Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 October 2021
Spinoza developed a method of biblical interpretation which has guided most scholars ever since. It requires an understanding of the scriptural languages, a comparison of different discussions of the same topic (not assuming that Scripture, as the word of God, must be consistent), and an account of the authorship, date, circumstances, and transmission of each book. Renaissance humanists like Erasmus had anticipated some of his method, but Spinoza was more systematic and bolder: not only did Moses not write the Pentateuch, many of the traditional assumptions about the authorship of biblical books were mistaken. A late editor, working on now lost mss. of earlier histories, had compiled them. Spinoza writes mainly about the Hebrew Bible, but also draws challenging conclusions about the New Testament: the apostles didn’t write with prophetic authority; James was right (against Paul) to emphasize works over faith. He also suggests that the apostles probably wrote in Aramaic, so that the Greek text is a translation of a lost original. Like Erasmus, he emphasizes the moral teachings of Scripture and avoids philosophical speculations, of which the doctrine of original sin is probably the most important example. His advocacy of theological minimalism furthered the cause of religious liberty.