Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Geneva Bible: Obey God, resist tyrants


January 29, 2020

Search online for the definition of tyranny and you’ll have pages of dictionary entries in an instant. Words like “oppressive,” “cruel,” and “unfair” will be littered throughout those definitions.

However, another word, one that might surprise us, is also prominent there. That word is “arbitrary.”

A tyrannical rule is not only a malicious one, but is fundamentally unpredictable. The random use of force to get his will is the mark of a tyrant. He will have his people walking on eggshells because they don’t know what will provoke his wrath next. This is true whether he tyrannizes a nation, a business, a church, or a family.

The 1560 Geneva Bible, the English translation in wide, popular use in Britain in that era, famously translated appearances of “king” in the Hebrew and Greek, by using the English word, “tyrant.” Not surprisingly, this didn’t sit well with the ruling class, and when King James authorized the production of a new English translation in 1611, every instance of “tyrant” in the Geneva Bible was replaced with the much more generic word, “king.”

I don’t think either group of translators was perfect in their respective choices on that issue. Some rulers in the Bible richly deserve the appellation of tyrant. Others were easier to live with. My point here is simply to highlight how much ink is put to use in Scripture describing tyrants; telling their stories, and recommending strategies for dealing with them. It’s actually a prominent theme.

The founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, did a decent job of summarizing the Bible’s teaching on the topic, when he said, “Men must be governed by God, or they will be ruled by tyrants.”

This is where the arbitrary nature of tyrants comes into play. The whole reason they are unpredictable is that they are making choices from moment to moment based on their own whims and desires. Their decisions are not bound by anything higher than their own preferences.

They govern by their own will, and not the transcendent will of God. They rule by self-law and not God’s law (autonomy vs. theonomy). Please understand, those are always the only two options, even in our individual lives.

From Adam and Eve making their fateful choice in the garden; to Israel wandering for 40 rebellious years; to the people crying out, “Crucify him!” it is all pieces cut from the same cloth.

Option one: govern yourselves under the law-word of God, a law that promotes peace, takes special care of the weakest members of society, and grants scary amounts of individual liberty. Option two: shake your fist at the heavens and say, “I’ll figure it out for myself, thank you very much.” (Followed shortly by wondering where all these chains came from.)

The Geneva Bible, additionally, was the first proper study Bible with copious margin notes meant to aid the reader in understanding the more difficult bits. Those notes highlighted the fact that the Scripture routinely makes resistance to unjust government a Christian duty. For the record, opposition to tyrants cannot be the same thing as cheering them on.

Love God, love your neighbor, resist tyranny.

Gordan Runyan is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Tucumcari. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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