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Introduction: The Biblical Teaching “Government”

Jerald Finney
Copyright © March 3, 2011

Click here to go to Self-exam Questions: Introduction to the Biblical Doctrine of Government”

Left click the following for links to all chapters (articles): The Biblical Doctrine of Government 


Preface to articles on the biblical principles of “government”

In God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application the author systematically examined the issue of separation of church and state (see En1 for links to preview God Betrayed online and links to sites where that and other books by Jerald Finney and others can be ordered). In Part One of God Betrayed, he analyzed the biblical principles of government (Section I), church (Section II), and separation of church and state (Section III). In Part Two he analyzed the history of religious freedom in America (Section IV), Supreme Court religion clause jurisprudence which has removed God from practically all civil government affairs (separated God and His principles from state or civil government) while still upholding the separation of church and state provided by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (Section V), and union of church and state and how a church in America can both remain under God only (choose not to be become a corporate 501(c)(3) religious organization or any other type of legal entity or religious organization) and also operate within the civil law, thus not only retaining her protection afforded by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as by state constitutions and laws but also, and more importantly, her New Testament church status as ordained by God (Section VI).

The author is now following the outline of God Betrayed in his present series of articles on this “Separation of Church and State” blog. He has already finished his series on the biblical principles of “church” (see column at left). The introduction below lays the foundation for and summarizes what will be published in future articles on the topic of the biblical doctrine of “government” in much more detail. The author plans to publish the complete study he did in God Betrayed on this website.

The purpose is to glorify God by publishing God’s truth concerning the issue of separation of church and state and applying that truth to reality.

Introduction to articles on the biblical principles of “government”

Nothing is more crucial to our concept of faith than a proper understanding of the nature of God. God is the Sovereign of the universe. He is not a glorified Santa Clause or a puppet controlled by our faith or whim as some “Christian” churches depict Him. Regardless of the willing subjection of some churches to civil government through incorporation, 26 United States Code § 501(c)(3), or in any other manner, God remains the Supreme Ruler, the Highest Power as recognized by churches in many nations whose members are imprisoned, tortured, and/or murdered for their faith and their refusal to submit to ungodly civil government and by churches in America who can and do choose to remain under God only while protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as by state constitutional provisions and laws. The government of God is supreme and over all other governments. He ordained and rules over all other governments (See, e.g., Ro. 13.1b,c). “Ordain” means “to establish or order by appointment, decree, or law” (WEBSTER’S COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY 818 (10th ed. 1995)).

God teaches in many ways, throughout the Bible, that He is the Supreme Ruler and His is the Higher and Highest Power. “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fullness thereof; the Jesus King of Kingsworld, and they that dwell therein…” (Ps. 24.1). John the Baptist understood the supreme rulership of God; speaking of Jesus Christ he said, “He that cometh from above is above all; he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all” (Jn. 3.31).

 “As ‘possessor of heaven and earth,’ the most high God has and exercises [supreme] authority in both spheres: (a) The heavenly authority of El Elyon (e.g., Da. 4.35: [‘And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?’]; Isa. 14.13-17 [Satan tried to usurp God’s throne, but God threw him out of heaven and he will be thrown into hell.]; Mt. 28.18 [‘And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.’]; (b) the earthly authority of El Elyon (e.g. De. 32.8 [‘When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.’]; Ps. 9.2-5 [‘I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to  thy name, O thou most  High….’]; 21.7 [‘For the king trusteth in the LORD, and through the mercy of the most High he shall not be moved.’]; 47.2-4 [‘For the LORD most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth….’]; 56.2, 3 [‘Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High.’]; 82.6, 8 [‘I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.’]; 83.6, 7, 16-18 [‘… That men may know that thou, whose name is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.’]; 91.9-12 [‘Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation….]; 2 Sa. 22.14, 15 [‘The LORD thundered from heaven, and the most High uttered his voice….’]; Da. 5.18 [‘O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour[.]’)” [Bold emphasis mine.] (1917 Scofield Reference Edition, n. 1 to Genesis 23.18, p. 23).

 “That God is supreme, the Highest Power, is revealed in the Old Testament through[, among other things,] His names. A study of God’s supremacy as revealed in His names is, of course, beyond the scope of this article, but one commentary gives a very good summary as follows:

         Class                                           English form                                       Hebrew equivalent
Primary                                                  God                                                     El, Elah, or Elohim (Gen. 1.1, note)
                                                                LORD                                                  Jehovah (Gen.2.4, note)
                                                                 Lord                                                   Adon or Adonai (Gen. 15.2, note)

Compound (with El= God)                 Almighty God                                    El Shaddai (Gen. 17.1 note)
                                                               Most High, or                                      El Elyon (Gen. 14.18, note)
                                                                most high God                                  
                                                                everlasting God                                  El Olam (Gen. 21.33, note)

Compound(with                                      LORD God                                        Jehovah Elohim (Gen. 2.7, note)
Jehovah = LORD)                                   Lord God                                          Adonai Jehovah (Gen. 15.2, note)
                                                                  LORD of hosts                                   Jehovah Sabaoth (1 Sam. 1.3, note)

God names of 2“This revelation of God by His names is invariably made in connection with some particular need of His people, and there can be no need of man to which these names do not answer as showing that man’s true resource is in God. Even human failure and sin but evoke new and fuller revelations of the divine fullness. “The [Old Testament] reveal[s] the existence of a Supreme Being, the Creator of the universe and of man, the Source of all life and intelligence who is to be worshipped and served by men and angels…” (1917 Scofield Reference Edition, n. 1 to Malachi 3.18, p. 983).

As the Supreme Ruler, He has decreed that men may choose to be guided by His principles or not. Just as man’s laws which, for example, place a speed limit on the highway or forbid people from driving while intoxicated do not and cannot keep people from violating those laws because people decide whether to obey them or not, God cannot force men to comply with His laws since He has given every government—self-government, family government, civil government, and church government—freedom of choice or free will. (See En2 for comments upon this most important matter of the sovereignty of God and the free will of man).  However, choices are met by either blessings or judgment. In the final analysis He will either reward or judge all governments according to the degree they abide by His will.

The first government established by God was self-government. Every person exercises self-government, and decides whether he or she will receive the only true and eternal hope which is provided by God, that is the Lord Jesus Christ, as Savior. En3. Since only some will do so, only those institutions which are composed of Christians—born again believers who also follow the principles of Christ—or which are dominated by Christians, have any hope of receiving the blessings of God.

After the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, and man knew “good and evil,” God established family government. Every person within a family, in exercising self-government, chooses whether to submit to God’s guidelines concerning family government.

The next type of government ordained by God was human government or civil government. God ordained civil government at the time of the great flood.  For the first time, He gave man the Noah the floodresponsibility of ruling the world for God. Relatively quickly after Cain killed Abel, all mankind except Noah and his family, guided only by conscience (knowledge of good and evil or an awareness of right and wrong) had become totally corrupted. Civil government provided further control over the evil nature of man.

Some time after ordaining civil government, He called out Abraham to be the father of Israel. Israel was established as a theocracy. All other nations were non-theocratic and were and are called “Gentile.” God established Israel to be directly under Him for specific purposes. Israel was to be the only theocracy that God has ever ordained. The Gentile nations can only look to Israel to see that God is who He claims to be, but God still desires every nation to choose to honor Him and His principles.

The Word of God teaches us that no civil government, Jew or Gentile, since it is made up of sinful men, will, before the return of Christ, ever follow the principles of God for any significant period of time. That both Israel and the Gentiles have governed for self, not God, is apparent.  Therefore, every civil government that has ever existed or which willJesus christcomingwithhisarmyofsaints ever come about prior to the return of the Lord will be judged by God. God used a Gentile nation to take Israel into captivity, and He has already judged and is judging many Gentile nations. The Lord will return and crush the Gentile world-powers existing at the time of His return which, led by the beast and false prophet, will come and besiege Israel (Re. 19.19). The nation Israel will then be restored to the land which God gave them according to his covenant with them (Many verses in the Bible verify this. Here are a few: Is. 11.11-16; 14.1-8; 27.12-13; 43; 45.17; 48; 49.8-21; 51; 52; 54; 61.3-62; 65.17-66.24; Je. 16.14-16; 23.3-8; 24.6; 30.8-11, 16-24; 31; 32.37-44; 46.27; 50.19-20; Ez. 11.17-21; 16.60-63; 28.25-26; 34.11-31; 36; 37.21-25; 37; 39.25-29; Ho. 2.14-23; Joel 3; Am. 9.13-15; Mi. 4.6-8; Zep. 3.4-20; Zec. 10; Ac. 1.6-7; Ro. 11.25-27). God will do this for His “holy name’s sake, which [Israel had] profaned among the heathen…” (Ez. 36.22-23, 32).  Then Satan will be cast “into the bottomless pit, that he might deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled” (Re. 20.1-3), the nations shall be judged (Mt. 25.32-46), and God’s kingdom will be set up (Da. 2. 34-36, 44).

Thus, a believer can understand that the word “government” does not apply only to “civil government.” It is tragic that America has been so successful in indoctrinating its citizens to believe that the only government is civil government. This is against the desires of God who wishes all people to know that He is the Supreme Ruler, that His is the supreme government and that He has ordained various types of government each with its own God-given purposes and limitations.

Today’s America has redefined “government.” Most Americans now believe that all direction and control should come from civil government. For example, many now blame civil government when their child rebels, fails to get an education, becomes an alcoholic or drug addict, etc. The modern Webster’s Dictionary defines “government” entirely differently than did the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary which to a large degree still honored biblical teaching:

“government … n…. 1 : the act or process of governing; specific authoritative direction or control 2 obs : moral conduct or behavior : DISCRETION 3 a : the office, authority, or function of governing  b obs the term during which a governing official holds office  4 : the continuous exercise of authority over and the performance of functions for a political unit RULE 5 a : the organization, machinery, or agency through which a political unit exercises authority and performs functions and which is usu. classified according to the distribution of power within it b : the complex of political institutions, laws, and customs through which the function of governing is carried out  6 : the body of persons that constitutes the governing authority of a political unit or organization: as a  the officials comprising the governing body of a political unit and constituting the organization as an active agency b cap : the executive branch of the U.S. federal government c cap : a small group of persons holding simultaneously the principal political executive offices of a nation or other political unit and being responsible for the direction and supervision of public affairs:  (1) such a group in a parliamentary system constituted by the cabinet or by the ministry” (MERRIAM WEBSTER’S COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY 504 (10th ed. 1995)).

The modern definition quoted above suggests civil government in every definition and the one definition which does not, “moral conduct or behavior,” is noted as being “obsolete.”

In the 1828 Webster’s dictionary, definitions of “government” went beyond civil government:

“GOVERNMENT, n. Direction; regulation. These precepts will serve for the government of our conduct.
“2. Control; restraint. Men are apt to neglect the government of their temper and passions.
“3. The exercise of authority; direction and restraint exercised over the actions of men in communities, societies or states; the administration of public affairs, according to established constitution, laws and usages, or by arbitrary edicts. . . .
“4. The exercise of authority by a parent or householder. Children are often ruined by a neglect of government in parents. “Let family government be like that of our heavenly Father, mild, gentle and affectionate. Kollock.
“5. The system of polity in a state; that form of fundamental rules and principles by which a nation or state is governed, or by which individual members of a body politic are to regulate their social actions; a constitution, either written or unwritten, by which the rights and duties of citizens and public officers are prescribed and defined; as a monarchial government, or a republican government….
“6. An empire, kingdom or state; any territory over which the right of sovereignty is extended.
“7. The right of governing or administering the laws….
“8. The person or persons which administer the laws of a kingdom or state; executive power.
“9. Manageableness; compliance; obsequiousness…. Shak.” (AMERICAN DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, NOAH WEBSTER (1828)).

The older definition recognized the biblical teaching that God did not intend civil government to be an all-seeing, all-defining, all-controlling, all-directing eye; and that God Himself, as the Supreme Authority, has given churches, individuals, parents, and authorities, in addition to civil government, rules and boundaries by which to govern themselves and others without the control of the civil government, except for violations of certain moral laws. God was able to do this because His is the Supreme Government, over all other governments. He is “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Re. 19.16).

Those who believe in the supremacy of civil government have not thought out the consequences of their belief. For example, as John Eidsmoe points out:Humanism

  • “[the humanist] would deny that government derives its authority from God. But in doing this, he also denies the source of government’s limitations and the source of human rights. If government does not depend upon God and his law for its authority, it is not bound to respect the limits God has placed on its authority, and it becomes a monster unleashed to do whatever it pleases. Under this concept there can be no such thing as an unjust law, for there is no higher standard by which man’s law can be judged. If government has said they are just; government becomes the arbiter of right and wrong as well as of legality.
  • “That is why humanists, when they try to destroy the biblical foundations of government (in the name of liberty yet!), end up creating a tyranny far worse than even they ever imagined. The very word tyranny, in its early Greek root tyrannos, means ‘one who rules without the sanction of religious law.’ “[A statement of William Penn] summarized it well…, ‘Men must choose to be governed by God or condemn themselves to be governed by tyrants.’” (John Eidsmoe, God and Caesar: Biblical Faith and Political Action (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stack Publishers, 1997) p. 35).

The reader should keep in mind all governments: first, God’s Supreme Government, then the other governments which God has ordained—self-government, family government, civil government, and church government. Biblical principles of governments other than church government are dealt with in a series of articles already published on this site (see categories at left); and biblical principles of individual, family, and civil government are dealt with in this series. God laid down the boundaries of the authority of each type of government and the principles by which every government should conduct its affairs. He will hold every government responsible for the choices it makes. The reader should also keep in mind that the God-given goal for all governments is the glory of God, not the happiness of man. Joy is a side effect of “loving the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”


En1. God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application (Link to preview of God Betrayed): may be ordered from Amazon by clicking the following link: God Betrayed on Amazon.com or from Barnes and Nobel by clicking the following link: God Betrayed on Barnes and Noble. All books by Jerald Finney as well as many of the books he has referenced and read may also be ordered by left clicking “Books” (on the “Church and State Law” website) or directly from amazon.com at the following links: (1) Render Unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses (Kindle only); (2) The Most Important Thing: Loving God and/or Winning Souls (Kindle only); (3) Separation of Church and State/God’s Churches: Spiritual or Legal Entities? (Link to preview of Separation of Church and State/God’s Churches: Spiritual or Legal Entities?) which can also be ordered by clicking the following Barnes and Noble link: Separation of Church and State on Barnes and Noble.

En 2. In the colonial period, Isaac Backus recorded that “How to reconcile divine sovereignty with human liberty, and efficacious grace with the use of means for conversion were also questions that they had long and tedious debates upon.”  See Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 239.

Dr. J. Vernon McGee has stated on his “Thru the Bible” radio program that no matter what one argues, it cannot be denied that both the sovereignty of God and the free will of man are in Scripture. God in His sovereignty has allowed man choices because without choices love is impossible. That is, love requires choices. God wants our love. One can force a man to marry a woman with a shotgun, but that man does not love the woman if he has to be forced to marry her.

God foreknows everything that will happen, but foreknowledge does not mean control.

Pastor Joey Faust commented upon the paradox of the sovereignty of God and the free will of man: “God is able to ‘control men’ (Prov. 21.1); yet He is so powerful and sovereign that He alone can control men without infringing on man’s free will! We do not understand with our limited minds (Rom. 11.33-36) how God can control, and yet do so without interrupting man’s responsibility. Therefore, I believe in absolute free will that will be punished or rewarded. But I also believe that God is somehow able to work through man’s free will in His perfect plan. We see this in the Jews who crucified the Lord. Peter says they were wicked to do so (wickedness requires free will); yet it was also ordained by God. We see this also in Samson who rebelled against his parents, but it was said to be of the Lord. There are many other examples.

Pastor Faust teaches: “The Calvinist Postmillennialists will seize on [the] statement that ‘God cannot force men to comply with His ordinances since He has given every government—self-government, family government, civil government, and church government—freedom of choice,’ and imply that God has left all nations, and thus the whole world, under the whims of their free will. They will point out that God sets limits and boundaries. I am no Calvinist; but I do believe in a paradox beyond our comprehension. Most Calvinists advocate sovereignty and make free-will a dirty word. Some who deny Calvinism go to another extreme. For example, the Jewish radio host, Dennis Prager, argues that if some tragedy takes place, it is because God was too weak to stop it. He says this is the only way to make God good. Calvinists decry this view of Divine weakness (and rightly so). The biblical balance is beyond our comprehension.”

En3. Jesus said, “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6.40.