But Seriously (5)… The Divine Right – or Wrong – of Kings

 

I’m not sure how these things are taught in schools now, but I recall that when we were learning about the English Civil War, King Charles’ idea of his ‘divine right’ as king was presented as having been a key issue.  And in various forms this has been an issue ever since there began to be ‘Christian’ rulers of ‘Christian nations’, from Constantine through Charlemagne and down to modern kings and queens including Elizabeth II of the UK now, ‘supreme governor’ of a state-established church.  OK, the modern queen would not assert quite the same right against her subjects as Charles I, but she does still get crowned in a church ceremony.

BUT – does this idea of Christian kings in Christian states ‘stack up’ in New Testament terms? 

For insight into the kind of thinking involved, I’d like to quote from Martin Down’s 2008 book ‘The New Jerusalem’; Martin is not quite Anabaptist but still heavily critical of ‘Christendom’.  Here he discusses the start of the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ circa 800CE….

…it was now possible for the Popes to reinvent the Christian Nation, not on the Emperor’s but on their own terms.

On Christmas Day 800, Charlemagne was crowned as Emperor in Rome by Pope Leo III.  From this time, the subjects of Charlemagne, who had been referred to as “the Frankish people” were called “the people of God”.  Two other ideas had now been fused; the Christian state, empire or nation, and the nation of Israel as it had existed in the Old Testament.  It was not just that the nation of Israel might be a type of the Church.  Charlemagne’s empire had replaced the nation of Israel in the purposes of God, and the Church was now God’s nation in the same way that Israel had been God’s nation.  This opened the way for a whole world of Old Testament ideas and precedents to be applied to the Christian monarch and his people.  It was not just the Church but the Franks who had now become “the holy nation”.

Charlemagne was not anointed at his coronation in Rome, but his son and successor, Louis, was both crowned and anointed by the Pope in Rheims Cathedral in 816.  The Pope declared; “Blessed be our Lord who has granted us to see the second David”.  The kings of Christian Europe came to see themselves as the successors of the kings of Israel.  To this day, the kings and queens of England have been crowned to the strains of Handel’s anthem, Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king.

Anointing with oil was the symbol of the conferring of kingship in Israel, whence references to the kings as ‘the Lord’s anointed’; David described Saul thus, and even when Saul was trying to kill him David would not harm the anointed king.  The Hebrew word for anointed is ‘Messiah’; the Greek word is ‘Christ’- you may already be getting a clue why it might be inappropriate to anoint a modern monarch as a successor to the kings of Israel….

Let’s take a step back to when Israel first had kings; I Samuel is very open about what happened.  The Israelites came to Samuel and said look, you’re getting older, your sons are not worthy successors to you; “…appoint a king over us to be our judge like all the nations”.   Samuel wasn’t happy; in his eyes, God himself was Israel’s king, and to ask for an earthly king was to reject God’s own kingship.  God agreed with this assessment, but nevertheless told Samuel to do as the people asked – ‘but solemnly warn them’ what it would be like to have such a king

So Samuel warned them

This will be the procedure of the king who shall reign over you; he will take your sons and employ them for his chariots and as his horsemen; they shall run in front of his chariots.  He will appoint some for himself in command of thousands and of hundreds; others to cultivate his acres and to harvest his crops; also to construct his weapons and chariot equipment.  Your daughters he will require for perfumers, for cooks, and for bakers.  Besides he will take your choicest fields, your vineyards and your olive yards and give them to his attendants.  He will besides take a tenth of your grain crops and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants.  Your male and female servants he will take from you and your choicest young men; also your donkeys and employ them for his business.  He will appropriate a tenth of your flocks too, and you yourselves will become his servants.  By that time you will cry out about the king you chose; but that day the Lord will not answer you”

But the people wouldn’t listen, so Samuel had to appoint a king.  God first led Samuel to Saul, but in due course Saul ‘blew it’ by disobedience to God.  Then God led Samuel to anoint David, and there followed an uneasy period till Saul was killed in battle and David could take over.  David was far from perfect, particularly of course in his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah; he was nevertheless so much a man ‘after God’s heart’ that God promised to establish his ‘house’ in the kingship for ever.  Solomon succeeded David and was a fairly good king, but he too went astray in various ways.  On Solomon’s death it became clear that he had exploited his people a bit too much, as Samuel had prophesied, and when his son arrogantly threatened the people with even harder service, the northern tribes revolted and set up a separate kingdom under a non-Davidic king, while the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin stayed with the Davidic line. 

As history developed, the Northern tribes (‘Israel’) set up a rival to the Jerusalem temple and had often less satisfactory kings and a usurpation or two until they were finally overwhelmed by invaders; many were deported into slavery, those who remained intermarried with the invaders and eventually became the ‘Samaritans’ of Jesus’ day.  The southern tribes (‘Judah’, whence eventually the term ‘Jews’) lasted a good while longer but they too were eventually overrun, exiled and enslaved.  Then the invaders were in turn invaded.  The ‘new management’ adopted a policy of letting slaves return to their lands, and the southern tribes returned in some quantity and with a faith strengthened by the experience of exile.  They built a new Temple in Jerusalem and gradually spread back throughout much of the original lands including into Galilee, though there remained a central area still predominantly Samaritan.

After the return from the Exile, the Jews remained a subject people for centuries except for a brief period when the Maccabees turned out Antiochus Epiphanes’ Greeks.  By the time of the New Testament, they had been a client kingdom of Rome for some time and Judaea in the south became a Roman province under a Roman governor, Pilate being the best known.  Even the kings they did have in this period were not of the Davidic line – Herod and his family were not even full Jews but Edomites.  So as they looked for national freedom their hopes focussed on that promise to David of a king of his house to rule forever, a king who would truly be the ‘Lord’s Anointed’ or Messiah/Christ.  Many men before and after Jesus led rebellions claiming to be such a messianic king.

Then came Jesus, the true fulfilment of the messianic promise, but also for many Jews an unexpected fulfilment because he was not a narrowly nationalistic king only for the land and people of Israel.  Instead he is a king for the whole world, Gentiles as well as Jews; and paradoxically, to best carry out that role, he is not a worldly king with the usual military trappings, but has a kingdom ‘not of this world’ whose subjects are those of every nation throughout the world who believe and follow the truth he brought.

Now realise that God achieved something extra here.  As we saw above, since the time of Saul there had been an undesirable division of kingship; God was ultimately king, but there was also a human king of God’s people, a king of variable quality to say the least.  Yet God had promised that the Messiah would be an everlasting king in the human line of David – how could this be worked out?  Would not the coming of the Messiah mean that the division of the kingship continued; that God would not be fully king?

If the Messiah had merely been a descendant of David, establishing a narrow kingdom of Israel, and setting up a normal kingly line through his descendants …. Well yes, a still divided kingship.  But Jesus came not only as descendant of David, but also as Son of God – God himself entering human history, yet also as heir of David.  He wins his kingdom not by brute force conquest, but by dying for his people’s sins; vindicated by resurrection, he is to be personally their eternal king.  In the person of Jesus, God has reunited His kingship with the kingship of the House of David, in a way that makes it truly eternal.

This has unavoidable implications for the claims of human kings, from Constantine and Charlemagne through Henry VIII, Charles I, and the present monarch of England.  Put bluntly, there is simply no vacancy in Christianity for a ‘second David’; the only and eternal second David is Jesus himself.  A human king in the present age who is anointed as a ‘king of God’s people’ is in principle setting up as a ‘rival anointed’ – or as the Greeks would say, an Antichrist!  Hmmm!

Now I am not suggesting that Queen Elizabeth II is personally a demonic monarch, or even that she is personally not a sincere Christian; indeed the evidence seems strongly otherwise.  Nevertheless she has innocently inherited an essentially false position, as has the Anglican Church of which she is nominally the earthly ‘supreme governor’, and it is surely long past time for that false position to be challenged.  As fellow-Christians we should not be encouraging that false situation, surely?

Really this comes down to the doctrine of being ‘born again’, which means that no country can be identified with the church, and of course no monarch can guarantee to be born again ‘ex officio’, to be a ‘second David’ just by being born king.  To try to make it so by laws and edicts really contradicts Christianity, disobeys Jesus, and distorts the Christian message.  The church itself is the only Christian nation, and it isn’t a regular ethnic or geographical nation that can have an earthly king.  Jesus is the Church’s only king.

This does not mean that Christians are to be rebels; as we’ll see from Romans 13, I Peter, and other passages, Christians are supposed to recognise the king or other ruler of their earthly country as God’s providential choice for the nation for the time being, and to be ‘subject to’ that ruler.  But that is far from the kind of ‘divine right of kings’ practiced by Henry, Elizabeth or Charles; indeed these texts assume that neither the ruler nor the country will be ‘Christian’.  We’ll be looking at this in future….

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Religion causes war?

 

(This is a lightly amended version of another contribution I made in an online forum elsewhere; nobody else seemed to pick up on this idea – maybe it was just too serious for the forum in question – so I’m floating it again via this blog)

The point almost everyone in the original forum seemed to be missing is that to have a war involving religion, the religion in question must be involved in a state or nation – or trying forcibly to be so.  Also the religion must accept warfare as a valid ethical option.  Given that presupposition, yes there are times when religion causes war, times when it is used as a pretext, and times when different religions on each side of a war means that a dispute which is perhaps really about something else becomes extra-intransigent because neither side can surrender a cause they have come to see as their god’s cause – as witness the cry ‘No Surrender’ in Ulster.

Most religions have started as national and so are integral with initially a particular ethnic group and later a large territorial state, and so naturally become involved in their state’s wars (including, as in 17th Century England, civil wars).  Of what might be called the classic religions, only two are not thus limited, at least in their origins – Buddhism and Christianity.  Buddhism has become a national religion in some states (e.g., Tibet) and so involved in wars, but really should be pacifist because of its philosophical view of the world.

Christianity should be pacifist because Jesus said at square one his ‘kingdom’ is not ‘of this world’, and the subjects of the Kingdom are those ‘born again’ through faith of any race or nation.  The New Testament depicts Christians living as peaceable ‘resident aliens’ in whatever nation, their native land or another, a people who may be engaged in a spiritual war but their warfare is ‘not with physical weapons’.  So long as Christians stick to that New Testament view of their faith the Christian religion cannot cause wars – though they may be persecuted for their non-conformity in many states.

Only some 300 years after Jesus did Christianity get ‘nationalised’ by a Roman Empire trying to replace a pagan religion which had lost credibility.  Only then could Christianity become a war-involved religion – but of course in serious disobedience to the Christian God.

Why Can’t God Just Forgive?

 

Richard Dawkins asked that question – why, he said, does God need to act as a cosmic sadist and make Jesus suffer the agonies of crucifixion before he can forgive our sins?  As is often the case, Dawkins has misunderstood both Christian teaching and some of the realities of the world as well.

There is no such thing as ‘just forgiving’.  To phrase it like seminar discussion topics when I was doing my law degree, the essence of the forgiveness situation is that Smith has done harm of some kind to Jones – and Jones of course is entitled to compensation for the harm.  Either a debt must be repaid, or a stolen item returned, or some recompense made for hurt or insult; and the person who in fairness and justice should pay is Smith who did the harm.  For Smith to be forgiven by Jones, it means that Smith will not have to pay because Jones, as an act of undeserved kindness to Smith, will bear the cost himself and suffer the loss himself.  Forgiveness is by definition costly to the forgiver, not an easy and painless ‘just forgiving’, and must never be taken for granted.  For God to forgive our sins means that He bears the cost of the harm we have done, so that we don’t pay as we deserve. 

And this need for a real cost to be borne is why Jesus has to suffer.  Now in human life it sometimes happens that Smith cannot afford to pay for the harm he has done, and his debt is cleared by a third party; Uncle Tom Cobley, perhaps.  This is an act of great kindness by Uncle Tom, but it is not forgiveness by Jones because in that situation Jones hasn’t footed the bill himself, he has received payment for his loss.  Dawkins appears to be construing Jesus’ suffering in a similar light, as if Jesus were taking the role of Uncle Tom Cobley and a vengeful and unforgiving God were cheerfully taking it out on this separate and innocent third party – and if Christianity were teaching that, Dawkins would be quite right in saying that it’s a very unsatisfactory situation and doesn’t portray God in a very good light!

However, that is not what Christianity actually teaches.  Christianity actually teaches that it was God himself who entered into human history taking the form of a man, Jesus.  At a suitable carefully prepared time and in a prepared context when it could have maximum impact and understanding, Jesus sacrificed his life.  There are texts in the Bible which suggest that the earthly crucifixion, drastic event though it was, was only part of the God’s total act of forgiveness.  What was seen on earth happened in a way that not only reveals God’s forgiveness in general but makes a personal challenge to every person who hears of it to understand their need of forgiveness and actively seek reconciliation with God; the crucifixion makes it personal and real, not cold and abstract, it seeks a response of personal faith that fully realises the cost and does not take it for granted.

Because of this understanding of forgiveness the ‘doctrine of the Trinity’ is not just abstract theological wordplay; part of its meaning is recognising that Jesus bearing our sins as a separate third party just doesn’t work.    

I understand that for Dawkins and his allies these ideas will raise a whole raft of other questions – some of which I admit I may not be fully able to answer.  But the understanding that God manifested himself in Jesus to effect our forgiveness shows clearly a loving God who in forgiving does not inflict payment on an innocent third party.  Instead we can I think rightly challenge Dawkins as having an inadequate view of the costliness of forgiveness in general.

In a recent controversy Baptist Minister Steve Chalke made, I think, a similar mistake to Dawkins when he suggested that the idea of Jesus dying in ‘penal substitution’ for men would be ‘cosmic child abuse’ by God the Father.  But in the concept of the Trinity, Jesus is not separate from God in the same way as a human child is a separate person from his human father.  The ‘Son’ may become incarnate and be crucified, but basically the whole of God is involved in the costly act of forgiveness; to suggest that the aspect of God through whom the forgiveness was accomplished in our world and revealed to us was ‘abused’ by, as it were, ‘the rest of God’ is a gross misunderstanding[i].

Part of Steve’s misunderstanding arises because, in much of the last century, many evangelicals have ‘majored’ on the ‘penal substitution’ theory of the atonement which can all too easily carry the kind of implications he worries about.  My take is that ‘penal substitution’ is only one of many images the Bible uses to explain the atonement; it is valid as far as it goes, indeed it enriches our understanding of atonement, but it is neither the only nor the primary image. Taken alone it can seem arbitrary and legalistic and, like another biblical image, of ‘ransom’, can create misunderstanding if pushed too far.  For me, ‘forgiveness of debt/remission of compensation for harm’, and the love of God in costly forgiveness seems to be the major and defining image. 


[i] Yes, I am aware that that explanation is technically faulty in all kinds of ways to professional theologians; but I think that it adequately – and importantly briefly – conveys the basic idea for those of us who are not living in academic ivory towers! 

Bearing the Cross – or just Wearing the Cross?

Recently we saw cases in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) about workplace discrimination against Christians.  If I heard it right (that was a busy day, so forgive me if I misheard) the basic results were

  • A lady working for BA had been improperly suspended for wearing a cross; the court felt that a discreet cross did not affect her performance in the job.
  • A nurse wearing a cross failed in her case because it was deemed possible in that context that the cross – or any jewellery – was a hygiene risk.
  • A registrar who refused to conduct gay civil partnerships and a marriage counsellor who refused to counsel gay civil partners failed in their claims that they had suffered discrimination.

All the ‘ifs and buts’ of the ‘gay marriage’ cases would make a long and tedious essay here; I’ll just make one point.  There has been a long history of Christians lording it over others in so-called ‘Christian countries’, and that has included making homosexuality illegal and subject to all manner of persecution and discrimination.  With Christianity largely losing that place in the state, despite the nowadays rather nominal ‘establishment’ of the Anglican church, gay people are essentially ‘fighting back’ and understandably are not willing to make any concessions to their erstwhile persecutors.   I invite my readers to consider how different things might have been if Christians, though still not approving of homosexuality, had not claimed such a place in the state and thus both Christians and gays had faced the state as bodies who dissented from the majority in the state and who also happened to disagree with one another.  Not a friction-free situation, I grant – but very different dynamics, I suggest, and as you’ll have gathered, my blog is advocating that different kind of church and different relationship of church and surrounding society.

Anyway, according to a newspaper today, the diversity quango[i] has been speaking again about such issues as the business of wearing crosses and other overt religious symbols, styles of clothing, etc.  So I’ve brought back thoughts I wrote at the time of those cases and I’m posting them now.

And my first question – where in the New Testament does it say we are to wear crosses like jewellery to show our faith?

In fact Christianity is remarkably free of any such obligatory symbolism; there are no dietary requirements, no dress code except reasonable modesty and no cross-dressing, no compulsory days of worship (Colossians 2; 16).  Even our one formal-ish ceremony, the communion, is a meal – and I’ve attended a fair few which have taken place in meal settings rather than as church services.  Anything of that kind that we do is voluntary, we’re not required to stand as martyrs for such things in the way that Jews have at times over Sabbath observance.  Yes, I know various denominations have over the years developed traditions about these externals, even among Anabaptists, but these are not truly biblical.

Bearing the cross’ is sort of compulsory; but that’s not about jewellery or symbolically carrying a big cross around like Arthur Blessitt used to; it’s about risking martyrdom by being faithful to Jesus as Lord and facing the possibility that you too may be crucified or whatever penalty your country applies to the non-conformist.  ‘Bearing the cross’ has in the past meant being literally crucified by Nero, thrown to the lions by other Roman emperors, being drowned as an early Anabaptist or imprisoned like John Bunyan, sent into Hitler’s concentration camps or Stalin’s ‘Gulag Archipelago’ or more recently facing either a legal death penalty or an illegal lynching in many Muslim states.  To say you are being persecuted because you aren’t allowed to wear a cross at work is, I fear, trivial in comparison.

Not totally unimportant, of course; it is at any rate an indication of changes in the status of Christianity in Britain.  It is because of such changes that many believe we are entering a period that can be described as ‘Post-Christendom’, the fading of the era when Christianity dominated in the West.  Of course we still see many aspects of that era including big ones like the continued existence of an established church in England, but it seems that society has now changed so much, passed through so many ‘tipping points’, that it’s unlikely the trend will be reversed. 

For ‘Anabaptists’ like me (See Setting out my Stall for a brief explanation) the decline of Christendom is seen as a good thing; the start of it when Constantine nationalised the Church in his Empire we regard as a mistake.  We do see it wasn’t all bad, but it ultimately distorted much of what the Bible teaches about our faith, and we believe it is now long overdue to abandon that idea and return to a more biblical way to run God’s church.  When Britain was a ‘Christian country’ other religions (including for a long time non-conformist Christians), agnostics and atheists could face discrimination, even into my lifetime.  Now the balance has shifted and atheists and agnostics particularly have started aggressively attacking many things Christians used to take for granted – like wearing crosses as jewellery.  Often the pretext is political correctness supposedly not wanting to offend Muslims etc., but often those of other religions say that it doesn’t in fact worry them, so it looks as if really this is unbelievers getting their own back for the time they were subjected to discrimination.

Those who still think in Christendom terms are often very upset by these attacks; and respond by loud complaints about ‘persecution’ and by trying to reassert that old privilege – look at George Carey the other week.  To me, this is unhelpful, and likely to have a ‘Cry Wolf’ effect so we don’t get taken seriously over things that do matter.  It would be better to admit the wrongness of Christendom and recognise these minor irritations as the pretty much deserved response to the improper privileges Christians used to enjoy and the discrimination they used to practice themselves.

Rather than aggressively fight for minor issues we need to take some time out and work out far better which issues really matter.  Where they don’t matter so much we should sit light to them and be ready to give them up ourselves voluntarily before others even start harassing us; meanwhile in the ones that really matter we will be ready to ‘obey God rather than men’ and in those cases meaningfully ‘bear the cross’ following Jesus. 

Not for our own sake but for our fellow-citizens we Christians should be giving thought to the right and just way to handle these issues in the state.  But face it – we’ll have no credibility if it looks like we’re just trying to hang on to the rags of former privilege; that we need to give up, and not as a ‘sacrifice’ but as a recognition of something we shouldn’t have had in the first place.  We need to repent towards God for the things we and other Christians have done in his name.


[i] When I put ‘quango’ in, my spell-checker didn’t like it, and suggested ‘guano’ as an alternative.  Hummm!

Did the Exodus really happen?

This is one that has been building up for nearly two centuries since Egyptian archaeology got under way.  I recall in the 1970s working with the books then available, Bible encyclopaedias and the like, and being told, and innocently in good faith passing it on to others, that the Exodus took place in the time of Rameses, i.e. c1200BCE.  Now with much more detailed knowledge from the archaeology, books are being written which say that the Exodus as biblically portrayed simply doesn’t credibly fit in that period, and that from carbon dating and the like various cities in Canaan claimed to have been overcome by the invading Israelites under Joshua had actually already been destroyed centuries earlier, and so on.  Therefore, they’re saying, the biblical story is just made up in all kinds of ways….  Indeed, follow on deductions have ended up claiming that David and Solomon never existed either, and denying almost all biblical history before the Exile in Babylon – and of course the Bible has lots of enemies who are quite happy to believe it’s all a lie!

It gradually occurred to me that there was something wrong with this scenario in terms of what the Bible itself says.  When recounting Solomon building the Temple, I Kings 6; 1 gives a date of how long ago the Exodus was relative to that time.

In the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel left the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign….

Now biblically Solomon is dated at c960BCE, and 960 +480 is c1440BCE, i.e., 2-300 years before Rameses. Also instead of being after the destruction of those cities mentioned above, it would actually be about the same time, in which case their destruction might after all be related to the Israelite conquest of Canaan.  Suppose we take that biblical date for the Exodus seriously…?

There’s an obvious objection; there must be a reason why people identified the Exodus with the time of Rameses in the first place.  If that aspect of the dating is secure, then we’ve got a problem – so what was that based on?

Simply, the Bible refers to the city where the Israelites were enslaved as ‘Ramses’ – Exodus 1; 11, ‘… they were building the store cities Pithom and Ramses for Pharaoh’.  Surely that settles it that these were ‘Ramessid’ cities, with ‘Ramses’ the Nile Delta city known to archaeology as ‘Pi-Ramesse’?  Not necessarily….

Consider this – ‘the district of Ramses’ is also mentioned in Genesis (ch 47 v11) as the place where Joseph’s family settled in Egypt in c1800BCE – four hundred years before the Exodus and at least six hundred years before there was any Rameses to give it that name!  Presumably in Genesis the later name is being used for the sake of later readers, so it’s also pretty certain that the same applies to the Exodus passage.

Similar things happen in modern history writing.  For example, in the time of Julius Caesar, the ‘English/Angles’ were a miscellaneous bunch of nomadic Germanic tribes just outside the Roman Empire; only many years after Caesar did they become Viking-style raiders of the British coast, and only after the Romans withdrew did they start actually settling.  Yet you’ll often read in popular histories of Caesar invading via the ‘English Channel’[i].  Again, you may read of ‘Roman York’; but York/Jorvik is actually the Viking name, centuries after the Romans in time and a few miles away on the ground from the Roman settlement as well!  The Romans called their place ‘Eboracum’.  But the later writer has used the name current in his time so that his readers will know where he means; sometimes this is done deliberately, sometimes the writer himself doesn’t know the earlier name.

That is what has probably happened with the names of the Egyptian cities here.  At the 1440 date, I’m told, the Pharaohs would have had the Israelite slaves building a city in the Nile Delta called Ha-wa-re or Avaris.  But the delta is not stable; a few hundred years later Avaris was stranded and unsustainable because of shifts in the watercourses, and its mud bricks were rapidly being swallowed up; the Ramessid rulers had to build a new city not far away on a new channel, and that was the city Pi-Ramesse.  At some later time, a person copying the text of Exodus comes across the almost forgotten name Avaris, asks where it is, and having been told ‘near where Pi-Rammesse is now’ uses the more recent name.  Or something very like that happened anyway….

So it’s not necessary to assume that the name ‘Ramses’ means it was a Ramessid era city, and in that case the biblical c1440 date is perfectly acceptable.  But in the early days of archaeology in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with everything more primitive and a great deal less actually known – acres of hieroglyphs not yet translated, for example – many people did make that assumption, and others which have also proved awkward eventually.  Worse, they often did so because they were over-enthusiastically trying to ‘prove the Bible’ so their interpretations were skewed.  This is a caution to Christians – we are concerned with truth first, and should trust God that all truth is His.  Because a Ramessid Exodus date was wrongly assumed, later discoveries – even so simple as getting more dating info on Rameses – became problematical.  As I pointed out at the start, trying to reconcile the biblical data with a Ramessid date had distorted the accounts in many books I was using when I was younger.  And in more recent years those overhasty assumptions, far from supporting the Bible, have actually given ammunition to the Bible’s enemies to claim they have disproved it.

On the other hand, do, I think, have confidence in the Bible; a very different thing from a panicky defence of it.  This particular example is fairly clearly a case where the Bible is in the end reliable….


[i] As I was compiling this I met an amusing example; an article about St Albans in a railway magazine I take referred to Alban as ‘the first English martyr’.  This being a railway magazine there were quite a few ‘anoraks’ writing in to point out that Alban was Romano- British – though he could properly be described as ‘the first martyr in the country now known as England’!

A comment on ‘But seriously 2’

My friend Steve posted a comment on that item – about Pilate’s judgement of Jesus – and I thought it worthwhile to respond specifically as a post.

Here’s the comment…. 

I can’t get a connection to the Field essay you refer to but I found Rutherford. I don’t read him as writing about a ‘confessional’ state or rebelling against a government.

“The king, as king, is a just creature, and by office a living and breathing law. His will, as he is king, is nothing but a just law; but the king, as a sinful man, is not a just creature, but one who can sin and play the tyrant; and his will, as a private sinful man, is a private will, and may be resisted. So the law saith, “The king, as king, can do no wrong,” but the king, as a man, may do a wrong. While as, then, the parliaments of both kingdoms resist the king’s private will, as a man, and fight against his illegal cutthroats, sent out by him to destroy his native subjects, they fight for him as a king, and obey his public legal will, which is his royal will, de jure…” XXIX – p.146

It is dense but the sense is clear, it is the man, Charles Stuart, who is in rebellion against his office, the Crown.  The parliaments and the people are to uphold the law and the government and bring a criminal and rebel to justice.

It is couched in religious language and uses biblical exemplars in its argument but ‘Lex Rex’ is a work of politics and the arguments made are the same as those that would be made later by John Locke and Thomas Jefferson with language and examples from Graeco-Roman politics and philosophy.

The middle half of the seventeenth century in British history should be more closely studied, especially in the US. The echoes and parallels with contemporary Iranian politics are quite clear.
Rutherford and his contemporaries write in language and terms that would very readily communicate our meaning and vice versa.

When you do that it comes as no surprise why our argument with the Shia is so furious, they are coming to stand for what we stood for in the days of our youth.

And here’s my reply to it…..

I confess that in the original post I didn’t go back behind Field to Rutherford.  Back in Rutherford’s time some royalist had written a book entitled ‘Rex Lex’ – ‘the King is the Law’, and Rutherford had written in opposition a book titled ‘Lex Rex’ – ‘the Law is the King’ saying that the king himself had to be subject to the law or he could be opposed by his people.  This dialogue did eventually lead to our modern pluralist democracy (with which Rutherford in fact would have disagreed, and Field also!), so it’s not all bad.  However, as an exposition of the Christian/biblical position it is deeply flawed.

I disagree with the suggestion that Rutherford wasn’t writing about a confessional state; in his argument with the king of his day, both sides took a ‘Christendom/Christian-state’ position. The king wanted and was willing to use his power to enforce, in Rutherford’s eyes, an inadequately reformed Anglican confessional state which was almost ‘papist’.  Rutherford and his party wanted a more biblical/reformed/Puritan confessional state and believed it would be right to fight to secure that.  This conflict and its English parallel led to the Civil War of the 1640s and after Charles II’s restoration the Covenanter rebellion in Scotland.

The background to Rutherford’s ideas is in Paul’s words in Romans 13, and Peter’s in a parallel passage in I Peter, telling Christians to ‘be subject to’ the authorities and not to rebel; the acceptance of establishment in the Roman state after Constantine had led to a distortion of this teaching with such ideas as the ‘divine right of kings’.  With a recognition that this had not quite worked out ideally, men like Rutherford saw the need to disobey bad rulers, and in line with Constantinian thinking looked for a justification to rebel and fight against such rulers to establish a ‘more Christian’ state.  One attempt at this was to try to separate between the ideal office of the king and the occasional non-ideal sinful man who held the office; the one could not be opposed, the other, they thought, could be.

It sounds good, in words; but the distinction is really just academic.  The man and the office can’t be so easily separated in practice, except by reducing the king to little more than a figurehead as in our modern democracy.  Even then those who aren’t just figureheads may not rule in a way satisfactory to Puritan Christendom-seekers so you can still end up with a dilemma about rebelling against a ‘sinful’ government….

And of course, when you put these ideas into practice, the rebellion still leads to a bloody civil war with Christians killing – in the 17th century, killing one another.  In our modern world essentially similar arguments are made by Ian Paisley – very much a descendant of the Covenanters – in his commentary on Romans (prepared while in prison after a protest in Ulster).  At the culmination of his exposition he says “The chief magistrate is divinely ordained, the office is sacred, but a Hitler who usurps and abuses the office is not divinely ordained, neither are the laws of such a tyrant to be obeyed when they oppose the law of God.”  Such thinking sparked off the ‘Troubles’ in Ulster which have killed some 2000 people in my lifetime; and unlike Rutherford’s and Paisley’s distinction, those deaths are not academic!

Paisley’s ‘but a Hitler…’ is actually a slip in the logic which distorts Paul’s real intention in order to justify the ‘armed resistance against tyranny’.  Paul would have said that Hitler, like the evil Pharaoh of the Exodus, or the Emperor Nero, though his acts were not divinely approved, was nevertheless indeed divinely ordained and that Christians were to be subject to him and not rebel.  Paul, who in 2 Corinthians 10 vv3-4 makes clear that Christian warfare is not with physical weapons, would have put his distinction in a different part of the argument, as Peter did in Acts ch 5.  For Paul and Peter – and both would have said they were following Jesus in this – the bad commands of a Hitler are indeed to be disobeyed, for ‘we must obey God rather than men’.  However, the Christian disobeying the tyrant remains ‘subject to’ the God-appointed ruler; instead of armed rebellion, the Christian accepts an unjust martyrdom, as both Paul and Peter did under Nero.

On the Americans see AA Hodge’s exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, wherein he uses Rutherford-like arguments to justify the American War of Independence, and fails to see that they are unbiblical….

I can only agree with the comparison to Muslim politics and Shia positions; the problem is precisely that Muhammad followed the example of the Roman Imperial church of his day, but not the example of Jesus and the NT, by setting up a state religion which considered warfare by a religiously totalitarian state to be legitimate on behalf of his teaching.

More on all this when my ‘But Seriously’ strand gets round to Romans 13 in fuller detail….