The Bible in American Politics
In The Political History of the Bible in America, Paul Hanson seeks a “theo-political hermeneutic” (theocratic method for the interpretation of scripture) that can guide political life in America. He reviewed the past application of the Bible to American society and politics and found they lacked a systematic foundation. Too often, the Bible was simply a source of texts chosen to support a particular position. Hanson studied Jewish and Christian history and literature, both biblical and extra-biblical, searching for an adequate hermeneutic to inform decisions in today’s world. Hanson used modern scholarship to place texts in their historical context and determine what they meant when they were written. Hanson believes that God progressively reveals Himself through texts and circumstances. Indeed, as circumstances change over time, not only are new texts written, but older texts are re-interpreted.
The Bible teaches from beginning to end that God is sovereign over both Israel and the universe and that He has chosen Israel as His people. He rescued them from slavery in Egypt and continued to bless and protect them. But He also punished them when they failed to obey His commandments. Hanson emphasizes the importance of the commandments found in Exodus 20:22-23:19, many of which protected slaves, foreigners, and the poor. God will bless such a society. The gospels show how compassionate Jesus was toward suffering people.
The kings of Judah and Israel were also to obey these laws. (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) Persians and Romans could be tolerated if they did not interfere with the worship of the one God. Similarly, early Christians had no conflict with Rome until Rome attempted to compel Christians to worship the emperor. The Bible does not prescribe any particular form of human government, but warns that man and human institutions are imperfect. The apocalyptic visions of Daniel, Revelation, and the Dead Sea scrolls all agree that the future is in the control of God, and the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth will be the work of God.
After his long survey of the history of Israel and the written commentaries on that history, he suggests guidelines for contemporary political discussion and action. We should remember that human institutions are subject to error. As individuals, we should not dogmatically assume that our positions on specific issues represent the will of God. Because we now live in a pluralistic society, we must be considerate of alternative viewpoints. In this way, we can contribute to a more just society in accord with the commandments of God.