The longer one studies the Bible, the more one realizes how little he knows about it! It is, therefore, with sincerest humility that this author presumes to write a book entitled, What The Bible Says About—anything! After one has made an exegesis of every passage in the Bible which explicitly uses the word "government" or "kingdom" or "dominion," one would still wish to deal with the implicit passages. The magnitude of such a task is nearly overwhelming. We shall do our best for now and leave it to other generations to complete what is lacking and revise what is erroneous.
Before proceeding with the main discussion, certain word studies are in order. Actually the reader may be surprised to learn just how few times the word "government" is used in the Bible. The word "civil" is used not at all! The following tabulations of the English Bible are from The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, by Nelson, 1948:
Number of Times these English Words Appear in the English Bible
Govern/Governor/Government: Old Testament - 57, New Testament - 30
Rule/Ruler: Old Testament - 198, New Testament - 63
King(s): Old Testament - 2696, New Testament - 119
Kingdom(s): Old Testament - 239, New Testament - 160
Magistrates(s): Old Testament - 2, New Testament - 8
Lord: 7182 (too often referring to God to be significant in civil government)
Prince(s): Old Testament - 380, New Testament - 4
Principalities: Old Testament - 1, New Testament - 8
Dominion(s): Old Testament - 49, New Testament - 12
Actually there are only five times the English word "government(s)" is used as a translation of the original languages of the Bible. The Hebrew word miserah is twice translated "government" (Isa 9:6,7) and the Hebrew word memeshalah is once translated "government" (Isa. 22:21, KCJV) and "authority" (Isa. 22:21, RSV). The Greek word kuberneseis is translated "governments" (I Cor 12:28, KJV) but translated "authorities" in the RSV.
The English word "government" probably originates from the Greek word kubernetes which was used by the ancient Greeks to designate a steersman, helmsman, or sailing-master (see Acts 27:11, "captain"; Rev. 18:17, "shipmasters"; Eze 27:8,27 "pilots" in the LXX). Perhaps the Romans adopted the Greek word and Latinized it into gubernare, which also was used to designate one who "steers, guides, controls, governs." The Latin word gubernare is from the Latin noun gubernaculum meaning, "a rudder, a helm." The Hebrew word radah is used in Genesis 1:26,28 to describe the "dominion" over creation which God gave to Adam. The Hebrew word most often translated "rule, govern. have dominion" is mashal. The Greek word most often in a generic sense is hegemon which means "rulers" or "princes." Hegemon is used to describe Pontius Pilate, e.g. Mat-27:2; Luke 20:20 (Tacitus, the Roman historian, also calls Pilate hegemon in his Annals, 15:44). Derivatives of this Greek are hegeomai ("a governor," Matt 2:6; Acts 7:10) and hegemoneuo (a verb, meaning, "to lead the way" and is used of Quirinius, governor of Syria, Luke 2:2; and used to describe Pilate, Luke 3:1). The Greek word hegemonia, in Luke 3:1, is translated "reign," and is the word from which we get the English word hegemony.
There are numerous other words in both the Hebrew and the Greek which are synonymous with the subject (civil government) under discussion:
asoh—to make, to exercise; chabash—to fasten, to bind; nachah—to lead; (all translated, "govern"); misherah—to have dominion; memeshalah—to have power, or command; (all translated, "government"); mushel—ruler; nagiyd—a chief leader; percha—a governor (Chaldean; pakad—to appoint; aluph—a dignified person with authority; (all translated "governor"); melech—"King."
exousia—(from exesti, "it is lawful") authority; dunastes—(from which we get the English word dynasty) potentate; huperoche—in high position; (all translated "authority"); hegemon—governor; ethnarches—governor; (all translated "governor"); basileus—the generic term for "King," whether human or divine; archon—ruler; kosmokrator—world-ruler; politarches—ruler of a city; (all translated "ruler"); kratos—strong, powerful, mighty; kuriotes — (from kurios, "lord") lordship, potentate; (all translated "dominion").
There is one word in the Old Testament describing an office of civil power unique to the Hebrew civil-religious structure. That word is shuphtiym and is the title given to the "Judges" (Othniel, Ehud, Gideon, Sampson, et al.) between Moses and the monarchy.
The great civil potentates mentioned incidentally in the Biblical text (from Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome), and the lesser ones, often bear titles and positions for which there were no Hebrew or Greek words so we find Aramaic, Roman, Chaldean, Persian, Egyptian and Greek government titles transliterated into Hebrew and Greek. We find such words as yakiyra (Ezra 4:10) translated "noble," parettemiym (Esther) 6:9) also translated "most noble." Both of these would probably be of Persian derivation.
A number of other words in the Old Testament used to delineate offices and functions of civil government may be found in Daniel 6:1,2. There is ahashdarpeflim, translated both "satrap" and "prince" (also found in Ezra 8:36 and Esther 8:9); there is sigenaya, translated "governors"; pachevatha, or "captains"; dethaberaya, "judges"; gedabereys, "treasurers"; edareg-gazerays, "counselors"; tiphetaye, "sheriffs"; shiletoney me-ciiynatha, "rulers of the provinces." In Daniel 6:7 we find the word sarekaya translated "presidents." Most of these would be words "borrowed" from the Aramaic or Akkadian languages and transliterated in the Hebrew text.
There is the word eth-rabeshakeh or Rabshakeh, in Isaiah 36:2ff, which is from rab, "chief" and saki, "captains", thus a "colonel" or "general." In II Kings 18:17 Sennacherib, king of Assyria, is said to have sent the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. Rabsaris is probably the title conferred upon the "chief of the leading men." Tartan is a title translated "commander-in-chief" (Isa 20:1 RSV).
Genesis 42:6 Joseph is promoted to shalat, "governor" but is called rnashal "ruler" in Genesis 45:26. Joseph was, of course, second ruler to "Pharaoh" who was "king of Egypt." The word Pharaoh probably comes from the Egyptian Pr-o meaning, "Greathouse" or "Palace." Originally it made reference to the family’s residence and later became a title of the ruling monarch of Egypt. In Genesis 40:2,5, Pharaoh is said to have saaryisaaryav, "chief officers," sar hamashiqum, "chief of the cupbearers" (also translated "chief of the butlers"), and sar haaophim, "chief of the bakers." Nehemiah was the "cupbearer" to Artaxerxes, king of Persia (Neh. 1:11). Cupbearers and bakers may not have been, strictly speaking, officials of civil government :-~€~ possessed considerable political "clout." In the book of considered by some to be the oldest book of the Old Testament, we read of Job using the titles, melech, "king," and sar "prince" (Job 3:14,15). Perhaps the oldest historical reference to a civil governor-of-sorts is in Genesis 10:8-10 where Nimrod is referred to as "the first on earth to be a mighty man." The Hebrew word is gibbor and is sometimes translated "hero" or "mighty one." It is also said of Nimrod that the "beginning of his kingdom" (Heb memelaketho, "his kingdom") consisted of three "cities" named "Babel, Erech, and Accad," all of them "in the land of Shinar."
Additional words used for civil government officials in the New Testament may also be found. In Luke 3:1 we find Kaisaros, "Caesar," and tetrarch, "ruler of a fourth part of a territory." The word basilikos in John 4:46 is translated "official" in the RSV, and nobleman" in the KJV. The titles of officials in government or civil service in the book of Acts provides an interesting and informative survey. Aside from the titles of king, ruler, governor others already mentioned, we find asiarch, "chief officials of Asia" (Acts 19:31); grammateus, "town clerk" (Acts 19:35); anthupato, "procounsul" (Acts 13:7,8,12; 18:12; 19:38); strategois and praetors, "magistrates" (Acts 16:20); archontas "rulers" (Acts 16:19); proto tes nesou, "chief man of the island" (Publius, Acts 28:7). Then, of course, the two most used words describing officers in the Roman army: chiliarchos, "tribune" (Acts 21:31,32,33; 23:17,18,19,22; 24:22,37; 22:24-29; 23:10; and hekatontarchon, "centurion" (Acts 22:25,26; 23:17,23; 24:23; 27:1,6,43, etc.). Erastus is called oikoriomos tes poleos "treasurer of the city" in Romans 16:23. In I Timothy 2:lff we have the words basileon, "kings", and the phrase, ton en huperechonti, "those in eminence or in authority"; in Titus 3:1, the words archais, "rulers," and exousiais, "authorities"; in I Peter 2:13-17 the words basilei huperechonti, "emperor as supreme" and hegemosin pempomenois, "governors as sent . . . ," and Jude 8, kurioteta, "authority."
The book of Revelation, written to the seven churches of Asia Minor concerning their great tribulation at the hands of the Roman empire from 100-450 A.D., mentions basileis ("kings") and rnegistantes ("great men") and chiliarchoi ("generals") (Rev 6:15; 19:18); it points to ten basileis ("kings") in Revelation 17:12.
The apostle Paul sums up all forms of human government in I Corinthians 15:24 when he reveals that history will come to a climactic end as Christ delivers the "kingdom" to God the Father "after destroying every rule and every authority and power." The Greek words in this text are: arche "rule," exousia, "authority," and dunamis, "power."
The Bible is a history of the spiritual redemption of mankind and a promise of the eventual redemption of all creation (Rom. 8: 18ff). It is essentially the history of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ — the preparation for it, the accomplishment of it, and the results of it. The Bible is not a history of human ideologies, or of human politics, except as they historically and incidentally come into contact with the redemptive program of God, or as they apply theologically to it.
This brief word study, however, indicates that the redemptive kingdom of God, because it is being formed within the milieu of human history, is in constant contact with civil governments.
From the beginning (Genesis) to the end (Revelation) of the Bible, words pertaining to human rulers and earthly kingdoms are found. It is apparent that from the very early times of man’s existence until he resides no more upon this planet earth, the church (God’s spiritual kingdom) will have to function parallel to and, so far as ethically possible, in relationship to civil governments. It is imperative, therefore, that Christians understand as clearly as possible what the Bible says about civil government.
Copyright © 1990, Paul T. Butler