Was the American Revolution a Biblically Justified Act?

A New Testament examination of the Founding Fathers' motives

Excerpted with permission of Wallbuilders


Some people contend that the American Revolution represented a violation of basic Biblical principles and embodied rebellion, or a spirit of anarchy. They argue from Romans 13 that since government is of God, then all government decrees are to be obeyed because they proceed from God.

But this is only one of two theological interpretations of Romans 13--interpretations representing a debate that has existed among American Christians for centuries.

On one side was the belief that when government speaks, God requires us to obey. This same theological position resulted in the "Divine Right of Kings" philosophy which reasoned that since the King was chosen by God, God therefore expected all citizens to obey the King in all circumstances; anything less was rebellion against God.

The other interpretation of Romans 13 was set out in a 1579 work by Frenchman Philippe du Plessis Mornay, which was printed in English as "A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants." This treatise took the position that government being ordained of God was referring to the general institution of government rather than to each distinct government.

God ordained government in lieu of anarchy. Yet, there clearly have been governments in recent years that promote anarchy, rebellion, and wickedness (e.g. Qadafi in Libya, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Idi Amin in Uganda). Has God endorsed those governments? If so, He has contradicted His nature and is commanding submission to the very things that He hates--which isn't possible.


Most Christian denominations during the American Revolution all believed that Romans 13 meant they were not to overthrow government as an institution and live in anarchy, but that this passage did not mean they had to submit to every civil law. (Note that in Hebrews 11, a number of those who made the cut in the "Faith Hall of Fame" as heroes of the faith were guilty of civil disobedience--including Daniel, the three Hebrew Children, the Hebrew Midwives, and Moses.) Furthermore, the Apostles in Acts 4-5 also declared they would obey God rather than civil authorities.

The real key to understanding civil disobedience and Romans 13 under this latter view, then, is to determine if the purpose of opposition is simply to resist the institution of government in general (which would be anarchy and would promote a rebellious spirit), or if it is to specifically resist bad laws, bad acts, or bad governments. The American Founding Fathers embraced the second interpretation of Romans 13, and therefore strongly opposed "Divine Right of Kings" theology, which was derived from the first interpretation of Romans 13. For example, Founding Father James Otis in a 1766 work argued that the only king who had any divine right was God; beyond that, God had ordained power to people.

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David Barton
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