|| Previous || Next || Romans 13 || e-mail || V&FT ||

Towards a Theonomic View of the State

Thesis: We endeavor to make the point, in other essays, that while God "orders" the State, that is, sets it in place to execute His wrath upon disobedience, the State is nevertheless a lawless institution, and while God is in complete and sovereign control over the State, He nowhere commands any man to leave the Family or Patriarchal Community of believers to establish such an an organization of coercion and force.

This sounds like "anarchism," but we think it Biblical. We have spoken of a "Theonomic" view of the State, looking for specific and explicit commands in God's Law to engage in certain activities outside the parameters of the Families of the Body of Christ, His Church. From what we have seen of God's Law, men are forbidden to become involved in Mafia, States, or other violent, coercive institutions.

Antithesis: English-speaking Bible commentators make great efforts to establish the point that Romans 13 gives Divine approbation to the State. Not just that God predestines, or "orders" the State, but that it is God's prescriptive will, written in the Scriptures for all to read, that there be an "institution" (other than the Family (or the Church) which engages in certain activities (which are either undefined or roundly condemned elsewhere in Scripture).

And yet the commentators also labor to qualify this reverence for the State by saying that if the State exceeds its God-given bounds, forcible revolution is justified. Both of these points in have been illustrated in other essays.

This tension is a result of a failure to examine the State "Theonomically," that is, in terms of the requirements of God's Law. In other essays we have shown how Protestants, beginning with the Reformers, rejected an "Anabaptistic" approach to the State which examines the State in terms of God's Law-Word in Scripture. The "Theonomic" approach was rejected by the Reformers in favor of a natural law/Roman law synthesis. As a result, Puritan Protestantism has always been characterized on the one hand by fascism in the State and docile dependence among believer-priests, but then (on the other hand), when the State takes away its benefits or in some way offends the Anglo ecclesiastics, there has been revolution and violence. This is because Romans 13 has been substituted for a Biblical Law Standard which can be used to judge the State.

Romans 13 is Not a Starting Point

In this series of essays, we have tried to suggest that the origin and purpose of the State lies in an analysis of the history of the Family and of rebellion against it (cf., e.g., Genesis 10:8-10).

Because of their rejection of the Theonomic principle of Biblical interpretation, Reformed and Protestant commentators have used Romans 13 as the be-all, end-all statement of the Biblical doctrine of the State. As Ed McMahon used to say, "Everything you want to know . . . ." In his three-volume Systematic Theology, Hodge asserts, "The whole theory of civil government and the duty of citizens to their rulers, are comprehensively stated by the Apostle in Romans xiii.1-5" (III:357).

Whoa! Is this correct? The whole theory of the State?!? In five verses? What about the rest of The Bible? Is this all God says about the State?

Most Protestant theologians, who might not otherwise agree with anything we have said so far, will admit that the State has not been given a blank check by God to do anything its little heart desires. Gordon Clark, in his exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, rightly limits the State's power to that specifically granted it by God:

"Their authority comes from Him; therefore they cannot rightfully act as dictators; their just powers are only those which God has assigned them."

Now, where do we turn to find the powers assigned by God to the State? Romans 13? No, Romans 13 only tells us that the State is an instrument in God's hands, against which we are not to rebel in violent revolution. Romans 13 is addressed to citizens, not Statesmen (although the latter may surely learn from it). Romans 12 and 13 tell us not to avenge ourselves; that God uses the "powers" to execute His vengeance; and that if we do not want God to wreak vengeance upon us, we should obey God's Law. Romans 13 is a sweeping command to pacific obedience on the part of those affected by the State.

Vine & Fig Tree espouses the theory that the State is evil, although God commands us to obey it. Most Christians believe that the State is good, yet they justify disobedience, treason and violent revolution which Vine & Fig Tree anarchists would never approve.

If it be deemed too sweeping, then its self-imposed limitation has been overlooked. For as the obedience is demanded because of God's appointment, then it is not demanded in matters contrary to God's appointment. When the civil power contradicts God's Word and His voice in our conscience, then it contradicts and subverts its own authority. (Lange).

Of course, we all agree that if the State commands us to do something strictly forbidden in God's Word, or forbids us to do that which is clearly commanded, we must disobey the State (Acts 5:29). But is this commentator saying that if the Bible gives the State the Divine right to tax at a rate of, say, seven percent, that anything above this rate need not be paid?

Not only does that seem to be counter to the spirit of Romans 13, but, again, where is the specific provision of Biblical Law which grants a group of men calling themselves "the State" the right to exact any tribute at all?

We are again forced to enquire, Where are these powers in Biblical Law?

Our duty to the State is surely a very complex subject, and the opinions of Protestant commentators reveal its complexity: Paul says we are to pay that tribute which is "due." Does this mean whatever the State says is "due"? Or does it mean only that which God in his Law explicitly commands the State to tax? Some celebrities in Europe, earning large incomes, have been taxed by their governments in excess of 100% of their income. They often moved to other countries rather than give in to these extortioners (a move with which we may sympathize!) Some Reconstructionist commentators have suggested that God's Law authorizes the State to tax only a miniscule amount: less than 5-10%. Does that mean that no more than that amount is truly "due" and payable?

Romans 13 alone surely does not give a "comprehensive" answer to all these questions.

We need to begin in God's Law.

God's Law is Our Starting Point

John Murray, an orthodox Presbyterian, has brought us head-to-head with the conflict between a Theonomic-Anabaptist synthesis view of the State and the traditional natural law/Roman Law synthesis of the Reformers. The Reformers have held that that State is a "Divine Institution," receiving God's endorsement for its general existence. The Anabaptists held that Romans 13 merely speaks of God's predestination of the State in His overall plan of history, and the State is in fact a lawless organization, and men are forbidden by the Law of Christ from leaving a Godly Patriarchal society to form a "State."

Looking to such passages as Isaiah 10, and Isaiah 13, we see that God has a very personal interest in having the State wield "the sword" (war) against rebellious nations. And yet the State which God uses to judge another nation is itself to be judged; war and aggression -- large-scale murder and theft -- are clearly counter to Biblical Law. On this view, Romans 13, which says we must "submit" (i.e., not react in a State-like manner) to the State's threats to human life and its confiscation of personal wealth, does not give the State the right to do what Assyria, Babylon, and other States have always done; it merely says God is in control of these things, and He will eliminate their threats if we overcome these evils with good.

Put in more practical terms, if America were obedient to God's Law, there would not be a Soviet Union threatening us. If American Families were caring for the poor, educating their children, and visiting the sick, the State would vanish for lack of purpose.

The traditional Reformed view, represented below by Murray, says Romans 13 speaks not of God's predestinating decree, but of the precepts of Biblical Law. As Theonomists, we ask Murray, What precepts?:

The propositions that the authorities are of God and ordained of God are not to be understood as referring merely to God's decretive will. The terms could be used to express God's decretive ordination, but this is not their precise import here. The context shows that the ordination of which the apostle now speaks is that of institution (sic) which is obliged to perform the appointed functions. The civil magistrate is not the only means decreed in God's providence for the punishment of evildoers but God's instituted, authorized, and prescribed instrument for the maintenance of order and the punishing of criminals who violate that order. When the civil magistrate through his agents executes just judgment upon crime, he is executing not simply God's decretive will but he is also fulfilling God's preceptive will, and it would be sinful for him to refrain from so doing.

Murray admits that the words of Romans 13 equally admit the Providential interpretation, viz., that God orders (sets in place) the State, but does not command it, authorize it, or prescribe it in His inScriptured directives to man. But he says that if all bureaucrats resigned tomorrow, they would be sinning. This proposition cannot be Scripturally defended. Vine & Fig Tree urges all those who live by the sword to resign, to leave their post and follow Jesus (Matthew 9:9).

John Calvin has said that we must never ground a doctrine in but one text of Scripture, and thus our challenge to the traditional view of the State: Since Romans 13 could possibly speak only of God's predestination, or simply the citizens' duty to submit to the "powers," what other passages affirmatively direct the State to tax, aggress, threaten, coerce or kill? Where in Biblical Law does God command men to set up a rival institution to the Family, or to become "terrorists" (cf. Romans 13:3).

James Benjamin Green, in his harmony of the Westminster Standards, says that such a text cannot be produced: He says Romans 13 does not imply "that God directly ordained the state by saying to man, Thou shalt set up a government or organize a commonwealth."

Indeed, where in God's Law are specific powers of taxation and militarism given to the State? It is circular reasoning to keep retreating to Romans 13. We think it is impossible to show a specific provision of Biblical Law which commands men to form a "State" and for the State to do the things it does. If those things were already commanded for the Christian Church to do in its Families and Communities, then we think it impossible to show a command removing those duties from the Church (the body of Godly Patriarchies) and monopolistically giving them to the State.

Another essay examines Isaiah's prophecy against Assyria, which says many of the same things Romans 13 says. No one argues that God actually commands Assyria -- or any other State -- to invade Israel, destroy property and rape women. Nevertheless, the text "literally" says that God did so command Assyria (Isaiah 10:6); Assyria was the rod of the Lord's anger, just as Romans 13 says the State executes God's wrath (Romans 13:4). By fulfilling God's command to confiscate Israeli wealth, take Israeli citizens captive, and with violence, abuse, force and terror to walk over the human rights of Israelites like sewage in the street (Isaiah 10:6), Assyria was unquestionably "a terror to the evil" (Romans 13:3). In God's lauding of the Assyrian State and its armies, God was warning Israel, a sinful nation. Isaiah says in 13:3 that the Lord calls such an arm of State "My sanctified ones." And yet we must say with emphatic stress that Murray has misled us if we assert that Assyria was "obliged to perform the appointed functions" and that "it would be sinful for him to refrain from so doing." This is at best simplistic, and is certainly an insult to Biblical Law, God's prescriptive will. Assyria was judged for "obeying" God's "commandment" (Isaiah 10:12-14).

Again, we must see God's favor toward the brutal Assyrian army as a rhetorical device to describe His anger against Israel, the nation being judged. God then turns around and voices the same anger at the nation which bore the sword. This is critical: How could Assyria be God's "minister" (interpreted to indicate His prescriptive approbation) if God destroys Assyria for obeying His "command"? Is there any way the Medes could bear the sword such that God would be pleased (prescriptively)?

Similarly, God's Law nowhere commanded Solomon to conscript thousands to serve in his palace and to lay heavy taxation upon Israel (I Kings 12:11), although it was God Himself Who was judging a slavish people through Solomon's excesses (I Samuel 8). God decreed it in His sovereign predestination of all history, but did not command it.

This is why, in the face of increasing challenges to the authority and legitimacy of the State, the continual retreat of the commentators to Romans 13 is naive and unScriptural. Paul and Isaiah, while condemning violent revolution against the State (and commending our non-violent overthrow of evil through good works), do not assert that the State obeys God's prescriptive will, but rather His predestinating will concerning His plan to order the lives of wicked men and eventually to judge them. In light of the "theonomic" thesis, the burden is on the traditional interpreters to come up with specific provisions of Biblical Law which show God's precepts for "the State."

The State vs. the Family: Monopolization of Powers

The "archists" (those who are ostensibly against "anarchism") have an even greater burden than merely showing positive, non-sinful commands given by God to the State; they must do more than show where God actually (prescriptively) commands the State to do something which would be prima facie good (e.g., raping Babylonian women, mutilating children, confiscating wealth (cf. the work of God's "sanctified ones" in Isaiah 13:16) is prima facie sinful, accomplishing only a divine good in terms of God's predestinating plan).

Suppose specific provisions of God's Law were to be produced; specific commands to extract wealth from others to adorn one's home and to hire personal servants; explicit precepts commanding one to avenge national enemies and pursue arms build-up. We need one thing more, and we will use the example of "capital punishment" to illustrate the missing link: State Monopoly.

(It should be noted that most Protestant theologians are reluctant to talk about the State's powers of taxation and militarization ["national defense"] because they are clearly and universally abused, whatever one thinks the basic Divine rights may be. But if there is one power which is alleged to be granted to the State it is "capital punishment." If there be any other functions, such as education, relief of poverty, regulation of commerce and communication, etc., which are performed by the State without obvious detriment to society (obvious to those untrained in Christian economics, anyway), "capital punishment" stands out as the preeminent rightful power of the State. Those who oppose "the death penalty" may still subscribe to a lesser penalty, but "judicial punishment" is almost universally agreed to be a Divine right of the State.)

Our question is simply, where is this power exclusively given to "the State" and withheld from the Family? That is, where is any legitimate activity given to the State as a monopoly? Where are Families restricted from the exercise of any legitimate activity which is commanded of officers of the State?

As an example, in Deuteronomy 17 we have a prophecy concerning the king that would be demanded of Samuel by Israel. Commands are given to this king, most of which are negative (vv. 16-17 (and were disobeyed)). There are positive commands, however: basically, to obey God's Law (v. 20; cf. Mark 10:42-45; John 15:14). Is it the exclusive prerogative of the king to refrain from "turning to the left or to the right"? Of course not; we are all commanded to keep God's Law (Deuteronomy 5:32).

Is there, then, any abiding duty which was given to the State and withheld from the Family?

"Yes," it will be asserted: "the Death Penalty; Capital Punishment!"

In previous essays we have examined the "patriarchal" powers of Abraham. Abraham had every power traditionally ascribed to "the State." He was a State by every traditional definition.

Among his powers was the duty to shed the blood of certain criminals. The power was given to Noah and "unto his sons" (Genesis 9:1) and remained in the hands of the Family. This is quite important, for many commentators has asserted that the State originated in Genesis 9, with the command to shed the blood of certain criminals. It was in fact a power of the Family, as the existence of the "kinsman-redeemer" surely indicates.

Can the "archists" demonstrate that "capital punishment" was a never a Family power or that it was removed from the Family and given monopolistically to a non- Familial institution (the "State")?

Why the Decline of Patriarchal Power?

In Egypt, Family powers were abandoned; Israel became slaves to the State. Through Moses, God ordained a system of social organization designed for a slave nation -- for "children under age" (Galatians 3:19; 4:1-8). But the "patriarchal" powers of Adam, Noah, and Abraham were nowhere rescinded. Moses, in fact, expressed his desire that all men would be given God's Spirit and return to active Dominion (Numbers 11:17,29). We have argued in other essays that this system was the Old Testament parallel to the New Testament "churches." Both were based on "elders" chosen from heads of Families, and both systems were ultimately Family-centered.

Prescriptively, as seen in God's commands, Power is decentralized, occurring "naturally" in Families; the State is but an instrument of God's judgment upon the failure of Families to obey His Law. Nothing in God's precepts takes from the Family and gives to the State. Paul in Romans 13 says nothing that Isaiah in the 10th chapter of his prophecies contradicts.

Thus, even if we find the State doing something not explicitly forbidden in Biblical Law, the question still remains, Where is the State granted monopoly power in God's precepts to engage in this activity? Those who defend the traditional view of the State in Romans 13 must produce explicit Biblical commands authorizing the State and forbidding the Family to engage in the defended activities.

We challenge the legitimacy of the State itself. Are we therefore anarchists? Perhaps. Are we unBiblical? Jesus says we are not to be kings (Luke 22:25-26), nor take up the sword (Matthew 26:52), nor avenge ourselves of our enemies (Romans 12:19). We are not to kill and we are not to steal. The burden is clearly on the "archists" to show that these activities become Godly acts when done by those who call themselves "the State." ?

If the State is "Ordained," How Can it Be Judged?

In a section above, we argued that "we must see God's favor toward the brutal Assyrian army as a rhetorical device to describe His anger against Israel, the nation being judged. God then turns around and voices the same anger at the nation which bore the sword. This is critical: How could Assyria be God's "minister" (interpreted to indicate His prescriptive approbation) if God destroys Assyria for obeying His "command"? Is there any way the Medes could bear the sword such that God would be pleased (prescriptively)?"

The answer is "yes." Israel had committed crimes worthy of death. We have argued elsewhere that "Holy War" was a form of national capital punishment. It can be argued that a Godly, Theonomic Assyria could have engaged in Holy War against Israel just as Israel was commanded to engage in Holy War against the baby-killing Canaanites. But this would completely destroy the monopolistic sovereignty of the nation-state. If modern international law could be so easily abandoned, then so can the very monopoly of the State. If a foreign sovereign can execute God's judgment against another sovereign, why not "mere" citizens of another nation? Americans are to "submit" to the Bush-Clinton Regime, but are the citizens of Iraq prohibited from taking vengeance against American baby-killers and homosexuals? Does Romans 13 prohibit American mercenaries from taking vengeance on the magistrates who run the men-stealing Soviet Gulags?

The thrust of Romans 12-13 is pacifism. It is non-violent submission to evil. Jesus says those who take up the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52). We must not attempt to justify the existence of the State by appealing to the pre-Cross rituals of liturgical blood-shedding.

Christian "Anarchism" is Our Goal  | |  All Evil is Predestined by God   | |  Pray for a Servant's Understanding  | |  Angels and God's Throne of Government  | |  Stars and Idolatry  | |  Why the State Always Encourages Immorality  | |  Unlucky 13 -- Romans 13, Revelation 13 and Isaiah 13  | |   A Roman's-Eye View of Romans 13  | |  "Principalities and Powers"  | |  Lakes of Fire in "Smoke-Filled Rooms"  | |  Romans 13: The Burden is on the Archists  | |  Taxation, Representation, and the Myth of the State  | |   Why the State is not a "Divine Institution"   | |  Angels and Autarchy  | |  95 Theses Against the State   | |   Here is what a Christian Anarchist looks like after he has joined The Christmas Conspiracy.

Christmas Conspiracy


Vine & Fig Tree

Paradigm Shift


Subscribe to Vine & Fig Tree
Enter your e-mail address:
vft archive
An e-group hosted by eGroups.com

Vine & Fig Tree
12314 Palm Dr. #107
Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240
[e-mail to V&FT]
[V&FT Home Page]