Noll's significant contribution is to be able to step back from all of the documentation of the Bible in Revolutionary debates--and it was massive--to be able to systematize the scholarship and make sense of the welter of biblical uses. Some uses are simply rhetorical flourishes, biblical language as artistic embroidery for a political point. On a much stronger level, many Revolutionaries drew parallels between the cause of the colonies and ancient Israel. Noll thus demonstrates how "Hebraic" political thought could make in-roads into a biblicist America. Still others made sustained arguments through biblical exposition for one side or another.This reminds me of the exhaustive studies I've done on George Washington's faith, trying to make sense of what he believed. On the one hand, some scholars have said GW didn't reference the Bible. That's false.
Noll demonstrates extremely wide-ranging knowledge of the sources from the Revolution, but he also offers incisive close readings of important sermons and Biblical exchanges. I especially appreciated Noll's attention to a sermon by David Griffith, a patriot Anglican in Virginia, a sermon which comes as close as possible to earning Noll's approval of its biblical usage. Noll is also extremely perceptive on the debate between Tom Paine in Common Sense and the biblical rejoinders offered by loyalists. By tracking their arguments minutely, Noll demonstrates multiple interpretive strategies that were being used in the colonies.
I have found some evidence that GW believed objective truth can be found in both "reason" and "revelation." But how he put them together remains a bit of a mystery.
One thing GW never or almost never (I hesitate to write in absolute terms) did was proof text verses and chapters of scripture in an authoritative sense. Rather his uses were almost always "rhetorical flourishes, biblical language as artistic embroidery for a political" or some other kind of point.
This is something secular people do all the time. The Bible like Shakespeare greatly impacted the way we express ourselves. And this is applicable BOTH to the time of America's Founding AND in today's modern world.
Anyway here is an example from GW, taken from Mark D. writing at The New Reform Club. Addressing the Jewish community in Newport, Rhode Island, GW said:
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.The reference to the vine and fig tree is found a number of places in the Bible and was a phrase that GW often used.
And I write this post peacefully sitting in the comfort of my vine and fig tree.