Posted by: rogermitchell | January 20, 2013

kenarchy not sovereignty

Perhaps the most common adjective for describing God among Christians has been the word ‘sovereign.’ This has been exacerbated over recent years by what was, in my view, the catastrophic decision by the translators of the New International Version of the Bible (NIV), to use the phrase ‘sovereign Lord’ to translate the Hebrew for ‘Lord God’ (ādônây y’hôvih). The word ‘ādônây’ is the plural for the word ‘adon’ deriving from a Ugaritic word meaning “lord” or “father,” and emphasises the fulness of Godiness, but tells us little about how God uses his fulness. That, from the Christian perspective, waits for the incarnation to reveal. The word ‘sovereign’ on the other hand, now carries all the hidden baggage of the dominating power of empire, law and hierarchy.

It may be possible to de-toxify the word, but so deep is its baptism in the domination systems of this world that unless that problem is clearly pointed out, then it leaves the understanding of God wide open to being confused with characteristics that belong, according to the incarnational testimony of Jesus, to the devil. As Matthew and Luke describe, it is the devil who uses power to dominate the multitude. Their temptation narratives cearly contrast the demonic power and authority of the kingdoms of the world with the way of “the Lord your God” (Luke 4:8). Jesus resists the devil’s sovereign way of power and reveals God’s attitude and behaviour.

So this brings us to a further couple of pithy statements about kenarchy:
“kenarchy conveys an understanding of God’s power that is opposite to that carried by sovereignty” and
“kenarchy gives away power whereas sovereignty holds onto it.”



  1. Would/could the same be said for ‘King’ as King and Sovereign are often interchanged in our culture? Or is the label King burdened with less baggage then Sovereign due to types of Christ who ruled as both Kings but servants?

  2. Hi Malcolm,
    Good point! My concern is about the content we read back into the Old Testament view of God. So to describe God as king, when the developing story makes it clear that God was against the idea of kingship conveyed by the kings/ sovereigns of the time (1Sam 8:4-22) would not be a good move either. I believe that God’s love and mercy meant that he stepped into the mistaken titles and institutions that were laid on him, in order to turn them inside out in love, which is what kenarchy entails. When Jesus came this process was coming to its culmination and his kingdom rule clearly confronted and upended the whole behaviour of empire and its hierarchical sovereignty. So I don’t think it helps if we, now that we have the revelation of Jesus to read God by, add to the mistakes and partial sight of the people before Jesus by reading sub-Christian views of God into the Old Testament text if we can avoid it.

  3. […] View article: kenarchy not sovereignty […]

  4. Reblogged this on reimaginingthefuture.

  5. I think King and Sovereign Lord are very different words and concepts in the OT. When I did a word study on “King” it rarely refers to God in the OT and mainly refers to humans whose main job is to deal with defence issues – ie Chieftan/Warlords. The people asked for a king because they wanted someone to lead them into battle. The main person who uses the concept of God as king is David in the psalms – an early recognition of the idea of king over kings perhaps, (maybe feeling a bit dodgy cos he would have known that Samuel was not at all hot on having a king at all so he was pretty enthusiastic about being sure everyone knew he thought God was king really ?), then the last 2 prophetic books. Even in the NT there’s lots of references to kingdom, but very very little to king as a title – just the obvious one of the trumped up (but ironically true) charge against Jesus; in the doxology at the beginning of 1 Tim; then the title King of Kings in the same letters and in Revelation. It’s there, but it’s not a strong line like Judge or Father for example. But the title that is translated “Sovereign Lord” is all over the place. Seems a bit odd to me that they could mean the same thing. I’ve read the blog post here about sovereign and it seems to me makes a lot of sense.

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