Literature Study GuidesLeviathanPart 3 Chapters 32 43 Summary

Leviathan | Study Guide

Thomas Hobbes

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Leviathan | Part 3, Chapters 32–43 : Of a Christian Commonwealth | Summary



Given the tensions between the religious and civic authorities of the mid-17th century, Thomas Hobbes uses Part 3 of Leviathan to make it clear the divine laws of Scripture (the Bible) are compatible with the natural laws of the commonwealth. Doing so ensures there is no conflict of interest between observing the divine laws and being obedient to a civil sovereign. Hobbes asserts that the days of God speaking his commands directly to human beings have passed, and what is left to guide people now is the text of the Bible. He authenticates the Scriptures by identifying their authors and the times in which they were written. He then attempts to control the narrative of the religious texts by explaining how to interpret rationally such things as angels and the Heavenly Spirit. He cautions against false prophets using "invisible powers" and delusions about heaven and hell. Hobbes dismisses these ideas as frequent tools of manipulation often used by corrupt clergy to intimidate congregants for monetary gain.

In the interest of eliminating an enormous source of conflict, Hobbes suggests the sovereign be both the civic and religious authority in the commonwealth, for if all "Christians be not contained in one commonwealth, they are not one person; nor is there a universal church that hath ... authority over them." He defends this position as biblically sound, using the covenant made between God and Abraham that empowered Abraham to become the first moral authority who was not God himself. This sets the precedent for future leaders, from Moses to the high priests, to the kings of Israel, and beyond. Hobbes also points out there is nothing in the teachings of Jesus that in any way undermines civic law, so obeying the law is publicly required, and faith is a personal matter. The only ecclesiastical power Hobbes acknowledges is the power "to persuade men to submit themselves ... to teach them ... what they are to do, that they may be received into the kingdom of God." Hobbes also quotes the scriptures of St. Peter and St. Paul, who urge obedience to civil authority in the name of God. Religious leadership, according to Hobbes, exists not as an authority over members of the congregation, but with the purpose of teaching, performing sacraments, and receiving confession.


Because Leviathan is so dominated by reason and scientific deduction, one might question why Thomas Hobbes felt compelled to devote a third of this book to a detailed interpretation of Christian scripture. Perhaps, given the radical secular tone of the rest of his philosophy, Hobbes hoped to reach a wider audience by connecting his political views to the important role of religion in the lives of his readers. Hobbes's exegesis of the books of the Bible in Leviathan reveals his intimate familiarity with Scripture and proves religious thought was an integral part of his own philosophy. Although Hobbes was branded an atheist by some who read Leviathan, others have described him as an orthodox Christian who rejected dogma and doctrines he felt distorted the teachings of Scripture. Part 3 of Leviathan is the section that caused the most uproar among religious thinkers because it radically removes ecclesiastical authority from the commonwealth and replaces it with the sovereign.

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