Yesterday we celebrated July 4th, Independence Day. This has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941, but the tradition of Independence Day celebrations goes back to the 18th century and the American Revolution. On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, and two years later, delegates from the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence.
I am guessing you already know that. The question I am going to address is focused on this time in our nation’s history. Here is the question I have been asked to tackle. What was the biblical justification of the American Revolution?
Let me be upfront. I am not going to biblically defend the American Revolution. I am going to look at the Founders’ biblical defense for it. I am going to look at their biblical hermeneutic. Biblical hermeneutics are the methods used to properly interpret and apply the Bible. As you could imagine, you can find many personal views today on whether or not the American Revolution was biblically right or wrong. It’s easy to have an opinion, especially nearly 250 years later. I want to look at the Founders’ biblical understanding that led to the American Revolution.
Based on numerous historical theological writings (which, significantly, had also been regularly preached from American pulpits for decades prior to the American Revolution), American Revolutionaries embraced two specific theological positions that guided their thinking and conduct in their conflict against Great Britain. What was the first biblical understanding that led to the American Revolution? Most Christians during the Founding Era believed they were forbidden to overthrow the institution of government and live in anarchy but were not required to submit to every law and policy.
When the colonist sought the Scriptures to determine appropriate action against tyranny, they recognized a difference between resisting the general institution of government (an institution ordained by God Himself) and resisting tyrannical leaders who had themselves rebelled against God. The biblical model for this position was repeatedly validated when God Himself raised up leaders such as Gideon, Ehud, Jephthah, Samson, and Deborah to throw off tyrannical governments – leaders later praised in Hebrews 11:32 for those acts of faith. Throughout the writings of the founders is the view that they did not intend to revolt against the institution of government but tyranny. Tyranny is defined as the exercise of power over subjects and others with a rigor not authorized by law or justice or not in alignment with the purpose of government.
The Founders had a second biblical understanding that led to the American Revolution. Most Christians during the Founding Era believed that God would not honor an offensive war but would permit civil self-defense (Neh 4:13-14; 20-21, Zech 9:8, 2 Sam 10:12). The fact that the American Revolution was an act of self-defense and was not an offensive war undertaken by the Americans remained a point of frequent spiritual confirmation for the Founding Fathers. This belief was so rooted in our Founders’ minds that this command was given to the Lexington Minutemen: “Don’t fire unless fired upon!” They were fired upon without having broken any law. Therefore, they felt their reaction was justified self-defense.
Based on these two theological understandings: that God Himself had ordained the institution of civil government and that God had explicitly authorized civil self-defense, The Founding Fathers and most Americans in that day believed they were conducting themselves in a manner that was not in rebellion with the Bible but in alignment with it. You may have your own opinion about the biblical justification of the American Revolution. You are welcome to it. For me, the challenge is whether or not I am actively pursuing God’s guidance through the Bible in the many decisions and cultural realities I face each and every day.
You might find John Wesley’s Quadrilateral helpful. It’s how John Wesley proposed we decide if something is biblically right or wrong. Wesley suggested you ask: (1) What does the Bible say? (2) What has the church, through two thousand years, said? (3) Does it make reasonable sense? (4) Is it proven out in human experience? Keith Drury offers this baseball illustration. It is going to first base, starting with the Bible. Then rounding second base by examining what the church has taught (orthodoxy). Running over to third base, reason, and experience, Then taking it to home plate, back to the Bible, and making the decision. Many have found Wesley’s Quadrilateral helpful in studying and applying God’s Word to their lives.
I find this verse very insightful. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Paul is writing to his young protégé, Timothy. All Scripture is inspired by God – literally “God-breathed.” The purpose of Scripture is to teach true doctrine (Christian belief based on Scripture), correct false doctrine, reprove immorality, and instruct in a life of “righteousness.” It is crucial believers study and apply the Word of God to their daily living.
You might not totally agree with the biblical conclusion our nation’s Founders came up with, but you can’t genuinely deny the time they spent searching the Scriptures for direction. Perhaps, more than anything, we can take from them the importance of studying and applying God’s Word to our lives and doing it properly, with solid hermeneutics. God calls all of us to be biblically rooted. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!