190-200, 200 “Liberty meant the prerogative to act, will, or choose (that is, self-determine); it also meant release from obligation, servitude, or constraint. Eighteenth-century conceptions of liberty regarded tyranny and licentiousness as the twin antithesis to liberty…”, 201 “The pursuit of liberty in the political context meant, for many Americans, freedom form arbitrary rule and the liberty found in the rule of law, due process of law, and constitutional governance.” 203 “Liberty is ordered, community-deferring, and consistent with ‘universal moral standards mediated by divine revelation and the authoritative interpretive capacity of congregation and community.’” [You can do and create whatever you want, within God’s boundaries (e.g., Ten Commandments); e.g., Elias’ joke about his make-believe friend in Spanish class vis a vis Eph 5:4 (good humor).
207ff G Washington inauguration 210 “Washington deftly used religio-political language, rooted in religious experience of the American people, to promote a collective identity, to forge a viable national community, and to express a coherent national purpose and destiny.”
211ff every man sits “under his vine and under his fig tree”—this was GW’s favorite scriptural phrase 224
220 GW’s hospitality “It has been estimated that during the seven years between 1768 and 1775 roughly 2,000 people were entertained at Mount Vernon, many of whom stayed for days on end and visited repeatedly. In April 1774, a typical month, an average of four to five guests joined the Washington’s every time they sat down to dinner.”
226-7 USA as it represents GW’s favorite scriptural phrase
231 liberal arts needed (no specific quote, just awareness of need for general background to be able to engage in this dialogue and to preserve and expand our liberties)
231 thesis (summary, model of academic restraint!) “The Bible, I have argued, made substantial contributions to the political culture of our founding era. My thesis, however, is not that the Bible is the key to understanding the American founding. Nor do I contend that the Bible is the primary source to which patriotic Americans turned to give content and definition to their political, legal, and constitutional projects. I leave it to others to debate that proposition. Nevertheless, the Bible was the most authoritative, accessible, and familiar book in eighteenth century America, and it was an important source that Americans studied for insights into law, politics, civil government, and many other activities of human society.”
233 confusing self with God “There is a danger that pious citizens will fall for the deception that comes from confusing one’s personal interests for God’s will.” ( )
  keithhamblen | Feb 27, 2017 |
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No book was more accessible or familiar to the American founders than the Bible, and no book was more frequently alluded to or quoted from in the political discourse of the age. How and for what purposes did the founding generation use the Bible? How did the Bible influence their political culture? Shedding new light on some of the most familiar rhetoric of the founding era, Daniel Dreisbach analyzes the founders' diverse use of scripture, ranging from the literary to the theological. He shows that they looked to the Bible for insights on human nature, civic virtue, political authority, and the rights and duties of citizens, as well as for political and legal models to emulate. They quoted scripture to authorize civil resistance, to invoke divine blessings for righteous nations, and to provide the language of liberty that would be appropriated by patriotic Americans. Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers broaches the perennial question of whether the American founding was, to some extent, informed by religious-specifically Christian-ideas. In the sense that the founding generation were members of a biblically literate society that placed the Bible at the center of culture and discourse, the answer to that question is clearly "yes." Ignoring the Bible's influence on the founders, Dreisbach warns, produces a distorted image of the American political experiment, and of the concept of self-government on which America is built. -- Provided by publisher. Dreisbach shows that the Bible was the most frequently referenced book in the political discourse of the American founders. Drawing on some of the most familiar rhetoric of the founding era, Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers examines the founders' diverse uses of the Bible and how scripture informed their political culture. -- Provided by publisher.… (more)

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