In recent days, I’ve heard Romans 13 used to justify everything from drone strikes to harsh immigration laws, and even to encourage silence in the face of apparent wrongdoings here at Cedarville University.
While the Bible undoubtedly encourages respect for leaders (and respect for all other human beings, for that matter), it seems inappropriate to use Romans 13 as a command for unquestioning obedience to any and all forms of earthly authority. In fact, I believe that the historical context and the context of Romans 12:9-13:10 should prevent us from doing so.
For my thoughts on the matter, consider: A Contextual Reading of Romans 13.1-7 (PDF), submitted to Chris Miller, Ph.D., in partial fulfillment of BENT 4410: Romans and Galatians.
In this essay, I defend the following thesis:
Far from being a comprehensive condensation of the apostle’s beliefs regarding any and all governments past and present, [Romans 13:1-7] is a specific and historically-conditioned pastoral address to the Roman believers, discouraging them from political unrest, disobedience, and rebellion in order to protect their testimony and the effectiveness of the Roman church in the gospel mission. This thesis will be “proven” by appealing to the historical context of the original audience and the overarching context of Romans 12:9-13:10 in which this passage rests.
Don’t feel like reading that PDF file? Then track along with me on the blog. Here’s Part Two.