The Biblical Polemic against Empires

How many times have we heard that the Bible is a strange and ancient book with little relevance for the modern world? In The Biblical Polemic against Empires, Lanier Burns, research professor of theological studies at Dallas Seminary, provides ways to understand the Bible and its importance in our lives. He argues that we best understand the Bible when we comprehend the ways that biblical authors presented truths in the contexts of Egypt, Babylon, Hellenism, and Rome.

Burns connects our modern concerns with the ancient world by exploring biblical arguments in three areas—deity, kingship, and city:

  1. Attitudes toward deity: Ancient nations and empires, including Israel, were theocracies. Governments represented divine interests and powers. Not only was secularity in a modern sense unknown, but so was the notion of citizens selecting their leaders. Idolatry was a particularly heinous sin for the Israelites; other gods were mere projections of the desires of a sponsoring empire. The realms of gods and people were in a constant state of conflict and chaos. People served their gods in a frenzied way, trying to magically manipulate them in hopes of gaining prosperity.
  2. The tyranny of kingship: The Bible presents emperors as representative of sinful humanity, proud in their attempts to be gods and greedy in their appetites. These kings seem far removed from our lives until we realize that we have gods of our own choosing, idols drawn from various entertainments or escapes from daily pressures. We seek idols that can satisfy our appetites and addictions. We tell ourselves that we can be anything we want to be. In contrast, the biblical model is Jesus Christ, who exemplified servant leadership by sacrificing himself for our salvation.
  3. The meaning of cities: From Babel in Genesis 11 to Babylon in Revelation 18, fallen people are depicted as city dwellers. We gather together in cities to find security apart from the Creator of the world. Revelation 17–18 presents royal tyrants and the great city as the culmination of political and economic idols in our sin-filled world. In contrast, the “new heavens and new earth”—the new creation—presents the groom (Jesus Christ) with his bride (believers throughout history) sharing life together forever in another city, the New Jerusalem.

Burns’ work applies to all who seek wisdom about living in this world. Pre-order it today!

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!
Written by
Elliot Ritzema

Elliot Ritzema (MDiv, Regent College) is an editor at Lexham Press. His writing has appeared in Bible Study Magazine and Fathom Magazine, among other places, and he serves his local church through preaching and teaching.

View all articles

Your email address has been added

Written by Elliot Ritzema
Deep Dive with Logos: New 12-Week Webinar Series
This is default text for notification bar