John Frame's Theory of the State

I have tremendous respect for John Frame. He is one of my favorite theologians, and as the one who took a personal interest in my dispute with Greg Bahnsen and mediated a reconciliation, he is one of my favorite Christians. Always cautious, his thoughts on a Biblical Theory of the State are found on the "Third Millennium" website: IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 3, Number 43, October 22 to October 28, 2001. All three parts are combined and analyzed on this page. In many ways he supports our Thesis; in other ways he helps bring clarity. He believes the State is morally legitimate, and thus disagrees with our "anarchist" perspective.
2008 Update: a more complete version is here. Our response to parts III and IV will be added.


By John M. Frame 

An Anarchist Response

 Vine & Fig Tree

Originally published in Westminster Theological Journal 51:2 (Fall, 1989), 199-226. Part was given as a lecture on the occasion of Rev. Frame assuming the title Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California. 


Before we get to a line-by-line analysis of Frame's theory of the State, let's grasp the big-picture differences between the two approaches.

The "Vine & Fig Tree" vision is that of beating "swords into plowshares" and leaving every man dwelling safely under his own "Vine & Fig Tree." (Micah 4:1-7). We can call this "postmillennial anarchism": A world converted to Christianity; a world converted to non-violence; a world under God's Law and the Prince of Peace; a world which has abandoned the entire concept of "the State."

America's Founding Fathers were motivated by this vision, though not as radically as we are. They abolished a government they described as a "tyranny." Taxes were 1/20th what they are today, and the government they abolished would never have dreamed of using tax revenue to fund abortions, remove the Ten Commandments from local schools, give foreign aid to Saddam Hussein during his war with Iran, and build more than 700 military bases around the world, all of which the government created by America's Founders went on to do.

Americans in the 21st century would consider the Americans of 1776 to have been "radical anarchists" or even "terrorists."

But, of course, even the most libertarian of the Founders was not technically an anarchist.

We are.

  • The institution called "The State" has intentionally killed nearly a quarter of a billion human beings in the 20th century -- not including abortions. That's an average of about 10,000 people per day.
  • Billions of people are enslaved under states that claim to own all property.
  • Trillions of dollars worth of private property has been destroyed or confiscated by the State.

This monstrous violence against people is always done in the name of "the People," these crimes are supposed to prevent crimes.

We propose a society -- indeed, a world -- of "Liberty Under God."

The concept of  "the State" is the idea that some people have the right to violate God's Commandments. Those people who call themselves "the State" claim the right to take vengeance on their enemies, and they have the right to confiscate the property of others to fund their acts of vengeance. The statist worldview justifies these actions. Taxation, enslavement, execution: it can't get any better than that.

But it can get much, much, worse.

Violence.     Today "the State" is clearly the greatest force for evil on the planet. More people are murdered, more lives enslaved, and more property confiscated or destroyed by "the State" than all the "criminals" and so-called "anarchists" combined. Hundreds of millions killed, billions enslaved, trillions of dollars stolen.

Secularization.    And because "the State" begins with the foundational idea of stealing in order to kill, the more consistent it becomes in its rebellion against God's Commandments, the more atheistic it becomes. Virtually every "state" on earth today is atheistic, and the State has become (to use the words of A.A. Hodge) "the most efficient and wide instrument for the propagation of atheism which the world has ever seen."

The more powerful the State is, or wants to become, the more it must promote immorality and suppress religion and morality.

Opposition to Violence.   Frame's article accepts the moral legitimacy of this institution called "the State," though he reconstructs it in a way that departs from many standard analyses, and in ways which are close to the "Vine & Fig Tree" position. But in the end, we're still very far apart, I fear. Frame and his students will not go down in  history as great opponents of the murder, slavery, and theft on a massive global scale which "the State" represents.

Opposition to Secularism.   Nor will Frame's theological package counter the big theological errors which cripple Christians and have served as the foundation of the State for the last couple of centuries. Not that Frame agrees with these errors -- he does not. But unless these errors are refuted in a way that also refutes the legitimacy of  global murder, slavery and theft, the errors have not been refuted, and the secular State will grow.

Then, in turn, the continued existence of the State and the legitimacy of the concept of the State is a toxin which poisons society, causing great a vicious cycle of spiritual sickness and death.

This is a "worldview" issue. One's worldview determines the fundamental categories of interpreting the facts of our world.

  • Eschatology: Should the world be abandoned to "tribulation" and imminent catastrophe while we await a "Rapture," or should we be making plans to create peaceful and orderly human societies which will last for millennia into the future? The position on "government" in this campaign is written from an "optimillennial" rather than "pessimillennial" perspective. We look forward to a global "Christocracy."
  • Law: This response is written from a generally "theonomic" perspective. God's Law is not a burden. God's Law is a blueprint for social and personal growth, progress, overcoming challenges, and dominion, which make people more human.
  • Society: This response is written from an individualistic rather than collectivist perspective. A "capitalist" perspective rather than a "socialist" one. But it also recognizes family and church, with "church" being defined not hierarchically, but as a corporate mutualist network of service.
  • Government: We favor a well-ordered, Godly society. But the greatest progress in human culture and social order will take place when the entire concept of "the State" is as distant a memory and as absent from the planet as "animal sacrifices," though both at one time dominated human society. On balance, "The State" brings disorder.

Ultimately this issue will not be resolved by the exegesis of a handful of Bible texts. This is really an entirely different way of reading the Bible and looking at human society.

"The State" owes its existence to extortion and threats of violence ("taxation"), and its core purpose is vengeance, all of which are forbidden by God's Law. But most Christians believe that we cannot be secure without these sins being committed by "the State."

That word "secure" is part of the Biblical definition of "salvation." Modern Man believes "the State" brings salvation rather than God. Belief in the necessity or moral legitimacy of the State is a form of idolatry.

There is no legitimate human social function which cannot be more efficiently and humanely carried out without "the State." Self-government, family government, schools, hospitals, grocery stores, insurance, home security, dispute resolution and other businesses will all thrive without "the State."

They have in the past; they must in the future.

Among anarchists there is a debate as to whether our present huge global multinational corporations would exist without the State, e.g., whether Exxon would have its present form without the full resources of the million-man nuclear-armed military forces of a superpower State (the U.S.) overthrowing the government of Iran in 1953, raising up Saddam Hussein's army to battle Iran for over a decade in the 1980's, overthrowing Soviet-influenced governments in Latin America, creating "al Queda" to counter the Soviet Union's disruption of oil pipeline construction in Afghanistan, and myriad other ways in which a "Free Market" in energy has not existed since industrialists like Rockefeller created today's "Administrative State" to annul the Constitution and to carry out their corporate policies. (Pro-special-interest regulation was once "progressive" or  "populist," said to be in the best interests of "the poor" or "the people," but today's regulation is now often carried out in the name of "de-regulation," a misnomer, just as "free trade agreements" do not make trade freer, but create huge new systems of government which are not bound down by "the chains of the Constitution.")

"The government" continues to create popular support for its own existence by manipulating education and the media to create the widespread popular belief that without "the State," "criminals" would "take over." We have all been trained to believe from our youngest days that "The State" protects "Life, Liberty and Property."

Today's federal government takes over half of everything you earn. If we remove our patriotism-colored glasses, it will immediately become apparent that "the State" destroys more lives, enslaves more individuals, and confiscates or destroys more private property than all the "anarchists" and "criminals" in the world combined.

The entire concept of "the State" is unBiblical and supremely dangerous.

Our worldview needs to exclude the whole idea that a group of people have the right to confiscate the wealth of others ("tax") to fund acts of vengeance against their competitors or "enemies." We do not allow this idea to become socially accepted in the world of business. The idea must become as socially unacceptable in the field of "government."

The future of the human race depends on this conversion.

What follows is a bit more academic; a line-by-line analysis of Prof. Frame's paper which is found in the pinko-colored left-hand column.

There has been much discussion recently among evangelical Christians about the biblical view of civil government. Several events have encouraged us to pursue this topic:  The main event that encouraged me to write about the State is the fact that during the 20th century the State murdered an average of 10,000 people each and every day. This fact (and others like it) has not figured in the recent discussions among evangelical Christians.
(1) the remarkable recent change in American fundamentalism from an apolitical stance to strong political involvement; This remarkable change prompted my article in Christianity and Civilization.
(2) evidence from elections and polls that evangelicals do have the power to influence government policy; Most evangelicals apparently voted for Bill Clinton -- that is, for a bigger, more powerful State (but the same thing could be said about evangelicals who voted Republican).
(3) the advancement and vigorous promulgation within evangelicalism of various incompatible views of the role of government: traditional Anabaptism;[1] Anabaptists have been called many things, and many things have been called "anabaptism." We believe they were closer to the Biblical view than the "magisterial reformers." Introduction to Anabaptists here.
traditional Lutheranism;[2] See our forthcoming analysis of the statism of the "White Horse Inn."
the "intrusion ethic" of Meredith G. Kline;[3]  
"theonomy" or "Christian reconstruction";[4] Frame finds many good things in the "Christian Reconstruction" view, as I do. But because of my "anarchist" views, no Reconstructionists will give me the time of day. All of these views (except some strands of Anabaptism) grant the moral legitimacy of the State. We do not. I believe the State should be abolished non-violently, that is, through resignation of all politicians.(a) God says "Thou shalt not steal" and "Thou shalt not kill." This eliminates the moral possibility of "the State," which does not raise funds by running a thrift store, and uses its extorted funds for killing and vengeance. As we go through Frame's essays, we will repeatedly ask the question, "Where has God commanded men to form "the State" and to extort money from others for use in killing and taking vengeance?" We will never find such a command. No monopoly of vengeance is ever given by God.
and "principled pluralism."[5]  
Clearly this is a time of political opportunity for Christians, but also a time of challenge. We need to determine from the word of God what we should seek to achieve in the political arena, and we need the grace of God to obtain the courage and the love to do what is right. I will not be able in this paper to discuss all the pros and cons of the various views. I shall, rather, first tell you some of the conclusions I have reached from past studies, so that you will know "where I am coming from." To save time, I shall present these conclusions with little or no argument. Then I shall seek to build upon the conclusions in hope of making some progress toward a biblical view of the state.
"We need to determine from the word of God what we should seek to achieve in the organized crime arena."

Of course, we need to determine from the word of God what we should seek to achieve in every arena, but that answer is going to be different in arenas which shouldn't even exist in the first place.

Hermeneutical Prolegomena

First, then, my starting points:

(1) Godís word in Scripture is the supreme authority for all areas of human life, and therefore must be confessed as infallible and inerrant.

(2) Everything God says in Scripture applies to us today (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 9:10; 2 Tim. 3:16ff.).

(3) Scripture is sufficient as a transcript of Godís will for all areas of human life (2 Tim. 3:16ff.; Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:1-10).

(4) Old Testament law, specifically, continues to exercise authority over the New Testament believer (Matt. 5:17-20; Rom. 13:8-11; 1 Cor. 9:8ff.,21; James 4:11ff.).

If the reader is not interested in hermeneutics and wants to go directly to the discussion about "the State," click here.

On these four starting points, we are in complete agreement.

(5) The New Testament does, however, indicate some discontinuities between the law and the believer in Christ. The law is not our ground of acceptance with God (Rom. 3:19ff.; Gal. 2:21; 3:1-25), and in Christ we are set free from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:10-14). We are also freed from the burdensome legal tutelage, even bondage, imposed on the Old Covenant people of God because of their immaturity (Gal. 3:23-25; 4:1-7,21-31). Therefore, many of the Old Testament ordinances are "shadows," no longer to be observed because fulfilled in Christ (Mark 7:19; Gal. 4:8-11; Col. 2:16-23; 1 Tim. 4:1-5; Heb. 8-10). The Law was never anyone's "ground of acceptance with God," so there is no discontinuity here.

Could it be that Christians in our day have imposed on themselves a "burdensome legal tutelage, even bondage," which is appropriate only for an immature slave-like people? Both priesthood and "the State" are holdovers from the Old Covenant.

  Perhaps it should be observed that Frame may be addressing a number of arguments that have been raised during the debates over "Theonomy." That movement has had much to say about how the power of the State should be employed. Theonomists have argued that the State should follow the "judicial law" of the Old Testament. It appears that Frame is going to address that issue, as he has elsewhere. Whether or not Theonomy is true has little bearing on our Thesis, although we tend to sympathize with its premises.
(6) In order to understand Godís laws, it is necessary to know something about the situations to which those laws were addressed. Agreed. Maybe.
(7) In order to understand how Godís laws apply to us today, it is necessary to compare our situation with the situations originally addressed. Only insofar as our situation is the same as the original will the laws apply literally. This may not always be true. It may be the case that God's law was designed to prevent new ("modern") situations from arising. Rebellion against God's Law may have given rise to "new situations" and we cannot allow these "situations" to be an argument against obeying God's Law even if it means returning to a "primitive" or "ancient" situation. (Derogatory terms will be used by statists who wish to perpetuate rebellion against God's Law.)
(8) Therefore a change in situation always leads to some change in the application of a law. In some cases the law will require that the situation be changed rather than the law.
This principle bears not only upon the application of Old Testament laws to New Testament believers. It is a general principle of language. For instance, in Matthew 21:2, Jesus tells two disciples to find him transportation. Imagine a Christian sect that took this "law" as a command for today: each year, perhaps, around Palm Sunday, every church member would buy, beg or steal a donkey for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem. Now Matthew 21:2 is not an Old Testament "law," but a New Testament one. But the same hermeneutical considerations apply to both Testaments. Our knowledge of the situation to which Jesus addressed the command shows us that this command was of local and temporary application and is not to be literally followed today. It does apply to us today by telling us of Jesusí determination to fulfill prophecy and to accomplish his redemption. It also motivates us to imitate our Lordís purposefulness and willingness to bear his cross. But it is not literally applicable. But if that is true even of New Testament texts, how much more likely it is to be true of legal material from the Mosaic Covenant which Hebrews 8:13 represents as "obsolete" and "aging?" Cf. Bahnsen's phrase "standing laws."




Three verses earlier (Hebrews 8:10) God says "I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." Which laws are aging and should be forgotten, and which are made new and should be on our minds and heart?

  Ironically, our "anarchism" rests on the most obvious of laws: "Thou shalt not kill," Thou shalt not steal," etc. The case for the State rests on Old Testament passages which are arguably "ceremonial" or "Israelitish"  -- "obsolete" and "aging."
(9) In determining the present-day applications of Old Testament law, we must always reckon with both continuity and discontinuity. That is to say, there is always sameness and difference between the ways a law is applied in its original setting and the ways it applies today. That is true, for instance, in the trivial sense that today each law applies to a different group of hearers than those to whom it was originally addressed. Even the creation ordinances, whose applications are paradigms of constancy, show that level of discontinuity. The ordinance of labor, for instance, will require one person to be a carpenter, another a secretary, depending on his or her gifts and opportunities. Consider also the Decalogue, another group of ordinances accepted by Christians as largely applicable today ó even here there is discontinuity as well. We no longer honor our parents that we may prosper in Palestine, as Exodus 20:12 commanded Israel under Moses (cf. Paulís re-application in Eph. 6:1ff.). However much continuity there is, there is always some discontinuity. If this is true even of the creation ordinances and the Decalogue, how much more likely is it to be true of case laws given to the Mosaic theocracy? "No more likely," I would say. The "creation ordinances" turn out on closer inspection to be of the same character as the "Mosaic" ordinances: Old Covenant requirements. The commands given to Noah concerning blood turn out to be such ordinances, though they are foundational for the defense of "the State." (Generally we agree with Frame on this point.)
(10) God established Old Testament Israel as a holy nation, distinct from all the nations of the earth (Exod. 19:5ff; Deut. 7:6). To what extent was Israel "distinct" from other nations? Could Nineveh, upon hearing the preaching of Jonah and repenting, become a "holy nation?" Was there any other option for Nineveh? Would God have directed the building of a temple near the Nineveh City Hall? Would Ninevites separate themselves from evil and from uncleanness (2 Corinthians 6:17)? But whatever the differences between Israel and other nations, it is clear that the Church is Israel Now. Frame cites Exodus 19:5 to prove that Israel is distinct, yet that passage is explicitly applied to Christians today (1 Peter 2:5-10). Frame says "A holy nation is ruled differently from other nations," which would imply that we are not to be governed differently from Israel. 

Not that we do not agree with Frame on the inapplicability of the same ordinances which he believes are inapplicable, but not for the same reason. We are to be at least as holy as Israel. This would imply more laws, not less.

A holy nation is ruled differently from other nations. Do "other nations" -- non-holy nations -- have a right to exist? Does a nation have the right to say "We will not be holy"?
Most all of us recognize that the laws given to Israel concerning animal sacrifices, dietary laws, clothing and grooming were not literally applicable to nations outside Israel, nor do they literally bind nations today. The New Testament speaks to some of those issues directly (Heb. 10; Mark 7:19; 1 Tim. 4:3-5). We should not, however, require explicit statements from the New Testament in order to reach such judgments. Sometimes there are indications in the Old Testament itself as to the limited applicability of divine commands (see (11) below). And sometimes no explicit indication of limitation is really needed. Consider Matthew 21:2, our previous example of a command that is not literally applicable today. There is no explicit statement in Scripture that this "law" has lost its literal applicability. God expects us to use our exegetical skill: in this case, just plain common sense.[6] But they did apply to Gentiles who became circumcised and a part of Israel, did they not?
After a long list of "judgments," "ordinances," and "statutes," God says,
LEVITICUS 18:24 ĎDo not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. 25 For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. 26 You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you 27 (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), 28 lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. 29 For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.
30 ĎTherefore you shall keep My ordinance, so that you do not commit any of these abominable customs which were committed before you, and that you do not defile yourselves by them: I am the LORD your God.íĒ
In other words, the Gentiles were thrown out of the Promised Land because they violated Leviticus. They should have repented. But where should "repentance" have stopped? Which laws were they not required to obey? When Nineveh repented, did they get carried away, and the Prophet Jonah had to say, "Wait, wait, you don't have to obey those laws."? Which laws? Where does the Scripture say that?

See our discussion of the dietary laws.

(Note: this is not about "anarchism," it's an argument about "Theonomy."  I just can't resist arguments.)

(11) It is likely that the special holiness of Israel influences to some extent the penalties required for transgressions under the Mosaic law. For instance, Deuteronomy 14:21 bases a prohibition of eating creatures already dead upon the fact that "you are a people holy to the Lord your God." Indeed, Israel is permitted to give or sell such food to aliens and foreigners, an odd qualification if eating such things were morally wrong. 1 Peter 2 says that we are a holy people. This would imply the same penalties as under Israel. Frame argues in much the same way as Gary North did, which we have analyzed here. The New Testament is full of commands to the New Israel ("the Church") to avoid uncleanness and be holy. Is there an exemption for church members who become politicians?

The qualification is not odd if those nations were going to be destroyed. (Actually, it is odd, even then, I admit. But is this like divorce, something temporarily or grudgingly permitted for the hardness of their hearts?)

Most likely, then, eating such food is not wrong for everybody, but only for Godís holy people, for whom he has provided a great bounty of food in the land flowing with milk and honey. Agricultural productivity is vastly greater today than it was 3,000 years ago. Those who lived in the holy land 40 centuries ago would agree that Christ has provided an even greater bounty today -- outside the holy land (1 Timothy 4:10). What was appropriate for God's holy people then should be appropriate for God's holy people today.
Another example: Vern Poythress has argued persuasively from the language of the passages that the penalties for false worship in Deuteronomy 13 and 17 are also based on the special holiness of Israel.[7] Note that the infractions take place "in the land" (17:2,4) by covenant members (17:2), and these are executed by the people of God (17:7) by the herem destruction by which the wicked, pagan cities of Canaan were totally wiped out (13:16). No law can be annulled on the basis of the "special holiness of Israel," because the holiness of the Church is to be greater than that of Israel. The Church has been given the entire planet as a "promised land."

Herem destruction is critical in discussions of capital punishment and war, as these passages are sometimes used to support the functions of the modern State.

Sometimes the word "penalty" is misapplied to Old Covenant commands concerning the shedding of blood and other rituals of purification. These were not "penalties" in the sense of retribution or vengeance. They were acts of liturgical cleansing, carried out under the oversight of the priests and levites. They were not "judicial" or "criminal" in nature, but were "ceremonial." These liturgies can only be obeyed in our day by faith in Christ.

(12) It is unlikely, however, that the special holiness of Israel invalidates all literal application of Mosaic laws and penalties today. The penalty of double restitution for theft, for example (Exod. 22:4,7) is a matter of simple justice: the thief restores what was taken, and as a penalty he loses an equivalent amount. He loses, then, what he had hoped to gain. There is no good reason to apply this penalty only to Israel as a holy nation. Indeed, there are many good arguments for adopting such penalties today in place of our failed prison system.[8] Precisely.


Less precisely. It has been argued that if the victim of theft is not aware of the theft, his damages are less, and the restitution owed by the thief is only 20% plus the principal (Leviticus 6:5). But we agree with Frame that whatever the application, it applies to the New Israel as well as the old. (Prisons)

Of course, all crime is related to the holiness of Israel. Bloodshed "pollutes the land," and that is forbidden, "for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites" (Num. 35:33ff.). But the death penalty for murder is not based upon the holiness of Israel. It was given to Noah many years before Israel became a nation (Gen. 9:6). The holiness of Israel merely adds an additional reason for the use of the death penalty, much as Deuteronomy 5:15 adds to Exodus 20:8-11 an additional reason for Sabbath observance. That additional reason no longer applies literally to modern civil law, but the original reason does. Therefore, even when Israelís special holiness is mentioned in connection with a penalty of the law, that fact does not necessarily rule out the literal applicability of the penalty. For further discussion of bloodshed, Numbers 35, and Genesis 9:6, see our discussion of Capital Punishment. Numbers 35 is talking about atonement.
Noah was also commanded to offer burnt offerings (Genesis 8:20). Are such offerings still due today? Then why the "shedding of blood (Gen 9:4-6)?"
 4 But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
 5 And surely your blood of your lives will I require;
Is there less holiness in the world after Christ than there was before?
(13) We ought, therefore, in our efforts to apply biblical laws and penalties, to be open to various possibilities: (a) the law in question is based on the special holiness of Israel and is not literally applicable, though it will always teach us something important for our faith and life; (b) the law in question is literally applicable to us; (c) the law may be somewhere in between (a) and (b): more or less literally applicable, with some modifications or adjustments from changed circumstances. ("Literal" and "non-literal" are matters of degree, of course.) Poythress argues that the penalties for sexual sins are in category (c), for they are concerned with protecting inheritances, a matter that had a special importance under the Old Covenant, but that still concerns us in some measure.[9] The question to be raised with regard to the State is whether "Thou shalt not steal" and "Thou shalt not kill" still apply in our day, and apply to the State. Half of our income is seized by the State. Half of our business activity is regulated by the State. Our culture is stripped of the influence of the Gospel by the State. If the State does not even have a legitimate existence, then all these other questions will take on new meaning in its absence. As is stands, we are viewing them through a faulty paradigm.
(14) The traditional distinction between moral, civil and ceremonial law is still useful as a catechetical device, but not helpful in resolving concrete problems of application. In asking how a particular law applies to us, we do not assign it first to one of those three categories and then deduce from that its applicability. Rather we ask first concerning its applicability, and on the basis of that conclusion we then assign it to one (or more) of the three categories. The law does not, of course, come to us with the labels "moral," "ceremonial" and "civil" attached to its provisions. What we call "moral" laws are mixed together in the texts (almost randomly, it seems) with "civil" and "ceremonial" laws, and we must sort them out by determining their meaning and current applicability. Those that apply most literally today we call "moral," those which apply least literally we call "ceremonial." "Civil" is a different kind of category, based not on applicability but upon function, and these would be divided between "ceremonial" and "moral" depending on their applicability. Remember too, that literal and non-literal applicability is a matter of degree, so we may expect some "gray areas," some laws that do not fit neatly into either "ceremonial" or "moral" categories.[10] See our discussion of these categories here.


It is theoretically possible that all the "civil" laws could be "ceremonial."



(15) It is therefore necessary for us to do careful exegetical study in the law itself in order to determine its applications, rather than simply trying to make deductions from broad theological principles (see (21) below).[11] Agreed

The above convictions and other considerations have led me to some conclusions about the various schools of thought mentioned earlier:

 (16) I have not been persuaded by the Anabaptists that the state is necessarily Satanic and that therefore Christians are faced with the choice either of meek submission or of peaceful opposition. Certainly there have been satanic states, but I donít see the state as necessarily being under Satanís domain. 

I am a preterist, and believe that Satan has been bound. I therefore wouldn't say the State is Satanic in the way premillennialists might. But the State is clearly demonic in its origin, not Godly. It is not currently "under Satan's domain," for he has no domain. We come to the State as we come to uncultivated land. Shall we pull out the weeds and plant a garden, or have the weeds been "ordained by God?" There is no either/or: both meek submission and peaceful, prophetic opposition are our duties. Begin a study of our duties toward the State here.
However, the Anabaptist exegesis of Romans 13, in which God "orders" the state without giving it any normative authority, is unpersuasive to me, and the Anabaptists do not, in my view, rightly assess the continuities between the Old and New Testaments. It is not clear how an exegesis of Romans 13 depends on a proper assessment of "the continuities between the Old and New Testaments." Do the Anabaptists understate the continuities or the discontinuties? So far, I feel that I am in agreement with Frame on the level of continuity between the Covenants, but I don't know what he's saying about Romans 13. Here is our exegesis of Romans 13.
(17) In my view, the Lutheran distinction between the kingdoms of Godís right and left hands is insufficiently anchored in Scripture. (More work on Lutheran view is planned.)
(18) Meredith Klineís "intrusion ethic," while containing much biblical insight, argues for a religiously neutral state based on inadequate biblical premises and a too sharp dichotomy between the Mosaic and the New Covenants.[12] We generally agree with Bahnsen's critique of Kline.
(19) Principled pluralism, while presenting eloquently the case against religious neutrality in politics and the importance of governmentís becoming sensitive to different religious communities within the nation, fails adequately to ground its pluralism itself in the biblical text. In fact I find a contradiction between the emphases here on the unavoidability of religious commitment and the simultaneous insistence that the state should not be biased in favor of a particular religion.  
(20) That leaves theonomy, to which I have a strong initial attraction, because of its earnest adherence to sola Scriptura and its willingness to wrestle seriously with the details of biblical law in formulating its positions. However, I believe that theonomists sometimes underestimate the complexity of the continuities and discontinuities between Old and New Testaments and thus often jump to wrong conclusions about the present-day applications of Old Testament laws. Also, I find their actual view of the state inadequate, for reasons I shall mention later. Probably no two Theonomists agree 100%.
Our support of (and divergence from) Theonomy is spelled out here.
(21) There is no broad theological scheme or principle that is capable of resolving all, or even a great number of, our specific application problems at the same time. This is the case: first, because exegesis of the actual laws reveals a wide diversity in the kinds of application and in the degrees of continuity and discontinuity between them and our present situation ((13), (15) above); and second, because of the inadequacies of the various available schemes, summarized above. Third, however, all the available schemes allow for both continuity and discontinuity. Let me refer in this connection to two of the proposed schemes that may be regarded as extreme on the sides of discontinuity and continuity respectively: the intrusionism of Meredith Kline and the theonomy of Greg Bahnsen. Meredith Kline, whose rhetoric sometimes suggests an almost total discontinuity, nevertheless finds within the Mosaic law elements carried over from earlier biblical covenants, together with "faith norms" and "individual life norms" which continue to be normative for us today. In trying to exempt "community life norms," including the state penalty structure, from this continuity, Kline is in my judgment utterly unpersuasive. But even here he seems willing to allow for continuities between the Mosaic penalties and our time, as long as those penalties are not derived exclusively or distinctively from the Mosaic covenant. On the other hand, theonomists, whose rhetoric sometimes suggests total continuity between the Mosaic law and our present situation, do recognize both redemptive-historical and cultural changes that prevent literal application of many such laws today.[13] Therefore, whether we are Klineans or theonomists, whether we focus on discontinuity or continuity, we have not thereby settled any exegetical issue. Both continuity and discontinuity are allowed in either scheme, and therefore, in one sense, neither scheme settles anything. This is an excellent point. The same thing can be said for the dispute between Theonomists and Dispensationalists. Both ultimately believe that the New Testament determines the extent of continuity; the New Testament determines which Old Covenant laws are applicable today. It turns out that the dispute between Theonomists and Dispies is heuristic rather than hermeneutical. Theonomists are interested in politics, and therefore find more food for thought than Dispies. More discussion here.

IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 3, Number 44, October 29 to November 4, 2001


Part 2

By John M. Frame

Originally published in Westminster Theological Journal 51:2 (Fall, 1989), 199-226. Part was given as a lecture on the occasion of Rev. Frame assuming the title Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California.

The Nature of the State

I now would like to try to build upon my basic convictions in order to seek a better understanding of the biblical teaching concerning the state and the applications of that teaching to our present situations.

"State" is not a biblical category in the sense that "family," "people of God," "Israel," and "church," are biblical categories. God established the family at creation (Gen. 2:24). In Exodus 19ff., God established Israel as a nation, as the people of God. The church is, in one sense, the whole people of God from Adam to the present, and in another sense a fresh historical expression of that community based specifically upon the apostolic confession of Christ (Matt. 16:18ff.). But in what passage did God establish the state?

In no passage.
Some have found divine warrant for the state in Genesis 9:6, where God commands Noahís family to return bloodshed for bloodshed. But this is a command given to a family. There is no indication here of any new institution being established. And in the law of Moses, the execution of murderers was carried out, not by the state as such, but by the "avenger of blood," kin of the murder victim (Num. 35:19,21; Deut. 19:12). The family, here, is the instrument of justice. We have no reason to believe, therefore, that any special institution beyond the family for the establishment of justice was created in Genesis 9:6. More on the Patriarchal power of "capital punishment."
What we see in Scripture, rather, is a kind of gradual development from family authority to something that we would tend to call a state. The borderline between family and state is not sharp or clear. This is the language of neutrality.
"Gradual development," or "defiant rebellion?"
If God did not establish the State, then man did, and the question is whether this was an act of faithfulness or rebellion, Theonomy or Autonomy. The Biblical account is clear: the State was formed by rebels and apostates in defiant disobedience to God's Commandments.
From the beginning there was authority within the family. Adam exercised authority over his wife by virtue of his "prior" ("pre-eminent"?) existence (1 Tim. 2:13). We see that authority in his acts of giving common and proper names to her (Gen. 2:23; 3:20). Though Eve sinned before Adam, Romans 5:12-19 traces human sin back to Adam, giving to him the ultimate responsibility for the fall. Sarah called Abraham her "lord" (Gen. 18:12), a respectful address urged by Peter (1 Pet. 3:6) as a good example to godly women. The authority of parents over children is evident in the patriarchal narratives and enshrined in the fifth commandment of the Decalogue (Exod. 20:12). That authority includes the use of physical punishment, as is indicated in the frequent references to the "rod" in Proverbs (13:24; 22:15; 23:13; 29:15). We agree with everything in this paragraph except the logic. The logic implies some kind of evolution (rather than devolution) from family authority to State authority. This misses the issue. The issue is whether God has given permission for Family A to confiscate the income of Family B in order to kill Family C, the enemies of Family A (or the enemies of Family D, Family D being friends of Family A). Does Vice President Dick Cheney have the right to confiscate money from his neighbors to kill the family and friends of Osama bin Laden because Osama threatens the profitability of Cheney's oil investments?

Does the familial power of "physical punishment" include taxation and incarceration?

Regrettably, Frame has never concretely and specifically defined "the State." Ludwig von Mises has defined "the State" as a monopoly on
the power to tax to fund
acts of vengeance.
How does one family gain a monopoly over other families to tax and take vengeance?
Adam, Eve and their children formed what we would call today a "nuclear" family. But when Cain and Seth married and formed households, the human race became an "extended" family. God had mandated that when a man marries he shall "leave" his father and mother and begin a new household (Gen. 2:24), but this change did not relieve adult children of all relationships to, or responsibilities toward, their parents, or vice versa. The patriarchs evidently maintained close relationships with their grown sons and their families, even nephews, as witnessed by Abrahamís concern for Lot (both military and priestly: Gen. 14:1-24; 18:16-33). Note especially the story of Jacobís family from Genesis 34 to 50. Jacob, in fact, was in a position to prevail upon his sons to go to Egypt for provisions (Gen. 42:1ff.). At the end of his life, like Noah and Isaac before him, he pronounced prophetic blessings on each of his sons (Gen. 48 and 49:1-28). Job, who many believe to have lived in the patriarchal period, also maintained close relationships with his grown children and carried on a priestly ministry on their behalf (1:1-5). There are several issues in this paragraph.

First, did Adam have the power to "tax" Cain's family for "tribal defense?" Did Cain have the power to tax Seth's family? Does "the State" exist without the power to tax? What is the difference between our version of "patriarchy" ("family-values anarcho-capitalism") and "hereditary monarchy?"

Second, military and priestly functions were intermingled in the activities of Old Covenant saints like Abraham. The "separation of church and state" is a myth.

Third, all the legitimate* functions of the State were carried out on a patriarchal (family) level. There is no economic reason why families, businesses, voluntary associations, and other networks of people cannot enjoy "national security" in the absence of "the State." And there is no Biblical reason why they cannot try. Home Security need not be funded by extortion and violence. Whole villages need not be wiped out in response to the crimes of a handful (and likely wouldn't in the absence of patriotic statist mythology). Patriotism sanctions the lies of Lamech.

Biblical Anarchist Government

* The Post Office is a "legitimate" function of the State, unlike taxation and vengeance. There's nothing immoral about delivering mail. It is not legitimate for the State to make postal functions a monopoly, that is, to threaten violence against postal competitors.

Leviticus 19:32 urges respect for the aged. The responsibility of grown children to provide for their aged parents is presented in very strong terms in the New Testament (Matt. 15:3-9; 1 Tim. 5:8), as an implication of the fifth commandment of the Decalogue. In Scripture, then, one is responsible, not only to himself, or to his "nuclear" family, but to his extended family as well. He owes respect and service to his parents and grandparents. He is not under their authority as when he was a child (cf. Gal. 4:1f), but he continues to honor them in various ways.[14] If A has a duty to his parents, B, this does not in any way imply a right of A to tax C for his parents' support (B).

If A has a duty to the poor, B, this does not in any way imply a right of A to tax C for the support of the poor (B).

If C does not acknowledge A's demands for financial support of A's beneficiaries (B), A does not have the right to incarcerate C.

A monopoly of the powers of Taxation and Incarceration is the defining characteristic of "the State." Where does the Bible give these powers (and monopolistically) to any family (A)?

Jacobís family multiplied and became a nation. From nuclear family, it became an extended family, and then a "clan," or indeed a group of clans. Exodus 6:14-25 lists the "heads" of various Israelite clans (cf. references to the "elders" of Israel in Exod. 3:16ff.; 4:29; 12:21; 17:5ff.; 18:12). The descendants of Reuben formed four clans, each descended from one of Reubenís sons. Similarly, six clans of Simeon were formed. Seven clans of Levi are mentioned, each related to one of Leviís grandsons.[15] After Israel left Egypt, Moses evidently played a role in selecting "leaders" of the tribes (Exod. 18:21-26). I am not clear on the relation between the "officers" of Exodus 18:21-26 and the "elders" mentioned earlier in Exodus.
ē Was Moses merely creating a new judicial role for the already existing elders?
ē Or was this a new level of government, corresponding to the first, perhaps, as the American judiciary corresponds to the executive?
ē Or was Moses taking control of the traditional processes by which tribal elders were chosen?
I am inclined to think both the first and the third suggestions were actually the case. Note that Numbers 1 and 2 list names of leaders, appointed by God through Moses, of each of the twelve tribes. That these are called "leaders of their ancestral tribes" and "heads of the clans of Israel" (Numbers 1:16) suggests that Mosesí appointees were also the more-or-less hereditary elders of the tribes.[16]
It is important to recognize the dysfunctional character of Israel in the Mosaic period. It is not always normative. We should not institutionalize this slave-like character. Mosaic government is not our model. The elders of Israel more closely parallel the elders of the Church, not the presidents and prime ministers of modern states.

Here is what Israel's families ought to have been doing. But they were rebellious and slave-like. God raised up Moses and elders to keep the nation moving toward the New Covenant. The goal was personal responsibility, holiness, and obedience to God. We are in that age now, the New Covenant is now, and the desire for another Moses and more elders is retrograde.

Elders as Jugdes

We would classify Mosaic legislation as "remedial patriarchy." By "patriarchy" we mean a family-centered society functioning under 100% laissez-faire capitalism, or "anarcho-capitalism." Israel was not spiritual enough for this, so Moses gave them "elders" and divorce. The direction was not toward the State and atomistic families.

The leaders of "tens" might be the heads of the nuclear families themselves, those of "hundreds" the heads of more extended families, and so on up to the thousands. I would expect, however, that in making his choices Moses may have had the right on occasion to reject a hereditary leader in favor of someone more gifted or more faithful. Are these elders of "the Church" or of "the State?"
However one sorts out that data, it is clear that beyond the authority of the nuclear and extended families there was government associated with the tribes and with the clans of those tribes, at various levels. And, as a fourth type of government, we should notice Moses himself, chosen by God to lead the whole nation to the edge of the Promised Land. Mosesí authority, of course, was unique. It came not by heredity, nor by the appointment of another man, but by God himself. Moses was, first of all, Godís prophet. A prophet may be defined as one who has Godís words in his mouth; and God gave his words to Moses (Exod. 4:10-17) through a relationship of unique intimacy (Exod. 33:7-34:35; Num. 12:1-15). Still "family" rather than "state."

The "government" associated with the tribes and clans was actually a reflection of the lack of government in Israel -- the lack of self-government.

But Moses said to him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put His Spirit on them!"
Numbers 11:29 

See "Government" by R.J. Rushdoony. There was some form of "government" in Israel, but not "the State," which was not imported until 1 Samuel 8.

The question is whether Mosaic deviations from patriarchy are normative.

Moses, then, became the chief of the prophets, the paradigm of the prophetic office (Deut. 18:14-22). Is the prophetic "office" political (the State) or ecclesiastical (the Church)?
But Moses was more than a prophet. Unlike later prophets such as Elijah and Isaiah, Moses was the leader of Israel. He was commander-in-chief of the army (Exod. 17:8-16; Num. 21:32-35; 31:1-24). See the discussion of Elijah here:

Death Penalty Debate - "Separation of Church and State"

The armies were still led by priests, and performed "ceremonial" acts of atonement and cleansing through priestly/military "genocide." They were priestly warriors, not secular soldiers.

The prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.) prophesied to kings; does that make prophets part of "the State" rather than "the Church?" Or anti-state?

He was the final judicial recourse (Exod. 18:22,26). He received from God the law and the divine direction of the wilderness journey. "Judicial" recourse, or ecclesiastical recourse? Didn't Moses lead Israel as an ekklesia? Why would one use terms like "Supreme Court" or "court of appeals" rather than "presbytery," "synod," and "General Assembly (ekklesia?)? Why do we find in these events the origin of "the State?"
Much of his activity seems to us kingly rather than merely prophetic. Certainly no human king with the exception of Solomon ever had such complete control over the nation. Solomon's control (exercised through his horses and chariots) was a violation of Biblical Law (Deuteronomy 17:14-20; 1 Kings 4:26ff.; 5:13ff.).
Moses was not high priest; his brother Aaron fulfilled that role. But
  • Moses did come from the priestly tribe of Levi, and
  • Exodus 4:14-17 suggests that Aaronís authority, originally at least, was derived from that of Moses. And
  • Mosesí intercessions for Israel (as Exod. 32:7-14) suggest a sense of priestly responsibility.
Again, the "separation of church and state" is a myth. There is no compelling reason to find in these events the origin of "the State."
The picture to this point, then, is that as Israel developed from nuclear family to extended family to clan to nation, family authority became more elaborate and complicated. In time, God introduced new institutions. The heads of extended families were no longer exclusively responsible for prophetic and priestly ministries as were the patriarchs. Rather, God relieved them by assigning many religious duties exclusively to the priests, Levites, and prophets. The history of Israel is one of decline. Israelites in Moses' day were not obedient like Abraham. God never halted the progress of sanctification and institutionalized Mosaic government as a model. God never "introduced new institutions," such as "the State." "Priests, Levites and prophets" were remedial and transitory, not permanent and institutional. This is the "bondage" Frame spoke of earlier. Guardians over dysfunctional families. It should be replaced by the holiness of functional families ("self-government") in an anarcho-capitalist Free Market.
Was there, at this point in history, also a divinely appointed "state?" I would say no if, again, "state" refers to something above and beyond the natural authority of the family. As far back as Genesis 9, as we have seen, God called the family to execute vengeance for bloodshed, and so no new order was needed to administer capital punishment.[17] There was, of course, in Mosesí time, a national army to be commanded, but even that has its precedents in [patriarchal -- kc] tradition (Gen. 14).[18] New machinery, of course, was put in place (by some combination of tribal tradition and Mosaic appointment) to resolve disputes, but that too was essentially a family function. No state, only family. An important concession by one who, in the end, still legitimizes the concept of "the State." We're thankful that Prof. Frame makes these concessions, because nobody believes them when we say them. (After all, we're just "a bunch of anarchists.") But in the paragraph above, and the one below, Frame legitimizes the State based on an appeal to size and complexity. This is lethal. It is also foundational. Please see this link.
Moses himself should not be seen as the occupant of a new "perpetual office" in Israel. He was a "charismatic" official, one with a direct appointment from God. Joshua did succeed Moses and inherited Mosesí powers; but Joshua, also, was directly appointed by God (Num. 27:18-23; Deut. 31:1-8; Josh. 1:1-9), and no one after him had such comprehensive authority over the nation. Apart from his prophetic and priestly functions, Moses was essentially the chief of the clan leaders, the head of the family of God. Had God not selected him directly, the people might well have selected him or someone else as a chief of chiefs, without violating the overall family structure. Such a choice would merely have been a natural continuation of the movement toward greater complexity as the nation increased in size. The word "complexity" is used here, as if this justifies central planning. This is, of course, a Keynesian myth. The more complex a society, the less a bureaucracy is able to synthesize all the available knowledge into effective decisions. That link is huge. This is a worldview issue. Greater "complexity" does not necessitate or justify a transition from a decentralized reliance on "the Invisible Hand" to centralized reliance on the "visible fist" of "the State."

Socialism is a failure. It is not "ordained" by God in any field of human action. Pure capitalism leads to the elimination of "the State."

Families do not "naturally" have to create "the State" or some other system or institution which has a monopoly on the power of violence to confiscate revenue to fund its activities.

Indeed, there was popular ratification of Mosesí rule. When Moses returned to Egypt from the desert, the elders "believed," indeed "bowed down and worshipped" (Exod. 4:31). And after God, from Mount Sinai, appeared to the whole people, the people requested through their elders that God not again speak to them directly, but that Moses serve as mediator (Exod. 20:19; Deut. 5:5,23-33; 18:16). "Consent of the governed" does not justify the acts of the governors.

Christians in the New Covenant should not require mediators like Moses.

During the period of the judges, no new institutions were added. God raised up judges, new charismatic leaders, to deliver Israel from its enemies (Judges 2:16). These judges were not only military leaders, but they had broad authority to command obedience within Israel (Judges 2:17).[19] One of them, Deborah, was also a prophet (Judges 4:4), as was, of course, Samuel (1 Sam. 3:19-21). Samuel, though an Ephaimite rather than a Levite (at least on his fatherís side, 1 Sam. 1:1), exercised priestly functions (probably implied in 1 Sam. 2:35ff.; cf. 3:1; 7:9,17; 10:8), recalling the unity of prophet, priest and king in the patriarchs and Moses, and foreshadowing Christ. Again, however, this charismatic leadership did not produce any new, continuing institution in Israel. Government by tribal elders continued as during the time of Moses. Indeed, in the case of Jephthah, the judge receives his authority, humanly speaking, by the appointment of the elders (Judges 11:1-11). Under Samuel, the elders continued to command armies (1 Sam. 4:3) and to determine such courses of action as the recovery of the sacred ark (4:3). So as we complete this paragraph, we have found nothing in God's Word that justifies the modern "State." Nowhere has there been a command to men to form "the State."
The anointing of Saul as the first king of Israel (1 Sam. 9:16-10:1) does mark the beginning of something new.


For the first time, there is to be in Israel a continuing line of monarchs, normally linked by heredity (though of course God often disrupted that hereditary pattern for his own purposes). The institutional change, however, is not a radical one.

Not just the beginning of something "new," but something clearly rebellious. It is an imitation of those who had either left the Garden or were kicked out. More here.


It is, to the contrary, a radical departure from God's blueprint ( but not from God's predestined plan).

The kingship comes as Godís response to a demand from the people. The peopleís motives in making their request were largely sinful (1 Sam. 8; cf. Deut. 17:14; Judges 9), but God had planned to raise up kings for his people (Deut. 17:14-20) and had given them in the law a proper method of choosing one. It is important to note that in Deuteronomy 17, the king is to be chosen by the people (verse 15). As with the appointment of Moses and that of at least some of the judges, there is a human choice to be made. This choice certainly does not prevent God from playing a direct role in the selection process, but it does necessitate a human choice in addition to whatever role God may himself choose to play. Frame admits that the desire for the State was sinful, but seems to negate the sinfulness of their actions by saying that God had predicted it?! Deuteronomy 17 is not a promise of blessing, but of cursing. Yet in the midst of this predicted rebellion, God still gives commandments (compare Deuteronomy 24 and Matthew 19). The prediction of the emergence of kingship in Israel does not justify the sins of the people in asking for a king.

Unedited discussion of Deut 17

Saul was chosen both by God and by the people. God revealed to Samuel that Saul was to be anointed (1 Sam. 9:16ff.), and only after the anointing did Israel recognize Saul as king. Samuel presented Israel to the Lord by all its tribes and clans (1 Sam. 10:19), and they drew lots to determine the king. By Godís appointment, the lot fell upon Saul, whereupon the people rejoiced (10:24). Later, they are said to have "confirmed Saul as king in the presence of the Lord" (11:15). Similarly, when Saul later proves unfaithful, Samuel is called to anoint a new king, David (1 Sam. 16:1-13). Long afterward, however, after the death of Saul, David is anointed a second time (2 Sam. 2:4), this time by the people as king of Judah. Still later, he was anointed a third time by the "elders of Israel" to be king over the entire nation (5:1-5). Involved in this appointment was a "compact" between David and the elders (5:3). All these elements of "democratic consensus" or "popular consent" or "representative reublicanism" do not negate the fact that Israel sinned in asking for a social system like that of the unholy, pagan nations around them. This is not normative, it is evil. Everything that Frame said above about Israel being a "holy" nation "unlike" other nations is forgotten here.

Numerous commentators have said that while the importation of "the State" was not wrong (as we contend), monarchism itself was. What is being condemned by God in 1 Samuel 8, they say, is not the State per se, but "undemocratic" monarchism. What Frame shows here is that all democratic ideals were in fact served. "The People" spoke. The monarchy was a king for "We the People." Hoppe argues that monarchism is a more Godly form of government than democracy.

But God clearly says it was rebellion. "The State" is evil.

Solomon, the next king, was in effect appointed by his father David and anointed at Davidís behest (2 Kings 1:28-48). There is no indication of a popular ratification of Solomonís rule, but the new king did have to deal with some initial opposition to his reign before the kingdom was "firmly established in Solomonís hands" (2:46). From that point, we gather, there was a general consensus in favor of Solomon (3:28; 4:29-34), though see 11:14-40. Very different was the situation with Rehoboam, Solomonís son, who, having failed to satisfy the demands of "the whole assembly of Israel" (12:3), and having rejected the advice of "the elders" (12:6,8),[20] lost the allegiance of ten tribes. God had promised to make Jeroboam a king (11:29-39), and the ten tribes "made him king over Israel" (12:20). Ten thousand people per day were murdered by organized governments during the 20th century. These same forces of organized government intend on putting millions more to death during the 21st century. To finance these activities, the State confiscates money and property by force and fraud. The degree of evil here is staggering, but is all but forgotten in Frame's chronology of Israel's kings.

God dealt patiently with Israel, and Solomon, although a loser, could still paint a picture of the coming Messiah.

We must not get lost in the details. The broad sweep of history (upward, from Old Covenant to New Earth) and the path of destruction by the State must not be ignored. The State is institutionalized evil, and is the greatest obstacle to the Christianization of the planet.

I will not seek to trace the kingship through its long history. The pattern ought to be clear at this point, and I donít believe it is contradicted in later texts, though the later texts tend to be less explicit about the details of the process by which a person became king.[21] The kingship is both a charismatic office and a popular one: that is, both God and the people play roles in its establishment and continuance. It is God who sets the standards for the kingship (Deut. 17:14-20) and who frequently raises up men of his choice for the work, removing others for their unfaithfulness. Nevertheless, by divine warrant, the people of Israel also make a choice. From the viewpoint of the people, they are selecting another tribal ruler, a "chief of chiefs," who bears the same sort of authority held by the other chiefs or elders, but over a broader territory. They have the right ó at least God does not contest it ó to reject a ruler such as Rehoboam who will not rule according to their desires.[22] Again, this "democratic" element, which God indulges, does not erase the sinfulness of the initial desire for a king.


God often raises up men to become "the State" precisely because they are unfaithful and evil (e.g., Assyria, Isaiah 10).

The initial choice to import "the State" into Israel by choosing a king was without divine warrant. All subsequent elections are evil, but sometimes the details of the choice help God tell the story. (We can learn from both the big bad choices, as well as the smaller good choices within the bad situations. King Saul might had done something less bad, even commendable, but he should not have been made king.)

A similar development, evidently, takes place in the nations outside the people of God. Lamech the descendent of Cain sings a song of vengeance in Genesis 4:23ff. As family head, he sings to his two wives about how he will execute vengeance for bloodshed. Unlike the simple reciprocity implied in Genesis 9:6 and in the Mosaic law of talion (Exod. 21:23-25), Lamech boasts that he will avenge seventy-seven times! "Family justice" indeed, but exaggerated far beyond anything our God would recognize as just. Still, we can see that, as in the believing line, the mentality of kingship springs up in the context of the nuclear and extended families. What does this mean?? What is "the mentality of kingship?" Is it not depravity maximized? Is it not the deification of personal vengeance and violence? See Rushdoony, "The Song of Lamech," in Revolt Against Maturity, pp. 97ff.
  There is terrifying irony here. Capital punishment was suspended in the case of Cain, and God promised vengeance upon any who killed Cain. "The mentality of kingship," as Frame describes Lamech, is the most hideous imaginable rebellion against God. It is the mentality that executed Christ. It is the mentality that has killed hundreds of millions of people in the 20th century. Frame misses all this, and seems to justify the rise of the State in the cold "objective" language of the scholarly observer: "the mentality of kingship springs up in the context of the nuclear and extended families."

Is my "anarchism" preventing me from seeing something here, or causing me to read too much into the text? (See Van Til's comments on Lamech in Rushdoony's essay above.)

I think this is important. Lamech is a figure of pure evil. "The mentality of kingship" is clearly evil. It doesn't "spring up" in families, it is a demonic downward integration into the void, a rebellion against the humble importance of family service

Frame is not alone in this kind of analysis, or rather "un-analysis." Virtually all defenders of the State employ the historical chronology of Scripture in the same way. Justification of the State is read into the text, modern concepts read back into history. 

Whenever expositors seek to explicate the meaning of the texts -- without reference to "the doctrine of the State" -- they usually leave us with a quite different feeling (like Rushdoony above; or see any other exposition of the text). But whenever we have a passage explained by a theologian wearing the hat of a political scientist, one whose primary purpose is to discuss "the Biblical doctrine of the State," we get a different picture of that passage -- cold, scholarly, devoid of evil -- than we get from one who is diligently expositing the Biblical picture of Cain, Lamech, Nimrod, or Israel in 1 Samuel 8.

Meredith Kline argues that this theme is resumed in Gen. 6:1-4. He believes that the offense that draws forth Godís condemnation is the exercise of royal polygamy: earthly kings ("sons of God") accumulating harems ("daughters of men").[23] Whatever we may say about that exegesis, it is likely that the table of nations in Genesis 10, like the genealogy of the believing line in Genesis 5, is not a complete record of all who lived on the earth, but rather a record of notable leaders, perhaps kings. At any rate, it is clear that the development of kingship was rapid in the world in general compared to its development in Israel. When Israel first asked for a king, it seemed to them, at least, that "all the other nations" already had them (1 Sam. 8:5). Lots of debates about the identity of "sons" and "daughters" in Genesis 6, with little mention of the clear connection of kings and demonic violence in that passage.


This is because kingship is evil, not holy, not faithful.

Kings in the "other nations" were known for conscripting laborers, soldiers, and wives, and for collecting extortionate taxes for private gain (Deut. 17:16ff; 1 Sam. 8:11-18). Ah, an almost refreshing glimpse at the horrors of tyranny in this midst of this defense of "the State." This precisely describes David and Solomon as well.
History reminds us of the terrible, Lamech-like cruelties imposed by pagan kings in the name of royal vengeance. Still, the formal institutional picture is not different from what we have seen in Israel. The pagan kings abused their powers, but so, certainly, did the Israelite kings. The pagans did not have greater powers than did the kings of Israel. This is not just "history" that reminds us of terrible cruelties, it is the Word of God, carrying profound ethical implications. If private individuals committed these evils, we would condemn them. But if these atrocities are committed by "the government," we speak of them in more scholarly terms. The entire purpose of the concept of "the State" is for individuals to avoid moral condemnation for acts of evil.
Even outside the covenant, the powers of the king come from God (cf. Rom. 13:1-7). Here we go again with Romans 13. The powers of Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein "come from God (cf. Rom. 13:1-7). Christians should have paid their taxes to Hitler and should have been thankful that Saddam permitted Christian evangelism in Iraq.
And the pagan kings, like the Israelite kings, had essentially the power of tribal elders, however widespread their territory might have been. I missed the proof that Israel's tribal elders had the power to tax and take vengeance, and that tithes and sacrifices are political rather than ecclesiastical powers.
Once kingship appears in history, are we then able to speak of an "institution of the state?" Well, it isnít too important what you call it, as long as you understand what is going on. 
  • Yes, God has ordained authority within the family. 
  • Yes, he warrants the extension of that authority to extended families, tribes, and nations. 
  • Yes, he warrants the popular selection of leaders to implement that authority (a selection into which, of course, he is always free to intervene, and over which he always exercises providential superintendence).[24]  
  • Yes, that authority includes the power to use deadly force and to resolve disputes that cannot otherwise be resolved. 

In that sense, we may say with Paul in Romans 13:1 that, "the authorities that exist have been established by God." But it is important to remember that the authority of the state is essentially a family authority, not something different. For that reason, I consider it somewhat misleading to talk about a "divine institution of the state," or to speak of "family, church and state" as "Godís institutions," on a level with one another. I shall, however, use "state" to refer to the family elder-structures beyond the nuclear and extended families.[25]

A lot of conclusions appear in this paragraph which were not fully proven above. And it is very important what we call it, because we are not to call evil good (Isaiah 5:20, Malachi 2:17) because when we call evil good, we justify it. If we call certain activities "evil," we help stop them. If we call these same activities "public policy," we perpetuate them, and we are guilty before the Lord.
  • "God has ordained authority within the family," but not to steal and kill
  • No authority to steal and kill has been extended to tribes and nations.
  • No authority to select "leaders" to steal and kill has been given to the people.
  • God has given nobody the authority to use deadly force. Therefore nobody has the right to hire a contract killer, or "vote" for someone who will steal, conscript, and kill your enemies.
  • As for using the State to resolve disputes, Paul says it is better to be defrauded than to resort to such power (1 Corinthians 6:1-11).

The family has moral legitimacy. The State does not.

Let me now address some potential problems in this analysis:

1. Diversity in Modern States

Is it legitimate to think of political authority as tribal eldership, even in modern nations within which there is no discernible tribal unity? What of the U.S. or the former U.S.S.R., with people of many diverse backgrounds, or South Africa in which various racial groups are sharply estranged from one another? Well, God has never decreed that "tribes" should forever maintain uniform [sic], and to say that he has is to adopt the heresy of racism. Israel itself was joined by a "mixed multitude" when it left Egypt (Exod. 12:38). The line of the Messiah included the Canaanite Rahab and the Moabitess Ruth. Membership in Israel (even physical Israel, to say nothing of spiritual Israel) is not limited to physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The founders of the U.S. opened its borders to people of many nations, inviting them to join the tribe. Whatever practical problems this diversity produces, it does not change the essential nature of civil government. Certainly God has not given us additional revelation

These are questions asked by political scientists, not Biblical ethicists. These questions presuppose an illegitimate collectivism.





What exactly is "the essential nature of civil government?"

God chose Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau to head the covenant family. And indeed Godís choice of Jacob was ratified by Esau himself, who sold his birthright, and by Jacob [sic], who (by deception, to be sure) blessed Jacob. The law forbids a father to disinherit his first-born out of preference for a wife other than the first-bornís mother (Deut. 21:15-17), but doubtless such disinheriting did take place for other reasons. Granted, then, some flexibility in the law of inheritances, it is likely that tribal leadership, similarly, was not based exclusively on seniority. We do have, again, the example of Jephthah in Judges 11, asked by the "elders of Gilead" (verse 5) to "be our head" (verse 8, re-emphasized in verses 9-11). Far from being a first-born, Jephthah was born of a prostitute and expelled by his brothers (verse 2). He was, they said, "not going to get any inheritance in our family." He was chosen, not because of primogeniture, but because of military competence (verse 1). authorizing us to change the nature of government in response to these cultural trends.[26] The question is whether anyone has the moral right to steal and kill. If nobody has such a right, they cannot call themselves "the State" and do those things, nor can they delegate or bequeath that "right" to someone who might call himself "the State." All of the questions in this section ignore trillions of dollars of confiscated wealth and hundreds of millions of lives lost.

2. State Interference in the Family

Some may find my view of the state rather ominous because it might be used to compromise the common Christian insistence on the protection of the family from state interference. If, as I am saying, the state is simply the government of the mega-family, then how could the nuclear family be protected from its often unwanted and unhelpful intrusion? How can family be protected from family?

I would answer simply by stressing the distinction between nuclear family and mega-family or tribe. As I mentioned earlier, Scripture probably forbids the nuclear family to exercise capital punishment among its members, so as not to compromise the ties of affection that bind that unit and so as to require involvement of the wider community in such a weighty decision. 

I thought Frame said above that capital punishment was a family power?? The power was vested in Noah and his nuclear family.
There are powers given to the mega-family that are not given to the nuclear family, and vice-versa. Where are such powers "given?" Did I miss the prooftexts?
It is helpful to remember here that the state, as a tool for resolving disputes, is essentially a system of appeals courts. Where in the Bible is the resolution of disputes given monopoly status in "the State?" Why not in the Church? Why not competing conciliation services in a Free Market of dispute resolution? Where is this prohibited? Where does God say one (and only one) provider of dispute resolution services has the right to use confiscation and deadly force to fund its activities, limit competing arbitrators and impose the terms of its negotiated settlements?

The rationale of the Moses-Jethro organization of Israel in Exodus 18:17-27 is not to center authority in one man who would then make all the decisions, but rather the reverse: to free up Moses so that he would not have to consider every little problem. By analogy, I would think that the "officials over thousands" would not seek to solve all the problems among their people, but would hear cases "too hard" for the officials over hundreds, and so on down the line. Thus the chief decision-making unit is on the "tens" level ó possibly the nuclear family itself. The higher levels of state power only handle cases too small [sic] to be decided locally. The essential localism, the from-the-bottom-up nature of this organization protects the nuclear family against intrusive assaults from broader courts, but also allows the wisdom of the wider community to be brought in cases where the nuclear family admits its inability too handle a problem. This is essentially the same model presupposed in Presbyterian church courts.

If you can't get your dispute resolved by a Mom-n-Pop neighborhood arbitration service, go to the AAA.

There is an alternative world: the world of the "Lex Mercatoria" -- the law of the Free Market. The resolution of disputes and a system of appeals courts can be created by families in a Free Market. They can be created by families acting as "the Church" (the Body of Christ).

There is nothing in the Bible or in Frame's analysis that justifies the transition from families and businesses to the concept of "the State" with its taxation and war.

So where does the Bible justify "civil government" rather than ecclesiastical courts?

3. Education

Related to the above is the contemporary Christian concern about education. State schools in the U.S. have proven to be inadequate academically and especially religiously, as they have sought to impose a secular humanist ideology upon their students. Yet the state seems determined to maintain a virtual monopoly on general education by denying tax resources to schools that are not state controlled. Responding to this situation, Christians have argued that this is an unjust state intrusion into the proper prerogatives of the family. But can we maintain this critique if we regard the state as also, in one sense, "family?"

I think we can. I agree with the contemporary Christian argument that God commits the overall education of children to the parents (e.g. Deut. 6:4ff, Proverbs). And let us now note that he commits it to parents, not grandparents or uncles or aunts. The education of young children is the task of the nuclear family, and it is, of course, to be carried out in an atmosphere saturated in Godís word (Deut. 6:6ff.). Again, the distinction between nuclear family and tribe is an important one. The extended family would enter the picture only if and when the nuclear family is unable or unwilling to carry out its responsibility.

The passage specifically requires grandparents to be involved in education. Single-generation thinking is sub-Biblical.


A Secular State would find a Christian family "unwilling" and "unable" to carry out its responsibility to nurture "democratic citizens of the New World Order."

I conclude, therefore, that state authority is essentially family authority, developed and extended somewhat by the demands of number and geography. Thus I believe we may eliminate from our consideration the views of the Lutherans and Meredith Kline, as well as others, who see the state as a distinct institution ordained by God, with powers and responsibilities different from those of the family. We may also set aside the Anabaptist view that the state is essentially allied with Satan, without denying, of course, the possibility of Satanic states, or at least of Satanic rulers of states.[27] The question is not whether "state authority" is in some sense "derived" from "family authority." "State authority" is institutionalized immorality, no matter its derivation. The question is whether there is anything morally legitimate about the actions of the State, viz., confiscating wealth, conscripting human labor, killing human beings, etc. Our Thesis is that these things are evil, and God has nowhere given any human beings the right to engage in these activities, even if they call themselves "the State."

Go to next part.


[1] See, for instance, John H. Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972).

[2] E. g. Albert G. Huegli, ed., Church and State Under God (St. Louis: Concordia, 1964), Helmut Thielicke, Theological Ethic s, 3 vols., esp. Vols. 1 and 2, ed. William H. Lazareth (Phila.: Fortress, 1966).

[3] Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972).

[4] Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (n.p.: Craig Press, 1973), reviewed by me in Westminster Theological Journal 38:2 (Winter, 1976), 195- 217, Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Phillipsburg, N. J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1977), many other titles.

[5] E. g. Rockne McCarthy et al., Society, State and Schools: A Case for Structural and Confessional Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981).

[a] It is always a temptation to say "or voted out of office by the voters," but this is an impossibility. As one libertarian wag has put it, "If voting made a difference, it would be illegal." Politicians will never allow themselves to be put out of office en masse. Politicians will never allow the voters to abolish the government. A "National Emergency" will be declared -- or something. Politicians must resign, and the voters must not send replacements.

[6] Common sense is not the final rule of exegesis, and it is not infallible. But it would certainly be a shame if we dispensed with it altogether.

[7] See his excellent book, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10]  It is misleading to define "ceremonial" etymologically as "laws pertaining to ceremonies." Many of the laws commonly grouped under the "ceremonial" category, such as dietary laws clothing laws, have nothing to do with "ceremonies." And some laws having to do with ceremonies, such as the "regulative principle" and other doctrines concerning public worship, are commonly described as moral rather than ceremonial laws.

[11] A number of writers have made good beginnings in this direction. See James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), Gary North, Economic Commentary on the Bible, so far in three volumes: The Dominion Covenant: Genesis; Moses and Pharaoh; and The Sinai Strategy (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1982, 1985, 1986). Poythress, op. cit., Rousas J. Rushdoony, op. cit., Gordon Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979). The conclusions of these books are not always consistent with one another, and the authorsí exegesis is of uneven quality. But they are attempting to do what most needs to be done in this area.

[12]  See Kline, "Lex Talionis and the Human Fetus," in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (1977), also published as a pamphlet. Here he advocates civil punishment for abortion based on his exegesis of Exod. 21:22-25.

[13]  For my general comparison and assessment of Kline and Bahnsen, see my "The One, the Many, and Theonomy," forthcoming in a volume of essays on theonomy by Westminster Theological Seminary professors, edited by William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey.

[14] [footnote (1) in original] I realize this is a vague statement, but I donít think the following argument requires any additional precision.

[15] (2) The listing in Exod. 6 ends there, since its purpose is to give the genealogy of Moses; a more complete account is found in Num. 26.

[16] (3) I say "more or less," because sometimes an elder brother may have lost to a younger one his natural hereditary claim to family headship, as may have been the case with Ishmael and Esau.

[17] (4) In his Institutes of Biblical Law (n.p.: Craig Press, 1973), Rousas J. Rushdoony argues that God withholds the death penalty from the family and gives it exclusively to the state (pp. 358-362). He bases this argument on the mark of Cain, which he sees as a protection against vengeance from within the family, and upon Deut. 21:18-21, in which although the parents are required to bring complaints against incorrigible children, the "men of the city," not the parents, execute the death penalty, contrary to the usual order in which the accusers are the executioners. Rushdoony may be right about the nuclear family. Not only the natural ties of love, but also the need to bring more objective witnesses into the process would militate against the use of the death penalty within the nuclear family. But in a broader sense, the "men of the city" were family too. And, again, there were no institutions other than the family when God prescribed the death penalty to Noah.

[18]  (5) And note that even the nuclear family retains the use of force for self-defense, Exod. 22:2.

[19] (6) Again, I am being purposefully vague. I donít know precisely the scope of their jurisdiction, though certainly it included the military. In the case of Samuel it seems to have included a regular ministry of resolving disputes (I Sam. 7:15-17). Nor do I know the geographical or tribal extent of their authority; some judges may have had only local significance and/or may have ruled only certain tribes or clans. Samuel, last and greatest of the judges, ruled "from Dan to Beersheba," i.e. the full extent of the land (I Sam. 3:20).

[20] (7) Are these "elders" simply older men who advised Solomon, or are they also tribal rulers? I am not sure. 4:1-19 may list some or all of them.

[21]  (8) It is also evident in the case of the abortive kingship of Abimelech in Judges 9:1-57.

[22] (9) Samuel Rutherford, in his influential Lex, Re x, (Harrisonburg, Va.: Sprinkle Publications, 1982; originally published 1644) offers a much more detailed defense of the popular basis of kingship, in the interest of defending "defensive war" by the people (under "lesser magistrates") against a king.

[23] (10) Kline, "Divine Kingship and Gen. 6:1-4," Westminster Theological Journal 24 (1962), 187-204. In Klineís view, indeed, "kingship" is one of the major unifying themes of the early chapters of Genesis: God himself as royal creator, the sun and moon "ruling" day and night (1:16), etc., man to have dominion over the earth (1:28, 9:1-3), manís failure to exercise godly rule (chapter 3), the genealogies (see text).

[24]  (11) There is, I would think, some presumption that headship of an extended family would be vested in the oldest male member of the family. The oldest son normally received a double inheritance (Deut. 21:17), and therefore a kind of natural primacy over the other siblings (and doubtless additional responsibility as well; see Rushdoony, Institute s, 174-182) that may have made him the natural choice as the tribal leader. But of course primogeniture was often overridden.

[25] (12) We can, for convenience, think of the "extended family" as including oneís direct ancestors two or three generations back, plus all the living descendants of those ancestors. But the definition isnít very important for the remaining argument.

[26] (13) We can see, however, that in nations like Japan or Sweden, which have a relative uniformity of ancestry, government is in some respects easier. In such countries, there is less suspicion of one another, more readiness to defer to one another, to trust one another as "family." Socialism is somewhat less burdensome, for example, when to some extent the taxpayer knows, understands, and trusts the people who are receiving the benefits of the welfare state. I donít think that socialism, ultimately, is workable anywhere; but democratic socialism does seem to be most stable in those sorts of societies. (Of course, nondemocratic socialism achieves stability in proportion to the power and the ruthless dedication of government to destroy all opposition.)

[27] (14) Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom and the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), 50.

Part Three: The State and Religion

III. The State and Religion  
            We must now ask concerning the religious character of the state, so conceived. Does God permit the state to make a religious commitment? Does he command it to? In a word, yes to both questions.  
            In the first place, God calls all human beings to repent of sin and to put their trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Those who have believed in Jesus are to do all things to his glory (I Cor. 10:31; cf. Rom. 14:23, II Cor. 10:5, Col. 3:17, 24). Anything the believer does, therefore, must be done according to God's standards and out of a motive of love for him. This principle certainly bears on any human associations, whether for business, education, charity, worship, art, recreation, study, government or whatever. The believer must press the royal claims of Christ in all areas of life. And to do that is, of course, to work toward Christian standards and practices in all those associations, so that there will be Christian businesses, Christian schools, Christian media, Christian charities, Christian churches, Christian art, Christian recreations, Christian scholarship, and, of course, Christian government. Why should government be any different from any other project in which the believer is involved? If we promote Christian schools because Christ is to be Lord of all of life, doesn't the same argument apply to government? And once Christian standards become the norm in such institutions, why should that institution not formally recognize that commitment by confessing Christ? "Christian Government": Surely a "Christian business" is a well-governed business, and a Christian school would also be well-governed. So "Christian government" means a "State" that is Christian. Will there also be a "Christian mafia?" No, because the only way a mafia can become Christian is to "go out of business" -- to stop being a mafia. Same with "the State."
            In the second place, God claims families with a special zeal. He chose the process of childbearing as the means by which his son would enter the world and announced that fact at the beginning of redemption (Gen. 3:15). He saved the family of Noah from the flood (6:18, 7:1, 13, 8:16ff), and he gave to that family dominion over the earth and the right to avenge bloodshed (Gen. 8:20-9:17). He called Abram, promising to bless his offspring, and to bless all nations through that offspring (Gen. 12:7, 15:4f). God commanded as a sign of the Abrahamic covenant an injury to the male organ of generation, and he commanded that that sign be applied to all of Abraham's family including the young children (17:9-27). Similarly, Israel , the family of Jacob, was to circumcise its males on the eighth day of their lives (Lev. 12:3) to acknowledge God's claim upon all their seed. (Cf. also the consecration of the firstborn by ransom of his life, Ex. 13:12.) Certainly, then, there is nothing strange about a family head professing faith in God on behalf of his household. "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve," said Joshua, "but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Josh. 24:15).  
            Household commitments, indeed household baptisms, are also found in the New Testament (Acts 2:39, 11:14, 16:15, 16:31, 18:8, I Cor. 1:16). To me and others, these references are a strong argument in favor of infant baptism: surely first century Jews would have understood these events as a continuation of the Old Testament practice of claiming households for God and of administering the sign of the covenant to all those in the household. At any rate, God continues to call families. The importance of the family to God is not exhausted when the "seed" of Gen. 3:15 comes in Christ. Rather, Christ himself, now at the right hand of God the Father, continues to work through families to extend his kingdom throughout the earth (Matt. 28:19ff). And indeed, his goal is not only to rule families, but extended families, tribes, nations (Psm. 2, 72, 110, Matt. 25:32, 28:19, Rom. 4:17f, Gal. 3:8, Rev. 2:26, 12:5, 15:4, 20:3, 21:24ff, 22:2).  Christ came to rule mafias as well. How will the existence of mafias be affected when that rule is exercised? When Christ "rules the nations" what happens to them? (Psalm 2:9) (The Biblical word "nation" can mean people (sharing an ethnic makeup), or "the State" that rules them.)
            On my earlier account, states are family governments. If a family is to profess Christ as Lord, its government must do the same. If a tribe or nation is to profess Christ as Lord, its government, the state, must do the same.  
            A non-Christian family-state should also profess its religious commitment. For there is no neutrality, for states any more than for individuals. Those who are not for Christ are against him. A non-Christian state is, of necessity, committed to something other than the God of Scripture, and in honesty it ought to confess that fact. In practice, it may be difficult for some states to formulate their religious commitments, because of multiple religions among the citizens and rulers. But even a state in such a situation can tell us what it is not committed to. If it wishes to profess Christ despite the diversity of individual commitments, it should do so; if it wishes to deny the authority of Christ over it, it should indicate that as well. Agree completely with the thrust of Section III. Just not the moral legitimacy of the State which is presupposed.
IV. The State, the Church, and the Kingdom of God  
            The kingdom of God is that sovereign exercise of God's rule "where not merely God is supreme, for that is true at all times and under all circumstances, but where God supernaturally carries through his supremacy against all opposing powers and brings man to the willing recognition of the same." (27) What is the relation of the state to that kingdom?  
            As I mentioned earlier, God uses the family as a means to bring his salvation into the world. The family was the vehicle for the incarnation. After Jesus' resurrection, the kingdom grows as God claims families for himself and, in time, nations.  
            The state also serves the kingdom by extending the righteousness of God in the earth (Matt. 6:10). When the state acquits the innocent and punishes the guilty, it is a ministry of God ( Rom. 13:1-7). As states come more and more under the influence of God's word, their judgments will become more and more righteous.  

States "serve" God (act as His minister, diakonos) when they punish the innocent and promote the guilty to four-star general.

            The family, therefore, and the state as the government of the tribe, do play roles in God's redemptive kingdom. Family and state are not our saviors from sin, but they are tools, as well as objects, of God's saving rule.  God has commanded human beings to form families, but not states. The formation of states is contrary to God's Law.
            Beyond this general role, we find in the Old Testament that God made special use of one particular family, the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He chose them from among all the other nations to be his uniquely holy people (Deut. 7:6). In the tabernacle and temple, God dwelled in the midst of Israel as in [sic] he dwelled in no other nation. He gave them special blessings of protection and provision. He gave them human gifts: prophets, priests and kings. He gave to them the unique blessing of written "oracles of God" (Rom. 3:1ff). And indeed, because of their special holiness he also punished them for their sins with swiftness and severity (Amos 3:2, see our earlier discussion).  
            The "special holiness" of Israel reflected in the law is, I think, essentially the special presence of God in the tabernacle and the temple, a presence which created a "zone" of holiness within which persons, animals, houses and the like had to be ceremonially pure. Israel 's laws had to account for that reality, just as the laws of all nations must account for the real situations of those nations. (Not to be irreverent, but if Beaver County had a population of 100,000 elephants, there would have to be numerous laws regulating the comings, goings, diets, training, disciplining, etc., of elephants. Israel 's problem was similar, but much more awesome in its implications.)  
            God blessed Israel by his special presence so that Israel  could fulfill the promise to Abraham that in his seed all the nations would be blessed. Israel enjoyed God's special friendship, not for its own sake, but so that it might be a witness to the nations of God's grace and judgment (Isa. 43:10ff, 44:8f) and, eventually, so that they might present to the nations their Messiah as King of kings and Lord of lords. Ultimately,  Israel bore false witness, and they lost their special standing with God. Though many Jews believed in Jesus, the nation's rulers rejected him; and thus God rejected them.  
            But the people of God continued in a new form. The church, composed of Jews and Gentiles (with, of course, their families) as equal members of one body, was the "Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16). The olive tree of Abraham continued, but with some old (Jewish) branches broken off and some new (Gentile) branches grafted in (Rom. 11:11-24). The church received the titles of Israel : "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God" (I Pet. 2:9f, cf. Ex. 19:6, Tit. 2:14).  
            The new form of the people of God involved many new things. No longer was there a literal tabernacle or temple; Jesus himself was the temple, and he dwelt, by his spirit, within his people, so that in a sense they became the temple (John 2:19ff, I Cor. 3:16f, 6:19, II Cor. 6:16). Nor was the new people of God identified, even roughly, with a particular group of clans or tribes; it became an international body destined to cover the globe (Matt. 28:19f). It had a government, as did Israel , but that government did not possess the power of the sword (Matt. 26:51), but "only" the "sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17). It conquers through love, rather than by violence (Matt. 5:38-48, Rom. 12:9-21).  
            No modern nation, or its government (state), then, will ever play the distinctive role filled by Old Testament Israel . God's purposes now are wider and broader; the whole world is the promised land (Matt. 28:19ff, I Cor. 3:21ff, Eph. 6:3 (cf. Ex. 20:12)). We need no longer the types and shadows of the tabernacle and temple, for we have the reality in Christ (Heb. 8-10). Modern nations still play the very general kingdom role noted earlier, as objects and tools. But even believing nations, if such there be, will not play the distinctive role of  Israel , and therefore their governments, the "states" will not need to take those purposes into account as they rule.  
            In the modern world, then, each Christian is a citizen of two nations: An earthly nation like France, England, or the U. S. A., and the heavenly nation (Eph. 2:6) (not of this world, John 18:36), the church. Though we belong entirely to Christ, we do not on that account renounce our citizenship in the earthly nations, any more than we leave our earthly families.

A consistent Christian cannot be a citizen of a state like the United States. 

Christians can be "good citizens" in that they do not steal or kill, but they cannot serve two masters, and have two loyalties. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that Christians cannot become American citizens unless their allegiance to Washington D.C. is "unqualified" by a higher allegiance to God. I know this to be a fact because I studied law and passed the California Bar Exam, but was denied a license to practice law on this ground by the same federal court that ruled that children must not be allowed to Pledge Allegiance to the government with the words "under God."

In principle, every institution that claims the right to steal and the right to take vengeance must declare war on God and allegiance to a rival Sovereign.

Indeed, we seek to be good citizens, for those earthly nations themselves, and their rulers, received their authority from God (Rom. 13:1-7). God never gave any man or institution the right (authority) to tax and take vengeance. God never gave a monopoly of these powers to "the State." Without a monopoly of these two powers, there is no such thing as "the State."
The church has its national and tribal leaders, its elders and deacons (I Tim. 3), who not only preach and teach, administer sacraments, etc., but also provide services that the elders and kings provided in Israel. They resolve disputes (I Cor. 5:1-6:8) and lead in battle (Rom. 13:12, Eph. 6:10-18, I Thess. 5:8). They resolve disputes, but they do not lock the losing party in a federal cell with a psychopath to be sodomized for 5-10 years.

The "battles" they lead are only peaceful metaphors of state genocide and mass destruction.

            The state also continues to have its leaders, who perform the corresponding services for their clans. We seek as much as possible to be obedient to both, though we are first of all citizens of heaven. When we have disputes we can't settle with other believers, we take them to the church elders; when we have similar disputes with unbelievers, we take them to the state. When we seek leadership in the battle against Satan, we turn to the rulers of the church, for the state can't help us there; when we seek defense against physical attacks, we turn to the state, for the church has no swords, and we, being also citizens in good standing of the earthly nations, have as much right to their protection as anyone (Acts 25:11). We know, however, that when the church wins its battle, no more swords will be needed; so the spiritual battle is still the ultimate one.  


Should a Christian be willing to apply state sanctions against unbelievers? Should the Christian be willing to have wages garnished, houses encumbered with liens, resisters beaten and enslaved, or even killed? "The State" is an anti-Christian monopoly of violence.

I do not believe Christians can, consistent with their faith in the Prince of Peace, turn to the state to bomb other nations "back to the Stone Age."

A Biblical Defense of Pacifism

            Church and earthly nation are related, then, as two different families with overlapping members, occupying the same territory. They both serve the kingdom of God, but it is misleading, in my view, to describe them as two institutional forms of the kingdom coordinate with one another, as is often done in Reformed literature. [28] The church is the organization which has as its goal the spreading of God's kingdom through the earth. The state, if it is not a Christian state, does not share that goal at all, but may in spite of itself perform some services to the kingdom of God. If the state is Christian, it will represent the church in its earthly concerns, using earthly tools denied to the church as such, defending it from physical attack and so forth. It will be a kind of adjunct tool for the church, not an institution coordinate with it.  
            I should say more about what a Christian nation and its state, as government of a Christian nation, might be like.  
            (1) Then the nation and church will have approximately the same membership. [29]  
            (2) Would such a nation be a "holy" nation? Not in the sense that Old Testament Israel was, for there will be no tabernacle or temple. But since the church is a holy nation, and the membership of nation and church are virtually the same, we can speak of the nation being "holy" because of the presence of Christ in his people in that place through the Spirit.  In the New Covenant, every institution should be more holy than institutions in the Old Covenant, not less holy and more "secular."
            (3) The church elders would come to overshadow the state courts, pretty much the reverse of the situation today. Most disputes within the society would be settled by the church elders. But some state courts would remain (staffed by Christian elders probably, for who else would be wise enough to solve disputes in a godly way?) to serve the small unbelieving remnant of the population. Why should church elders wear two different hats?
            (4) The legislative and executive branches of the state would seek to bring the laws of the land (and their implementation) into accord with biblical standards. They would still not put all of Old Testament law literally into practice. They would have to re-apply those laws, making allowance for the lack of a tabernacle or temple (see above), and taking account of other situational changes. [30]  
            (5) How should such a Christian government treat the non-Christian religious minorities? Many today reject the very idea of Christian government out of fear that such will lead to a renewal of the religious wars of long ago, or to Christian Ayatollahs. They fear the sort of religious persecutions many came to America's shores to escape. That fear seems even more legitimate when we consider that in the Mosaic law there were death penalties both for false worship and for seducing others into the worship of false gods (Deut. 13:1-18, 17:1-7).  
            I agree with Vern Poythress that these death penalties are based upon the special holiness of Israel. When God condescends to live in the midst of a nation as did God in Israel, it is particularly insulting to permit people to commit idolatry. It pollutes the holy land where he dwells. That rationale for the punishments of Deut. 13 and 17 does not apply to modern states. I agree with Poythress, therefore, that the simple acts of publicly worshipping false gods and of inciting others to do so should not be punished by the state. Jesus said to make disciples of every nation, because "I am with you."

The Holy Spirit dwells in the Church.

How can the world be anything but more holy, more specially holy because more Christian? Why is idolatry not more offensive to God after He sent His Son? 

            However, to say this might lead some to believe that in such a Christian state all religions should be treated on a precisely equal basis, with no favoritism shown to any of them, any such penalty being, in effect, a "penalty for false worship." That would please the "principled pluralists," and it would bring some satisfaction to those who hold Kline's position. But I cannot accept it, for it would in effect make a truly Christian state impossible. A Christian state, if that name means anything at all, is a state which observes Christian standards in formulating and implementing the law. To do this is already to "discriminate," to give a privileged position to one religion over another.  
            To make the same point from another perspective: all sin, and therefore all crime (crime on God's standards being a subset of sin) is religious. The murderer is a rebel against the true God, who says "You shall not kill." Similarly the thief, the false witness, the rapist. People who do such things are saying in their heart "there is no God" (Psm. 14:1), though they know in their hearts that God is real (Rom. 1:18-21). Wickedness, evil, greed, depravity, all sins, come from the fact that people "did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God" (Rom. 1:28-32). Therefore, to punish murder is at the same time to punish the murderer's religious decision to ignore God; it is to punish the religious statement the murderer makes through his crime. In his religion, murder is not wrong, at least for him. In punishing him, the state is telling him that at this point, at least, he may not put his religion into practice.  
            This sort of issue, of course, comes up very explicitly in the news from time to time. A Jehovah's Witness refuses a blood transfusion to his dying child, parents in a healing cult refuse medical treatment to their children, fanatical polygamists in Utah kill off disloyal former followers. Even now, though American law lacks a full Christian commitment, it discriminates against religiously motivated actions of that sort. Defenses of such behavior based on religious liberty are unacceptable. But the same thing happens, essentially, in all criminal cases: the state is pitting its religious commitment, such as it is, against that of the accused.  The idea of a secular (religiously neutral) state is a myth.
            A godly state, therefore, would be discriminating all the time against false religion. If such discrimination is unavoidable even for non-Christian states, surely it is impossible for a Christian state. The only question, then, is how far may such discrimination go?  
            It by no means follows from these remarks that no toleration of false religion is possible within a Christian nation. I have said already that the mere acts of false worship and of seduction to false worship ought to be legally tolerated by a Christian state. Indeed, even Old Testament Israel, which executed those who worshiped falsely in public, tolerated the presence of "aliens" and "sojourners," even those aliens who had not professed faith in the true God by circumcising the males of their households. These were given explicit protections in the law (Lev. 19:33, 25:6, Num. 15:16, 35:15). Since all law is based on a religion, seducing to a false religion is treason, which has often been a capital crime in nearly every State. Publicly recruiting for Al Qaeda members in the U.S. would likely be punished. But only during a time of "war." Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were not executed for treason because the Soviet Union was an ally and there was no declaration of war. They were executed for "espionage."
            This toleration in Israel depends logically upon the important distinction between sin and crime. Many human actions are sins against God which are not crimes punishable by the state. The law of Moses lists many sins to which no penalty is attached. The same distinction must be made by any modern nation which would strive to emulate the "general equity" of the Mosaic law. Should Arminianism be punished as a false religion? Maybe a highly-advanced Calvinist society would. Should seducing for Al Qaeda be prosecuted as an offense against the state but not as an offense against Deuteronomy 13?
            Keeping that distinction in mind, I would think that a modern Christian state ought not to try to punish unbelief as such or even the expression of that unbelief in false worship or religious propaganda. It ought, however, to punish the expressions of false religion in such crimes as murder and theft. Should a brazen public recruiter for Al Qaeda terrorists be punished only if he himself engaged in a terrorist act?
            I think too that it would be legitimate to limit the influence of false religion in society through other means. A "Christian state" is, at minimum, a state committed to follow the Word of God as its chief authority in all governmental decisions. Such a commitment would doubtless be articulated in a written constitution, to which public officials would be expected to subscribe. As the rulers of Israel were required under God's covenant to obey his law, and as modern American officials are required to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so, it seems to me, public officials in a Christian state ought to be expected also to subscribe to the constitution of that state which would, of course, entail a Christian profession of faith.  
            How theologically detailed ought that profession to be? It depends on how broad the Christian consensus is at the time. The denominationalism of the present-day church is, in my estimation, a terrible scandal for many reasons, and one which makes it difficult, to be sure, to conceive of such a thing as a Christian state. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a Christian state existing until God removes from us in large measure the curse of denominationalism. But should my imagination be too pessimistic in this matter, and should we have the opportunity to lead the nation to a Christian commitment in our present divided state, I would say that the various Christian groups will simply have to see what they can agree upon and hope that over time that agreed content will expand.  
            At any rate, I would see nothing biblically objectionable, and much positive value in, requiring of public officials a profession of faith in Christ and a commitment to follow biblical standards in their public decisions.  
            Take the argument one step further: why not also require a public profession as a qualification for the privilege of voting? That idea may horrify some, but it should be considered seriously. The idea of "one man, one vote" democracy is not required by Scripture. Scripture allows, I think, many specific forms of government (monarchy, oligarchy, aristocracy, democracy, etc.). Reasonable people, I think, will agree that democracy often fails in certain kinds of cultural settings (e.g. Haiti, Latin America, Africa, prewar Germany), that sometimes nations require more powerful leadership than democracy allows, simply to avoid chaos. Successful democracy requires a literate and knowledgeable electorate, relatively immune from temptations to pursue private interests by political means and relatively willing to accept defeat in the interest of maintaining public order. Many traditionally democratic nations such as Britain and the U. S. compromised their democratic traditions during war (remember, e.g., the internment of Japanese-Americans, the recent "states of emergency" in Northern Ireland). Democracy has much to be said for it in many contexts, and I certainly defend its continuation in the present-day United States; but it is not an eternal absolute.  The scriptural requirement is not that government be democratic, [31] but that government be just, according to God's standards. With that in mind, we might ask if the right to participate in government should be limited to those willing to support and defend a Christian constitution. Scripture leaves us free to qualify democracy in this way, and I think such a qualification would do much to prevent the erosion of Christian values within the political process. America's Founders Hated Democracy
            Doubtless more could be said as to how much tolerance/intolerance ought to be permitted in a Christian state. I won't try to give a complete account here. It should be evident, however, that the question is not a simple one of "shall we tolerate or not?" Rather, there are many degrees and kinds of toleration in many different situations, as is recognized by the law of Moses. All of that would have to be worked out carefully by the founding fathers of a Christian commonwealth.  Agreed.
Summary and Conclusion  
            I have suggested that the state is essentially the government of a tribe or clan with, to be sure, some difference from the nuclear family in its rights and powers. Theologically, states are the government of the earthly tribes, which will in time be superseded by the government of the heavenly tribe, the church. Until that time, however, a Christian state may serve the church by resolving its temporal disputes with worldly powers. To carry out this task faithfully, it must be obedient to the law of God in Scripture, carefully applying that law to the present situation, taking account of changes both in redemptive history and in human culture. The difference between a "nuclear family" and a "tribe" is not moral. The difference between a "family" (however large) and "the State" is. The difference between a family business ("corporation") and "the State" is not just a difference in size; it is a moral difference. A corporation does not claim the right to assassinate rivals or bomb competitors "back to the stone age." A corporation does not claim the right to confiscate the wealth of consumers using threats of force. Incarceration, retribution, and vengeance are not words usually found in annual reports. "The State" is systematic institutionalized violence of a type repudiated by all families and corporations. The very essence of "the State" is pure evil. It came into existence to do evil things that families and businesses would never do.


  I don't know where footnote "(27)" is. I don't know if it is this one. It could be, but then where is this one? [back]
[28] This sort of representation is common in both the Kuyperian-Dooyeweerdian and the Christian Reconstruction traditions.  
[29] As in Old Testament Israel, not everyone in the nation would profess faith.  
[30] E.g., relevant cultural changes. Since most people today do not entertain guests upon their roofs, we would not want a law which literally said the equivalent of Deut. 22:8; but we would want to incorporate the principle behind that law, namely that of maintaining safe facilities.  
[31] Although as I mentioned earlier, the people ought to have some say in the establishment of a particular political order, as in Israel's ratification of the kingship. Thus I insist (with the theonomist tradition) that there ought to be a popular consensus in favor of Christianity before a Christian constitution is actually adopted by a nation.