|| Previous || Next || Romans 13 || e-mail || V&FT ||
The Most Disastrously Misinterpreted Scripture
It is common in conservative Christian circles to say that the State is "a divine institution." Although at other times this tune is changed, when we hear its refrain we are rightly led to separate from those who advocate violent rebellion and change, overthrowing the State through force (Proverbs 24:21).
But the main message of the theologians is less than Biblical. It sings the praises of politics and lauds the State as an institution as basic as the Family. Romans 13 is the mainstay of this patriotic song, carrying more weight in five verses than all of the Law of God and the application thereof by the Prophets. Hodge asserts that "The whole theory of civil government and the duty of citizens to their rulers, are comprehensively stated by the Apostle in Romans xiii.1-5." Gifford declares that discussions of the State are rarely noticed in other of Paul's epistles, but he treats it "so fully and emphatically in writing to the Romans." Neither of these men can be called "Theonomists," that is, advocates of the detailed and comprehensive application of "God's Law," as found in the New and Old Testaments. The Old Testament prophets, who deal with Babylon, Assyria and other monstrous empires, critique them "fully and emphatically" according to Biblical Law, yet these commentators ignore their message, seemingly satisfied with Romans 13 alone.
Interestingly (but not significantly), two other "chapter 13's" -- Revelation 13 and Isaiah 13 -- tell us a great deal about the State. These chapters, and others like them, are conveniently ignored by the Chaplains of the State.
We must not make the same mistake.
The State has long profited from theologians who ignore the concrete teachings of Scripture concerning the State, and concerning economics, law, and power in general.
To say that Romans 13 is the be-all, end-all passage on the State is at best naive, and in any case, largely unScriptural in its effect on Christians.
Let us look at these other "13's."
New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce has made an astute observation in his comments on Romans 13. He asks, "What if Caesar claims not only the things that are his, but the things that are God's?" Certainly this happens. Caesar can go so far
as to claim divine honours for himself and wage war against the saints. Can we recognize Paul's magistrate, "the minister of God," . . . in John's "beast from the abyss," who receives his authority from the great red dragon and uses it to enforce universal worship of himself and to exterminate those who withhold worship from him? We can indeed. . . .
It was certainly not in the best interests of the Roman Empire (at least as they perceived their "best" interests) for Christians to believe that the State, who regulates all commerce and industry and prides itself on a growing GNP (13:16-17; ch. 18), is in fact "a beast" with "the names of blasphemy upon his heads" (13:1), and identifiable by the number 666 (13:18). Compromising statist theologians undoubtedly pooh-poohed the notion that the State "received his power, and his seat and his great authority" from "the dragon," (13:2) who is in fact "that old serpent called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world" (12:9). These theologians would have the church believe that the State receives its militaristic, imperialistic mandate direct from God and His Word.
Of course, Job would be the first to admit that Satan receives authority from God (Job 1:12). But to say that Satan gets his power from God (ultimately, or permissively) is quite a different thing from saying that Satan is a "Divine Institution," with a Divine Charter from God.
Similarly, to say that God uses Satan's statist devices against Satan and for Christ's Kingdom does not imply that Satan's statist devices are in accord with God's precepts. God uses evil men to accomplish good ends in spite of their evil intentions.
In another paper ("Stars and Idolatry") we have examined the connection between Satan, his demonic henchmen, and the State. What we saw in that paper is seen in Revelation 13. The dragon (who is Satan (12:9)), having taken a third part of the stars ("stars" here meaning, as it does many times in Scripture, angels), then proceeds to inspire emperors and dictators to exercise lordship over others and garner their patriotic and enthusiastic devotion (Revelation 13:4; cf. Luke 22:25ff.).
When one traces the origin of the State and its conflict with God's central institution, the Family, it becomes plain that the State has a close connection with demonic powers, who incite rebellion against true authority in the Family.
The relationship between the Roman Empire and Satan is plain enough in Revelation 13: "The dragon gave the beast his power, and his seat, and great authority" (13:2). All the while God is predestinatingly and knowingly watching; watching as Satan arms Caesar to "make war with the saints" (13:7).
The picture here corresponds to that of the gospel writers who record Satan as controlling the political movements of the world (Luke 4:5-6).
"If any man have an ear, let him hear" (13:9).
Why does God allow Satan to arm Caesar? Are we jumping to conclusions in saying that there is a relationship between the State and the stars (angels) that Satan took with him in his rebellion? Isaiah 13 answers some of the "whys" we have when we finish reading Revelation 13. Isaiah 13 tells us how the demonic State unwittingly accomplishes God's purposes.
Isaiah begins a sermon against Babylon in chapter 13 which continues through chapter 14. Babylon is going to be judged for her lawlessness, her violations of Biblical Law. Her judgment will come at the hands of the Medes.
We see God's sovereignty in Isaiah 13 verses 3ff.
- The soldiers of the Meden army are His "sanctified ones." (v. 3)
- The Lord "commands" them.
- He calls His "mighty ones." (v. 3)
- He musters the armies together. (v. 4)
- The armies of the nations
- come from the Lord
- to destroy the earth. (v. 5)
- (Not the whole earth, just the land that pertains to Babylon.)
- The destroying armies are "the weapons of His indignation" (v. 5).
- This is the day of the Lord's "wrath and fierce anger" (vv. 6-9).
- The coming destruction is a terror for these evil doers (v. 11).
- God is sending a sword to cut them down (v. 15).
It isn't necessary for you or for me to take vengeance on Babylon; God will see to it; He and His "sanctified ones."
In verses 10 and 13, the effects of this destroying army are spoken of in terms of the stars, which we have seen are a way of speaking of angels or demonic forces associated with the State (see "Angels and God's Throne of Government" as well as "Stars and Idolatry"). Isaiah says Babylon's heavenly patrons are going to be shaken (v. 13: not all the heavens, just the heavens that pertain to Babylon).
J. Marcellus Kik, in his exposition of Matthew 24, has shown that this cosmic language is not to be interpreted naturally, or astronomically, as though the suns from other galaxies are going to be physically disturbed in the fall of Babylon, Idumea (Isaiah 34:4-5), Egypt (Ezekiel 32:7,8), or Israel (Matthew 24:29-31). Other writers have provided insight into the nature of these "principalities and powers."
So confused have some commentators been over Isaiah's link between the State and demonic forces that they have attributed Isaiah's prophecies against the State of Babylon to Satan himself! (14:12-14) But it is an understandable case of mistaken identity!
So why does God allow Satan and his henchmen to incite the State to war and oppression? Why does God command His "sanctified ones" to destroy another nation?
The answer is clear: Babylon has succumbed to Satan's temptation to be as gods (Genesis 3:5; Isaiah 14:13). They knew they risked God's judgment when they made their decision (Romans 1:18-32). God destroys both men and nations by allwoing them to pursue their evil dreams. He advances His Kingdom by using lawless men and nations to judge other lawless men and nations. But this does not mean that lawless nations have God's ethical approval, nor should they have ours. God's "ministers" are evil and horrifying. We must not los sight of just how evil the state really is.
God's judgment is fierce upon a lawless nation, such as Babylon, and He deals with Babylon in a covenantal way. Not just the king, but his citizens are affected. Not just the fathers, but their wives feel God's wrath. Not just the parents, but their (covenant!) children (all men are members of a covenant; all are either covenant breakers or covenant keepers; the issue is always Theonomy or autonomy). Thus verses 16 and 18 give graphic and upsetting detail of God's judgment on Babylon. The Medes are going to dash the children to pieces right before their mothers' eyes. This may be before, it may be after, they rape the mothers. Young men, who might be potential soldiers (even now 12- and 13-year olds are not uncommonly seen in Israeli uniforms or as members of Latin American "Liberation Fronts"), will likewise be dismembered and killed. One scholar blandly declares that these gruesome atrocities were "common to ancient warfare."
You see, when it comes to the demon-empowered armies of the State, war really is hell!
Satan's kingdom cannot stand; it wars against itself. Satan provokes men to pride, covetousness, competition, and ultimately war (James 4:1-5; Revelation 13:7). An associations of covetous men, called the "State," unwittingly carries out God's judgments upon another State, by destroying it in fearful war. The "victorious" State is then face-to-face with God's judgment for their destructive ways, and will soon be judged by yet another State, equally covetous, equally proud, and so it goes, until Christ shall have put down all these "archists" (I Corinthians 15:24-25) by giving them up to self-destruction, when they can be replaced by Spirit-empowered Christian self- government.
We can summarize Isaiah's doctrine of the State by looking at Isaiah 10. This is a prophecy against Israel. God is going to use Assyria in the same way He used the Medes against Babylon.
Verse 5 says the Assyrian army is the rod of the Lord's anger. Their weapons are the Lord's indignation.
Ultimately it is God Who is sending these unGodly barbarians. Their purpose is the judgment of a hypocritical nation, those who have incurred God's wrath. God gives the army "a command" (v. 6a) to steal, confiscate wealth and property, and in general to do the things the Assyrian army does best: to rape and pillage Israelites, treating them like sewage in the street (v. 6b).
Verse 6 is overlooked by most Christians, whose failure to separate from worldly influences has desensitized them to the violence of this verse. God says -- to Israel -- "I give him a command to spoil." Israel deserves this destruction, for in spite of a prophetic warning, they continue emulating the ways of the statists around them.
Israel, an adolescent nation from a conservative, middle-class background, looks enviously upon the lifestyles of "the beautiful people," the partying jet-setters of the nations. Like an air-headed teenager without responsible adult models, Israel twitters at the fashionable violence of the tauntingly rebellious punk-baalim and heavy-Ashtaroth rockers -- just a little worldliness without getting "too far" out of line.
God gives Israel a full dose of what these pagan Humanists really represent.
Assyria is only serving God's purposes unwittingly. Assyria is not doing what they do because they know God wants them to. The Assyrian "does not so intend" (v. 7). The Assyrian is just a big "party animal;" with a couple of six packs under his belt he just isn't satisfied with a bag of loot and a couple of cunts (cf. Judges 5:30). He goes for the gusto (cf. Isaiah 13:16-18). Are you titillated or amused at that language? Then imagine it happening to your wife and daughter. Israel also winked at such prophetic imagery.
This hideous State-sanctioned violence is obviously not sanctioned by God in His Law. It is the antithesis of Godly conduct. And so, not surprisingly, Assyria shall be judged by God for their lawless destruction.
We see then that God is sovereign over the State and its brutal ugliness. God allows Satan to raise up a State and its armies, and uses this gorilla-machine to judge other machines -- covetous, irresponsible hypocritical nations -- punishing them -- taking vengeance upon them -- in His wrath. All things -- but especially the State -- serve God's Kingdom purposes.
Well, not quite. Every passage should be considered in its context.
Romans 12 says we are not to handle our problems like a State. We are to follow the example Christ gave us in His earthly ministry. If somebody invades our territorial waters or pirates a shipment of our grain, we do not declare war on him. He will be judged soon enough -- by God. "'Vengeance is MINE; I will repay' saith the Lord" (12:19).
And of course the biggest violator of this rule is the State. War is basic to the State, and the State is basic to war (as Ludwig von Mises argued in his book Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War).
There is thus a great spiritual conflict between Christians and the State. The State is threatened by Christians who do not buy into its power-propaganda (Acts 17:6-7). This is why Empire declares war on the saints (Rev. 13:4,7). This is why the State put Christ to death (I Corinthians 2:8).
The Bible is, from cover to cover, an anti-statist manifesto.
Some have thus concluded that we should resist the State; revolution has been characteristic of many Christian groups (see, e.g., Christopher Hill, Puritanism and Revolution, and Michael Walzer, The Revolution of the Saints. The Marxists are fascinated by the Puritans, who have a high doctrine of the State (when they are in power) and an attraction to violent revolution (when they are not)). Thus Hodge, in his analysis of the Westminster Confession of Faith, asserts that
"when there appears no prospect of securing reform in the government itself, and some good prospect of securing it by revolution, then it is the privilege and duty of a Christian people to change their government -- peaceably if they may, forcibly if they must."
In another volume he adds,
"The right of resistance is in the community. It is the right of revolution, which God sanctions, and which good men in past ages have exercised to the salvation of civil and religious liberty."
Thus, conservative merchants in Colonial America, "oppressed" by taxation of perhaps well over 2%, began murdering British soldiers -- the glorious "American Revolution."
Of course, Revolution is defended not only by the theological right, but also by leftists. We saw this in such debacles as Munster, in the 1500's and it continues in Marxists in our day. We all know about "them."
But Jesus was not a revolutionary. He opposed Humanistic violence (e.g., Matthew 21:5; 26:52; etc.). Paul, aware that the Biblical teaching on the State might lead some to entertain thoughts of revolution, comes down hard against both statism and revolution in Romans 12-14.
Statism, the worship of political power, trusting in political strategies for social peace and prosperity, is condemned in Romans 12. The unit (chapters 12-14) begins with a call to non-conformity (12:1-2), continues with a mandate for non-competitive service and a new quality of relationships in decentralized Christian communities (12:3-18; cf. chapters 15-16). Undergirding this social ideal is obedience to God's Law above man's, and this finds manifestation in the new command to Love as Christ loved us (12:9-10; 13:8-10). The dawning of this anti-statist Day is at hand (13:11-12). Growth by coercion to achieve revolutionary change is inappropriate for this Christian lifestyle (14:1-21). Finance by force is contrary to this vision (15:26ff.). In chapters 15-16 the vision is seen to be materializing; it is not "idealistic" or "pie-in-the-sky."
Any interpretation of Romans 13:1-7 which would make it the expression of a static or conservative undergirding of the present social system (Rome) would therefore represent a refusal to take seriously the context.
There is an obvious interplay around the concepts of vengeance and wrath. Christians are to leave wrath to God (12:19). And who is it that is unwittingly used by God to accomplish divine vengeance? You-know-who (13:4). It is inconceivable that these two verses, using such similar language, should be meant to be read independently of one another. This makes it clear that the function exercised by the State is not the function to be exercised by Christians.
Revolution But as evil as the State is, in its refusal to abide by Christian principles, violent revolution against the State is also counter to the example of Christ. Christ did not rebel against the ultimate statist evil of all time: His own crucifixion. Christian martyrs have followed this example. The whole point of 13:1-7, in the context of the Jewish Christians in Rome, is to take out of their minds any concept of revolution or political force to change corrupt pagan government. Decentralized Christian Government is the ultimate Spiritual weapon against the State.
Hodge, like many in the Reformation tradition, speaks very highly of the State as a divine institution, an organization explicitly and approvingly chartered by God. He uses Romans 13 as his chief (only?) argument. And yet he also plays fast and loose with the obvious thrust of the command in Romans 13: submit to the State. Hodge says we have a right to revolution in order to change "our government." Paul says we submit to it, even as he says elsewhere that the State is not "our government"; our political franchise is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Therefore, we trust not in strategies of political revolution, but in the extension of the Kingdom of Heaven through the wide-spread application of Biblical Law in the lives of individuals, Families, and voluntary associations in every nation. (Should Christians in the Soviet Union consider the Communist Party "our government"? I wouldn't. And I consider the American Socialists only marginally more Godly than the Soviet Socialists. I would not, therefore, attempt to "reform" the Soviets by armed resistance.) Who does God really want to order the lives of the people of a society: The Spirit through Christian service, or Babylonian bureaucrats?
In another paper we have examined the hypocrisy of those Protestant commentators who encourage statist dependence and centralization by patriotically appealing to Romans 13, and then turn around and advocate forcible revolution when the State is not on their side.
But to warn against revolutionary opposition to the State is not to say that we fundamentally support the State. If we keep the other "13's" in mind, we will have no trouble in understanding Romans 13; we will not find a carte blanche for State power, nor a grant of revolutionary activity.
Famous Archists in History:
You'll recognize one of those archists above as Adolph Hitler.
Hitler did not kill six million Jews.
Name one Jew whom you can prove Hitler killed.
Six million Jews were killed by
six million Germans
who chose to wear a silly uniform, walk a silly goose-step, and follow the orders of a beyond-silly, pathologically evil man.
These Germans were archists. They were "ordinary people." Just like you.
If you don't take immediate steps to become an anarchist, then by default you'll be an archist. Plus, you'll be unable to resist the temptations, the bribes, the pressure and the threats by archists to become an archist. You'll become an archist just like those rows and rows of "good" Germans above. They are just like you. You are just like them. "Sensible." "Rational." "Practical."
Christian "Anarchism" is Our Goal | | All Evil is Predestined by God | | Pray for a Servant's Understanding | | Angels and God's Throne of Government | | Stars and Idolatry | | Why the State Always Encourages Immorality | | Unlucky 13 -- Romans 13, Revelation 13 and Isaiah 13 | | A Roman's-Eye View of Romans 13 | | "Principalities and Powers" | | Lakes of Fire in "Smoke-Filled Rooms" | | Romans 13: The Burden is on the Archists | | Taxation, Representation, and the Myth of the State | | Why the State is not a "Divine Institution" | | Angels and Autarchy | | 95 Theses Against the State | | Here is what a Christian Anarchist looks like after he has joined The Christmas Conspiracy.
Vine & Fig Tree
Vine & Fig Tree
12314 Palm Dr. #107
Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240
[e-mail to V&FT]
[V&FT Home Page]