The Christian Post has an article about a new book by Vanderbilt University divinity professor James Byrd called Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution. In it, he correctly argues that Biblical arguments were commonly used to persuade the colonists to support the revolutionary war:
In an interview with The Christian Post, Byrd explained that while doing his research he was “struck by how prominent the Bible was in Revolutionary America.”
“I was struck by how prominent the Bible was in Revolutionary America, not only in sermons but also in political pamphlets, such as Thomas Paine’s extraordinarily influential Common Sense,” said Byrd.
“Colonists were often biblically literate – likely more so than the average American is today. Obviously colonists then did not own as many books as many Americans do today, and the book that was most accessible to them was the Bible.”
Byrd also told CP that certain passages of the Bible were used by different sides in making their arguments for or against Revolution in 18th century America.
This is true. Even Thomas Paine, who would later write The Age of Reason to debunk the validity of the Bible, used an extended argument from the Bible to argue for the revolution in his pamphlet Common Sense. Byrd does not appear to be a David Barton type, however:
Regarding the debate over the spiritual nature of America during its beginnings, Byrd told CP that “it’s more complicated” than a simple question of secular or religious.
“For the most part, patriots were thinking about political liberty, but many saw it connected very closely to religious liberty. The Revolutionary War, for most patriots, was a just war fought for political freedom, not an outright holy war,” said Byrd.
“Even so, it was not that simple…the fact that Thomas Paine, who was certainly not a Christian, used the Bible so extensively in arguing for the Revolution shows us how important biblical arguments were in colonial American societies.”
But this makes it all the more curious, then, that such arguments virtually disappeared a decade later when the Constitution was being written and ratified. The infamous study by Donald Lutz that the Christian Nation apologists love to cite (and lie about) found that, while Biblical arguments were often made in the 1770s and early 1780s, they all but disappeared in 1787 and 1788, when the Constitution was written and ratified. In fact, virtually the only people making Biblical arguments at the time were those who opposed the passage of the Constitution:
The Bible’s prominence disappears, which is not surprising since the debate centered upon specific institutions about which the Bible has little to say. The Anti-Federalists do drag it in with respect to basic principles of government, but the Federalist’s inclination to Enlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the Bible relevant….The debate surrounding the adoption of the Constitution was fought out mainly in the context of Montesquieu, Blackstone, the English Whigs, and major writers of the Enlightenment.
As I’ve pointed out many times, the Federalist Papers, written by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to explain and defend the provisions of the new constitution and persuade Americans to support its ratification, contained not a single reference to the Bible or to Christian theology. As Byrd points out, Americans at the time were Biblically literate and overwhelmingly Christian, so an argument justifying the Constitution on the grounds that it was in line with the Bible would have been a very powerful one. Yet none was even attempted, and in fact the only Biblical arguments being used at the time were in opposition to the new constitution, which the religious right of that day condemned as a Godless document.
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