Spinoza, Locke, and Biblical Interpretation
The advances made in textual criticism of the Bible in the mid-seventeenth century, contributed to the origins of modern biblical hermeneutics. The foundation of this moment lay in “the idea of the historicity of the Bible,” often attributed to the work of Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza’s Tractatus theologico-politicus (1670, hereafter TTP) was a landmark in biblical criticism. Spinoza’s reputation has commonly overshadowed that of his contemporary John Locke, who is frequently ignored in the field of biblical studies. This neglect is even more surprising given Locke’s lifelong interest in biblical studies, in religion, and in theological matters in general. While not a “professional” biblical scholar, Locke read and commented on the major contributors to the field, and he kept up to date with the latest scholarly findings, most notably through Jean Le Clerc’s journals. In his library there are several heavily annotated Bibles, and his unpublished manuscripts reveal that he wrote copious notes on the Bible and dealt in depth with theological matters. Further, Locke’s relative anonymity in the field is not due to the fact that he didn’t publish on biblical subjects. His Reasonableness of Christianity (1695), as well as A Vindication of the Reasonableness of Christianity (1696), and A Second Vindication of the Reasonableness of Christianity (1697), dealt in depth with the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus and the purpose of Jesus’ mission. In the final years of his life, he wrote a commentary on four of Paul’s letters (I and II Corinthians, Ephesians, and Romans), published posthumously as A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St Paul (1706).