The Grammar of Government: Part 1

Grammar. Government. How do you respond when I say each of these words?

Many, so it seems, feel irritation, disdain, or boredom at the word, grammar. Some are intimidated at the thought of grammar. As a school subject, grammar is typically disliked. I know. I was an English teacher. Most students that entered my classroom were there only because they had to be. I understand. Yet, there were a few, besides me, who were fascinated by studying the workings of language.

Government, particularly these days, is a word that conjures up even more distasteful feelings. So, why would I put the two together? “The Grammar of Government” is not a title that would attract readers. Admittedly, true. How unfortunate. But I’ve done it anyway, and you are reading this! Let’s see if I can keep your interest. (And if not, “A good day to you!” and “God bless you!”)

Now, really, grammar is very exciting! And government…well, it is an overwhelming topic, but also, oh, so exciting (and intimidating and frightening and dangerous and demanding and so on).

You may only think of “grammar” as “the parts of speech,” um, “How many?” In English we employ and study the eight parts of speech. We observe how words shape phrases and clauses, and how they are structured into paragraphs and whole works of every genre.

Well, actually, grammar is more basic, and every field of exploration (discipline, hobby, or career) has its own grammar. Simply defined, grammar means “the fundamental principles or rules of an art or science.”*1 The rules of chess form the game’s grammar. The grammar governs the game.

We are in an important time to consider the grammar of government. Most likely, you are thinking of politics. Election day is near. Also, today, September 17, is Constitution Day, which commemorates the writing and signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787.

However, as we pursue the grammar of government, politics is not the place to start. Then where do we start?

Okay, but first, what is government? Yes. We have to always remember to define our terms.

Government (noun) is the act of governing (verb). To govern is to direct, control, influence, sway, guide, regulate, steer, restrain, curb, bridle, exercise authority, and rule.

All of these verbs came from my two dictionaries, my old, fat, one volume Oxford University Dictionary (1955) and my modern copy of Webster’s 1828, original dictionary with all its extant, biblical data.  I also checked some online definitions. Then, checking my Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, I found another additional clarification for the term, government: “to go before,” that is, to guide and lead, based upon a Greek word from which we obtain our word, “hegemony.” Hegemony carries the idea of dominating leadership. (Remember that; I hope to come back to this idea in a subsequent post).

Government involves ability, authority, and responsibility.

Long before government becomes political, it is personal. And before it is personal, government is God’s supreme authority.  We start here.

God governs and gives me a measure of government over myself. Government for me begins on the personal level. Can I control myself? Will I let God’s Spirit lead and enable me?

Human life is derived, not self-existing or sustaining. In Psalm 100:3, the psalmist reminds us, in the middle of the verse,  that “it is He that hath made us and not we ourselves” (as the KJV poignantly expresses). The verse closes with this calming assurance: “We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” Not only is this reassuring, it exposes Who governs.



Interestingly, we’ve bypassed the first clause of this verse: “Know ye that the Lord, he is God.” The archaic “ye” means you plural — “y’all.” This is an imperative, a command. “Know this.” Who? “You.”  God is saying that this can be known; He has made it knowable to you, and it is your choice to know it.

How fascinating.

God governs. He delegates to us the governing capacity to choose.  He expects us to choose to know that He is God and to accept His sovereignty.  Romans 1:21 tells us how humans have historically responded to an innate knowledge of God: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Government begins with God who then delegates to us circles of governance. I would say that governmental powers flow in descending, circulating spheres:

  1. God: Sovereignty of rule
  2.  Human beings: self-government
  3.  Families: household government
  4.  The church: ecclesiastical government
  5.  Communities: local government
  6.  Political states: the  government of the polis (city), from city states (such as Athens and Greece) to feudal kingdoms and to tribal peoples around the world, and to nation states as well as empires).

The Greek word, polis, meaning city, is the base from which we derive our words, politics, political, policy, polity, and police. Also, many city names have in them the suffix, polis. I live less than a two hour drive north of Indianapolis! The Latin equivalent for the Greek polis is civis/city from which we gain our words, city, citizen, civics, and civilization.

Self-government and family government are at work on several levels in this picture. How do you think government is at work here?

To govern: to direct, control, influence, sway, guide, regulate, steer, restrain, curb, bridle, exercise authority, and rule. Government begins with self-government.

In gifting us with His image, though tarnished by our fallen nature, we still possess special powers from the gift: self-determination, choice, attitude, and action. As Christ-followers, we have the Spirit of God to guide us (yes, govern us) if we are willing. Willingness is a self-governing choice.

The grammar of government begins with an understanding of the God-delegated spheres of government. These spheres — self, family, church, community, and civil government (city, state, and national) — provide the ground work for sorting out appropriate principles and jurisdictions of responsibility and authority.

I don’t know if you found this interesting, but if you’re still reading, “Bravo!”

The next post will explore self-government: personal responsibility and its exciting opportunities for now with consequences touching eternity! Plus, we’ll see the impact of self-government upon civil government.

Thankfully, God reassures us of His ultimate, governing sovereignty:

Psalm 100:3 (NASB)

Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Isaiah 6:9 (ESV)

 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:

and the government shall be upon his shoulder:

and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor,

The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.


*1. This is the sixth definition for grammar stated in my Oxford University Dictionary.






Categories: Government | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “The Grammar of Government: Part 1

  1. Louis W. Mann

    Good beginning, Karen. I’m anxiously awaiting for the next ‘shoe to drop.’


    • Karen Thomas Olsen

      Thanks, Louis. I’m working on the next shoe (and the whole collection). I have a plan and idea, but need the Lord’s direction to shape the shoes. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and reviewing. I’ve changed my approach several times. Well, I have to stop working on this for a while. I’m also teaching a Friday morning Bible study, so I need to review my lesson and pray over it some more. I’ll get back to the blog series in a few days and will try to post part 2 early next week. Actually, I’m overwhelmed with my reading material, and I need to tan some good leather down to the endurable basics. After all, a grammar of government is all about the basics and how those basic principles make governments work. We never outgrow the basics. Remembering and applying those basic principles will strengthen our confidence and invigorate our work. (Lord, give me the energy to be invigorated!)

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