The Word of God and the Words of Man

Books II and III of Hooker’s Laws: A Modernization



About this book

“Wisdom teaches men every good way, but she does not teach every good way in the same way”

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.

Paperback | 172 pages | 5×8 | Published March 24, 2018 | ISBN 978-0999552759

If you are interested in a bulk order, we offer a 50% discount and $10 shipping for orders of 10+ books OR orders containing 5+ copies of a single book. We also offer a 60% discount and free shipping for orders with a gross retail value over $500. To place a bulk order, please contact [email protected].

From the Introduction

As the Reformation progressed, however, the newfound freedom of a church of a church that had cast off the authority of a papacy began to breed new uncertainties. After all, the Roman church had not claimed merely to tell believers what they must do to be saved, but had offered authoritative doctrinal and moral guidance on a host of matters, and also helped define the proper scope of other lesser human authorities—from parents to parliaments and everything in between. Without such guidance came the risk of moral uncertainty. And the obvious solution was to turn to the same guide that had banished uncertainty from the realm of salvation: Scripture. With the Word of God as our guide, many reasoned, we could navigate all the challenges of life together with minimal uncertainty.

But what if Scripture did not always address the moral, social, and political questions we faced? Or what if, even when it did so, its guidance was hardly transparent, or seemed specific to a particular historical context? What then? Richard Hooker worried that if Scripture was to be our guide in everything, to the point of replacing other rational and human authorities, “will not Scripture be a snare and torment to weak consciences, filling them with infinite perplexities, scruples, insoluble doubts, and extreme despairs?” It was these symptoms that he thought he witnessed in the Elizabethan Puritan movement, which claimed to find in Scripture a complete model for church government and liturgy, a complete solution to the various ills they saw afflicting the English church and society.

While their claims were in his view harmful enough even in the narrow context of debates over church government, his greatest worry was that there was little to stop this logic being extended into every area of life. Once one adopted the syllogism: “Scripture tells us everything that is necessary. It seems to us necessary to know X. Therefore, Scripture tells us X” there is no theoretical limit to what truths one may insist on reading into Scripture. 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.”

To Read More, download a free sample!


Bradford Littlejohn, The Davenant Institute

Book II

  1. How Far Does the Authority of Scripture Extend?
  2. Doing All Things to the Glory of God
  3. Must All Things Be Sanctified by the Word of God?
  4. Acting without Clear Direction from Scripture
  5. Arguments from Scripture’s Silence
  6. The Proper Weight of Human Authority
  7. The Right Way to Understand the Authority of Scripture

Book III

  1. Defining the Church
  2. Must Scripture Contain a Complete System of Church Government?
  3. Church Government Is Not a Matter of Salvation
  4. We Do Not Dishonor Scripture
  5. The Word of God and the Words of Man
  6. All Churches Add Laws beyond Scripture
  7. The Appeal to “General Rules of Scripture”
  8. Reason May Also Serve as a Tool of the Spirit
  9. The Right Use of Reason in Devising Church Laws
  10. Scriptural Commands May Not Always Bind
  11. Can Biblical Laws Be Changed?

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.

Dr. Bradford Littlejohn (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is the Founder and former President of the Davenant Institute. He also works as a Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and has taught for several institutions, including Moody Bible Institute-Spokane, Bethlehem College and Seminary, and Patrick Henry College. He is recognized as a leading scholar of the English theologian Richard Hooker and Has published and lectured extensively in the fields of Reformation history, Christian ethics, and political theology. He lives in Landrum, SC with his wife, Rachel, and four children.

Brian Marr is an editor and researcher at Canon Press and an enthusiast of Reformation theology.

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


The Davenant Institute endeavors to restore wisdom for the contemporary church. We seek to sponsor historical scholarship at the intersection of the church and academy, build friendships and facilitate collaboration within the Reformed and evangelical world, and equip the saints with time-tested resources for faithful public witness. Below are some of the works we’ve published towards that end.

Get In touch

Have questions about our resources or programs? Fill out this contact form or email us at the address below.

[email protected]

reCAPTCHA is required.