Daniel Dreisbach: Author of Reading the Bible With the Founding Fathers talks about how much our government, our Constitution, the Declaration, and the very formation of our country is founded on Bible principles. David also outlines many of the casual sayings that we use in our daily language are direct quotes from the Bible. Listen to find out more!
Air Date: 05/25/2017
Guests: Daniel Dreisbach, David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton
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Transcription note: As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.
Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture, this is WallBuilders Live! We’re talking about today’s hottest topics on policy, faith, and the culture, always looking at it from Biblical, historical, and constitutional perspective.
We’re here with David Barton, America’s premiere historian and the founder of WallBuilders. Also, Tim Barton with us today national speaker, pastor, and president of WallBuilders. And my name’s Rick Green. I’m a former Texas state rep, national speaker, and author.
Find out more about us and the organization at our websites. There are two of them. There is WallBuilders.com. That word WallBuilders is coming out of Nehemiah, “Arise and rebuild the walls that we may no longer be a reproach.”
And then WallBuildersLive.com that’s our radio site, so you can get some of the past programs over the last few weeks and also learn more about our guests and what’s coming up.
Were the Founders Influenced By The Bible?
So, WallBuilders.com and WallBuildersLive.com. Later in the program, our special guest is Professor Dreisbach. He’s got a new book out on the Bible and the Founding Fathers. Right now we’re here with David and Tim Barden and talking about the Founders perspective on the Bible, whether or not they even studied the Bible or did it influence them at all? Did it influence the culture that the nation was built upon? David, Tim?
I don’t think there’s any way you can say that the Bible did not influence them. Because that’s documented by other political science professors. Over at the University of Houston and LSU, Political Science professors said, “Hey, where did the Founders get their ideas?”
And they looked at 15,000 writings from the Founding Era from 1762 through about 1805. In those writing, they found 3,154 direct quotes. They document it all back and found that the most cited source in the writings of the Founding Era was the Bible. Thirty-four percent of all direct quotes came out of the Bible. That was in political writings, literary writings, that’s just what was there.
We had we had a Foundation of Freedom Thursday recently where we talked about how much of the Bible influenced the American founding. And then even as we were talking last week with Kirk Cameron, how much Bible memorization there was in the Founding Era. That in the schools you memorized the Bible. You went through it, you learned it. So there’s no question the Bible had an influence.
The problem we have today is we have not studied the Bible nearly as thoroughly as previous generations have. We’re looking at statistically only 14% of folks today read the Bible on a daily basis and only down to around 5 or 6 percent have ever read through the Bible from cover to cover start to finish.
The founding generation did that every year at school. They went through the Bible. Pretty simple stuff. So they learn to think in a Biblical direction which if you understand the overarching Biblical principles then you start seeing how they make application. That’s what we lack today is the application of Biblical principles.
Is Man Inherently Good Or Inherently Bad
And there’s one that really comes to my mind. This is the kind of a question I would ask people and it tells me whether they understand Biblical principles or not. I would ask them, “Do you think man is basically good or basically bad?” And if you answer that man is basically good then I know you’ve not read the Bible very much.
Because the whole teaching of the Bible- and by the way, set the Bible aside, in history show me where that man is basically good. Man is basically bad. You take any generation, you take any nation, you take any country. You can’t say that France is basically good. Look at the revolutions they’ve had. You can’t say that that the Roman Empire was, or the Greeks were, or anybody, just can’t say that.
The only time you can say man was basically good was when he got involved with God. When God intervened and he recognized he needed God then he changed his behavior. He listened to things like the Ten Commandments, to restrain is innately bad behavior.
And so if you have a viewpoint that says, “Man is basically bad” then what you’re going to do is say, “I’m going to have to write a constitution that’s going to assume the worst about people. And therefore, I’m going to put a lot of checks and balances in there because man is not going to do the right thing naturally. He’s going to have to be forced to do it.
Therefore, we’re only going to give a few powers to the government, we’re only going to let the president do a handful of things. We’re only going to let the courts do a few things, we’re going to have checks and balances because people aren’t basically good. They will do the wrong thing.” And that’s what history teaches.
Yet, we continue to say, “Oh, man is inherently good. I expect the best.” Well, I’m an optimist too, but I’m also a realist. I want the best out of people but I know that they will not be good without God having changed their life, directed their heart, or unless they conform themselves.
And there are people who are not God people who live by the Ten Commandments. Ok, that’s good. I can handle that. If you’re willing to live by God’s rules then you will have a good culture.
So you have to desire that culture knowing man and understanding- So the Biblical worldview of the nature of man had to have influenced them.
Even The Leading Atheist Knows This Truth About The Bible
I mean, you asked the question, “Did the Bible have an impact?” Yeah, it had an impact, but it had an impact on their thinking. And once you start thinking Biblically then you really see how the Bible influenced what they did.
And while you can’t necessarily point the Constitution and every clause of the Constitution has a Bible reference in it and every clause of the Constitution has an overarching Biblical theme to it. Because they understood the nature of man, the nature of God, the nature of government, and that all comes from a study of the Bible in the study of history.
And guys, I would even point out that someone like Richard Dawkins who is the leading spokesman of atheism in the world today even Richard Dawkins talks about the impact and influence of the Bible not just in Western culture but specifically America.
So you have now even atheists that are saying, “Well yeah, I mean the Bible influenced a lot of what happened.” And yet, today we don’t see that connection. Even a lot of Christians and conservatives who want our nation to get back to the Constitution they really don’t even understand the constitutional principles that were put in place and why they were put in place.
Why do we have a separation of powers? Or why do we have different branches of government? Why do we believe in these different thoughts of accountability? There were reasons behind all of it that we used to historically know and that used to be well understood. And today we just don’t know the Bible. We don’t know history, we don’t know the Constitution, so we don’t see the connection anymore.
Can You Recognize These Verses
And I’ve heard you guys point out and just small evidence of how much we don’t know the Bible. The fact that even all the idioms that are in the Bible, and David, you did this presentation last week. We talked about you speaking at the Bible Bee Competition and you pointed out all these different phrases that people are using but they don’t know they’re from the Bible. And it’s just good evidence that we just don’t know the Bible itself but yet it’s still influencing our culture.
There are literally several hundred phrases that we use on a daily basis that are direct quotes out of the Bible and we don’t even realize that. I mean they reference the Bible and here’s just a few of them. And you hear these things on a regular basis.
If you “take something by the skin of my teeth, well, that’s in Job 19:20. Or you take what Jesus said from Mark 12:41-42, that’s where we get, “I’ll give you my two cents worth.” It goes back to something Jesus said. Or we hear the phrase, “A leopard can’t change its spots.” Yeah, that’s a quote out of Jeremiah 13:23. Or “It’s a sign of the times.” Well, that’s Jesus saying that Matthew 16:3. “Boy, that’s a real fly in the ointment.” Welcome to Ecclesiastes 10:01. “Hey, this is from the cradle to the grave.” I think Hillary used to talk about that for health care. That’s a quote out of Job 10:19. I mean, there’s hundreds of phrases we use on a daily basis and we don’t even think about where they came from. But in a Biblical thinking culture you would recognize yeah, that’s a Bible verse. I know that Bible verse.
And that’s the difference between this generation and previous generations is we recognize the Bible shaped our literature, has shaped our rhetoric. It’s shaped our politics, it’s shaped our theology, it’s shaped our education, it shaped everything. Because we used to be able to recognize the Bible. Today, we don’t recognize the Bible when we see it.
Well, those phrases may sound like little things but the overall influence on even the structure of our government and the way that it works are huge things. Professor Daniel Dreisbach has as a great book out now on reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers and pointing out that influence. He’s going to be with us when we return. You’re listening to WallBuilders Live!
Moments From America’s History
This is David Barton with another moment from America’s history. Today, numerous court decisions demonstrate that there’s often a conflict between the courts, the law, and religion. Has this conflict always existed?
Not according to James Wilson. James Wilson was a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He was a law professor as well as an original justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. James Wilson saw no conflict between religion and the law. In fact, just the contrary.
He declared, “Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is divine. Far from being rivals or enemies religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistance. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other.”
In the views of Founding Father James Wilson religion and good civil law were inseparable. For more information on God’s hand in American history contact WallBuilders at 1 800 8 REBUILD.
The Bible Was The Founders Foundation
Welcome back! Thanks for staying with us here on WallBuilders Live. Our guest today is Professor Daniel Dreisbach, a professor at American University, author of numerous works on religion, and politics, and law. Always good to have you on, sir. Thanks for coming back.
Well, thanks for having me. It’s a delight to be here.
Daniel Dreisbach Author of Reading the Bible With the Founding Fathers
Well, a new book out. Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers. So tell us about this new project.
I’m excited about it. I’ve been reading and studying the American Founding Period for many years and in my research, in my reading, I’ve often encountered the use of scripture in the political literature, the political discourse of the American founding. And so I’ve decided to sort of focus on this in this new book and to examine not only the fact that the Founders use the Bible but to go a little bit deeper and ask questions about how they use the Bible. How did they draw on scripture in their particular time in their political pursuits?
You know? I’ve heard people say before that. Yeah, they called it from the Bible but that was just a popular thing to do. Did it actually influence the way they thought and the decisions that they made?
I certainly think the answer to that is yes. Now I don’t think we can paint too broadly and say that this is true of every figure of the Founding Era. But certainly, the Bible was the most authoritative. It was the most accessible book in late 18th Century America. And it’s not going to surprise us that a generation that looks to the Bible generally is going to also draw on the Bible in their political pursuits.
So they look to the Bible for a number of things. They see in the Bible insights into things like human nature, civic virtue, political authority, and other concepts that are vital to creating a new political order. They also see in the Bible models such as Republicanism, separation of powers due process of law. These are things that they want to draw on. They want to emulate in their new political experiment that they are embarking on there at the end of the 18th Century.
How Awareness Of The Fall Of Man Changes The Culture
But let me get you to drill down on one of those. So if their view of human nature is influenced by the Bible, how did that then impact their view of how you should set up a society based on whether you believe man is inherently good or sinful? Or whether you believe power can corrupt and that sort of thing. Did that have something to do with their view on not putting too much power in one person’s hand or one branch’s particular hands?
Oh absolutely. And I think that this is part of the genius of the Founding Fathers is that they began with a realistic sober view of who we are as human beings. And they built a political society, a political order, around that awareness of man’s fallen nature.
They read Genesis Chapter 3. They know what happens there. They understand the fall. They understand a man’s sinful nature. And so if you and I were to pick up the Constitution of the United States, the thing that would grab our attention most immediately is that this is a document that’s obsessed with controlling this fallen human nature. It is replete with the design of the separation of powers necessary to check a fallen human creature who is invested with power. It’s filled with checks and balances.
And so this is very much a part of their political understanding and it works right into the political designs that they create in this new republic.
The Origins Of Our Republic
And you mentioned that earlier even the idea of a republic or a representative government, where did they draw from in the Bible on those types of things?
Well, this is interesting. So one thing we can say about the Founding generation is that they were all Republicans. They wanted to create a political system that was Republican in nature.
Now, Republicanism always meant two things to the Founders. It meant government by consent of the governed and it meant representative government. They drew on diverse traditions including the ancients, the Romans for example.
The one example that I think they come back to time and time again is the example of the Hebrew Republic. What they read about in the Books of Moses. You remember the children of Israel crossed over the Red Sea and all the responsibilities of government fall on the shoulders of Moses. And his father in law Jethro comes to him and says, “Moses you’re going to need some help in governing this tribe, these children of Israel.” And so Moses with divine providence begins to flesh out a form of government.
Now, Americans in the 18th Century read about this government in the books of Moses and in the books of Judges and Joshua and they see in that a model of Republican government. And they want to emulate that in their own system.
Getting Back To The Basics
Well, we’ve certainly been blessed as a nation and a people even generations later because of how it influenced them and the way they designed the country. And I think part of your rallying cry with this book would be, “We need to be reminded of what produced this great freedom, religious liberty, every other kind of liberty we have. The prosperity we’ve experienced, all that.” You’re kind of helping us go back to the roots of not just the Constitution or the Declaration but the things that they were reading when they created those things.
Yeah, I think that’s right. I think we can almost make that claim. And I’ve certainly heard a few voices say this, “If you want to understand the American founding you’ve got to read the Bible. In fact, one can make the claim I think quite reasonably that the Bible is among America’s founding documents.
Yes, we restudy the Constitution and Declaration but where did some of these ideas come from? Now, I don’t want to make the claim here that all of these ideas come straight out of Scripture but what I want to suggest to you is that there was a worldview shaped by Scripture and some of the very specific ideas, concepts, like cruel and unusual punishment. Oaths and affirmations, a belief in a future, state of rewards and punishments. All of these are among the ideas that begin to shape an American constitutional tradition. And these were ideas that were in many respects informed by the founding generation’s reading of the Bible.
It’s called, Reading the Bible With the Founding Fathers. Professor Daniel Dreisbach, always good to have you, sir. Great piece of work! We want people to understand the importance of reading this. This isn’t just for fun. This is purposeful reading here because it helps us to understand how to preserve the Republican and pass it on intact. We sure appreciate your time today, sir.
Well, thanks for having me on. It’s been a great pleasure.
Stay with us folks. We’ll be right back with David and Tim Barton.
H, friends! This is Tim Barton of WallBuilders. This is a time when most Americans don’t know much about American history or even heroes of the faith. I know, often times as parents, we’re trying to find good content for our kids to read.
If you remember back in the Bible, the Book of Hebrews it has the Faith Hall of Fame, where they outlined the leaders of faith that had gone before them. Well, this is something that as Americans we really want to go back and outline some of these heroes not just of American history, but heroes of Christianity and our faith as well.
I wanted to let you know about some biographical sketches we have available on our website. One is called The Courageous Leaders Collection and this collection includes people like Abigail Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Francis Scott Key, George Washington Carver, Susanna Wesley, even the Wright brothers.
There’s a second collection called Heroes of History in this collection you read about people like Benjamin Franklin, Christopher Columbus, Daniel Boone, George Washington, Harriet Tubman. The list goes on and on.
This is a great collection for your young person to have and read. And it’s a providential view of American and Christian history. This is available at WallBuilders.com.
Do You Know The Bible As Well As The Founders Did
Welcome back to WallBuilders Live! Thanks for staying with us. Thanks to Professor Dreisbach for joining us today. We’ll have a link to his book as well. In fact, we’re back with David and Tim Barton.
This really fits in even with the Founders Bible. The whole idea of reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers. It so influenced them. It’s hard to get through a chapter anywhere in the Bible that you couldn’t say, “Oh, yeah, this was over here in this writing from the Founding Fathers. This was quoted by this particular Founding Father.” Most people don’t know that. David, you’ve read just thousands and thousands and thousands of their writings. So you recognize these things as we talk about them.
I did. I loved what Daniel said, “I knew the Founders used the Bible but I wanted to go deeper.” And one of those places where it went deeper is, “Which Bible verses did they use the most?” And I was absolutely floored.
I’ve seen some of this, and the Founders, particularly George Washington talked about everyone sitting under his own vine. Well, that is a Bible verse and it meant something very specific. But Daniel shows how many Founders used that Bible verse and that Bible phrase to talk about private property and enjoying the fruits of private property. Most folks don’t know where that Bible verse came from. So Dan even talked about how often they quoted some of Bible verses which is really cool.
By the way, let me point out some of those phrases come from the minor prophets. Which if you’re reading the Bible probably if there’s anything you don’t read it’s the prophets.
So you might have read Genesis. You might have read some Psalms and Proverbs. You might have read Joshua, and Judges, Esther, that kind of stuff. You certainly probably have read some New Testament. But if there’s anything we skimp on it’s usually the prophets. And what’s astounding to me is how much of the Founding Fathers Bible references come out of the prophets. The things that we know the least of they knew so well. This is remarkable.
And it shows up in their writings. And so his book is really good on this. And Dan’s got great books. I mean, when he comes out with a book it’s really a good read. It’s worth the read.
And particularly, you get to see the inside because this goes against the counterculture. All these guys were all influenced by the secular enlightenment out of France. No, matter of fact, I wrote down the phrase they used he said, “The Constitution is a document that is obsessed with the Biblical view of man.”
I thought, that’s a great word, “obsessed.” Because as he said, “They saw the Bible as defined in human nature and civic virtue and the models Republicanism separation of powers and due process of law.” They saw the Bible as the source of all of that. And that’s what you see so much throughout the Constitution is republicanism, and separation of powers, and due process of law, and human nature, and civic virtue, and that’s all Bible concepts.
It’s like how we started. I said, “If you think man is inherently good then you don’t understand the Biblical view of man.” They didn’t believe that. They believed in the depravity of man. Matter of fact, John Adams specifically cites in multiple letters. He cites Jeremiah 17:9 as the reason they did separation of powers.
And Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is desperately wicked, who can know it?” It’s like the heart is really wicked. Who can predict what is going to do?
Let me point out too, if someone said, “Hey, I want to go back and read those letters.” What would be interesting to point out. Just so our listeners know as the Founding Fathers very rarely told you the reference for what they were quoting. They just assume the Bible was so well known.
This is such common knowledge. So John Adams says that the reason we can’t centralize powers because the heart of man is desperately wicked and no man can know it. Therefore he goes on this letter. Well, if you know Jeremiah 17:9 you realize that’s a direct quotation. That is verbatim, word for word. That is where that comes from.
And one of the things that people argue today is Bill. “Well, he never says it’s from Jeremiah 17:9.” The only way you don’t know that is if you’re Biblically illiterate. But so many of the people on the Left and the secular people they don’t know the Bible.
But if you go back and read the Founders writings or if you have read the Bible. If you study the Bible, you know what the Bible says. You will find these phrases all over their writings. But again the Founding Fathers they didn’t put the chapter and verse with it.
They just assume this is kind of an understood thing that we’re talking about where this comes from. We know because we’ve all read the Bible since we were kids. But you see this impacting influence in their own writings.
I think they would make the same argument. If we said, “Et Tu, Brute.” They’re not going to argue all this, “He’s not quoting Caesar. I didn’t really come from Julius Caesar. He’s not quoting Shakespeare. Couldn’t be.”
Yeah. But but it’s like, David, you were saying earlier they’re just not familiar. You don’t recognize the idioms or even the actual scripture. Like when he’s quoting from Jeremiah there
You know there’s so many places in the Constitution where that the language is the same kind of thing and I’ll point out just in my generation versus what we’ve done the last 20-30 years. Remember, Rick, back-back in our day even 30 years ago you remember the sign that was up every time there was a kick in the end zone?
It was John 3:16.
Oh, yeah, yeah.
Yeah. Well, we didn’t have to tell anybody what that was back then. Now if you put the sign John 3:16 up today people would say, “What in the heck is that?”
Tim Tebow and John 3:16
Well, I’ll point out when Tim Tebow and the national championship wrote John 3:16 under his eyes it was the most Googled thing. And I don’t remember how many millions of hits it got. But it was most Googled thing that day, “What is John 3:16?”
So we are now in a culture that doesn’t know John 3:16.
Really doesn’t know. And we could have 30 years ago said, “For God so loved the world.” And everybody said, “Well, that’s John 3:16. “
So back in the day, we didn’t have to tell you what the reference was. We could start the verse, you could finish it. Today, we don’t have a clue what that is.
And so that kind of language as Tim was was even giving that one example from Jeremiah 17:9 with John Adams. Let me give you one out of the Constitution. The Constitution says, “No person.” Now, this is Article 2 Section 1 paragraph 5. It says, “No person except a natural born citizen or citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of the Constitution shall be eligible to the office of president.”
Now that’s an interesting clause. Where did they come up with this? That says, “No person, except a natural born citizen, shall be eligible to the office of president.”
This concept that the leader of your nation has to be born from among you. Try to find that in a European constitution and the time. Try to find that in earlier constitutions from previous generations. Try to find that. You won’t. Where do you find it?
I actually could find it from a much earlier manuscript.
Yeah, that’s right.
You can. You just have to go back a couple of thousand years.
You have to go back 2500 years and you go back to Deuteronomy 17:15. It says, “You shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses one from among your brethren. You shall set as king over you. You may not set a foreigner over you who is not your brother.”
Now that is the Bible saying, “Hey you cannot have the top of your nation be someone who is not someone born among you. They have to be born among you. Can’t be a foreigner. It’s got to be someone from among you.”
And then there we go to the Constitution says, “No person is not a natural born citizen shall be eligible to the office of president.”
Now that’s going to be pretty hard to argue that that’s not a reference to a biblical teaching because it’s not in the other constitutions of that day.
“Yeah, well, where did they get the idea?”
So let me give you even one more example that’s really clear. The Constitution authorizes the death penalty in two locations. One location it talks about treason which is a death penalty offense. And it says, “No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act.”
So you cannot be put to death in America unless there are two eyewitnesses to a treason. You can’t be hung for treason. You can’t be executed unless two people actually saw it.
Where do we get that? Why do we require two witnesses before you have the death penalty?
Which by the way wasn’t that way in Europe.
It was not that way in Europe. That’s right. You did not have to have any eyewitnesses.
But Deuteronomy 17:6 says, “Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death only on the testimony of two or three witnesses. He shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness.”
Now tell me that that clause the Constitution didn’t come out of that provision.
We’re asked a question. “Where did they come up with that idea?” That’s right because they did it in Europe. It wasn’t from Europe constitution. So where did that come from?
Because they did it in Europe. It wasn’t from a Europe constitution. So where did that come from?
The answer is obvious. It’s the Bible.
And that’s what Daniel Dreisbach points out is how much the Bible influenced the Constitution. I love the phrase, “They were obsessed with the Bible and the Constitution.”
So many more examples like that in the book. So it’s called Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers by Daniel Dreisbach. We will have a link today.
For more information on the Founders Bible. We will also have a link today to on WallBuilders.com. Thanks for listening today. You’ve been listening to WallBuilders Live.