On Christian Disobedience #2


With regard to our duties of civil obedience and submission, we have to consider the express teaching of the Bible. But we must do this in context, which means we have to set a contextual stage. This context is important in two respects—the broader context of doctrine and theology, and the second is the context of express examples.

The Text:

“And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:18-20).

The Idea of Covenant:

Apart from an understanding of the concept of covenant, no sane understanding of the relationship between church and state is possible. The covenant is the theme which ties all Scripture together, and so if one does not understand how to think covenantally, the Bible will always remain a disjointed series of inspirational passages, or a monstrosity jerry-rigged into an alien system. Understanding the covenant is central to an understanding of our civil duties for obvious reasons.

For example, the word federal in the phrase federal government comes from the Latin word foedus, which means covenant. How did this happen? The reason this is crucial is that covenants have stipulations and terms. In this fallen world, you will sometimes have to choose, and you need to understand the terms of choice. (There is also a Latin homonym foedus which means stinky, but that is another sermon for another day.)

Under the Old Covenant:

The examples of Scripture on this subject are manifold, and we do not have time to consider all of them. But before considering any, however, we must remember what the Bible tells us what such examples are for. We are sometimes too glib in telling some of our hermeneutically loose brethren that we should not make doctrine from narrative. Actually, we should not make doctrine from narrative lightly (Rom. 15:4). While we may not do it foolishly, we are required to do it. Consider the following examples of civil disobedience, which are acts of disobedience that are simultaneously acts of covenant-keeping.

Ehud—in the days of Ehud, the people had been oppressed by the Moabites for eighteen years. But the Lord raised up a deliverer for them (Judg. 3:15-25).

Deborah—this godly woman was raised up as a judge during the time when Jabin, king of the Canaanites, had ruled over Israel for twenty years (Judg. 4:1-7). At her command, an army was gathered to revolt.

Gideon—the Israelites had been oppressed by the Midianites for seven years. Gideon was threshing wheat in the winepress in order to hide his livelihood from oppressive taxation. The angel of the Lord appeared to him there and hailed him as a mighty man of valor (Judg. 6:11), showing that angels can have a sense of humor.

David—this mighty man refused to raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed (1 Sam. 24:5-7). But he also refused to do what the Lord’s anointed wanted him to do (1 Sam. 19:16).

Jehoida—an evil woman Athaliah had made herself queen by murderous means. But Jehoida was a godly priest and he defied her de facto rule. He secretly raised the surviving heir and in a coup d’etat had the boy Joash crowned (2 Kings 11:13-16). Of course the tyrant called his behavior treasonous.

Under the New Covenant:

But too many Christians are still infected with the idea that the Old Testament has nothing to do with New Testament saints. But this is infection, not biblical doctrine, and besides, on this matter of obedience and disobedience nothing changes in the New Testament.

God rather than men—great issues are involved in all of this. Obedience to men must be first and foremost obedience to God. If it is not, then obedience to authority is defiance of Authority (Acts 4:19). And this is where we find the principle so well-articulated in the American War for Independence. Resistance to tyrants is submission to God.

Peter’s jailbreak—nor are we bound to just simply take whatever punishment is meted out (Acts 12:5-8).

Evading arrest and running road blocks—we also have the freedom, under Christ, to resist by hiding (Matt. 10:23; 2 Cor. 11:32-33).

The Sovereignty of God:

This issue is too important for us to approach in a piecemeal fashion. We must understand all our duties in the light of God’s revelation to us.

Exhaustive sovereignty—nothing occurs outside God’s purposes, plans, and authority.

No ultimate earthly authority—certain things follow from this. If God is immanent in His authority (and He most certainly is), then no human authority or sovereign is ultimate. All are under covenantal constraints.

The immediacy of our duties—it also follows that we must render obedience to God directly in every aspect of our lives. We obey the authorities over us because He says to, not because they do. We always are to obey, when we obey, in the Lord. This applies to all forms of Christian submission.

We are basically proclaiming the crown rights of King Jesus, and this of course starts with each individual. It starts with you.

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BarnabasAdam Jones Jr.Jane DunsworthReebethyada Recent comment authors

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Good to have you back online. I would like to be won over by your argument since I have no natural desire to walk peaceably under the knife. First off you have very little to go on in the age of the Church. You have a lot of heavy lifting to do to claim that the Church has any political and military prerogatives similar to those of the kingdom of Israel. Even in the Old Testament you have the submissive examples of Joseph and Daniel. And once again the foolish example of the American Revolution. Why would you try draw… Read more »


To correct myself, there is little evidence for Christian resistance in the New Testament. A study of Christian resistance in history may be more fruitful though less authoritative.


Erm, Doug cited some evidence, right there above.

Or are you one of those with an {X} verse minimum?


All were incidences of exit. There is support in scripture and Church history for exit and I’m all for it.

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth

Acts 4:19 is exit?


They took their licks or they ran. They did not try to institute a new Sanhedrin, kill the Roman emperor, or agitate for a democratic revolution in Israel. Also no compromise, Hegelian dialectic, and no “lesser of two evils”. So I mean exit in the literal and figurative senses- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exit,_Voice,_and_Loyalty


We obey the authorities over us because He says to, not because they do.

A most helpful comment. Thanks


For a long time after my conversion, I was a stickler for the rules, but I confess that I’m starting to sometimes not obey the authorities as they become more and more oppressive. I actually had the audacity to cut down a smallish tree in my back yard that had a trunk circumference of about 48″, well over the 36″ maximum that the city allows homeowners to remove without express permission and a large fee. The last time we tried to get permission to cut down a tree on our property, we were roundly refused, so this time, we didn’t… Read more »

Adam Jones Jr.

a work i’d recommend to everybody