John Locke’s Biblical Anthropology & Its Theological, Philosophical, & Political Trajectories

John Locke was a polymath who spent the last decade of his life focusing mainly on epistemology and the Christian religion. While I have argued elsewhere alongside of others that Locke is a systematic thinker and that the Christian religion is one of his main concerns (examples: Joshua Mitchell and John Dunn against the Straussians and others) throughout his “non-theological” works, he does not readily offer an intellectually satisfying specificity on his biblical conclusions or doctrinal views and refuses to use technical, non-biblical terminology unless necessary. As a case in point, to end a lengthening debate with Edward Stillingfleet over the Trinity and other issues, Stillingfleet asks Locke to affirm the Trinitarian doctrine so they can end their feud. Locke’s simple reply, somewhat justified by the Trinitarian controversy at the time, was: Whose version? This withholding theological approach has been the source of havoc in Lockean scholarship, making it difficult to locate his doctrinal positions with exactitude.

That said, very little has been done with Locke’s anthropology. There has been scant focus on his thinking on the imago dei or the soul. And when it comes to the relationship of Locke’s anthropology vis-à-vis the fall of humankind, interpretations range from him being a Pelagian (examples: Maurice Cranston and Stephen Snobelen) to Locke being vehemently anti-pelagian (example: Alan Sell). And, as one might expect from what has already been said, it is not easy to make accurate guesses by going to related points of doctrine. For instance, his soteriology is read as being Socinian (classical view) by some and “Arminian” by others (example: Joann Tetlow) or some sort of hybrid of the two. Moreover, John Marshall espies an evolution in Locke’s general view of mankind, moving from a rather negative assessment in his earlier works to a more commendatory view by the 1690s.

In this paper I will triangulate particulars of Locke’s anthropology and the reasons for them more specifically than anyone has yet done using his entire corpus. I will develop his rationale (biblical and otherwise) for immediate annihilationism of the “damned,” soul-sleep of the believers, his peculiar view of the imago dei, and his seemingly mythopoetic framing of early humans. I will also offer a more specific articulation of Locke’s operating conclusions pertaining to the relationship of Adam’s sin and humans. All of this will be collected into a systematic statement. This study will also index to what degree, if any, Locke succumbs to the manipulation of Scripture he decries in deists and orthodox theologians alike.

This paper will be divided into several sections. The introduction will include a state of the question and a thesis statement. Part I will provide a brief historical overview covering religious and political views on humankind in the era. Part II will briefly outline his anthropology provided in The Reasonableness of Christianity, Two Treatises on Civil Government, and his unpublished personal papers. Part III will be where I triangulate his other works to see how much more detail and rationale can be provided to that given in Part II. My conclusions will include my summative statement and, if time permits, identification of further related research projects.

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