What Do Friends Think of the Bible?

The Place of Scripture
in the Faith and Practice
of the Religious Society of Friends (Conservative)

Completely Unauthorized

The most important thing to know about Scripture is that Scripture is not the most important thing. Scripture is useful, Scripture is helpful, Scripture can make Christian growth quicker and can help avoid mistakes, but Quakers use it as a tool to understand God. We do not substitute attention to it for attention to God himself. God is our primary guide, not the Bible.

Jesus stated this in no uncertain terms to the skeptical Jews: "And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life: and it is they that bear witness to me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life." (John 5:39-40.) Quakers believe that the Bible is one of the words of God-- not THE Word of God-- the Logos-- a title given only to Jesus himself. The apostle John explained it pointedly: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1). And, "And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God." (Revelation, 19:13).

Quakers follow the living Jesus, the Inward Light, the Word of God, the Holy Spirit of Christ. One of the ways God speaks to man is through the Bible. But while Scripture is important to us, we believe that the Author is a more fundamental guide than his Book. The Quaker belief in the importance of the Bible unites us in our faith and practice with many Christians. The Quaker belief that the Bible is secondary and subordinate to the Inward Light and the true Word of God separates us from many others.

Critical to this belief is the Quaker trust that God himself talks to us and inspires us personally today, just as he did to the early Christians. As George Fox put it, we believe that Christ has come to teach his people himself. These teachings come to us clearly in the form of dreams, visions, voices, and inspired spoken ministry. They come less clearly but no less importantly in the forms of feelings, inner urgings, and intuitive leadings. We also hear God in the teachings of the Bible, and we learn from him as we read it, but we do not try to limit his work with us to the Bible as his only instrument. This Quaker belief is denied by many other Christian groups, who hold that God today is silent, that prophecy has ended, that the canon is complete, and only the Bible or officially authorized priests can speak for God.

Christians agree that you cannot interpret Scripture without the Holy Spirit-- it will be merely empty words, or worse, will be mistakenly interpreted. And if Scripture cannot be understood correctly unless the Holy Spirit wills it, then the Holy Spirit is the primary guide. We must listen, first, directly to him. To say that a book written under divine inspiration is somehow more reliable than the divine inspiration itself is indefensible. The real issue, of course, is whether one believes that God inspires people today with the same Spirit that he has in the past. As Quakers, we believe that he does. That is what Quakerism is all about. We use various methods in practice to be sure that it is actually Jesus who we listen to. The Meeting community is helpful here. But sometimes the answer is obvious, as when someone with his eyes closed asks how you can be sure that the sun is shining. If your own eyes are open, you can see it!

This is not to devalue Scripture. If one of us believes that God is pointing to a belief or a leading that is inconsistent with Scripture, then that belief or leading is plainly wrong. Conservative Friends believe that the writers of the Bible were inspired by God, and God does not give contradictory answers to the same question. For the same reason, Scripture is useful when Christians have a disagreement. A prayerful, Spirit-led reading of Scripture can provide an outward objective guide for resolving the issue.

Today, members of Conservative Quaker meetings have a wide range of attitudes toward the Bible. At one end are members who base their walk with God primarily or completely on what they read and interpret in Scripture. At the other are those who mostly ignore the Bible, and rely solely on the personal leadings of the Inner Light. These two extreme views reflect in microcosm the tensions responsible for the two great Quaker schisms of the 19th century.

However, the original Conservative Quaker witness towards the value and importance of Scripture was very clear. To paraphrase Robert Barclay, "The Bible contains a faithful account of God's people through the ages, of completed and yet-to-be-completed prophecies, and of the chief principles of Christianity. However, it is not the fundamental basis of religious truth and knowledge, nor is it an adequate primary rule of Christian faith and practice, both of which are based on intuitive revelation by the Holy Spirit. But because it is true, it is an important secondary rule, subordinate to the revelations of the Holy Spirit, without whose assistance it cannot be interpreted correctly. The Holy Spirit is the primary guide."

Conservative Quakers typically read the Bible regularly and sincerely, "for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works," (II Timothy 3:16.) We value the lessons we learn from both the Old and New Testaments (although there is occasional disagreement about whether Bible passages are to be interpreted literally or figuratively). Some meetings hold regular adult classes, with readings and discussions of the Bible. Our children's Sunday Schools also base some or all of their curriculum on the Bible. Scripture is frequently quoted within spoken ministry during our meetings for worship. Some meetings also practice "Scripture reading after the manner of Friends," in which our worship consists of standing, and reading or reciting Scripture passages as led by the Holy Spirit. But in all our uses of Scripture, we try to remember that our first goal is to know God, and Scripture is one of the ways God has given us to do that.


Conservative Friends are Quakers who have continued the Christian beliefs and the original practice of waiting worship introduced by the founders of the Society in the 17th century. Ohio Yearly Meeting has maintained this tradition since our organization in 1813. We welcome visitors at any of our meetings and gatherings. Our largest congregation is Stillwater Monthly Meeting, which meets every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at the Stillwater Meeting House, 61826 Sandy Ridge Road, Barnesville, Ohio. Contact Thomas Rockwell, Clerk, at (740) 425-1780 for more information. We have other meetings in the United States and abroad. For contact information, please visit our web site at

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