Well, even though I’m a lawyer, I took no political science classes. (Math major. Ask me about cosines sometime.)
And the Bible does not give a complete theology of good government. But it does speak of government as both a gift from God and an enemy of God. Really. Kind of like the Law of Moses. A necessary thing that, in the case of government, will become unnecessary when Jesus returns. The last enemy is death, but somewhere just before death, Jesus is going to destroy government.
(Rom 13:1-7 ESV) Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Paul says that government has certain legitimate purposes, and we should honor the government as it fulfills these purposes. Among them are punishing those who “do wrong” (v. 4). Unfortunately, Paul doesn’t give us any detail on doing wrong, and I doubt that he wanted the government involved in the circumcision controversy that was such a difficulty in his ministry.
BDAG defines “do wrong” as harming others or being morally or socially reprehensible. The language doesn’t pick up all sin, but it’s quite broad.
Peter offers similar counsel —
(1Pe 2:13-17 ESV) Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
The government is established to “punish those who do evil.” The word for “those who do evil” has the same root as Paul’s “do bad” and generally refers to criminals — but doesn’t say who should and shouldn’t be a criminal in any detail.
Obviously, there is some guidance in the Torah, but just as obviously, the Torah was for an Ancient Near Eastern theocracy in which God was the acknowledged ultimate ruler, whereas the United States is not a theocracy. People dispute as to what the Founders intended, but they clearly did not intend to adopt the Torah wholesale as law — and few would want that. After all, the Torah requires animal sacrifice and makes barbecue pork unclean and prohibited by law. (I add “pork” for the sake of Texan readers who are unfamiliar the correct usage of “barbecue.” It’s so sad.)
The government seen negatively
(Rom 8:38-39 ESV) 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“Rulers” is arche, which is often used of people in governmental authority. “Powers” translates dynamis, which can also be used of a government official, especially one of great power. But these words can also refer to spiritual powers.
An interesting, short read is David Lipscomb’s Civil Government. Lipscomb points out —
(1Co 15:24-26 ESV) 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
The words “rule,” “authority,” and “power” also can refer both to earthly powers and to spiritual powers. Lipscomb sees the focus being on earthly powers.
In fact, it’s rarely easy to tell which Paul means, likely because he saw little distinction. The Caesars claimed to be sons of a god and to become gods upon their deaths. They asked for worship from the people.
The Revelation treats the Roman government as a spiritual enemy of God, according to most commentators.
The ancients understood nations to each have their own gods, so that wars were ultimately contests between the gods. YHWH was therefore “the God of Israel” because he’d chosen Israel as his people, just as the Greek goddess Artemis had chosen Ephesus. Hence, the ancients saw government as having its power by virtue of the god of that nation. The caesar had his power because his god gave him that power. Thus, to defeat the heavenly powers was to defeat their earthly avatars (if I may borrow from Hinduism or computer games), and to defeat a nation was to defeat its god.
And it’s the nature of all government to insist on the loyalty of its citizens and subjects, even contrary to the known will of God. I mean, “No man can serve two masters.” “It’s better to serve God than man.” The second quotation deals specifically with the conflict that sometimes arises between government and God.
So the government is necessary to protect us from evildoers, but the government almost inevitably becomes an evildoer when, for example, it seeks to compel Christians to violate their beliefs — a very real problem in the US today.
Hence, governments will not survive the Second Coming. They’ll no longer be needed. And their gods will burn in the Lake of Fire when Jesus finally defeats all the principalities, powers, and authorities.
I disagree with Lipscomb’s view that, because government is the enemy of Christ, Christians cannot be a part of the government. After all, Esther is the story of the good that happens when a good woman — a Jewess — is elevated to power in a secular government. The same is true of Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah — each of whom served as a part of secular government and furthered God’s intentions in so doing.
But as Daniel very capably illustrates, there are times when even a servant of the king must disobey his earthly king in order to serve God. Not everyone is willing to enter the lions’ den to avoid sinning, but that’s how Daniel managed to be both faithful to God and a government official. It should give us all pause.