Introduction to a Quadperspectival Approach to Ethics Using Civil Disobedience as a Case Study

This excerpt from Dr. Kayser's book The Divine Right of Resistance answers the question, "How do I know what to do when?" Here Dr. Kayser takes all the principles laid out in the book and shows how to actually apply them in a specific case study (the state banning the owning or buying of weapons.) Dr. Kayser shows how the rules of Scripture, combined with the Bible's teachings on goals, motives, and the particulars of the situation, gives a much clearer, more detailed, and more personalized answer than the common but simplistic rules-only approach.



We've just looked at a lot of examples of what types of resistance are lawful, and when.

As we now try to apply these biblical principles to real-life situations, we need to understand that Biblical ethics has more layers to it than merely "the rules." There are many rules for speech (e.g. "let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth" – Eph. 4:29). But the Bible also says that our speech must fit the situation ("in due season" – Prov. 15:23; "according to the need of the moment" – Eph. 4:29), must have a proper motive ("speaking the truth in love" – Eph. 4:15), and must have a godly goal ("for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers" – Eph. 4:29).

Proverbs 27:14 shows that a person can still be in sin even when a biblical rule or formula is being followed to the T. We are commanded in Scripture to bless one another. However, this passage says, "He who blesses his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it will be counted a curse to him." If this man was only focused on rules, he could insist that he is obeying God. But if his motive in loudly blessing was to irritate his friend, that would violate biblical principles of heart attitude and motive, and he would be in sin. If he blesses his friend with a loud voice at 3AM, then the Bible would say that he has not taken his situation of sleep-time into account, and that would also make it sin. And if the consequences or end result do not actually bless or encourage the neighbor, but instead irritate and are counted as a curse, then we have violated the relational and end-goal sides of the equation.

In other words, Biblical ethics does not stop with the rules of the Bible (what theologians call Deontology) β€” it requires applying Scripture across multiple ethical dimensions including the rules, but also motives, situations, and goals. I highly recommend Greg Bahnsen's Ethics Course and his Christian Ethics Intensive for developing a well-rounded, multi-perspectival understanding of ethics.

Ethical decisions should be approached from all four of these angles (an approach I call Quadperspectivalism):

Deontology means the laws, rules, or standards that God has given in the Bible. Deontology without the other three facets of ethics is useless. The Bible tells us not to murder, and then clarifies what that means in unique situations (self-defense is not murder; some war is murder, but some is not, etc.).

Situationalism is not pragmatism (like secular situational ethics is). It means sensitivity to the details of the situation (e.g. Is it 3AM?) and how those may change things.

Personalism involves the details about the unique individual. God has different considerations based on differences in the person's life. For instance, his status β€” is he a person in authority, or a person under authority? Married or unmarried? A child or an adult? Scripture indicates that babies must be treated differently than adults, so, when God says, "If a person will not work, neither shall he eat" (2 Thess. 3:10), He is referring to able-bodied people who are mooching off of others, not to babies or the comatose. God also weighs our attitudes and motives, our level of knowledge, whether we were deceived into doing something wrong or did it with outright rebellion, and so on.

Teleology is when we apply the Bible to the trajectory of a decision β€” the goals, future opportunity cost, the consequences for actions (for ourselves and for others), and what other dominoes will fall if we (fill in the blank).

Why God cares about all four: If a person is only interested in rules, but not in a proper heart attitude toward God or others, he can become a Pharisee. If he only cares about "the heart," but neglects goals or rules, he is a subjectivist and a postmodern relativist (or possibly a "lawless" man). If he is interested only in the goal or situation, he is a pragmatist. Godly character and action require caring about all four perspectives.

Case Study β€” Applying this Quadperspectival Approach to Politics

Now let's look at a relevant hot-button scenario through all these layers of ethical considerations.

Case Study: The state confiscates all weapons and bans the acquisition of new weapons of self-defense

People tend toward one of two extremes on this subject β€” let's either obediently turn in all weapons, or let's go down shooting if officers come to claim them. When we tease the four sides of ethics apart, we see that neither option is biblical.

Deontology (Laws, Rules, Standards)

What does the law say about having or keeping weapons of self-defense, and about using lethal force against magistrates?

Embedded right into the law was the right to defend yourself against common criminals, rioters, and bandits. Exodus 32:27 says, "Let every man put his sword on his side..." This implies that every man was expected to have a weapon. Weapon ownership was expected of all men (Ex. 22:2; Neh. 4:16,17,18,23; Esth. 8:11; etc.) and David exercised that right (1 Sam. 16:18; 18:4; 21:8-10,13; 25:13) even when the Philistines disarmed the population (1 Sam. 13:19,22) and later when Saul (by inference) seems to have disarmed the citizens (1 Sam. 22:13).

Interestingly, Jesus continued that tradition in Luke 22:36. He said that He had sent them out once before without money, extra clothing, or swords to show that He could miraculously provide for them. But now that He was leaving them, He gave an abiding principle: "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it [in other words, don't presume upon God financially], and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one." That passage is saying that owning a weapon is more important than owning a second garment. It is one of the most fundamental of the God-given rights in Scripture. And as mentioned previously, Jesus gave that command in a society that had prohibited sword ownership. It was a clear-cut case of civil disobedience. In other words, Jesus was saying that the illegalization of firearms is not a good reason to avoid owning arms.

But Scripture was just as clear that a private citizen could not raise the sword against the civil magistrate. I have a lengthy discussion of the details of this situation in my Life of David sermon series, but my summary of the evidence is this:

  1. Though God disapproved of Saul's tyranny and said that Saul had no Biblical right to be a king (1 Sam. 15:26-29,35; 16:1,14; 28:15-19; etc.), until Saul could be impeached or removed with some other lawful means, David refused to raise his hand against him (1 Sam. 24; 26).

  2. Though David had the right to own weapons for self-defense (Luke 22:35-38; Ex. 22:2; Neh. 4:16,17,18,23; Esth. 8:11; etc.), he did not raise the sword against his civil government while he was a private citizen (1 Sam. 24:6,10; 26:9,11,16,23; 2 Sam. 1:14,16; cf. Matt. 26:52).

  3. Though David had the right to form a private militia and to defend against common criminals (1 Sam. 25:7-8) and roving bands of thugs (1 Chron. 12:21), he knew he could not use it against Saul except under two circumstances: a) when fighting under the magistrate of Keilah (1 Sam. 23:1-13) and when he was the magistrate of the city of Ziklag (1 Sam. 27:5-7; 28:2; 30:1-26).

Christ affirmed the same situation. He told His disciples that as private citizens, they could not physically fight against the civil tyrant even to protect innocent life (Luke 22:50-51 with Matt. 26:52). In stark contrast to this principle, Jesus said that if He were a civil magistrate, He would be obligated to fight and his servants would be obligated to fight for Him: "If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here" (John 18:36). This clearly implies that godly lower magistrates have a duty to interpose themselves and to fight against a higher magistrate in order to protect the citizens under their charge. If they do not do so, then they are failing to follow Christ.

Teleology (Trajectory, Consequences)

What will be the trajectory or consequences of each option?

Luke 14:31-32 gives a practical example of looking at teleology: "What king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace." What is true of kings is also true of subjects β€” Scripture indicates that it is always worthwhile to count the future costs of our actions. There are times when being ripped off or deprived of a right is better than the alternative.

Jesus, who commanded the disciples to take swords during a time when swords were outlawed, also warned his disciples when they sought to use one of those swords against a tyrannical agent of the state who had come to arrest him, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matt. 26:52). Christ did not contradict His earlier command to carry swords. Indeed, He reinforced that command by telling Peter to put the sword back into the scabbard rather than to discard the sword. Instead he insists that the just consequence of revolution (a citizen raising the sword against the civil government without authorization from another magistrate) is capital punishment. As Lenski points out:

This statement does not include those to whom God delegates the sword (government and legal authorities) but those who, like Peter, arrogate the sword to themselves, i.e., the sword that represents violence and bloodshed. This sword shall strike back at them with just retribution. It is the old law of Gen. 9:6, the basis of all Jewish criminology, which is reiterated in Rev. 13:10. Jesus holds it up to Peter in warning, and it is futile to quote him and the Scriptures against capital punishment.1

When we count the cost of resisting with the sword (losing our lives), we may see that other options (hiding, relocating, using the black market, etc.) would be better.

Situation (Details of the particular circumstances)

What special considerations does the situation introduce?

The situation might call for any of the different responses we saw previously in the Tactics section. For example, when it's possible to appeal to a lower magistrate (or a higher magistrate), then that providential situation needs to be pursued. Paul used the court system to defend his rights (Acts 23:1-10; 24:1-26:32; 28:19; Titus 3:13) and appealed to the law against the actions of magistrates (Acts 16:35-40; 22:25-26; 23:3; 25:11). Other circumstances might warrant fleeing or hiding stuff (Ex. 2:2-3; Joshua 2:4,6,16; 6:17,25; Judges 6:11; 1 Sam. 20:5,24; 1 Kings 18:13; Matt. 2:13; 10:23; 24:16; Acts 14:6). Others might warrant using the imprecatory psalms (Acts 4:25-31; Rev. 6:10; 8:1-7; 16:5-7). There are rare times when citizens should side with a magistrate and go to war against tyrants (Heb. 11:34 summarizes the many Old Testament passages that called for this). However, when the types of resistance listed above were not available or did not work, Christians were willing to submit to confiscation of goods rather than resist the government with the sword (Heb. 10:34).

Personalism (Details about the unique individual)

Personalism asks "Who?" If you're a magistrate, for instance, you have powers available to you that a private citizen, without magisterial back-up, does not. If you're a magistrate, shooting back to defend citizens during a gun-confiscation campaign might not only be your right, but your duty.

However, let's say you're a citizen, and the Sheriff in your county deputizes all citizens of his gun-sanctuary county to resist with force. Now it may now be lawful for you to use deadly force (though it still may not be prudent (teleology) or achievable (situation)). The authorization of the Sheriff could take this out of the realm of revolution and into the realm of supporting a civil office in interposition. This is obviously treading into dangerous waters, and Junius Brutus's book, A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants, is perhaps the best resource on the Biblical limits and contours of lethal resistance to tyranny.

Personalism also asks about the motive of the "who." Sinful motives could involve rebellion, pride, anarchy, hatred, fear, etc. Godly motives could include courage, humility, submission, love for others.

The 6th commandment is intended to preserve life, not to destroy it.


In other words, when we ask, "What should I do?" or "Would it be right to resist X?," the Bible doesn't give us a simple, one-size fits all answer for questions like these. The Bible does give hard and fast rules (deontology) like the 10 Commandments and the rest of the law, but there's a reason so much of the Bible is either narrative passages (case studies in how the law plays out in different situations, motives, and trajectories), wisdom passages, like Proverbs (fleshing out how "the rules" apply in different situations), poetic passages (showing the inner war over right attitudes, motives, etc.), and historical and prophetic passages (full of warnings and examples of consequences of both obedience and disobedience β€” teleology on an individual and national scale).

Questions about civil disobedience are complex, multi-layered decisions, and we need to apply the whole counsel of God to them. "All Scripture is given... that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We need to stop searching for cookie cutter answers, and start saturating our minds with the Word that is "a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). And then we need to let that light guide us through questions more like this:

Deontology Questions β€” What rules from Scripture apply to this situation?

Are there instructions from Scripture that support resisting in this situation, in this way? Is there anything in Scripture that would forbid it?

If it's lawful, would it require my doing something else that is forbidden, or keep me from doing something that is commanded? Am I neglecting the weightier matters of the law in pursuing this? (Matt. 23:23)

Are there other commands in Scripture that would overrule this otherwise fine goal? For instance, the widow who gave her all to the church was praised as righteous, but the Pharisees who gave to the church what they should have given to support their parents were condemned, because they were breaking the 5th commandment (Matt. 15:5-6).

Do I even know God's commands? Have I ever read through the entire Bible, even once? Do I know and understand the 10 Commandments? Jesus says that Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 6 contain the greatest commandments β€” do I know what is in them? Am I reading the Scriptures regularly, praying that God open my eyes that I will be softened rather than hardened by the Word? Am I sure my convictions are coming from Scripture, and not the traditions of men? Have I compared everything in Dr. Kayser's book with Scripture, like the noble Bereans, or am I just taking his word for it?

Teleology Questions β€” What consequences or effects will there be?

If I'm going out of my way to resist, have I counted the cost? Is this stand worth what it would cost me, my wife, my children, my employees, or my church?

Are there other good solutions that wouldn't negatively affect the people in my care?

Will rebelling at every tyrannical parking ticket help or hurt my opportunities to influence the magistrate on the bigger issues?

What would be the consequences if I did not resist?

Situation Questions β€” What are the specific details of this situation?

Have I sought to get legal exemptions?

Have I approached the authorities humbly by way of petition?

Am I doing the other things I can and should be doing to turn the tide?

Am I praying for my magistrates?

Have I ever talked with my mayor, county commissioners, state representative, or state senator about Jesus and what His Word requires?

If my rulers are church-goers, have I talked with their pastors about their involvement in discipling this leader? Have I offered to help?

If my magistrate is trying to do the right thing through bad or statist means, have I gone to him to suggest an alternate solution for better accomplishing his goal, before starting an uprising? Is there a way to use this situation to seek the good of my magistrate, as well as of my freedoms?

Have I talked with my county officials about interposing and becoming a Sanctuary county? For the unborn, for Biblical marriage, for the 2nd Amendment, for the Crown Rights of King Jesus?

Should I be actively helping to replace the problematic magistrate(s) in question? Should I run for office, or help anyone in my church or community to run?

Personalism Questions β€” What am I bringing personally into this equation?

What is my motive, or attitude? Do I want to help this ruler rule for Jesus, or do I just want him gone?

Have I checked first to make sure I don't have a log in my own eye (Matt. 7:2-5)? Am I expecting the same level of obedience to Christ in myself that I am in my magistrate?

Have I sought counsel from wise men (Prov. 24:6, 11:14, 15:22)?

Am I acting under authority? Would I be rebelling against the lawful authorities in my life (e.g. parents, elders, employer)?

Have I done the first things first (pray, repent, etc.)?

Do I have reason to believe God would fight on my side? Is there "sin in the camp" that might make God refuse to go with me in this fight (Joshua 7, Deut. 23:9,14, Isa. 59:1-2)?

Have I armed myself with spiritual armor for this fight? Do I understand that taking on the forces of wickedness requires putting on the breastplate of righteousness, the preparation of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:10-20)? Am I doing this?

For more on a theology of Christian Resistance, you can read Dr. Phillip Kayser's book, The Divine Right of Resistance: Biblical Options for Opposing Tyranny or check out the messages that inspired the book at


  1. R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 1051–1052. ↩

Introduction to a Quadperspectival Approach to Ethics Using Civil Disobedience as a Case Study published on October 14, 2021

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