ORIGIN OF CIVIL GOVERNMENT
(A Biblical Examination of Its Origin and Jurisdiction)
by Kerry Lee Morgan*
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:28.
Looking Back To Creation
Having run a quick race through contemporary yet inadequate starting points for thinking about civil government, how then should we think about this matter? Call us old-fashioned, but the best place to begin thinking about civil government is to determine right off the bat whether God has anything to say about it and when He said it in human history. Human history starts in the Garden of Eden in year one, not in 1776 AD. Subsequent history after the Garden and then after the worldwide Flood about 1650 years after creation, is filled with claims by many kings and queens, that God has many things to say about civil government and in particular about the power and authority of their kingdom and the duty of their subjects to submit to their rule.
History also confirms that civil governments are staffed by people just like you and me. As such when power is placed within their hands, they turn civil government into a mechanism to enrich themselves and their friends and to punish their political enemies. When they are not busy doing these things they default to the standard behavior of civil government making war, taking things and accumulating wealth. The Scripture teaches early on this is the way of kings.
This is a hard truth to bear this early in our discussion. The first mention of great men, pharaohs, and kings in Scripture describes their conduct principally in terms of empire building (Nimrod and the Tower of Babel, Genesis 10:8-12), personal enrichment, covetousness and murder (pharaoh’s conduct toward Abram and Sarai, Genesis 12:10-13), and waging war, confiscating booty and enslavement of human captives (the nine kings’ regional war sweeping up Lot as a captive, Genesis 14:1-12). They say the past is prologue. Perhaps this paragraph deserves a yellow highlight?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The question here before us is how do we think about civil government. We can’t think about civil government with self-identification as a Republican or as a Democrat or as a Libertarian or as a member of any political party. Nor with self-identification as a liberal or a conservative, or as someone who believes civil government is there to promote their special interests or particular issues. The reason we have such confusion particularly among professing Christians in the world and especially in the United States and the West, is that we have difficulty getting beyond these superficial and ultimately imprisoning self-identification labels.
Do we open the Scripture and read from the beginning about God’s views and statements about civil government? It’s easier to skip ahead to the New Testament and Romans 13 and conclude that God must have rolled out of bed 4000 years into human history and discussed civil government with Paul, having neglected to mention the subject prior thereto. We simply assume that God must have established civil government in the Garden of Eden and made Adam a king, and the rest is history. Being a simpleton is easy here.
You Never Read Pre-Flood Genesis This Way – 1656 Years, 3.8 Billion People
But let us back up even further than Nimrod, pharaoh and the nine kings of Genesis. If we read just the first eight chapters of Genesis, right away we have to decide whether we believe what God has said, and not fill in the blanks about what God does not say. We have to decide to not fill in the gaps, make assumptions, or read our own ideas back into the first 1656 years of human history. Remember, we are talking about real people. We are talking about real events. We are talking about people in real time. We are talking about lots of people and lots of time.
If we calculate the date between the creation of the world and the beginning of the flood, scholars estimate this was approximately 1,656 years. For comparison, since the flood to 2018 AD for instance, there have been 4,365 years. That is about 6,020 years of total human history. The pre-flood world would by this calculation, constitute 27.5% of all human history thus far. By the year 2,600 AD, the duration of the pre-flood world would still be about 25% of all human history. Don’t you think over 25% of human history deserves a few minutes of our time? Does it deserve some study? Not just study but an examination of what God tells us about the origin of civil government.
Another interesting point about these chapters in Genesis not stated, but which we may legitimately speculate about, is exactly how many people were alive at the time of the flood. The Bible does not reveal the population of the pre-flood world, but we may still attempt to glean an understanding of the population. Commentators observe that if the growth rate in the pre-flood world was equal to the growth rate of today, that the pre-flood population would have been around 750 million people. However, if the lengthy lifespans identified in the Bible before the flood are computed and the growth rate is increased by just 0.001%, this would put the population at close to 3.8 to 4 billion people at the time of the flood.
It is estimated that the 2018 AD population of the world is 7.594 billion. The Earth’s population has now grown to over 7 billion in 4,368 years with shorter life times. Is it plausible that the Earth’s population in the first 1,656 years could grow to 4 billion given extended lifetimes? Think about it. Whatever you conclude, don’t be so naïve as to think there was Adam and Eve and a few of their children and cousins frolicking around outside the Garden of Eden, then Cain killed Able and Noah showed up in the “Arkey, Arkye, Arkey” and things went from bad to worse, and well, here we are. We left kindergarten years ago.
Read It Like It’s Written
Our government approved thinking implanted within us through our government approved educational system doesn’t present it that way. Nor does Hollywood. If you want the Hollywood version of early mankind we recommend seeing the 1966 movie starring Racquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. Or check out 2001: A Space Odyssey which has predictable opening scenes about early ape-man and the formation of primitive civil governments based on force and violence. Some things never change. There is also a 2014 Hollywood production of Noah starring Russell Crowe as savior turned crazed grandfather. Talk about moral confusion on the big screen. These films and generally living in the American culture have probably shaped you more than you know.
Now why is it important to understand the number of years and number of people that existed in the days of Noah? What does this have to do with thinking about civil government? A review of the Genesis chapters indicates startling omissions on God’s part. He never ever mentions nations. He does not mention civil government. He does not discuss kings. He never mentions kingdoms. He never says “king so-and-so lived in those days and ruled the people” or anything like that. He never indicates that he wrote a Constitution or gave it to the people. He did not write the Declaration of Independence or give it to Seth. Let us read these chapters like they are written.
What is written is that God created individual human beings of two types male and female. He then describes marriage and the family. He articulates with clarity the authority of a man and a woman. He describes the authority of a husband and wife. He describes the duties of parents to their children. He describes that children are born in a family to their parents. He does not say that children shall be considered truant if not receiving an education mandated by local or State government, or by a national king, or that children are citizens in a civil kingdom. These entities simply did not exist. But more important, none of them or their conceptual equals were created or established by God based on early Genesis records. Not one.
God also goes to a great deal of trouble to describe what mankind should be doing. Evangelism is not yet mentioned. Sorry to disappoint you. God said to Adam and Eve they should have children. God said that they should have many children. God said that they should fill the earth. God said that their children should fill the earth and subdue the earth. So Adam and Eve and their children could subdue the earth, He gave to them seed bearing plants. He gave them fruit trees for food. He gave them the animals of the earth, though not to eat. He gave them every bird in the air and all the creatures of the earth. He gave them every green plant for food.
What then did Adam do? Did Adam announce that he was the king and that all the peoples of the earth that came from him should be governed by him? Did he declare that everyone was subject to him and his wife because he was the first man and she the first woman? Did he declare a divine right to rule the human race for his lifetime which he could pass to his children in lineal secession because he had personally talked to God? Did he set up a judicial system? Did he set up a national legislature? Did he set up the Environmental Protection Agency to keep the earth safe from future human polluters numbering between 750 million to 4 billion people? Did he have elections so that the people could be governed by their own consent? Did he establish a system of compulsory education?
Scripture says Adam did none of these things. It says that Adam instead planted a vineyard, had relations with his wife who bore children. He did what he was told. Nothing in the account of the fall or of sin in the Garden of Eden changed this obligation. Nothing about the account of how sin entered the world somehow transformed Adam into a king or the Garden into a kingdom.
Adam Was A Husband and Father, Not A King
I know what you are thinking. You will say that Adam was authorized by God to rule over his wife and children. Does this mean God authorized Adam to set up a jail and incarcerate his wife and arrest his son for murder? Does this mean Adam could announce laws, rules, ordinances, and Commandments that would govern them in all matters? No. But whatever this authority actually means, God did not say to Adam that because you obeyed your wife and ate from the tree which you were prohibited from eating, that therefore you may now rule over all peoples that come after you. God said nothing of the sort.
If you think this is an academic debate for finer minds, perhaps you should familiarize yourself with the arguments advanced by Sir Robert Fillmore in Patriarcha (1680), and John Locke’s response in Two Treatises of Government (1689). You could also read Samuel Rutherford’s 1644 edition of Lex Rex. It could be something to discuss at the dinner table instead of sporting events or a pandemic.
Thus, we have a situation where the Scripture chronicles the first 1,656 years of human history which encompassed approximately 750 million to perhaps 4 billion people without the slightest mention, guidance, rule or examples of civil government, kings or kingdoms or even the existence of Nations. This pre-flood period presently accounts for 27.5% of all human history. Yet, God does not mention civil government. You say, “Well ya, but that does not mean humans beings did not set some government up?” I say, “Well ya, but so what? What does God have to do with that?” I’d also ask, “How do you conclude that humans set up a government, since the Scripture never says anything of the sort?” But perhaps you have had a private revelation? Perhaps your pastor told you? Perhaps the people of Noah’s day were more virtuous and just all around better people? Really? Are you serious?
Nor is there any statement that God authorized Adam to rule over any person as a king either with or without their consent. Instead of any focus on civil government, we have God describing the authority of a man and a woman, a husband and a wife and a father and mother in relation to their children. It’s basically the first thing God clarifies after he creates mankind in His image, male and female. The first government God established was self-government and then family government. He does not mention establishing civil government.
We must presume God knew there would be people numbering in the population figures we’ve described since He commanded people to be fruitful and multiply. It would seem strange for God to command human beings to reproduce but then be unprepared to deal with the consequences numerically. It’s not like God said, “Oh my goodness where did all these people come from. I should’ve set up civil government to govern them. My bad. I missed that one.” Nor did God say, “Boy who would have guessed that 1656 years would go by before I got to establishing civil government on my to do list.” We are not persuaded that God just didn’t know what He was doing. We are not persuaded that God discussed this topic. He had no private conversations with certain persons claiming He individually appointed them as kings and rulers or generally commanded all people to submit unto them, but Moses just forgot to mention that when he wrote it all up.
Nor is there any evidence that what God later said to the Nations of Israel and Judah in terms of civil government, were known by anyone before the flood. God did not channel Abraham, Moses or David back into Noah’s world. If God did secretly tell Adam and his kin about the Levitical system or the judicial case law of Israel, neither Adam nor Noah, who actually talked to God, indicated they either knew, followed it, or even cared.
So how do we think about civil government, let alone American government? We begin by demonstrating to ourselves from the Scripture that God thought it was unimportant to set up any system of civil government Himself for the first 1656 years of history with a few billion people, give or take. Instead, the first government He established was the individual and family, and its form of government was organized according to the institution of marriage.
So when you hear others make statements about what God thinks about civil government, whether he favors this or favors that one, or that He’s on our side and wants us to kill the enemy in war, it might be important to remember this beginning and the absence of any record of God authorizing or establishing civil government during this period. He never even authorized any person to punish murder. He alone was the king. He alone judged mankind. He sought no man’s aid or assistance. What was important was the Family, its authority and structure. The civil government did not invent the family, nor may it redefine what God has created, without incurring God’s disapproval and eventual wrath.
Finally, ask yourself or your parents or spiritual leaders their thoughts on God’s exclusive focus on family authority, structure and government, and the absence of any thought given to civil government for the first 1656 years of human history involving billions of people. Perhaps it is not a very spiritual inquiry? Or perhaps the discussion will be a short one, once they ask you if you are a Democrat or Republican, a conservative or liberal, or how you stand on certain political issues of the day. Yet, such an inquiry will provide an opportunity to tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle standing against the knowledge of God, if only you have first thought about it before then.