Thursday, February 9, 2017

John [Quincy] Adams on the Biblical Canon's Inspiration

* Update: Read below on my error.

This letter to his son dated July 7, 1814 clarifies John Adams' position on the inspiration of scripture. He believed parts of the biblical canon were inspired. He thought all modern (as of 1814) translations had errors. He didn't think himself competent in the original languages to judge errors in the original. And he was open to the notion that the writings of John Milton, Homer and Virgil were divinely inspired along the same grounds he believed the inspired parts of the biblical canon were. He admits Song of Solomon and Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) questionably belong in the canon. But, if Homer, Virgil and Milton had a good claim on writing sacred scripture, "those of the Apocalypse and of Solomon’s Song, are unquestionable." He is agnostic on whether St. Jude's Epistle is inspired. 

It has been asserted that "rationalists" like John Adams used their reason to determine what was valid revelation. Here is how Adams describes his method:
I am not altogether ignorant, but am far from being properly acquainted with the History of the Bible, or its Evidence; and with regard to its Authority my Mind rests upon two Pillars—the prejudice of my Education; and my own judgment, upon its internal Evidence—You Sir, and my ever dear and honoured Mother, took care to give me a pious education; and although at the same time you sent me upon the theatre of an infidel World, at an age perhaps the most accessible to impressions of infidelity, I never found any thing there, that could serve me as a substitute for the duties or the pleasures, the Morals or the Hopes which I derive from my Religion—I have seen nothing in the glories of this World, nothing in the pride of human learning which should make me ashamed of the Cross of Christ—My Judgment therefore has confirmed the Prejudice of my Education—My idea of Inspiration, as applied to the Scriptures is neither very clear nor very definite—That in the composition of parts of the Sacred Books, the Writers were actuated by a preternatural interposition of the divine power, I believe, because it is expressly declared by the Writers themselves, and because I cannot disbelieve it without rejecting the whole Bible as an imposture.
 The bold is mine.

*I made a mistake. The letter was from John Quincy Adams to his father. I think a reason I had this brain freeze was as of 1814 John Quincy Adams supposedly had, as many assumed, embraced a form or orthodox Calvinistic Christianity. I assumed wrongly an orthodox Calvinistic Christian would have accepted the plenary inspiration of the biblical canon. He sounds in this letter like a unitarian/theistic rationalist like his father. I will follow up on John Adams the elder's letter to his son that prompted this response.


Lex Lata said...

Hi, Jon. Aren't that letter and excerpt from John Quincy Adams to his father? Or am I misreading something?

Jonathan Rowe said...

LL: You are correct. I admitted my mistake and why my mind was titled towards it. I know that John Quincy Adams vacillated between unitarianism and orthodox Calvinism for his adult life. But this letter composed at the time he was supposed orthodox makes me wonder what kind of Calvinistic Christian he really was.

Lex Lata said...

Props for the correction, Jon.

Now that you mention it, granting the possibility of divine inspiration to Homer and Virgil does seem a rather ecumenical thing to do.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Martin Luther also questioned a number of books in the [Catholic] Bible. Not necessarily a new or "rationalist" thing.

In the 16th century, Martin Luther adopted the Jewish list, putting the Deuterocanonical books in an appendix. He also put the letter of James, the letter to the Hebrews, the letters of John, and the book of Revelation from the New Testament in an appendix. He did this for doctrinal reasons (for example: 2 Maccabees 12:43-46 supports the doctrine of purgatory, Hebrews supports the existence of the priesthood, and James 2:24 supports the Catholic doctrine on merit). Later Lutherans followed Luther’s Old Testament list and rejected the Deuterocanonical books, but they did not follow his rejection of the New Testament books.

IIRC, Luther also rejected sections of Daniel and Esther.