In this guest blog, Steve Langton considers the interpretation of Psalm 33 and its use to justify the idea of ‘Christian country’ or ‘state church’. The original blog post can be found on Steve’s Free Church Blog.

Steve prefaces his text by saying:

This is a piece I did for my own blog a bit back. As an Anabaptist I see state churches as a major contribution to cases of violence by Christians, and this particular text is one that’s often used to justify the ideas of a Christian country or state church. In recent months I’ve repeatedly seen it quoted and particularly as a poster often displayed by street preachers. As you can see, I concluded that this is a serious case of misinterpretation, even if a plausible one if you take just the one part of the text in isolation.


Psalm 33 – “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord”

This text is often quoted as support for the notion of ‘Christian’ nations, being interpreted as a promise that a regular geographical or ethnic nation which formally accepts God as Lord by declaring itself Christian will therefore be blessed by God. Unfortunately this is a grievous misunderstanding of the passage, divorcing it from its proper context.

The original passage is Psalm 33 – let’s look at an extended quote, starting from v10….

The LORD brought to nought the counsel of the Gentiles; He frustrated the purposes of the peoples.  The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the purposes of His heart from generation to generation.  Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he has chosen for His personal inheritance.

And there it is – not a promise or offer that by choosing the LORD any nation whatsoever can be blessed, but a statement that the nation God himself has chosen will be blessed.  In the original context, as is shown by the initial reference to the Gentiles, whose efforts will be brought to nought and cannot thwart God’s intentions, this means the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people.  The sentence stating the blessing is an example of the Hebrew poetic practice of ‘parallelism’, saying the same thing twice in different ways so that the two expressions define and reinforce each other; the two halves of the sentence refer to the same subject.  ‘The nation whose God is the LORD’ is the same entity as ‘the people he has chosen for his personal inheritance’ – that is, the nation of Israel.

In Exodus 19; 6 God says to the Israelites ‘You will become to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation’. But he also of course promised to Abraham that through Abraham’s descendants – i.e., the Israelites – he would bless the whole world, and in Jesus that promise is fulfilled as Gentiles who put their faith in Jesus become co-heirs of God’s promises with the Jews. So in 1 Peter 2; 9, in a paraphrase of the Exodus text, Christians – Jews and Gentiles reconciled together in Jesus – are described as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, a people of his acquisition’. Christians are now ‘the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he has chosen’. And so Psalm 33 now applies to the Christians as God’s people, and so this statement of blessing is for them.

No ordinary geographical or ethnic nation can off its own bat claim to be God’s holy nation, or formally just call itself ‘Christian’, because the Christians are not those ‘once born’ in such a nation, but those ‘born again’ through the power of the Holy Spirit, not of one earthly nation but of many different nations and races throughout the world.  Therefore the blessing stated in Psalm 33 cannot be claimed by any earthly nation; it belongs only to the Church itself, the nation of the citizens of heaven. As has been (and will continue to be) pointed out in other posts in Steve’s Free Church blog, that Christian holy nation lives throughout the world as ‘resident aliens’ in and among the regular geographic and ethnic nations, but not identified with any of them. To receive the blessing of Psalm 33 you must be among those personally born again through faith in Jesus; if you are not so born again, no legislation by a king or parliament can make you eligible for the blessing.

And therefore this text simply does not prove the ‘Christian state’ point in any way; on the contrary, it underlines the inappropriateness of that notion.


Steve Langton regularly writes on his blog, stevesfreechurchblog.wordpress.com, mostly in relation to the Church and State. After his conversion as a teenager, a major development in his Christian life was when consideration of the Ulster ‘Troubles’, which kicked off during his university years, led him to question some Christian attitudes to church and state and to adopt essentially ‘Anabaptist’ views in that area.


As always, guest blogs are invited to stimulate comment and discussion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CSBV.

Psalm 33 – ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord’
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6 thoughts on “Psalm 33 – ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord’

  • 22nd August 2022 at 4:04 pm
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    As someone who is a member of a Baptist church in Germany, but who is strongly considering converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, the Anabaptist voice as it relates to separation of church and state is a necessary one to hear. Christian nationalism is, simply stated, a very dangerous idea and it in so many ways infects the Eastern Orthodox Church globally. That said, the history of Christianity in the east offers very little soil for the idea of church and state separation to take root. My hope and prayer is that this can change even if the Tradition of the Church, as well as its history, seems to say otherwise. Also, I find it interesting that in the land that basically carved the idea of separation of church and state into its Constitution (America), there exists so much Christian nationalism as well as the marriage of particular political parties with certain Christian traditions. There is much to be done on both sides of the Atlantic. Thanks Steve for your work.

    I am wondering though, Steve, how you understand the following verses from the Book of Acts chapter 17:

    “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

    In my experience, these verses have been used to argue that God is in the business of nationalism, be it Christian or otherwise.

    Reply
    • 25th August 2022 at 3:33 pm
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      Matthew
      I’ll come back with more on this but one initial response is that I have recently become aware that nowadays there is not only ‘Eastern’ Orthodoxy but also a ‘Western’ Orthodoxy which at any rate may be less infected with the nationalism seen in for example the Serbian church in the civil wars in former Yugoslavia and in the Russian church with its support of Putin. I don’t know much about this and the only name I can give you as a possible contact is someone I’ve been discussing things with on another forum, Philip John Barrett, who you should be able to find through his Facebook account.

      For me the problem with Eastern Orthodoxy, and with the western RC church which split from it, is that as the Roman imperial church, effectively the basis of membership was changed from voluntary rebirth through faith to simply being born an imperial citizen. Despite theoretical institutional continuity, I feel that after that change neither the Orthodox church nor the Roman Catholic can claim the authority of the original church still operating on a New Testament basis independent of the state. Particularly when they have claimed authority for wars and persecutions….

      I will look into Acts 17 but my initial reaction is that I see nothing there to change the conclusions I’ve drawn about state and church from clearer texts such as Jesus’ declaration to Pilate that His kingdom is ‘not of this world’.

      Reply
      • 29th August 2022 at 10:42 am
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        Thanks so much Steve, though I´m not convinced that simply because the Church made mistakes, both politically and theologically, such nullifies its authority as the Church Jesus Christ established. Also, while I cannot be certain, I think Orthodox thinkers would say that the church is not operating solely on a New Testament basis since the Church was established long before the NT was even canonized. It has to do with apostolic succession.

        Reply
    • 25th August 2022 at 8:00 pm
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      Matthew
      The USA situation goes back to their War of Independence against the UK in 1776. Obviously the rebels would not be accepting a continuation of the established Church of England whose ‘supreme governor’ was the king they were rebelling against! But there wasn’t an obvious alternative. Probably most of the colonists were Christian, but many of them were already dissenters/non-conformists against the CofE, who had crossed the Atlantic for relative freedom. Some of them, perhaps notably Pesbyterians, would have liked a different version of established Christianity; but many, eg Baptists and Quakers, favoured religious freedom even for non-Christians. There were also a lot of non-Christians; rationalist ‘Deists’ and Unitarians, atheists, agnostics and other ‘freethinkers’ who also opposed any state religion. The Constitution’s declaration against established religion was in effect what they compromised on. But it could be ambiguously interpreted – some saw it as simply religious/philosophical freedom, others thought that the state(s) should be generally Christian but not in one form. There has been tension ever since. Other European migrants again came from such a diversity of Christian and freethinking backgrounds as to make a specific establishment impossible – but for example the schools for Native Americans were intended to Christianise their pupils.

      My impression is that after 1900 opposition to ‘godless Communism’ pushed things a long way towards the ‘Christian country’ view; 1960s libertarianism pushed things the other way, and a reaction by the ‘Religious Right’ sought Christianisation almost to the point of challenging the Constitution. Recently we have seen Trump playing the Christian ‘card’. It is a bit of a mess….

      Reply
      • 29th August 2022 at 10:43 am
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        Yes … it is a bit of a mess …

        Reply

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