Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I am working with a document purporting to list the 100 most frequently cited Bible verses in the writings of early Quakers compiled from the Quaker Bible Index. The text below is third on the list. I have provided the AV-1611 (commonly called the KJV) as that would likely be how Fox and the first Friends heard this passage, and a more modern one (in this case the NRSV).
Acts of the Apostles 26:18 (AV-1611)
To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
Acts of The Apostles (NRSV - 1989)
to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'
Paul stands before King Agrippa and gives an account of his experience on the road to Damascus. Luke (the presumed author of Acts) has Paul place these words in the mouth of the resurrected Jesus. As such these words represent Luke's understanding of God's purpose for Paul's Gentile mission.
Example of Early Quaker Usage
Robert Barclay cites this passage along with if Ephesians 5:8, Colossians 1:13 & I Thessalonians 5:5 as part of his argument that the "Light" cannot be "any of the natural gifts or faculties of our soul, whereby we are said to be enlightened". In other words the light is not a natural part of our being even though it is universal. The reason for this is that the passages just cited depict darkness as the natural state of humanity, and the light that shines in that darkness cannot be comprehended by that darkness.
The 1st Century Christian context for the reference to "darkness" would be the universally customary (and required, unless one were Jewish) worship of pagan deities, particularly Caesar.
What 17th Century Puritans meant by "natural", who knows? Probably not, as in our time: "Contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, and nutrient salts" -- but more like "physical"?
God's breath and image, the very life in human beings -- Many people image this to be saying that God is somehow 'contained-in', limited-to, human consciousness. Therefore they oppose that with the idea that Spirit is like an external force, rather than our very nature as God's children (immature and heedless as we generally are.)
Interesting that this is No. 3. It doesn't make my top 10 but that's just me. If I was a missionary it might.
The term "natural" has always been a culturally-loaded term and as such has never been value neutral. So if by "know" you mean we cannot be certain of what the term meant in the 16th century, you are right. But we can get a little closer than throwing her arms in the air and exclaiming, "who knows?"
The shifts in the meaning of the term "nature" have been documented — at least in terms of its use in the writing. Now writing is not exactly the same as speaking — the audience for published materials is going to be somewhat more educated. But it is at least an indicator. One of my go to's when engaging early Quaker materials is etymology online. http://www.etymonline.com/word/nature.
The other place to go is to go back to the author (Barclay) and take a look at the context. Why is it important for Barclay and the Calvinists he argues against to wrestle with this distinction about whether or the Light is natural or supernatural? Although I am not an historian of the period, I have done some reading and can think of no one arguing that human beings are good by nature. Everyone seems to presuppose that at some point in primeval history human beings screwed up badly enough that they drove a wedge between themselves and God in an event commonly referred to as "The Fall" and dragged all of creation down with them. Think of it as a cultural blind spot. Although if you know of anyone from the. Who is arguing otherwise feel free to let me know.
So if Barclay in the early Quakers argued that the Light was natural to human beings (as might be implied by their claim that it was universal to human beings) they were in effect arguing that the Light was fallible — a move they did not want to make. Furthermore, Quakers are making a political statement when they assert a universal saving Light which is itself not subject to the Fall in Adam. They are essentially contending that the power to do the right thing does not invest in the power of the government to enforce the right thing on unruly individuals. It is located in the human conscience redeemed by the grace of God.
Our world today has open to it several conceptual options that I don't think was available in the 16th century. We do not necessarily have to accept the early Quaker solution to the same problems. But I think as we critique those solutions it's helpful to be aware of what problems they were solutions to.
Are we collectively like the Pope then, if we're sitting on our benches issuing minutes on certain topics? I guess the question might be whether 17th Century Quakers thought so -- as they might well have.
Definitely that problem called 'sin' is still with us. I wouldn't say we've fallen, but we've developed into armed-and-dangerous terrible-twos... And still we're in good hands; I just wish I knew how SHe's going to pull us out of this one!
I have for some time now stop thinking of "sin" as the bad things we do (mostly to one another) and to think of it as more like the messed up situations we find ourselves in where we are just plain stuck in the ways out are all about the least of two evils rather than the best of two goods. It's funny how in those situations are attempts to get out of them almost always make the problem worse. It makes me think of the old story of Brer Rabbit, who came across this fellow made of tar. When the tire baby didn't respond to his morning greeting Brer Rabbit got all flustered and give him a poke — and the next thing he knew he is all tangled up in the goo!
As the story goes — good all Brer Rabbit got out of his fix using his wits. Religion asks us to escape using our faith. And our modern culture asks us to ignore the whole situation, and spend our money on things we don't need so we can forget.
Harm or deprivation to sentient beings (including God as 'what lives their sentience') would be what that's about, at least what was meant by 'evil'.
The problem continues to be: "Why do bad things get done by good people?" There's little harm perpetrated directly, compared to the widespread complicity and assent that results from fear, indifference, unawareness, ignorance, misplaced trust and distrust. (Complete list? Redundant? I really don't know.) People just continuing whatever they're accustomed to... and/or leaping into whatever mistakes they aren't accustomed to, with equal lack of discernment? Whatever keeps us from the inspirations that would enable us to transcend whichever sort of pattern we happen to be caught in? The myriad obstacles to opening to Spirit?
Any chance you'll make the list of 100 verses public? Would be very interested in seeing it.
Good work, David. I hope you'll present other such verses using the same format, in addition to Justin's request.
The Quaker Bible Index is available at the website of Earlham School: http://esr.earlham.edu/qbi/main.htm
The 100 most frequently cited list is a PDF file I downloaded months ago and I really cannot located on the Internet anymore! I have the PDF on my computer but I'm not sure how to upload it to the site. I will see what I can do about that.