Polis

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Polis

"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid." Matthew 5:14

The word commonly translated city in the New Testament is the word Polis which may not mean a town or city as we think of the term today. It may mean a juridical community.

A "polis" (plural: poleis) was not always a place but could also be something that you were a part of like a community. "It can also mean citizenship and body of citizens."[1]

According to Dr. Gerard Casey Professor Emeritus of University College at Dublin a polis was neither a city nor a state but a sort of fellowship. In Aristotle's Politics it is suggested that a polis is something more than a collection of individuals seeking safety in life and gain in the exercise of trade. It was “a union of families and villages in a perfect and self sufficing life by which we mean happy and honourable life" [2] A polis might not have members as we think of citizens of a State but the individual was a member of a family which formed a community of aggregated families in the common pursuit of happiness.

In another Polis the people might give up some of their freedom and power of choice to the State in order to obtain protection or benefits. In such a polis the people would be persons who would be less and less free as more and more power of choice was vested in the State or Polis.

A "polis" was the social structure of a community in the ancient Greek world. Although poleis were each a unique cultural and political unit, a common feature included religious beliefs. Since Religion was the manner in which you conducted an provided welfare for a community the Corban of groups like the Essenes, Mandaeans or "Nazarene".

The Pharisees and Rome provided civil polis systems of welfare called Corban too but those types of welfare systems made the word of God to none effect.

Dr. Moshe Berent wrote:

“Though the notion of the free, or self-governed community, originated in ancient Greece, the Greek polis seems to pose a problem for the modern post-Hobbesian concept of sovereignty. For the latter presupposes that of the State, that is an agency which monopolizes the use of violence, as an instrument by which sovereignty is constituted. Yet, the polis was not a State but rather what the anthropologists call a stateless community. The latter is characterized by the absence of ‘government’, that is of an agency which has separated itself from the rest of social life and which monopolizes the use of violence. In stateless societies the ability to use force is more or less evenly distributed among armed or potentially armed members of the community. Being stateless, then, in what sense can we say that the polis was sovereign? On the practical level the Greek polis had a very limited ability to control and direct legislation. The decentralised nature of Greek society and the absence of coercive apparatuses meant that the laws had to be identical with the customs of the community or else that decisions had to be shared by a wide consensus, which imposed a severe limitation on the ability of the poleis to change their laws or initiate changes in the community.”[3]

This description of the ancient Polis government is where the leaders are only titular and not "lawmakers". It ascribes more to the Libera res Publica of ancient Rome before the rise of emperors and the virtual death of the Republic. If the leaders of society are only servants who cannot exercise authority one over the other the people remain free.

These voluntary societies were supported by the generosity of the people rather than the force commonly used in modern governments today. The character of the society created by such a Republican form of government was not only different but often more common than the modern historian would lead us to believe.

Tacitus in his description of ancient Germania writes, “The communities are wont, of their own accord and man by man, to bestow upon their Princes a certain number of beasts, or a certain portion of grain; a contribution which passes indeed for a mark of reverence and honour, but serves also to supply their necessities.”[4]

The words 'of their own accord' is from the Latin 'ultro' meaning 'voluntarily'. “[O]ur modern reliance on government to make law and establish order is not the historical norm.”[5] See Orders

Jesus uses the same word polis in Matthew 5:14, "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid." He is instructing his apostles and followers to be that light and city as he continues in Matthew 5:16 "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

The people of Israel were strangers and pilgrims but the Hebrews passage is talking about the city that actually is given to us, not as a location, but as something to be a part of since we are not to be "of the world".

The word politeia[6] from polites[7] which is from polis is translated freedom [8]and commonwealth[9].



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Footnotes

  1. "Polis (/ˈpɒlᵻs/; Greek: πόλις [pólis]), plural poleis (/ˈpɒleɪz/, πόλεις [póleːs]) literally means city in Greek. It can also mean citizenship and body of citizens."
  2. Aristotle 35 also translated "a community of families and aggregations of families in well-being, for the sake of a perfect and self-sufficing life. ... The end of the state [polis] is the good life. . . .”
  3. Polis: The Journal of the Society for Greek Political Thought, Volume 17, Numbers 1-2, 2000, pp. 2-34(33) Berent M. Sovereignty: ancient and modern.
  4. Tacitus says of the ancient Germans, in Germania 15,
  5. The Enterprise of Law: Justice without the State. Bruce L. Benson Publisher: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy (San Francisco), 1991 ’
  6. 4174 1) the administration of civil affairs 2) a state or commonwealth 3) citizenship, the rights of a citizen
  7. 4177 a citizen
  8. Acts 22:28 And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was [free] born.
  9. Ephesians 2:12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
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