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Theocracy

Theocracy [N]

a word first used by Josephus to denote that the Jews were under the direct government of God himself. The nation was in all things subject to the will of their invisible King. All the people were the servants of Jehovah, who ruled over their public and private affairs, communicating to them his will through the medium of the prophets. They were the subjects of a heavenly, not of an earthly, king. They were Jehovah's own subjects, ruled directly by him (Compare 1 Samuel 8:6-9 ).

These dictionary topics are from
M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible

Bibliography Information

Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Theocracy". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .

THEOCRACY

the-ok'-ra-si (theokratia, from theos, "a god," and kratos, "power"; after the analogy of the words "democracy," "aristocracy," and the like):

"Theocracy" is not a Biblical word. The idea, however, is Biblical, and in strictness of speech exclusively Biblical. The realization of the idea is not only confined to Israel, but in the pre-exilic history of Israel the realization of the idea was confined to the Southern Kingdom, and in post-exilic history to the period between the return under Ezra and the days of Malachi.

For the word "theocracy" we are, by common consent, indebted to Josephus. In his writings it seems to occur but once (Apion, II, xvi). The passage reads as follows:

"Our lawgiver had an eye to none of these," that is, these different forms of government, such as monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, and others of which Josephus had been speaking, "but, as one might say, using a strained expression, he set forth the national polity as a theocracy, referring the rule and might to God" (Stanton's translation). It is generally agreed that the language here used indicates that Josephus knew himself to be coining a new word.

If, now, we turn from the word to the Old Testament idea to which it gives fitting and apt expression, that idea cannot be better stated than it has been by Kautzsch--namely, "The notion of theocracy is that the constitution (of Israel) was so arranged that all the organs of government were without any independent power, and had simply to announce and execute the will of God as declared by priest and prophets, or reduced to writing as a code of laws" (HDB, extra vol, 630, 1, init.). The same writer is entirely correct when he says that in what is known in certain circles as "the PC"--though he might have said in the Old Testament generally--"everything, even civil and criminal law, is looked at from the religious standpoint" (ibid., ut supra).

If the foregoing be a correct account of the idea expressed by the word "theocracy," and particularly if the foregoing be a correct account of the Old Testament representation of God's relation to, and rule in and over Israel, it follows as a matter of course that the realization of such an idea was only possible within the sphere of what is known as special revelation. Indeed, special revelation of the divine will, through divinely-chosen organs, to Divinely appointed executive agents, is, itself, the very essence of the idea of a theocracy.

That the foregoing is the Old Testament idea of God's relation to His people is admitted to be a natural and necessary implication from such passages as Judges 8:23; 1 Samuel 8; compare 12:12; 2 Chronicles 13:8; 2 Samuel 7:1-17; Psalms 89:27; Deuteronomy 17:14-20.

Upon any other view of the origin of the Old Testament books than that which has heretofore prevailed, it is certainly a remarkable fact that whenever the books of the Old Testament were written, and by whomsoever they may have been written, and whatever the kind or the number of the redactions to which they may have been subjected, the conception--the confessedly unique conception--of a government of God such as that described above by Kautzsch is evidenced by these writings in all their parts. This fact is all the more impressive in view of the further fact that we do not encounter this sharply defined idea of a rule of God among men in any other literature, ancient or modern. For while the term "theocracy" occurs in modern literature, it is evidently used in a much lower sense. It is futher worth remarking that this Old Testament idea of the true nature of God's rule in Israel has only to be fully apprehended for it to become obvious that many of the alleged analogies between the Old Testament prophet and the modern preacher, reformer and statesman are wholly lacking in any really solid foundation.

W. M. McPheeters


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'THEOCRACY'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.