David Barton and the Biblical Constitution

In his speeches to churches, David Barton asserts that there are Bible verses throughout the Constitution. On past occasions, he has said that the Constitution quotes the Bible verbatim. In his recent appearance before Crossroads Church in Oklahoma City, OK, Barton said people today don’t recognize these verses in the Constitution because they are ignorant about the Bible. He begins his discussion of the Bible and the Constitution at about 12 minutes into the following sermon:

Barton said:

It’s significant that if you know the Bible and if you read the Constitution, you see Bible verses throughout the Constitution. You see Bible verse after Bible verse that is noted in the Constitution. Now today, we have a lot of people who say, no, no, the Constitution is a secular arena, the Constitution is a secular document. When somebody tells me the Constitution’s a godless document, that simply tells me, they wouldn’t know a Bible verse if they saw one; if it bit them on the ankle they wouldn’t know what a Bible verse was. See what happened is the Constitution is filled with Bible verses, Bible references, Bible phrases, and Bible terminology cause back then, they didn’t see any reason to tell you it came out of the Bible because back then everybody knew that. They didn’t put it, but we’re so biblically illiterate today, we don’t recognize that. 

Timothy Dwight must have been biblically illiterate. Dwight was a prominent Congregationalist minister and the president of Yale from 1795 to 1817. On July 23, 1812, Dwight preached a sermon before his students and faculty where he lamented the low spiritual status of the day. The occasion was a public fast called by the Connecticut governor in opposition to the War of 1812. Saying the nation had three reasons to fear the future, Dwight had strong words to say about the Constitution.

The second of these reasons is, the sinful character of our nation. Notwithstanding the prevalence of Religion, which I have described, the irreligion, and the wickedness, of our land are such, as to furnish a most painful and melancholy prospect to a serious mind. We formed our Constitution without any acknowledgment of God ; without any recognition of his mercies to us, as a people, of his government, or even of his existence. The Convention, by which it was formed, never asked, even once, his direction, or his blessing upon their labours. Thus we commenced our national existence under the present system, without God. I wish I could say, that a disposition to render him the reverence, due to his great Name, and the gratitude, demanded by his innumerable mercies, had been more public, visible, uniform, and fervent.

Dwight was adverse to heresy and was considered to be a champion of orthodoxy.  He defended the Apostolic writings as inspired when the Unitarians and others rejected them. Dwight did not see Bible verse after Bible verse in the Constitution. Should we say he was biblically illiterate?

See below for the verses Barton claims to quoted in the Constitution:




Related Post:

David Barton’s Biblical Constitution: What if the Constitution did quote the Bible? 

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  • Lynn David

    Dwight obviously didn’t have the references David Barton thinks he has.

  • Kate Carmer

    The last time you wrote about this, I bothered to read the entire constitution and I do consider myself to be biblically literate ( not seminary trained but I’ve read thru the bible more than a dozen times) but I didn’t see any verses or even lines from the Bible. I wonder if David would be willing to point to these multiplicity of verses…. ?

    • Kate – I have updated the post to show the verses Barton claims are quoted in the Constitution.

  • bman

    In the chart, Barton links separation of powers to Jer 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

    It seems the founding fathers made similar statements.

    George Washington: ” A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of [political power] by dividing and distributing it into different depositories . . . has been established..”

    John Adams: “There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with [power] to endanger the public liberty.”

  • Fuzzy

    The Isaiah 33:22 is one that I hear often – that Madison is said to have uttered at the Constitutional Convention as the reason for the 3 branches. But I’m not able to find the primary source attributing that statement to him. Anyone have a better insight on where that quote is first attributed to Madison?

    • Tom Van Dyke

      The internet says it’s Montesquieu.


      The thing here is that Barton’s citing the echoes of arguments that are echoes of arguments–in this case apparently from “America’s God and Country (p. 453), William Federer.”

      Looking at the “source” verse and trying to find it in the Constitution yields zero, but Barton’s not just making stuff up from thin air—he’s citing an intricate [and usually shaky] argument he heard somewhere, although the reader/listener is seldom told what or where.

      It’s still nonsense, but it’s not the complete non sequitur it appears to be.

      • Fuzzy

        Thanks Tom,

        A lot of sites are saying that Madison was inspired by the verse at the Const Convention. As you said, blurring the two guys who’s names start with M, into one conspiracy.

        Here a link to one such: http://www.seekfind.net/JamesMadison.html

        –At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, James Madison proposed the plan to divide the central government into three branches. He discovered this model of government from the Perfect Governor, as he read Isaiah 33:22;

        “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver,

        the LORD is our king;

        He will save us.”

        • Tom Van Dyke

          I wasn’t exactly saying that, but rock on, bring the pain. 3 branches of gov’t are in Aristotle, Aquinas, and mentioned by the great English legal theorist William Blackstone–if I recall correctly.

          I don’t think people should be so quick to shut each other down, is all.

          There is a temptation to associate Aristotle’s three branches of government (deliberative, executive, and judicial) with the three branches (legislative, executive, and judicial) proposed by Montesquieu in the early eighteenth century and put into effect in the United States in the late eighteenth century. Though these triads are similar in name, the respective systems of Aristotle and Montesquieu are in fact quite different. First, Aristotle proposes no legislative branch.

          Yeah, yeah. People read a few sentences of this and a few of that and all of a sudden, it’s this and not that. I think it’s a more organic vibe. Don’t make up the laws, arrest me and then kill me for violating them. It’s even worse when you shuffle the order–Arrest me, pass a law, and execute me for violating it.

          Now that REALLY blows.

      • Christian Lawyer

        That verse speaks of three different roles of government, but it certainly doesn’t speak to HOW the three branches should be organized or the relationship among them. It doesn’t explain how Madison (or Montesquieu) came up with the American version of the three branches of government, as opposed to, for example, the British version of those three branches. Did the British not read the same verse?

  • Bill Fortenberry

    Several years ago, I was challenged to defend the claim that the Constitution is based on the Bible, so I sat down with a copy of the Constitution and began to search for correlations with Scripture. This study produced the list of 49 correlations that is included in the last chapter of my book “Hidden Facts of the Founding Era.” That chapter is available online at: http://www.increasinglearning.com/one-nation-under-god.html

    After publishing this list, I was bombarded with requests that I expand it with more detailed explanations, and I have just completed the first section of a new book which I am writing for that purpose. So far, I have shown that the principles of popular sovereignty and public election as well as the right to resist tyranny are biblical principles which have been recognized by Christian scholars throughout the history of the church. My research on this can be found online at: http://www.increasinglearning.com/we-the-people.html

    • Christian Lawyer

      @Bill Fortenberry — I’m sorry, but I’ve read your 49 correlations and your recent piece on tying the idea of popular sovereignty back to the bible, and many of your “correlations” hold up only in the most post-modern sense where words just don’t have any fixed meaning. It’s clear that you do not understand all of the legal terms you discuss. And, I don’t think “popular sovereignty” means what you think it means.

      Trying not to completely hijack Warren’s comment section, but in your #42, for example, about the “full faith and credit clause,” the clause actually means the complete opposite of what you assert: Rather than making the law uniform across the land, it requires states to recognize public acts and proclamations of other states even if those acts/proclamations were issued by the other state using laws or standards that are different. Thus, a state that doesn’t permit first cousins to marry must recognize the marriages of first cousins who were proclaimed married in a state that DOES recognize such marriages. So within the same state there may be married (by another state) first cousins and first cousins prohibited from marrying. Also, our concept of “federalism” completely contradicts the biblical idea of requiring a uniform law across the whole country.

      • Bill Fortenberry

        Thank you for commenting, CL. Unfortunately, I must point out that the view of the “full faith and credit” clause which you have presented was not the view held by the founders of our nation, and it was not accepted by the courts until 1887. The proper view of this clause can be seen in the second sentence of Article IV, Section 1 where we read:

        “And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.”

        Congress first invoked this power to determine how the acts, records and proceedings of the individual states would be honored throughout the several states in 1790, and one of the most recent examples of this power can be found in DOMA where Congress proclaimed that states do not have to give effect to same-sex marriages which are recognized in other states. Thus the “full faith and credit” clause is actually a grant of power to Congress to prescribe how various laws throughout the individual states are to be merged into a single manner of law to be recognized among the several states. This is very similar to the biblical language which did not require all the individual tribes of Israel to have identical laws but rather that they have “one manner of law.”

        Having said that, I will admit that my reliance on Leviticus 24:22 and Exodus 12:49 to demonstrate this point could be called into question since they are speaking of applying this one manner of law to foreigners and not specifically of the application of this principle throughout the several tribes. I am planning to devote a future article to a more expansive study of this principle throughout the Old Testament.

        By the way, the Yale Law Journal published an excellent article on the “classic view” of the “full faith and credit” clause, and you can find it online at this link: http://www.yalelawjournal.org/the-yale-law-journal/article/the-classic-rule-of-faith-and-credit/

        • Christian Lawyer

          @Bill Fortenberry — An extended debate on the Full Faith and Credit Clause (from which your quote omits the crucial first sentence) is well beyond this comment thread. Suffice it to say you have jumbled up a number of different legal concepts and, whatever the original meaning of the clause, it was NOT “a grant of power to Congress to prescribe how various laws throughout the individual states are to be merged into a single manner of law to be recognized among the several states.” The Yale Law Journal article doesn’t even support your assertion. The FFC is all about dealing with the fact that different states have, and will continue to have, different laws, NOT merging all the states’ laws into one unified system.

          Not only that, you misunderstand the phrase “one manner of law” from the KJV, which is NOT referring to normalizing or unitizing law among all the tribes since the verses don’t seem to indicate that various tribes had different laws. Rather, if anything, that phrase is a precursor to the common law notion of “rule of law,” whereby the judicial system tries to apply the law equally to all persons regardless of status or power and the apply same law (precedent) to all like cases. Thus the verse calls for the same “manner of law” or “rule” to be applied to the foreigners as is applied to the tribes themselves. That’s a rule of law concept, not a FFC clause concept.

    • Zoe Brain

      Can’t the Bible also be used with even more justification as the basis for Communism, Absolute Monarchy, National Socialism etc?

      Just cherry-pick as needed.

      • Bill Fortenberry

        Not at all, Zoe. For example, I compared the Bible with the 25 points of the National Socialist Program and found that the two disagreed on 20 different principles. You can view that comparison at: http://www.increasinglearning.com/for-the-good-of-the-state.html

        • Zoe Brain

          Re the 25 points:

          NS policy… supported by….

          Para 2 : Deuteronomy 20:10-12 and 23:2

          Para 4 : Deuteronomy 7:3-4

          Para 5: Nehemiah 13:3

          Para 6: Luke 19: 12-27, Numbers 16: 1-35

          Para 7 : Nehemiah 13:3 again, also Numbers 25:6-8

          Para 8: Nehemiah 13:3 once more,

          Para 9 : 2 Corinthians 9:13-15

          That;’s just off the top of my head.

  • Christian Lawyer

    The efforts by Barton and Bill Fortenberry to tie the Constitution back to the bible reminds me of the father in the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” who claims he can demonstrate that the root of any word actually comes from the Greek. It’s funny (to me at least) in a comedy, but in the real world where it’s being taught to kids, it’s heartbreaking.

    Not only that, this theory that the Constitution is derived from the bible diminishes and disrespects the God-given intellects of so many of our founders. What they did in the Declaration and the Constitution is not merely some derivative rehash of a bunch of bible verses. Rather, the founding fathers studied history, philosophy, the bible, the enlightenment thinkers, and took bits and pieces of ideas, some floating around for centuries, and forged them together (with perhaps some Divine inspiration) into something completely new and different — a nation Lincoln described as “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Barton and Fortenberry should give credit where credit is due to the astounding accomplishments of the Founders.

  • Patrocles

    I hope that Barton will quote the book of Professor Eric Nelson about “The Hebrew Republic”. Nelson is one of the most renowned experts about the American Constitution.

    Nelson shows that early modern Republicanism and Anti-Monarchism was heavily inspired by Jewish sources – in particular James Harrington, the author of the utopian constution of “Oceana”. Harrington inspired William Penn (the constution of Pennsylvania) and John Adams (the constitution of Massachusetts) and in that way indirectly the American constitution.

    It’s quite plausible that certain idiomatic phrases within the Constitution can be persecuted back to Biblical (or perhaps even talmudic) phrases, which were rediscovered in the age of Reformation.