David Barton adds to history and the Bible at the same time

Today Right Wing Watch has a clip of David Barton claiming that the Founders based our republican form of government on Exodus 18:21. He added that some Founders actually referred to the Exodus passage as the basis for electing people to various office at the local, state and federal levels. Here is the clip:

Barton claims that “God set out elections at the very beginning.” He added that Israel was a monarchy later but before that “God established elections.”

However, that is not what happened according to Exodus 18. To get the context, I cite here Exodus 18:13-26. In this passage, Moses is lamenting to his father-in-law, Jethro, that he has to judge disputes of the people all day long. His father-in-law responded to Moses’ complaint with some good advice.

 13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening.14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”

17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.

Moses did not put the matter to the people in an election. He simply chose able people who could serve as judges over the people. It is remarkable to me that Barton would claim that this passage is the basis for popular elections when the Bible is clear that Moses did the choosing and appointing.

Barton then insists that the Founders referred to Exodus 18:21 as the basis for Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution. That section states:

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.

In the short clip, Barton does not give any names; he just says “the Founding Fathers who wrote that cited Exodus 18:31 as the basis.” I will have to study this a bit more but an initial search for confirmation of this has come up empty.

On Barton’s Wallbuilder’s website, Barton links the verse to early writers but he actually adds the reference to their writing. For instance, consider this reference to Noah Webster. Barton quotes Noah Webster and adds the reference to Exodus 18:21.

Founding Father Noah Webster delivered a similar admonition:

Let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers just men who will rule in the fear of God [Exodus 18:21]. . . . [I]f the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted . . . If [our] government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the Divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws.

However, in Webster’s book, the reference is not there:

Webster did not cite Exodus 18:21 as a basis for favoring elections as Barton implies on his website. Barton leaves a false impression that James Otis referred to the Exodus passage when, in fact, he did not. Elsewhere on the Wallbuilder’s site, he claims that Exo. 18:21 supports the Republican form of government but does not cite anyone who wrote the Constitution.

Even if a Framer did refer to the Exodus passage, that would not mean that Framer was correct in asserting that God established elections via the advice from Jethro. Many Framers believed that leaders should fear God and be honest. However, this does not mean they took the concept of representative government from Exodus.

Clearly Jethro’s advice was enlightened. Moses needed help and delegating authority was a wise approach. However, Jethro did not advise Moses to nominate some good people and then let the people vote.

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  • stephen


  • You mean they make stuff up? I’m shocked, shocked I tell you.

    Thanks for putting this all on the record, Warren. Merry Christmas too.

  • Gus

    So if we are being Biblical, all judges should be appointed, not elected?

  • ken

    Apparently, Barton doesn’t understand the difference between “appoint” and “elect”. Then again he also sees references that don’t exist, so that isn’t too surprising.

  • stephen


    Faggiest fag presents in leather to prove he is not fag. Pathetic.

  • Mary

    I just want to know, if evacuating oneself (as in using the restroom) is not mentioned in the bible… is it okay if the rest of us do so??

  • Mary: Oh, but it IS mentioned in the Bible, though not in detail — notably in ch. 23 of Deuteronomy, where the Israelite soldiers are instructed to have a designated “rest area” located outside of their war campsite, and also that they should carry a small shovel to dig a hole and cover up their excrement when they’re finished.

    There are also some references in Ezekiel and Isaiah to human poop as a symbolically filthy substance, but not to the actual process of excretion. (In Ezekiel ch. 4, God threatens to punish the Israelites by forcing them to use their own dried “dung” as fuel for their cooking fires, instead of animal dung; and in Isaiah ch. 36, an enemy messenger warns the besieged inhabitants of Jerusalem that they will be reduced to drinking their own urine and eating their own feces out of starvation, if they do not surrender.)

    Finally, there are verses about properly cleansing oneself after a “discharge”, but as far as I know, the term “discharge” does not include defecation or urination, although it does include semen, menstrual blood, and pus from infections. Thus, the verses about “uncleanness after discharge” are NOT related to using the porcelain throne.

    So, basically, the only comment in the Bible about “using the restroom” has to do with latrines for military encampments, but the topic is not totally omitted.

  • In Through the Looking-Glass, Alice remarks to the black kitten that there might be a nice tasty bowl of milk for “Kitty” on the other side of the mirror, and then thoughtfully speculates, “[But] perhaps Looking-Glass milk isn’t good to drink…”

    And in his (utterly fabulous and amazing) book The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner interjects a long footnote about the left- and right- “handedness” of molecules and sub-atomic particles, and jocularly suggests that if “looking-glass milk” turned out to be composed of anti-matter, then it would certainly NOT be good for Alice to drink, because she (and the milk) would violently explode and be mutually annihilated on contact with each other.

    So I can easily imagine David Barton reading The Annotated Alice, getting confused, and thinking that Lewis Carroll himself (and not Martin Gardner) was the one who wrote about and predicted the existence of anti-matter!

    Although in this particular case, Barton seems to have confused his own annotation of Noah Webster with Webster’s original words. So it’s like Martin Gardner going senile and starting to believe that all of his footnotes in The Annotated Alice were actually written by Lewis Carroll.

  • Jim Guinnessey

    Barton is another religious fraud who makes big bucks spewing the fairy tales the right wing loves to hear.

  • Mary

    Thank you Thorbert! I knew someone would have the answer. LOL!!!!

  • oft

    Mr. Throckmorton,

    Noah Webster is speaking of Exodus 18, given he uses the same verbage, and Calvin, and the Reformers– who Webster et al. studied– all based Republicanism on Exodus 18 and the Gospels. If you check my website, infidel Ben Franklin quotes Exodus 18 in the Constitutional Convention. Who did the framers quote in the Convention? Protestant Evangelical Reformers like Rutherford and Sidney. Even Thomas Paine understood writing Common Sense that Israel was basically a Republic. The best kind of Republic, where an inspired man picked the wisest leaders to rule. For more research, the Pastors of that time quote Exodus 18 relentlessly, even in houses of govt. to promote Republicanism.

  • oft – Did God establish elections in Exodus 18?

  • oft – Your citation of Common Sense is curious. Paine said this on page 18

    In the early ages of the world, according to the scripture chronology, there were no kings; the consequence of which was there were no wars; it is the pride of kings which throw mankind into confusion. Holland without a king hath enjoyed more peace for this last century than any of the monarchial governments in Europe. Antiquity favors the same remark; for the quiet and rural lives of the first patriarchs hath a happy something in them, which vanishes away when we come to the history of Jewish royalty.

    Government by kings was first introduced into the world by the Heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom. It was the most prosperous invention the Devil ever set on foot for the promotion of idolatry. The Heathens paid divine honors to’their deceased kings, and the christian world hath improved on the plan by doing the same to their living ones. How impious is the title of sacred majesty applied to a worm, who in the midst of bis splendor is crumbling into dust…

    I searched the rest of the book and found nothing about Israel being a republic. What are you referring to?

  • oft

    “Near three thousand years passed away, from the Mosaic account of the creation, till the Jews under a national delusion requested a king. Till then their form of government (except in extraordinary cases where the Almighty interposed) was a kind of Republic, administered by a judge and the elders of the tribes. Kings they had none, and it was held sinful to acknowledge any being under that title but the Lord of Hosts.”

    –Common Sense– Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession

    Not only does this prove Paine believed Israel was a republic, it proves he can’t be considered a Deist because the colonists didn’t consider him one.

    No one is inspired so the alternative for us is elections. But representative republicanism is as far back as Exodus 18. That is where Calvin and the reformers got it from.

  • oft – Are you sure you are David Barton in disguise? You can sure stretch words almost as well as he can.

    “a kind of Republic” is not the same as “representative republicanism.” Locating representative republicanism in Exodus 18 is still wrong, no matter how many times you write it.

  • I meant, “are you sure you are NOT David Barton in disguise?”

  • David Blakeslee


    Can you further make the connection between Calvin, the reformers and representative government.

    Are you a historian?

  • Dr. Henry Lewis

    MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING-It helps to know ALL the Bible (vs. little or none) and so”…when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into ALL truth..” John 16:13

    In Deuteronomy Moses, the writer, comments on himself and indicates that although he did the appointing, it was the people who actually chose their own rulers.:

    (Deut 1:9) “And I spake unto you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone: 10 The LORD your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude. 11(The LORD God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are, and bless you, as he hath promised you!) 12 How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife? 13 TAKE YOU (you take) wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you.

    Like I said, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING….but Thank You and God for making this discourse possible. We love you all. Dr. HL

    • Henry – If there is much ado about nothing, then we can just say anything we want and forget any effort to figure out what the text actually says. I suppose most Christians do that anyway but at least you are honest about it.

      Barton wants us to believe that these verses mean that the people voted for their leaders and the leaders represented them in some kind of representative government. The “rulers” weren’t rulers, they were judges who help decide disputes. Whereas some people may have made recommendations for judges, Moses did the appointing. How about we do the upcoming election that way? We can vote but in the end Obama appoints the leaders. Much ado about nothing.