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The Biblical Doctrine of the State

Dr. Grant C. Richison



A.    National entities are divine institutions (Dt 32:8; Ge 11:1-9)

1.     Purpose of government: to provide order and protection.

God builds authority in creation and national entity authority is part of it.

2.     God established nationalism in Genesis 9.

3.     Nationalism is a safeguard against internationalism (Ge 11:1-9; Re 13).

4.     It has been said power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely

Some Christians will not serve the government because it will invite personal corruption.

5.     The idea that government is a necessary evil casts a shadow upon God who established it in the first place.

6.     The worst government is still better than no government.

7.     No government gives absolute power to lawless people who will build their power against the innocent and weak.

8.     God hates pure anarchy.

B.    The Bible does not teach any form of human government.

It is wrong to identify the Bible with any form of human government whether it is dictatorship, oligarchy, socialism, communism plutocratic, monarchic or democratic.

C.    God gives the government the authority to execute capital punishment.

1.     This leads to organized justice (Ge 9:6; book of Joshua; Ro 13:1-7).

2.     This does not speak of de facto government which is lawless in itself breaking the laws of God.

We not only should but we must disobey the state if it crosses into something that is not biblical.

This does not include disobedience to the state because we dislike a politician or because the govern inconveniences us, or even if the state causes us to suffer. God has not called us to a life free of suffering.

3.     This is speaking of a state which fulfills the basic functions of government, which is order and justice (Ro 13:1-7).

Augustine: “Without justice, what are kingdoms but great gangs of robbers?”

The state must show impartiality, protection of the helpless, and punishment of the lawless.

4.     Government is force—the most basic ingredient that serves as the foundation of any state is the legal right of coercion (Ro 13:4).

Without the legal right of coercion, the state could only make suggestions.

It is naïve to believe that the only standard for the state is force. That would leave us without any alternative if the state were to violate biblical standards in a totalitarian way.

D.    It is proper to stand up for our rights before government.

1.     Paul (Acts 23:1-10; 24:21; cf. 14:27-40; 22:25-29; 25:10-12; 26:32).

2.     Peter (1 Pe 2:13-17)

3.     Jesus (Mt 23:2,3; Jn 18:33-36)

E.    However, the biblical principle is to render obedience to government whenever we can unless it violates our obedience to God.

F.    Obedience to civil government is a biblical obligation because of our “conscience” (Ro 13:5).

The reason for this is regard and respect for God’s institution and the establishment of human government. His authority stands behind the lesser authority.


A.    The state has derived authority and not authority from itself (Mt 22:21).

B.    The state is an agent of God for justice.

If the state usurps God’s authority then it operates on a non-biblical and non-absolute standard.

C.    It is illegitimate from a biblical worldview to claim absolute obedience to the state; that belongs to God alone.

The Bible’s first principle is the sovereignty of God.

God is the all-comprehensive reference point and He carries absolutes which relative governments cannot possess.

Since God is absolute, His authority is uncaused and is therefore self-determined.

All creation (including the state) is put in relation to the eternal God.

Since God is absolute, He is the only one who possesses absolute freedom. That is, He is subject to no restrictions except that which He imposes on Himself.

Therefore, all political authority is ultimately rooted in God’s will.

God does not automatically bestow His approval upon the state.


A.    The fundamental change in the worldview of North America is that final reality is an impersonal matter shaped by chance. Therefore, there are no absolutes.

1.     There is a big jump from relativity to relativism.

RELATIVITY:  notion that is relative to some reference point.

RELATIVISM: everything is relative to the self. There is no ultimate reference point to relativism. There is no basis for truth. All laws become relative. The question is what is relative to what? If everything is relative then the statement “everything is relative” is also relative. If so, then relativism cannot be trusted as a fixed truth. Absolute relativity is the final graveyard of truth and law. Even murder is relative without an absolute.

o   This is precisely where modern secular man finds himself. He lives his life with no ultimate fixed and absolute reference point that can define his life or the meaning of his existence. He is put to a sea of relatively without an absolute God.

o   For example, pro-choice is based on personal preference of solipsism. It is one thing to say I want something but it is entirely a different thing to say I have a right to it.

PLURALISM: This is the view that all worldviews are equally valid and equally tolerable under the law. If that is the case, then we say that every view has as much validity as its contradiction. In that case, truth is slain. Truths are possible but exclusive truth is impossible. Therefore, values have no value and laws have no ultimate basis.

2.     Relativism ultimately results in statism.

Pluralism and relativism have no possibility of being true because, from the beginning, the very possibility of truth is eliminated. If everything is true then nothing is true.

Truth is now empty of meaning. That is why modern man finds himself in a dilemma. Relativism is ultimately intolerable. It is vulnerable for anything to fill the vacuum. Statism can fill the vacuum by bringing a capricious unity. State becomes the ultimate goal and the reason to live. Everything revolves around the state rather than a greater goal. The state then becomes a form of absolute to some.

The motto of the United States is “One nation under God.” The philosophy behind this is that there is a transcendent being possessing transcendent truths.

There is a difference between plurality and pluralism. Plurality is that there are diversities of ideas or people. Pluralism means there is nothing that brings ultimate coherence to law or values.

B.    Out of the first point of “A” comes the belief in humanism.

Humanism is not humanitarianism (being kind and helpful to people)

Humanism places man at the center of the universe rather than God. Humanism makes man the measure of things.

1.     Humanism means that man himself is the ultimate norm by which values are to be determined. He is the ultimate being and the ultimate authority; all reality and life center in him.

2.     By contrast, Christianity centers upon God.

3.     History of humanism:

Erasmus was the Prince of the Renaissance humanism in the 16th century. He was set over against Martin Luther. Humanism viewed Christianity as one aspect of the general development of the human race.

In the enlightenment of the 18th-century humanism began to prevail over the church (of the Reformation) as a dominant cultural influence in the shaping of ideas.

The 19th century produced cooperation between religion and humanism that produced liberalism. This was an attempt to reconstruct Christianity on the basis of naturalism. Naturalism eliminated anything supernatural from the Bible. This was unadulterated unbelief in religion. Liberalism began to control educational institutions. Harvard, for example, was originally established to train evangelical pastors but today it stands and one of the most liberal institutions on earth. However, liberalism still saw religion as valuable although it was stripped of its essence.

In the 20th century, liberalism became militantly hostile to Christianity. We saw a humanist manifesto in both 1933 and 1973 and the secularist, humanist declaration in 1980. The upshot was the natural world is all that there is. Truth is discovered through rationalism.

In the 21st century, postmodernism became dominant where truth was nothing more than a personal perspective. This is the solipsist idea that the only truth there is in the self. Man is the only source of values, morals, and law.

4.     The humanist has his feet planted firmed in midair.

The humanist rejects the foundation upon which his cultural values were based. All that remains for him is sentiment. Humanism is intellectually untenable because it gives no reason for ascribing what is true, what are proper value or values. It is only emotionally attractive, not rationally attractive.

Historically, and in every case, values that are based simply on preference produce statism. That is, man tries to find his ultimate solution to life in the state. The school system is a tool of statism.

C.    Out of the second point “B” comes a secularized society and secularized, sociological law.

Sociological law has no fixed basis but is simply a law whereby a group of people decides what is sociologically good for society. What they arbitrarily decide becomes law. This is a massive shift from Judeo-Christian absolutes. It moves to personal preference where there is no right or wrong. Society functions on arbitrary, unfixed, situational ethics.

Law, and especially the courts, are the vehicles to force humanism upon the population.

We need to understand the distinction between formal and substantive law. Formal law is not based on arbitrary judgment; it is not concerned with social and economic arrangements. Substantive law is concerned with the outcome of social relationships—what the judge believes is just. Its legitimacy is found within itself; it depends on nothing external. The will of whoever is in authority constitutes the law.

The humanist position is an exclusionist and closed system which shuts out all contending viewpoints. This is especially true if these views teach anything other than relative values and standards. Anything which presents truth as absolute values or standards is seen as the humanist to be a denial of the humanist position. As a result, the humanistic worldview is complete intolerance when it presents itself through political institutions and especially through schools. When humanism is expressed through the state then Christianity is removed from the marketplace of ideas.

Since the Christian worldview centers on freedom of the individual this becomes a threat to humanism statism philosophy. This is so because humanists have no god but themselves. Their ultimate end is statism which becomes their center for solving problems in society.

In the final analysis, one must choose Caesar or God as their final authority.


A.    Christian freedom separates the creature from the Creator.

1.     The creature’s responsibility to God cannot be abridged by loyalty to something lesser.

2.     This makes all human powers relative and God absolute.

Peter: “I serve God rather than man”

3.     When loyalty to God becomes less than absolute then there is no longer any barrier to the omnicompetent state.

When this happens there is a loss of freedom.

An omnicompetent state (statism) will brook no interference from the family, business, or church. This is like giving the fox security arrangements for the chicken coop. To yield to the state in statism philosophy is idolatry.

B.    We should not equate democracy with freedom.

It is possible for the majority to trample on the rights of the minority. Protection of a minority group from the majority is the role of government. What has failed to protect the liberties of all is not democracy as such but a particular form of democracy, namely unlimited democracy.

We cannot identify a constitution that limits the power of government to protect individuals from arbitrary aggression with “unlimited democracy.” Rule by the values whatever the majority happens to enjoy is not true liberty.

The Bible does not favor rule by edicts that advantage some and disadvantages others. Scripture absolutes support non-arbitrary just conduct that equally applies to all.


1.     Christians value freedom for all and especially freedom of religion, freedom for all religions. That was the purpose of the first amendment of the US constitution.

2.     Although there are tremendous discrepancies between biblical values and liberals in the political arena, if they both operate on a humanistic base there will be no final difference between them.

3.     Humanism is not a final reality. It produces its own final results that oppose, for example, the constitution of the United States.