Freedom's Progress?: A History of Political Thought, by Gerard Casey
I know full well how hazardous an enterprise it is to set sail on the controversial and disputed sea of Scriptural interpretation….
Yes, same here. This is one reason (of many) that I strongly prefer to keep theological discussion off limits. I know this is difficult to do, given the topics at this post, and I appreciate that you all respect this desire. As you know, my intent behind these topics is to examine the ramifications of broad religious issues on the social, governance, and political aspects of society.
I guess today I am going to somewhat cross that line. The reasons are twofold: first, the examination Casey takes on is precisely on the point of freedom; second, the topic is one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented and misused regarding the Christian take on government.
The topic? In two words: Romans 13. Casey offers a full examine of both Old and New Testament Scripture regarding kings and government authority, as a few verses should not be taken in isolation.
Casey begins with the go-to chapter, 1 Samuel 8. To summarize: Israel had no king; up to this point the governance was provided by God and by judges. The Israelites demanded a king. God, recognizing that the Israelites were rejecting Him, permitted them to take a king – but only after warning of the usurpations that the king would impose: taxes, mandatory service, etc.
The subsequent history of the kings of Israel, from Saul, through David, Solomon, and Rehoboam, followed by the division of the kingdom is very far from edifying and can be seen as the fulfillment of God’s warning delivered through Samuel.
The book of Hosea, in chapter 8, touches on this idea of God permitting, but not approving: “They have set up kings, but not by me; they have made princes, and I knew it not.”
Regarding the life of Jesus, Casey offers…
…we can see immediately that his very life was bookended by acts of political significance, from King Herod’s murderous intentions at his birth to the final drama of his politically inspired execution.
This is the lens through which all Scriptural discussion of kings and earthly authority should be viewed. Casey offers that the New Testament is a target-rich environment when one wants to find passages regarding kings and government; he limits himself to five. I will touch on only a couple of these.
The first is the temptation in the desert, when the devil showed Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world, promising to give Jesus all authority over these if Jesus would only worship him. Well, we know Jesus didn’t take the devil up on the offer, but what else can be understood from this?
The devil, being the devil, may have been lying about his having the authority that he was now offering to Jesus. Yet, Jesus didn’t challenge the devil’s claim to be able to dispose of all authority over the earth. The devil had authority; despite being a liar, he wasn’t in every statement lying. After all, this would make it too easy to see through his manipulations.
But even a liar can on occasion tell the truth and, significantly, Jesus’s response to Satan is to reject his offer, not to deny that the offer is his to make.
At minimum, this suggests that Jesus is dismissive of earthly power; one could also say that such earthly power is of the devil. In other words, not Christian.
Next is the well-known “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” passage. The question was asked of him by the Pharisees if it is lawful to pay taxes. Jesus asked for a Roman coin and noted the likeness of Caesar on its face.
The question was a trick question, designed to damn Jesus with either response. If he answered yes, the Pharisees would hound him; if he answered no, the Romans would arrest him. So, he does not answer the question.
The question was a simple yes / no questions: is it lawful to pay taxes? Jesus answers with a riddle, not saying yes or no. While he says to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, when it comes to paying taxes, he does not say what is Caesar’s.
Now on to two more problematic chapters – less problematic if one keeps in mind the bookends of Jesus’s life, as a life bounded by government authority, corruption, and overreach.
Romans 13; Revelation 13
We all know Romans 13: let every person be subject to the governing authorities. I am sure that what Paul meant by this was that Mary and Joseph should have turned the newborn Jesus into Herod’s grasp. Not. To interpret Romans 13 in this way is to ignore every other verse regarding government and the context of the entire Scripture.
What of Revelation 13? The beast rose from the sea, his name a blasphemous name; he was given great power and authority by the dragon: “And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.” Does this sound like something worthy of respect, worthy of obedience?
One has to view Romans 13 in isolation if one wants to make of it Biblical support for any and all earthly government authorities. But it is even worse than this:
Whereas some English translations use the word “governing” in verse 1, the Greek text does not. It reads “Let every soul be subject to the superior powers.”
Who, or what, are these “superior powers”? The Romans? Or God? Paul seems to answer this implicitly, certainly if one respects the context provided in the preceding chapter of Romans: “Do not be conformed to the world…” Instead, conform to God’s will.
There is nothing in Romans chapter 12 or 13 to suggest that the beginning of Romans 13 be interpreted as unconditional support for earthly government. There is little, if anything, in all of Scripture that supports such an interpretation.
When Paul has written about submitting to leaders in other books of the Bible, he has referred to Church authorities. Is it possible that in Romans 13, he was writing of earthly authorities – the same authorities that were persecuting members of the faith? In Romans 13, Paul writes of those wearing the sword, do we not elsewhere read of putting on the armor of God?
When Paul writes of paying taxes, did not Jesus also command to pay the tax so as not to raise unnecessary trouble? In other words, not out of righteous obedience, but out of the need to focus on a higher calling?
Was not Paul writing to specific Christians in the Roman Empire at a specific time and a specific place? Can we not today also look at taxes in the same way – paying them not out of respect for authority but out of a desire to allow us to focus on a higher calling?
Is it really possible that Paul is suggesting that we respect and obey all rulers no matter the demands? To ask the question is to answer it. Hitler, Stalin, Mao. I rest my case.
Paul was certainly writing about obedience to Church authorities; it can also be interpreted that we should be obedient to government authorities that do not violate the Gospel. Beyond this, it is difficult to fathom – certainly if one keeps in mind the bookends of Jesus’s life.
Keep in mind: virtually every one of Jesus’s disciples died in martyrdom, died in disobedience to the political authorities. Do you really believe they are all damned to hell due to their “disobedience”?
Unfortunately, an early and highly respected Church theologian created and believed the common interpretation of Romans 13. He was Aurelius Augustine; we shall review his work in the next installment.
Also keep in mind that the Romans 13 passage was written by a ringleader of a criminal organization, ie the Church. Unauthorized religions were illegal under Roman law - the early Church got away w/ it because it was considered a sect of Judaism. By the time of Nero it had become illegal.ReplyDelete
Before the Fall, God gave Man dominion over the Earth. This is repeated in Psalms,
"Heaven is the Lord's,
and the Heaven of Heavens,
But the Earth He hath given unto the children of men."
Satan was never given ownership. If said ownership had been undone a the Cross, as is commonly taught, the World would have been saved right away. Satan's authority comes from Man's disobedience to God. That's why the World is redeemed, but still fallen.
Satan is called the god of this world. 2 Cor 4:4Delete
In the widermess, Satan tempted Jesus by offering him all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus did not dispute Satans right to devolve those rights onto Jesus. He denied that offer, but not because he did not accept that offer was not real.Delete
Great post. Looking forward to your treatment of St. Augustine.ReplyDelete
"virtually every one of Jesus’s disciples died in martyrdom, died in disobedience to the political authorities." - BM
This should be the nail in the coffin to any 'Christian' argument in favor of unqualified obedience to the state or any earthly authority. For Catholics, the Catechism also provides ammunition against the statist interpretation of Romans 13.
"Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, "authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse." - CCC 1903
To the Catholic, authority must be legitimate, and to be legitimate it must, in its means as well as its ends, abide by God's eternal moral law. Not every earthly authority is just, and thus the Catholic does not have to subject himself to unjust authority.
Matthew 22 "Render unto Caesar...":
Lord Acton has an interesting take on this passage in his essay "History of Freedom in Antiquity."
"Popular governments had existed, and also mixed and federal governments, but there had been no limited government, no State the circumference of whose authority had been defined by a force external to its own. That was the great problem which philosophy had raised, and which no statesmanship had been able to solve. Those who proclaimed the assistance of a higher authority had indeed drawn a metaphysical barrier before the governments, but they had not known how to make it real. All that Socrates could effect by way of protest against the tyranny of the reformed democracy was to die for his convictions. The Stoics could only advise the wise man to hold aloof from politics, keeping the unwritten law in his heart. But when Christ said: “Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” those words, spoken on His last visit to the Temple, three days before His death, gave to the civil power, under the protection of conscience, a sacredness it had never enjoyed, and bounds it had never acknowledged; and they were the repudiation of absolutism and the inauguration of freedom. For our Lord not only delivered the precept, but created the force to execute it. To maintain the necessary immunity in one supreme sphere, to reduce all political authority within defined limits, ceased to be an aspiration of patient reasoners, and was made the perpetual charge and care of the most energetic institution and the most universal association in the world. The new law, the new spirit, the new authority, gave to liberty a meaning and a value it had not possessed in the philosophy or in the constitution of Greece or Rome before the knowledge of the truth that makes us free." - Acton
Matthew 4 (Jesus' temptation in the desert)
I see this one as saying, like the Catechism, that all authority which is not in accord with God's law is unjust. All the authorities of this time period were in abeyance to God's laws (as are most if not all today), and thus it should be no surprise they were subject to those of the Devil. As you and Casey point out, Jesus did not dispute the Devil's ability to grant Him control of the nations, and it wouldn't have even been a temptation if the nations were not the Devil's to give.
“Looking forward to your treatment of St. Augustine.”Delete
Hint: Casey describes him as a mixed bag on the liberty scale.
“This should be the nail in the coffin to any 'Christian' argument in favor of unqualified obedience to the state…”
You would think. I ask people to explain Hitler, but for some reason we are only allowed to use him as an example of anti-Semitism, not an example of anti-state worship / obedience.
I think he originated the concept of a just war, and it was a war of defense, so that ain't bad. I think he was of the mind that the aggressive authority was a necessary evil. I haven't read his "City of God," but it's on my list.Delete
I listened to it on audio from librivox.org. He talks a lot about Rome at the beginning and some about government in general. I can't remember a positive statement. He describes it as anti-God and essentially a band of outlaws.Delete
ATL, Casey isn't saying he was all bad, just a mixed bag.Delete
Anyway, give me a couple of days.
I hope some of you may find this helpful as well. I apologize for not submitting it earlier. I had to contact my step-father who holds PhD's in both Greek and New Testament Theology and is now professor and director at Weinbrenner Theological Seminary. It's good stuff and he has never let me down when I have questions.ReplyDelete
This is a Calvinist org if I'm not mistaken?
Winebrenner? Yes. TMS (The Masters Seminary), where the talk was given? Yes, but, dispensationalist.
I agree with the general conclusions that the Bible does not advocate unqualified obedience to the state. All the passages BM discusses here describe necessary constraints on what should be considered legitimate government.ReplyDelete
However, Romans 13 most likely is discussing earthly government. It would be a hard to interpret v.1-2 as Church authority and we get no comment of Pastors or Elders or Apostles carrying around swords. Only the night of Jesus' betrayal is Peter described as carrying one.
But I think the key to understanding what Paul is trying to say is in vv.3-5. There is where the godly limitation is brought up. Paul is describing a situation where government praises "good" and punishes "bad". If government is categorically doing the opposite then what he says in vv. 1-2 does not apply to your case. It gives Christians the room to oppose government injustice and to force change towards justice.
This is really good stuff. Keep it coming.
Here is a fairly comprehensive take on the case for the compatibility of Catholicism and libertarianism.
Christian (sic) statists who elevate simplistic interpretations of Romans 13 are strangely silent on Acts 5:29: "But Peter and the apostles said in reply, 'We must obey God rather than men.'"ReplyDelete
You might like this study of Rom 13 http://www.kingwatch.co.nz/Law_Government/romans_13.htmReplyDelete
I posted this recently at Bob Murphy's website when the same subject was being discussed. A bit long, and I think I'll have to post it in two pieces. And you've nailed it, Mr. Mosquito.ReplyDelete
I’m basically re-writing something I sent out to friends via email about two years ago – slightly editing it for this somewhat long response.
On his radio program, People to People, Bob George [who passed away 6/1/2018 – Mark] used to substitute his name (or have a caller substitute theirs) for the word love in the passage in 1 Corinthians:
“Mark is patient, Mark is kind and is not jealous; Mark does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; Mark does not seek his own, [Mark] is not provoked, [Mark] does not take into account a wrong suffered, [Mark] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Obviously we all fail miserably, and it’s a great way to illustrate a point.
Bob did that many times over the years. Now let’s try it with Romans 13:
“Every person is to be in subjection to Hillary Clinton. For there is no authority except from God, and Hillary Clinton is established by God. Therefore whoever resists Hillary Clinton has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed Hillary Clinton will receive condemnation upon themselves. For Hillary Clinton is not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of Hillary Clinton? Do what is good and you will have praise from Hillary Clinton; for she is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for Hillary Clinton does not bear the sword for nothing; for she is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection to Hillary Clinton, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for Hillary Clinton is a servant of God, devoting herself to this very thing. Render to Hillary Clinton what is due her: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” Romans 13:1-7 NASB
It seems sacrilege just to do the mental exercise of substituting her name in that passage for the “governing authorities.” [I wrote the above prior to the 2016 election somewhat expecting the wicked witch to win the election.]
I’m no expert on this passage, but it is one that appears to require an alternate explanation from the standard “obey the government and pay your taxes” response – especially in light of other mandates from scripture that are obviously clear: Acts 5:29 (obeying God rather than man) comes to mind as the first.
Secondly, I always think of Christians quoting Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22, (and Mark and Luke) that we are to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”ReplyDelete
That statement is often quoted as a clear-cut response to the question of whether we are to pay taxes. But note two things – that statement was to shut up the Pharisees and scribes who were trying to trap Him. It was not a response to believers asking a question re what we owe the government (if anything.) Also He never explains what ARE the things of Caesar’s, which again, may be nothing. I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to interpret that passage as Jesus very cleverly asking them (and by implication the rest of us) to “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve.” And that’s related my third comment, which is
Remember the accounts in Matthew 4 and Luke 4 where Satan was tempting Christ?
Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Mat 4:8,9
And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Luke 4:5-7
While we know that ultimately God is in control of everything, and nothing is allowed outside of His will, even evil, it seems Satan has dominion over earthly realms. Jesus rebuked him and told him that only God is to be worshiped, but He did not deny Satan’s claim to ownership of “all the kingdoms of the world.” I think that’s because it was a true statement.
I have heard, but cannot document because I haven’t taken the time to confirm it, that pastors and theologians used Romans 13 in the 30s and 40s to encourage German citizens to submit to the Nazis. I believe using the principle of “subjecting yourself to the governing authorities” to advise Christians to obey the State, pay taxes, etc., is just like using 1 John 1:9 to teach believers we are to confess our sins to get forgiven – a gross misunderstanding of the passage. And as I said above, I’m no expert on the Romans 1 text. It’s on my list of Biblical subjects/issues/difficulties of things to get a better understanding of. But because a straight reading conflicts with so much of what we know about the rest of scripture, it must be a mistake to understand that text as requiring automatic submission to the State. (I’ve read a few things related to what the two terms ‘subjection’ and ‘governing authorities’ may actually mean instead of what they are typically taught to mean – perhaps the answer is there.)
There are plenty of examples in both the Old and New Testaments of God’s people disobeying the State and being commended for it. My favorite is Rahab the harlot. First, she’s a prostitute. Second, she presumably broke the law by hiding the spies. Third, she lied (that’s one of the top ten) to the King of Jericho. Three sins there – prostitution, breaking the law by hiding the spies, and lying (and to the King no less). You can’t get any more anti-State than that. But then we find her in Hebrews 11 as one of the heroes of the faith.
I’m chopping off the end of my email, but one of the people that replied to my email was Becky Akers. She mentioned that she had done a series of interviews on the subject of Romans 13 from an anarcho-capitalist perspective. I asked her permission to compile the interviews into a pdf and she agreed. If you email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, she’ll send you a copy – I highly recommend it. Another great resource is this article from lewrockwell.com https://www.lewrockwell.com/2010/09/paul-green/does-romans-13-oppose-liberty/
The bottom line is that the commonly preached argument that we are to obey the “governing authorities” is totally wrong.
I read this article on LRC with interest today. As a Christian with a libertarian political philosophy, this is a topic that I have studied for many years. Even so, you observed one Biblical phenomena that I had not considered: the fact that the Lord Jesus’ earthly life is bookended with profound evil by government actors.ReplyDelete
However, I see no need to interpret Romans 13 as an instruction to be subject to Church authorities using the Ephesians 6 metaphor. That may be a valid interpretation on one level since a single verse of Scripture can be properly interpreted on multiple levels.
Romans 13 must be read in its own context and in the context of church history. The chapter divisions are arbitrary, having been added in the 16th century. Romans 12 is essential to understanding the first part of Romans 13. (Romans 11 ends with "Amen", so it's reasonable to start with Romans 12 to evaluate context.)
So, what is Romans 12 about? It is practical instruction on how Christians should behave in this world. It starts out with "be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God", which is hardly an exhortation to view the government as the source of understanding what is the will of God. Toward the end, Chapter 12 instructs: "Provide things honest in the eyes of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." Note that this is conditional: "if it be possible, as much as lieth in you". And it applies not only to the Christian's conduct among believers, but all men. Living peaceably with all men, including and perhaps especially men with guns and in government, if it be possible, is good advice now as it was then.
And, what is the rest of Romans 13 about? Like Romans 12, it's practical instruction on how Christians should behave in this world.
Then there's the historical context. Most scholars date Romans as having been written between late 55 and early 57 AD. Who was the Roman emperor during this period? None other than Nero.
It is truly dimwitted (or intentionally manipulative) to interpret Romans 13:1-7 to mean that government officials are always righteous agents of God. These verses do not superficially express an unambiguous doctrine but, rather, sound advice. On another level, the verses may express something deep regarding worldly power in the course of history, but that's distinct from the good advice that the verses relate on a superficial level and not related to the topic under consideration.
Romans 13:1-7 has absolutely nothing to do with secular civil government. Instead, it's all about biblical civil government.ReplyDelete
The one word "continually" in Verse 6 (amplifying Verses 3 and 4) alone proves the point. Unless someone's willing to claim the Roman Empire (one of the most notorious for murdering Christians) was a government that continually blessed Christians and terrorized the wicked, they best reconsider their theology on this extremely important passage of Scritpure.
For more, see free online book "The Romans 13 Template for Biblical Dominion: Ten Reasons Why Romans 13 is Not About Secular Government" at http://www.bibleversusconstitution.org/Romans13/Romans13-contents.html.
The best I've found on this topic is "Jesus is an anarchist" by James Redford. The AntiState.com version is the best. One scriptural quote is taken out of context, but the article is 53 pages long and fantastic IMO. Print it and keep it for your files.ReplyDelete
~~ One thot:ReplyDelete
God owns it all, so to order our lives on the idea that "Caesar"(aka: The State) has anything it didnt forcefully confiscate from us, is simply slavery.
And a Scripture:
Acts 16:16-40 -- esp.ly vss 35 thru 40, where Paul demanded the magistrates do their own duty, and told them how to do it;
and when they found out they were Romans they were scared, as should U.S. government workers, and elected folks for The State fear all us Sovereign Citizens. And when the magistrates had "beseeched, intreated, and requested" them to depart (vs 39), Paul and company went home and took time to have a prayer & planning meeting, and THEN they left. The implication is, Paul et al didnt think too highly of church and civil authority, nor the idea of "obeying every ordinance of man"....
Having read this I thought it was very informative. I appreciate you taking the time andReplyDelete
energy to put this informative article together. I once again find
myself spending a lot of time both reading and commenting.
But so what, it was still worthwhile!
Are we disobeying God when we go the speed limit? No. Neither are we disobeying God when we lobby to get rid of speed limits.ReplyDelete
But are we disobeying God when we break the speed limit, given Romans? I'm inclined to say yes.
Are we disobeying when we stifle our preaching of the Gospel at government dictate. Yes.
I don't see examples where Apostles broke laws that didn't break God's commands. The legislature meant it for evil, but God means it for His ends (Joseph and the Bros reference).
Please, let me know where I am off.
"At minimum, this suggests that Jesus is dismissive of earthly power; one could also say that such earthly power is of the devil. In other words, not Christian."ReplyDelete
This is ironic as I was discussing this in the car with my wife coming back from Canada yesterday(before I read your article). We usually do a few different VBS's with our girls every summer and one in particular got me hot under the collar in early July as they had a big American flag at one corner of the pulpit stage and at the other, the Christian flag(I was thinking of Laurence Vance)...they started the VBS program with the Pledge...to the American flag. I instructed my kids to remain seated(always fun) while rest of their congregation obediently rose to pronounce the Pledge.
Anyway, I mentioned yesterday to the wife the reoccurring themes of the "everlasting kingdom" promised by God, for example:
"In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever."
in the context of how I felt that such "America worship" was a huge distraction to Christians aside from the moral implications of supporting what is in many ways an immoral empire. My wife agreed, she's a good woman.
Anyway, I also find it strange that Satan would make such a feeble offer to Jesus knowing that both him and Jesus know the outcome of earthly Kingdoms based on the Old Testament.
Lastly, I always note to people mentioning how Jesus "paid" his tax that he actually didn't "pay" it in a traditional sense(with his sweat/labor), he actually conjured it(from a fish's mouth). So I think there's room for debate there that he didn't pay the tax so to speak. He created it, like the Federal Reserve adds zero's to computer entries representing "money".
Are we disobeying God when we opt not to resist government surveillance? No. Neither are we disobeying God when we lobby to get rid of surveillance.ReplyDelete
But are we disobeying God when we take active measures to elude government surveillance, given Romans? I flat-out say no.
Hmmm. The first part I agree with.Delete
The second part you wrote is hazy. I think it would depend on what those "active measures" are. Any examples?
You can encrypt your email without disobeying God. You can live off the grid without disobeying God. Beyond that, you can expose the State's high crimes and misdemeanors, a' la Wikileaks, and not only do you not disobey God, you honor Him before men.Delete
The first two I think are fine. The WikiLeaks example required theft, didn't it? Exposing crimes by the state is hreat, but how you do it matters.Delete
Is it a sin to lie to a dangerous felon in order to avoid his wrath? Is it a sin to steal from a mass murderer in order to bring him to justice? I think in both cases it is not. I agree that how you do it matters.Delete
God commands that we drive safely. If the posted speed limit is 65 mph and you drive 65--or even 35--mph in a blinding snowstorm, you disobey God. Speed limits are arbitrary. They are simply another means by which the state extorts from "its" citzenry.ReplyDelete
Does the seeming stupidity or arbitrariness of a government law make it exempt from God's commands? How about if the motives of the lawmakers is evil? I don't think either case exempts us, because even those things are under God's sovereignty. Only when those laws cause us to sin do we disobey.Delete
Government law is government law. God's commands are God's commands. I'm not saying never the twain shall meet. I'm saying don't conflate one with the other.Delete
"Without justice, what are kingdoms but great robber bands? What are robber bands but small kingdoms? The band is itself made up of men, is ruled by the command of a leader, and is held together by a social pact. Plunder is divided in accordance with an agreed upon law. If this evil increases by the inclusion of dissolute men to the extent that it takes over territory, establishes headquarters, occupies cities, and subdues peoples, it publicly assumes the title of kingdom!
"A fitting and true response was once given to Alexander the Great by an apprehended pirate. When asked by the king what he thought he was doing by infesting the sea, he replied with noble insolence, 'What do you think you are doing by infesting the whole world? Because I do it with one puny boat, I am called a pirate; because you do it with a great fleet, you are called an emperor.'"
~St. Augustine of Hippo (354 A.D - 430 A.D.)
I don't think I am conflating the two. I am saying both are under the sovereignty of God.Delete
Augustine makes a great case about the evils of government. The emperor and the pirate are the same thing, at different degrees. I don't disagree.
But I still don't think the evil motives of the ruler exempts us from the government law. Your quote does not address this. Jesus told us to carry the Roman soldiers gear twice the distance legally required, not to resist the obviously evil law (the theft of time and freedom). I think the standard from Scripture is clear: we resist and disobey government law only when it would directly cause us to sin. Do we have a Scripture-based argument against this?
Correction: the emperor and pirate engage in similar activity, but not the same thing. One is established, the other is not.Delete
Is a monopolist of violence "under the sovereignty of God"? Are we to acquiesce to its demands when it only indirectly causes us to sin? Say when it uses our tax dollars to kidnap and imprison plant-smokers or bomb civilians overseas?Delete
The hallmark of morality is universality. If "thou shalt not steal" is good enough for us, it ought to apply as well to those who presume to rule over us. Taxation is legalized extortion. Did God carve out an exception for our civil overlords?
I see the unlucky 13th chapter of Romans as an exhortation to prudence, not a guide to living. If I'm within my rights to resist a stick-up artist in a dark alley, why am I not likewise within my rights to resist the IRS?
Of course, I don't want to get tossed in the hoosegow. I have a family that relies on me to provide for them. That's where prudence comes in.
Is a monopolist of violence "under the sovereignty of God"?Delete
Yes, but in the same way that the monopolist of violence can choose to disobey God's sovereignty and proclaim its own laws, we can choose to disobey it and recognize instead God's law. This is authorized in the "render unto Caesar..." passage.Delete
Isn't everything God's? As Christians can we really hold that the government owns something apart from God? I think it is clear that the state, since it is not above God, is also held to the standards of God's law, and to the extent that it violates that law, it renders itself an unjust earthly authority and validates us in disobeying its earthly commands.
Do you mean to say we only follow government laws that match God's law? What of Jesus's command to carry Roman gear? What about government laws in which the Bible may be silent?
I'm an ancap, and agree fully with the NAP; however, I want to be careful about my relationship with authority. There is an American president because God preordained that there would be one. Am I to disobey all of his orders because of the corrupt nature of the office? Or do I obey fully when God's commands for our individual behavior isn't contradicted?
What I'm trying to avoid is reading the Bible with a libertarian lens.
Not that I have any particular authority, but I would say as a Christian and a conservative an-cap, I believe it is 1.) right to follow government rules, so long as they don't cause you to break God's laws, but 2.) it is our duty to disobey government rules, if they are in discord with God's laws.
1.) It is lawful for me under the current government to use my vote in order to grant those in my income bracket subsidies paid by taxing others more. This, to me, is a form of indirect theft, and thus it is a violation of God's law. This is not to say I believe all voting to be immoral or contrary to God's law.
2.) If the government were to reinstate the draft in order to fight an aggressive war (a conflict it initiated) on foreign soil, I believe it would be my duty to disobey the draft, because this would be engaging in unjustified killing or murder, which is clearly a violation of God's law.
Things are not always so cut and dry as the two examples I chose. For instance, if my government started the war, but a foreign army showed up on our soil, I would then join the fight with the intention of killing the enemy soldiers, until they retreated. If I could do this by joining a private militia I would, but in the absence of one, I would join the government's army.
Also if I voted for a candidate who seemed the lesser of two evils: one who campaigned on lower taxes, freer trade, less drug related incarceration, a more peaceful foreign policy, etc., and then this candidate, once elected, became worse than the prior office holder, I don't believe that I violated God's law. I chose based on the best information available that my candidate would move things closer to God's law, not further away.
There are so many grey areas though, because the influence of the government has its tentacles in nearly everything. Generally, I believe it is not a good idea to help out the state, since it routinely and necessarily violates God's law, but it is also not a good idea to bring the state down on your head. Somewhere in there is a balance to be struck in order to live a good and long Christian life despite the presence of a jealous and aggressive monopoly of earthly authority. Being a martyr for God is the height of Christian virtue and our reverence for martyrs is just, but some of us have to live on to carry on the tradition. I think sometimes this means we must "carry the Roman gear."
"...reading the Bible with a libertarian lens."
I think Christianity is perfectly consistent with libertarianism, only it has a few positive obligations to God and our neighbors (no where in the bible does it say these obligations must be enforced by violence). Further, the more I read the Catholic Catechism, the more I'm convinced that libertarianism is just a good secular form of Christianity.
You are asking a very tough question and probably a judgment call only an individual can make for himself/herself. You are right to see government as established by God. That is in Romans 13 and throughout the book of Daniel.Delete
However, even in Romans 13 the government is described as not causing fear for the righteous. If it does at some point it becomes illegitimate and liable to become overthrown. At what point? Who knows. I don't think there is a clear line in the sand. But in general what I think that means is if a government oppresses enough people and refuses to hear the criticism and reform, then it has sealed its own fate and those who rebel are just. But you better be careful about how you choose to act because what if you, the rebel, are wrong? It's tricky.
Wonderful replies ATL and RMB. I think this is a worthwhile discussion.Delete
I agree, ATL, that the Bible and libertarianism are congruent. I see that as well. My comment about what lens I use is also more of a concern about idolatry. I don't want to place libertarianism above Christ (including and especially in my heart).
When do we overthrow and revolt? I don't know if ever. Emperor Nero was the authority of Paul's time. We have no recording of him calling for overthrowing or actively resisting arbitrary laws that don't cause us to sin. If Paul didn't call for it with The Beast, then why would we with King George, or President Trump?
Yes...I question the American revolt on Biblical grounds too. That's another can of worms!
It's not a scholarly work but you may find some value/interest in it nonetheless:
My own view is that when a government/authorities prevents its "subjects" from fulfilling their moral obligations to God they are within their duties to revolt/rebel.
On the subject of why the first Christians did not rebel against Rome, I believe the reason was a practical one for the most part: To obey the Lords command to fulfill The Great Commission and spread the Gospel.
There's also this case-study by Christian philosopher & theologian John Frame:Delete
Thanks Larry. I'll chew on those as well!Delete
You're quite welcome. I look forward to reading your thoughts.Delete
Dave Barton quoted John MacArthur and tried to refute him by quoting the opinions of the Founders. I found MacArthur more convincing! I'm looking for exegesis people!Delete
Great articles though, Larry. I find myself still struggling. I'm nearly (if not completely) convinced to beleieve that political activity is futile. Maybe I should be off Libertarian forums!
Part of exegesis is thinking through things in context and from multiple angles. MacArthur's statement as it is presented doesn't consider any context biblical, historical, or logical.Delete
As others have already said, there are multiple verses where people praised in the Bible for disobeying government. Any one of those occurrences is enough to call MacArthur's understanding into question because he treats it as an absolute rule where even the Biblical authors (i.e. the Holy Spirit) does not.
Once we determine that obedience to government can't be absolute, as described by the Bible, the next step is to decide what disobedient actions including violence are permissible. Even Jesus did not rebuke Peter strictly for using violence in John 18. He rebuked Peter because Jesus knew it was the Father's plan for Him to die on the cross to pay for our sins.
Another thing to think through. If Romans 13 is absolute in every case, then that means that tyrannical government is reflective of God's will and has His seal of approval. We know that can't be the case because God is holy and hates every act of sin, even more so when those in power oppress their subjects. Even more, Jesus would be in sin for conquering the armies of the kings who come against Jerusalem in Revelation. God established them right? He did actually but Him establishing a king does not mean that their actions and position of power is unchallengable.
We have to get past this idea that a king or person in government is this higher form of human. They aren't. If someone robs you at gun point or locks you up in a room for an unjust reason, they are criminals. If a government does the same thing they aren't acting as God's servant. They are sinning against God and are criminals the same. Personal action is personal action and should be dealt with as such not as a separate category of action.
There is much I agree with here.Delete
Is a government outside of God's sovereignty when it does evil?
This is the article that I didn't realize I was for. Thank you thank you thank you. Makes sense of something that has never seemrd rightReplyDelete
Glad I could help - but really, Casey did an exemplary job on this.Delete
~~ I've sat under and have outlived a few pastors, preachers, dozens of evangelists, missionaries, and message bringers from the "laity". I have heard the Apostle Paul quoted over and over. Yet not once have I ever heard anybody expound or even mention his stance against civil and religious leaders as provided us in Acts16:16-40, esp.ly vss 35-40, when the magistrates tried to sneak them out of prison and out of town, but Paul would have none of it, saying these Swamp Critters beat us Roman Citizens in public, and threw us in prison.\, and now they wanna sneak us out the back door? -- no way, let them come and finish what they illegally began.ReplyDelete
AND when the magistrates heard they feared [Gr 'phobeo'-- we talk a lot about homo', islamo', and a buncha other 'phobia's, but not of the Malfunction Junction (aka: WashDC) bottom feeders fearing us Sovereign Citizens]
"...And they came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city..."
And did what ?? "besought" which is translated "beseeched, implored, exhorted, intreated, prayed"; and "desired", which translates to the same as besought, and we know repetition carries great weight.
AND when Paul and the others had finished the Lord's work in that city, THEN they deigned to leave the city as the leaders had humbly requested.
I think Paul set the tone for what should be a normal response to government "power", from Xn's or any other class of Sovereign Citizen. The Mattoids may have the "power", but their Authority & Jurisdiction is to be limited by us....
thanks for dialoguing -- every moment is a learning & teaching opp.ty !!....