(Continued from PART FOUR.)
Through the ignorance of the historical background of Paul’s epistle to the Romans as a whole and his instructions in Romans 13:1-7 in particular, the passage at hand has been grossly mis-read and mis-applied in numerous ways since its original composition.
Instead of an argument for unthinking obedience to, approval of, and participation in governments past and present, Paul here argues for the Christians in Rome not to revolt against the empire in an attempt to fully usher in God’s kingdom, but to submit humbly to the Roman authorities as they sought to overcome evil with good. Continue reading An Abused Text: Romans 13 (pt 5)
(Continued from PART THREE.)
The passage at hand only makes sense within the overarching context of Romans 12:9-13:10. Although Paul undoubtedly changes topics at 13:1, the thematic links between 13:1-7 and 12:9-21 are difficult to ignore. Kakos (“evil”) and agathos (“good”) occur in Rom 12:17, 21 and 13:3-4. Orge (“wrath”) is mentioned in 12:19 and 13:4, 5. Also, conceptually, vengeance is mentioned in 12:19 and 13:4. It is therefore quite reasonable to see a connection between 13:1-7 and 12:9-21.
The links between this passage and the one immediately preceding it, however, should not overshadow the importance of the thematic verses earlier in 12:1-2. There Paul effectively redefines the people of God as no longer just Jews, but Gentiles as well. This is a common enough theme throughout the entire epistle and in almost all of Paul’s writings, but in Romans 12:1-15:13, it is of particular importance. Having spent the first eleven chapters of the epistle explaining the identity of the people of God as a mix of Jews and Gentiles and defending the covenant loyalty of God in the process, Paul now devotes chapters 12-15 to redefining the “rule of life” of the people of God. In 12:9-21, Paul proclaims “love as the fundamental moral imperative in human relationships,” urging his readers to pursue harmony (12:16) and peace (12:18). He then redefines in 13:1-7 how the people of God in the church at Rome should relate to the power structures of the society in which they dwell. Continue reading An Abused Text: Romans 13 (pt 4)
(Continued from PART TWO.)
When Romans 13:1-7 is read as if it was written in a modern North American context, it seems as though Paul is appealing to the sovereignty of God in the affairs of nations to remind us of the divinely-appointed nature of our free-market economy and federal constitutional republic. All of this is supposedly done to prompt us toward active participation in our civil government and unquestioning obedience to all of its laws. After all, these verses come up in discussions of Christian political involvement, debates on just war theory vs. pacifism, and diatribes against illegal immigrants and those who desire to aid them.
However, using these seven verses as a packet theology of church and state is problematic, even within the Pauline corpus alone. The same man who wrote Romans 13 also frequently took up themes in his writings that would challenge the power and authority of the Roman Empire, for the declaration that Jesus is Lord contains the implicit declaration that Caesar is not. Our understanding of these seven verses must therefore be able to mesh with other passages (such as Phil 2:6-11; 3:20-21; 1 Thess 1:9-10; and 4:13-5:11) and their implications on relations between church and state. Continue reading An Abused Text: Romans 13 (pt 3)
To make my essay easier to digest, I’ve formatted it for the blog. Here’s the Intro:
This study rests upon a crucial presupposition: without context, words can mean anything and everything, and therefore mean nothing. It is only through the delimiting influence of context that words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs are endowed with significance. Although this concept seems simple and justified enough, it is often forgotten within the field of biblical exegesis. Due to influences as simple as our versification of the biblical text and as complex as the historical/theological developments which have dictated how we teach and interpret the Scriptures, many exegetes (wittingly or unwittingly) ignore context when trying to ascertain the meaning of particular biblical texts.
An adequate case study of this phenomenon is the interpretation(s) of Romans 13:1-7, a text that has been used to justify everything from utter obedience to totalitarian regimes to unquestioning support of harsh anti-immigration laws. These seven verses from Paul’s epistle to the Romans have been grossly abused at numerous points since their original composition. In Romans 13:1-7, Paul exhorts the Roman believers to apply his previous commands toward love (12:9), harmony (12:16), and peace (12:18) in the context of obedience to government (13:1-5) and the payment of taxes (13:6-7).
Far from being a comprehensive condensation of the apostle’s beliefs regarding any and all governments past and present, this passage 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.
(Continued in PART THREE.)
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.