Biblical Roots for American Government
[EDITOR’S NOTE: A.P. auxiliary writer Robert Veil, Jr. formerly served as a district attorney for the Washington County State’s Attorney’s Office (Maryland), and previously maintained an active private law practice. He currently preaches in Martinsburg, West Virginia.]
It is a fact that many U.S. Americans do not understand the nature and beauty of our three-branch system of government. Even more to be lamented is the fact that most do not realize that the inspiration for such a brilliant system is found in the Bible itself.
The federal government of the United States of America consists of three distinct branches: the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial. These are created and described in that order by the first three Articles of the U.S. Constitution: (1) “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” (2) “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” (3) “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”1 Thus, the vital powers of government are identified and described in the first sentence of each of the first three Articles of our founding document. What could be more simple and yet profound in the establishment of a nation?
Now, here’s a question: How did our founding fathers understand that there are three vital powers of government? Why not two? Or, as with many nations, why not only one? Could it be that they were familiar with principles enunciated in the Bible centuries ago?
In Isaiah 33:22, the Bible states, “For Jehovah is our judge, Jehovah is our lawgiver, Jehovah is our king; he will save us.” This text, written 700 years before Christ, envisions and clearly identifies the three essential functions of a fully operational government, namely the judicial, the legislative, and the executive. As our Constitution would later reiterate, God set forth the need for lawmaking, law enforcement or execution, and law interpreting. Isaiah wrote these lines by inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).2
So what we have in Isaiah’s 8th-century B.C. prophecy is divine guidance that was, whether intentionally or not, followed by the founding fathers of the United States 2,500 years later. They implemented in the founding documents of our nation profound yet simple principles laid out by God in the Bible ages before.
We are not surprised that our founding fathers would have taken note of this, for they were, by and large, extremely Bible literate. They knew and appreciated the great value of the Bible, and this is reflected over and over in their work. It is reflected in the common law which they inherited and in the vast array of both criminal and civil laws which they furthered and made possible.3 Many of these we take for granted today, not even realizing their divine source.
Every properly functioning government must provide for the three types of power discussed above, but it was a biblical deduction on the part of our founding fathers that these three powers could work together and keep each other in “checks and balances.” The remarkable unity of these three branches no doubt largely accounts for the longevity and great success of the American experiment.
When God the Father (the divine lawgiver) sent his Son to execute his will, Jesus Christ was acting as the divine executive. And the Holy Spirit, who provides order and clarity always, supplied the necessary judicial power for such an intelligent system to function smoothly. Working together in harmony and unity of purpose, the three persons of the Godhead remind us of the three functions of all legitimate and effective governmental systems.
Nations that follow God’s way tend to advance and succeed. And nations which depart from God’s way tend to fail, sometimes after much misery. U.S. citizens should be thankful that we live in a nation founded upon godly principles. May we ever appreciate and strive to prolong such freedoms and blessings, which are ours only by the grace of God. And may we always give glory and honor to Him whose wisdom inspires every good and successful work.
1 Emp. added.
2 For a wealth of material on the inspiration of the Bible, visit apologeticspress.org. See also Kyle Butt’s and Dave Miller’s respective books, Is the Bible God’s Word? and The Bible Is From God; https://store.apologeticspress.org/products/apbkkb0004; https://store.apologeticspress.org/products/bible_is_from_god.
3 For more information, see Dave Miller’s excellent book, God & Government (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press), p. 103.
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