Genesis 1:26-28

I have written much on this blog and have expounded on many topics and in many ways. My usual mode is to respond to objections to Libertarianism I come across online or in discussions with people. This can be good, but I think what is better is to look to the Scriptures. The Word of God is thrown around quite a lot and can be made to say whatever you want it to say. Like any evidence, it can be interpreted through a bias of presuppositions that lead to error. So I really dislike argumentation that says “Well the Bible says <insert systematic doctrine without proof text.>”.

I’m well aware that I do the same thing. We either do this as an attempt to shoehorn the Bible into the discussion as a lazy appeal to authority, or we are simply trying to be direct and avoid verbosity. Whatever our intentions, at some point these systematic doctrines must be put to the test of Biblical Exegesis. We must be noble Bereans who search the Scriptures to know what it does and does not say so that when we promote some teaching and say it’s from the Bible, we are accurately representing it.

This is my aim. I want to cut through the clutter and the chaff and get to the text. I want to throw out Systematic Theology for a bit and dig into some Biblical Exegesis. This way we can see what the Scriptures actually teach. This way we will know whether a given claim really is from Scripture.

For this reason, I embark on a trek through the Word. I plan to exegete a list of passages that have application to this topic of Civil Government. I’ve already sort of started this with Romans 13, and I think it would be helpful to go through other texts as well. I have a selection of passages that are relevant to the topic that I plan to deal with. If you have any suggestions, I would love to add them to my list.

I will try to keep these brief, and they will in no way be exhaustive. I do not aim to write full dissertations, or even full sermons on each. I do not want to get bogged down into the Greek and Hebrew any more than is necessary. I don’t believe it is all that necessary for the most part. I intend to use the grammatical-historical method to observe what the text says and to draw applications for the arena of Political Philosophy from it. By Political Philosophy, I mean the ethics of human interaction and how society is most justly to be ordered. Some of these may be direct. Others may be indirect.

So let’s dig in and start with Genesis 1:26-28

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image
In the image of God he created him;
Male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

You might be asking, “What does this have to do with politics?” Quite a lot actually. We see here taught a few key truths about the nature of man that are critical to our discussion. But let’s set aside the question for now. Let’s simply let the text speak plainly to us.

Here on Day 6 of creation, God steps back for a second, looks around at his good creation and says, “Let’s kick this up a notch.” So he creates man and the result is that the creation goes from “good” to “very good”. What’s so special about man? Well, there’s both an ontological and a teleological difference between man and the rest of creation. Ontology deals with the nature of things. Teleology deals with the purpose of things. God reveals both in his statement “Let us make man in our own image.”

But the question is, “what does it mean to be made in the image of God?” There are a lot of ways of trying to answer that question. Many people say “free will”, others say “reason”. But there’s a more foundational reality here that must be the bedrock of any answer we give: Man is God’s self-portrait within the tapestry of his creation. This sets him apart from the rest of creation. Ontologically, man is different from the rest of creation because he bears the likeness of God. Teleologically, man is different from the rest of creation because he has a specific purpose: to bear God’s image.

In what way does man bear God’s image? I find most attempts to answer this question overlook the obvious answer from the text. Man images God by having dominion over creation.

The dominion mandate is given twice in this text. The second time, it comes in the form of a command spoken directly to the man after his creation. But the first time, it is a purpose statement that God speaks to his Triune self while planning the creation of Man. In this purpose statement, he says that man will be made in God’s image and that he will have dominion over the rest of creation. These are not two separate realities. They are inextricably linked. The most basic and direct meaning of being made in God’s image is that we have dominion! This makes sense doesn’t it? God is revealed throughout Scripture as the Sovereign King of all the Universe. Indeed, he created the universe and all that is in it and rules over it all (Psalm 103:19).

So this text reveals man’s primary duty. It is stewardship. Man, in order to glorify God by accurately representing him to his creation, rules over creation on God’s behalf. Man’s dominion over creation does not replace God’s authority over it, but is and ought to be an act of worship and service to God.

The other interpretations of how man images God are valid, but I maintain that these are merely supportive of the primary goal. God rules his creation in wisdom, so man is given wisdom. God has a will, so man is given the power to choose.

Another key aspect is this idea of reproduction. This passage reveals that reproduction is part of this image bearing nature of man. Right in the middle of this discussion of image bearing and dominion, God reveals that he made man male and female. Then he tells man to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Much can be said about this in other respects, but its impact on the dominion mandate is that man would fill the earth in order to subdue it. The procreative act of childbearing is both an imaging of God’s creative power and a means to the end of having dominion over creation. This is a large earth, and no one man can subdue all of it, even in the pre-fall state. So he needs the help of other men so they can divide and conquer. Thus the purpose for procreation is bound up in man’s Ontological nature and Teleological responsibility to image God.

There are several implications of this dominion mandate.

First, the earth and all that is in it, while being God’s property as his creation (Psalm 24:1), is also available for man to treat as his property. Indeed it truly belongs to God, but man’s duty as God’s steward is to subdue and dominate it. More than being just permission for man to take property from the earth, this is a commandment.

Second, since the property is ultimately God’s and man’s dominion authority over this creation is a stewardship of the property for God, then our dominion must be exercised according to God’s wishes. We must rule creation the way God would rule creation and follow his laws if we are to image him appropriately. If we rule creation in a way that is contrary to God’s wishes, then we are in effect telling a lie about who God is. Much can be said about how God wants us to subdue creation, but that is beyond the scope of this analysis.

Third, mankind is conspicuously absent from the list of things dominated. God lists what we are to dominate: the earth itself, fish, birds, and land animals. Nowhere in this does it list dominating other men. This is because mankind is separate from the rest of creation. He is not a thing to be dominated. He dominates.

So what does this have to do with Political Philosophy?

Many have interpreted the dominion mandate as a pre-fall institution of government. I can only agree to this if we accept a certain definition of government. If government is broadly defined as the act of exercising dominion, then okay. But if we limit our definition of government to the exercise of dominion over other men, then I have to disagree. I don’t see that in this passage. It may be objected that we need government to organize a society so we can cooperate to subdue this large planet, but that’s not even remotely true.

First, it doesn’t say that here. Anyone who says this is eisegeting the presuppositions that government schooling has indoctrinated into them. Second, are we really to believe that, before the fall, men with no sin nature and a common language could not have voluntarily and peacefully organized to dominate an earth that was not plagued by the curse without dominating each other? Even the voluntary association of fallen men at Babel was so effective when they had a common language that God himself said, “nothing they purpose to do will be impossible for them.”

I will get into Babel in a later post. For now, I want to confine myself to this text, and I do not any institution of civil government in it. I define “civil government” as men having dominion over other men. We may try to move the goalposts and redefine government. As mentioned, I can agree to government if we define it as having dominion over creation. But I cannot agree to government that includes dominion over other men. In the interest of clarity, I will constrain my use of the term to the act of having dominion over men for now.

A civil government may or may not be a Biblical institution. We will see whether it is in future study. We can’t know that from this passage. But one thing is clear to me. If civil government is a Biblical institution, then it is a post-fall institution. It’s purpose is to deal with the realities of the fact that man is now sinful and the creation is now cursed. We will discuss what those realities are and the ways in which civil government deals with them later.

This is the final implication of Imagio-Dei: Since each man bears God’s image and since men are not, by created natural order, under the dominion of other men, then each man must be left free to carry out his own part in the dominion mandate as his own conscience dictates. We have a duty to respect God’s image in our neighbor. He has a right to life because he receives this from God. He has a right to liberty because he is God’s steward who answers only to God. Even if civil government is a Biblical institution, it ought not violate these rights. As we will see, its very purpose is to uphold these. When we leave men free like this, they will use this freedom to sin. That is unavoidable. He will answer to God for this. What are we to do about it? Is there no space for civil government to restrain such sin? We will see in future studies.

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Theology of Human Authority and Civil Government Part 4

This is it, I promise!. This post is the fourth and final part in a 4 part series on a Biblical Theology of Human Authority and Civil Government. You will really be lost trying to read this post on its own without the context of the other posts. I strongly recommend getting caught up first.

In Part 1, I laid a foundation for the discussion, noting that my opponents and I share critical common ground and that we need to properly contextualize Romans 13 if we are to understand what it means to us as we stand in the place of the civil magistrate in the voting booth.

In Part 2, I discussed the foundational principle of human ethics: that each individual person is made by God and for God and in his image, which means that each individual person has inherent human dignity and the right to his life, liberty and property. It is with those things in mind that we turn our attention to Romans 13.

In Part 3, I analyzed Romans 13 and discovered that there are some Biblical commands for the civil magistrate that we ought to consider: namely that the civil magistrate is commanded to punish criminals and that he is commanded not to be a terror to good conduct. 

In today’s post, I deal with a potential objection, discuss some additional concerns, like what light 1 Peter 2 and Titus 3 shed on this, and lay out my Conclusion. Thank you for reading!

OBJECTION! Surely the Government Can Do Things That Don’t Involve the Sword?

No, it can’t. Continue reading Theology of Human Authority and Civil Government Part 4

Theology of Human Authority and Civil Government Part 3

Thanks for stopping by. This post is the third part in a 4 part series on a Biblical Theology of Human Authority and Civil Government. I really do not recommend reading this post without first coming to grips with what I have said in previous posts, so please check them out.

In Part 1, I laid a foundation for the discussion, noting that my opponents and I share critical common ground and that we need to properly contextualize Romans 13 if we are to understand what it means to us as we stand in the place of the civil magistrate in the voting booth.

In Part 2, I discussed the foundational principle of human ethics: that each individual person is made by God and for God and in his image, which means that each individual person has inherent human dignity and the right to his life, liberty and property.

It is with those things in mind that in today’s post we turn our attention to Romans 13.

Romans 13

Now we get to Romans 13. For starters, here’s the text of Romans 13:1-7. As you read this, lets’ remind ourselves what perspective we are reading this from. We are not reading this as citizens under the authority of government. We are reading this as civil magistrates casting our votes for how the government will rule. We must ask ourselves, what does Romans 13 reveal about how God wants me to govern?

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (2) Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (3) For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his  approval, (4) for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (5) Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (6) For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. (7) Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Certainly I must be stretching the text to say that it contains commands that must be obeyed by the civil magistrate! Continue reading Theology of Human Authority and Civil Government Part 3

Theology of Human Authority and Civil Government Part 2

Hi there. This is Part 2 of a 4 Part series on a Biblical Theology of Human Authority and Civil Government.

In Part 1, I laid the groundwork necessary to interact with this discussion adequately, noting that my opponents and I share critical common ground and that we need to properly contextualize Romans 13 if we are to understand what it means to us as we stand in the place of the civil magistrate in the voting booth.

For that reason, we turn our attention in today’s post to a fundamental Biblical principle for all human ethics and consider how it applies to civil government.

The Foundational Principle of Human Ethics

As discussed in my previous post, I will get to Romans 13 and deal with it in-depth. However, in recognition of the fact that Romans 13, at least as traditionally understood, speaks to citizens, and we are interested in God’s mind as it pertains to civil magistrates, I want to first back up to determine if there are any foundation and universal principles we can glean from Scripture that will give us some parameters that we need to keep in mind. Continue reading Theology of Human Authority and Civil Government Part 2

Theology of Human Authority and Civil Government Part 1

This is part 1 of a 4 part series on a Biblical Theology of Human Authority and Civil Government. This first post sets up the latter posts by introducing the topic and then laying some ground work. Please stay tuned for the next installments.

Introduction

I’ve found myself roped into several debates lately over political issues in which I have needed to defend my position as a Libertarian. This is partly because of my nature to debate things. I hope that nobody perceives me as an argumentative person, or as one who is arrogant or condescending. I suspect, however that such is the unfortunate case. In truth, while I do have to fight against these temptations, the stronger forces that drive me to debate are the strong conviction I have on these matters and the fact that I’m an optimist.

Yeah, I’m a bit of an optimist. I generally have a positive outlook on the nature of human discourse. I truly believe that if we can discuss things rationally, we can come to an understanding of the truth. This is not to place too much faith in human reason or ability, but rather in the authority of Scripture, which ought to be our rule, and in the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us in the process. That being said, when someone engages with me, I assume that they are genuinely curious and that they are truly interested in hearing my side of things. On that assumption, I seek to explain myself as fully, clearly and accurately as i can. I refuse to project ill will on another, insisting that the benefit of every doubt be given. When a question is asked, I assume an answer is expected. I therefore strive to give the best one I can.

However, things very often devolve, as is the nature of the Internet. Sometimes intentions are not noble. Sometimes discussions get hijacked. Sometimes we are limited by time and media. Whatever the reason it seems that I am rarely able to give a full and well-reasoned defense of things. This is what drives me here. I maintain my hope that when believers discuss these things and when their discussion is guided by the Word of God, they can come to a better understanding of the truth, and a better bond with each other, regardless of whether the go away agreeing. For our sure hope is founded not in the correctness of our political platform, but in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, his resurrection, and his promise of future glory.

To that end, I seek to lay before you my treatise on all things political.

Gay is Not the New Black – Are We Completely Missing the Point?

This article is a bullet point rebuttal of this one: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/07/19/gay-is-not-the-new-black/. You’ll need to be familiar with it as I’m just going to refer to portions of it by headings and referring to his arguments. I’m not going to reproduce any of it here for the sake of time.

General Objection

On the whole, we’re confusing the issue here. The issue is not primarily about defining a new minority group who should now get special treatment. Neither is the issue about the moral right or wrongness of homosexuality or calling homosexuality marriage. The issue is over whether everyone, and I mean everyone, has the right (civilly) to do as he pleases, so long as he does not harm his neighbor through aggression. Does the government have the right to restrict private behavior that does not harm other people? Libertarians say no.

Perhaps we’re looking at this the wrong way. It’s not so much that gay marriage is a good thing that the goverment should promote. It’s not that gays are people who should now get special sanction or treatment. I hope that I would never have suggested that. Rather, it is that the government, by being the authority that sanctions marriage, is usurping the God given role of the church. Anything we can do to remove the government’s grip on marriage and return it to the domain of the church would honor God. What homosexuals do and what they call it, is irrelevant to what the church defines as marriage, and so long as this generation is crooked and perverse, it matters not what government calls marriage. It does nothing to distort the reality and the standard. Those should be held up by the church.

So in terms of allowing freedom of religion – the right to choose whether to obey God.
And in terms of allowing freedom of choice – the right to do as you please so long as you are not harming another.
Then I support loosening, if not completely removing, the government’s grip on marriage.
Allowing marriage licenses for homosexuals to marry same sex partners is a loosening of the government’s grip, and is akin to Moses issuing certificates of divorce because of the hardness of the people’s hearts.
I don’t promote this so we can re-define marriage. I don’t promote this so we can sanction sin.
I promote this so the church can return as the authority for such definition and such censure of wrong.

The government should only be concerned with providing justice to victims of crimes and making sure that our freedoms remain intact.

And while homosexuality IS a choice unlike the race into which you were born, being a sinner is not. We are all born as sinners, and without the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, we are indeed lost. Expecting dead men to behave like live men simply because the government tells them to is foolish. The church should hold out to the gospel and those who believe will fall under his authority and receive his grace to renounce their sin.

The government redefining marriage will cheapen it. That much is certain. But like when the Federal Reserve prints fiat money, all it will cheapen is the meaning of the government issued marriage certificate. It can’t touch the standard of true marriage that the church and Christian couples can hold forth!

Specific Rebuttal Points

Continue reading Gay is Not the New Black – Are We Completely Missing the Point?

Defense of Libertarianism. Offense Against Legislating Morality.

If you’ve been following my recent posts, you’ll know that I’m a Libertarian and a Christian. You’ll also know that I’ve been struggling to articulate just why I think Libertarianism is more consistent with the Scriptures than what is typically espoused by Christians. That’s not a very precise way to put it. There are many different political philosophies that can be found within the church. Some Christians are pretty “liberal”. But what I’m speaking to would be closer to the more stereotypical “right wing” “moral majority” type position. Most Christians I know personally fall into the “legislate morality” camp to one degree or another, which is a bit of a broad brush. I don’t know that any are hardcore Theonomists, but some I know definitely lean that way. Almost all of them have the same stances on the big social issues. I can think of three key issues off the top of my head. They are pro-life. They are against gay marriage. They are anti-drugs. Many are also anti-alcohol, which I’ll lump into the drug category for convenience. On these three issues, I agree with them on only one – abortion. And I feel firm in my conviction that my positions do not violate the Scriptures. For while I agree with them that the Scriptures teach very clear moral principals in these areas, I whole-heartedly disagree that that necessarily means that the law of the United States must reflect that Biblical morality. This series of articles is my attempt to articulate why I believe that to be.

Matthew 22:37-40 ESV  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  (38)  This is the great and first commandment.  (39)  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  (40)  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

This is my first stop because I think it sets up the backbone of my whole philosophy on the relationship between morality and legality. I have long held that Legality is concerned with maintaining a peaceful society, while morality is concerned with living virtuously in order to honor the Lord – at least from a Christian perspective. There are other moral codes and various reasons one might feel compelled to live virtuously, by as I am a Christian and whereas Christians believe our moral code to be the correct one, we’ll assume so for the time being. Such is not the point of this text. What is the point is that distinction of purpose. Legality is concerned with peace. Morality is concerned with virtue. There can be some overlap, but to what extent? What does the Word of God say? Continue reading Defense of Libertarianism. Offense Against Legislating Morality.