Beyond the Conflict Between ‘Reason’ and ‘Revelation’

How Grotius uses Biblical and Traditional Resources to Loosen the Authority of the Biblical Text

in Grotiana
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In De veritate, sacrifice is appealed to as a universal rite and the ultimate guarantee of immutable truth, beyond reasonable deduction or natural instinct (Book 1, Chapter 7; cf. De satisfactione Christi). But sacrifice also stands as the ultimate example of the abrogation and alteration of law (Book 5, chs. 6–8). As an example of the abrogation of law, sacrifice signifies in both directions. The case of Abraham (Genesis 22) demonstrates God’s sovereign power of dispensatio. Divine right to radical revision is demonstrated in the command to sacrifice. But more generally it is the suspension of the command to sacrifice that stands as the ultimate sign of sovereign right not just to annotate but to radically rewrite the law. In this paper I explore how sacrifice operates as a guarantee of immutability and mutability: the intractability of scripture, and its equally necessary revision and alteration. Sacrifice reaches across all time and space, and stands as a sign of the parochialisation of biblical time and space. This tension relates to the principle of accommodation which, I argue, is already in operation in the Bible. By extrapolating this fundamentally biblical operation, Grotius produces a paradox that will help to sustain the Bible in modernity. The Bible (as emblematised in sacrifice) is localised and parochialised but also persists as a ‘universal’ foundation.

Beyond the Conflict Between ‘Reason’ and ‘Revelation’

How Grotius uses Biblical and Traditional Resources to Loosen the Authority of the Biblical Text

in Grotiana




 See Sherwood‘The God of Abraham and Exceptional States, or The Early Modern Rise of the Whig/Liberal Bible’Journal of the American Academy of Religion76.2 (2008) 312–343.


Eric NelsonThe Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought (Cambridge: Harvard University Press2010) p. 91.


Pierre Bayle‘David’ in A general dictionary historical and critical…By the Reverend Mr. John Peter Bernard; the Reverend Mr Thomas Birch;Mr John Lockman and other hands…10 vols (London 1743–41) IV pp. 532–543 (537). French text accessed via Bayle writes: ‘It is commonly believed that his adultery with Bathsheba the murder of Uriah and the numbering of the people are the only faults with which he can be charged: but this is a great mistake; for there are many other things in his life which deserve censure…’


 See Robert HillReading the Old Testament in Antioch (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature2010) pp. 36–37.


Amos FunkensteinTheology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century (London and Princeton: Princeton University Press1989) p. 222.


Harry A. Wolfson‘Extradeical and Intradeical Interpretation of Platonic Ideas’Journal of the History of Ideas22 (1961) 3–32 (3). Cf. Stephen D. Benin ‘The “Cunning of God” and Divine Accomodation’ Journal of the History of Ideas 45 (1984) 175–191.


 See Benin‘The Cunning of God’ p. 182.


AugustineDe vera religione 17.34 as trans. by John H.S. Burleigh (ed.) Augustine: Earlier Writings (Philadelphia: 1953) p. 241. For a full discussion of Augustine on sacrifice and accommodation see Stephen D. Benin ‘Sacrifice as Education in Augustine and Chrysostom’ Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 52 (1983) 7–20.


 Cf. Jonathan Sheehan‘Sacrifice before the Secular’Representations 105.1 (2009) pp. 12–36.

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