In the “Introduction” and the “Afterword,” Dreisbach establishes some important caveats. First, the founding generation “drew on multiple sources” of influence, and the Bible didn’t necessarily supersede the rest. Second, a founder’s use of the Bible “does not indicate whether he or she was a Christian or a skeptic,” as both used the Bible for their own purposes. Third, a claim of biblical influence “does not suggest that the founders were theocrats intent on imposing a biblical order.” Fourth, the “mere fact that the founding generation frequently quoted from and alluded to the Bible reveals little about the American founding or the Bible’s influence on late 18th-century political thought, except that the Bible was a familiar and useful literary source.”
In light of these cautionary notes, Dreisbach warns against a “mere quantitative accounting of biblical references” and emphasizes the need to “be attentive to the purposes for which biblical texts were invoked,” the historical context of their use, the biblical context of passages, and the proper interpretation of verses (6–8). All of these are valuable and crucial insights to remember when reading this book or one like it.
Dreisbach allots about three general paragraphs to the “conventional” (i.e., literal, direct) interpretation of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2—passages that “on their face” disallow resistance to authority and had been generally understood that way for more than 1,500 years. On the other hand, he devotes an entire chapter to a creative interpretation favored by the American patriots and its historical—largely nonbiblical—genesis. Indeed, there’s scarcely a word from the Bible for 20 pages (116–135), but there’s a lot of history and political theory. Dreisbach calls this interpretation—one that relies heavily on adding words and ideas to Romans 13—a “nuanced” interpretation, and commends the work of one of its creators for its “refreshing acquaintance with political thought in the Scripture” and presentation of a “cogent” theory (124). This would be understandable in a generic study of the political thought of the founding generation, but it’s problematic in a study that specifically expresses concern for biblical context and proper interpretation of Scripture.
Dreisbach obviously had to explain the interpretation of passages used to promote the American Revolution, but a truly biblical analysis of this issue would seem to require addressing the problems and inconsistencies inherent in rejecting the literal, direct interpretation in its historical and biblical context.