Monday, August 13, 2012

On the Biblical Qualifications for Choosing Civil Magistrates

There is a lot of debate going on in the Christian community today over how we should choose civil magistrates.  Among those who understand that nations are obligated to God to embrace the true religion and to base their laws on its principles (rather than being secular or embracing some other false religion), the main line of argument comes down to this:  Should Christians strictly follow the biblical requirements for the kind of civil magistrate that should be chosen, or is it OK and perhaps a good thing for Christians in unbiblical nations to choose the best candidates that are currently available, even if they don't fully meet biblical requirements?

William Einwechter has written an excellent article summing up the biblical requirements for the sorts of civil magistrates who should be chosen to rule.  I only have a couple of brief things to say in addition to what he has said.

First, my one disagreement with Einwechter's article is when he says this:  "But how does the biblical teaching on choosing magistrates apply in instances where there are no candidates who meet the biblical standards? This is debated among Christians. Some advocate strict compliance with the biblical standards at all times and all places. Others argue that strict compliance is only fully possible in a covenant nation (which is the goal); in the meantime, we should use our vote to support men of ability and integrity who are generally in agreement with biblical standards of law and justice."  Einwechter leaves this question unanswered, but it seems to me the answer is pretty clear.  When are we ever authorized to ignore God's standards?  If I happen to be in a church where the only candidates put forward for the pastoral office are a liberal homosexual man and a (relatively) theologically conservative heterosexual woman, what should I do?  Should I vote for the woman, reasoning that although the Bible does not allow women to be pastors, yet at least she is much better than the alternative?  Or should I refuse to vote for either of them and focus my attention on changing the underlying unacceptable situation?  Surely I should not choose either of them, as God has not authorized us to choose either homosexuals or women to be our pastors.  Doesn't the same reasoning apply here?  Should we not refrain from voting if all we are given are unqualified candidates, and focus instead on changing this situation?

My other comment is simply that I would add a couple of references from Deuteronomy 17 to the verses already cited by Pastor Einwechter.  In Deuteronomy 17:8-11, we read this:

“If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the Lord thy God shall choose; and thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and enquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment:  And thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the Lord shall choose shall shew thee; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee:  According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do: thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall shew thee, to the right hand, nor to the left.”

In 17:18-20, we read this:

“And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:  And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:  That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.”

Both of these passages indicate that rulers are to determine what laws they should enact, how they should punish crime, and in general every aspect of how they ought to rule, not according to their own whims, but according to the law of God.  Anyone who is put forward for the office of civil magistrate who does not understand this clearly, who is not willing to put himself forward clearly as taking God's laws as the foundation of his duty, who puts forward secular principles as the foundation of his duty, etc., is not biblically qualified to be chosen as a civil magistrate.  Einwechter brought out these points well, but these additional verses add to his case.

See also this series of exchanges between Steve Halbrook and Bojidar Marinov, applying the question of this post to voting for Ron Paul in particular.  They discuss the issue of how biblically qualified a candidate must be in order to justify voting for him.

And don't forget!  There is a political party in existence that supports a political philosophy based on the whole counsel of God - the Reformation Party (  Come and join us!  See also my previous post on the philosophical foundations of the Reformation Party at


Riley said...

I see your point, Mark, but I also think that politics is a place for pragmatism, unlike your example of the church. Luther has been quoted to the effect that it is better to be ruled by a wise Turk (Muslim) than a foolish Christian. There is a line. I'm not usually one to vote for the 41% acceptable choice over the 40%, but in general I think it's best if Christians are a part of a process which they do not entirely control. I could in good conscience vote for a godly Christian man for civil office who does not have a full grasp of the biblical duties of the civil magistrate, like for example a man like Ron Paul, and in some cases perhaps even a non-Christian, in a non-Christian land. For example in a Muslim country I could vote for a candidate who promises and has a record consistent with protecting the rights of Christian minorities more than the person he's running against.

Mark Hausam said...

It seems to me we ought to consider ourselves bound by the biblical requirements for office of magistrate, and not choose a leader who does not fit those qualifications. I would not necessarily disagree that there could be times when it would be better to be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian, but that would not justify choosing a magistrate who is not qualified to be one. It might just as well be the case that a woman pastor might be far better in some cases than foolish male pastor, practically speaking, and yet we should not choose a woman to be our pastor.

I don't see why it would be different whether we are talking about the church or the state, in this regard. If the Bible tells us what the qualifications for a particular office should be and that we should choose only such people, then that is what we should do, isn't it? Of course, we should accept a civil magistrate even if unqualified, for God tells us that the powers that be are appointed by him. But this is different from actively choosing an unqualified magistrate.

Anonymous said...

A similar discussion is found on He writes about the biblical qualifications of a civil leader. The problem is that all of it is from the OT where the civil leaders were the spiritual leaders of God's people. The application for today is therefore to the spiritual leaders of the church. Civil leaders are not our spiritual leaders, nor should they be. WCF XXIII Of the Civil Magistrate.III says that "Civil magistrates may the least, interfere in matters of faith." The NT says very little about the role of the civil magistrate - Rom.13, I Peter 2, I Tim.2. The main role is clearly to promote a free and safe society where the church can do its work. A wide variety of candidates can do that well.

Mark Hausam said...

Hi Anonymous,

Well, it seems we have a deeper disagreement over the very nature of civil magistracy in NT times. I completely disagree with your methodology here.

This article reflects my overall perspective and methodology:

See also here: