Presidential hopeful Ben Carson was recently asked by a Facebook poster this question: Does the Bible have authority over the Constitution? Carson essentially said it depends on specific passages and specific contexts, so he didn’t take the bait and he avoided making a controversial claim over what was clearly a “gotcha” question.
I, however, am not running for President. So, I would answer the question like this…
For Christians who believe in the inspired, inerrant, authoritative word of God, there is no question it carries greater authority than the Constitution of the United States. For someone like me, this is an easy question. Likewise, for someone who rejects Christianity and the claims of the Bible, the question is equally easy.
I believe the Bible to be written by men who were uniquely inspired by God through the Holy Spirit. They wrote in a specific time for a specific context in their specific style, and yet conveyed precisely what God desired to be written. In testifying about itself, the Bible says that all Scripture is “God breathed” and that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The Bible describes for us a pattern of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration that provides meaning and purpose for every sphere of our lives. The central theme is that of Jesus Christ and his redemptive work as prophet, priest, and king. There is no other authority we govern our lives by as Christians but the authority of God’s word, since no other authority is the direct revelation of God to his people.
Because of this, Christians are called to obey Scripture on its teaching about governing authorities. Both Jesus and Paul speak clearly about a Christian’s obligation to respect and submit to the governing authorities that have been put in place over us. Those authorities have been put in place by God for the purposes of God, even when we sometimes can’t understand why God would place people in power who support policies contrary to his word. To disobey the authority of our government and its laws is not primarily a concern for Christians due to the disobedience of man’s laws, but it should be a matter of grave concern due to the disobedience of God himself. Thus, Christians should submit to the Constitution and the laws of our land because by doing so, we are submitting to God. It is not unlike parenting. Children should obey parents not simply because “they brought you into this world,” but because to obey parents is ultimately to obey God.
There are, of course, limitations. In Acts 5, the apostles are brought in by the Sanhedrin and are questioned about preaching in the name of Jesus, being reminded that they were strictly ordered to not speak that name. The apostles push back and acknowledge how they cannot disobey God by keeping silent on Jesus. They are then flogged for their disobedience which led to rejoicing on the part of the disciples. Thus, even when we disobey the laws of the land because of our faith, we must still be prepared to accept the consequences handed down by our governing authorities.
So does the Bible have authority over the Constitution? Yes. And in applying the authority of the Bible, we will happily submit to the authority of the Constitution in our role as United States citizens.
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