Editor’s note: Answers below are adapted from Dr. Stephen McDowell’s new book Ruling Over the Earth: A Biblical View of Civil Government and other writings.
January-February 2020 – AFA Journal: Why is the Bible important as our guide to government?
Dr. Stephen McDowell: God does not leave man to rule according to his own volition but reveals in the Bible everything he needs to know to fulfill his mission, including much information about government. Unfortunately, most people are ignorant of these ideas.
God has one view on the subject of government, and His view is correct. Our task is to learn what the Bible says about this important subject so we can adopt His principles and obey His precepts, both personally and nationally.
God allows for liberty on certain issues, but the church should at least teach a variety of [biblically based] views in order to give believers a framework to evaluate and choose. The problem of some churches is they will not teach on the subject at all, and, hence, many folks have no access to ideas to form a conviction.
AFAJ: What about those who say the Bible has no systematic teaching on government?
SM: There is also no systematic teaching on many subjects, like the trinity, the doctrine of salvation, heaven, etc. Yet, the church has developed and teaches on these “religious” subjects with authority.
Similarly, we can and should study the principles that the Bible and Jesus teach regarding government for they have much to say on the subject, and, in fact, we will see that the Bible does present principles that support a particular kind of civil government as best.
AFAJ: What is civil government’s role in society?
SM: Civil government should not usurp the authority of God or other divine institutions He established.
Government performs a negative, rather than positive, role in society; that is, it punishes men when they violate God’s standard of moral behavior (as summarized in the Ten Commandments). This negative role helps limit its power and authority. It protects citizens as they pursue the acquisition of property and knowledge, and maintenance of health and life. It is not to provide property, education, health, or welfare. Acting in a positive way increases its power and in turn diminishes
AFAJ: What are the effects of the government assuming roles it shouldn’t?
SM: Tyrannical governments will take from man what God wants man to have. The consequence of government taking what does not belong to it is enslavement of the people in the nation. If government controls all property, it controls all life. It thus robs humans of expressing the image of God and living in the great liberty God intended for man from the beginning. Statism turns a nation into a giant prison.
Statism is the belief that civil government or the state is the ultimate authority. It has many forms: socialism, communism, fascism, democratic socialism, etc. Statism, in essence, elevates man as god, which is the original sin of Adam and Eve.
In Ruling Over the Earth: A Biblical View of Civil Government, Stephen McDowell writes, “All Christians should learn what the Bible teaches about civil affairs and how to govern biblically.”
Chapter titles include:
• Biblical Doctrine of Government in Romans 13.
• The Purpose and Responsibility of Civil Government.
• Jesus’s Teachings on Civil Government.
• The Government of Ancient Israel: A Model for Today .
• Biblical Civil Duties.
McDowell, president of Providence Foundation, is a noted historian and interpreter of government and its citizens in U.S. history. Read his blog “Limited Government” at
For more McDowell resources, go to retail stores, online, providencefoundation.com, or 434-978-4535. He also consults for Tim Wildmon’s Spiritual Heritage Tours.