I was always taught that our nation was founded on Biblical principles and it is true, the first colonists did operate this way. As I worked my way through the readings this week one thing stood out to me as odd, our country’s legal foundation is based on natural law, not Biblical law. (Martin, 2006). This triggered the question, is our country and its founding documents based on Biblical principles, or from the principles of natural law? This paper will venture to answer this question by comparing some influential documents from the time of the founding fathers.
Comparison of the Declaration of Independence and The U.S. Constitution
When reading the Declaration of Independence, it became clear to me from the beginning, this document was not written from a Biblical worldview perspective. In the opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence it states, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them… (US, 1776)
The fact that it refers to one person, powers of the earth, and the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God show that this document was written from a rationalist’s point of view. God is not sovereign here man and his enlightenment via nature is. By using nature as their starting point, the rationalists changed their view from a Biblical one to that of presupposed natural law. Concluding that all law should be based on the laws of nature. (Martin, 2006).
When reading the U.S. Constitution, I developed the same impression. The preamble reads,
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (U.S. Const., preamble)
This too points to man as sovereign not God. It exemplifies the shift from the Biblical view of government being by God, of God, and for man to the rationalist view that government is by man, for man and of man. (Martin, 2006). Given the opening paragraphs of both founding documents the first common theme is apparent; these documents are written from a rationalist worldview. This means, contrary to popular belief, our country was founded on rationalistic principles not Biblical ones.
A rationalist worldview is not the only theme these documents share. The second common theme they contain is less governmental control. We see examples of this in The Declaration of Independence, all 27 of the oppressions listed in this document deal directly with the tyranny of the monarchy and the lack of freedom they allowed the colonists. The effect these oppressions tie into the writing of the Constitution The founding fathers went to great lengths when drafting the Constitution to limit the power of the government. They accomplished this feat by creating the three branches of government, the legislative, executive, and judicial. They gave each branch a specific function and instituted a system of checks and balances to further safeguard the power allowed the central government. The order in which these documents came to be added to this theme’s significance. The Declaration of Independence was first brought to light the issue of the overpowering central government, the Constitution was second, and seeks to prevent this issue in the newly founded United States of America.
Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists
The themes from the two founding documents are present in Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 Letter to the Danbury Baptists. This letter encompasses the same rationalist worldview, in his letter Jefferson states, “I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.” (Jefferson, 1802). This statement points to the U.S. adhering to natural law, not Biblical law. This also hits on the second theme of less government control. The implication that man has been restored rights under the new government means they had once been taken away; we know here that he is referring to twenty-six years earlier under the British monarchy. Thirdly, we see the founder’s view on the importance of the separation of church and state is also present in this letter, in fact, Jefferson quotes the Constitution on it directly. Despite being written over a span of twenty-six years these documents contain many commonalities.
View of the Founders: Church vs. State
I think that the signers of the founding documents held the separation of Church and State in very high regard. To me this is clear since it is explicitly stated in the First Amendment. I believe they felt this way because of the almost synonymous relationship the church and the government had in England. I also feel that given their rationalistic approach to governing the country there is no way the Church could be integrated as part of the State. This would have caused conflict within the governing body due to the Church’s Biblical approach not lining up with the government’s rationalistic one.
After examining these documents and their common themes I now see that our country and its founding documents were based on a rationalist worldview. Not only did we separate Church and State we have all but eliminated one from the other. I cannot help but think of where we would be had the country been founded on a Biblical worldview with God as sovereign instead of man. I think the Old Testament said it best, “But Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.”’ (ESV, Judges 8:23). Our nation would be even better with the Lord at the helm instead of man.
The Constitution of the United States: A transcription. (2019, June 19). Retrieved from
Declaration of Independence: A transcription. (2019, July 26). Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript
Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists (June 1998) Information Bulletin. (1998, June). Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.htmlMartin, G. R. (2006).
Prevailing Worldviews of Western Society Since 1500. Triangle Marion,
IN Publishing Company.
Judges 8, English Standard Version (ESV). (n.d.). Retrieved from