Extension of Civil Disobedience

Mencius claims that the state can be overthrown if it loses the Mandate of Heaven (I.B.8):

King Xuan of Qi asked, saying, “That Tang [the first king of Shang] banished Jie [the last king of Xia], and that king Wu smote Zhou [the last king of Shang]: was it so?”

Mencius replied, “It is so in the records.”

The king said, “May a minister then put his sovereign to death?”

Mencius said, “He who mutilates benevolence is called a mutilator; he who injures righteousness is called an injurer. The mutilator and injurer we call an outcast. I have heard of the cutting off of the outcast Zhou, but I have not heard of the putting a sovereign to death, in his case.”

Given the definition of a true sovereign, or rather the repudiation of king Zhou as a legitimate king, is overthrow of a state from within morally compatible with biblical thought? What is the relationship between Mencius’ comments and Romans 13?

Tim mentioned to me in person the example of Saul and David, but it strikes me as a case of refusal to lift a hand against the one anointed by a prophet of God for a holy office rather than an outright refusal to endorse any regime change. This we see once Saul was killed and his son Ish-Bosheth was placed on the throne. It was Saul’s destiny that was at issue, much more than his legitimacy per se. Once the ruling power’s legitimacy became iffy, David seems to have had no qualms about holding a rival court even where it opposed the established dynasty.

What then? What constitutes a government biblically? How can and must believers act toward it?


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