Friday, 14 November 2014

Church Government a la Scripture Alone

Biblical Church Government
by Richard Storey
It is sad that the majority of sincere Christian congregations today do not hold to the same form of church government as was clearly held to by the original New Testament congregations of the 1st century.  
By church government, I mean the prescribed way in which God would have us appoint authority in the congregation to maintain order (1Corinthians 14:40).

The foundation of Christ and the apostles
Before we begin, we must lay the foundation of this subject by affirming the foundation of all authority in every church.  The church is built upon the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles whom He sent to establish individual congregations:

Ephesians 2:20-21  And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord…

It is important for us to remember that Christ is both the absolute foundation of our church and is indeed the head over all the congregations:

Colossians 1:18  And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

Therefore, Christ, as the supreme authority, first established this foundational layer of the apostles to the construction of His church.  The apostles primarily served to fulfil two main aims of God:

1.  To establish the geographically separate congregations (i.e. one per city):

Titus 1:5  …thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee…


2. To provide the body of Christ with the commands and directions, not only for how Christians should behave in this ungodly world, but also for how the congregations should be governed and administrated:

2Thessalonians 2:15  Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
2Peter 3:2  That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour…

So, the foundation of the apostles was laid, with the congregations established.  And we, today, can receive the same direction in how we must live and gather for worship as Christians because, with the laying of that apostolic foundation, came the completion of God’s Word and the full revelation of His commands through the apostles’ epistles.

Church officers
The way in which God directs us to order our congregations is with church officers who take the responsibility to execute the various procedures involved in Christian worship and fellowship.

Firstly, there are the elders.  The Greek word for elder is ‘presbuteros’ and this system was in use in the Old Testament, in the synagogues, with the elders representing the children of Israel in various instances; the same Greek word is used for this office in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament.  The elders can go by various other names, as Thayer’s Lexicon tells us: ‘[t]he NT uses the term bishop, elders, and presbyters interchangeably’ in the King James Version of the Bible.   

Peter confirms for us that the office of ‘bishop’, that is, of a pastor or overseer is synonymous with the term ‘elder’.  Peter describes Christ as being the church’s ultimate Shepherd and Overseer and later, in that same epistle, he calls for the elders to shepherd Christ’s sheep in the role of a pastor:

1Peter 2:25  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
5:1-2  So I exhort the elders among you…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly…

And in Acts, the elders who are gathered are called pastors:

Acts 20:17 & 28  Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

So we see that the elders and the pastors or overseers are considered to be the same office by God.  This is why Paul describes the ideal qualities of a pastor just after calling Titus to appoint suitable elders in Crete:

Titus 1:5 & 7  This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might…appoint elders in every town as I directed you—
an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach…

It is important to note that the congregations of the New Testament had more than one elder as the word is typically used in the plural, speaking of the ‘elders’ of particular congregations:

Philippians 1:1 
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons
1Timothy 5:17 
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching.

The writings of the early church in the 1st century show that they initially held to a plurality of elders, without distinguishing the role of a single pastor.  
However, very quickly, this doctrine was corrupted and one particular elder was singled out to be the sole bishop of a congregation and was to be obeyed in this dictatorial position.  Then the pastors of the five major cities of the Roman empire adopted the title of ‘pope’ to further denote some imagined superior status, eventually adopting control over other congregations and their elders.  Then, because the pastor of Rome claimed that his pastorate was nothing less than a continuation of Peter’s apostolic authority, he won out and adopted for himself the blasphemous title of ‘universal bishop of bishops’.

This is summed up by Protestant historian, Kelly, who notes: ‘In the late 2nd or early 3rd cent. the tradition identified Peter as the first bishop of Rome. This was a natural development once the monarchical episcopate, i.e., government of the local church by a single bishop as distinct from a group of presbyter-bishops, finally emerged in Rome in the mid-2nd cent.’[1]

The responsibilities of an elder are to lovingly shepherd Christ’s sheep to live godly lives and to teach them from the Scriptures:

Ephesians 4:11  …pastors and teachers… (NASB)
2Timothy 2:24  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil…
Hebrews 13:7 & 17  Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God…for they are keeping watch over your souls…

Secondly, we have the deacons.  The Greek word from which we derive ‘deacon’ means to get dirty from running about performing errands or just simply a ‘servant’, according to the Lexicons of Strong and Thayer. The responsibilities of a deacon are to handle all the practical and administrative matters of the congregation, particularly financial distributions and preparing the Lord’s Table for the Lord’s Supper. We see the office of deacon created by the apostles in Acts when they conclude that such a position is necessary so that they, as apostles, can continue their spiritual work and, thus, freeing the elders to do so too.

Acts 6:1-4  Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”  (NASB)

Many contend that Phoebe, who delivered Paul’s epistle to the Romans, was a deaconess, as she is given this title in Romans 16:1, thus declaring that women can undertake the office of deacon.  Whether the word ‘deacon’ is used here in the general sense of serving, as it sometimes is in the New Testament, or whether this is referring to the actual office of deacon is debated.   

But, there is some historical evidence to justify the latter view: In a letter of Pliny, governor of Bithynia, to the Emperor Trajan, written early in the second century, he describes how he tortured ‘two female servants who were called “deaconesses”.’[2]  Also, in The Apostolic Constitutions (4th century), there is a ceremonial prayer for the officiating of a deaconess.[3]  Furthermore, there are early church writings which speak of deaconesses being appointed by churches to help other women prepare for baptism etc.  And, although Paul speaks of being ‘the husband of one wife’ with regards to deacons in 1Timothy 3:12, he might also have declared another category of female deaconesses:

1Timothy 3:11  Women — in like manner grave, not false accusers, vigilant, faithful in all things.  (Young’s Literal Translation)

 It can very well be argued that women are included as potential candidates for the office of deacon.  Dr. Gill describes this argument more succinctly: ‘Some instead of "wives" read "women", and understand them of deaconesses, such as were in the primitive churches; whose business it was to visit the poor and sick sisters of the church, and take care of things belonging to them’.

Therefore, we have sufficient evidence to conclude that congregations which allow women to take the responsibilities of a deacon should not be rashly dismissed as disorderly, liberal or disobedient.  Nevertheless, it is explicitly taught in Scripture that women are not to be elders and are not to teach in Christian assemblies for worship and fellowship:

1Timothy 2:12  I do not permit a woman to teach

Church discipline
The duty of church discipline is not necessarily the duty of the church officers but, truly, it is every Christian’s duty to lovingly encourage one another and to discourage from sin.  The Lord Jesus sets out the procedure for church discipline:

Matthew 18:15-17  “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector...”
And, as we have already shown, the final authority for Christian behaviour, by which we must judge ourselves and each other, is the New Testament; therefore, the command of love given us by the Lord Jesus must be at the centre of even our church discipline:     

2Thessalonians 3:14-15  If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

Appointing church officers
Elders and deacons appear to be recommended democratically by the congregation:
Acts 6:3, 5-6  Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
Their aptitude for the role is then judged by the elders, according to the guidance given us by God’s Spirit in 1Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  For example, we are told to give deacons a probationary or test-period before appointing them:
1Timothy 3:10  And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.

Fellowship between congregations
Although we have seen that congregations are independent, being directed by Christ through his Word and not by some para-church organisation or authority, is there any fellowship or communication that can or should occur between congregations?

Firstly, it is important to understand what unites congregations to begin with.  In most evangelical congregations, there is no liturgy as we do not see a specific order of service set down in the New Testament or any employed in the historical records we have of the early church.  What one can expect from a worship service tends to differ from congregation to congregation, so this is not what binds Protestant congregations.

The congregations are collectively the body of Christ and what unites them is the same thing which unites each individual member of Christ’s body – being a new creation in the Lord Jesus, sharing the same Father in heaven and desiring to obey Him.  Naturally, when one is born again and a congregation is filled with those made alive in Christ, their understanding of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith automatically fall into place.  It is these essentials which, in the midst of many false teachers, false doctrines, heresies and persecution, unite the people of God who alone worship Him in Spirit and truth.
Such congregations can have fellowship with one another but it is important to note the meaning of fellowship.  Thayer’s Lexicon defines the Greek word ‘koinonia’ as ‘association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse’ and a part of this of course being ‘a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution’.  We see the brethren doing just this in the New Testament:

Romans 15:26  For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.  (NASB)

But fellowship is more than just assisting one another financially, there is also seeming continuous communication between the churches in which they share spiritual material also and commend members of their own congregations to be accepted as members in another congregation:

Colossians 4:16  And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.
2Corinthians 3:1  …letters of recommendation…
Acts 18:27 
And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him…

Furthermore, when some false brethren began stirring up false doctrine in Antioch and then in Jerusalem, declaring that the Gentiles had to be circumcised, Scripture tells us that they hold a conference in Jerusalem and the church at Antioch send Paul and Barnabus who were acting as supernumerary elders:
Acts 15:1-2  But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.
And after the conclusion of this council, they return to Antioch with more brethren from the congregation at Jerusalem and to communicate their response to this heresy.

Acts 15:22-23  Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.

Puritan commentator, Matthew Henry, notes what we can learn from this council: ‘Here is a direction to the pastors of the churches, when difficulties arise, to come together in solemn meetings for mutual advice and encouragement, that they may know one another's mind, and strengthen one another's hands, and may act in concert.’

Even though we live in a time when church history allows us to see that most heresies are just the recycling of old ones, there are still issues which affect our congregations which we should discuss:
Proverbs 11:14  Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.  (NASB)
Furthermore, with the technological capabilities of our day, there has never been such a blessed time in terms of communication.  However, it should be noted that any conference conducted does not bear the same authority of the council at Jerusalem as the conclusion of that council was directly inspired by the Holy Spirit and given through the authority of the apostles.  Whilst no such authoritative council can occur today, congregations can still come together to seek wisdom and advice.

So congregations can and should be in constant fellowship with each other, communicating their needs and supplying one another’s needs, recommending new members and edifying spiritual material and also warning against false brethren, teachers and doctrine.  And, as the need arises, conferences can be held in which elders discuss certain issues to prayerfully arrive at a Biblical resolution.

Other proposed forms of government
The form of church government presented so far is known as Congregationalist and, being based solely on the prescribed New Testament order, stands in opposition to the Episcopalian form which was devised over time, currently used by Methodists, Lutherans and Anglicans and also by apostate Romanism, Eastern Orthodoxy and the Copts.  The other manmade form of church government is the Presbyterian system, created during the Reformation and used by various Reformed churches.  These both present a system of authority above the local congregation to replace the overarching authority the apostles once exercised, rather than simply allowing the finality of their epistles to govern us, as the Spirit of God intended.  The reason for this is purely a supposed practical convenience; this can be seen by the typical argument brought against the independent congregation which answers only to Christ and His Word.  They say that under a single pastor-led system, there is no authority which can readily remove the pastor if he were to become a heretic or continue in some sin.  This obviously then can make life very difficult for congregation members and can result in much conflict and stress as the situation is resolved, all the time without receiving any guidance from a pastor.   

Whilst this is so, the single pastor-led congregation is also unbiblical and historically not the practice of the early church, as we have seen, but rather a plurality of elders is the New Testament pattern; so, if one elder becomes ungodly in doctrine or walk, the congregation under the leadership of the other elders can shun the ungodly elder from membership.

The argument for single pastor congregations is usually defended by the ambiguous interpretation of two verses.  


Ephesians 4:11  And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers  (NASB)

Here, it is said that pastors and teachers are two separate offices, dividing the elders into the two categories of those who preach and those who just focus on house-visits etc.  However, as Vincent’s Word Studies notes, ‘The omission of the article from teachers seems to indicate that pastors and teachers are included under one class. The two belong together. No man is fit to be a pastor who cannot also teach, and the teacher needs the knowledge which pastoral experience gives.’  The clear meaning of the Greek is confirmed by the learned Meyer, among other notable commentators, and can be shown to be the historical interpretation of this verse by the writings of Augustine and Jerome.

1Timothy 5:17  Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching.
The assertion here would be that not all elders are required to preach from God’s Word and that this duty should be given to just one of the elders.  Again, Vincent’s Word Studies confirms that this verse is not dividing the office of elder into two categories: ‘No special emphasis attaches to the word [labour] - hard toiling in comparison with those who do not toil. The meaning is, those who faithfully discharge the arduous duty of teaching.’  From the context of this verse, this can only be referring to those who not only exercise their other responsibilities well, ‘who rule well’, but also put a lot of effort into their preaching too; this is not distinguishing elders who preach from those who do not.  As we have already seen, a pastor/teacher is the same thing as an elder, according to Scripture; moreover, the Holy Spirit declares that every single elder must not only be able to teach, even though not all are quite so zealous in the studies, but they will have exercised the command to teach:
1Timothy 3:2  Therefore an overseer must be…able to teach
Hebrews 13:7 
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God…
One other argument employed is practically self-refuting; it is suggested that a single elder is indicated by the fact that the generic term ‘a bishop’ (an elder) is used in 1Timothy 3:1-2 and Titus 1:7 (KJV).  However, the context is clear that Paul is describing the elder as an office, rather than an individual.  Professor Daniel Wallace, in his excellent article, quotes J. W. Roberts, a Greek grammarian, to conclude the matter: ‘A case in point where wrong use has been made of the generic article is in reference to 'bishop' in 1Timothy 3:2. This has often been used to prove the existence of the monarchal bishop at the time of the writing of the Pastorals. A majority of the commentators, however, agree that the usage is generic.’[4]

Therefore, the argument for a single pastor-led congregation is redundant when seeking Scriptural justification and the historical evidence indicates that it was a later development and not the apostolic order for the church.

When a plurality of elders are employed, there is nothing impractical about the Congregationalist, New Testament pattern of church government at all and, actually, it is the other forms of government who, rather than allowing the Spirit of Christ to rule independent congregations, proudly believe that they must take matters into their own hands, otherwise chaos will ensue.

According to the direction of the New Testament, the local church must be independent of any governing authority other than God.  That includes being utterly separate from the state.  However, congregations may meet together to discuss doctrinal points and to advise one another.  The church is governed by a team of elders and served practically by deacons; their ultimate guide in this service is the living Word of God and the Spirit of God who applies it to our hearts.  New officers are suggested by the congregation as a whole, with their suitability and potential appointment determined by any existing elders.  

All Scripture verses taken from ESV unless otherwise stated

[1] Kelly, J.N.D.(1986), The Oxford Dictionary of Popes, Oxford: Oxford University Press
[2] Letter 10
[3] Book 8, chap 19

[4] Wallace, D. (2004) Who Should Run the Church? A Case for the Plurality of Elders - (31/05/2013)

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Bible is Anti-statist


In this article, we shall see that the Bible is an explicitly anti-state collection of books throughout and that the few supposed exceptions to that rule are not exceptions at all. 


As Norman Horn of has pointed out, Josephus does describe the origin of tyranny in the rise of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel.  Whilst this is entirely correct, the text of Genesis would have had an even more explicitly Anti-statist message to its original readers. 


The vast majority of scholars recognise that chapters 1-11 of Genesis are intended as a polemic against Babylonian and other ancient Near-Eastern myths.  The Epic of Gilgamesh presents an account in which the barbarian, Enkidu, discovers the wonders of city-life (equal to Statism in that age) after being seduced and lured to the city of Uruk by a prostitute.  But Genesis responds with a ‘decidedly anti-urban bias’ against the city-state propaganda of the Babylonian text.[1]  Whilst Nimrod the tyrant wishes to utilise mankind as a resource to his own ends, God wishes that each person be His representative and steward over the earth and its habitats (Genesis 1:26-28), not over each other.  The biblical perspective therefore promotes the free, ‘uncivilised’ (i.e. unconquered), stateless society and the individual sovereignty of the so-called Barbarians. 

Indeed, we can see that, far from the historical evidence conveying people rushing to the city-states by the rivers in the plains, where food production was more predictable and occupations more varied, people have actually ‘been fleeing the oppressions of state-making projects’ to be free from enslavement, conscription, war, taxation and disease.[2]  Yet, the historical context of Genesis as a valuable, ancient, political voice against the rise of the city-state (and later Imperialism) is apparently never explained to the average churchgoer; many of whom, particularly in the US, believe that God and nation go hand-in-hand. 

Certainly, the rest of Scripture presents us with illustrations of government as various monstrous beasts which are destructive and ungodly (most notably in the books of Daniel and the Revelation).  After all, the agent of evil himself, Satan, expresses to Jesus that all governments belong to him (Luke 4:5-6) and their very existence and purpose directly contradict the golden rule taught by Jesus Christ.  But what of the nation of Israel which God established?  Was that evil?  And why does Paul speak favourably of the state in Romans 13?


Did God vindicate Statism by creating the nation of Israel?  It is important to recognise that the government of ancient Israel was wholly synonymous with the covenant which God made with Moses and the Israelites.  In the ancient Near-East, nations were typically created using the same covenantal method, including the tablets and laws that we read of coming from Mount Sinai in Exodus 20.[3]  Therefore, you cannot have ancient Israel without the Law or vice versa. 

So, was the Old Covenant a perfect system, designed to last forever?  Or was it put forward for us to learn that such a thing was impossible because of our nature?  Of course, many Jews today would insist on the former answer, but as Christians we recognise that the latter is true.  The Law of Moses embodies that purely judicial system of government which was originally established in ancient Israel (see Judges).  However, the New Testament writers are explicit that this was not a perfect system and was only intended to last until the Messiah came to establish His spiritual covenant and kingdom (Hebrews 7-8).  Furthermore, the Mosaic Covenant did not have the purpose of showing us how lovely we could all be but of showing us how frequently or seriously we all fail ethically (Romans 3 & Galatians 3).  It should be of no surprise then that the national framework which was set in place to administer this legal system was wholly for the same purpose – showing us that government cannot and should not be in the hands of fallible men.
Yes, God established a system of government, but it was apparently preconceived that the Israelites would demand more government to their own detriment (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).  As Thomas Jefferson put it, ‘The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield [sic.], and government to gain ground.’[4]  It is for this reason that Samuel called the Israelites’ act of asking for a king ‘wicked’ and a sin (1Samuel 12:17 & 19) and warned of the calamities of taxation etc. which would come upon the people as a result (1Samuel 8:10-18).

God never intended the Old Covenant nation of Israel to be perfect or to perfect anyone, but to show us our imperfection, especially in demanding increasingly oppressive state control over our neighbours.  We shall never find angels to govern us impeccably, nor can people be trusted to vigilantly ensure their government remains limited in power.  We are obliged to learn this important lesson from the example of ancient Israel.

Romans 13

As for Paul’s comment regarding governments being ordained in Romans 13, I admit that I was (like most Christians) convinced that these verses were ipso facto supporting the immoral practice of government, contrary to my conscience and my rationale.  However, upon studying the matter personally, I am utterly convinced of how short-sightedly erroneous that position is.

Whilst these verses are often read as ‘Paul’s Theology of the State’, many scholars have argued that because verses 1-7 stand in such contrast to the many godly rebellions against the state in the Old Testament, the immediate context and normal Pauline language suggest that the passage was a later edition.  For example, Paul says to obey and never resist government for the sake of conscience, but what about when Israel did the exact opposite for the sake of conscience, such as the coup against Queen Athaliah (2Kings 11) or the threat to revolt against King Saul because of the unjust law he implemented (1Samuel 14:24-45).

Assuming, however, this passage is a genuine part of the text, there were good reasons Paul would suddenly write about government in the middle of a discourse about Christian love and everyday behaviour.  Throughout Romans, Paul deals with divisions in the church, specifically between rich/poor and Gentile/Jew.  In its historical context,

Paul’s argument responds to an incipient anti-Judaism, which was already established among Roman aristocrats and was beginning to emerge among Gentile believers as well. Given the horrors of an anti-Jewish pogrom in Alexandria in Egypt (38–41 ce), and even more recent market tax riots that had turned deadly in Puteoli, a city south of Rome, Paul was concerned to prevent in Rome the sort of civic disturbance in which the city’s minority Jewish population would be especially vulnerable. This danger may explain the notorious exhortation to “be subject to the governing authorities”.’[5] 

Furthermore, there was the expulsion of Jews from Rome under Claudius in 49 A.D.; thus, there were significant political events motivating Paul to command peaceful, law-abiding behaviour from the ‘Jewish sect’ of Christianity alongside the command for Romans and Jews to love each other as brothers. 

Jesus had continuously warned in apocalyptic language that Jerusalem would soon be destroyed, something Paul knew was imminent (1Thessalonians 2:16) and which did occur in 70 A.D.  Naturally, he wanted to protect his fellow-Christians by discouraging any unsavoury behaviour which would incur state punishment and consequently give Christians a bad name during that tense period.  This passage is therefore not commanding absolute obedience to all governments and the rules they impose, but would have been addressing specific political issues which were affecting the congregation at Rome, particularly as they expectantly awaited the First Jewish-Roman War.

The only argument against the Libertarian interpretation of this passage is presented indirectly by Schreiner.  Discussing the ‘sword’ wielded by the Roman authorities, he comments:

‘The reference…is to the broader judicial function of the state, particularly its right to deprive of life those who had committed crimes worthy of death. Paul would not have flinched in endorsing the right of ruling authorities to practice capital punishment since Gen. 9:6 supports it by appealing to the fact that human beings are made in God’s image.’[6]

Certainly, it is most likely that Paul is referencing Genesis 9:6, as most scholars have recognised and the covenant God made with Noah to establish a system of Capital Punishment and the general principle of lex talionis-style retributive justice for crimes against person (and property).  In context, this was done to avoid the savagery before the flood.  But do Genesis 9:6 or Romans 13:4 insist that such things must be carried out by the state? 
Luther certainly could not see any way in which a judicial system could function without the state and so assumed that ‘[b]y these words temporal government was established, and the sword placed in its hand by God.’  Sadly, the vast majority of Westerners continue to share this superstition.  However, according to the Talmud, among other sources, the ancient Jewish understanding of the covenant with Noah was that courts should be established, not the state.[7]

Paul was simply re-affirming the Jewish belief frequently stated throughout the Old Testament - if a government comes to power or is conquered or ceases altogether, all these things are in the providence of God.  Paul explicitly says that those governments ‘which exist’ only do so because God predetermined it.  Did God not also predetermine those times in human history when societies were stateless?  Paul does not say that states must exist for judicial punishment to take place, rather those which exist should perform that function.  Indeed, the era in which the story of Noah is set is prior to and outside of the ancient Near-Eastern city-states.  Therefore, the sort of system administering Capital Punishment was understood by the author of Genesis to be a stateless one, perhaps not unlike the Anglo-Saxon Common Law system which ‘developed over the centuries by the competing judges applying time-honored principles rather than the shifting decrees of the State…by applying rational-and very often libertarian-principles to the cases before them.’[8] 

An argument I previously made against Libertarianism was that my ideological belief (Capital Punishment for the crime of murder) would not be properly administrable in a stateless society.  However, upon reflection and study, I found that some of the greatest Libertarian thinkers were and are advocates of Capital Punishment, arguing that it would inevitably become normative in a stateless society.  One notable example is the great scholar, Murray Rothbard who, in his article, The Libertarian Position on Capital Punishment, wrote:

‘It is relatively easy to allot monetary penalties in the case of theft. But what about such a crime as murder? Here, in my view, the murderer loses precisely the right of which he has deprived another human being: the right to have one's life preserved from the violence of another person. The murderer therefore deserves to be killed in return. Or, to put it more precisely, the victim — in this case his surrogate, in the form of his heir or the executor of his estate should have the right to kill the murderer in return.’[9]

Many typical questions are subsequently raised when one suggests the unspoken idea of people actually having basic rules in a society without a state.  But these have been thoroughly answered in numerous works, a more recent book would be Chaos Theory by the Christian Economist, Robert P. Murphy.


Isaiah 9:7  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Frederic Bastiat, an Economist and Statesman of France during its revolutionary period, noted: ‘antiquity presents everywhere - in Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome - the spectacle of a few men moulding mankind according to their whims, thanks to the prestige of force and of fraud.’[10]  Napoleon himself may also have regretfully agreed with this assertion at the end of his life; in this controversial quote, he compared his military conquests to Jesus winning the hearts of empires and nations:

‘I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him.’[11]

The Kingdom Jesus founded exists in our hearts.  It is a clear conscience before God and men whereby we recall the example of the love of Jesus and remember His command for us to love each other, our neighbours and our enemies.  Jesus did not come to force people to do His will - to love and respect each other - but to live it out and become the greatest example to men and women so that we would willingly do the same, from the heart.  Generally, the principle of this kingdom is to do to others as we would have them do to us and to never use force to coerce others to do our will; Libertarians commonly call this the ‘Non-Aggression Principle’.  It is this universally recognised ‘golden rule’, naturally at work in our conscience, which Jesus came to hold up as the objective moral law for all people. 

We do not need that chief manifestation of coercion and evil, the state, to control us and our families.  We only need our freedom, especially freedom of conscience, and the example of the love of Jesus to live out our lives, as stewards of God to the earth, in peace.  I invite you to imagine such a beautiful world and to pray and act with me that God’s kingdom would come and that the dominion of the evil of a past age would be extinguished forever.

[1] HarperCollins Study Bible (1993) HarperCollins Publishers, p.18
[2] Scott, J. (2009) The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, Yale University Press, Preface
[3] Lopez, R. (2004) ‘Israelite Covenants in the Light of Ancient Near Eastern Covenants (Part 2 of 2)’, CTS Journal, Spring 2004
[4] Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, Paris, May 27, 1788 -
[5] The New Oxford Annotated Bible (Fourth Edition, 2010) Oxford University Press, p.1975

[6] Schreiner, T. (1998) Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Baker Academic,

[7] See Talmud Sanhedrin, 56a
[8] Rothbard, M. (1978) For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, Ludwig von Mises Institute, p.283
[9] Rothbard, M. (1978) The Libertarian Position on Capital Punishment - (20/10/2014)
[10] Bastiat, F. (2008 ed.) The Law, Misbach Enterprises, Kindle Edition, p.36
[11] See Conversations avec General Bertrand à St. Helena