Brief Definitions of Nation and Empire
by Stuart DiNenno
All nations in the Bible are based on a common blood lineage, which is a shared ethnicity. In fact, the biblical word that is translated nation in our English NT Scriptures is the Greek word ethnos, from which we get our English word ethnic. And the English word nation has always meant a group of people with a common ancestry. Nation comes from the Latin word natus from which we also get the word natal, which means “of, relating to, or accompanying birth”.
From the Online Etymology Dictionary:
“c. 1300, nacioun, “a race of people, large group of people with common ancestry and language,” from Old French nacion “birth, rank; descendants, relatives; country, homeland” (12c.) and directly from Latin nationem (nominative natio) “birth, origin; breed, stock, kind, species; race of people, tribe,” literally “that which has been born,” from natus, past participle of nasci “be born” (Old Latin gnasci), from PIE root *gene- “give birth, beget,” with derivatives referring to procreation and familial and tribal groups.”
For a Christian, nationalism has to be based on the historic and biblical concept of a nation, and political or geographical entities that do not contain within them “a large group of people with common ancestry” but instead contain a multiplicity of racial and ethnic groups, are not nations.
On the other hand, empires are, by definition, multi-national in nature, and so they cannot fit the definition of a nation.
“a group of nations or peoples ruled over by an emperor, empress, or other powerful sovereign or government: usually a territory of greater extent than a kingdom, as the former British Empire, French Empire, Russian Empire, Byzantine Empire, or Roman Empire.”
Empire-building appears to be against the revealed will of God, as it is not something ever enjoined upon God’s people, either under the Old Testament or the New. In the biblical narrative, we see only pagan nations building empires through military invasions of sovereign nations. Under the Old Testament, the Israelites were given a specific parcel of land by God with clearly defined boundaries, and they were never instructed to make this a base of operations for further conquest. And in the New Testament, the Christians were not given any territory at all because theirs was to be a spiritual kingdom that worked its way through all nations of the earth — like leaven through a lump of dough — rather than an earthly empire that conquered the nations by force of arms, and then amalgamated them into one political system, as did the pagan Romans.