“An Intent and Careful Reading.” How John Locke Read His Bible

In Luisa Simonutti (ed.), Locke and Biblical Hermeneutics: Conscience and Scripture. Springer Verlag. pp. 143-160 (2019)
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Abstract

In late October 1688 John Locke wrote, as part of a continuing and lengthy correspondence, to his friend the French biblical critic, Nicholas Toinard. Replying to enquiries about Richard Simon’s recent work the Histoire Critique he noted, “as soon as I get hold of this new critique I shall read it through carefully to see what it is made of, though the columnar book that I should compare it with is not here. That book is carefully put away: for it is the one out of all I possess that I am most anxious to preserve safe and sound.” The other book Locke was concerned to preserve was a critical harmony of the Scripture, possibly written by Toinard himself. His intention was to cross reference Simon’s philological criticisms of Scripture with the scholarly edition to verify the claims of the Frenchman’s scholarship. This process of reading shaped Locke’s convictions about religious truth. Even a casual trawl through Locke’s private letters would throw up many more examples of similar exchanges with learned men concerning the accuracy and authenticity of received Scripture. It is this picture of John Locke poring over the text of the New Testament and comparing the most up to date works of biblical criticism with the private critical researches of friends like Toinard, Le Clerc, and Newton, that should frame this contribution. Biblical criticism was an ambivalent enterprise, easily degenerating from piety to desecration.

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