The Word of God and the Words of Man

BOOKS II AND III OF RICHARD HOOKER’S LAWS: A MODERNIZATION


Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is one of the great landmarks of Protestant theological literature, and indeed of English literature generally. However, on account of its difficult and archaic style, it is scarcely read today. The time has come to translate it into modern English so that Hooker may teach a new generation of churchmen and Christian leaders about law, reason, Scripture, church, and politics.

In this third volume of an ongoing translation project by the Davenant Institute, we present Books II-III of Hooker’s Laws, comprising Hooker’s treatment of Scripture’s authority in relation to the authority of reason and human law. Hooker contends that although Scripture does not change, human affairs do, and so our application of Scripture to changing human societies (including the Church) requires the use of reason, prudence, and historical awareness. Scripture is our highest authority, but not the only authority that regulates human life. Perhaps more than any other part of the Laws, Hooker’s careful analysis of the relationship between the Word of God and the words of man remains intensely relevant to Christians today struggling to uphold the authority of the Bible without distorting it.

About the Author

Richard Hooker (1553/4-1600) was the pre-eminent theological writer of the Elizabethan church, and many would say in the entire history of the Church of England.

The Editors

Bradford Littlejohn (Ph.D, University of Edinburgh), is the President of the Davenant Trust and a leading scholar of Richard Hooker’s thought, having authored Richard Hooker: A Companion to His Life and Work (Cascade, 2015), and The Promise and Peril of Christian Liberty: Richard Hooker, the Puritans, and Protestant Political Theology (Eerdmans, 2017).

Brian Marr is an editor and researcher at Canon Press, an alumnus of New Saint Andrews College, and a devoted servant of the liberal arts.

Bradley Belschner is a systems analyst at EMSI, a determined generalist, and an enthusiast of Reformation theology.

Sean Duncan is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary and Assistant Rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Shreveport, LA.

Table of Contents

Introduction i
Notes on Editorial Approach xii
Book II 1
1 How Far Does the Authority of Scripture Extend? 3
2 Doing All Things to the Glory of God 8
3 Must All Things Be Sanctified by the Word of God? 11
4 Acting Without Clear Direction from Scripture 13
6 Arguments from Scripture’s Silence 21
7 The Proper Weight of Human Authority 27
8 The Right Way to Understand the Authority of Scripture 39
Book III 47
1 Defining the Church 49
2 Must Scripture Contain a Complete System of Church Government? 65
3 Church Government is not a Matter of Salvation 68
4 We Do Not Dishonor Scripture 72
 5 The Word of God and the Words of Man 74
6 All Churches Add Laws Beyond Scripture 76
7 The Appeal to “General Rules of Scripture” 78
8 Reason May Also Serve as a Tool of the Spirit 83
9 The Right Use of Reason in Devising Church Laws 102
10 Why Scriptural Commands May Not Always Bind 107
11 Can Biblical Laws Be Changed? 116

From The Word of God and the Words of Man


“There are two opinions concerning the sufficiency of Holy Scripture, each opposite to the other, but both repugnant to the truth. Rome teaches Scripture to be so insufficient that, without adding traditions, it would not contain all revealed and supernatural truth necessary for salvation. Others, rightly condemning this view, fall into the opposite ditch—just as dangerous—thinking that Scripture contains not only all things necessary for salvation, but indeed simply all things, such that to do anything according to any other law is not only unnecessary to salvation but unlawful, sinful, and downright damnable. But whatever is spoken of God or things pertaining to God other than the truth, even if it seems like an honor, is actually an injury. 
And just as exaggerated praises given to men often turn out to diminish and damage their well-deserved reputations, so we must likewise beware lest, in attributing too much to Scripture, such unbelievable claims cause even those virtues which Scripture truly possesses to be less reverently esteemed.”

How it Started

About The Davenant Institute

The Davenant Institute supports the renewal of Christian wisdom for the contemporary church. It seeks to sponsor historical scholarship at the intersection of the church and academy, build networks of friendship and collaboration within the Reformed and evangelical world, and equip the saints with time-tested resources for faithful public witness. See more at www.davenantinstitute.org.