THE PURPOSE OF CIVIL GOVERNMENT
It is not difficult to determine from the Bible what God intends as the primary purpose for human government. Its immediate concern and function is the preservation of social order by restraining and punishing evil behavior and approving good behavior.
... the chief function of government emphasized by Paul in the thirteenth chapter of Romans is the forcible maintenance of law and order, restraining evil deeds and encouraging the good. From the statement that the authority "beareth not the sword in vain" I am compelled to conclude that extreme pacifism is erroneous and anti-scriptural. It has been argued that Paul refers only to internal police power. Such an argument seems unrealistic in view of the historical situation in which Paul wrote ....
A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion,by J. Oliver Buswell, pub. Zondervan, pp. 403,404
There are other biblically sanctioned functions to be fulfilled by the civil government. One is to be Godís "servant for your (both the individual and the society) good." We take this, in light of other scriptures, to mean "public works." The laws God gave the nation Israel through Moses, many of which are specifically mandated for the civil society rather than the religious, confirm this secondary function of the political structure. Civil rulers of the Old and New Testament times were "builders" of fortifications, water reservoirs, houses, storehouses, roads, and other public utilities. A classic example is King Hezekiahís "pool and conduit" by which he "brought water into the city" (II Kings 20:20). These two functions, civil order and civic works, must necessarily be expressed or executed through a multitude of expediencies. We will examine a number of these in later chapters.
Several biblical texts are quoted in succession. They are not in any particular sequence or arrangement. Some of the more pointed and pertinent passages will be analyzed in this chapter.
Genesis 9:5,6: For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every manís brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.
Genesis 41:46-49: Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went through all the land of Egypt . . . And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance ....
Exodus 20:12-17: Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighborís house; you shall not covet your neighborís wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighborís.
Exodus 21:12-14: Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him treacherously, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.
Laws concerning landmarks; testimonies; education; ecology; loaning of money; sexual perversion; help to the poor, widow, orphans, etc.; limits of punishment; divorce; bribery; honesty in business dealings; warfare; censuses; personal liability; restitution; treatment of employees (servants); appointment of and conduct of administrators (judges) (Deut. 16:18-20); setting up of kings (Deut. 17:14-17); duties of rulers (Deut. 17:18-20); extent of punishments to be meted out (eye for eye, etc. Deut. 19: 15-21); conscription into armed forces (Num. 1: 1ff).
Exodus 18:15-23: And Moses said to his father-in-law, Because the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between a man and his neighbor, and 1 make them know the statutes of God and his decisions . . Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God, and bring their cases to God; and you shall teach them the statutes and the decisions, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. Moreover choose able men from all the people, such as fear God, men who are trustworthy and who hate a bribe; and place such men over the people as rulers of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times; every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves; so it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.
Exodus 22:28: You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.
Deuteronomy 17:14-17: When you come to the land which the Lord your God gives you, and you possess it and dwell in it, and then say, I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are round about me; you may indeed set as king over you him whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not multiply horses for himself, or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to multiply horses, since the Lord has said to you, You shall never return that way again. And he shall not multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply for himself silver and gold.
I Samuel 8:10-18: So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking a king from him. He said, These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your Sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.
Judges 17:6: In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.
I Samuel 30:8: And David inquired of the Lord, "Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?" He answered him, "Pursue; for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue."
Proverbs 17:15: He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.
Proverbs 18:5: It is not good to be partial to a wicked man, or to deprive a righteous man of justice.
Proverbs 24:23-25: These also are sayings of the wise. Partiality in judging is not good. He who says to the wicked, "You are innocent," will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations: but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will be upon them.
Ecclesiastes 8:11: Because sentence against an evil deed is nor executed speedily, the heart of the Sons of men is fully set to do evil.
Proverbs 20:2: The dread wrath of a king is like the growling of a lion; he who provokes him to anger forfeits his life.
Proverbs 20:8: A king who sits on the throne of judgment winnows all evil with his eyes.
Proverbs 20:26: A wise king winnows the wicked, and drives the wheel over them.
Proverbs 21:1: The kingís heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.
Proverbs 23:1-3: When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully who is before you; and put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food.
Proverbs 24:23-26: Partiality in judging is not good. He who says to the wicked, "You are innocent," will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations; but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will be upon them. He who gives a right answer kisses the lips.
Proverbs 25:2-7: It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. As the heavens for height, and the earth for depth, so the mind of kings is unsearchable. Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel; take away the wicked from the presence of the king, and his throne will be established in righteousness. Do not put yourself forward in the kingís presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, "Come up here," than to be put lower in the presence of the prince.
Proverbs 28:15,16: Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor; but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days.
Proverbs 29:4: By justice a king gives stability to the land, but one who exacts gifts ruins it.
Proverbs 29:14: If a king judges the poor with equity his throne will be established forever.
Proverbs 29:16: When the wicked are in authority, transgression increases; but the righteous will look upon their downfall.
Proverbs 30:21-23: Under three things the earth trembles; under four it cannot bear up; a slave when he becomes king, and a fool when he is filled with food; an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maid when she succeeds her mistress.
Proverbs 31:4-9: It is not for kings, 0 Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink; lest they drink and forget what has been decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more. Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all who are left desolate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, maintain the rights of the poor and needy.
Ecclesiastes 4:13: Better is a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king, who will no longer take advice, even though he had gone from prison to the throne or in his own kingdom had been born poor.
Ecclesiastes 8:2-5: Keep the kingís command, and because of your sacred oath, be not dismayed; go from his presence, do not delay when the matter is unpleasant, for he does whatever he pleases. For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, "What are you doing?" He who obeys a command will meet no harm, and the mind of a wise man will know the time and way.
Ecclesiastes 10:16,17: Woe to you, 0 land, when your king is a child, and your princes feast in the morning! Happy are you, 0 land, when your king is the son of free men, and your princes feast at the proper time, for strength, and not for drunkenness!
Isaiah 26:9,10: My soul yearns for thee in the night, my spirit within me earnestly seeks thee. For when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. If favor is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness . . . and does not see the majesty of the Lord.
Psalm 72:1-16: Give the king thy justice, 0 God, and thy righteousness to the royal son! May he judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with justice! Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness! May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor! May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations! May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may righteousness flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more . . . . For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight . . . . May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may men blossom forth from the cities like the grass of the field.
II Chronicles 9:8: Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on his throne as king for the Lord your God! Because your God loved Israel and would establish them forever, he has made you king over them, that you may execute justice and righteousness.
(Words of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon)
Micah 3:1: And I said: Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Is it not for you to know justice? You who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin from off my people, and their flesh from off their bones; who eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them, and break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a caldron.
Micah 3:9-11: Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong. Its heads give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for hire, its prophets divine for money; yet they lean upon the Lord and say, "Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No evil shall come upon us."
Proverbs 8:15,16: By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles govern the earth.
Proverbs 14:34: Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.
Proverbs 11:11: By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.
Proverbs 16:8-15: Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice. A manís mind plans his way but the Lord directs his steps. Inspired decisions are on the lips of a king; his mouth does not sin in judgment. A just balance and scales are the Lordís; all the weights in the bag are his work. It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right. A kingís wrath is a messenger of death, and a wise man will appease it. In the light of a kingís face there is life, and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain.
Proverbs 19:12: A kingís wrath is like the growling of a lion, but his favor is like dew upon the grass.
Matthew 20:25-28: But Jesus called them to him and said, You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Matthew 22:1-7: And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. Again he sent other servants saying, Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast. But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry and sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Luke 13:1,2: There were some present at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus?"
(This event is recorded, so far as we know, in no other document. Evidently Pilate had to exercise force to squelch something he considered seditious. Jesus, here, forthrightly affirms the right of the civil government to put criminals to death when they are "sin-fling" against civil order.)
Luke 14:31-33: Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Luke 12:13-15: One of the multitude said to him, Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me. But he said to him, Man, who made me a judge or divider over you? And he said to them, Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a manís life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
Acts 16:37-39: But Paul said to them, They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now cast us out secretly? No! let them come themselves and take us out. The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens; so they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city.
Acts 18:14-16: But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, I should have reason to bear with you, 0 Jews; but since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves; I refuse to be a judge of these things. And he drove them from the tribunal.
Acts 19:38-41: If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against any one, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we are in danger of being charged with rioting to-day, there being no cause that we can give to justify this commotion. And when he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.
Acts 21:30-36: Then all the city was aroused, and the people ran together; they seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. He at once took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them; and when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul . . . and as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the bar-racks. And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers, because of the violence of the crowd....
Acts 22:25-29: But when they had tied him up with the thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen, and uncondemned? When the centurion heard that, he went to the tribune and said to him, What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen. So the tribune came and said to him, Tell me, are you a Roman citizen? And he said, Yes. The tribune answered, I bought this citizenship for a large sum. Paul said, But I was born a citizen. So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him instantly; and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.
Acts 23:26-30: Claudius Lysias (the tribune) to his Excellency the governor Felix, greeting. This man was seized by the Jews, and was about to be killed by them, when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. And desiring to know the charge on which they accused him, I brought him down to their council. I found that he was accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.
Acts 25:10-12: But Paul said, I am standing before Caesarís tribunal, where I ought to be tried; to the Jews I have done no wrong, as you know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death; but if there is nothing in their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar. Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go.
Acts 26:31,32: . . and when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment. And Agrippa said to Festus, This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.
II Thessalonians 2:3-7: Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed; the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.
(Paul is evidently predicting that even in the first century, some person with "religious" power and influence was eager to enthrone himself as a dictator ó probably the bishop of Rome ó but was being "restrained" at that time by the political power [Roman emperor]. When this "restraining" political power disappeared [ca 450 AD] then the papacy's power is to "restrain" human beings from obtaining dictatorial powers through religion.)
Luke 3:10-14: And the multitudes asked him (John the Baptist), What then shall we do? And he answered them, He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise. Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, Teacher, what shall we do? And he said to them, Collect no more than is appointed you. Soldiers also asked him, And we, what shall we do? And he said to them, Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.
Acts 17:26: And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him.
(Evidently God determined and allotted periods and boundaries of the habitations of mankind when he confounded their languages at the Tower of Babel ó that is, God determined they should be nationalities or "nations, . . . tribes and peoples and tongues" ó in order that the whole human race might seek its Creator.)
Luke 2: 1-5: In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary his betrothed, who was with child.
Matthew 17:24-27: When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the half-shekel tax went up to Peter and said, Does not your teacher pay the tax? He said, Yes. And when he came home, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their sons or from others? And when he said, From others, Jesus said to him, Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel; take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.
Romans 13:1-7: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good con-duct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is Godís servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid Godís wrath but also for the sake of con-science. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
I Peter 2:13-17: Be subject for the Lordís sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is Godís will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
I Timothy 2:1-4: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
I Timothy 1:8-11: Now we know that the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, immoral persons, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
Matthew 22: 15-22: Then the Pharisees went and took counsel how to entangle him in his talk. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax. And they brought him a coin. And Jesus said to them, Whose likeness and inscription is this? They said, Caesars. Then he said to them, Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesarís, and to God the things that are Godís. When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away.
After God destroyed the early anarchistic civilization with a universal flood, he decreed to Noah (the "father" of a new civilization) the institution of human government by "consent of the governed."
If anyone takes human life, he will be punished. I will punish with death any animal that takes a human life. Man was made like God, so whoever murders a man will himself be killed by his fellowman (Gen. 9:5,6, TEV).
Neither beast nor man is permitted to spill manís blood. God made man in the divine image. Human life is sacred to Almighty God. If is inviolable. it is one of the primary, unalienable, human rights. Even a dumb, amoral beast must be executed if it kills a human being (see Exod. 21:28); further, a human being who owns an animal that kills a human ó if the owner has been warned ó the owner, too, shall be executed (Exod. 21:29). Most certainly, Godís covenant with Noah decrees that any human who kills another human (willfully and culpably) must be executed. The critical phrase in the command to Noah is, " . . . of every manís brother I will require the life of man . . . . " The Hebrew word darash translated "require" is a legal term (sometimes translated, "demand") (see Deut. 23:2 1) and means that God is speaking judicially. This is a divinely imposed law for all society. The statement, " . . . of every manís brother . . . means that the whole "brotherhood of man" is responsible to establish and execute this law. All humankind is responsible to see that this law is carried out. Government by "consent" of the governed!
The divine authority to execute capital punishment for the crime of murder is delegated to the "brotherhood of man." This being granted, it is therefore right to assume that the "brotherhood of man" is also responsible to establish laws and institutions and invest certain human beings with the authority to carry out this obligation. This fundamental decree to Noah is the basis for all human, civil governance. Government is primarily ordained to guarantee the most fundamental human right ó protection of life! Whatever restraints are necessary (and divine revelation decrees that capital punishment is the most prominent restraint necessary) to sustain human life against willful, premeditated murder must be legislated and enforced.
John Locke (1632-1704), English physician, diplomat, educator, philosopher, devoted and committed Christian, wrote:
... the end of civil societyóconveniences of the state of nature which necessarily follow from every manís being judge in his own case, by setting up a known Authority, to which everyone of that society may appeal upon any injury received or controversy that may arise and which everyone of the society ought to obey ....
Two Treatises of Government, Second Treatise, VII, 90, by John Locke
Locke believed the God of the Bible was omnipotent Creator, Author of fundamental unalienable human rights (life, liberty, and property) and that civil governments were ordained primarily for the protection of those rights:
... The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: and Reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions. For men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker, all the servants of one sovereign Master, sent into the world by His order, and about His business, they are His property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during His, not one anotherís pleasure; and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one anotherís uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for ours.
Two Treatises of Government, Second Treatise, II, 6, by John Locke
Locke, himself a "closet" Puritan, greatly influenced those first Pilgrims and Puritans In England and Holland to seek religious and political freedom on the shores of the new world ó America. Thus his biblical concepts of human rights and civil government, passed on to succeeding generations of Americans, became the foundation upon which the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States (and its initial Amendments) was formed.
While no specific statement or theological concept of civil government is made, the recurring phrase, "These are the sons of . . . in their own lands, each with his own language, by their families, in their nations . . . (Gen. 10:5,20,31,32) strongly implies that Godís purpose in "confusing" the universal human language of the post-Flood civilization (see Gen. 11:1-9) into many languages was to divide humankind into a more expedient and manageable aggregate of civil government ("families . . . nations"). The purpose of civil government is to diffuse humankind over the face of the earth into the "boundaries of their habitation" as Almighty God has determined them (cf. Acts 17:26,27). This multiplication of social structures (human governments) was to defuse human pride and arrogance and drive men to "seek God, in the hope that they might find him" instead of themselves! God is not only disinterested in manís intended purpose for some "United Nations" ó he is opposed to it! Manís purpose for a "one-world" government (as evidenced in Genesis 11 and the "universal" empires of Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome) is to deify humankind and assert his omnipotence. Godís purpose in proliferation of social structures is to call man from pride and arrogance to faith and dependence upon Him.
There are several illustrations of the God-ordained purpose for civil government in the life of the patriarch Abram (Abraham). There is the protection of Abramís life and that of Sara, his wife, by "order" of Pharaoh, king of Egypt (Gen. 12:17-20). There is much the same kind of incident between Abimelech, king of Gerar, and Abraham (Gen. 20: 1ff). Evidently, the Lord expected "kings" (patriarchal or tribal leaders) to enforce laws against adultery even in those ancient, less structured societies. And of course, there is the terrible history of Sodom, Gomorrah, and Lot and his family, illustrating the consequences of social and govern-mental rebellion against the Lordís purpose for government (Genesis 13:13; 18:1-33; 19:1-38). Abrahamís nephew, Lot, was probably one of the "officials" of the government of Sodom because he was "sitting in the gate of Sodom" when the destroying angels came to the city. Lot is even called "Judge" by some of the renegades of Sodom (Gen 19:9). But "Judge" Lot was powerless against a society so lawless that mobs were ruling the city.
The most significant incident in Abramís life as a "civil governor" is in the account of the attack upon Sodom and Gomorrah, prior to their destruction, by the "kings of the East" (Chedorlaomer of Elam, et al.). When news came to Abram that these "kings of the East" had attacked the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, had looted and plundered the cities, had taken Lot and his "goods" and his family, Abram took 318 "trained" warriors of his clan and routed and pursued these armed invaders, looters and kidnappers. Abram defeated them, rescued Lot and his family, and returned the stolen property of the "king of Sodom" (see Gen. 14:1-24). Abram gave a tenth of everything taken from the "kings of the East" to Melchizedek, king of Salem, and high priest of Jehovah God (this would include some of the property of the king of Sodom). And Godís great high priest, Melchizedek, blessed Abram.
It is hermeneutically proper to conclude from this singular incident in the life of the "father of the faithful" (see Rom. 4:1-24; Gal. 3:1-29; Heb. 7:6-10; 11:8-19) that God blesses those who responsibly and actively involve themselves, by force when necessary, in carrying out Godís purposes for civil government ó protection of the human rights to life, liberty and property. While the "king of Sodom" was probably not a person whose character would be admirable, neither privately nor publicly, he still has the God-given right to possess whatever property may have legitimately come his way. Abram restored his property to him and God blessed Abram for doing so.
There are many other implications which may be drawn from this incident but they will be discussed in later chapters. It is sufficient to note here that Melchizedekís blessing upon Abram was, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!" (Gen. 14:19). It was Godís purpose that divine laws protecting human life and property be upheld and enforced, and God not only blessed Abram for enforcing them, God assisted the patriarch-king in his efforts. Any human government desiring the blessings of the Almighty Creator will follow the example of Abram!
The next indication of Divine purpose for civil government comes from the history of Joseph, son of Jacob. The story of Joseph is so familiar to anyone who has ever read the Bible, we refrain from repeating it. The account covers 13 chapters which is 26% of the first book of the Bible (Genesis, chapters 37-50). Joseph, sold into servanthood in Egypt by jealous brothers, through providential intervention is elevated to become ruler of Egypt, second only to the Egyptian Pharaoh himself (see Gen. 41:37-49). The unique civil service rendered by Joseph (only because he had the governmental authority to do so) was the salvation of the Egyptian civilization and his own Israelite family from famine and starvation (Gen. 41:53-57). Joseph, himself, was to later say to his own brothers who had wickedly sold him in-to Egyptian servitude, "As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today" (Gen. 50:20). God means for civil governments to marshal! corporate forces necessary and to exercise such powers to provide for the sustenance of "life and limb" (fundamental physical necessities) when the individuals or smaller units of society are incapable of doing so for themselves.
The book of Genesis gives no detailed account of the development of civil government. But the Bible makes no pretense to being a documentation of minute details in the history of manís "doings." The Bible claims to be a record, of sufficient, historical incidents, to prove to any honest-minded reader that God, the Creator, worked out manís redemption by coming to earth in human form in the person of Jesus Christ.
In order for the Creator to work His redemptive program with sinful man, a!! the while allowing man to exercise freedom of choice, the Creator must provide an environment of some restraint upon the self-destroying wickedness which the creatures (human beings) have chosen. Further, if the Creator is to become Man, Himself, and thrust Himself into this wicked society, establish His redeemed society ("church") composed of human beings, get a hearing for His message, and provide for the on-going of all this, He must either restrain opposition to His redemptive program by constant divine intervention (constant miracles) or do so by using secondary means. God chose the latter, and he chose civil government as the instrument.
The book of Genesis does provide brief notices of precepts and practices showing the instrumentality of civil government as God used it to begin his work of redeeming those sinful human beings who would believe and obey him. Genesis, book of "Beginnings", records the beginnings of civil government and its purpose to restrain evil and encourage good so that men may be saved.
Civil government is ordained of God as one of his instruments to bring fallen, sinful human beings to the perfection (goal or purpose) God intended for them when he created them. Man is a social being. He was created to live in societal relationship to other men and women created in the image of their Maker. He was created to be loved and to love and live in personal kinship to his Creator. The late Dr. C.C. Crawford explains the development of social organization (from family to clan, to tribe, to nation, and finally to national state) is clearly marked out in the history of various peoples. This was a perfectly natural development, corresponding to population growth and need. Civil society is necessary to protect the family against invasion of its rights, against aggression upon its order, prosperity and security . . . . The state exists and functions for the family and its individual members, not the family for the state. The state complements the family, thus actualizing and fulfilling manís natural sociality .
The natural sociality of man is actualized perfectly in civil society. (The word "civil" is from the Latin civis, "citizen," and civitas, "state.") The state is truly an e pluribus unum ("one formed of many"). By perfectly as used here is meant completely, that is, from the temporal point of view. (The word has no reference to moral perfection.) Civil society is a perfect society in that its ends are not subordinated to any other society and that it possesses within itself all the necessary means to the attainment of those ends . . . . The state is of itself sufficient to provide the additional means necessary to the general temporal welfare: no other society is required in the temporal order to complement the family . . . . The state functions properly to preserve that order in which men may develop physically, morally, mentally, and spiritually ó the fourfold development the ultimate goal of which is the attainment of wholeness (completeness) . . . . Thus it will be seen that the state has certain duties to perform . . . . Having duties to perform, the state (society acting through its government) has the right to take whatever means may be necessary to the performance of its duties, i.e., the right to impose sanctions, the right to levy and collect taxes, the right to conscript men for the common defense, etc.
The Essential Elements of a State. These are as follows: (1) A territory. Land or territory is necessary to the existence of a state . . . . The state is not something suspended in mid-air or having its existence through some form of psychic union alone. The state is not a mystic super-entity or super-organism floating around in the stratosphere. This is the specious doctrine championed by would-be tyrants eager to seize absolute power . . . . (2) Independence. The idea of subordination of another entity of some kind is foreign to the very concept of the state. (3) Government. In every state some form of government (kind of ruling regime) is necessary, for without the exercise of authority, weak or strong, regardless of its origin, no social group could be organized and held together in effective cooperation with sufficient continuity. Anarchy cannot exist in nature (which is, itself, the rule of law); neither can anarchy coexist with, or be tolerated by, the state. Even the law of the jungle is a kind of cause-and-effect order which is maintained by a strange combination of natural affinity (love and care) and sheer brute force] . .
The Final Cause of civil society (the state) is the ground of its existence (its raison díetre). From this ground or end come the rights and duties of citizens, the rights and duties of governments and the justice of all laws. Civil society exists for the attainment of a specific end ó the temporal goods of justice, order, peace, prosperity, security, etc. Hence civil society has authority for directing cooperation effectively for the attainment of its natural and proper ends . .
the state is both negative and positive in its functions. It is negative in that it functions to protect its citizens and to preserve order; it is positive in that it acts, generally speaking, for the common good, the general welfare . . . .The state is a natural society functioning to meet specific temporal needs. Where a multitude of persons live together under law there is need of peace (and peace is order): preservation of the juridicial order of rights and duties (need for this is shown by the number of persons in our penitentiaries; the anti-social we have with us always), and there is need of prosperity (a modicum of security, economic as well as political, for all, or at least opportunity for all to provide for their own material well-being). No society can afford to allow its economy to become so maladjusted that hundreds of citizens who are willing to give honest labor cannot find opportunities to make a living for themselves and their families. Hence the proper and proximate end of the state is the temporal good of justice, order, peace, prosperity, etc. Peace is the tranquility of order, resulting from the mutual fulfillment of duties and enjoyment of rights. Prosperity is not to be identified with paternalism. It is not the end of the state to act as "papa" to its members; rather, it is the stateís function to supply the means by which each member may be able to develop his physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual life, in proportion, of course, to his own ability, initiative, and willingness to work.
Common Sense Ethics, by CC. Crawford, pp. 350-354
After the book of Genesis, biblical history focuses on one theocratic (God-ruled) nation ó Israel. Israel was destined to function in the midst of and in relation to other nations and forms of government (see Deut. 4:5-8; Ezek. 5:5ff). While Israel was a theocracy ruled by religious leaders (prophets, judges, priests) such as Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Samuel, etc., and the separation of "church and state" was not as distinct as it would later become, nevertheless, the concepts of separation and limited civil government have their roots even in the Theocracy. The books of the Bible which record the theocratic era (Exodus chapter one through I Samuel chapter 7) indicate these "religious" leaders were also the nationís civil governors.
Moses was called by God to act as both religious and civil leader to deliver this special nation of Israelites from political, social, physical, and spiritual bondage under Egypt (Exod. 2:10). At this point in human history God established another kind of "kingdom" (spiritual) ó thus opening the possibility for human beings to choose to live in relationship to two kingdoms. There would be the civil "kingdom" and the spiritual "kingdom." We shall discuss the relationship between the civil and spiritual kingdoms ("church and state") in another chapter.
We turn now to precepts and/or practices illustrating the God ordained purposes for civil government. This will necessitate drawing conclusions from inferences and attempting to separate the "civil" from the "religious" because in the theocracy the two "states" are so closely meshed.
It is clear from the beginning that Moses accepted the responsibility to govern in civil matters as well as in religious matters. When one Israelite had a "dispute" (undoubtedly "civil" disputes) against another, Moses "decided" the issue (Exod. 18: 16ff). This is governing. But the disputes were so multitudinous Moses had to organize the mass of individuals into a nation by appointing subordinate "rulers" to assist him in making these civil decisions (Exod. 18:24-27). There were "civil" disputes even in a theocracy, which had to be administered. This is the purpose of civil government.
While some of the laws "of Moses" deal with religion (worship), many of them are laws about human behavior which is necessary to the maintenance of law and order and the protection of unalienable human rights (see Exodus chapters 20-23). Civil governmentís fundamental purpose is to enforce those laws that are necessary to protect human rights. And while Aaronís involvement with the "golden calf" was religious apostasy, it was at the same time civil insurrection and rebellion against the governing authority of Moses (Exod. 32:23). Moses, at Godís direction, employed force to quell the civil rebellion (Exod 32:25ff). This is the purpose of civil government. Individuals cannot be permitted to "break loose" from necessary social restraint.
The books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, dealing primarily with religious observances, contain certain laws which deal with restraints or obligations necessary to the maintenance of civil order (see Lev. 19:1-37; Num. 1:1-54; 35:1-34; Deut. 5:1-33; 19:1-21; 20:1-9; 21:1-23; 22:1-30; 23:1-25; 24:1-22; 27:15-26).
Joshua inherited the religious and civil authority of Moses (Josh. 1:1-18). He was ordered, "be careful to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you . . . " (Josh. 1:7). The people made a covenant with Joshua, "All that you have commanded us we will do . . . whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death . . . " (Josh. 1:16-18). This is the purpose of civil government. There can be no ordered society without it.
After Joshua died and the nation of Israel rebelled against Godís laws, both religious and civil, God left them to the consequences of their disobedience. They were in a constant state of oppression at the hands of nations and peoples alien to Israel, except for occasional periods of comparative peace and prosperity under the "Judges" (Othniel, Sampson, Gideon, et a!). Except for rare individuals, the office of judge was distinctly separate from that of priest. So judges were actually civil rulers and per-formed the functions of such officials in carrying out the purposes of civil government. They led the nation of Israel in wars against foreign aggression, they executed justice in civil disputes and against crime within the nation of Israel itself, and whatever prosperity the nation may have acquired was generally due to their godly civic leadership. A number of the judges, themselves, succumbed to temptation and were disobedient. But because of the rebelliousness of the Israelites at large, governing the nation was extremely difficult. A spirit of selfishness and wickedness prevailed until anarchy was the rule rather than the exception. The recurring phrase of the book of Judges is: "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6). We are told that Samuel, the last Judge of Israel, before the monarchial form of civil government was permitted by God, "administered justice to Israel . . . " (I Sam. 7:17). But it was an almost impossible task, evidently requiring so much of Samuelís time he was unable to rear his Sons up to ad-minister justice properly (I Sam. 8:4ff) and the people cried out for a different form of civil government ó a monarchy.
The period of the Judges graphically illustrates the consequences of civil governors and governments failing to fulfill their divinely ordained purposes! When there is no government, no centralized authority, or when such governments as there are do not exercise their obligations to protect the rights of individuals and their social structures, nothing is secure ó not human life, not human property (see Judges 6:1-6; 19:22-30). A "vigilante" form of government was often the only way any kind of justice could be counted upon in the days of the Judges (see Judges 20:1-48). But God has never intended that purposes of civil government be fulfilled through mob rule!
When Israel cried for "a king like all the nations" (I Sam. 8:4-9), God told Samuel to warn the people about the social and economic burdens that would fall upon them through a monarchial form of civil government (I Sam. 8:10-18). But the people insisted, naively thinking that somehow having a king would make them "like all the nations" and the king would take care of everything ó including fighting their battles for them (I Sam. 8:19-22). But the "government" of any nation ultimately rests upon the individuals within that nation. Eventually, it is individuals who must work and make a "government" prosperous; must become policemen and enforce "government" laws; must become soldiers and fight and die for the "governmentís" freedom; must pay taxes to support those who administer these duties of "governments." "There are no free lunches!"
If civil government is to fulfill its purposes and execute the actions necessary to protect the rights of the individual, some per-sons, structured by some form of organization, must administer those actions. These "administrators" must be granted by their constituents certain powers or authorities, and remuneration for services rendered.
When Samuel went to anoint Saul the first "king" of Israel, God told Samuel, " . . . and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines . . . " (I Sam. 9:16). Godís purpose for civil government in the hands of Saul was to "save" the Israelite nation from foreign aggression and oppression by alien Philistines. Samuel wrote in a book "the rights and duties of the kingship" (I Sam. 10:25) and laid it before the Lord.
Samuel told Israel, and Saul, that they and their king were to obey the same laws (I Sam. 12:14,15). The king was to fulfill the purpose of governing obeying the same law he was appointed to enforce. Saul started well, but he finished in ruin and disgrace. Saulís obsession to rule for personal fame and fortune, rather than service, alienated him from his family, turned him into a would-be murderer, brought disorder and ruin to the nation, and ended with his dishonor and suicide.
David, the "man after Godís own heart", ruled the nation well, made human rights secure (except those of Uriah and Bathsheba), caused Israel to prosper financially, but could not rule his own house. One incident in the life of David is sufficient to show that he properly carried out the purposes of civil government. It is Davidís war and execution of justice upon the marauding Amalekites (I Sam. 30:1-30). It also shows Davidís sensitivity to justice as he allowed those who stayed "by the bag-gage" to be remunerated the same as those who engaged in the action (I Sam. 30:21-25). That is the purpose of civil government. To protect the rights of individuals and see that justice is carried out. While the younger David could impartially administer justice for others, in a moment of capitulation to passion, he unjustly took another manís wife (Bathsheba) and wickedly plotted the husbandís (Uriah) death to cover up the crime (see II Sam. 11: 1ff). Davidís failure as a civil servant (and a man of God) came largely because he was taking a hiatus from his obligations as a civil ruler (II Sam. 11: 1ff).
In his later years David lapsed into a series of governing failures. He slew seven innocent descendants of Saul (II Sam. 21:7); he allowed his own sons to violate civil laws and human rights and go unpunished (II Sam. 13:1-29); his son Absalom led a civil revolt and David seemed unwilling to pursue any organized, civil punishment; and when Absalom died, David grieved so excessively that he all but abdicated his civil responsibilities (II Sam. 18:33-19:8); civil disorder persisted (II Sam. 20); Davidís last years involved a serious mistake in civil governance when he pridefully "numbered" his military forces (II Sam. 24:3,9; Psa. 30:6). David wrote the seventy-second "Psalm to Solomon" which clearly reveals his concept as to the purpose of civil government ó "judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with justice . . . prosperity for the people . . . defend the cause of the poor of the people . . . give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor - . . let righteousness flourish . . . peace abound . . . " etc. (see Psa. 72:1-20). But Solomon is the one to whom we are most indebted for elucidation concerning the purpose of civil governors and governments.
Solomon, who wrote most of the Proverbs and the book of Ecclesiastes, furnishes us with succinct wisdom about the purpose of political leadership. The following quotations are from Good News Bible, Todayís English Version, published by American Bible Society, NY
The king sits in judgment and knows evil when he sees it (Prov. 20:8, TEV).
A wise king will find out who is doing wrong, and will punish him without pity (Prov. 20:26, TEV).
When the king is concerned with justice, the nation will be strong, but when he is only concerned with money, he will ruin his country (Prov. 29:4, 1EV).
Kings cannot tolerate evil, because justice is what makes a government strong. A king wants to hear the truth and will favor those who speak it (Prov. 16:12,13, TEV).
Why do people commit crimes so readily? Because crime is not punished quickly enough (Eccl. 8:11, TEV).
Condemning the innocent, or letting the wicked go ó both are hateful to the Lord (Prov. 17:15, 1EV).
These are the solemn words which King Lemuelís mother said to him:
You are my own dear son, the answer to my prayers. What shall I tell you? Donít spend all your energy on sex and all your money on women; they have destroyed kings. Listen, Lemuel, Kings should not drink wine or have a craving for alcohol. When they drink they forget the laws and ignore the rights of people in need. Alcohol is for people who are dying, for those who are in misery. Let them drink and forget their poverty and unhappiness.
Speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves. Protect the rights of all who are helpless. Speak for them and be a righteous judge. Protect the rights of the poor and needy (Prov.
The Queen of Sheba heard of Solomonís wisdom and skill as a civil ruler. She did not believe what she heard so she visited Jerusalem to see for herself. She found those governed by Solomon to be prosperous and happy beyond what she had heard! She said," . . . Because the Lord loved Israel for ever, he has made you king, that you may execute (Heb. asoth, "to do, make, perform") justice and righteousness" (I Kings 10:9). Prosperity and happiness accrues to the nation whose government does justice and righteousness.
But, like his father before him, Solomon, in his old age, indulged himself and let the purposes of governing slip into ruin and shame. When Solomon died, his rule passed to Rehoboam, his son. Rehoboam laid upon his constituents an unreasonable tax burden, heavier than that of Solomon. Rehoboam rejected the advice of older and wiser men who counseled him, "If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever" (I Kings 12:7). Rehoboam made the mistake of thinking the purpose of government was that the people were to serve the governing authorities rather than the authorities serving the people! A revolt ensued, led by Jeroboam, Solomonís "secretary of public works." The nation of Israel was divided into two national entities (Israel ó ten tribes to the north; and Judah ó two tribes to the south). They had separate religious, political and economic structures. They often fought one another on the battlefield.
What followed was a history of idolatry, carnality, profligacy, war, exploitation, and assassination, due mainly to wicked civil governors (kings, princes, and other civil authorities). With only a few exceptions (an occasional just and righteous ruler), both nations (Israel and Judah) were governed by people who not only rejected Divine purposes for government, they turned their powers of governing upside down and used them for injustice, wickedness, and exploitation.
The consequences of such perversion in the purpose of civil government are vividly portrayed by the prophet Hosea. Hosea was called to preach to the northern kingdom, Israel, in the days of Jeroboam 11(790-725 B.C.). Hosea lived through a time of great national wickedness, social injustice, and what was nearly political anarchy. During his lifetime six kings of Israel were assassinated, each by his successor. Hosea characterizes the civil environment of his day:
Hear the word of the Lord, 0 people of Israel; for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds and murder follows murder (Hosea 4:1,2).
Hosea clearly documents the cause for this social chaos:
By their wickedness they make the king glad, and the princes by their treachery. They are all adulterers; they are like a heated oven, whose baker ceases to stir the fire, from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened. On the day of our king the princes became sick with the heat of wine; he stretched out his hand with mockers . . . (Hosea 7:3-5).
The "literary" prophets (Isaiah through Malachi) speak mostly to the issue of civil governors and governments prostituting their Divine purposes (see Isa. 3:1-15; 10:1-4; 56:10-12; Jer. 5:28; 22:11-30; 34:6-22; Ezek. 28:1-19; 29:1-32:32; Dan. 5:lff; Hosea 5:1-7:1-7; Amos 6:1-8; Micah 3:9-12; 6:9-7:7; Zeph. 3:1-3, etc.). These prophets were called primarily to focus attention on the future "King of Righteousness" ó the Messiah ó and the nature of His kingdom. Civil government was secondary in the scope of their message. They saw civil government, even that closely meshed with religion (the theocracy become monarchy) in the Israelite nation, as disastrously inadequate to be the vehicle for the redemption of mankind. Isaiah and Micah make this prominent in their writing.
However, there are a few statements in the prophets in reference to the purposes of civil government. Isaiah makes it clear that "rulers" are to" . . . cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow . . . " (Isa. 1:10,17,23). Jeremiah writes:
And to the house of the king of Judah say, Hear the word of the Lord, 0 house of David! Thus says the Lord: Execute justice in the morning, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed, lest my wrath go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of your evil doings (Jer. 21:12).
Thus says the Lord: Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and speak there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, 0 King of Judah, who sit on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place (Jer. 22:1-3).
Some of the prophets pointedly called heathen, idolatrous, Gentile governments to account. Daniel, a Jew, served in very high positions of Gentile governments. He told Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon:
Therefore, 0 king, let my counsel be acceptable to you; break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your inquiries by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your tranquility (Dan. 4:27).
Daniel also reminded Belshazzar, another ruler of Babylon, that was his responsibility to learn Almighty Godís purposes for civil government from his predecessors (Dan. 5: 17-28).
The Lord states his purposes for specific Gentile rulers in such passages as Isaiah 10:5ff; 13:3ff; 44:24-28; Jer. 27: 1-15. God pronounces judgment upon specified pagan governments for their perversion of divinely ordained purposes in civil rule: (a) destructive aggression (Amos 1:3-5); (b) kidnapping, hostage-taking, enslavement (Amos 1:6-8); (c) treaty-breaking (Amos 1:9,10); (d) pitilessness and perpetual aggression (Amos 1:11-12); (e) subjugation of other peoples and atrocities (Amos 1:13-15); (f) implacable malice (Amos 2:1-3); (g) refusing to lend military and other aid to a neighboring state under siege by foreign invaders (Obad. 11-14).
From the preaching of Jonah we infer that God expected the king of Nineveh to lead his subjects in moral reform and acknowledgment of the sovereignty of Jehovah (Jonah 3:6-10). Isaiah counseled the government of Judah to give asylum to the Moabites when they were dispossessed of their land by the king of Babylon (Isa. 16:1-5).
When Habakkuk complained that "destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arises . . . so the law is slacked and justice never goes forth . . . for the wicked surround the righteous, so justice goes forth perverted" (Hab. 1:3-4), the Lord promised to send Babylon to punish the government of Judah for its perversions of governmental purposes.
Then last, but certainly not least, in the Old Testament, is the intriguing and inspiring story of Esther. Here we see not only a demonstration of courageous application of the true purpose for civil government, but we have evidence that courageous and wise women are capable of turning a massive and complex civil government to proper, divinely ordained purposes!
Now we come to five of the most important biblical texts concerning the purpose of civil government. They are all in the New Testament. The first text, Matthew 22:15-22, is the statement of Jesus which on the surface is simple but has unfathomable and profound depth: "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesarís, and to God the things that are Godís." Here Jesus unequivocally declared there are some human "things" which belong to "Caesar" (civil government) and other human "things" which belong to God! Men, all men, live in and are obligated to two kingdoms. Not all men "render" their obligations to both kingdoms, but that does not relieve them of the obligations. Lord Acton (1836-1904), English moralist, historian and Politician, once said: "I fully admit that political Rights proceed directly from religious duties . . . . The nation is responsible to Heaven for the acts of the State." And he also said:
... when Christ said "Render Unto Caesar the things that are Caesarís and Unto God the things that are Godís," He gave to the State a legitimacy it had never before enjoyed, and set bounds to it that had never yet been acknowledged And He not only delivered the precept but He also forged the instrument to execute it. To limit the Power of the State ceased to be the hope of patient, ineffectual philosophers and became the perpetual charge of a universal church.
In other words, Lord Acton recognized the "two-kingdom" concept and that civil kingdoms derive their existence and purposes from God. It is important to note that the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ, in his terse statement, clearly declared at least one purpose or "lawful" function of civil government was to gather taxes. Jesus implied other purposes for civil governm~n~5. (a) "exercise authority" (Matt. 20:25-28); (b) make war upon recalcitrants (Matt. 22:1-7; Luke 14:31-33); (C) judge in matters of civil, temporal disputes (Luke 12:13-15); (d) punish civil disorder (Luke 13:1,2).
The next New Testament passage is I Timothy 1:8-11. Paul wrote to the young evangelist, ". . we know that the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient . . . ." In other words, if all humankind was just (upright, fair, honest, fruitful, righteous) there would be no need for law. But that is not the case! Therefore, the purpose for law is the restraint of the lawless and unjust (unfair, dishonest, malicious, violent). Since there is no such thing as law without penalty and no penalty without enforcement, there must be some government whose purpose and function is to enforce the law. T. Robert Ingram gives a unique illustration:
We may ask the question, "What would you have to do first if you undertook to organize a new club?" Even among children the answer is forthcoming almost at once: "Set up some rules or by-laws." It is so essential and so elementary that we may say it almost without thinking. It is the rules or the laws that mark out the structure or skeleton of any body of people. It is the legal system of any people which identifies a nation or an empire and locates its boundaries. That is not to say, or course, that a nation consists of its law, or that the law gives life and being to a nation. But it is to say that the law establishes a framework or bone structure in a people which gives them shape and individuality and form.
Law in its simplest form is the set of rules which are consented to and imposed upon all members of any group or people, and its purpose is to preserve the existence and identity of the group as a whole. The law sets forth the terms which every individual must observe for the sake of the whole body. The end and purpose of the law in this world is to protect society as a whole. The law protects the nation or the people from the vagaries of individuals.
Punishment repairs a broken law; it does not protect or control. So-called international law restores order in the family of . . . nations after violations by a single government. Clearly the law giver in any case is the highest authority for any people. The origin of its law is its god. The final authority for our (USA) law is our God. Since we are a people under Godís law, we are a people under God, or Godís people.
Wherever the emperor is accepted as the source of law, the emperor is also hailed as god. If Der Fuhrer or Il Duce, or The Leader, or the Soviet dictator, gives and enforces the law, he is openly declared to be god. If the final authority is claimed for parliament, parliament usurps the place of Divinity. Such a claim, in fact incited a War of Independence in the American Colonies. But if the final authority is believed to be in the whole people, the demos, then the voice of the people is said to be the voice of god and we have set up the tyranny of the mob. So we who are a people whose god is the Father of Jesus Christ, the One who created all things and who redeemed the world, look to Him for our law....
Ours is a Christian civilization. Ours is a Christian nation. Why? Because everyone in it is a Christian? Or even because its leading citizens are Christians? No indeed. We are a Christian people because the laws under which all must live ó whether Jew, Moslem, Buddhist, Confucian, or Christian ó are the laws which come from God and are enforced upon His authority through the mediation of Jesus Christ. Our laws, like all law, apply to every person alike, whether he be a Christian . . . or an atheist . . . a devout Jew or a . . . Moslem. The laws are the conditions under which all men must live if they propose to re-main within a society. They must be applied impersonally and with absolute justice. Their end is to protect society as a whole and to preserve its basic structure ó a Christian republic. (italics mine).
The World Under Godís Law, by T. Robert Ingram, pub. St. Thomas Press, pp. 3,4
Some philosophers (most prominently, Jean Jacques Rousseau ó 1712-1778) have declared "man is good by nature." That is, man left to his own instincts and feelings (without education, without social and civil laws or restraints) will behave morally and peacefully. But this is philosophical utopianism. History, from the earliest records until the present, proves otherwise.
Paul wrote to Timothy, "Now we know that the law is good . . . " (I Tim. 1:8). The Greek conjunction de used in this phrase ("Now") is to make emphatic the proposition that our knowledge of the "goodness" of "law" is a revealed knowledge. We accept the rule of law because God has told us we must have it! Those who rebel against the Bible as Godís infallible revelation to man are also in rebellion against the concept that "law" has a good purpose. If rebels are law-abiding at all, it is because they are fearful of being punished and not because they accept law and civil order as revealed and ordained by God for manís "good."
And Paulís statement to Timothy here clearly includes "civil" laws (murderers, kidnappers, perverts, perjurers, etc.) as well as religious. Actually, all "law" begins with God, whether reasoned out and legislated by human ingenuity or revealed directly by the Spirit of God. All "good" laws are ultimately "religious" and have their source in the Omniscient Lawgiver, Almighty God. We believe Paulís use of the word "law" in Tim 1:8 is, therefore, generic. He is not specifying merely the Law of Moses, although the Law of Moses certainly delineates numerous "civil" laws (restraints and obligations necessary to sustaining social structures in this present world). In this context, "bad" laws are not really laws at all. Any "law" which is contrary to the precepts or principles of the revealed will of the Divine Lawgiver (God) is a "bad" law. A human "law" that deviates from the Bible or reason guided by the Bible, is not "law" but rebellion, sedition, anarchy.
The most important point of Paulís admonition to Timothy (1:8) is that the "law is good" if anyone "uses it lawfully." Clearly, even "good laws" may become "bad" if they are used unlawfully. But what does Paul mean here? Is his statement, " . . . the law is good if anyone uses it lawfully" mere redundancy or verbosity or sophistry? No! Everyone knows that "good laws" can be abused and misused and perverted to accomplish "bad" ends. It happens all the time! This is confirmed by both Biblical and secular history from its very beginning. Jesus declared that the Pharisees and priests of his nation were blatantly perverting "good laws" for bad purposes (see Matt. 5:1-48; 12:1-14; 15:1-20; 23: 1-39, etc.).
In I Timothy 1:8 the Greek word nomimous ("lawfully") is an adverb modifying the verb chretai ("uses"). The "law" (both civil and religious) has to be used "lawfully." The same Greek adverb is used in II Timothy 2:5 declaring that athletes do not receive the winnerís prize unless they compete according to the nomimous ("rules").
Are there "laws" about how to use laws, or "rules" about how to keep the rules? Apparently there are! The Biblical perspective on "law" is that of both precept and principle. Precepts are declarations in human language which clearly and specifically either prohibit certain actions or require certain actions. Principles are propositional statements in human language declaring the fundamental concepts or motivations or virtues which are to be the controlling factors in applying or using precepts. A precept would be a command to punish ó a principle would be the application of justice to that precept. Principles are concepts such as justice, love, truth, sanctity, freedom, dignity, decency, goodness, benevolence, honesty, impartiality, etc. These are the principles by which men are to "lawfully" use the laws (precepts). Principles are actually the source of precepts! Statutes and edicts prohibiting or obliging specific actions are legislated and enforced to produce the character or virtue necessary to sustain human social structures. Human beings who are not inherently virtuous or principled must be forced to the level of lawfulness necessary for the maintenance of society by regulating their behavior.
Paul does not tell Timothy in this verse (1:8) where men are to find laws about using the law. He does indicate, however, in I Timothy 1:11 that "lawful" use of the law is to be "in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God . . . . " In other words, the principles by which the precepts of both civil and religious law is to be used are revealed in the Bible. We think the words "gospel of the blessed God" include the entire revelation of God (both Old Testament and New Testament). The Bible also teaches that human reason focusing on "nature" (creation) can arrive at certain principles to use in "lawfully" applying civil and religious law (Rom. 1:18-32).
The Bible says that civil government is obligated to use the law (all law) "lawfully." The principles by which this is done are found in the revealed Word of God, the Bible, and in Nature (creation). Thus law, whether civil or religious, is never an end in itself. Law is not even primarily perfected in human outcomes. Law is an expression of the Divine Personality and is therefore ultimately perfected (has its end or purpose) in Divine outcomes or purposes. That civil governments must consider themselves required to apply the law "in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God" should be no surprise when it is remembered that "there is no authority except from God . . . "and that rulers and governments are "Godís servant" for good (Rom. 13:1-7). Using the law "lawfully" can only be done by governments and governors who have surrendered to the sovereignty of the revealed Word of God, the Bible. That is what the Bible says!
It is through Jesus that all things have been created. It is through Jesus that all things hold together today. It is through Jesus that every area of life, whether private or public, will ultimately be reconciled to God. In the end every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.
From this foundational faith position . . . understand the state to be created by God in Jesus Christ and to possess a "moral" character which makes it rightly accountable for its actions. Therefore the state by its very nature is never neutral in the positions or actions it takes.
In a pluralistic society the positions the state takes are usually a composite or combination of a great many varying faith positions. (Secularism is as much a faith position as Christianity.) The final position will most likely be a compromise of these many faith positions. Therefore it is extremely misleading and dishonest to speak or act as if the state exists outside the framework of values, faith, and religious commitments, or to think of the state as existing in some sort of neutral or objective plane above and apart from such fundamental considerations. The state as a real, existing entity has a moral and religious nature, real responsibilities, and corresponding accountability.
... the state [must] recognize its position as creature and not as sovereign, to declare its dependence on God and not its in-dependence, to find knowledge, values, truth, and justice in revelation not in naturalism or secularism, and in so doing to walk humbly before God.
The Christian Statesman, Vol. CXXXI, No. 1, p. 15, Nov.-Dec., 1987, Beaver Falls, PA
It is important to notice in I Timothy 1:9 that the apostle declares, "the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient." In other words, those who are inherently (by the new birth) lawful, i.e., "constrained by the love of Christ" (II Cor. 5:14) and other principles of divine revelation do not need law in precept. Precepts, statutes, laws are "laid down" (by divine fiat) for the "lawless and disobedient" (Gr. anomois ó without-law; anupotaktois ó insubordinate, refractory, disorderly). Paul then proceeds to list some specific actions designated "lawless" or illegal by the Sovereign Lawgiver. They are:
a. Ungodly (Gr. asebes, disregard for the Person of God).
b. Sinners (Gr. hamartolois, transgressors of Godís revealed will).
c. Unholy (Gr. anosios, not separated from worldliness).
d. Profane (Gr. bebelois, filthy, vulgar, heathen, obscene).
e. Murderers of fathers (Gr. patroloais, patricide)
f. Murderers of mothers (Gr. metroloais, matricide)
g. Manslayers (Gr. androphonois, manslaughter).
h. Immoral persons (Gr. pornois, fornicators, pornographers, adulterers, etc.).
i. Sodomites (Gr. arsenokoitais, literally, "male-coitus", homosexuality, or pederasty; same word is used in I Cor. 6:9; could mean child-molesters ó especially young boys).
j. Kidnapers (Gr. andrapodistais, "man-stealers" ó would apply to kidnapping women and children, too).
k. Liars (Gr. pseustais, pseudos, fakers, false ones, "con-men").
1. Perjurers (Gr. epiorkois, literally, "take an oath against oneself" or forswear, perjurer, to contradict oneís sworn testimony).
m. And whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine (Gr. hugiainouse didaskalia antikeitaf, literally, "opposing healthful teaching").
In light of modern opinion it is very interesting to learn the Bible teaches that such things as disregard for the Person of God, disobedience to Godís will (the Bible), worldliness, obscenity, fornication, pornography, adultery, homosexuality, and lying are illegal. The Bible says the law is "laid down" to prohibit these specific actions! Not only so, any government which does not prohibit them is not using the law "lawfully"!
Perhaps we should end the discussion of this text by noting that while there are certain principles (concepts) by which precepts (statutes, edicts) are to be "used lawfully", even the principles must be defined and categorized by revealed truth (the Bible). Love, truth, justice, freedom, etc. are not self-defining. Neither is any human being or group of human beings capable of giving absolute, inviolate, infallible definitions of these principles. We must took to the Bible as the final, authoritative, infallible source and guide for definitions and precedents of "lawful" principles. In other words, all human governments are bound to seek revealed truth (the Bible) in order to know how to "use the law lawfully."
A colonial preacher named Jonathan Mayhew, preaching in Boston in 1749, stated:
it is proper for all who acknowledge the authority of Jesus Christ, and the inspiration of His apostles, to endeavor to under-stand what is in fact the doctrine which they have delivered concerning this matter (that is, temporal government). It is the duty of Christian magistrates to inform themselves what it is which their religion teaches concerning the nature and design of their office. And it is equally the duty of all Christian people to inform themselves what it is which their religion teaches concerning that subjection which they owe to the higher powers . . .
The Greek word antikeitai in I Timothy 1:10, is translated "contrary." Literally, it would be "anti-laid-down" or "against what is laid down." We should understand Paul to be saying that anything which is anti-Biblical in the "laws" of men (civil or religious) or in the "use" of those laws is wrong. That which is contrary to the Bible in civil or religious matters is opposed to the revealed will of Almighty God and the "unalienable rights" of mankind.
Clearly, the Bible says a major purpose of civil government is to "use the law lawfully." And that means according to the precepts and principles "laid down" in Godís word, the Bible. But how many Christians know this is what the Bible says? How many would believe and act upon it if they knew it? It is time for all Christians to know it and work to make it a reality in every civil government!
We come now to the third important scriptural statement about the purpose of civil government. Paul wrote to Timothy:
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Tim. 2:1-4). This is an apostleís instruction to an evangelist, a preacher, that he should involve himself, at least in prayer, in matters of civil government.
We may correctly infer from this passage that Godís desire for the human race is "law and order" in "every way." We may also infer that while all men are generally responsible to see that lifeís circumstances are "quiet and peaceable" (Rom. 12:18), it is specifically the responsibility of "kings and all who are in high positions"! This is one of the major purposes of civil government.
We note first that "urge" may not be strong enough to translate the Greek word parakalo used by Paul. Parakalo is a present active indicative verb most often translated, "I am exhorting." Second, the Greek particle oun, meaning "therefore," or "then", indicates that the "exhortation" to follow is in order to accomplish what has been said earlier ó "lawful use of the law." Third, the Greek adverb proton ("first of all," or "firstly") modifies the verb parakalo, indicating the "exhortation" about praying for all men and their governmental leaders so that a quiet and peaceable life may ensue is of primary importance. It would indicate that in order to have civil authorities who will "use the law lawfully" to bring "tranquility and peace" evangelists must teach Christians to pray for these authorities. And this is of first importance! Fourth, the Greek preposition huper translated "for" is emphatic in signifying that an act is being done with "interest or concern in the subject." It is often translated "on behalf of."
The Greek word basileon is the usual word for "king", and huperoche literally means, "to be over, to be higher, to be pre-eminent" and in this context is speaking of people in all kinds of places of civil authority. Christians are to plead with (Gr. deeseis, "entreat, supplicate") to humbly kneel before (Gr. prose uchas, "pray, do obeisance before"), to intercede (Gr. enteuxeis, "to beat a drum for, to implore, to importune") and to give thanks (Gr. eucharistias, English eucharist, bless) to the Almighty God with intense interest and concern for kings and all civil authorities. Remember, this is of first importance.
And why is it of first importance? It is "in order that" (Gr. hina) mankind may "lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectable in every way." But there is an even higher purpose for civil government than sustaining "quiet and peace" in human society. The higher purpose is in verses 3 and 4. The "quiet and peaceable life" of man is "good and acceptable in the sight of God." In other words, it pleases God. Nothing can be more important than pleasing God, or doing what God calls "good." Further, it is implied that only when there is civil "quite and peace" can men be "saved and brought to the knowledge of the truth." In other words, the gospel cannot be preached or taught and men will not be saved when nations or the world is in a state of anarchy, strife, and criminal disorder. God wants order and tranquility in human society, and he has ordained human governments and governors for that responsibility. It is the purpose of government to "use the law lawfully" to produce and sustain a peaceful (Gr. eremon, peaceful; related to the Greek word eirene from which the English words, Irene, irenic) and quiet (Gr. heschion, inner tranquility, secure) life. In addition, civil order is to be maintained by civil government so that human life may be lived in godliness (Gr. eusebeja, in well regard for the Person of God, in piety) and in all respectfulness (Gr. semnoteti, honorableness, dignity, gravity, seriousness). Indeed, the civil government must maintain order so that citizens may live seriously, and with dignity! The civil government is to so govern that frivolity, irresponsibility, in-decency, and impropriety does not hinder the peace, inner security, piety, and dignity of its citizens.
Few people know this! Few Christians, even, know it! But there are many examples and exhortations in the Bible that this is one of the purposes of civil government. Paul, even as he was on trial before the governor Felix, "argued about justice and self-control and future judgment" (Acts 24:25). Paul did more than pray about the responsibility of governors ó he lectured them at every opportunity. Darius the Persian king ordered those who were opposing Godís people in their return to Judea from exile to not only support the Jews with money, but to "pray for the life of the king and his sons" (Ezra 6:10). God, though the prophet Jeremiah, told the Jews going into exile in Babylon to" . . . seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jer. 29:7ff). Do not forget, "By justice a king gives stability to the land . " (Prov. 29:4).
There are many examples in the Old Testament of governments and rulers who contributed to frivolity, irresponsibility, and indecency rather than prohibiting it. In addition to many of the wicked kings of Israel, there is Belshazzar with his drunken orgy (Dan. 5: 1ff) and Ahasuerusí indecencies and improprieties (Esther 1:lff). History, ancient and modern, seems to be a never ending documentation that governments and civil authorities have almost all (with only a few exceptions) defaulted in varying degrees on this Biblical purpose for civil government. Most human governments make more contributions to frivolity, in-decency, irresponsibility and impropriety than they do to prohibiting it. It takes very strong, principled, courageous, impartial civil authorities and a principled and cooperative citizenry to fulfill this obligation. It would demand spiritually-oriented leaders and citizens to carry through because it involves the never-ceasing struggle of the flesh against the spirit (see Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:15-23; 8:5-8; James 4:1; I Pet. 2:11). It takes civil leaders and citizen supporters who are truly Christian.
It is significant that Paul said prayers must be offered for, "kings and authorities" so that men might " . . . come to the knowledge of the truth." Where there is no order, no peace and security ó where there is no check upon flippancy, silliness, in-decency, irresponsibility ó there can be no serious discovery of the truth. Truth is purchased only through seriousness, integrity, wholesomeness, and order. Even an austere, dictatorial government, if it keeps indecency and impropriety in check, is better than one that is corrupt, lascivious, loose and irresponsible. Truth has more opportunity to be discovered and promulgated in a dictatorial government than in one that is irresponsible, indecent and indifferent. History has also demonstrated this. The Israelites found this to be the case and so did the early Christians.
Whatever it takes, civil governments and governors are responsible to see that society is "quiet and peaceable . . . godly and respectful" in every way. These are the principles which must be present in the civil society for manís salvation and knowledge of the truth. Governments must therefore enact laws and enforce laws "lawfully" to accomplish this. Those who do not are standing in opposition to God.
Positive (statutory) law is needed to provide what are called tertiary principles. E.g., primary principles of the Natural Moral Law are such as the following: Good ought to be done, and evil avoided (that is, regardless of the setting in which the words "good" and "evil" are used); social order must be maintained; the law-abiding must be protected against the lawless; crime must be punished, injustice must be prevented, one should do as he would be done by, etc. Secondary principles of the Moral Law are such as are embodied, for example, in the Ten Commandments:
Do not commit murder, Do not lie, Do not steal, etc. Tertiary principles are those which derive from the primary and secondary principles, such as mentioned above, traffic regulations to protect manís right to life, etc. Tertiary principles, of necessity, are clarified by positive or civil law.
Law that is manifestly contrary to the Eternal Law is no law at all; no one on earth is bound by such a law as, "Do not worship God." Law which places burdens on men to satisfy the stupidity, cupidity, or ambition of an individual, a group or a majority; is simply not valid .
Common Sense Ethics, ibid, p. 272
Actually, the essential function of civil government is that of enacting the enforcing tertiary (third level) law. God Almighty has revealed the primary and secondary principles (laws) by which civil societies are to exist. God has mandated civil governments the responsibility for the next level of law ó tertiary. Tertiary laws, enacted and enforced according to Divine principles, may differ slightly from one culture or nation to another. There are geographical, historical, anthropological, and technological differences which may require varying applications or statutory modifications in different locales. But the primary and secondary principles remain the same. And all human governments are responsible to see that those Eternal Laws are kept for the benefit of truth. That is the main purpose of government. Governments that will not acknowledge or act in accordance with this purpose displease God and come under his judgments.
The right to resist unlawful authority, as set forth in the part of the Declaration (of Independence) which says "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it," identifies a higher law of God to which manís laws must conform. Unless a person recognizes some form of supreme law by which manís laws must be judged, there is no basis for believing in any form of disobedience, or that any human law or act of government is unjust.
Christianity and the Constitution by John Eidsmoe, pub. Baker, p. 363
The fourth significant statement in the New Testament about civil government is I Peter 2:13-17:
Be subject for the Lordís sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is Godís will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Peter wrote this sometime between 58-61 A.D. The infamous Nero ruled the Roman empire from 54-68 A.D. It is of great moment that Christians would be commanded by a Jewish apostle to be submissive "to the emperor as supreme," and to "honor the emperor" when that emperor was Nero Claudius Caesar Germanicus! The first years of Neroís reign were peaceful and indicative that such peacefulness might continue. Nero boasted that not a single person had been unjustly executed throughout his vast empire. Neroís private life was extremely lascivious and scandalous. He indulged himself in gluttony, homosexuality, incest, murder, adultery, fraud, exploitation and expropriation of the property of others.
While it is quite true that a Christian is obligated to disobey any order of civil government which would disobey God, it is also quite true that every Christian is obligated to obey all civil rulers and governments when those governments are carrying out their God-ordained purposes no matter how corrupt the private lives of the officials are!
As Christianity spread in the pagan world, it owed much to that order of justice which Roman rule secured. However harsh and defective that order might be, it was better far than anarchy . . . . Not law but love was the principle of the Christian life, but that did not free believers from their obligation to the State, unless these were in direct contradiction to their fidelity to God.
The Christian Way, by Sydney Cave, Pub PLI, p. 236
It will be instructive to look at a number of the words of this text in the original language. Hupotagete is in the imperative mood (meaning a command, not merely a suggestion) and is a basic military term meaning, "to put yourself under anotherís command; to rank under; to submit to." "Submit yourselves" is the NASV translation. Pase means "all, every, the whole." Anthropine is from anthropos and means "human, man-made." And ktisei is the noun form of the Greek verb ktizo which means to "create, institute, establish, found, call into being out of disorder." The phrase, dia ton kurion, is translated "for the Lordís sake"; the preposition dia and the accusative (objective) case of the article ton make it emphatic that being "subject to every human establishment" is for the Lordís sake. Any disobedience to civil authority or human establishment is a very serious matter and is to be taken up only when obeying would clearly violate a higher matter of the Lordís will.
Peter uses the common Greek word basilei for "king" (KJV), translated "emperor" in the RSV. Since there is no article in connection with basilei it would properly be translated "whether to a king . . .", i.e., he means Christians are to be subject to the principle of civil rulership. So Peter was not saying Christians had to "honor" a specific emperor (such as Nero) personally, but that they must submit to the honor, the authority and purpose of civil government in principle (and practice). The basilei (emperor) is huperechonti ("supreme", lit. "held above all"), and is, along with hegemosin (territorial rulers) "sent" (Gr. pempomenois, different from apostolos) for the sake of, or, "on the cause of" (Gr. dií autou, preposition dia with genitive singular pronoun autou, "on account of him") the Lord! In other words, emperors and territorial rulers are "sent on the cause of the Lord."
And what is the Lordís cause for civil rulers? Peter says it is "for justice upon evildoers and praise upon welldoers." The Greek word ekdikesin is a compound word ó the preposition ek "upon" and dike is translated, "right, justice, judicial punishment ,vengeance, sentence of punishment, judgment (II Thess. 1:9; Jude 7, Acts 25:15). Personified, the word dike became Nemesis and Poena (English, penal) in Greek mythology. "Justice" seems to be personified by the inhabitants of Malta (see Acts 28:4). The Greek word epainon is translated "praise" here; in II Corinthians 8:18 it is translated, "famous"; in Romans 13:3, "approval"; in I Corinthians 4:5, "commendation." The Lord sends civil rulers (and governments) to judge, avenge, and punish those who do "evil" and to approve, commend, praise, and even make famous, those who do "good."
In summary, then, the purpose of civil government as revealed through Christís apostle, Peter, is to establish itself for the restraint of wrong and the rewarding of right for its constituency (citizens). The citizenry is to submit to any government functioning according to this direction regardless of the personal idiosyncrasies or personal life of one of its officials. Of course, when a civil officialís personal life becomes illegal, he is to be apprehended, judged and punished according to the requirement of the law the same as any other citizen. And, when a civil officialís personal life occasions his "unlawful use of the law" toward any citizen, that is, if he orders a citizen to do anything in disobedience to Godís higher law (e.g. Acts 4: 19,20; 5:29, etc.), the civil official must be disobeyed (and summarily removed from office if he continues his blasphemy). Civil officials must rule justly:
The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me, his word is upon my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me:
When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth upon a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth (II Sam. 23:2-4).
Such were the "last words" of David, a king "after Godís own heart" and one who, though his personal life left a few things to be desired, ruled mercifully but justly. All human rulers are sinners. They all make mistakes in their administration of civil government as well as in their personal lives. But if they are basically just, fair, firm, and repent of any injustices (as David did) they may commit, they are to be submitted to for the sake of the Lord.
Peter goes on to say it is Godís will that Christians submit to civil rulers as they administer justice. Christian citizens who obey Godís will in this matter are giving Christian testimony to the glory of God. They are also "putting to silence" (Gr. phimoun, "muzzling", I Cor. 9:9) the "ignorance" (Gr. agnosian "agnosticism, no-knowledge") of "foolish" (Gr. aphronon, "irrationality, stupidity, senselessness, unintelligence") men. In other words, those who disobey the justice civil rulers are mandated to execute as the cause of the Lord are irrational, stupid, senseless and unintelligent! That sounds like a characterization of animals ó not people. And that is actually how Peter characterizes those who "despise authority" in his second epistle (see II Pet. 2:10-16)! One of the purposes of civil government is to try to force people to be civil; to make people behave like human beings rather than animals! Remember our prior discussion of Paulís statement to Timothy, " . . . the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient . . . ." Peter warns that while Christians are "free" (from the law, because they are "just" by a new nature), they are not to use their freedom as a "pretext" (Gr. epikalumma, "cloak, coat, covering") for evil. In this context, evil would certainly include disobedience to civil authority. The servant of God will also be "servant" (in submission to) civil authority. The servant of God will also be "servant" (in submission to) civil government. The Christianity which disobeys duly constituted and lawfully administered government, whether liked or not, is only a pretended Christianity! Christians are to "honor" (Gr. timesate, aorist imperative ó a sharp, definite command) all men. It was a reality that most Jews, at that time, refused to "honor" (venerate, respect, value) any Gentile, let alone a Gentile ruler. But Christians must place the proper value on all men. Christians must evaluate all men as Christ does (see II Cor. 5: 16ff). We must "love the brotherhood" (Gr. adelphoteta, "the band of brothers", i.e. Christians). We must fear God. And we must "honor" (Gr. timate, aorist imperative, sharp, definite command, again) the emperor. Christians must evaluate the principle of "emperor" or civil government in the same way Christ evaluates it! The Christian religion is inexorably tied to politics! The two can-not be separated! Christians are to evaluate and practice their politics, not according to how they feel or even according to what they want, but according to the teaching of the word of God! When civil government is clearly disobeying the principles or precepts taught in the word of God, a Christianís obligation is to verbally and actively attempt to bring his government to repent and conform to the Bible. When a government continues to disobey God and orders that a citizen, too, is to disobey God, the Christianís obligation is to obey God, protest, and, if the occasion requires, forcibly resist that civil government, being willing to suffer the consequences for what is right (see I Pet. 2:18-22; 4:12-19). That is what Peter (and others) did. About 1750, Jonathan Mayhew of Boston, an American colonial preacher said:
It is blasphemy to call tyrants and oppressors Godís ministers . . . When [magistrates] rob and ruin the public, instead of being guardians of its peace and welfare, they immediately cease to be the ordinance and ministers of God, and no more deserve that glorious character than common pirates and highwaymen . .
Fifteen years later he said:
The king is as much bound by his oath not to infringe the legal right of the people, as the people are bound to yield subjection to him. From whence it follows that as soon as the prince sets himself up above the law, he loses the king in the tyrant. He does, to all intents and purposes, unking himself by acting out of and beyond that sphere which the constitution allows him to move in, and in such cases he has no more right to be obeyed than any inferior officer who acts beyond his commission. The subjectís obligation to allegiance then ceases, of course, and to resist him is no more rebellion than to resist any foreign invader . . . it is making use of the means, and the only means, which God has put into their power for mutual and self-defense.
The Light and The Glory, by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, pub. Revell, pp. 264,265
So this is what Americans did. When King George III and the British government used force to deny American citizens their unalienable human rights, disobeying Godís word and English law itself, Americans resisted. The "American Revolution" was not a revolution at all. It was not designed to overthrow a governmentís "lawful use of the law" ó it was entered into as a resistance against unlawful use of the law. It was a war of resistance against aggression and invasion of human rights.
I believe that is a misnomer (American Revolution). The American "Revolution" was not a revolution at all; it was a war for independence. Thatís not just word-playing; thereís a vital difference. The American colonies were a continent to themselves, they were an ocean away from England, they had their own colonial governments, and with the exception of Georgia and possibly New York they had received no financial assistance from England.
Furthermore, they had every legal right to break away from England. For in asserting its authority over the colonies, England sought to deny to the colonists many basic rights which were not only God-given but which had been expressly recognized by the English Crown when King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215 A.D. and by Parliament when it passed the Petition of Right in 1628 and the English Bill of Rights in 1689. The English government went far beyond its authority when it tried to force its will upon the colonists . . . when the Crown granted the initial charters to the colonies, the Crown gave the colonies full legislative authority . . . . Furthermore, Parliament was to have representatives from all areas over which it exercised jurisdiction. The colonies had no representatives in Parliament . . . the king had gone far beyond whatever limited authority he had over the colonies, for he tried to violate basic rights which the Crown had recognized as belonging to Englishmen in the Magna Carta . . . . British authority . . . evaporated on December 22, 1775, when Parliament. . . passed the Prohibitory Act which removed the colonies from the kingís protection and declared that they were to be treated as foreign enemies.
Our founding fathers, then, were not rebels or anarchists. They strongly believed in the divine institution of government, but they also believed government must be founded upon the law of God rather than the caprice of man. Their colonial governments were the true authority in their territories, and the colonies had a moral and legal right to be independent. At Independence Hall on July 4, 1776, they did not rebel against England; they simply declared that which was already an established fact ó their in-dependence. The War for Independence took place because the English government refused to recognize the coloniesí rightful claim to independence. It was really a war of foreign (British) aggression.
God and Caesar, by John Eidsmoe, pub. Crossway Books, pp. 33,34,35
Unequivocally, I Peter 2:13-17 declares that the purpose of civil government is to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. That is Godís will, and Godís revealed will is to be the touchstone of evaluating any and all human institutions (establishments, governments), if any civil authority meets the scrutiny of Godís revealed will for government, it is to be respected, obeyed, and prayed for. If it does not ó if it should reward those who do wrong and/or punish those who do right ó it is to be resisted, as peaceably as possible (Rom. 12:18), but with force if necessary. And this is true on an international level as well as a national level. No human government is above and beyond the law of God. And no human being is obligated to submit to any government which refuses to punish wrong or refuses to reward right.
Finally, in considering what the Bible says about the purpose of civil government, we will look at the most significant scriptural statement of all, Romans 13:1-7, RSV:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is Godís servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid Godís wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due (Rom. 13:1-7, RSV).
We have discussed this passage earlier in the chapter, "The Origin of Civil Government." It reaffirms that "every Person" is to be in subjection to governing authorities. Whatever the purpose of civil government, it is for every person, not a minority and not a majority, but for all. Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans about 57-58 A.D. Nero had already been emperor for four years. The Roman empire had brought tranquility and security to the volatile territory the Romans called "Asia" (including Asia Minor, Syria, Arabia, Palestine). Rome brought a stability and liberty to those territories that none of their own governments had ever been able to produce. So Paul was exhorting these Roman Christians that regardless of how profligate Nero might be in his personal life, so long as he and his government "executed the wrath of God on wrong doers" they were to be obeyed.
Paul uses the Greek words exousiais huperexouslais; they are translated, "governing authorities." Literally they would be, "authorities, those who are held above or over or superior." Like Peter (I Pet. 2:13-17) Paul is not ordering subjection merely to political officials. He intends that Christians (and all mankind, for that matter) subject themselves to all "human institutions" within the social fabric which are necessary for ordered living. This would include familial structures, educational establishments, business-vocational structures, even avocational-recreational structures. Peter made it plain when he said, "Be subject for the Lordís sake to every human institution . . . . " The family, the school, the workplace, the playground, must each have an hierarchy of authority which must be obeyed if order is to be accomplished. Without order, confusion reigns (I Cor. 14:40). Without order goals and purposes are not attained in any social unit.
Paul deals with the purpose of civil government in Romans 13:3-6. There are at least five purposes served by civil government according to Paul in this passage:
a. "Terror to bad conduct"
b. "Praise to good conduct"
c. "Execute the wrath of God on wrongdoers"
d. "Good conscience"
e. "Minister of God, attending to" all the above.
The English word "terror" is a translation of the Greek word phobos. In verse 3 Paulís use means, "the causing of fear." Men may theorize all they want, but Godís word plainly says civil governmentís first obligation is as a deterrent (by causing fear) against bad conduct. Since Godís word is always right, and always practical, all the alleged statistics and nice-sounding sophistries quoted against capital punishment for capital crimes are irrelevant! We shall deal with the subject of capital punishment at greater length in another chapter. Here, the inspired apostle declares unequivocally, " . . . he does not bear the sword in vain." And "sword" is not being used metaphorically to describe any punishment less than capital punishment! The Greek word phobos ("fear") or a derivative is used five times in Romans 13:1-7.
If human governments and rulers are to fulfill their God-appointed purpose to strike fear into the minds and hearts of criminals who commit any and all crimes against social order, they must be supported in laws and punishments commensurate to the seriousness of the criminal acts. Justice, that which is equal, that which is proportionate, is both biblically mandated and "naturally" (i.e., rationally) demanded. Justice brought to bear upon bad conduct will act as a deterrent to some. Isaiah said it clearly:
For when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. If favor is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness he deals perversely and does not see the majesty of the Lord (Isa. 26:9,10).
Because sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the sons of men is fully set to do evil (Ecc. 8:11).
Kings cannot tolerate evil, because justice is what makes a government strong (Prov. 29:4, TEV).
The English word "conduct" in verse 3 is a translation of the Greek word ergo, most often translated "work." In verse 5 the Greek word prassonti (related to pragma) is translated "doer."
Civil government deals with deeds ó actions. The reader should have noticed by now that in every scripture cited there is not the slightest indication that the purpose of civil government is to sup-press belief or thinking. Prohibiting the verbal expression of beliefs or ideas is not (with a few exceptions) civil governmentís purpose. However, if any belief or idea is acted out and the action is categorically unlawful (according to Godís laws and manís laws), civil government must act to prohibit it and, through threat of punishment, deter others from so acting. Of course, it is reasonable and wise to refrain from verbal expression of beliefs and ideas that would violate divine and human law and possibly incite unlawful actions. But civil government has no mandate from the Bible to prohibit verbal expression except in the cases of perjury, libel, treason, and perhaps verbal expressions inimical to the public safety, e.g., shouting "fire" in a crowded theater when there is no fire. Any kind of lying or misrepresentation of truth which would be used to exploit or endanger a citizen should be classified as "wrongdoing." And one of the basic purposes of civil government is to frighten people against wrongdoing.
A kingís wrath is like the growling of a lion, but his favor is like dew upon the grass (Prov. 19:12).
The dread wrath of a king is like the growling of a lion; he who provokes him to anger forfeits his life (Pray. 20:2).
A kingís wrath is a messenger of death, and a wise man will appease it (Prov. 16:14).
If the law of God is given to deter men from unrighteousness, certainly the laws of men which are to have their origin in Godís law should serve the same purpose:
And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as at this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us. (Deut. 6:24,25).
Jesus indicated that the punishments administered by civil rulers were to serve as deterrents:
There were some present at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:1-3).
There are numerous examples that the fear of governmentís power to punish does deter the perpetration of injustice:
The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens . . . (Acts 16:38).
For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, there being no cause that we can give to justify this commotion (Acts 19:40).
So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him instantly; and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him (Acts 22:29).
Of course, fear of civil government will not deter every person from criminal action. Some crimes are committed in the throes of passion while reason has been suspended. Some criminals have persuaded themselves that they will never be apprehended (and some never are). But the most significant reason the fear of punishment by civil government does not deter more criminal action is we are having less punishment of criminals. And the punishments that are being adjudged are far from commensurate with the seriousness of the crimes!
It is civil governmentís purpose, by divine mandate and biblical example, to make itself "a terror" to bad conduct! Biblically speaking, civil government does not exist to reform criminals.
Government is the servant of Almighty God to deter crime by punishing criminals with punishment commensurate to the crime committed.
Second, civil government is to give "approval" to those who "do" good. Paul uses the same Greek word Peter uses, epainon, but the RSV translates it "praise" in I Peter 2:14 and "approval" in Romans 13:3.
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord (Prov. 17:15).
... those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will be upon them . . . (Prov. 24:25).
It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out . . . it is better to be told, Come up here, than to be put lower in the presence of the prince (Prov. 25:2-7).
Give the king thy justice, 0 God . . . for he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight . . . . (Psa. 72:1-16).
Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right . . . . in the light of a kingís face there is life, and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain (Prov. 16:8-15).
Civil government exists to "approve" and "praise" good con-duct. Since public officials are "Godís servant for your (the citizenís) good" it follows unquestionably that civil authorities will make it a practice to "praise" good conduct. Just as being "a terror to bad conduct" should deter crime, "praising" good conduct should promote civil peace and security. While the civil government could not ethically or legally take over the news media of a nation, it is obligated to do all in its legal power to "praise" good conduct. Apparently everyday acts of good citizenship, deeds of helpfulness, and justice being accomplished does not "sell newspapers" or "pay for TV news-time." A warped public and a greedy, prejudiced news media feeds on and spouts almost always news of "bad conduct." The entertainment media titillates the evil streak in human nature and profits from "showcasing" bad conduct. What is the civil governmentís role to be in these areas? Government involvement with the press and with public entertainment would, needless to say, have to be carefully legislated, and even more carefully administered. One thing is certain, government is to "praise" and publicly "approve" good that is done. It is in this way "the ignorance of foolish men" is to be "put to silence" (I Pet. 2:15).
There are some graphic biblical examples of civil government (even "heathen" governments) "praising" good conduct:
a. Josephís conduct and his subsequent assistance to Pharaoh as he advised him about preparing for a famine was rewarded. "And Pharaoh said to Joseph, Behold, I have set you over all the land of Egypt" (Gen. 41:4ff).
b. David rewarded those who "stayed with the baggage" in the war against the Amalekites the same as those who fought (I Sam. 21-15). David honored Abner, a general in Saulís army, for the good Abner had rendered as a civil servant (II Sam. 3:3lff). David honored the good Jonathan, Saulís son, had done by rewarding Jonathanís son, Mephibosheth (II Sam. 9:lff). David publicly honored his "mighty men" who served his civil ad-ministration of the kingdom (II Sam. 23:8ff; I Chron. 11:10-41).
c. Daniel was rewarded for his good deeds by three pagan emperors (perhaps others) ó Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius ó Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were also rewarded, (see Dan. 2:48,49, 3:30; 5:16; 6:2,3,25,28).
d. Emperor of Persia, Ahasuerus, rewarded both Esther and Mordecai for good deeds (Esther 5:6; 6:lff; 10:lff).
e. Although it was quite out of character for Jews to honor Roman government officials, a group did so for a certain centurion in Capernaum because of his good deeds (Luke 7:1-10).
Clearly, in both precept and precedent, the Bible says civil government has as one important purpose the approval of, the praising of, and rewarding of good citizenship. Perhaps if civil governments put more of their resources to work fulfilling this divine mandate there would be less "bad conduct" and more "good conduct."
Third, civil government is to "execute the wrath of God on the wrongdoer." This is basic; it is fundamental; it is the purpose for which civil government is to be most concerned. The apostle Paul has admonished Christians (Rom. 12:14-21) that they are not, on an individual basis, to "avenge themselves" for any wrong done to them. The Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, in no way advocates or condones the execution of vengeance for personal wrongs by individuals or groups of individuals. Ad-ministration and execution of civil justice is, biblically, the prerogative and jurisdiction of duly constituted civil officials. Ultimately, all vengeance is the prerogative of God Almighty. But if humanity is to dwell on this earth in any semblance of tranquillity and order, and the Gospel have opportunity to be proclaimed, Almighty God cannot wait until the final judgment day to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. So, the individual who has suffered wrong is not asked to "leave it to the wrath of God" at the final judgment day. Godís wrath upon wrongdoers is in the here-and-now, to be continuously executed by civil government! The ad-monition to the Christian is: "If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all" (Rom. 12:18) ó but when evil-doers make it impossible for individuals to live peaceably they are to appeal to, and expect action from, civil governments to execute Godís wrath on criminal and anti-social behavior. The division of the Bible text into chapters and verses is unfortunate in many respects. Romans, chapter twelve (12) through fifteen (15) is one unit, one context, and should be read and interpreted as one. Such a contextual understanding would solve the dilemma faced by Christians who know that Godís word stands unequivocally for justice and punishment of wrong doing, and are at the same time commanded (e.g. Matt. 5:38-48; Rom. 12:14-21) not to avenge themselves. The Christian must personally endure persecution and injustices by turning the other cheek and going the second mile. But that is only if there is no just government to which the Christian may appeal for protection from and redress for injustices. That is what Paul is saying in the unbroken context of Romans 12:14-13:7.
The Greek word for "sword" machairan describes the usual short sword wielded by the Roman soldiers in their warfare and in executing criminals. The apostle plainly says that government officials do not "carry" weapons "in vain" (Gr. ou gar eike ó "without plan or system; without cause; to no purpose").
Weapons for punishment and/or death administered by duly constituted civil authorities are God-ordained! They are not merely for adornment. The purpose for the "sword" (weapon of punishment and death) in the hand of the civil government is to "execute the wrath of God on the wrongdoer."
The RSV translates the Greek word diakonos, "servant" where it is used twice in 13:4. Diakonos is the word often transliterated "deacon" (see I Tim. 3:8,10; Rom. 16:1). The idea in the Greek word diakonos is portraying the "servant" in relationship to his work. Government officials are "servants of God" in the civic workplace. They are not merely civil-servants, but are servants of the Most High God. Their first allegiance should be, therefore, to God. It is Him to whom they will give account for their stewardship. Of all the people in the world who should apprise themselves of what the Bibles says about civil government, it should be civil-servants! If God has given any revelation at all (apart from human reason) as to how He wishes civil government conducted, it will be in the Bible. Civil-servants who ignore the Bible and its clear principles for governing do so at the peril of their eternal salvation. To displease God as a "servant" in civil government is as serious as displeasing God in service to His church on earth. The church on earth is unable to function as God would have it (I Tim. 2:1-4) unless there is a modicum of tranquillity and peace and civil order. It is the divinely-ordained purpose of civil government to insure peace and order. Government service is a stewardship. It has its "pounds" and its "talents" to put to use; what it has comes entirely from God Almighty; how it uses what it has must meet accountability to Godís standards (found only in the Bible). Many civil governments and governors "have been weighed in the balances and found wanting" (Dan. 5:24-28). Paul uses the Greek word leitourgoi in 13:6, translated "ministers" in the RSV and KJV, probably because it is specifically, "a person of property who performed a public duty or service to the state often at his own expense." This would definitely include Roman senators of the first century who theoretically made and administered much of the Roman law. This text clearly refers to civil governments and their officials.
An important word to analyze here is the Greek word ekdikos. It is a compound word. Dike is used in the New Testament to mean vengeance, punishment (see II Thess. 1:8,9; Jude 7, etc.). The prepositional prefix, ex simply intensifies the word and literally would mean, "vengeance down upon." Ekdikos is a noun so it is describing "an avenger, one who inflicts punishment." Israelites were not to personally and individually avenge themselves (Lev. 19:18). The RSV translates ekdikos, "execute." That is less emotive and a clearer description of the purpose of civil government.
But the Bible says plainly that civil officials are Godís servants to "execute" His wrath (Gr. orgen; English, orgy, orgasm) upon those who do wrong. In order for the government to do this, it is commissioned to "bear the sword" (arm itself with weapons of punishment and destruction) effectively and "not in vain." The question that must be answered is, what constitutes the "wrath" of God for specific wrongs? We shall deal with that question, to some extent, in later chapters. First, it must be established unequivocally that civil government has as its primary purpose the restraint of wrongdoing by "fear" (deterrents) and by "executing Godís wrath" (punishment).
There never has existed for any extended time an extensive society of men wherein someone did not have power to enforce laws. In enforcement, penalties for infractions are necessary. The power of government to take away the life of offenders is an ultimate and necessary instrument for enforcement of civil order.
Toward a Biblical View of Civil Government, by Robert D. Culver, pub. Moody Press, p. 254
We are persuaded that Romans 13:1-7 is divine revelation through the Holy Spirit of God to the apostle Paul. It is not merely the human philosophy or theology of Paul. But Paul was unequivocally prepared to live out (or die by) what he wrote for God here. We need only to refer to his declaration recorded in Acts 25:11; he spoke to Porcius Festus, governor of the Roman province, Judea:
I am standing before Caesarís tribunal, where I ought to be tried; to the Jews I have done no wrong, as you know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death; but if there is nothing in their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.
Paul had written Romans 13:1-7 about four years before his confrontation with Festus. Now he claims he is willing to abide by Godís decree that wrongdoers are to be executed if found lawfully guilty of a crime deserving death.
What must not be lost sight of is that unpleasant as is the task of the jailer and the use of the whip, the cell, the noose, the guillotine, these things stand behind the stability of civilized society, and they stand there necessarily, for God has declared it so, in harmony with reality, rather than with apostate sociological opinion. Government, with its coercive powers is a social necessity, but one determined by the Creator, not by the statistical tables of some university social research staff! No society can successfully vote fines, imprisonment, corporeal and capital punishment away permanently. The society which tries has lost touch with realities of man (his fallen sinful state), realities of the world, and the truth of divine revelation in nature, manís conscience, and the Bible.
Toward a Biblical View of Civil Government, ibid, p. 256
Finally, Paul states that one of the purposes for civil government is to provide mankind (especially Christians) an instrument through which to express and act out a good "conscience." The need for lawfulness, even some of the specific actions that are lawful or unlawful, has been "written" on the human conscience universally:
When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them . . . (Rom. 2:14,15).
The sanctity of human life and property, the necessity of justice and truthfulness, among other "unalienable rights," are principles of "law" written on the universal human conscience. They are, as Immanuel Kant called them, "categorical imperatives." But while they are "imperatives" for the orderly existence of social structure, there are many individuals who, because of sin and selfishness, refuse to obey their consciences. If such persons are never converted and constrained by the love of Christ to evaluate life no longer from a human point of view (see 11 Cor. 5: 14-17), they must be coerced by civil government to obey the divine laws written on their consciences.
If rulers are a terror to the evil work, then they must be able to recognize evil works . . men do not need biblical revelation to have, within limits, knowledge of good and evil. The prophets pro-claimed the responsibility of heathen magistracies to enforce these universally known standards. Any reading of the classical authors of ancient Greece and Rome will support this. Falling far short of Godís glory as the goal of right action, the classical pagan moralists knew a great deal about basic righteousness. Just how pagans of any age know ó whether by right reason, natural law, natural light, general revelation, common grace, or whatever ó is a matter of some legitimate difference of opinion, It is a fact, nevertheless, that without written standards, there is a divine morality which rulers everywhere know and enforce, and which the public acknowledges in spite of perverse denials among certain members of society. If this were not so, human life as a society could not exist.
Toward a Biblical View of Civil Government, ibid, pp. 252,253
Civil government is Godís coercive instrument to force the "lawless and disobedient" to obey the universal conscience. The Christians obeys what is lawful and right, supports justice with his words and actions and taxes, not because he is forced to, but "for the sake of conscience." The Christian knows what is right (including supporting civil government) and does it because it is right! This, as we shall discuss later, includes paying taxes, voting (in a nation that allows it), serving in the armed forces when his government calls him to defend against aggressive war upon his own nation or upon a people his nation has a legal treaty to de-fend. There can be no "conscientious objection" in such in-stances. The universal human conscience (unless seared by selfishness) declares that international aggression (a form of anarchy) is as wrong as any individual, local, or national crime destructive of social peace and unalienable human rights! The universal human conscience says anarchy must be restrained! This is right. Therefore, the individual who will not verbally and actively participate in civil governmentís mandate to restrain anarchy, sins against his conscience, sins against humanity, and sins against Almighty God.
There are, no doubt, other scriptural declarations concerning the purposes of civil government. Because of the limitations of time and space, we have been selective. We trust our selection has included the most pertinent passages and that the reader will have gained a clear, if limited, concept of the goals and functions of civil government from a biblical perspective. Civil government is, as the scriptures clearly portray, not a panacea for the ultimate cause of social disorder ó human sinfulness. It is not Godís instrument for attaining Utopia in this life or the next. It is a divine condescension to the fact that some sin and some sinners are incorrigible. Not every human being is going to believe in Jesus Christ and surrender to the loving persuasion of the King of kings. "Narrow and difficult is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it." But there are a few who will find it, given the opportunity to do so.
In a world where the majority are in rebellion against God and His law, and where it will be that way until the end of time, civil government is ordained of God to "stand in the breach" to punish and thus stem the flood of wrongdoing so that the Gospel can be preached and accepted by a few. Thank God for civil government and those serving in it, who "use the law lawfully." Support it with your taxes and your actions, for the Lordís sake, and for the sake of a good conscience before God.
Copyright © 1990, Paul T. Butler