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Biblical Themes from Patrick Henry

Sarah Lumbard
HIUS 221
January 30, 2014

On March 23, 1775 Patrick Henry stood before the House of Burgesses in St. Johns Church in Richmond Virginia. His eloquent speech, now known as the famous “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech, was given to the members of the House, which included Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. The audience was a predominately Christian audience, as most men were in colonial days. Having been moved by the Great Awakening to be more involved in the politics and be a Christian influence, Henry appealed to the patriot and the Christian in each member of the audience. Throughout Henry’s speech, biblical themes can be found. Henry was not using the biblical phrases in context per say, but he was using them as catch phrases to appeal to the Christian morals and Biblical knowledge that these men had. One of the many biblical references that jumps out is in relation to the crown not listening to the colonists as they petition for fair treatment as British subjects and respect for their rights, and yet were always denied. Henry says, “Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss.” This vivid imagery reminds us of the kiss from Judas on Jesus’ cheek as he identifies him to the Roman soldiers. Luke 22: 47b-48 says, “And he approached Jesus to kiss Him. But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” To the colonists, this kiss represents the betrayal of the King of England who continues to punish the colonists with high taxes and unfair laws. The kiss of Judas lead Jesus to the cross. Another biblical reference that stands out is when Henry says, “Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us” Here, Henry shows his belief that God is on the side of the colonists. He had led them into a land where they had freedom of worship. They were not forced to be Quaker or Catholic. They worshiped God as they thought they should. Psalm 54:5 and 7 say, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage... They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” Henry is assured that God is with them in their pilgrimage for freedom and independence from the crown, so they could remain a free country; free to worship God. A theme that is predominant in the middle of Henry’s speech is that of reconciliation. He speaks of how the Americans have tried to reconcile with England, find a compromise in their beliefs on government, laws and taxation. But no reconciliation could be made. Therefore, to have peace, a war was inevitable. After America fought for their freedom, England and America could come to terms on being equal countries and not a single Empire. In the Bible, the theme of reconciliation is found to be repeated continuously, especially in the New Testament. Colossians 1:20-22 is a great example of this as it says, “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” Lastly, the most quoted phrase, the very sentence that the speech is named after; “Give me liberty or give me death” is the very message of the gospel itself. Patrick Henry said that his two choices to continue living in the States were to have liberty from England, or death. But this message is the same as the options that mankind has. Christ has given us the option of a life of liberty in him, or death through slavery to sin. He has allowed us to have freedom because of his blood that was shed on the cross. The alternative to the life in Christ is eternal death. This phrase is powerful today, but to the audience of Christian men, grounded in faith and believing in their own liberty, this undoubtedly would have sent chills down their spines and put ideas of great freedom in their minds until nothing but the hot blood of a patriot coursed through their veins. These men who listened to arguably one of the greatest orators of the day, Patrick Henry were audience to what would become one of the most famous speeches in American history. Henry appealed to their patriotic nature, but also to their Christian beliefs and convictions of what the New World was founded on; freedom of religion. The biblical themes found here are not easily ignored or mistaken. This man knew scripture in word and in content. His beliefs are evident and his call for freedom was not easily ignored.


Henry, Patrick. “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” Speech to the Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775.
Kidd, Thomas S. "Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots." Kirkus Reviews LXXIX, no. 19 (October 1, 2011).

[ 1 ]. Thomas S. Kidd, "Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots," Kirkus Reviews LXXIX, no. 19 (October 1, 2011): pg. #,
[ 2 ]. Patrick Henry, "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" (speech, To the Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775).
[ 3 ]. Lk 22:47b-48 (NIV).
[ 4 ]. Patrick Henry, "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" (speech, To the Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775).
[ 5 ]. Ps. 54:5,7 (NIV).
[ 6 ]. Col 1:20-22 (NIV).
[ 7 ]. Patrick Henry, "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" (speech, To the Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775).…...

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