Scripture On Unchecked Power

Just War, Rebellion, and the American Revolution: John Keown and Modern Critiques on Whether the War of Independence was Just.

Part 5: Scripture and Rebellion, Scripture on Unchecked Power

By Leonard O. Goenaga

On unchecked power, Scripture consistently warns against unchecked rulers. Throughout the Old Testament, examples of such unchecked kings and abuses abound. Saul sought after his own interests above the people, while David abused his powers to commit sin with Bathsheba (2 Sm. 11). Solomon accumulated excessive wives, princesses, and concubines, as well as excessive amounts of gold and silver, with the result being he was led astray (1 Kg. 11:3-4). In addition to the examples of kings in 1-2 Kings and 1-2 Chronicles, human history seems to confirm the principle that unchecked power leads to corruption. This is only expected given the fallen condition of man, and with a Calvinist influence on human depravity, the Founding Fathers likely emulated their Puritan fathers in seeking out checks and balances against human passions and appetites.1

In addition to Old Testament examples of unchecked kings, there appeared to be a system of checks and balances in a division of power between the King, the Prophet, and the Priest.2

Besides Old Testament governmental polity, evidence favoring checked power existed also in church ecclesiology. Jesus chose twelve apostles, of whom Peter and James served as spokespersons at different times (Mt. 10:1-4). Scripture also refers to a check on local church leadership in the references to a plurality of elders (Tit. 1:5; Jam. 5:14)


1 Page Smith, Religious Origins of the American Revolution (Missoula: Scholars Press for American Academy of Religion) 12. “Calvin’s conception of human depravity . . . underlay the thinking of most of those Americans responsible for framing the Federal Constitution and establishing a new nation as well as the thinking of their constituents. The rationale of the theorists of the French Revolution for popular government, on the other hand, was based on the idea of the natural goodness of man uncorrupted by decadent institutions and a superstitious church.”

2 The role of the Israelite ruler beneath the divine law is worth special emphasis. Israelite neighbors, such as the Egyptians, believed their rulers to be divine. As such, the lawgiver was above the laws themselves. Unlike Israelite polity, these rulers could not be constrained and refuted based upon the law, given they, as its source, were above the law. However, Israelite rulers were beneath and subject to the law, and this emphasis is noted in Deuteronomy 17:18-20

Self-Educated American Research Writer, Leonard O. Goenaga
, is a Baptist Associate Pastor (assigned to the Youth) at Glory of God Christian Fellowship, Raleigh, North Carolina; a Mentor (Computer Lab/Technology) at the Wake Forest Boys & Girls Club; a husband (to Katrina); and rugby coach. He holds a B.A. in Political Science (with a specific concentration in Political Theory, Social Contract, and Constitutionalism), a second B.A. in Religious Studies (with a concentration in World Religions and Early Christianity), a Master of Divinity in Christian Ethics, and an A.A. in Entrepreneurship. He has begun Ph.D with a concentration likely centered on an analysis of Locke’s Social Contract, H.L.A. Hart’s Legal System, American Constitutionalism, and Baptist Ecclesiology of Covenant. Visit his website at