The Lamp under the Bushel. Messianic Secrecy in Locke’s Christology
Locke published (anonymously) his first work on religious hermeneutics in 1695: The Reasonableness of Christianity as delivered in the Scriptures. The fundamental thesis of the work is that the only article of faith one must believe in order to become a Christian is that Jesus was the Messiah. This article is indeed all that is necessary to believe to be a Christian, but it is not all that one must do to deserve salvation: if you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, then you must take him as a guide in your life, and your works. You must try sincerely to understand what his teachings are and live by them. Locke’s work also seeks to respond to the following question: if Jesus was really the Messiah, and if to believe this is so important, why did he keep this identity hidden for most of his life? Why did he not declare it openly? Locke’s answers to these questions are an essential part of his interpretation. To fully understand them one must take into account two crucial contexts: the theological debate on the nature and on consequences of the original sin, in the seventeenth century, and the complex set of messianic expectations of the Jews in Jesus’ time – the Jewish messianism – to which the Reasonableness of Christianity makes extensive references to explain Jesus’ singular reserve about his messiahship.