Biblical Anarchism

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"The
desire to rule is the mother of heresies." ~ St. John Chrysostom

"My
kingdom is not of this world." ~ Y’shua

How
can someone who holds the Bible to be true and sacred be an anarchist?
What about the respect for authority and the emphasis on obedience
throughout the scriptures, (both the Tanakh, the Hebrew Scriptures,
as well as the B’rit Hadashah, the Greek or u201CChristianu201D scriptures)?
Doesn’t G-d ordain our government leaders? Didn’t G-d directly select
the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David? Doesn’t the sinfulness
of man require a government to restrain our evil? And, for followers
of Y’shua (Jesus), what about the words of Paul commanding obedience
to secular rulers?

By
clarifying what precisely we mean (and don’t mean!) by anarchy as
a political system and what the Scriptures teach I hope to answer
these objections and explain how I both hold the Bible to be the
revealed Word of G-d and also desire society without the State.

Though
the teachings of the Bible can be followed and applied under any
system of government, the Scriptures do give us some fairly strong
clues of what forms of government are ideal. First and foremost,
there is the Torah. The Torah, which is the first five books of
the Tanakh, includes lengthy passages describing a system of law
for the newly freed nation of Israel. This "Mosaic Law"
is directly dictated by G-d to Moses and it is the clear testimony
of Scripture that this Law is good and trustworthy.

Besides
passages having to do with the sacramental life of the new nation,
the civil law portion is very compatible with libertarian notions
of law. The civil law consists primarily of prohibitions like: "You
are not to murder. You are not to adulter. You are not to steal.
You are not to testify against your fellow as a false witness."
(Exodus 20:13)

Most
of these prohibitions and their prescribed punishments deal with
violations of person and property, just as libertarians emphasize
the law should. Also, there is no notion of prison in this Law,
the system of justice is largely based on making restitution to
those who were harmed.

But
most telling is what the Mosaic Law leaves out. There is no establishment
of what we would now call an executive or a legislative body. There
is no establishment of taxes (the religious rules require a tithe
to support the priests but there is no punishment specified for
failing to tithe). Civil order is kept by adherence to this legal
code, private justice in the case of infractions of the code and
private courts in the case of disagreements. In modern political
terminology, this political system is called "anarchy."
Anarchy literally means "without rulers." Modern libertarian
anarchists (i.e. anarcho-capitalists), envision a system very much
like this Mosaic system with no tax-funded political authority but
with a system of private justice for mediating disputes and assigning
restitution.

But
it gets even more clear! Eventually, after a period under this Mosaic
"anarchy," the Israelites ask the prophet Samuel for a
king. Given our contemporary faith in the State, you would think
that G-d, through his prophet, would praise the Israelites for realizing
they needed a ruler, a strong leader to unite them and provide them
direction.

Reading
what G-d actually says through Samuel is a sobering reminder of
how deeply heretical our modern faith in the State is:

And
the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying
to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected
me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them
up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods,
so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly
and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do."

Samuel
told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him
for a king. He said, "This is what the king who will reign
over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with
his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.
Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders
of fifties, and others to plough his ground and reap his harvest,
and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.
He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves
and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain
and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.
Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and
donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your
flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day
comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen,
and the LORD will not answer you in that day." (I Samuel 8:7-18)

Here,
the Bible makes it absolutely clear that the change from the Mosaic
anarchy to what by today’s standards would be a "limited government"
will have terrible consequences and shows a tremendous lack of faith
in G-d. This passage makes clear that the people of Israel committed
a grievous sin when they rejected G-d’s anarchy for a State.

The
continuing record of Israel under kings shows that Samuel’s warning
was all too accurate, if anything understated. Most of the kings
are terrible for the people of Israel, getting them into wars, leading
them into sin and stealing whatever catches their eye, (even the
best king, King David, steals a man’s wife and then kills the man).

With
all this in mind, let’s address the questions we began with: "How
can someone who holds the Bible to be true and sacred be an anarchist?"
Given the Torah, the Prophets and the records of Israel’s kings,
I think we should rather ask: ‘How can someone who holds the Bible
to be true and sacred NOT be an anarchist?"

"What
about the respect for authority and the emphasis on obedience throughout
the scriptures?" The emphasis on obedience in the scriptures
is, first and foremost, an emphasis on obedience to G-d. When G-d
is your king, as Samuel implies, you should desire no other. Nevertheless,
even when the government is not ideal, the scriptures charge G-d’s
people to be respectful of established authorities. It is faith
in G-d that will bring us liberty, not constant rebellions.

"Doesn’t
G-d ordain our government leaders? Didn’t G-d directly select the
first two kings of Israel, Saul and David?" After warning the
people of Israel, to no avail, that they should not reject His rule
for that of a human ruler, G-d selects that ruler through His prophet.
The Bible often records how G-d meets people where they are. If
we do not have enough faith to live with G-d as our only king, then
He will try to work with us through the system we choose. Suffice
it to say that when G-d ordains rulers, that does not constitute
a ringing endorsement of the State as the best system of government.

"Doesn’t
the sinfulness of man require a government to restrain our evil?"
The sinfulness of man means that putting the awesome power of the
State into the hands of sinful men is asking for trouble ("Power
tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely"). G-d
made it clear how the sinfulness of men should be constrained in
society: the Law. Libertarian anarchists agree.

"For
followers of Y’shua (Jesus), what about the words of Paul commanding
obedience to secular rulers?" The passage is from Romans: "Everyone
must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no
authority except that which G-d has established. The authorities
that exist have been established by G-d… if you do wrong, be afraid,
for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is G-d’s servant,
an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." (Romans
13:1,4)

In
this brief article, I cannot fully address the teaching of Paul
and the rest of the Greek scriptures on authority and the calling
of followers of Y’shua. A few thoughts, though, to suggest how this
instruction is in harmony with the anarchistic Torah. Paul was not
spreading a gospel of political revolution. The message of Y’shua
is spiritual. The follower of Y’shua believes that healing in our
broken relationship with G-d is the foundation for healing in the
other areas of our lives, like our system of government.

The
method of the Christian is persuasion and good conduct, not violence.
In an interesting parallel, Paul instructs Christian slaves to obey
their masters and even returns a converted slave to his Christian
master (Philemon). But note carefully what he says: "Each one
should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.
Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you – although
if you can gain your freedom, do so." (I Corinthians 7:20-21)

Is
this instruction incompatible with the abolition of slavery? Surely
not. Likewise, Paul’s instruction to individual believers to submit
to existing authorities does not preclude a people’s return to G-d
being our only king under a just Law.

One
final objection. Isn’t anarchy a utopian political system? In the
literal sense of utopia, "no place,"anarchy is not utopian.
The Tanakh records just such a society. Anarchist researchers have
found other historical examples. Several hundred years ago, the
notion that the slave trade could be ended and then chattel slavery
itself abolished certainly seemed utopian. But British evangelical
Christians began to make the moral case against it and within a
century or two slavery was abolished throughout the wider European
world.

Do
we have less faith than those British evangelicals? Is the State,
which has slaughtered over 100 million civilians in the 20th century
alone, a lesser evil than chattel slavery? Shall we wait until a
couple hundred million more are slaughtered before humbling ourselves
before G-d and asking Him to be our only king once again?

With
faith in G-d and a Biblically based submission to His good and eternal
Law, let us work towards a time when the State will be seen for
the unnecessary evil it is and the cry will go up in the land a
second time: Abolition! Abolition! Abolition!

June
7, 2001

Stephen
W. Carson [send him mail]
works as a software engineer, studies political economy at the
graduate level at Washington University, and works with inner
city children in St. Louis through a ministry of his church, which
also has a special mission to the Jewish people. See his reviews
of Films on Liberty.

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