John Locke 

Robert Filmer
Church Governance
Under the Law
Early Church Fathers
Arian Heresy
Douglas Wilson
Capital Jurisdiction

Robert Filmer

They say that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. People of the present day ought to realize that the current debate between the 'patriarchalists' of Moscow, Idaho and American Christians who actually like our system of government does not need to be conducted by a clown show on the one hand and by champions from strip mall seminaries on the other. The debate can be conducted, and has been conducted, by fairly competent people on both sides, by Robert Filmer and John Locke, the one arguing for patriarchy (and the divine right of kings), and the other for natural liberty. Historically, in the perception of the 'multitude,' John Locke won the debate so resoundingly that in this country, we've never looked back.

John Locke did not hold orthodox views on the Trinity, but he was a Biblicist . He was not contemptuous of Sir Robert Filmer's efforts to ground his political principles in the scriptures, but under the circumstances, he realized the absurdity of grounding this set of principles in the utterly foreign soil of God's word. Robert Filmer understood he was swimming against the tide, though he ominously blames Jesuits and Scholastics for the popular enthusiasm for grounding government on the consent of the governed:

  • “Since the time that School-Divinity began to flourish, there hath been a common opinion maintained, as well by Divines, as by diverse other learned men, which affirms,

  • “Mankind is naturally endowed and born with freedom from all subjection, and at liberty to choose what form of government it please: and that the power which any one man hath over others, was at first bestowed according to the discretion of the Multitude.

  • “This tenant was first hatched in the Schools, and hath been fostered by all succeeding Papists for good divinity. The divines also of the Reformed Churches have entertained it, and the common People every where tenderly embrace it, as being most plausible to flesh and blood, for that it prodigally distributes a portion of liberty to the meanest of the multitude, who magnify liberty, as if the height of humane felicity were only to be found in it, never remembering that the desire of liberty was the first cause of the fall of Adam.

  • “But howsoever this vulgar opinion hath of late obtained a great reputation, yet it is not found in the ancient Fathers and Doctors of the primitive church: it contradicts the doctrine and history of the Holy Scriptures, the constant practice of all ancient monarchies, and the very principles of the Law of Nature. It is hard to say whether it be more erroneous in divinity, or dangerous in policy.

  • (Patriarcha, or the Natural Power of Kings, Robert Filmer, pp. 2-3).

How did one side of the debate win so decisively, that even the losing party had to begin using their terminology and their conceptual framework? Because they were right? No, say the atheists, because they were wrong. It is a fond conviction of the atheists that every time one party decisively wins a Bible argument, whether it be the abolitionists vs. the slave-traders, or the geocentrists vs. the heliocentrists, or in this case, the patriarchalists vs. the freedom-lovers, it was the wrong party that won. The other side, you see, actually had all the Bible arguments, or at any rate the very best Bible arguments. How likely is that? What if the bad guys keep losing, just because they are wrong?

As John Locke pointed out, Filmer's patriarchal power as held by Adam meant in effect that all other men, save only that original patriarch, are born into this world as slaves and remain in that estate their entire lives:

  • “This fatherly authority then, or right of fatherhood, in our author’s sense, is a divine unalterable right of sovereignty, whereby a father or a prince hath an absolute, arbitrary, unlimited, and unlimitable power over the lives, liberties, and estates of his children and subjects; so that he may take or alienate their estates, sell, castrate, or use their persons as he pleases, they being all his slaves, and he lord or proprietor of every thing, and his unbounded will their law.

  • (Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government, First Treatise (p. 3).) .

Locke did understand that Englishmen, at least, are not born into the estate of slavery, though, as with Thomas Jefferson, he seems never to have broadened out his fondness for liberty to include all races of men.

Moscow, Idaho has democratized the concept of Patriarchy, to the point where each and every man is a Patriarch, if only he be male and have children. Robert Filmer's argument is more geared toward establishing monarchy as the sole Biblical form of government. Huey P. Long used to sing,

"Why weep or slumber America
Land of brave and true
With castles and clothing and food for all
All belongs to you

Every man a King, every man a King
For you can be a millionaire."

Now, thanks to the fact that Moscow, Idaho is still within the confines of the United States, we have 'Every man a patriarch.' Moscow, Idaho has given us a new verse, 'Every man a patriarch,' because this is no longer an exceptional distinction held by the eponymous founder of a clan, but a distinction held by all men.

It is a distinctly odd aspect of Filmer's system that divine power keeps accumulating to Adam, apparently even after he has gone on:

"And indeed not only Adam, but the succeeding Patriarchs had, by Right of Father-hood, Royal Authority over their Children. Nor dares Bellarmine deny this also. That the Patriarchs (saith he) were endowed with Kingly Power, their deeds do testify; for as Adam was Lord of his Children, so his Children under him, had a command and power over their own Children; but still with subordination to the first parent, who is Lord-Paramount over his Children's Children to all Generations, as being the Grand-Father of his People." (Robert Filmer, Patriarcha, or the Natural Power of Kings, p. 12).

Adam by this point, in spite of having gone on, is absolute dictator over 8 billion people. What is lacking to Filmer's system is any notion that children become emancipated from the power of their parents upon reaching their majority, or even that power is truly conveyed by inheritance, if it's never given up by the deceased. When Queen Elizabeth II died, King Charles inherited all her domains: all of 'em, she doesn't still hold on to the lion's share of them in her cold, stiffening hands. It is true that under ancient Roman law, a man was not emancipated from the authority of his father until the father died, but how do we know God ever intended for such an exceptional circumstance to be made general?

In Sir Robert's mind, the power of the patriarch is unchecked by law: "The Father of a Family governs by no other Law than by his own will; not by the laws and wills of his sons or servants. There is no nation that allows children any action or remedy for being unjustly  governed. . ." (Robert Filmer, Patriarcha, or the Natural Power of Kings, p. 78-79). In a similar vein, he considers the power of the English  king to be absolute and unlimited: "All are under him, and he under none, but God only: If he offend, since no Writ can go against him, their Remedy is by petitioning him to amend his fault; which if he shall not do, it will be punishment sufficient for him to expect God as a revenger: let none presume to search into his deeds, much less to oppose them." (Robert Filmer, Patriarcha, or the Natural Power of Kings, p. 87). All this inherited from Adam, presumably.

Locke grumpily points out that Filmer argues for none of this, he merely states it, and it's certainly true that such an exotic set of ideas should require evidence, not bare assertion. By God's grant, Adam is King of the whole world; his dominion over the animals is unshared by those of like nature with himself, and is effectively endless. It is putting it mildly to say this is not stated in the text.


Church Governance

The Bible does not lay down any command requiring all people at all times to adopt a particular form of government. No such command was given even to Israel; an ampictyony ruled by judges is allowed by Moses just as much as is also a monarchy. But what form of government does God adopt for His own little kingdom? Some modern churches are organized hierarchically, with authority flowing from the top down. The church did not start out that way, though. A church that wants to do it right really ought to be organized according to a congregational polity, i.e., democratically:

  • “And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained [χειροτονησαντες] them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”
  • (Acts 14:21-23).

The word the King James Version here translates as 'ordained' is χειροτονεω, 'cheirotoneo,' a word with a long history in classical Greek, meaning to vote by a show of hands:

χειροτονεω. . .to stretch out the hand, for the purpose of voting, Plut., Luc. II. . .to vote for, elect, properly by show of hands, Ar., Dem.:—Pass. to be elected, Ar., etc.; (Liddell and Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, p. 885).

In a similar vein, χειροτονητος means elected by show of hands, χειροτονια means a voting or electing by show of hands, etc. The Greek word 'χειρ,' 'cheir,' means 'hand,' and the Greeks, like us, were in the habit of voting by raising their hands. That's how you do it: that's how you elect the leadership of the churches.

God's word nowhere says, though, that the way it's done in the church must also be the system of governance adopted by the world. However, it does seem that democracy's detractors should tone down their clamor of animadversion, which does not accurately reflect the contents of the Bible. God likes democracy enough to institute it for His little flock, which is no small commendation:


Roman Senate

Under the Law

Whatever may have been the case with the European potentates of the seventeenth century, there is no question that the king of Israel was under the law. He was even instructed to write out his own copy of that document:


  • “Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside form the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.”
  • (Deuteronomy 17:18-19).

Early Church Fathers

Were the early church fathers for, or against, the concept of human equality? Did they regard the multitude as rabble? Some seem to be decidedly for:

"Some one will say, Are there not among you some poor, and others rich; some servants, and others masters? Is there not some difference between individuals? There is none; nor is there any other cause why we mutually bestow upon each other the name of brethren, except that we believe ourselves to be equal. For since we measure all human things not by the body, but by the spirit, although the condition of bodies is different, yet we have no servants, but we both regard and speak of them as brothers in spirit, in religion as fellow-servants. Riches also do not render men illustrious, except that they are able to make them more conspicuous by good works. For men are rich, not because they possess riches, but because they employ them on works of justice; and they who seem to be poor, on this account are rich, because they are not in want, and desire nothing." (Lactantius, Divine Institutes, Book 5, Chapter 16, p. 307, ANF 7).

The divine right of kings, kings who preside over societies which aim for and achieve the maximum of human inequality, is not something the church has always contended for, in all times and places. That it did so in some times and places, like pre-Revolutionary France, is decidedly to the misfortune of those involved. This is not keeping faith with scripture.


Arian Heresy

John Locke, a political philosopher very influential in molding the shape of the American republic, is an author often mentioned as an Arian. He was a self-professed Bible believer:

"My lord, I read the revelation of the holy scripture with a full assurance, that all it delivers is true: and though this be a submission to the writings of those inspired authors, which I neither have, nor can have, for those of any other men; yet I use (and know not how to help it, till your lordship show me a better method in those due measures of reason, which you mention) the same way to interpret to myself the sense of that book, that I do of any other." (John Locke, Letter to Bishop of Worcester, Kindle location 6093).

Late in life, answering in a letter the question how a young gentleman might attain true knowledge of the Christian religion, he replied, "Let him study the body of the scripture, especially the New Testament. Therein are contained the words of eternal life. It has God for its author; salvation for its end; and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter." (The Works of John Locke in Ten Volumes, (11th edition, London: W. Otridge and Son, 1812, X, 306)).

That's excellent! Would that he had gone no further!

So far so good.  But wait. He encouraged Newton to publish his anti-trinitarian views. His own views are not always easy to discern and biographers have defended the thesis that he was and remained a convinced Anglican. Personally, having read Locke's lengthy, clotted, and unconvincing complaint against the Bishop of Worcester, for having swatted at him in passing in his controversy with Unitarian John Toland, I have a hard time believing it. During this lengthy discussion Locke never once mentions he holds orthodox views on the trinity, though this would instantly explain why he is offended.

In his defense of 'The Reasonableness of Christianity,' Locke offers a decidedly minimalist criterion of the Christian faith required for salvation:

“What we are now required to believe to obtain eternal life, is plainly set down in the gospel. St. John tells us, John iii. 36, “He that believeth on the Son, hath eternal life; and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life.” What this believing on him is, we are also told in the next chapter: “The woman said unto him, I know that the Messiah cometh: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee, am he”. . . By which place it is plain, that believing on the Son is the believing that Jesus was the Messiah; giving credit to the miracles he did, and the profession he made of himself. . . This was the great proposition that was then controverted, concerning Jesus of Nazareth, 'Whether he was the Messiah or no?' And the assent to that was that which distinguished believers from unbelievers.” (John Locke, The Reasonable of Christianity, as Delivered in the Scriptures, p. 12).

 Funeral Oration 

By this criterion, Muslims are fellow believers, because they are told in the Koran that Jesus is the Messiah. There is no mention of believing that Jesus is God incarnate, though this great truth is taught in scripture. The 'competition' against which Locke argues in this treatise is, of course, the Nicene Creed, which gives no offense to Bible-believers. Perhaps it would be helpful to contend for a definition of who the Messiah was prophesied to be, and what work He was expected to accomplish. This minimalist criterion is perhaps a hint that he himself held a minimalist faith. Certainly he labors mightily to squeeze Christianity down to size;

"To this, it is likely, it will be objected by some, that to believe only that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, is but an historical, and not a justifying, or saving faith.
"To which I answer, That I allow to the makers of systems and their followers to invent and use what distinctions they please, and to call things by what names they think fit. But I cannot allow to them, or to any man, an authority to make a religion for me, or to alter that which God hath revealed. And if they please to call the believing that which our Saviour and his apostles preached, and proposed alone to be believed, an historical faith; they have their liberty. But they must have a care, how they deny it to be a justifying or saving faith, when our Saviour and his apostles have declared it so to be; and taught no other which men should receive, and whereby they should be made believers unto eternal life: unless they can so far make bold with our Saviour, for the sake of their beloved systems, as to say, that he forgot what he came into the world for; and that he and his apostles did not instruct people right in the way and mysteries of salvation. For that this is the sole doctrine pressed and required to be believed in the whole tenor of our Saviour’s and his apostles preaching, we have showed through the whole history of the evangelists and the Acts. And I challenge them to show that there was any other doctrine, upon their assent to which, or disbelief of it, men were pronounced believers or unbelievers; and accordingly received into the church of Christ, as members of his body; as far as mere believing could make them so: or else kept out of it."

(Locke, John. The Reasonableness of Christianity (pp. 82-83). Kypros Press. Kindle Edition.)

Against what is he arguing? The Nicene Creed? The reader of Enlightenment worthies like Jean-Jacques Rousseau is nauseatingly familiar with stripped-down versions of the Christian faith, like Rousseau's Faith of a Savoyard Vicar, where Christianity is stripped of almost all content except for dribbles of remaining treacly sentiment. Is that where Locke is heading with his minimalism?

It is also possible that a man who had seen Englishmen fight and die over religious differences — his own father fought for Cromwell — preferred to make the Church of England a big tent, which is why he reduces the creed to one "proposition," "’Tis plain here, St. Paul’s charging their blood on their own heads, is for opposing this single truth, that Jesus was the Messiah; that salvation or perdition depends upon believing or rejecting this one proposition." (John Locke, The Reasonable of Christianity). It happens, though, that as you unpack that "one proposition," you find its contents richer than imagined. Contrary to what some people think the Old Testament actually does say that the Messiah is to be God, in Psalm 45 among other places. 'But of course it doesn't really mean that,' they hasten to assure us; however the shadow does not govern the meaning of the substance, the prefiguration cannot delimit its fulfillment, rather vice versa.

One should resist any tendency to dumb the concept of the Messiah down to a sub-Biblical level and view with suspicion any demand that we go along. If Locke took to heart his own professed commitment to the scriptures, he could make no objection to the Nicene Creed. Otherwise we are left captives trudging along at the back of the same doctrinal caravan following after the Muslims, no longer Christians. What does the Bible teach about the nature of God?:

The four propositions proven above: that

a.) There is only One God;
b.) The Father is God;
c.) The Son is God;
d.) The Holy Spirit is God.

— are at the heart of the fifth-century Athanasian Creed: "So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.  And yet they are not three gods: but one God."

It would be more impressive if John Locke had clearly and sincerely subscribed to these propositions. He may not have subscribed to all of them, unfortunately. Come to think of it, that's becoming distressingly common nowadays.


While his views on the Trinity are unsound, his standard of Bible interpretation is generally plausible enough. John Locke points out that there is nothing in the grant of dominion to man over the animals which can be taken as giving Adam monarchy over his fellow men:

"Thus we have examined our author’s argument for Adam’s monarchy, founded on the blessing pronounced, i. Gen. 28. Wherein I think it is impossible for any sober reader, to find any other but the setting of mankind above the other kinds of creatures, in this habitable earth of ours. It is nothing but the giving to man, the whole species of man, as the chief inhabitant, who is the image of his Maker, the dominion over the other creatures. This lies so obvious in the plain words, that any one, but our author, would have thought it necessary to have shown, how these words, that seemed to say the quite contrary, gave Adam monarchical absolute power over other men, or the sole property in all the creatures; and methinks in a business of this moment, and that whereon he builds all that follows, he should have done something more than barely cite words, which apparently make against him; for I confess, I cannot see any thing in them, tending to Adam’s monarchy, or private dominion, but quite the contrary." (John Locke, First Treatise on Government, Chapter IV).

Since this is obviously correct, it's a wonder that Robert Filmer's system still finds believers to the present day. You would like to think that someone as progressive as John Locke, who believed in human equality under the law, would not have invested in the slave trade. You would be wrong:

Before there was Douglas Wilson, there was Rousas Rushdoony. Error begets error, like they say:


Turn the Other Cheek God of Love
Universal Law General Equity
What Happens in Vegas Democracy
Woman Taken in Adultery Stare Decisis
Autodidact Wall of Separation
Father's Wife Noncompliance


There was a lengthy period of time during which Israel was ruled by the judges. Paul says it was 450 years: "After that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years." (Acts 13:20-21).

  • “So Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, 'Heed the voice of the people in al that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. . .

  • “So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who asked him for a king. And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers.
  • “And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the LORD will not hear you in that day.

  • “Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, 'No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.'”

  • (1 Samuel 8:7-20).

What does Sir Robert make of this set of circumstances? It's all good; you see, Samuel is explaining to the people they have no right to complain!: "But the vanity of these conjectures are judiciously discovered in that Majestical Discourse of the true Law of free Monarchy; wherein it is evidently showed, that the scope of Samuel was to teach the People a dutiful obedience to their King, even in those things which themselves did esteem mischievous and inconvenient: for by telling them what a King would do, he indeed instructed them what a subject must suffer. . ." (Robert Filmer, Patriarcha, or the Natural Power of Kings, p. 80).

But wait a minute, Samuel is not instructing the people how low to bow in this new system he intends to implement, whether they want it or not; he is discouraging them from making the change. Whose idea was it? Filmer is aware of this change in government, though he scarcely describes it in quite the same way the Bible describes it:

  • “By manifest footsteps we may trace this paternal government unto the Israelites coming into Egypt, where the exercise of supreme patriarchal jurisdiction was intermitted, because they were in subjection to a stronger Prince. After the return of these Israelites out of bondage, God out of a special care of them, chose Moses and Joshua successively to govern as Princes in the place and stead of the Supreme Fathers: and after them likewise for a time, he raised up Judges, to defend his people in time of Peril. But when God gave the Israelites Kings, he reestablished the Ancient and Prime Right of Lineal Succession to Paternal Government.”

  • (Robert Filmer, Patriarcha, the Natural Power of Kings, p. 18)

Re-established? Why was this purported right not re-established when the people came into the land? One might expect Robert Filmer has no disciples in the present day, but it's a fact that he has thousands. Douglas Wilson has bragged in print that the membership of his 'Christ Church' has risen to 10% of the population of Moscow, Idaho, and the population of Moscow, Idaho, is 26,000. Add to that the membership of the hundreds of churches belonging to the denomination he founded; add to that number, perhaps, the many people who read his books, who do not formally belong to his cult, but may perhaps agree with his viewpoint.

You may not have heard of them, but the feds have. From time to time they come up with novel ways of disturbing the peace, and just recently took up idol-smashing. Should Christians destroy pagan idols wherever they happen to come upon them?:

Returning to ancient Israel, specifically, let's ask, at whose instigation was the mode of government changed, God's or man's? If God considered lineal descent to be the sole legitimate means of governmental succession, why was there a 450 year interregnum in Israel's history when no such thing existed?

What does Filmer make of the argument, advanced by the Jesuit Suarez among others, that the people gathered in assembly might choose to be governed by a king? Filmer does not believe the King's power comes from any such source as popular sovereignty; so he helpfully explains that such a decision would need to be unanimous before it could be binding:

"But in assemblies that take their authority from the law of nature, it cannot be so: for what freedom or liberty is due to any man by the law of nature, no inferior power can alter, limit or diminish; no one man, nor a multitude, can give away the natural right of another. The law of nature is unchangeable, and howsoever one man may hinder another in the use or exercise of his natural right, yet thereby no man loseth the right of itself; for the right and the use of the right may be distinguished, as right and possession are oft distinct. Therefore, unless it can be proved by the law of nature, that the major, or some other part, have power to over-rule the rest of the multitude; it must follow, that the acts of multitudes not entire, are not binding to all, but only to such as consent unto them." (Robert Filmer, Patriarcha, or the Natural Power of Kings, pp. 44-45).

Sir Robert sees nothing but difficulties and perplexities in democracy, and raises more than a few novel and unlikely ones to go along with the real problems that do exist. Certainly if unanimity is needed before the people can do anything, then the people can do nothing.  Indeed he accuses this form of government of causing civil war, as if monarchies did not have their wars of succession. He does not share Samuel's views on government, plain and simple.

Sir Robert spends much of his time arguing against the Bible, basically. The Israelite monarchy appears to have retained elements of an elective system for quite a long time. But this must be a mirage. The only basis for inheritance is blood relationship, therefore, "For unless we will openly proclaim defiance unto all law, equity and reason, we must (for there is no other remedy) acknowledge, that in kingdoms hereditary, birth-right giveth right unto sovereign dominion, and the death of the predecessor, putteth the successor by blood in seisin [possession]." (Robert Filmer, Patriarcha, or the Natural Power of Kings, pp. 47-48).

OK, so Solomon, Bathsheba's son, was never king, and his descendant Jesus never had a claim to the throne. Whatever. If you are claiming support from the Bible, what is the point of also claiming that the Bible gets everything wrong? In Sir Robert's mind, birthright is inalienable; but Jacob bartered Esau's birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. Are the Edomites after all God's peculiar people? Sir Robert takes his stand on the Bible, which is good; but passes over it in silence when when it ultimately fails him.

What is the Biblical basis of any of this? Where is the command instituting patriarchy? Robert Filmer finds his theory of government adequately supported by the commandment to honor thy father. The commandment does say to honor thy father, and mother too, but it seems a bit sketchy to assert, as he does, that the duties of a monarch are just exactly the same as those of a parent:

  • “If we compare the natural rights of a Father with those of a King, we find them all one, without any difference at all but only in the Latitude or Extent of them: as the Father over one family, so the King as Father over many families extends his care to preserve, feed, clothe, instruct and defend the whole Commonwealth. His war, his peace, his courts of justice, and all his acts of sovereignty tend only to preserve and distribute to every subordinate and inferior Father, and to their children, their rights and privileges; so that all the duties of a King are summed up in a universal fatherly care of his people.”
  • (Robert Filmer, Patriarcha, or the Natural Power of Kings, p. 24).

If you read enough of this material, you start to get the impression you know why the Lord said to call no man Father. The Bible says, if a son, then not a slave: "And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; but Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end." (Hebrews 3:5-6). Sir Robert says, if a son, then a slave; the Bible says a son is not a slave. Paul in Galatians, giving an illustration of our standing in Christ, says, "Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. . .Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." (Galatians 4:1-7). This is not a property dispute, but an illustration of our standing in Christ; however it is plain Paul expects his Greek-speaking readers to have in mind a different concept than what Sir Robert is promoting. Once the son attains his majority, he is heir, not a slave.

Why sons have basically no civil rights, Sir Robert does not explain. His paradigm of political autocracy is based on this idea, which, however, is not Biblical:

"There is one thing more, and then I think I have given you all that our author brings for proof of Adam’s sovereignty, and that is a supposition of a natural right of dominion over his children, by being their father: and this title of fatherhood he is so pleased with, that you will find it brought in almost in every page; particularly he says, not only Adam, but the succeeding patriarchs had by right of fatherhood royal authority over their children, p. 12. And in the same page, this subjection of children being the fountain of all regal authority, &c. This being, as one would think by his so frequent mentioning it, the main basis of all his frame, we may well expect clear and evident reason for it, since he lays it down as a position necessary to his purpose, that every man that is born is so far from being free, that by his very birth he becomes a subject of him that begets him, Observations, so that Adam being the only man created, and all ever since being begotten, no body has been born free."
(Locke, John. First Treatise of Government, Chapter VI).

This is bedrock for Sir Robert, but there's nothing there. Basically, the Bible gives no grant of authority to kings in general. Wherever they obtain their crowns and their grant of dominion, it's not from this soil, saving only the Messiah. God's word does say to honor your father, and we are expected to take that as the very same thing. Certainly the monarchy of Israel was no smashing success, nor was the theocracy. Of all the kings of Israel, how many were even believers and not apostates? The law did not fail, the people did; but their monarchs led the way. To find even a recommendation of this form of government in the history of Israel is to avoid looking at what is right before our eyes. I agree with Sir Robert that God always had in mind to bring in monarchy, to provide a title to the throne of Israel for His Son. But perhaps the dangers of unchecked power yawn so wide that only a person of unimpeachable character, like the God-man, Jesus, can safely be entrusted with the office. The rest of us are not worthy. Almost all who tried failed.

Certainly to His one promised king, the Messiah, the Lord gives everything. But the Filmers of the world are not talking about the Messiah, just the garden variety King Charles's and the like we see amassing to themselves a disproportionate slice of the national wealth. So rummaging around, the monarchists find 'Fathers' and figure they're close enough. They're not actually all that close, but evidently close enough for government work.


Douglas Wilson

According to Douglas Wilson, democracy involves the worship of a new god, the god 'demos.' 'Demos' means 'the people':

  • “God was to be toppled, and a new god, the god demos, was to be honored in His place.”

  • (Douglas Wilson, The Case for Classical Christian Education, p. 31)

Who are the leading anti-democracy voices of the present day? Douglas Wilson is certainly one of them. According to Douglas Wilson, democracy inherently represents human rebellion against God: "'. . .the government schools were a rebellious idea from the start.' The nature of this rebellion was democracy— the rule of demos, the people." (Douglas Wilson, The Case for Classical Christian Education, p. 34). Proponents of democracy are idolaters, in short, and he looks forward to the day when "that fundamental faith [in democracy] is rattled and abandoned in repentance." (Douglas Wilson, The Case for Classical Christian Education, p. 36). He gets this from Rousas Rushdoony,

"As a result, the authority of God has been progressively displaced in America by the authority of the new god, the people." (Rushdoony, R. J., The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. 1 (The Institutes of Biblical Law Series) (p. 308). Chalcedon Foundation. Kindle Edition.)

Filmerism is not dead yet even today, unfortunately, though it makes no more sense than it did when John Locke dismantled it and left the pieces lying in the road. It's important to realize that these ideas from long ago, like slavery, like patriarchy, are not good ideas; they did not win the Bible debate either at that time, nor would win it now if fairly held. The Bible does not, in fact, teach these things, like slavery, like the divine right of kings. What other gems of wisdom, what losing side dusted off and rebranded, does this popular teacher have to offer?:


Happy Slaves Racial Insensitivity
What Saith the Scripture? Test Case
John Brown's Body Whosoever Will
Hobgoblin of Little Minds Neighborhood of Boston
French Revolution Spoiling the Egyptians
Slippery Slope League of the South
Birds of a Feather Cultural Inferiority

Robert Filmer was aware the heavy-weights whose works survive from classical antiquity, men like Plato and Aristotle, were not enthusiasts for democracy. It is an odd fact of history that much of the information we have in our hands, surviving from the period of classical antiquity, touching on the Athenian democracy, was written by hostile witnesses. Plato, for instance, was no friend to the people, the 'many.' After Athens' defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War, the oligarchic Spartans compelled Athens to abandon its democracy, instituting in its place the rule of the 'Thirty,' who then commenced a reign of bloody terror. If you read the Dialogues, you already know some of their names:

"Charmides was an uncle of the philosopher Plato, and Critias a cousin of Plato's mother: both of them were prominent members of the circle which gathered around Socrates." (David Stockton, The Classical Athenian Democracy, p. 160).

You're hearing from one side and not the other. Fortunately, democracy in Athens proved resilient enough that it bounced back, at least far enough to receive the hammer-blow from Philip of Macedon when that came. Robert Filmer goes so far as to enlist both Aristotle and Plato to his own absolutist cause, though they are not likely to be volunteers. They share his hatred of democracy. But as readers of Plato's Republic are aware, Plato's ideal state might encounter difficulty in meshing with Patriarchy when citizens start wondering about their own rather dubious paternity:

"Whosoever weighs advisedly these passages, will find little hope of Natural Reason in Aristotle to prove the Natural Liberty of the Multitude. Also before him the Divine Plato concludes a Commonweal to be nothing else but a large family. I know for this position Aristotle quarrels with his master, but most unjustly; for therein he contradicts his own principles for they both agree to fetch the original of civil government from the prime government. No doubt but Moses's History of the Creation guided these two Philosophers in finding out of this lineal subjection deduced from the law of the first parents. . ." (Robert Filmer, Patriarcha, or The Natural Power of Kings, pp. 29-30).

But they were no democrats either. So there's that.


Capital Jurisdiction

How do we know that Adam was the King of the whole world? After all, the population at the time scarcely made up a municipality; why was he not the mayor rather than king? Because he had capital jurisdiction. Did he? Well, others did, or at least they exercised it, whether it was really theirs to exercise or not:

"This Lordship which Adam by command had over the whole world, and by right descending from him the Patriarchs did enjoy, was as large and ample as the absolutest dominion of any Monarch which hath been since the creation; for dominion of life and death, we find that Judah the Father pronounced sentence of death against Thamar his daughter-in-law, for playing the harlot; 'Bring her forth' (saith he) 'that she may be burnt." Touching war, we see that Abraham commanded an army of 318 soldiers of his own family. And Esau met his brother Jacob with 400 men at arms.. . .These acts of judging in capital crimes, of making war, and concluding peace, are the chiefest marks of sovereignty that are found in any Monarch."
(Robert Filmer, Patriarcha or the Natural Power of Kings, p. 13)

'Civilization' is not really a Christian idea; rather it was a pagan Roman ideology of conquest. What right did the Romans have to venture over land and sea, beating down people who were certainly poor enough and had never wronged the Romans? Because they were bringing them a gift for which their gratitude ought to be undying, namely civilization. Cities, market days, writing. . . and law courts. What happens in societies which are so uncivilized that they lack law courts? The leader of the clan or tribe exercises capital jurisdiction. Is God against civilization? Not that I ever heard.

This matter of having the power of life and death over the children is an important part of why he thinks the patriarch was a King, and why the children were never emancipated even after they had left home and established their own households. Arguing against the Jesuit Suarez, he says:

"But let Suarez understand what he please by Adam's family; if he will but confess, as he needs must, that Adam and the Patriarchs had absolute power of life and death, of peace and war, and the like, within their houses or families; he must give us leave at least, to call them Kings of their houses or families; and if they be so by the law of nature, what liberty will be left to their children to dispose of?" (Patriarcha, or The Natural Power of Kings, Robert Filmer, p. 35).

It's hard to see where Adam, the King of the World, ever exercised such jurisdiction, though. When Cain murdered Abel, why is it not Adam who punishes him? Filmer explains that he sees no reason for the children ever to become free:

"But to leave Aristotle, and return to Suarez; he saith that Adam had Fatherly Power over his Sons, whilst they were not made Free. Here I could wish that the Jesuit had taught us, how and when Sons become Free: I know no means by the Law of Nature." (Patriarcha, or the Natural Power of Kings, Robert Filmer, p. 37).

There you have it. Adam just keeps on accumulating power through his natural life, and even beyond it, in the process sucking all power away from everyone else then living on the earth. This whole thing really does seem like an exercise of the imagination, along the lines of motivated reasoning, rather than attentive and humble Bible study. John Locke diagnoses the whole thing as proof by bare assertion.

It cannot safely be assumed that anyone mentioned in the Bible is a person of such exemplary character that his ways can safely be emulated by us. Merely because something is does not mean that it ought to be that way, especially if there is express teaching against it.

  • “Judah had dominion of life and death: how does that appear? He exercised it, he pronounced sentence of death against Thamar: our author thinks it is very good proof, that because he did it, therefore he had a right to do it: he lay with her also: by the same way of proof, he had a right to do that too. If the consequence be good from doing to a right of doing, Absalom too may be reckoned amongst our author’s sovereigns, for he pronounced such a sentence of death against his brother Amnon, and much upon a like occasion, and had it executed too, if that be sufficient to prove a dominion of life and death.”

  • (Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government, First Treatise, Chapter XI. )

It does not answer the question, 'did this party have a right to kill the other party,' to point out that he did kill him, or intended to; the question still remains, did he have a right to kill him? John Locke is right to see some day light between these two things. This way of reading the Bible, which Sir Robert sometimes employs, opens up pitfalls before us where we might imitate an unsuitable example and stumble; think of polygamy, for instance. When the patriarchs did things that God later revealed, in his law or by the teaching of His Messiah, were not good, such as polygamy, there is no good grounds to imitate their example. These wandering Aramaeans are going to save you when God condemns you? Don't count on it. Is the Bible a book that tells the story of exemplary persons whose example is always safe to follow? That God loved these men we know. But God sometimes hangs with a rough crowd, like Rahab the prostitute and Jacob the trickster. Certainly these wandering pastoralists would have been astonished to discover they were the potentates over all creation, having inherited the patent from Adam.

Certainly the patriarchs kept their eyes always on God and sought to follow Him; this we should emulate. Realizing that David, the man after God's own heart, is revealed in scripture as a murderer and an adulterer, and Solomon, who pleased God by praying for wisdom, was overly accommodating to false religion, caution is indicated in elevating example over written law. In cases where Sir Robert blatantly contradicts the Bible, for instance in denying that the king is subject to the law, he must not be followed. Does the Bible teach the divine right of kings, i.e., patriarchy? Not in the slightest. It is fascinating to realize that this dispute, over the Bible, was foundational to American history. Why did we have a revolutionary war? Why did we establish representative democracy? Because Sir Robert is wrong, about the Bible, and John Locke proved that he is wrong.

As noted, the atheists tend to go back over history, revive all these Bible debates where one side won so conclusively that the course of history was changed, and announce to a wondering world that the Bible actually teaches the losing side of the debate; people abandoned it, you see, with a wink and a nod, realizing they were giving up the Bible. So we must revisit the conflict between the geocentrists and the heliocentrists, between the abolitionists and the slave-owners, between the democrats and the flatterers of tyrants, and conclude that the side that offered bad arguments, even in some cases ridiculous arguments, really won the debate fair and square. They will even do this with the dispute between the orthodox and the rising sect of the Unitarians in early America. Unitarianism exploded on the world with a bang, then retreated with a whimper. Why? Because their arguments were so good? Their arguments were not any good at all. The atheists think the Unitarians won that round, though, just like they think the slave-owners won the slavery debate.

Once the atheists have revived these bad and thoroughly defeated ideas, then charlatans like Douglas Wilson pick up the hue and cry, doing all they can to convince the gullible that the Bible really does support slavery, and patriarchy for that matter; why, after all, don't all the atheists know this? What's the matter, you're not as smart as the atheists? It's just warmed over anti-Christian polemic; it wasn't convincing the first time, and it's not any more convincing when it's marketed by nominal Christians. So then you get this echoing phenomenon, where flat-earthers come out of the woodwork, explaining that the Bible teaches flat-earthism. It does? Sure, haven't you heard? All the atheists say so!

We in America should realize that the beautiful thing our founding fathers put together, our representative democracy, was not created in defiance of the Bible, but because of it. We should conserve what is good, not toss it out because the atheists would deny us credit for it. And we should run away, as we would from a monster, a political program like this one, arising from the pit, and smelling like smoke:



When you encounter someone who does not want to hear what the law of Moses says on a certain topic, does not want to know what the Sermon on the Mount says about that topic, your response should be suspicion. Why are we going back to the patriarchs of Israel, when so much teaching has been sent down from above in the mean time?

For an example: the law of Moses says, of Israelite slavery, six years and out: "If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing." (Exodus 21:2). But six years and out doesn't work for Robert Lewis Dabney, and so we go on a wild ride through scripture, eventually landing on blameless Abraham, if only life-long slavery can be salvaged. Since the Bible speaks in a terse and telegraphic way about the patriarchs, we do not actually know much about them; what did they know and what did they not know? Under what terms and conditions did Abraham's servants follow him? The Bible tells us that Abraham was God's friend. But he did not know the law, which would not be revealed until centuries later. Did God find his very presence abhorrent and unclean? Or was the ceremonial law not intended to guard God's sensibilities, but only to keep Israel separate from the nations? Paul's explanation for the patriarchs' anomalous position is that they were saved by faith, not by works, just as is the case with all who are saved.

We tend to think the patriarchs must have been like the Bedouin tribes-people of the present day, because they seem to follow a similar mode of life. But does even the head man of a Bedouin clan have the kind of power Sir Robert wants for his all-powerful European monarchs, who can do what they will and need consider no one else? They must if the patrimony descends from Adam through the patriarchs to the crowned heads of Europe of that day. What constraints they labor under we do not know, neither with the Bedouins nor the patriarchs. We do know they were without the law, as we are not.

In teaching us what is sin, the law, in a sense, awakens sin: "For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death." (Romans 7:8-10). One might engage in certain behavior, not knowing it is sinful in God's eyes; but once you know, you know; you cannot go back. The timeline runs in only one direction. If Robert Lewis Dabney is not willing to accept God's labor law, he needs to find another religion.

Likewise Sir Robert. If the absolute, one-man rule he wants to see established does not 'work' with verses like, "The kings of the Genties exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.' But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves." (Luke 22:26-27), the patriarchs cannot be his ace in the hole simply to erase the problematic verses. The question to ask is not, what is wrong with the patriarchs? There is nothing wrong with them. The question is, what is wrong with the law and the gospel, in your eyes, and why are you not content to live under them?


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No Distinction Binding of Isaac
Paul Three Hundred Eighteen
Stranger and Pilgrim