Though scholars tend to debate how sincere Hobbes’s religiosity was, with the bulk claiming that he wasn’t particularly devout, this article focuses merely on what he represents himself as believing regarding the Bible, theology, and ecclesiology.
Hobbes believes the Old Testament was written over a long period of time by many others. He also claims Moses did not write all of the Pentateuch, using as evidence the use of past tense in some narration, and descriptions of the death of Moses, which would have been incoherent if Moses were the author. Martinich claims Hobbes was the first to hold this opinion in Europe, which seems off.
The New Testament, in contrast, was written relatively close to the events it describes, either by people who knew Jesus or who lived shortly thereafter, as with Paul. However, unlike other contemporaries, he rejected the claim that the Bible had been altered by Jews or human error noting that it contained many statements critical of priests, and, as priests had largely been in charge of it, were there alteration, those statements would have been the first excised.
Hobbes was a materialist, denying the immortality of the soul, and though that sounds as if he were an atheist, both to us and to his contemporaries, in fact there is nothing in the Bible that explicitly asserts the existence of the afterlife. On the contrary, it is clear in Job that no such thing exists. He also claimed God was a body, angels were material messengers, and that the kingdom of God was on earth.
Theology here means statements that elaborate on orthodox propositions. Hobbes was somewhere between Luther and Calvin on questions of salvation. He believed the sinner ought to desire salvation and endeavor to achieve it. Though this does not, in fact, fulfil God’s law, God acts as if it did. He also bought into prelapsarian double predestination.
In addition to believing in predestination, Hobbes was a determinist, asserting that every event has a cause, and only events are causes. Determinism doesn’t necessarily lead to predestination, but the two are compatible, which Martinich sees as logical, claiming it would be odd if his science and theology were at odds.
Hobbes is ambivalent about the idea that sinners burn in eternal hellfire, sometimes claiming hellfire to be metaphorical, sometimes claiming that an infinite number of sinners suffered for a finite time. Of course, there is something odd about Hobbes worrying about the problem, as he asserts that we can’t properly say anything about God that isn’t an honorific; thus, ’the damned burn eternally’ should be a way of honoring God, rather than an actual statement of fact.
Hobbes believed Christ died only for the elect, and that his death did not ‘satisfy’ man’s debt to God, because those terms would turn sin into a commodity. Rather, man was saved by God’s mercy alone. Faith and obedience are required for salvation, meaning all one has to do is believe in Jesus.
Ecclesiology and Liturgy
Hobbes, while objecting to the anthropomorphization of God, had no objection to a rich liturgy, filled with bells and whistles, saying that it honored God. He also thought that in the ideal world there would be uniform worship, but grudgingly supported Independency, the movement to let each church govern itself.