Title: "Hobbes on Interpreting Scripture"
Scripture is quoted throughout Leviathan. However, most of Hobbes' contemporaries did not take his use of scripture as a mark of piety. Hobbes' exegesis, they believed, was evidence of atheism and destructive to the Christian religion. As has been often pointed out, the sovereign dictates religious practice, settles doctrinal disputes, and defines orthodoxy. While true, Hobbes also supports a thoroughly rational interpretation of scripture embedded in his view of human nature. Beliefs do not result from the will, so the sovereign cannot command us to believe anything---only to avow certain beliefs. In my presentation, I argue that there are two exigencies that motivate Hobbes' interpretation of scripture: public orthodoxy and private reasoning. They rest uneasily in a broader view of human nature.
Hobbes accounts for "the rights of sovereign power, and the duty of subjects" from natural principles: word meanings that are supported by experience or accepted definitions. To account for a Christian commonwealth, other principles must be used: namely, "supernatural revelations of the will of God," or prophesy. Revelation must be the "ground of my discourse," Hobbes tells us. God's words are unintelligible, though, and what is said in the name of God may not come from the deity, so it is hard to take Hobbes seriously when he says that revelation will ground what follows. Religious language cannot be the basis of a commonwealth since a commonwealth requires mutual transfer of rights, which requires an understandable exchange. But there is no covenant with God except through a mediator.
Claiming to ground discourse on revelations seems to lead Hobbes into contradictions. The divine word is believed immediately in God's presence, for one, and is unintelligible, for another. So he argued in the first part of Leviathan. Then, at the start of chapter 32, he claims that our response to revelation includes natural reason; it must be examined with sense and experience. Our response is not an act of "implicit faith" — though he declared that we believe God's word through a mediator before. These tensions are reconciled in a sharp distinction between our private and public persons; the results of tension can be anticipated in his broader view of human nature.