The Word of God and the Word of Man (Richard Hooker)


Richard Hooker’s aim in these two books can be seen as a pair of concentric circles.  In the outer circle he refutes the claim that we have to have a Scriptural proof for every action. On one level this claim is absurd and it is hard to imagine that his opponents took it seriously.  Perhaps, though, his opponents mean something like, “You must have a Scriptural justification for every ethical and doctrinal stance.”  Having refuted the first position, his inner circle is an attack upon the Regulative Principle of Worship.

The larger context, though, is Hooker’s defense and presentation of natural law.  While Scripture is sufficient unto salvation, Hooker warns us not to epistemologically push Scripture “beyond what the truth will bear” (Hooker 4).  To mix metaphors, you can’t force Scripture to be a Platonic database from which you can download a response to every issue in life.

Book II mainly deals with sectarian claims that you have to have a Scriptural command for each individual action, not simply in the church, but for all of life.  This is extreme and, quite frankly, absurd.  I won’t spend much time on Hooker’s rebuttals.  He draws an example from David’s life.  David had no divine command to build the temple.  True, Nathan told him he couldn’t’ do it, but he commended his intent.

Technical terminology:

Perfect: a perfect action is one that lacks nothing necessary to the end for which it was instituted (42).

Book III

The Church of Christ is his spiritual body, which cannot be perceived by the senses (III.1.1).  The visible church is one.  Wickedness in the church does not cancel the church.  This is what we tell to critics when they ask “Where was your church before Luther?”  It was in the same place the Israelites were in when they were worshiping idols.  The only change in our church was when it went from being idolatrous to more godly.

The visible church is more of a society than an assembly.  Assemblies only last for the duration to which men are called to it.

Hooker rebuts the RPW along the following lines: Either Scripture puts down a church polity in part or in whole. The latter is simply false, for there is no NT equivalent for the book of Leviticus. If they say “taken from Scripture” from its parts, then they are no different from Anglicans.

Furthermore, a “general command” necessarily excludes particular cases.  If we chose any particular, we would be violating the general command (78).

Hooker then examines the grammar of the argument: a thing ‘commanded’ in the word is not the same as ‘grounded’ in the word.  The former is positive, the latter negative.