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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Magistrate (2)

MAGISTRATE.—This English word occurs only twice in the Gospels (Authorized Version ), viz. in Luke 12:11; Luke 12:58, where the Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 gives the same translation. By our use of the word we usually mean one entrusted with the duty and power of putting laws into force, but the Greek ἄρχων (of which ‘magistrate’ is the translation in the passages before us) has a wider meaning, and may denote ruler, captain, chief, king. In the Gospels, ἄρχων (as well as the similar word ἡγεμών) occurs frequently, and will be referred to in the articles Rule and Ruler.

In the first of the instances to be noticed here our Lord prepares His disciples for the persecutions that await them. One form of persecution will be arrest and accusation before magistrates. In such an event, however, Christ’s followers are not to concern themselves unduly about their defence, for the Holy Ghost shall teach them in the same hour what they ought to say. Their presence before the magistrates and their utterance in such a situation will constitute a twofold testimony—a testimony against the unbelief and injustice of their accusers, and perhaps also of the magistrates (Mark 13:11)—and a testimony to the truth of the gospel and to their own fidelity (Luke 21:13). The Lord’s prediction and promise were alike fulfilled. Persecutions did ensue, and nothing is more remarkable than the dignity and wisdom of the words spoken by disciples thus accused before magistrates, the Holy Ghost being a mouth and wisdom unto them (Luke 21:15; cf. Acts 4:13 et al.).

This policy of submissively trusting to the Holy ‘Ghost for defence is not to be taken as justifying Tolstoi’s theory of non-resistance. But our Lord’s counsel indicates that He looked upon existent magistracies as a part of the providential order, not to be overturned in any revolutionary way by His first disciples. Similarly, Christ taught that, the political circumstances being what they were, tribute should be paid to Caesar, the supreme magistrate (Matthew 22:21). The capital instance of submission to the magistrate is Christ’s own demeanour before Pilate (styled ἡγεμών in Matthew 27:2, Luke 3:1). The subject of the relation between Christ and the magistrate runs into questions of Church and State, the spiritual and the civil power, individual conscience and public law.

In the second instance (Luke 12:58) Christ seems to warn against a litigious spirit, and to commend that ‘sweet reasonableness’ which is one of the gifts of His own Spirit, and which may obviate the necessity of going before a magistrate. This does not condemn as un-Christian all reference to a magistrate, but Christ hints that to agree with an adversary quickly may prove to be the highest prudence as well as the most Christian-like conduct. The advice is sometimes spiritualized to mean that the sinner ought to settle accounts with God quickly.

R. M. Adamson.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Magistrate (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/m/magistrate-2.html. 1906-1918.

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