Whitehead’s References to the Bible

by Frederic R. Crownfield

Frederic R. Crownfield has taught at Guilford College since 1948, retiring in 1971.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 270-278, Vol. 6, Number 4, Winter, 1976. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


A comprehensive list of references and their sources made by Professor Whitehead about the Bible, along with some comments and observations by Dr. Crownfield.

Whitehead’s writings are liberally sprinkled with quotations from, and references and allusions to biblical passages. The following list of these has been accumulated over a number of years and is believed to be substantially complete for the works covered. These include PNK, CN, R, SMW, RM, PR, FR, AI, and MT as well as the miscellanies AE and ESP. Also included is his Introduction to Mathematics. The highly technical nature of Universal Algebra, "On Mathematical Concepts of the Material World," and Principia Mathematica makes it unlikely that they contain biblical references. Passages with an asterisk contain an exact quotation. When Whitehead quotes, he regularly uses the Authorized Version except that in one case (103) he seems to have the reading of the English Revised Version in mind. In the brief discussion which follows the list, passages will be referred to by their numbers.

These references are to specific passages or ideas. General comments about the Bible or large divisions thereof are not included.


(1) 1:1 -- "Plato’s notion has puzzled critics who are obsessed with the Semitic theory of a wholly transcendent God creating out of nothing an accidental universe" (PR 146).

(2) 1:3 -- "When God said ‘Let there be light,’ then there was light and not a mere imitation or statistical average" (AI 145).

(3) 1:26-31 -- "The account of the sixth day should be written, He gave them speech, and they became souls" (MT 57). See also Gen. 2:7.

(4) 2:19 -- ". . . in the garden of Eden God saw the animals before he named them: in the traditional system [of education] children named the animals before they saw them" (SMW 285).

(5) 3: 6-7---"Too many apples from the tree of systematized knowledge lead to the fall of progress" (MT 79).

(6) 3:7-- ". . . empiricists who refuse to admit experience naked and unashamed, devoid of their a priori fig-leaf" (PR 221).

(6a) 3:19 -- "The curse which has been laid on humanity, in fable and in fact, is that by the sweat of its brow shall it live" (AE 67).

_(7) 4:9 -- "The workmen were conceived as mere hands, drawn from the pool of labour. To God’s question, men gave the answer of Cain -- ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ and they incurred Cain’s guilt." (SMW 292).

(8) 5:27 -- "If Methuselah was not a well educated man, it was his own fault or that of his teachers [not lack of time]" (AE 96).

(9) 8:8,11 -- "A system of dogmas may be the ark within which the Church floats safely down the flood tide of history. But the Church will perish unless it opens its window and lets out the dove to search for an olive branch" (RM 145).

(10) 11:1-9--"Once Babylon had its chance and produced the Tower of Babel. The University of Paris fashioned the intellect of the Middle Ages. Will Harvard fashion the intellect of the twentieth century?" ("Harvard: the Future," in ESP 208).

(11) Ibid. -- "The confusion of tongues . . . may be historically doubtful . . . it is at least well founded as a reference to the confusion of races amid the slave populations supplying the mechanized manpower for the building of cities" (AI 15).

(12) 11:31; 12:5, 10, etc. -- "I assume it as an axiom, that motion is a physical fact. . . [It] presupposes rest . . . Abraham in his wanderings left his birthplace where it had ever been" (CN 105).

(13) Ibid. -- "The history of rational religion is full of tales of disengagement from the immediate social routine. . . . Abraham wandered, the Jews were carried off to Babylon and after two generations were allowed to return peacefully. St. Paul’s conversion was on a journey, and his theology was elaborated amid travel" (RM 30).

(14) 28:12 -- "It is merely a barren game to ascend from the particular to the general unless afterward we can reverse the process . . . ascending and descending on Jacob’s ladder" (AE 80).


(15) 1:13-14 -- [The ancient assumption was] "that a complex civilization requires a base of slavery. . . . The Egyptians wanted bricks, so they captured the Hebrews" (AI 14).

(16) 7:12 -- [Descartes assumes mind and matter.] "There is Aaron’s rod, and the magician’s serpents; and the only question for philosophy is, which swallows which; or whether, as Descartes thought, they all lived happily together" (SMW 204).

(17) 11:2, 12:36 -- "The New Learning reacted violently against the schoolmen who were their immediate predecessors, but like the Israelites when they fled from Egypt, they borrowed their valuables" (H 6).

(18) 20:9 -- [Moral codes must be construed with common-sense] "Can we really think that no work whatever can be done on Sundays?" (MT 19f).

(19) 20:13 -- "The ten commandments tell us that in the vast majority of cases . . . slaughter should be avoided" (MT 20).


(20) 30;19 -- "The history of the Mediterranean lands, and of Western Europe, is the history of the blessing and the curse, of political organizations, of schemes of thought, of social agencies for large purposes" (PR 514).

I Samuel

(21) 3:4,6, 8 -- "No one ever says, ‘Here am I, and I have brought my body with me"’ (MT 156). Cf. Is. 6:8.

(22) 4:22 -- He remembers that at Sherborne a boy translating from the LXX, "Alas, the glory of Israel had departed" was corrected, "No, No, laddie: the glory of Israel has gone away as a colonist" [apóikistai]. ("Education of an Englishman" in ESP 37).

(23) 8:5 -- " . . the Hebrews feeling the inefficiency of casual leadership, and asking for a king -- to the disgust of the priests, or at least the later priests who wrote up the story" (Imm 696)

(24) 15;32 -- "Alien groups are then evil groups. An energetic prophet hewed Agag in pieces. Unfortunately the spiritual descendants of Samuel still survive, archaic nuisances" (AI 62).

I Kings

(25) 3:5-15--"Here I must remind you of the fine story of the Eastern king who, in a vision, chose wisdom, because for its own sake he preferred it to all the treasures of Oriental magnificence" ("Education and Self-Education" in ESP 169).

(26) Ibid. -- "The whole story of Solomon’s dream suggests that the antithesis between the two functions of Reason is not quite so sharp as it seems at first sight" (FR 30).

(27) Ibid. -- [How speculative schemes] "fulfill the promise of the dream of Solomon" (FR 57).

(28) Ibid. -- ". . . about four or five hundred years after the date of Solomon’s dream" [the Greeks initiated the theoretical development of mathematics for the love of it] (FR 58).

(29) 10:1-13 -- "We can watch Samuel and Agag succeeded by Solomon and the Queen of Sheba" (AI 66f).

(30) 11:3 -- "It is the nemesis of the reign of force . . . that the ideals of semi-divine rulers center upon some variant of Solomon’s magnificent harem of 300 wives and 700 concubines" (AI 108).

(31) Ibid. -- [He said] "his eyes twinkling, ‘It seems a little odd that a person like Solomon with his million wives and thousand concubines should have been chosen to write parts of" [the Bible] (Dial 330f).

(32) 18:44 -- [The orthodoxies of universities] "are our dangers, as yet only to be seen on the distant horizon, clouds small as the hand of a man" (ESP 26).

II Kings

(33) 18: 13 ff. -- ". . . the Jews were carried off to Babylon and after two generations . . . allowed to return peacefully" (RM 40).


(34) 1:1-3 -- ". . . the Jews were allowed to return peacefully" (RM 40).


(35) 2-15 -- "From savage legends up to Hume’s civilized Dialogues on Natural Religion, with its conversation between Job and his friends as an intermediate between the two, the same problem is discussed" (AI 141f).

° (36) 11:7 -- " ‘Canst thou by searching find out God?’ is good Hebrew, but it is bad Greek" (AI 132).

(37) lbid.. -- "Canst thou by searching describe the Universe?" (AI 185).


(38) 8:4a -- "The brotherhood of man at the top of creation ceased to be the well defined foundation for moral principles" (AI 36).

(39) 8:5 -- "Man who at times dreamt of himself as a little lower than the angels has submitted to become the servant and minister of nature" (SMW 141).

(40) 19:1 -- "The heavens had lost the glory of God" (SMW 280).

°(41) 24:1, 10 -- [An illustration of] "the glorification of power, magnificent and barbaric ‘The earth is the Lord’s. . .’ there is no solution here of the difficulties which haunted Job" (RM 54f).

° (42) 42:22 -- "Religion is the longing of the spirit that the facts of existence should find their justification in the nature of existence: ‘My soul thirsteth . . ."’ (RM 85).

°(43) 127:2 -- "The evil of the world is . . . that those elements with individual weight, by their discord, impose upon vivid immediacy the obligation that it fade into night. ‘He giveth his beloved -- sleep’" (PR 517f).

°(44) Ibid. -- "So long as the temporal world is conceived as a self-sufficient completion of the creative act . . . the best we can say of the turmoil is, ‘For so he giveth his beloved -- sleep’" (PR 519).


°(45) 1:7 -- " ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge’ an odd saying if it be true that ‘God is love’" (RM 75). See also I John 4:8.

° (46) 30:7-9 --"The search after wisdom has its origin in generalizations from experience: ‘Two things . . ."’ (RM 52f).


(47) 1:7-9 -- " ‘All the rivers run into the sea . . . there is nothing new under the sun’ was the final judgment of the Near East" [in favor of a static world] (AI 108).

° (48) 9:11 -- "There is a keen appreciation of actual fact, even when the moral is not over-clear. For example: ‘I returned. . ."’ (RM 53).


(49) 64:6 -- "Puritan divines spoke of ‘the filthy rags’ of righteousness" (SMW 274).

(50) Ibid. -- [In Calvinism] "Even good works will not save [a man], they are ‘the filthy rags"’ (Dial 61).


°(51) 37: 10 -- "The subjective ways of feeling . . . clothe the dry bones with the flesh of a real being. . . The miracle of creation is described in the vision of the prophet Ezekiel; ‘So I prophesied. . ."’ (PR 131).


(52) 5:27 -- "When [the cry for freedom] wakes, the day of God’s judgment has arrived, and the worth of human societies is being weighed in his scales" ("Education and Self-Education" in ESP 169).


°(53) 6:6 -- "These are words which Hosea ascribes to Jehovah; and he thereby employs the principles of individual criticism of tribal custom, and bases it upon direct ethical intuition" (RM 36).


° (54) 5:21 -- "The condemnation of idolatry pervades the Bible, and there are traces of a recoil which goes further. ‘I hate . . ."’ (RM 37).


(55) 2:2 -- "So far as concerns religious problems, simple solutions are bogus solutions. It is written that he who runs may read. But it is not said that he provides the writing" (AI 207). (Whitehead, like most people, interchanges the running and the reading.)


(56) 2:1 -- "The wise men of the East have been puzzling and are puzzling as to what may be the regulative secret of life. . ." (SMW 4).

(56a) 3;12 -- "Atè, the goddess of mischief [Iliad 9.500]. The chaff is burnt" (PR 373).

(57) 4:4 -- [Re Voltaire.] "If men cannot live by bread alone, still less can they do so on disinfectants" (SMW 87).

(58) 5-7 -- "At first sight the notion of any important connection between the multiplication table and the moral beauty of the Sermon on the Mount is fantastic" (MT 104).

(59) 6:28 -- ". . . formal training has a limit to its usefulness. Beyond that limit there is degeneration: ‘The lilies of the field . . ."’ (PR 514).

(60) Ibid. -- ". . . the final route of percipient occasions . . . ‘toils not neither does it spin’" (PR 516).

(61) 6:28, 34 -- "The rational conclusion from Hume’s philosophy has been drawn by those among the lilies of the field, who take no thought for the morrow" ("Uniformity and Contingency" in IS. 118f).

(62) 7:13 -- "In education, as elsewhere, the broad primrose path leads to a nasty place" (AE 7).

° (63) 7:14 -- "The final phase introduces the note of solitariness. ‘Strait is the gate . . . and few there be that find it"’ (RM 28f).

(64) 8:20 -- "Jesus homeless and self forgetful" [in list of elements evoking response] (AI 214).

° (65) 11:7 -- "In respect to our reactions to novelty we are still living in the ancient ages of Faith. "What went ye out into the wilderness to seep ("Historical Changes" in ESP 203).

(66) l1:28 -- "lowly" [in list of elements evoking response] (Al 214).

(67) 12: 1ff. -- "The disciples plucked corn on the Sabbath and are chidden by the mayor and the village council. They reply brusquely .‘What does it matter? . . ."’ (Dial 66).

°(68) 13:30 -- "Once and forever, this duty of toleration has been summed up in the words, ‘Let both grow together’. . ." (SMW 267). Cf. AI 63.

(69) 17:20 -- [Science is impossible on Hume’s principles.] "But scientific faith has risen to the occasion and has tacitly removed the philosophic mountain" (SMW 6).

(70) 18:22 -- "In this ideal world [of the Galilean peasantry] forgiveness could be stretched to seventy times seven; whereas in the real world sevenfold forgiveness touched upon the impracticable". (AI 20).

°(71) 22: 14 -- "Religion can be, and has been the major instrument for progress. But generally . . . it has not been so: ‘Many are called . . ."’ (RM 37).

(72) Ibid. -- "Many were called and all were chosen" (RM 28).

(73) 22: 21 -- "The church gave unto God the attributes which belonged to Caesar" (PR 520).

(74) Ibid. -- " ‘Render unto Caesar. . .’ was uttered by Christ in the reign of Tiberius and not by Plato four hundred years earlier . . . [But] very soon God was conceived as a principle of organization in complete disjunction from Caesar" (AI 69).

(75) Ibid. -- "Even Christ himself said practically nothing about managing a complex society, except ‘You had better pay your taxes’ but that is not a civil constitution exactly" (Dial 160, cf. 262).

(76) Ibid. -- "Render unto Caesar. . . But beyond Caesar there stretches the array of aspirations whose coordinating principle is termed God" ("An Appeal to Sanity" in ESP 65).

(77) 25:25 -- "Is [education] a talent to be hidden away in a napkin?" (AE 3). Cf. Luke 19:12 ff.

(78) Ibid. -- "So far as we can see, inorganic entities are vehicles for receiving and storing in a napkin, and for restoring without gain or loss" (PR 269).

°(79) 24:35 -- "Greek, Hebrew and Christian thought embodied notions of a static God and a world . . . finally fluent -- ‘heaven and earth shall pass away’" (PR 526).

(80) 27:24-50 -- ". . . the suffering, the agony, the tender words as life ebbed, the final despair" (AI 214). [In list of elements evoking response.]

(81) 27:35 -- "Philosophy may not neglect the multifariousness of the world -- the fairies dance and Christ is nailed to the cross" (PR 513).

(82) 27:46 -- ". . . the solitary Man on the Cross. It belongs to the depths of the religious spirit to have felt forsaken, even by God" (RM 20).

(83) 28:1-8--"The whole with the authority of supreme victory" [In list of elements evoking response.] (AI 214).


(84) 2:7 -- "Since a babe was born in a manger it may be doubted whether so great a thing has happened with so little stir" (SMW 3) [Refers to the emergence of the scientific outlook.]

(85) Ibid. -- ". . . the Mother, the Child, and the bare manger" (AI 214). [In list of elements evoking response.]

(86) 2:19 -- "Mothers can ponder many things in their hearts which their lips cannot express. These . . . constitute the ultimate religious evidence beyond which there is no appeal" (RM 67).

(87) 17:21 -- "The heaven, which Christ taught was within us, was by the popular sentiment placed above us" ("First Physical Synthesis" in IS. 6). [Explaining the shock produced by discoveries through the telescope.]

(88) Ibid. -- "The first point is the association of God with the Kingdom of heaven, coupled with the explanation that ‘The Kingdom of heaven is within you"’ (RM 72). [Referring to points receiving decisive emphasis in Jesus’ teaching.] Luke actually has "kingdom of God." There is no distinction in meaning.

(89) 23:34 -- ". . .brute necessity . . . urging on mankind apart from any human conception of an end intellectually expressed . . . Men knew not what they did" (AI 9).


(90) 1: l-15 -- [John introduces] "the doctrine of the Logos" (RM 73).

°(91) 3:8 -- "The vast mass of operations of nature appeared due to mysterious, unfathomable forces. ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth"’ (Introduction to Mathematics 36).

(92) 4:21 -- "An altar neither in Mount Gerezim nor yet at Jerusalem" (RM 146).

(93) 14:2 -- "In the realm of truth there are many mansions" (Al 314). [Referring to types of truth which sense perception is incapable of grasping.]

(94) Ibid. -- "In the house of forms, there are many mansions" [including forms of imperfection] (MT 94).

(95) 17:15-16 -- "The kingdom is in the world, and yet not of the world" (RM 88).

(96) 18:36 -- [In addition to the three main strands of thought about God there is in the Galilean origin of Christianity a strand which] "finds purpose in the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this world" (PR 520).

(97) 19:23 -- [Science] "divides the seamless coat" [by concentrating on the more superficial aspect of experience] (MT 211).

(98) 20:25 -- "The sense of touch gives a particularly vivid reference . . . Doubting Thomas wishes to touch his Lord" (Uniformity and Contingency," IS 122).

(99) 21:25 -- "I suppose even the world itself could not contain the bones of those slaughtered because of men intoxicated by" [the attraction of glory] (RM 55).


(100) 9:3 ff. -- "Paul’s conversion was on a journey" (EM 40). Cf. Genesis 12:5.

(101) 25:10 -- "After all, it is the empiricists who began this appeal to Caesar" (PR 264).


(102) Rom. 12:21 -- [Christianity, in contrast to Buddhism] "overcomes evil with good" (RM 52).

(103) Rom.. 16:9 (ERV) -- "The early Benedictine monks rejoiced in their labors because they conceived themselves as thereby made fellow-workers with Christ" (AE 67).

(104) 1 Cor. 10:11 -- "When the Bible said, ‘All these things happened unto them for ensamples’ we did not need a higher critic to tell us what was meant or how it came to be written. It was just how we felt" ("Education of an Englishman" in ESP 34).

(105) 1 Cor. 13:9 -- "We can mean ‘Now we know -- in part,’ or we can mean Now we know -- completely. The distinction marks the difference between Plato and Aristotle" (MG 670; Whitehead’s italics).

° (106) I Cor. 15:32 -- "The cry, ‘Let us eat, and drink; for tomorrow we die’ expresses the triviality of the merely finite" (MT 108).

(107) Gal. 1: 17 -- "Seeming indifference to direct historical evidence, notably in the case of St. Paul, who retired to Arabia when we should have expected him to have recourse to the disciples who had seen his Lord" (AI 212).

(108) Phil. 4:7 -- "The contrast . . . between evil and good is the contrast between the turbulence of evil and the ‘peace which passeth all understanding"’ (RM 97f).

° (109) II Thess. 1:8, 9 -- "‘In flaming fire . . .’ The populace did well to be terrified at such ambiguous good tidings" (RM 75f).

(110) 1 Pet. 2:2 -- "The pure milk of the word of the sociological Gospel, perfected in the late eighteenth century has gone sour" ("The Study of the Past" in ESP 155).

(111) 1 John. 3: 17 -- "We can prolong Hume’s list . . . the compassionate yearning is in the bowels" (PR 181).

(112) Ibid. -- Literary habits have directed attention to superficial sense evidences;] "the deeper notions of ‘bowels of compassion’ and ‘loving hearts’ are derived from experience as it functioned three thousand years ago (Imm 695).

(113) 1 John. 4:8, 16 -- [Implications of God as Father] "expounded with moving insistence in the two [sic] epistles by St. John, the author of the Gospel. To him we owe the phrase ‘God is love."’ (RM 72f).

(114) 1 John. 4:20 -- "You remember the great text of Scripture, ‘How shall a man love God whom he has not seen, if he love not his brother whom he has seen?’ This text explains the comparative failure of pretentious schemes for liberal education" ("Education and Self Education,"ESP 172).

(115) Rev. 3:16 -- "People not too hot nor too cold" (Dial 159).

° (116) Rev. 18:10-13 -- "Latin has one theme and that is Rome, the mother of Europe, and the great Babylon, the harlot whose doom is described by the writer of the Apocalypse: ‘Standing far off . . . etc. ("Place of Classics in Education," AE 105f).

(117) Rev. 21:1 -- ". . . the vague insistence of another order, where there is no unrest, no travel, no shipwreck: ‘There shall be no more sea (PR 516).

In addition to the above passages there are a number of references to ideas which cannot easily be tied to any specific passage. Such are: the Covenant (AI 82); the Day of Judgment (ESP 169); the Kingdom of Heaven (RM 87f); the concept of God as Father (RM 70); Paul’s denunciation of the Law (SMW 274).


Of the 119 references, 48 per cent are to the Old Testament, 52 per cent to the New. Most often referred to in the O. T. are Genesis (15 times), I Kings (8 times) and Psalms (7 times). Some 64 per cent of the O. T. references are to narratives. In the New Testament the Gospels account for most of the references (45, or 72 per cent). The Pauline Epistles (raising no questions about II Thess.) account for 8, I John for 4. Among the Gospels Matthew is the favorite (29 references, almost half the total for the N. T.), with John second (10 references). Mark seems never to be noticed, reflecting the fact that prior to the rise of modern critical theories Augustine’s slighting comment about the second gospel led to its general neglect.

Among Whitehead’s later works, the largest number of references is to be found in RM with 24; AI has 22, PR has 18 (two thirds in part V); SMW 11; FR 3, Imm 2, MG 1. Earlier works on mathematics, science and philosophy of science have 7 -- Introduction to Mathematics (the first reference noted); "First Physical Synthesis," CN, R have one each; "Uniformity and Contingency;" has 2. Nine references occur in papers on education, mostly in NE. Is it significant that the first allusion occurs in the book he wrote just after leaving Cambridge for London?

If we look at the topic under consideration in the immediate context the results are as follows: religion 35 per cent; philosophy (including ethics) 31 per cent; education 13 per cent; civilization (including history, evolution of society, government) 11 per cent; science 10 per cent.

When Whitehead quotes directly (22 times), he generally quotes quite accurately, though he does conflate (item 77) the parables of the talents (Matt.) and the pounds (Luke). He almost never gives chapter and verse (but see items 41, 46, 47, 50); these latter he must have looked up. (Did he read through the Wisdom literature in preparation for RM?) Otherwise, he seems usually to be quoting from memory. It seems reasonable to suppose that his knowledge of the Bible was, in general, acquired in childhood and youth.

He uses the Biblical material in various ways: often as an illustration of the point he is trying to make, but frequently simply as the source of a telling phrase which he uses in his own way, without regard to its original meaning (item 55). He uses the same passage to make quite different points (items 60-62; items 73-76).

One trivial but amusing conclusion is perhaps justified. Whitehead arrived in Boston at the end of August, 1924. That fall he was invited to give the Lowell Lectures the following February. These are the backbone of SMW. Is it too far fetched to infer from the reference to shepherds and wise men in the first few pages of SMW that he did not begin serious work on his lectures until the winter vacation, in an atmosphere of Christmas preparations? We do know that they were written very rapidly, and that he was never more than a week ahead with his completed texts (Dial 149).

There is nothing in this study to indicate that Whitehead got any of his philosophical or religious ideas directly from his contact with the Bible. Any influence it may have had was too deep and too subtle to be revealed by a survey such as this.



Dial -- Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead, as recorded by Lucien Price. Boston: Little, Brown, 1954.

Imm -- "Immortality," pages 682-700, and

MG -- "Mathematics and the Good," pages 666-81 in The Library of Living Philosophers: The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, ed. Paul Schilpp. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1941.