How Did America’s Founding Generation Read the Bible?

Gregg Frazer | January 18, 2017

American University professor Daniel Dreisbach is probably the foremost expert on religion in the American founding era and a devoted student of the Bible, so he’s arguably the best person to write a book on the Bible’s use during that period. Indeed, Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers is a tour de force of scholarly research. 

Dreisbach produces hundreds, perhaps thousands, of clear or subtle references to Bible verses by public persons in America between 1760 and 1800. His goal is to demonstrate that “the Bible was important to the social, legal, and political thought of the founding generation and a vital influence on the culture in which they lived” (6). His other stated goal is to “combine credible historical research and careful textual analysis with basic biblical scholarship and political theory” (16).

In the “Introduction” and the “Afterword,” Dreisbach establishes some important caveats. First, the founding generation “drew on multiple sources” of influence, and the Bible didn’t necessarily supersede the rest. Second, a founder’s use of the Bible “does not indicate whether he or she was a Christian or a skeptic,” as both used the Bible for their own purposes. Third, a claim of biblical influence “does not suggest that the founders were theocrats intent on imposing a biblical…

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