This article is inspired by this article by James Redford.
I am Christian but I am also a Libertarian Anarchist. Often times I take a lot of flak from other Christians because of my critical position on government. I increasingly hear other Christians say that we should be supportive and submissive to our government because of various passages in the Bible that seem to say so (Romans 13 for example). I wish to prove that this is not so and that peaceful disobedience of false mortal authority is a sound, if not the only sound, position on government.
The Non-Aggression Principle and “The Royal Law”
The Non-Aggression Principle is the central idea upon which all libertarian thought flows from. It is as follows:
The non-aggression principle (also called the non-aggression axiom, or the anti-coercion or zero aggression principle or non-initiation of force) is an ethical stance which asserts that “aggression” is inherently illegitimate. “Aggression” is defined as the “initiation” of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property. In contrast to pacifism, the non-aggression principle does not preclude violent self-defense. The principle is a deontological (or rule-based) ethical stance.
– Mises Institute
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Let everyone be subject to Hitler, Mao Zedong and Stalin, for there is no authority except that which God has established. Hitler, Mao Zedong and Stalin have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against Hitler, Mao Zedong and Stalin is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For Hitler, Mao Zedong and Stalin hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of Hitler, Mao Zedong and Stalin? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For Hitler, Mao Zedong and Stalin are God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for Hitler, Mao Zedong and Stalin do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to Hitler, Mao Zedong and Stalin, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for Hitler, Mao Zedong and Stalin are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
I was really interested in all of this because the basic surface reading of this passage seems wildly out of place with the rest of the Bible (more on that later). So I delved a little deeper and looked up the Greek words for various key points in the passage. The first word I looked up was the Greek word “Hupotasso” which is used as “Submit” in the reading. “Hupotasso” is derived from the prefix “hupo” which means “below or under” and the verb “tasso” which means “to station, to assign a place.” Now this is key for the idea that submission to government is conditional; that it takes a level of discernment and judgment on behalf of the Christian. “Hupotasso” was sometimes used when talking about military terms and positions. Everyone was subdivided under leaders with each a “station” or “assigned place” which implies a functionality to each persons position, no matter what it was. In this context it has a similar meaning but also a voluntary connotation as well. It does not imply that the rulers in government are inerrant, but they must ultimately answer to God who has allowed them to take on this role. There is an assigned function to them that God has ordained. If they step outside of this function, the person who has voluntarily submitted has no obligation to submit any longer.
The next word I looked up was the word “Antitassomai” which is used as “rebel” in this sense. This Greek term has to do with “rejecting ones station.” So yes, under this ideal Government, if you rebel you are rejecting your station and the station God want’s for you. But when has any human government ever fit the description in its entirety of this passage? I know everyone thinks the American Government is an upstanding, inerrant institution, but it has committed crimes and atrocities all its own and has fallen very far short of the role described in Romans 13. And since, as I stated before, government is simply a collection of individuals, the term “antitassomai” must also apply to them when they reject the station God has placed them in. The last issue is taxation which, like I said, I will get to later. Moving on though, we can see that Paul is not being literal as he himself would be a hypocrite. His entire ministry existed in defiance of government. Examples of righteous defiance of authority can be found in the following passages:
1. Matt 2:1-6 where Jesus’ birth is perceived as a direct threat to Herod’s rule.
2. Matt 2:12 when the Magi refuse the wishes of Herod and do not return to him as he requests. They go home a different way to avoid telling him where Jesus is.
3. Exodus 1:15-19 when the midwives defy Pharaoh in killing the male Hebrew children and then lie to him when confronted about it.
Daniel 3:12-18 the story of Meshack, Shadrack and Abendigo.
Daniel 6:10 Daniel prays in spite of the laws of his Government and authorities have placed over him.
Clearly, we are not to follow government blindly, but do what is right in God’s eyes just as Peter exclaimed to the Pharisees in Acts 5:29 “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings!'” What is government other than a bunch of human beings? And what makes us think that they know more than God as Isaiah 55:9 says “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Clearly the passage in Romans is to be taken to mean that we must follow human governments when their ways line up with God’s higher ways thus making man’s laws redundant and a restatement of God’s!
Government Is Established By God But Temporally Given To Satan
Satan is clearly the ruler of this imperfect mortal age as it is stated in Luke 4:5-8: “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’
Jesus answered,’It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
Satan showed him every kingdom of the world in a single instance and proclaimed it to be his. This is not a lie as John 12:31, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:2 and John 14:30 all say Satan is the ruler of the age. So governments, though they may have a heavenly task from God, pervert it simply because Satan is the temporary ruler. This means that Government is an agent of Satan to oppress God’s people. One simply has to read their Bible and study history to see how this is true.
This does not mean that God’s truths cannot be proclaimed despite or because of unjust rulers. Jesus’s sacrifice is a perfect example this. The use of Israel’s enemies in order to teach them to turn to God rather than idols is another example of this. These enemies of Israel were indeed evil, but in the end showed God’s truths despite their evil deeds and nature. In this respect they are servants of God, but that does not mean we must give them reverence and respect when they are directly in opposition to God either.
Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Again in Mark 2:14, just before the question of taxes, the Pharisees acknowledge that Jesus really does not care about the social status of those that think they are great. “When they had come, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?'” The fact that the Pharisees say this can mean that Jesus was known for not really caring who you think you are. He only cared about the truth. There are even rulers God does not acknowledge which could argue that not every government is really from God. God may allow it’s existence but He does not acknowledge it. Hosea 8:4 says “They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval. With their silver and gold they make idols for themselves to their own destruction.”
One simply has to read the beginning of Samuel when the people cry out for a king to see God’s opinion of kings and government in 1 Samuel 8:10-18:
Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
That is God saying that “you ask for government and a ruler, but what you ask for will only lead to your oppression (because it would be controlled by Satan). Are you sure you want it?” Not only that but He explicitly said that He was to be their king and I think that a loving and just God is the only authority that can fit the description of Romans 13.
The Bible Says To Avoid The Courts!
Romans says that it’s the job of this Authority to dole out justice but Jesus and other people of the Bible warn against seeking justice from human governments. 1 Corinthians 6:1-6 says:
“Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?”
Matthew 5:25,26 confirms this idea of avoiding the courts established by government:
“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.”
Again in Luke 12:57-59:
“Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
Many politicians are lawyers, and now as they did then, they write the laws of the land to be as confusing as possible. This is for two reasons, that they can create a need for their services, and that confusing laws make controlling the masses much easier (Luke 11:52 echos this sentiment about lawyers and lawmakers).
The final point I wish to make is that of taxation. I touched on it a little. We can see that taxes are just legalized plunder done with the barrel of a gun pointed at peaceful citizens. But what does Jesus have to say on it? Mark 12:13-17 is often cited as proof that Jesus commands us to pay taxes. But is it?
Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
And they were amazed at him.
The question I would like to ask is “What is Caesars?” Everything Caesar has acquired he has acquired through murder, theft, extortion and fraud. What is justly his? Nothing! This was just a brilliant way of Jesus avoiding the question. If he had answered yes or no, he could have been arrested and killed before the appointed time that was prophesied. As I pointed out before, if any individual attempted to collect “taxes” from another we would call it theft. When government does it, we call it “taxes” but it is still theft.
This is supported by the fact that Jesus considered tax collectors to be sinners. Matthew 9:10-13 says:
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
It’s important to note that the author and the Pharisees both make it point to say “tax collectors and sinners.” What does Jesus do? He lumps tax collectors in with the sinners.Why would tax collectors be sinners in Jesus’ eyes? Maybe because they are part of a system that legalizes theft which is clearly morally wrong.
As can be seen, it isn’t crazy or heretical to be a Christian and an Anarchist. The two views are very compatible with the teachings of Jesus. Romans is too often used to foster blind patriotism and support for Governments that clearly fall short of it’s requirements. It’s easy to see that Romans is talking about the ideal form of Government, one I don’t think we will have until God truly rules. In fact God’s kingdom seems to be a polar opposite of what we as humans describe government to be.
In scripture, There is no support for a central bank that steals money from it’s citizens through inflation or a welfare state the turns “charity” into “thievery”. There is a deep connection of libertarianism and Christianity in the respect for property rights (Matthew 20:1-16 and Matthew 19:21 Jesus assumes property rights here in order to give to the poor out of ones own wealth and not the wealth stolen from another). The New Testament is all about human interaction and interaction with God. Government is not above this theme but is part of it. What is fascinating as well is that the ancient world was collectivist, the new testament is unique in that it promotes individuality. To quote C.S. Lewis from the Screwtape letters: “When he talks of their losing themselves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.”
Frederic Bastiat said “Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused man to make laws in the first place.” What he is saying is that God’s law concerning self ownership and responsibility existed before man made his warped and perverted laws concerning it.
Jesus want’s us to love others, not really over throw government’s, but, if in the process of loving others we are against a State that defies God so be it. We are not to stop because, as Peter said, we must obey God rather than men. Man is incapable of knowing what is good on his own understanding. C.S. Lewis said “Of all Tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely excercised for the good of it’s victims may be the most oppressive… those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with approval of their consciences.” Man is incapable of constructing an institution in line with the station God desires. Why then do we constantly try to do it? Why not abolish all institutions of violence and coercion and give each other the same freedom and responsibility God has already entrusted to us? Leo Tolstoy said “To impose an imaginary State of Government on others by violence is criminal work.” Man cannot run a government without doing criminal work.