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Thursday, January 11, 2007

The interpretation of Romans 13:1-7

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. - Romans 13:1-7

My experience and reading is perhaps not as broad as others, but, unless I am mistaken, I have not until recently run across the idea that these passages meant anything other than obedience to civil authority.

The immediate text itself appears to support this view.
1. The scope is not limited to Christians: Though the letter itself is written to Roman Christians, Paul states, "Let EVERY SOUL be subject unto the higher powers."
2. Government is authorized or appointed by God: "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God".
3. This authority spoken of bears the sword: "he beareth not the sword in vain".
4. This authority spoken of is an avenger or revenger: "...he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." The little child of God is not an avenger, but waits on God to meet out justice: "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." (Romans 12:19)
5. This authority spoken of receives tribute or taxes: "For for this cause pay ye tribute also..." This harmonizes with Jesus' instructions in Matthew 22:17-21. The church and its officers are not a taxing entity.

Other verses that speak to the subject include:Titus 3:1,2 and I Peter 2:13-17.

Human government is a divine institution; anarchy is the realm of man. In Paul's thought in Romans 13, obedience hinges on two main things: the external consequences of disobedience and the internal conscience. I see no reason to doubt that Paul means the institution of human government which is ordained by God. There may be a wide range of opinions for practically applying this teaching, but are there any reasons to doubt this is the teaching?

7 comments:

amity said...

Just that the apostles were so very DISobedient to the Roman authority that they eventually got themselves executed!

How does that jive? Many forms of Christianity do have a long tradition of civil disobedience that they, no doubt, have scripture to back up...

R. L. Vaughn said...

To me it seems to jive very easily if we take into account Peter's explanation that "we ought to obey God rather than men" -- obey government and its laws as long as they do not conflict with God and His laws.

Do you think Romans 13 means something else?

R. L. Vaughn said...

I have a few other comments that I'll hope to make later. But I just received an e-mail from John Redman about a book that takes a very different position than I concerning Rom. 13. His e-mail was entitled "Christian opposition to the state - supported" and the book is Christian Theology of Public Policy: Highlighting the American Experience by John Cobin.

A few excerpts from the e-mail about it:
* States are cancerous outgrowths that thrive by plundering inalienable rights.
* States are parasites and predators that dole out privileges and siphon off prosperity through taxes and regulation.
* The state has been a vile nuisance for civilized men, and the Bible gives us no reason to believe its evil nature can be changed.

Cobin then turns to the interpretation of two key passages of Scripture: Romans 13:1–7 and 1 Peter 2:13–17. He believes ...that Paul wanted to shut down any possible excuse for the Roman state to persecute believers. If there was to be persecution, it must come as a result of hatred for Jesus Christ and His church (Revelation 12:17), and not because of the sinful behavior of Christians. When social instability and lack of food produced rogues and riots in Rome, Christians were to have no part of it.

R. L. Vaughn said...

I am at the disadvantage of not having read Cobin's book but only the review of it sent to me via e-mail. My initial reaction was that Cobin is interpreting Romans 13 as as a situational ethic instead of a timeless truth. But other statements made me decide that is probably not what he intends. When I read that he indicted the Social Security system as a Ponzie scheme, I decided maybe this is a book we need to read!

Here is an interesting paragraph from the review:
He opposes the state legislating morality through victimless crime legislation. He finds it hard to see how a Christian could serve in the armies of the British loyalists during the Revolutionary War, the Union during the Civil War, and those of the American state that invaded Vietnam and Iraq. Although Cobin supports capital punishment, he believes that "its administration by the wayward state must always be suspect." He believes that the "War Between the States" marked "the beginning of the part-time enslavement of all Americans." He supports jury nullification. He maintains that "the Second Amendment was intended to be the ultimate check against a tyrannical state." He opposes the displaying of the American flag in churches. Nationalism is "always an egregious idolatry that Christians must learn to shun."

R. L. Vaughn said...

Amity, back to your original comment.

I hope my short note helped to clarify somewhat about what I believe governs when we choose to not obey the laws and/or the government. As citizens of whatever country we find ourselves, it seems that Paul intends that we live as peaceable law-abiding tax-payers. This does not "trump" the fact of obedient to God before obedience to man, and following HIS commands whether they are acceptable to the government or not.

You cited the Apostles being so disobedient to Roman authority that it eventually brought about their execution. I think early on it is not correct -- when Agrippa heard the case of Paul he said he had done nothing wrong (Acts 26). What they were doing in praching the gospel was evidently more of an irritant to Jewish tradition and religious idolatry than a real violation of any law of Rome. Later, and I don't really remember my Roman history that well, it seems like Rome did pass some anti-Christian laws. But ultimately what seems consistent is that they were getting in trouble for worshipping and preaching Jesus and not for other kinds of violations of Roman law.

As far as civil disobedience, I'm not sure exactly what you have in mind. But I'll try a couple of examples to hopefull illustrate what I think. If the civil disobedience took the form of not serving in the military because one believes that violates God's command to not kill, then something like that would come under the teachings of Scripture, IMO. If someone was standing up for some perceived right they think they are entitled to, that very likely might not (maybe for example, claiming the right to not pay taxes because of being a Christian).

On some of both of thes, BTW, the U.S. government does give some "outs" to those who have religious objections. I think, unless I am greatly mistaken, that the Amish (and probably others) do not pay Social Security.

clinch64 said...

Robert, you are right about the Amish. They have not paid into social security since it became law and was required by the IRS. There was a series of meetings with Congress and the IRS by Amish bishops and other leaders, starting in 1959. It is quite remarkable how such a humble and austere group of people can influence the highest in the land, just as they did in 1972, regarding compulsory education.

In the matter of Social Security payments, the amish were actually helping the government instead of defying it. So many times when government opposition is pursued, the spirit of battle and confrontation is present. This was not the case at all here.

The litmus test that was used in the compulsory education ruling were the welfare rolls . The Courts checked various rolls in selected Amish areas of Ohio and Pennsylvania. To their astonishment, they could not find any Amish on them.

Neil

amity said...
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