a Russian friend of mine told me he didn’t know how to translate “rule of law” in Russian. I have described the problem in an earlier article,1 so I won’t go into detail here. It was then when I realized that the very definition of “law” is not uniform in the modern societies; even though I had lived under Communism and had studied Marxism, I still thought of “law” in terms of the Western concept of it: a separate, impersonal body of judicial rules equally binding on all members of society. In fact, Marxism, at least nominally, did acknowledge this concept of “law” as valid, even if “moderated” by the “class factor.”2 Then the same problem caught my attention when I was studying modern Christian views on the issue of government control and regulation of immigration; and specifically Hoffmeier’s claim that the Biblical view of immigration laws should be taken from Gen. 47:1-6 and Num. 20:14-21, where an absolute monarch was asked for permission for settlement or simply transit passage. Many well-meaning Christians, deceived by modern statist propaganda, bought into Hoffmeier’s views without stopping to think that these examples can’t be indicative of God’s judicial will for a nation, because, obviously, the principle of asking permission from an absolute ruler is contrary to the principles of God’s Law.3 It was this specific example that led me to the realization that the dichotomy “rule by law vs. rule by permit” is central to the judicial antithesis between covenant-keeping and covenant-breaking societies. The dichotomy and the judicial battles for the resolution of that dichotomy follow the story of redemption of the world; these judicial battles are indicative of any society that is in the process of throwing off tyranny and seeking liberty under the Gospel. It can be seen in the New Testament’s description of the working out of both the redemption brought by the Gospel and the reaction of the pagan state against the Gospel. It can also be traced in the history of Christendom and in the establishment of the modern Western civilization. And, predictably, the same dichotomy and the same battles are around us today, when the church has lost her impetus and the culture seems to witness a rather renewed pagan reaction against the Gospel, especially politically and judicially.
My thesis, in short, is this: Biblically, the opposite to the Law of God is not laws of men, or pagan laws, or secular laws, or unjust laws, or any kind of laws, but lawlessness. What we call “laws” today, passed and enforced by the modern civil governments, are not laws in the Biblical sense; they are not even “unjust laws,” they are simply not laws at all. They are institutionalized lawlessness. The more a society is influenced by the Gospel, the more it is under the rule of law, expressed in the fact that no man has authority above the law. In the same way, the more a society drifts away from the Gospel, the more it will be ruled not by laws, not even by unjust laws—which would still be “rule of law,” even if that law was unjust—but by the whim of powerful men; that is, rule by permit. The thesis, as many readers will notice, has enormous consequences in our modern culture. Therefore, I will also show the direct consequences of the abandonment of the Gospel to the culture, which show a shift away from the rule of law, to more and more rule by permit.
The Anomia of Paganism
In our modern age, we are so used to use the word “law” for anything that in one way or another resembles civil government, or acts of civil government. We call the different branches of police troops law-enforcement agencies, and in general, when we say “the law,” we mean the civil government in one or another of its representative offices. “Laws” we also call the regulations and procedures of the different levels of the civil government that control the behavior and actions of private individuals; the statutes that give the right to government agencies to take our money, or our liberty, or even our lives. “Law” is what is enforced by the courts, even if it’s often nothing more than the personal whim of a judge, and it has nothing to do with law books. (Exhibit A: Roe v. Wade.) We even call the process of producing newer and newer government regulations “legislation,” that is, “proposing of laws.”
Thus, “law,” in our everyday vocabulary, is always related to what the government does. Or, “law” is the regulations that determine the relationship between the individual and the civil government; in every transaction in the society, the civil government is interposed by “law” as a participant in some way, even when the transaction naturally doesn’t have to involve it, like job contracts. And also, very important, “law” is seldom related to any kind of real, objective justice. “Law” is just whatever the government does, or enforces. Even a pagan government.
But the Bible tells a different story.
First, very little of what the Bible calls “Law” has to do with civil government, legislation, or government “law-enforcement.” In fact, what is called “law” in the Bible has very little to do with civil rulers. The only civil rulers mentioned as actively “enforcing law” in the Bible are the judges, and their job under the Law is not enforcing or executing government policies but only judging between private individuals. There are no government policies mentioned in the Law of God, and there are no “law-enforcement” agencies. The civil government is not mentioned as a party to any lawsuit whatsoever; lawsuits are only between private parties. There is no such thing as a “crime against the government”; no such “crimes as “resisting arrest,” “obstructing police,” nor “evasion of taxes.” There is no such legal entity as “government.” Individuals were elected as judges in the community but a judge was just as much under the Law as anyone else, and was just as much individually responsible for his decisions as anyone else. There was no separate responsibility—or freedom from responsibility—for a judge as a judge. Even the king—who was not supposed to be an executive authority but a judicial authority, something as supreme court of the nation (1 Kings 7:7)—was also under the Law in every respect, and was individually as responsible as anyone else (Deut. 17:14-20).
“Law,” as the Bible presents the word, means not only the government statutes in the law books, or the decisions of the courts. “Law” is the fundamental system of ethics, the standard for good and evil in man’s comprehensive life, from his individual endeavors to his cultural endeavors, including those in the realm of economics, politics, science, family, etc. Ethics as in how man treats his neighbor individually, but also as in how man treats his neighbor through the mechanisms of the different authority structures in the society, be it the family, the church, the various levels of civil government, or the business structures and voluntary organizations. It is also in how man approaches the created world around him and how man views his work in it. Many civil government statutes today remain just on the books simply because they are not in agreement with “the law” as a more comprehensive reality in a culture. This reality will include not only the negative part of ethics and judgment—as in what things people should not or can not do—but also the positive part of it: what kind of behavior will be approved and praised by the society, or what kind of personality, or personal goals and ambitions and purpose will be raised up as a standard and role model for a society. Man’s behavior in the society is controlled just as much by the question “What should I do?” as it is by the question, “What should I not do?” The law of a culture, then, is much more than the prohibitions and statutes of that culture, it is the culture’s very character, a verbal expression of its summum bonum for man and for his institutions. It will include the work ethic of a society, its time preferences (short-term vs. long-term), its view of wealth and money, etc., etc. Man is an ethical/judicial creature in all his being, actions, and words, and therefore everything man is, does, or speaks, is judged by a law, an ethical/judicial standard that the culture has accepted as normative. When we read a book or watch a movie and say “it is good,” we have made a “legal” statement based on an ethical/judicial standard, even if we don’t realize that we have actually judged that book or movie. The Bible says that even things that to our modern mind look morally neutral—like profit—can be good or bad (see, for example, Prov. 31:18 where the same word is used for “good” as in Gen. 1). The civil law, then, is only a small part of the Law, a logical extension of the Law into the area of solving personal disputes, or restraining crime. And the civil law doesn’t include nor demand the existence of “civil institutions” beyond the courts, nor the existence of “government” as an active legislative or executive authority.
And whatever executive authority God allowed to appear later in Israel, was not part of His original design. It was only a judgment on a people who did not want God to be their King (1 Sam. 8).
Second, and more important, the Bible refuses to grant the name “law” to anything that is not the Law of God. And in my opinion, if this concept is understood, it will radically change the legal endeavor of the modern church.
In 1 Cor. 9:20-21, Paul presents an often overlooked dichotomy. He separates his listeners, those to whom he preaches the Gospel, in two categories. One category is those who are “under the Law.” Obviously, here he means the Jews. The complementary category, which by the rules of the general antithesis in his epistles should be the Gentiles, he describes as those “without law.” Not without the Law of God, but general, “without law,” as if having no law whatsoever. The two translations I trust the most, the KJV and the NASB, translate it so. Other translations, trying to reconcile an obvious logical problem which we will take a look at, add a definite article, “without the Law.” The rationale, as I understand it, is that not everyone who is not under the Law is necessarily without any law whatsoever; people, after all, have their own laws, right?
Going to the Greek text, however, we discover that the KJV and the NASB have it right; for the phrase “without law” is actually one word, an adjective: anomos, literally, law-less, that is, “lacking any law whatsoever.” To our modern mind, this sounds like an artificial division: After all, of the Gentiles, some may be law-less, that is, without any laws whatsoever, but some may be under other laws, like human laws. Indeed, in some dispensationalist interpretations of the Bible, human law is indeed a separate dispensation in the Bible, lasting from after the Flood until the promise given to Abraham. But a correct reading of Paul’s Greek text leaves no doubt: Paul considers the religion and ideology of the Gentiles as anomia, that is, lacking any law whatsoever. He doesn’t seem to believe in “natural law,” nor does he seem to acknowledge the validity of the Roman Law. One is either under the Law, or without law.
Do we have another witness for this interpretation of Paul’s words? We actually do.
In Romans 2:12-13, Paul uses the same division, this time in a different context: the judgment on the Jews and the Gentiles:
For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.
Now, the reasonable question may be asked, “Why would these people perish if they were not given the Law in the first place? How would they know?” Paul immediately explains in the next three verses, vv. 14-16, that their actions in agreement with the Law are a testimony that their own conscience knows about the Law, so they are without excuse:
For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
Now, let’s look at verse 14 and read it literally from the Greek:
For when Gentiles who do not have the Law practice the things of the Law, these, not having law, are law to themselves. . . .
Here it is again: Gentiles, who do not have the Law, have no law. That they may have their own pagan laws is of no consideration here. That they may have civil laws, or custom laws, or common laws, is of no consideration. “Natural law,” “Roman law” are of no consideration. Those who do not have the Law, have no law, period.
But isn’t the government law a legitimate law, according to the Bible? Doesn’t the Bible tell us that we should obey the national laws, whether they are in accordance with the Law of God or not? No.
There is not a single verse in the New Testament to use the word “law” (nomos) when discussing acts of the civil government. Granted, submission to authorities is commanded, and modern commentators always make sure to insist that only lawful submission is commanded; often, though, without specifying what “lawful” means or entails. 1 Tim. 1:8-11 comes closest to connecting law to civil government, saying that the Law must be applied to civil crimes, according to the Gospel, but “the law” here is the Law of God as applied to civil government, not some independent legislation of the civil government called “law.”
And interestingly enough, when it comes to acts of that civil government to which we are commanded to submit, Peter refuses to call them “laws” but uses the neutral, almost disparaging word, “creatures”:
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human creature [lit. Gr.] . . . (1 Pet. 2:13).
Now, such reluctance to acknowledge any civil law in the society would be understandable if written in the context of a Barbarian society where no concept of law is present: Homeric Greece, for example, or the Teutonic tribes north of the Empire, or pre-Patrick Ireland. But the New Testament was written in the context of Pax Romana, the civilization that of all pagan civilizations prided the most in its concept of law and application of law. Rome, ever since Numa Pompilius, was self-consciously devoted to the concept of law.4 So devoted, in fact, to the point of having the first known anti-monarchical revolution in history in 509 BC, leading to the establishment of the Republic. While many of the specific concepts of the rule of law were not present in the Roman legal thinking (for instance, systematic casuistry, legal theory, equality before the law, etc.), it is still true that at least pro-forma, the Roman society was self-consciously based on law, even during the Empire. It is from these times, after all, that we take the Roman Law, so celebrated by modern legal theorists and historians. And yet, the New Testament refuses to pay even the least homage to the Roman Law, and refuses to grant the name “law” to any act of the civil government at the time.
And this refusal goes beyond pagan Rome. It reaches even to the very leaders of the Jewish nation. In his criticism of the Pharisees, Jesus contrasts the commandments of God to the traditions of the Pharisees (Mark 7:8). And in fact, He accuses them of not obeying the Law (John 5:45-47), contrary to many modern commentators who see in the Pharisees a too strict adherence to the Law.
If the New Testament authors are unwilling to grant any legitimacy to the laws of the law-oriented Roman state, we should expect the Old Testament authors to be even less willing to grant such honor to the pagan societies around Israel. And indeed, such is the case. There is not a single instance in the Old Testament when the word “law” (torah) is used for the laws of the Gentile nations. In fact, throughout most of the Old Testament the impression left is that the nations around Israel have no law whatsoever, unless they accept the Law of Moses. Nowhere is the legal system of the pagan nations mentioned as having any “laws,” in fact, there is no mention of any legal system whatsoever. There is no mention of a body of laws to which the nations around Israel subscribed. There is no mention of a legal code which the pagans use. Their gods are shown to demand ritual worship, but not a single one of them is presented as a law-giver.
Going back to the example of drawing legal conclusions about immigration from the experience of the Hebrews with Egypt and Edom, there was no mention of any law code of Egypt and Edom to which the Hebrews pointed. It was the personal word of the king that controlled the land, not some objective, independent concept of ethics or justice. When God recommended His Law to them, He did not compare it to the “laws” of the pagan nations; His warning was for them to avoid to do as the nations around them. When Israel abandoned His Covenant, God’s assessment was that they had become more unruly than the nations around them (Ezek. 5:7); indicating that the social order of the pagan nations was no order at all.
And not only the Old Testament doesn’t mention any “law” among the pagans, it doesn’t mention the institution of judges and courts among the pagans. Obviously, judges and courts—as separate from executive authority—can exist only in the context of a rule of law, a law as an objective reality independent of human power. Israel was ruled by judges for a long time, and would have still been ruled by judges if the Israelites did not rebel against God. But even in the establishment of the monarchy, the real glory of the king’s power was in his judicial power. Solomon knew that, and for all the shortcomings of his reign, he knew that the ability to judge according to the Law was central to his royal prerogatives (1 Kings 3:9). But with all the importance of judges and courts in Israel, we don’t see a similar institution in the pagan nations around Israel. Not a single verse in the Old Testament points to it.
There is only one case that looks like an exception: the “law of the Medes and the Persians” in Daniel 6. But even there, the word used in Hebrew is not torah. It’s not even a Hebrew word but a loanword from Persian: dath, from the Indo-European root for to give (as something that is given, unchanging). While the Book of Daniel uses torah for the Law of God (as in Dan. 9:11, 13), for the laws and decrees of the Babylonians and the Persians it uses a foreign word, as if the author specifically intended to show that there is no comparison.5 Interestingly, the Book of Daniel is also the only place in the Bible where some form of “law” is acknowledged to exist in the Roman Empire, using the same Persian loan-word, dath; the reference is Dan. 7:25. Dath is used for the Law of God by the Persian King Artaxerxes in Ezra 7:11-26; understandable, for he is a Gentile; but in the same chapter, vv.1-10, Ezra himself uses torah for the Law of God. Looks as if Ezra politely hints at the Persian king’s lack of understanding of the significant difference between the two.
The Bible, in short, refuses to grant the honorable description “law” to anything that is not the Law of God. It doesn’t acknowledge the validity of the Roman Law. It doesn’t acknowledge the validity of some “natural law.” It doesn’t acknowledge the validity of human laws that govern the Gentiles. It doesn’t even connect the word “law” to acts of the government, nor does it acknowledge the validity of human legislation at all. In both the Old and the New Testament, there is only one body of commandments and regulations that is called “law” and it is the Law of God.
Rule of Law vs. Rule of Man
As I said above, our thinking is so used to a different dichotomy, and to accept as valid—even if imperfect and sometimes unjust—any legislation by man, that we don’t even notice that the Bible doesn’t accept them as valid. There is only one Law, as far as the Bible is concerned, and whatever is not that Law, is not law at all. But why? After all, isn’t man’s legislation law? Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament times, nations were ruled by some kind of law, weren’t they? No nation can exist, no social order can survive without some kind of ethical rules for social behavior. Why would the Bible refuse to recognize such rules as law? And why would Paul call the Gentiles, those not under the Law of God, anomois, that is, law-less, without any law whatsoever?
The answer must be found in the fact that from the perspective of the Word of God, there is a very fundamental difference between the social order and judicial system of the Law of God, and the social order and judicial system of the pagan nations. It is not a difference simply in the content of some of the commandments or the clauses of specific laws; it is a difference in the very essence of the societies created by those two systems. A Biblical society is not simply another society, just ruled by a better law. A Biblical society differs from the pagan societies in the very meaning of society, in the meaning of rule and government, and in the meaning of the very existence and participation of the individual in that society.
That fundamental difference can be seen in Jesus’s words in Matt. 20:25-27 (see also Mark 10:42-44; Luke 22:25-26):
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 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 your slave. . . .
Throughout history, pagan rulers have imposed hierarchy and authority from above; a man of authority is a man of power, and an institution of authority is an institution of power. Right after the Flood, the first kingdom was organized by Nimrod. What made him qualified to be a king? “He became a mighty one on the earth” (Gen. 10:8). One after another, pagan groups and individuals started establishing kingdoms based entirely on raw power, on the ability to force weaker men and groups to submit to their power. “Might makes right” is the operating principle of every wicked government, and therefore what legitimizes such a government is the ability to project superior power. Rule of mighty men is the political principle of every empire. It is not strange that the Bible doesn’t mention judges in the pagan nations around Israel; a judge is a passive figure, one who exercises authority only insofar as he is called to solve a dispute between two active private parties. Outside solving disputes, a judge is just as much a private member of the society as everyone else. But pagan societies can’t afford to be ruled by judges; this would contradict the principle of rule by raw power, by mighty men. Power—especially the power to force other people to submit—is everything in pagan thinking. Power legitimizes, elevates, confirms, establishes, directs, and guides. It is the real god of any pagan society; even when pagans deify and exalt their rulers, it is not the ruler himself that is deified but his ability to project power. Of course, whenever a successful claimant for the throne succeeds in overthrowing the existing ruler, he is now worshiped and exalted, because he was able to project superior power. A pagan “state,” therefore, is no different from any criminal organization (mafia, or Cosa Nostra, or a Mexican drug cartel): the guy who gets to depose or even kill the other claimants is the legitimate ruler.
It is for this reason that we see, in modern America, the growth of the police state. Since civil government in America has long lost whatever legitimacy it had under God, its has become a pagan state. Projection of raw power, then, becomes crucial to the maintenance and the legitimization of the authority of civil government. And not only just the projection of raw power, but the exercise of raw power in terrorizing the population is crucial: to destroy the rule of law, which is a testimony for the Gospel, a pagan government must replace it with rule of man, and that rule of man must be exercised against the Law, so that the mighty men may legitimize their authority. The claims that police needs all this excessive firepower to do their job are proven false by the fact that police is one of the safest jobs around; more police officers die of reckless driving than of assaults. The projection of power is needed because for a pagan state, it is the only means to legitimize authority.
It is for this reason the empires in the Bible are described as ravenous beasts who trample, crush, destroy, tear apart, devour their victims. It is not just uncontrollable, occasional impulse of some pagan states; violence and state terrorism against its own population becomes a religious necessity for the pagan state. So whenever you see cops in full military gear facing unarmed protesters, it is not self-protection; it is a religious statement. It is the modern Nimrod using his might to legitimize his right.
Such religious statement by pagan rulers doesn’t happen in a vacuum, though; and neither is it made against opposition from their subjects. For pagan religions not only create power-hungry tyrants; they also provide victims for those tyrants. Once a people has abandoned God and turned to idols, such people eagerly worships powerful men. The men who set out to build their collectivist dream of a tower reaching heaven in Gen. 11 self-consciously decided to build it in the land of Shinar, under the power of Nimrod, that same mighty man who organized the first human kingdom (see Gen. 10:10). Population numbers were still low after the Flood, there was enough room for them to find a place and build it without a human ruler over them; but they chose to do it under a tyrant. Rejecting God, the men of Israel in Samuel’s time turned to a mighty man (1 Sam. 9:2; 11:11-12) to rule over them. Not only do fallen men eagerly place themselves under tyrants, they also create an ideology to convince themselves that these tyrants are their “benefactors” (Luke 22:25). The Hebrews of Exodus, faced with the responsibilities of freedom, suddenly discovered that the whips of Egypt were not so bad after all, given that there were leeks and onions and garlic for free from Pharaoh; Pharaoh was their benefactor, unlike Moses. The fallen human heart is always enticed by power: man either wants to rule over other people, or wants to be ruled by mighty men. Liberty is not the self-conscious decision of the pagan heart. Raw power is a powerful religious magnet, as Rev. 13:4 shows:
. . . they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?”
And, of course, there is a third factor that is always at play: the false religions, or—in modern times—the apostate church, which is always enamored with power, and is eager not only to serve the powerful of the day but also to use its control over people’s minds to suppress any resistance to the tyranny of those in power. The Second Beast of Revelation 13, the False Prophet with horns like a lamb, is always busy exercising the authority of the first Beast and speaking for the first Beast, and making an image of the first Beast for people to worship. Whether by its support for the welfare state, or for the warfare/police state, the modern American church fits squarely this description. The call by many statist preachers in the US to complete obedience to the state and its agents is an extension of the same religious declaration of the rule of man over man.
The Biblical social order, as obvious from Jesus’s words above, is completely opposite to this. The Bible rejects raw power as a means to legitimize authority. Abraham was a powerful man, powerful enough to defeat the armies of four kings (Gen. 14:13-16); by the standards of the pagan world, he should have been a high king, at least. And yet, he never used the name “king” for himself, nor did he see his power as a foundation for his authority. The Law of God didn’t allow for man to rule over his fellow men. In that greatest of all parables on the nature of human authority, in Judges 9:8-15, God informed the Israelites that when men seek to establish kingdoms of men, the most unproductive and useless and idle of all men are the candidates for rulership. Be it Jotham against Abimelech, or David against Saul, or Jeroboam against Rehoboam, or Moses against Pharaoh, or Gideon against the Midianites, or Tamar against Judah, or a runaway slave against his master, God always sides with the rebels against man’s power over other men. Contrary to the babbling of modern apostate preachers, there is not a single instance in the Bible where God sided with a tyrant against rebels; anyone who claims that rebellion against tyrannical power is a rebellion against God is preaching another gospel. God is always in the business of toppling earthly empires, even if, at times, He uses rebels as wicked as the empires themselves.
The reason why God refuses to grant the honorable title of “law” to men’s rules is thus clear: A Law is only Law when it rules the society, when all men are subject to it, and no man rules over other men. Only when it is transcendent, that is, independent of man, and independent of man’s desires and agendas and goals and whims, a Law is truly Law. Men’s “laws” are nothing more than codified idolatry, attempts at placing man in God’s stead to be the king and ruler of God’s creation, but without God. God is a jealous God, He doesn’t share His glory with another, and He certainly doesn’t share His glory of Lawmaker with a bunch of tyrants. Far from accepting their human creations to be valid laws in any sense of the word, He rejects them. And He commands us to do the same. The only Law that should be valid for Christians is the one that makes God be the King; and human creations must be obeyed only insofar as they are in agreement with that Law.
Rule by Law vs. Rule by Permit
Understanding this fundamental difference between a godly society—where God is King and rules through the rule of His Law—and a pagan society—where men are kings and rulers and codify their own agendas and whims into counterfeit “laws”—is central to the legal endeavor of the church. The self-imposed social exile of the church is about to end in our own time. After 150 years of experimenting with political and social neutrality, Christians are now discovering that paganism, when not stopped by the comprehensive preaching of the Gospel in all areas of life—including political, law, economics, education, etc.—re-creates the politics of earlier pagan times, effectively silencing Christianity in the public square. The church will be forced to study the Word of God to understand what a godly society is. Unfortunately, we have had 150 years of preachers who openly declared they “couldn’t care less for the cultural war” of our time. This means that preaching the Gospel as it applies to the cultural arena has been neglected, and it means that the average Christian in the pews has no idea what a Christian culture would look like. Even less would the average Christian have any idea of what a Christian legal order should look like, what institutions it would require, and how social order would be maintained. As of present, most church-goers in the US understand a “Christian culture” to be the same police state as we have today, with the same agencies of enforcing the will of the powerful of the day, the same regulation agencies and the same taxing agencies etc.; except that, they would serve “conservative” goals, not liberal or socialist goals. That a Christian culture would require a revolutionary change in the institutional and legal order of society similar to the change from the pagan Roman Empire to the Christendom of the later ages is seldom understood by modern Christians. In their view, everything is alright with the current institutional and legal order; we just need to “enforce the laws.”
While in the process of writing this article, I shared some of my ideas with a Christian friend of mine, and commented that modern conservatives’ love for the modern police state is just as un-Biblical as the liberals’ love for the welfare state. His comment was that at least, “conservatives have respect for the rule of law, even if it’s sometimes unjust law.” This is not necessarily true, and I pointed to him that conservatives just pick what government laws to respect based on their political bias; for example, in the cases of Obamacare or Cliven Bundy ranch stand-off, conservatives were and are against government laws, while liberals are those insisting on enforcing the law. Between conservatives and liberals, neither group can claim more respect for the rule of law than the other; each group finds certain government “laws” worthy of obedience and respect, and others worthy of disobedience and disrespect.
The more important problem, though, is that what either group believes to be the “rule of law” is not even close to a real rule of law, even if it has written “laws,” and even if all these laws are perfectly enforced. Why? Because, as we saw above, the true Law excludes rule of man, it subjects every man to God, and therefore human “laws” that are designed to establish the rule of one group of men over other groups of men are not real laws; they are codified law-lessness. And therefore, which is even more important, the method will be different: such legal system won’t be rule by law at all.
The example with immigration mentioned above will help illustrate the point. As I pointed in another article, Hoffmeier goes to the examples of the Hebrews asking Pharaoh and the king of Edom for permission to settle in or travel through their respective lands. This is given by Hoffmeier and accepted even by some “theonomists” as an example of “immigration laws.” But the problem is, the very concept of asking and giving permission for something is not present in the Law of God. The Law of God recognizes only two categories of acts: righteous (and therefore permitted by default) and unrighteous (and therefore forbidden by default). If an act is righteous, there is no need to ask for permission; a man is free to do it. If an act is unrighteous, no permission can make it righteous. There is no executive agency mentioned in the Law of God whose function is to give permits for this or for that. Man is either free to do a certain thing or he is not free to do it. There is no gray ethical area in the Law where a thing is immoral but permitted, or is moral but not permitted.
But when the land is ruled by man and not by God, man now needs to establish his own sovereignty, and force other men to do his will and serve his agenda. But rule by law is too “objective,” too transcendent to be an effective “gospel” for the sovereignty of the fallen man. He needs a stronger expression of his autonomous rule. And therefore he substitutes rule by permit for rule by law. It is not some objective, transcendent law that will decide what other men do, because such a law will still be sovereign, and man will be under it. It is the personal will and whim of the ruler that must be the final decision as what people do and don’t, so that the sovereignty of the powerful man is established.
The perfectly consistent anti-Christian society is described in Revelation 13:17:
. . . and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.
This is how we know a truly “beastly” society: No one can do perfectly natural and righteous things like buying and selling—that is, communicating with other men in the context of the Dominion Covenant —without government permission. The fallen man, in order to make other men serve his purposes, needs a comprehensive system of controlling every aspect of their behavior; after all, he is not God, he doesn’t have the means to direct them internally as God does through His Holy Spirit, so the only option left is to lord over them through an external system of permits.
So, while under the Law of God—the true law—the question is, “Is this good or bad?”, under man’s counterfeit laws the question is, “Is this legal or illegal?” Which means, “Was this permitted by the powerful of the day or not?” This applies to everything; every single action of man must be brought under subjection to the agenda of the rulers. And therefore, eventually, every single action of man must be vetted and approved and permitted before he is allowed to act.
The establishment of Christendom in the West, that unique civilization based on the Bible, led gradually to the emergence of concepts that have been hitherto unknown and foreign to any pagan society: the concepts of individual liberties, rule of law, privacy, habeas corpus, etc. It took the Western civilization a while to realize the consequences of the Gospel and reject the old pagan tribal laws inherited from the pagan past of the Celtic and the German tribes in Europe. When the influence of the Gospel became dominant, a legal revolution happened in Europe, a revolution that radically altered not just the social order but also the very way the European peoples looked at law and civil government. For one, the civil governments were denied their messianic, divine role in controlling and regulating the lives of their subjects. Europe became a civilization of private entities regulated by law, served—not lorded over—by their governments. For the first time in history a civilization removed the locus of authority from the powerful of the day and gave it to God, subjecting every institution to His Law. The understanding of that Law was not perfect, of course, and it was mixed with the older tribal and imperial and Greek traditions, but the revolution was nevertheless real.6
We can not understand our modern world unless we understand that for the last 100 years the West has experienced a quiet legal counter-revolution, where rule by law has been replaced by rule by permit, keeping the outward pretense of rule by law. Just a 100 years ago missionaries to the Muslim world reported the “grinding system of permits, passports, and government licenses” as characteristic of a backward barbarian culture that “still lives in BC.” They compared it to the civilized world of Christendom where man was free to pursue his individual goals without interference from the government. Business, travel, work, entertainment, education, and all other human activities that were not a violation of some moral law were free to all to pursue according to their means, abilities, and desires. The limits were on the governments in that any action by a government against an individual required permission by the courts. Liberty was taken in its original, Christian meaning: rule by law, freedom from interference.
A century later, we in the West have imposed on us that very grinding system of business permits, professional licenses, driver’s licenses, concealed carry permits, passports to cross borders, SS numbers and IDs and TINs to be able to apply for work, immigration restrictions (permits to travel, settle, and work), rules and regulations and permits on business transactions, bank transfers, hiring decisions, medical decisions, use of foods and substances, online purchases, what luggage we can take on a plane, educational regulations, property taxes (permits to own property), etc., etc., etc. What 100 years ago in the West was considered the system of a barbaric society like the Muslim empires of Turkey and Persia, today has become the everyday reality of the United States and the West in general. While this grinding system of permits is presented in the form of a “law,” written and seemingly objective and impartial to all, in its essence, it is not a law, it is codified tyranny, serving the powerful of the day in controlling their subjects.
In addition to it, we have the rise of police power, and the insistence of even supposedly conservative celebrities that “rule of law” means total subjection of private individuals to the whims of the agents of police. Which means, private individuals are only free to act and move and work as long as they have permission by police officers present. Thus, rule by permit is now brought down to the lowest possible level, where “law” is not even what is written, but what the momentous whims of men in uniforms is.
And unlike 100 years ago, the church is silent. Or, in fact, we have preachers who actively advocate full subjection to this pagan method of government, finding excuse in Romans 13 or 1 Peter 2. Barbarism in government is now fully supported by the American pulpits, whether by their silence or by their eager collaboration.
Very obviously, when rule is by permit, it can’t be said to be a system of objective law, even if it’s codified into law-books. Under such rule, no matter how codified and impersonal it seems on the surface, at the end of the day, some human being has to declare his personal subjective decision of whether the applicant will be permitted to do what by the Law of God is perfectly legal and allowed. It is this personal subjective decision that draws the line between “legal” and “illegal” in the modern pagan states in the West; and it blurs the line between good and evil.
And eventually, it blurs it in more wicked way than originally assumed. For while the system of rule by permit originally bears some resemblance to true law, in that it only regulates righteous behavior, while banning civil crimes, in the final account it moves even civil crimes under the jurisdiction of rule by permit. In the final account, murder, theft, adultery, rape, false witness become subject to the same system of permits as everything else.
Some murder becomes “legal.” Abortion, for example. Murder by police, as another example, in cases like “resisting arrest,” an innovation entirely of the pagan system of rule by permit. Euthanasia. Some theft becomes “legal” and “permitted.” Taxes, civil forfeiture, eminent domain. Some false witness becomes “legal,” like police planting of drugs on suspects. Some sexual crimes like sodomy and rape become “legal” and “permitted.” In the final account, the government “permits” committing crimes to itself and its own agents, and the very testimony of good and evil is destroyed in the civil realm, the modern pagan state becoming a god walking on earth who decides the fate of men. Once a people allow their government to rule by permit, eventually the government legislates wickedness, because only by legislating wickedness can a pagan government declare its rebellion against God. A government that abandons rule by law for rule by permit has exposed itself as a government of the Beast in Rev. 13. Ironically, modern Christians have been looking for the symbolic sign of such rule—the number of the Beast—while at the same time the essence of that government has been imposed on them, on a culture that has originally been a culture ruled by law.
The Bible doesn’t allow such system to be called a “law.” And it doesn’t allow us to call it “law.” It is codified lawlessness.
The Gospel to the Legal Sphere
As the church is waking up from its long sleep of pietism and irrelevance, many questions will have to be asked, and then answered from the Bible. One such question will be: How do we restore justice in our society? If God’s Throne is founded on Righteousness and Justice, and if our preaching of the Gospel is meant to bring God’s presence to the lives of our listeners, part of our preaching will be the Gospel as it applies to legal sphere. Injustice is multiplying in our culture today, and that injustice is caused and fueled by the refusal of the church to preach a comprehensive Gospel. This needs to be corrected in our preaching and our evangelism. The true Law of the True King of the world today must be at the foundation of our evangelism; justice must be proclaimed, and freedom to the captives of the modern pagan state must be proclaimed.
But in order to present such a Gospel, we need to educate ourselves on the issue: What is the Gospel’s view of law and social order? What culture is it that we expect the Gospel to produce? When we disciple the nations (Matt. 28:18-20), what do we disciple them about justice and civil government?
And as a logical corollary to those questions, we will need to ask and answer the following question: What is it in our own culture today that makes it opposed to the culture created by the Gospel? This question must not be answered carelessly and vaguely; we must have a very clear and detailed and Biblically informed answer. Vague generalities will only create the impression that we have no answer.
The answer must start with the realization that the Bible doesn’t acknowledge any law but God’s Law. Men’s codices and rules and regulations are not law, they are codified law-lessness, anomia. Calling our listeners to obey men’s codified law-lessness will not lead them to Christ but away from Christ. Our task as evangelists and missionaries and preachers and ministers will be to declare the Law of God as the only Law that must rule the society.
For any other “law” is simply the rule of man over the rule of Christ. And when men rule instead of God, they make themselves gods, and their rule is tyranny.
That tyranny is visibly expressed in the abandonment of the principle of rule by law and the adoption of the humanistic counterfeit principle of rule by permit. The agenda of modern Nimrods and Pharaohs can only be served when everything their subjects do is controlled and approved by the rulers. In the final account, the lines between good and evil are blurred, and humanistic lines of “legal” vs. “illegal” are established. When that happens, the testimony of the Gospel is completely erased from the public square. For the church to restore that testimony, she needs to restore the lines of good vs. evil in the legal sphere.
This starts with preaching a theology of resistance against the pagan state. A theology that gives practical rules for opposition to the pagan state while at the same provides for building a social order based on the Law of God. The church must preach against government regulation on education and business, and encourage and train Christians to offer solutions to problems in business and education. The church must preach against the existence of standing armies—like police and other “law-enforcement” agencies—and train and equip its members to provide for maintaining social order and prevention of crime. The church must preach against confiscatory taxes (and especially property taxes) and eminent domain. She must declare the wickedness of government welfare programs and create alternatives for charity and welfare. Government fiat money, immigration restrictions, permits and licenses, bureaucratic red tape, tariff regulations, politically motivated embargoes, and other acts of the rule by permit must be denounced, and the church must preach a society of liberty, where civil government is restricted, and the individual is free to pursue his calling without having to ask for permission for acts that are originally commanded by God under the Dominion Mandate.
In short, a true revival of the Gospel will start when Christians declare that a society that is not under the Law of God is a law-less society, a society of slaves ruled by tyrants, and a society of idolatrous blasphemy. Only when we change our theology and practice to reflect this truth, there will be growth. Anything else will be only beating the air, and will eventually lead us to defeat. A true testimony for the Gospel must be a comprehensive for the Gospel, or it is not testimony at all.
- Marxism’s view of law and ethics is more complex, that is, “dialectical,” which is another word for “dualistic.” In the final account, it is self-contradicting, and Communist societies always tend to degenerate towards Barbarian despotic government as a self-consistent practice.
- I argue that this was due to Solomon’s global influence.
- Similar to the way we use the word “shariah” today to denote a specific legal system that differs from ours.
- See Harold Berman, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition.