Civil Disobedience Justified
There is a Biblical precedent for civil disobedience.
- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's refused to worship an idol in Daniel 3.
- The Israelites' openly rebelled against the government of Egypt in the book of Exodus.
- In Acts 5, Peter teaches despite being commanded otherwise by the civil authority.
Civil Disobedience Prohibited
There is also a Biblical precedent for obeying a country's laws regardless of whether the laws are good or not.
- Ecclesiastes 8 says to obey the king's command.
- Jesus says to pay taxes in Luke 20.
- Paul instructs believers to obey the laws of their country in Romans 13.
Here are some modern examples of where this issue is a sticky one.
- Rosa Parks broke the law by refusing to give up her seat to a white person during the American civil rights movement.
- Aaron Swartz believed that the current U.S. copyright law was wrong, and practiced civil disobedience by downloading academic articles in a manner that was considered illegal. Copyright law may or may not be Biblical, but if copyright law is harmful, then it's possible that illegal downloading of copyrighted material could possibly be considered a form of civil disobedience.
- Adolf Eichmann dutifully obeyed the laws of his country by carrying out the execution of Jews. After WWII, he was sentenced to death on the grounds that he was obligated to break German law, but did not.
I am not able to differentiate between the cases where civil disobedience is justified and the cases where it is not justified. I can make up answers in each case based on intuition, but what is the Biblical criterion for sifting through each case? Under what circumstances is disobeying a bad law justified or even obligatory? Please provide a clear definition of when civil disobedience is justified Biblically and when it is not justified.
Note on similar questions:
The question, Are Christians bound to the laws of their country?, asks if there are some laws that should be obeyed even if they are not Biblical. The question, Should Christians uphold unjust laws that are not overtly immoral?, looks at the same question from a different angle. Neither question sufficiently answers the question: what is the Biblical definition of appropriate civil disobedience?