Greg Bahnsen on civil magistrates being minsters of God

Greg Bahnsen

Paul, following the Old Testament, had a religious conception or understanding of the civil magistrate. In Remans 13 he twice categorized the magistrate in society as a “minister of God” (VV. 4, 6). If you ask the ordinary Christian today where one can find Gods “minister,” he will point you to the pastor of the local church. He will not think to point you to the city, state, or federal magistrate, for he has capitulated to the mentality of humanistic secularism. Paul had not done so, even though the Roman emperors of his day were far from ‘religious” in the commendable sense of that term. Whatever the C aesars may have thought of themselves, Paul thought of them as Go#s rru”nistm. They were God’s prescribed instruments for maintaining order and punishing evildoers according to God’s will.

In Remans 13:6 Paul used the title of “eitourgos” to describe the magistrate as God’s “minister.” In the ancient world this term was used for work done to promote the social order, work performed in the service of the divine-state. So Paul used the term with a theological twist. The magistrate is not a minister of the divine-state, but rather the state is th minister of God Himself. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), this term is used to describe the ministry of angels, priests, and prophets — and yet it is likewise used for civil leadership. In Remans 13:4 Paul’s term is “diakonos” or “dea- con .“ Outside the New Testament the term is used in the title, “deacon of the city,” an office which aimed at the education of good citizenship. Within the New Testament the term is clearly laden with religious comotation, being applied to the “ministry” of Christ (Matt. 20:28), of Paul (1 Tim. 1:12), and of an office within the church (Acts 6:1-6). Even as there are deacons within the church, Paul declared that there are deacons in the state: namely, men who are appointed by God to minister justice in His name. By utilizing these two terms for “minister,” and by making clear that the ruler is a minister of God, Paul unequivocally teaches the religious character of the civil leader’s office. In the perspective of the New Testament, magistrates must be deemed servants of God. His rule is supreme, and their rules are subordinate. Civil magistrates must be understood to be deputies of God Himself, not free and independent despots who can simply do as they please.

Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today, (1985), p. 258.

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