Spheres of Authority

Different spheres of authority were given by God in order to allow for maximum liberty for mankind. By having power distributed within the different law spheres, it makes it difficult for a tyranny to arise. When the state does not stay within its designated spheres of authority, it generally becomes tyrannical. The following audio clip explains the principle.

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Sphere Sovereignty
Gai Ferdon

Biblical Text Addressing Despotism, Tyranny, and Unlawful Jurisdiction: I Samuel 8: 1-22

What was the motivation behind the people of Israel’s demand for a king?

Consider the circumstances surrounding the crowning of Saul, and Samuel’s Prologue in respect to Israel’s explicit rejection of God, who delivered them from the oppressive rule of Egypt and other kingdoms.

The United States, as a Nation, was inaugurated as a federal constitutional republic of divided authority and diffused power; sovereignty rested nowhere in civil government. Rather, we implemented principles of government at the most local level. Those principles were individuality and self-government, local self-government, protection of property, the external force of Christian character, and union. These principles were biblical derived, and implemented to protect the organization, and function, and jurisdiction of individual self-government, family government, ecclesiastical government, and civil government. But we too are relinquishing over greater and greater levels of local authority to national authorities to be delivered from natural calamites, economic distresses, family distresses, and from our own irresponsibility.

There are four God-ordained spheres of government outlined in His word, which are to be respected and maintained. A biblical view of government, by its very nature, incorporates lawful authority (jurisdiction) and power commensurate with that authority. Maintaining right jurisdiction results in liberty.


I. Spheres of government

Historic American Definitions of Govern and Government: Internal and External

Government in the Bible, as well as in the dictionary, refers to more than just civil government--it refers to direction, regulation, control, or restraint in several spheres.

The Bible identifies at least four spheres of government, each with its own sphere of authority and activity. Each sphere or institution is separate from the others. None is in authority over the other, but all are under the authority of God.


1. Self-government

Prov 4:23 (NIV) “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Romans 14: 11-12 (NIV) “It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

Other references:                                  

Prov. 16:32; Prov. 6:6; Prov. 25:28; 1 Cor. 6:12; 1 Cor. 9:26

The sphere of authority:                     

Self-government is defined as the government of the self. This represents the locus of the most basic form of government, which also assumes that the fundamentals of governing authority are ordained of God and established first within the individual for personal regulation and right conduct.” Gai Ferdon

The activities of self-government include:

§ Worshiping God to fulfill duties owed to him

§ Loving your neighbor to fulfill moral and legal duties to them.

§ Working and being productive, to fulfill the dominion mandate

§ All manner of personal ethics which fulfill all moral and legal duties

Example: God has given us responsibility to help keep ourselves from lying.


2. Family government

1 Tim 3:4-5 (NIV) “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?)”

Other references:                                  

Deut. 6:6-7; 14:28-29; 15: 7, 8, 11; 21:17; Prov. 19:14; 2 Cor. 12:14; 1 Tim. 5:4,8,10,16; Eph. 4; I Pet. 2:13

The sphere of authority:                     

Three way covenantal relationship: ultimate governance by God within a marriage between a husband and wife submitted first to him within the yoke of love. Husbands represent the head governor in the home, and parents govern children under the authority of God. Marriage is the crucible for character growth.

The activities of family government include:

§ Creating and Rearing children

§ Education

§ Health and welfare

Example: God has given our parents responsibility to teach us about God's ways and God's world. God has given our family responsibility to help us when we are in financial need.


3. Church government

Heb 13:17 (NIV) “Obey your leaders [elders] and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.”

Other references:                                  

Mt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:8-13; 11:23-25;

The sphere of authority:     

Elders govern members under the authority of God.

The activities of church government include:

§ Preaching and teaching

§ Sacraments

§ Church discipline

§ Organizing believers

Example: God has given our elders responsibility to teach correct doctrine and when appropriate, to excommunicate the unrepentant church member.


4. Civil government (or the State)

Rom 13:1 (NIV) “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Other references:                                  

Gen. 9:1,6; Ex. 20:13; 21:12; 22:2; Jn. 19:11; Mt. 17:24-27; Mt. 22:17-21; Romans 13: 1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-14; (Decalogue and OT Statutes)

The sphere of authority:                     

Civil servants or ministers govern citizens under the authority of God. Government represents the administration of law for ordered liberty and justice in a fallen world.

The activities of civil government include:

§ Protection of People in their Property (Internal and External)

§ Protect the righteous

§ Punish the criminal

Example: God has given us public officials to punish thieves.


Relationship Between Spheres of Government

Each sphere is distinct and separate in governing authority or province of authority.

One of the main problems with modern thinking is that we don't care who meets the needs of the people, so long as somebody does it. We confuse power and authority. But the Bible teaches us that it is not simply the institution with the power to meet a need that should do it, but it is the one that God has designed and given authority to meet the need. The state may have the power to dictate religious doctrine--they could coerce us. But the church is designed and given authority to teach doctrine.


II.            Surrender of Government

Notice that there was a failure of self-government on the part of Samuel's sons (v. 3). They turned to dishonest gain, accepted bribes, and perverted justice. Notice, too, that there was a failure of self-government on the part of the Israelites (v. 7). They rejected God in their hearts. When the Israelites did this, they were tempted to look to another sphere of government for answers to meet their need for justice. Here, they asked for a king. True, it was in God's plan for them to have a king. However, they asked for a king in place of God's rule, not as an instrument of God's rule. And they wanted a king not of God's choosing, but of their own. They surrendered the rule of God in their hearts--self-government--to the rule of a pagan king--civil government. Instead of responsibly trusting God to fight their battles, they turned over that responsibility to a pagan king.

When we are not governing our affairs responsibly, we are actually rejecting the Lord as king.

When we surrender our responsibility to another, we place ourselves in their power, and risk oppression and bondage. We lose our family, our property, our work, our wealth, and our own lives.

When the biblical spheres of government are respected and maintained, there is liberty. Jurisdiction serves liberty!


III.          Solution to tyrannical government

To remedy an ungodly surrender of government, we first simply need to repent for failing to carefully follow the Lord's guidelines for the distinct spheres of government. We need to ask God to forgive us for our surrendering to the state what our families and churches should have done themselves. We need to reestablish God's rule in our hearts. We need to pray for our nation that we will restore right government in our land. We need to study what the Bible teaches us about the limits of each sphere of government. With this, we must reconsider our philosophy of education, which in turn, produces a national character, and therefore, a philosophy of government.

We can thank and praise God that we have the Holy Spirit to help us! And where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty! The Spirit of God indwelling you and me will undoubtedly lead us, and those around us, into more and more liberty. That is the hope for our lives, our families, our churches, and our nation.

Consider the following quotations from men who understood the principles behind the spheres of authority:

Dutch Legal Theorist Hugo Grotius (1583-1645)

“Hee knows not how to rule a Kingdome, that cannot manage a Province: nor can he wield a Province, that cannot order a City; Nor he order a City, that knows not how to Regulate a Village: nor hee a Village, that cannot guide a Family: Nor can that man Govern well a Family that knows not how to Governe himselfe: neither can any Govern himselfe unless his reason be Lord, &c. Will and Appetite her Vassalls: Nor can Reason rule, unless her selfe be ruled by God, and [wholly] be obedient to him.”

Hugo Grotius, Politick Maxims and Observations Written by the Most Learned Hugo Grotius, Translated for the ease and benefit of the English States-Men, trans., H.C.S.T.B (London, for Humphrey Mosely, 1654), 18-19.

Robert C. Winthrop (1809-1894), State Representative of Massachusetts intermittingly between 1835-1840, and then both a Representative and Senator of the 27th congress from 1840-1850:

. . . All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they must have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law of physical force, the more they must rely on private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet. Here, under our own free institutions, it is Religion which must support the State.

Robert C. Winthrop, “The Bible,” Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions, vols., 4 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1852), 1: 146, 172. Delivered in Boston 28 May 1848.

Gai Ferdon


Hall, Verna, The Christian History of the Constitution of the United States, (Vol. I and II).  

Ferdon, Gai. A Republic If You Can Keep It.