Do Quakers believe in the Bible?
(Received August 3, 2009, and many other times as well.)
Do Quakers believe in the bible? I guess the short answer is yes, but the Religious Society of Friends is a made up of several diverse branches with diverse memberships, and what one person means when she says “I believe in the bible” can be very different from what another person means by the same statement, and I don’t know whether either of them would be identical to what you mean when you ask that question.
Generally, Friends believe that the people who wrote down the words in the bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and so the bible is evidence (if not a perfect record) of the Word. Friends have also believed historically, and a great many still believe, that God speaks to us directly through a deep connection that every person has with the Divine. Sometimes that connection is called the Inward Light or Christ Within or the Seed or many other names. Different branches of Friends place different emphasis on the authority of the bible versus the authority of direct revelation.
In today’s mail I received the most recent edition of the magazine Quaker Life, and this issue is entirely devoted to the topic “Friends and the Bible.” You can access a couple of the articles at: http://www.fum.org/QL/issues/0907/contents.htm.
Here are two different statements about the bible that come out of important documents from different branches of the Society of Friends (and which I am copying from the magazine I just mentioned):
The Richmond Declaration of Faith: “It [is] the belief of the Society of Friends that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by inspiration of God; that, therefore, there can be no appeal from them to any other authority whatsoever.”and
Baltimore Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice: Many differing attitudes toward the Bible can be found among Friends, but a few statements find general acceptance:
In the experience of Friends, the Bible can be rightly understood only in the light of the Spirit which inspired it; the same Holy Spirit which is available to all.
Although the word of God can be found in the Bible, inspiration may also be found elsewhere. The closing of the canon of Scripture did not signal the end of Divine inspiration.
Any part, any verse of the Bible can best be understood in the light of the whole, so that care should be taken in the use of passages removed from their contexts.
Detailed understanding of the Bible can be reached only through study of the times and circumstances of the writing, in the light of various commentaries and translations.
I am afraid this response is both too long for your simple question, and way too short to capture a fair representation of the breadth of Friends’ relationship with scripture. I hope it is at least a little bit helpful.
Peace to you,