If the Creation Blessing of Genesis 1:26-28 is the foundational text for a biblical theology of government, as argued earlier, then how does one move from the dominion that all mankind is blessed with to a government in which some men rule over others?
Interestingly, this is a matter that engaged political theorists such as Robert Filmer and John Locke. Filmer argued that all governmental authority is patriarchal. Adam was the first ruler because he was the the first father. He sees further evidence that patriarchs were rulers in the fact that Abraham and Esau oversaw armies, that Abraham entered into treaties with kings, and that Judah had the power to sentence Tamar to death. When God established a king in Israel, he did so on a dynastic principle (All of these arguments are found in the first chapter of Filmer’s Patriarcha). The upshot of Filmer’s argument was support for monarchy and opposition to increasing republican and democratic elements.
Locke rejected Filmer’s argument in his First Treatise of Government. Greg Forster summarizes Locke’s counter-proposal:
Locke argues that in God’s design of human nature, the relevant point for this question is that the capacity to have dominion over—to use and destroy—other things, meaning especially the capacities of intellect and will, are present in the entire human species. The need to exercise dominion—the need for food, clothing, etc.—is also diffused throughout the species. Every human being is therefore constructed by God to be an Exerciser of dominion. This implies that no human being is made to be an object of dominion. By nature, then, the human race is in a state of freedom and equality.
Greg Forster, Starting with Locke, loc. 1440.
And the rule of everybody over everybody is not government. Forster again summarizes Locke’s way of thinking:
So someone must have authority to enforce the natural law, since it is God’s law and cannot be void. Yet no particular person has a specific mandate to such authority, either from nature or revelation.
Locke takes these premises and makes a bold deduction. If someone must have authority to enforce the natural law, yet no particular person has a specific mandate for it, it must follow that—at least by nature—everyone has that authority equally.
Greg Forster, Starting With Locke, loc. 1448.
From this starting point Locke reaches government by consent of the governed. Since all have equal authority, government must have that authority by the consent of all over whom it rules.
Both of these theories have significant problems. For instance, how would Filmer account for the authority of kings who could not trace their geneology back to the line of kings that flowed from Adam or Noah?
Forster points out one of the large problems for Locke:
This theory of consent is subject to a number of problems; the most important of these is the problem of establishing that people do in fact consent. Consent theory implies—and Locke explicitly affirms—that people are not born as members of the community. Because people are by nature free and equal, they are free and equal when they are born. Only when they give their consent do they become members of the community, and thus obligated to obey its authority (see T II. 119, 176). …
Locke, like most consent theorists, argues that any adult who chooses to remain in a country and live there rather than leave it has consented—implicitly or ‘tacitly,’ even if not explicitly—to be ruled by its laws. . . . Only explicit consent can make a person a member of society, but this implicit or tacit consent is all that is needed to legitimately enforce the law. ….
The theory of tacit consent is subject to a number of objections. Is it reasonable to expect people to undertake the burden of leaving the country as the price of not giving their consent? And where will they go without having to face the same problem elsewhere?
Locke considers these questions, but only briefly and without much attention to the objections.
Greg Forster, Starting with Locke, loc 1533-1556.
It seems to me that there is little problem in affirming an authority structure in a world in which all humans are given the blessing of dominion over the earth. We see this with Adam and Eve in the first family. Yet how the first governmental structure of authority emerged is not specified by Scripture.
I think the silence of Scripture on this point is intentional. If Scripture told us how the first government formed, we would want to test the legitimacy of all subsequent governments on whether or not they were formed in the same way. But that is not what God would have us to do. God wants his people to submit to the existing authorities because “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1).