The Bible had a powerful influence upon America’s government and founding political documents.
The nearly 180 years between the founding of Jamestown Colony (1607) and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution (1788) was an intense experiment in human government, and it was an experiment in which the Bible played a prominent role.
No other “religion” could have produced America than Bible Christianity. Roman Catholicism never produced anything like America. Hindus and Buddhists never produced anything like America. Atheists never produced anything like America. Islam certainly never produced anything like America. The Quran doesn’t teach freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of speech. It teaches subjugation of the world to Allah by all means. This was evident in Muhammed’s life and in the lives of his most zealous followers throughout its history.
The Bible was the major influence upon the governments of the British colonies:
“The Bible was the primary source of civil and religious law in the Puritan colonies. For example, the General Court of Massachusetts instructed the committee that drafted the Massachusetts constitution to make the laws of its commonwealth ‘as near the law of God as they can be’” (Angela Kamrath, The Miracle of America).
The Bible continued to be the major influence in the formation of the U.S. government.
Historian Donald Lutz says that the Bible was the most frequently cited source in the political literature that formed America between 1760-1805.
“When reading comprehensively in the political literature of the war years, one cannot but be struck by the extent to which biblical sources used by ministers and traditional Whigs undergirded the justification for the break with Britain, the rationale for continuing the war, and the basic principles of Americans’ writing their own constitutions” (Lutz, Origins of American Constitutionalism, p. 142).
Though the American colonies were under the authority of the king of England, IN PRACTICE they were largely left on their own to write their own constitutions, appoint their own leaders, set up their own courts, operate their own colleges, and take care of their own business. By the time that King George III (r. 1760-1820) tried to control the colonies with a heavy hand from England, they were already independent in their thinking and ways, and the result was the Declaration of Independence of 1776.
Nothing like this had ever happened in human history. Never before did Christians have the liberty to form their own civil governments according to their own principles.
The American colonists reasoned, deliberated, debated, and experimented on this matter for two centuries. It consumed a large part of their thought and energies. They were a highly literate people who were taught to think soberly and deeply.
They discussed such things as the rule of law, natural law, natural rights, representative and constitutional self-government, consent of the governed, balance of powers, limited powers, religious liberty, separation of church and state, elections by secret ballot, term limits, trial by jury, and prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.
This debate was going on in England, as well. Many of the principles that Americans applied to human government were first stated in England. The following men and writings in England had a large influence on Americans:
John Ponet (1514-1556), A Short Treatise of Political Power, and the True Obedience which Subjects Owe to Kings (1556)
Edward Coke (1552-1634), Institutes of the Laws of England and Law Reports
Stephen Brutus (a pseudonym for an anonymous Huguenot author), Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos (Defense of Liberty against Tyrants) (1579)
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600-1661), Lex Rex, or The Law and the Prince (1644)
Algernon Sidney (1623-1683), Discourses on Government (1698) (called “the textbook of the American Revolution”)
Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-1694), The Whole Duty of Man According to the Law of Nature (1698)
William Blackstone (1723-1780), Commentaries on the Laws of England (1766)
The founders of the British colonies in America established governments based on the Bible’s precepts. Their fundamental principles of government included the following:
There is a sovereign Creator God, and man is made in His image and is responsible to obey His laws as found in man’s conscience (called “natural law,” Romans 2:14-15) and in Scripture (“God’s law”).
Government must therefore have righteous and absolute laws as given by God and not according to man’s own whims. For example, the Massachusetts 1671 Book of Laws stated that “laws … are so far good and wholesome, as by how much they are derived from, and agreeable to the ancient Platform of God’s law.” They quoted Scripture in support of many of their capital laws. The Blue Laws of the New Haven Colony (1656) acknowledged “that the supreme power of making laws, and of repealing them, belong to God only, and that by him, this power is given to Jesus Christ, as Mediator, Mat. 28:19. Joh. 5:22. And that the Laws for holiness, and Righteousness, are already made, and given us in the scriptures.”
Since man is a fallen sinner, human government must be designed in such a way that there are protections from tyranny.
The Puritans “opposed unlimited power of any kind–whether of kings, governments, aristocrats, priests, churches, or the people” (Angela Kamrath, The Miracle of America).
This is why the founders of America rejected a monarchy (“rule of one”), which is rule by a king, and an aristocracy (“rule of the best”), which is rule by a privileged class.
This is why the founders established separation of powers in government between executive, legislative, and judicial.
This is why they established a republic rather than a pure democracy. A republic is a democracy by which the people are ruled by laws. It is not mob rule. As originally designed, the American government is ruled by the U.S. Constitution, and every leader and citizen must obey it.
Man has certain rights given by God, especially the right to “life and liberty,” as spelled out in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
This does not mean that the founders believed that man is free to live as he pleases. It means that man should have the liberty to live his life in accordance with God’s laws without unlawful harassment from the government.
They believed that these “human rights” are encapsulated in God’s moral laws in the Old and New Testaments, such as the laws that give men the right not to be killed (Ex. 20:13), robbed (Ex. 20:15), slandered (Ex. 20:16), kidnapped (Ex. 21:16), injured (Ex. 21:18-19), oppressed (Ex. 23:8), and raped (De. 22:25).
The founders of America believed that man, being made in God’s image, has the right to be protected by the government so that these rights are maintained. The government should encourage good deeds and execute wrath upon those who do evil (Rom. 14:3-4).
Men should be ruled justly and equitably (Deut. 16:18-20).
They called this the “Rule of Law,” which means that all citizens “are subject to the law, that no one is above the law.” It is “related to the Bible-based idea of equity–of justness, impartiality, and fairness of law.”
America’s founders believed that for a democracy to work the people must be righteous and must vote according to righteous principles. In a sermon before the Connecticut court, Thomas Hooker said, “The privilege of election, which belongs to the people, therefore must not be exercised according to their humors, but according to the blessed will and law of God” (cited from Kamrath, The Miracle of America).
They believed that the people’s leaders and representatives must be righteous men, according to Ex. 18:21; De. 17:18-20; 2 Sam. 23:3; Psa. 75:10, and many other Scriptures. The typical thinking along this line was expressed in a 1694 printed sermon, The Character of a Good Ruler by Samuel Willard. He cited the aforementioned Scriptures and “described the virtues for leaders from the Bible relating to honesty, truthfulness, righteousness, equity, lawfulness, justness, knowledge, wisdom, humility, conscientiousness, piety, faithfulness, integrity, steadfastness, benevolence, selflessness, and public-mindedness” (Kamrath, The Miracle of America).
As these things and many others were debated, each of the Thirteen Colonies formed a government as part of the experiment. Following are some examples:
Some of them, such as Virginia and Massachusetts, had a church-state type of government. The citizens were required to be members of the Puritan Congregational church (Massachusetts) or the Anglican church (Virginia). They had to baptize their children, attend services, pay tithes to support pastors of the official churches, and agree to state church doctrine.
Rhode Island, established in 1636 by Roger Williams, was the first colony to grant religious liberty to its citizens. The stated purpose was “to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained with full liberty in religious concernments.” Each citizen was free to follow his own conscience before God in matters of religion. The 1663 charter stated, “… no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter, shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace.” The government of Rhode Island was operated by a democratic system, with each head of household having a vote. Newcomers could be accepted as citizens on majority vote.
Connecticut was established in the 1630s by Puritans led by Thomas Hooker, and it followed Rhode Island’s lead in granting religious liberty. Its 1639 constitution, known as the Fundamental Orders, was the first complete written constitution in known history. It was a system of self-government based on biblical principles. It was colonial America’s first democratic republic. It featured elections by secret ballot, representative government, term limits, consent of the governed, rule of law, trial by jury, prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, limited powers of government, and other things that became part of the U.S. Constitution in 1788.
Pennsylvania was founded in 1681 by William Penn, a Quaker, with land granted by King Charles II. The founding principles were based on a Quaker view of Bible principles and included freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom of economic activity, low taxation, and trial by jury. He famously said, “I deplore two principles in religion: obedience upon authority without conviction and destroying them that differ with me for Christ’s sake.” He had a good relationship with the native Indians and treated them fairly. He made a “Great Treaty” with the Native American Indians that was kept on both sides for 70 years. A large number of German Baptists (Mennonites, Swiss Brethren, Amish, Baptist Brethren) and Lutheran Pietists (Moravians, Schwenkfelders) settled in Pennsylvania in search of religious liberty. Pennsylvania attracted people from England, Ireland, and throughout Europe seeking freedom and economic prosperity. “Liberty brought so many immigrants that by the American Revolution Pennsylvania had grown to some 300,000 people and became one of the largest colonies. Pennsylvania was America’s first great melting pot” (Jim Powell, “William Penn,” The Freeman). Penn named the capital city Philadelphia, meaning “city of brotherly love.” Philadelphia was has been called the cradle of American liberty. It was the city of Ben Franklin, the most famous of the Founding Fathers. It is the home of the Liberty Bell. It was where Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, where the Continental Congress met, and where the U.S. Constitution was formulated.
The colonists understood that they were conducting “experiments” and that the eyes of the world were on them. Rhode Island’s religious liberty government was called “a lively experiment,” and Pennsylvania’s was called a “holy experiment.”
The 200 years of holy and lively experimentation in the American colonies ultimately produced the United States and its Constitution and Bill of Rights. Each of the colonies contributed to this process and outcome.
[Excerpted from THE BIBLE AND WESTERN SOCIETY. ISBN 978-1-58318-217-8. This is an examination of the Bible’s influence on Western Society, particularly England and America. The nine chapters are as follows: 1. The Bible fashioned the English language. 2. The Bible fashioned England. 3. The Bible fashioned America. 4. The Bible produced high moral character. 5. The Bible produced missionary zeal. 6. The Bible produced great concepts of human liberty. 7. The Bible produced great social benevolence. 8. The Bible produced modern science. 9. The Bible produced beautiful music. This book documents the Bible’s influence on America’s Founders, America’s founding documents, the American government, the American educational system, America’s concept of human liberty, the abolition of slavery, and many other things. (This material is also part of the enlarged 2016 edition of The History of the Church from a Baptist Perspective which includes a series of PowerPoint presentations illustrating the course.) 185 pages. Available in print and as a free eBook from Way of Life Literature]
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America, Politics, and Spiritual Light
The America My Grandchildren Will Never Know
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