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Religion Philosophy

The Biblical Politics of John Locke

by (author) Kim Ian Parker

CCSR, Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Initial publish date
Jan 2006
Philosophy, Religious, Religion, Politics & State
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    Publish Date
    Jan 2006
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  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2016
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    Publish Date
    Apr 2004
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John Locke is often thought of as one of the founders of the Enlightenment, a movement that sought to do away with the Bible and religion and replace them with scientific realism. But Locke was extremely interested in the Bible, and he was engaged by biblical theology and religion throughout his life. In this new book, K.I. Parker considers Locke’s interest in Scripture and how that interest is articulated in the development of his political philosophy.

Parker shows that Locke’s liberalism is inspired by his religious vision and, particularly, his distinctive understanding of the early chapters of the book of Genesis. Unlike Sir Robert Filmer, who understood the Bible to justify social hierarchies (i.e., the divine right of the king, the first-born son’s rights over other siblings, and the “natural” subservience of women to men), Locke understood from the Bible that humans are in a natural state of freedom and equality to each other. The biblical debate between Filmer and Locke furnishes scholars with a better understanding of Lockes political views as presented in his Two Treatises.

The Biblical Politics of John Locke demonstrates the impact of the Bible on one of the most influential thinkers of the seventeenth century, and provides an original context in which to situate the debate concerning the origins of early modern political thought.

About the author

K.I. Parker is a professor of religious studies at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Kim Ian Parker's profile page

Editorial Reviews

''Parker wades into difficult waters in his attempt to work in history, theology and philosophy simultaneously. The final result is a unique perspective for Early Modern scholars in all three disciplines....An intriquing example of the importance of examining philosophical ideas and texts in the context in which they were produced.''

Philosophy in Review

''Discussion of the Bible and politics in recent times has been monopolized by liberation theologies and ideological biblical interpretations with a generally Marxist inspiration. By his full and precise presentation of John Locke's grounding in the Bible, Kim Parker takes us back to a historical setting where everyone agreed that the Bible should be the foundation for politics, and political debates were exegetical debates. And yet we find that the issues being dealt with then were not fundamentally different from those that confront us now -- public order and private freedom, entrenched government with its stagnation, and revolutionary government with its caprices. Everyone interested in the recent debates on the Bible and politics needs to pay close attention to Parker's spotlight on the historic biblical roots of the contemporary political world.''

David Jobling

''In this book Kim Parker provides an important contribution to understanding Locke's particular interpretation of the Bible and its significance for his political philosophy. The overall approach is modest, prudent, and deliberate and should be of interest both to generalists and to Locke specialists. It is also a welcome addition to current general controversies about the meaning of religion, especially the Bible, for politics. Parker's contribution is especially provocative because it challenges contemporary orthodoxies concerning the inherently 'secular' nature of liberalism and whether or not the Enlightenment is substantially opposed to revealed religion. Because Parker is a professor of religious studies, the book offers a unique approach to these questions. It is obvious that Parker has a clear understanding of the political questions too....Parker is to be commended for demonstrating how the Bible provided an important metaethic for a progressive and inclusive political philosophy. Ideally, more scholars will pursue that question in a way that will settle some of our own controversies. Not surprisingly, Locke will continue to play a key role in the matter.''

Locke Studies Journal

''Arguments about so many aspects of Locke's Two Treatises will go on. But no one attempting to discuss their relationships with Scripture will be able to do so without Parker's thoughtful, useful essay, based on wide reading yet tightly focused around his principal thesis.''

Gerard Reedy, SJ

''The Biblical Politics of John Locke is important in its endeavour to show the formative role of biblical themes in Locke's political thought and warrants careful study.''

History of Intellectual Culture, 2008–2009

''The special richness of this account of Locke's discovery of liberal democracy in the Bible lies in Parker's equal concern for both theology and politics. This double vision -- combined with an intellectual probity very much like Locke's own -- make him just the person to show that Locke, far from distorting religion for political ends, liberates the Bible to speak to the human condition in a way that we still haven't fully assimilated.''

Sam Ajzenstat

''Parker's thesis should encourage Locke scholars to reevaluate the role of Locke's faith and scriptural exegesis in the formation of his political philosophy. It can also serve as a primer on Locke for the general reader. Parker's uncluttered style is free of jargon and thus makes for easy reading. His research is soundly based on a careful scrutiny of both original sources and pertinent secondary literature, and includes extensive explanatory endnotes.''

Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, Vol XVIII, no 1/2, 2006

''Readers exhausted by the tortured labour of scholars to prove that Locke does not really mean what he says will find Professor Parker's The Biblical Politics of John Locke to be a thoroughly refreshing book.''

Ars Disputandi, Volume 7, 2007

''Serves as a good introduction to Locke's lifelong, and often complicated, interest in the Bible.''

Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol 40, # 3, 2007

''Kim Ian Parker makes a strong case for the view that John Locke's political philosophy can best be understood only if we take into account his religious views. Drawing on manuscript materials and annotations in volumes from Locke's own library, Parker's rigorous attention to detail will provide all those with an interest in the history of the early modern period with an intriguing thesis that is certain to provoke much discussion.''

William Sweet

''Parker has produced a clear and well-researched study of an aspect of Locke's thought that theologians may have tended to miss because it is to do with politics, and that political theorists may have tended to overlook because it involves the Bible and theology. For this he is to be congratulated. Theologians today may also learn from the debate between Filmer and Locke the profoundly unsatisfactory character of attempts to resolve contemporary issues, whether in politics, society, or religion, by imaginative and inventive applications of stray texts. In this respect what is past gives a warning to the present. How will current debates citing biblical texts (for example, in debates about the treatment of homosexuals, or about the consecration of women, or about divine intervention and design in creation) be seen in centuries hence? Those who, with Locke, confidently condemn the speck distorting Filmer's religio-political view, must examine whether, what they see is free from distortion by the 'learned Gibberish' of inherited prejudices and convictions. It is to Parker's credit that this useful contribution to the history of thought also raises controversial contemporary challenges.''

Journal of Theological Studies, Volume 57, Issue 1, April 2006

''A clear, comprehensive, thorough and innovative presentation of the distinctive role of the Bible in Locke's political thinking, and draws on extensive and meticulous textual and archival research. The author shows convincingly that Locke's use of the Bible throughout his political writings was no mere embellishment added for tactical purposes, nor a dubious exercise in the legitimation of political ideas derived on quite other grounds, but rather was decisive for the content of his foundational political ideas.... Parker's aim--'to affirm the ideological centrality of the biblical perspective to liberalism in its formative period'--is successfully accomplished in this valuable study. Probing the possible contemporary implications of this thesis would be unavoidably controversial but is irresistably inviting.''

Toronto Journal of Theology, Vol XXII, no 1, 2006

''Parker skilfully traces Locke's career, emphasizing the aspects of his writing that made his thought the link between 17th-century and Enlightenment political theories. His fascinating analysis lends itself to close reading by scholars with relatively little knowledge of a philosopher whose influence on the thinkers of his time is often slighted, particularly concerning the biblical basis of politicl theory, sexual equality, and rejection of absolutism on the grounds that human beings are born free and rational. The author cogently reminds the reader of the centrality of the Bible in the political thought of Locke's contemporaries. Omitting extraneous material, this work places Locke's crusade for freedom at the centre of the discourse. The analysis of the role that the Bible played in Locke's politics is clear, focused, well-constructed, and a delight to read.''

Canadian Book Review Annual, 2006