What The Bible Says About Civil Disobedience

Biblical Civil Disobedience

What The Bible Says About Civil Disobedience

While much has changed since the days of the Bible, we experience many of the same struggles in our lives today. By studying the Bible, we can gain a better perspective on how to face the challenges we experience. One of the many challenges faced by Christians since the days of the Bible is civil disobedience in the light of corrupt leadership. As our country continues to move further away from our strong Christian foundation, this is something that we may encounter on a more frequent basis.

So, what does the Bible say about civil disobedience? Throughout the Bible, we find numerous passages commanding that we submit to the leaders that God has placed over us. However, we also find examples of Christians who were commanded to do something that directly violated God’s Word. In these examples, civil disobedience is not only permissible but also commanded.

The topic of civil disobedience can be quite complex. While we are instructed to obey the governing authorities God has placed in leadership over us, we must keep in mind that our ultimate citizenship is in heaven. In this post, we will take a closer look at what the Bible says about civil disobedience. We will share some examples of civil disobedience in the Bible as well as advice on how Christians today should view this important topic.

Understanding a Biblical View of Civil Disobedience

As our world continues to drift further away from the truth found in Scripture, it is important that we establish a strong Biblical perspective on important issues. In doing so, we not only equip ourselves to face adversity with boldness but we also more fully understand our response as Christians to things such as evil leadership. 

What is Civil Disobedience?

Merriam-Webster defines civil disobedience as “refusal to obey governmental demands or commands especially as a nonviolent and usually collective means of forcing concessions from the government”.

For Christians, civil disobedience is the act of intentionally disobeying governing authorities because of a higher conviction to Scripture. When a Christian engages in civil disobedience, they are doing so out of a conviction that the ruling authorities are commanding them to do something that is in direct contradiction to a command in Scripture.  

It is important to note that civil disobedience is not a convenient loophole for policies or procedures with which you may simply not agree. It is to be reserved only for situations that command you to act in contradiction to God’s Word. 

What Does the Bible Say About Civil Disobedience?

As mentioned previously, civil disobedience is something that has existed since the days of the early church. Believers throughout the years have been called to stand up for their religious beliefs in the face of government opposition. While we are privileged to not experience this often in America, I believe a time will come where we are required to stand up for our religious beliefs. 

The Bible shares many examples of civil disobedience from Daniel to Esther to the Hebrew midwives. We will take a look at these examples in greater depth but, for now, let’s unpack what the Bible says about civil disobedience in the life of a Christian.

Christians Are Called to Submit to Governing Authorities

The book of Romans covers many important topics. It is no surprise that civil disobedience is covered in great depth. Romans 13:1-3 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” 

The passage continues, “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval.” 

And later in Romans 13:6-7, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

Christians are called to submit to governing authorities, understanding that God has placed them in their unique positions of leadership. This can be a challenging calling when we do not agree with the laws or policies that governing authorities are putting into place. However, when we are challenged by the rulings of our leadership, we must remember that by submitting to their leadership, we are honoring God. 

Our Ultimate Alliance is to Heaven

Acts 5:27-29 reads, “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

At all times, it is important to remember that our ultimate alliance is to heaven, not the leaders of this world. This is why civil disobedience is of great importance to Christians. If the government is calling you to do something that is in direct contradiction to the Word of God, you must remember that your allegiance is to God. As citizens of heaven, we are called to Biblical submission to authorities unless it directs us to compromise our religious beliefs and convictions. 

Civil Disobedience Only Applies to Issues That Contradict God’s Word

There are many topics with which you may not agree. However, the majority of these issues are disagreements on a personal level. It is important to note that Christians can not use civil disobedience as an excuse to disregard laws or rulings with which they simply do not agree.

Civil disobedience only applies to issues or rulings that directly contradict God’s Word. For example, while you may not agree that Americans should pay taxes on their income or property, it is simply a personal opinion. Paying taxes does not contradict God’s Word. Thus, it is not a time where civil disobedience is permissible. 

It is also important to realize that Christians must work to take steps to remedy the issue before resorting to civil disobedience. For example, while Christians believe that abortion contradicts the Word of God, we do not have to disobey the government to fight for the rights of unborn children. There are legal ways to work for change in this area. 

If, however, the government commanded you to abort your child, this would be in direct contradiction to God’s Word. In that type of situation, civil disobedience for Christians would not only be permissible but required.

Important Bible Verses About Civil Disobedience

Are you looking for a quick reference to Bible verses that address this topic? Here are several verses that discuss civil disobedience in the Bible:

  • Civil Disobedience in the BibleJames 4:17
  • Acts 5:28-29
  • Romans 13:1-7
  • Acts 4:18-20
  • Exodus 1:15-22
  • Daniel 3:1-30 
  • Romans 13:1
  • Acts 5:40-42
  • 1 Peter 2:13
  • Daniel 6:1-28
  • Hebrews 13:17
  • Titus 3:1
  • Acts 5:27-32
  • Romans 12:2
  • Matthew 22:17-22 
  • 1 Kings 18:2-4 
  • Joshua 2:1-7
  • Esther 1:10-14


By studying Biblical examples of civil disobedience, we are able to better understand when this action is necessary and appropriate. Developing a Biblical view of civil disobedience through the study of Scripture allows us to prepare ourselves for the possibility of this type of action in our own lives.

Biblical Examples of Civil Disobedience

There are countless examples found in the Bible of times when Christians acted in civil disobedience when requested to do something that was against their religious beliefs or convictions. Here are a few of the most popular examples of civil disobedience in the Bible:

Hebrew Midwives Disobey Pharoah’s Command to Kill

Exodus 1 outlines the story of Pharoah’s oppression of Israel. Exodus 1:15-17 reads as follows, “Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.”

In this example, Pharoah, the governing authority at the time, commanded for the killing of all newborn males. However, the Hebrew midwives knew that this was not in accordance with God’s Will. They acted in civil disobedience by saving the lives of the baby boys born during that time. 

Later on, in Exodus 1:20-21, we read, “So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.” God blessed the Hebrew midwives for their act of civil disobedience. They were bold enough to stand up for their religious beliefs, regardless of the possible punishment they would face for doing so. 

Rahab Sheltering Israelite Spies

In Joshua 2, we find another example of civil disobedience. In this example, we learn of the bravery of Rahab, a prostitute who sheltered the Israelite spies, saving their lives. The king of Jerico commanded Rahab to bring him the spies who had entered her house. In an act of civil disobedience, Rahab hid the men on her roof, sending the men of Jerico on a wild goose chase to find them. 

Rahab knew that the Lord was going to hand the land of Jerico over to the Israelites. She knew that God had sent the spies to her household. This eventually led to the capture of Jerico by the Israelites.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego & Nebuchadnezzar’s Command

Perhaps the greatest examples of civil disobedience are found in the book of Daniel. In Daniel 3, we read the infamous story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar built a golden statue. He gathered the most important people in the land, including Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, to attend the dedication ceremony for this golden image. 

Daniel 3:4-6 reads, “And the herald proclaimed aloud, ‘You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.’”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew what was at stake when they decided to act in civil disobedience. They knew that bowing down to the golden image was in direct contradiction to their religious beliefs. 

When questioned by King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:16-18 we find their bold reply, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace for their act of civil disobedience. We know now that their story ends in a miraculous tale of God saving them from certain death. In fact, God ultimately used this event to cause King Nebuchadnezzar to bring glory to Himself. 

The Consequence of Civil Disobedience in The Bible

These are just a few of the many examples of civil disobedience we find throughout Scripture. While each of these stories ended in a positive light, others do not. It is important to note that the individuals who boldly acted in civil disobedience in these examples did not know the outcome of their actions. They were committed to standing up for their religious convictions, regardless of the cost.

How Should Christians View Civil Disobedience Today?

Especially in America, we are privileged to not experience many instances that require civil disobedience. However, this is not to say that our time is not approaching. We have certainly seen the impact of our country straying further away from Biblical truth. While we are commanded to obey the government, we must also be ready to stand up for our religious convictions at any time. 

Pray for All Governing Authorities Regardless of Beliefs

First, Christians must continue to pray for individuals in leadership positions, regardless of their beliefs. We believe that God has selected these individuals to serve a specific purpose. It is our duty to pray for, support, and encourage our leaders at all levels of government.

Work Nonviolently to Change Evil Laws

As Christians, it is our responsibility to nonviolently oppose evil laws that may force us to contradict our beliefs. By implementing common sense rules for government, we can take practical steps towards protecting and promoting our religious freedoms. 

Remain Steadfast When Laws Contradict God’s Word

There will likely come a time when our government commands us to act in a way that contradicts God’s Word. When this time comes, we must be prepared to remain steadfast in our convictions, regardless of the outcome. By developing strong convictions and establishing our true hope in heaven, we can act boldly when this time comes.

Understand You May Face Persecution for Civil Disobedience

As evidenced in many countries, there may be a time where we face persecution for our religious beliefs. We may be called upon to act in civil disobedience. If this happens, we must prepare ourselves to boldly face the persecution that may follow. We know that our true allegiance and citizenship is in heaven. Because of this, we are able to face these situations with confidence.

Support & Encourage Strong Leaders in Government

There are many strong, morally-sound leaders in our government at every level. As Christians, and as Americans, it is our responsibility to support and encourage these individuals. We must do our part to vote for strong government leaders. As Christians, we must educate ourselves and others on leaders who support our religious freedoms. 

Far too many Christians sit silently by as changes continue to threaten on Constitution and religious beliefs. It is important to work towards protecting our nation’s foundation so that we can promote equality, liberty, and justice for all.

In Conclusion

The thought of having to act in civil disobedience may be unsettling for some. It is important to realize that there are many steps we can take before we must act in civil disobedience. By working to change laws and regulations that infringe upon our religious freedoms, freedom of speech, civil rights, and other issues, we can prevent these occurrences.

There may come a time where we must act as civil disobedience out of our religious calling. We must realize that our ultimate calling is to serve and honor God, not man. In Him our true citizenship is secure. As Christians, we must consider it an honor to stand up for our religious beliefs and convictions, regardless of the outcome. In doing so, we honor God. 

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