Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Romans 13 and Government 5

posted by xscot mcknight

Romans 13:5 is a near echo of a saying of Jesus: “Therefore, it is necessary to submit [live within the order] to the authorities … because of conscience.” Here’s what Jesus said in Matthew 17:26-27: “Then the sons are exempt [from Temple tax] … but so that we may not offend them, go to the lake… give it to them for my tax and yours.”
If Paul brings in conscience after his argument from pragmatics — they’ve got the sword (Rom 13:1-4), does that mean conscience is secondary?
That is, the ultimate reason Christians submit to the authorities is because they live before God. Christians know God is Sovereign; they know God is ordering the world; and they want to live within God’s order. It is the same argument we find in 1 Peter 2:11–3:12, esp enunciated in 2:13-17. Paul (and Peter) urge the Christians to be good citizens, not rebellious and seditious — why? Because government is part of God’s good orderliness in this world.
Always? Obviously not. In general? Obviously.



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brodie

posted September 29, 2006 at 3:27 am


when I was in my honours year at college I looked at the ethics of the late Paul Ramsey. What became apparent to me as I looked at his Just War Theory (with which I disagree) is that what we lack are some good theologies of politics. Sure we have an abundance of political theologies, but I’m not too aware of too many contemporary theologies of politics that consider the impact of globalisation and that we live in a post-Constantinian era.



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RonMck

posted September 29, 2006 at 4:54 am


I think Peter is just being pragmatic. Banging our heads up against a powerful government is a waste of time if limits your ability to share the gospel.
We should be careful about this order thing. If we impose a Hobbesian world view on Peter and Paul, we will tend towards where Hobbes ended: with Leviathon.
God accomplishing his purposes through the powers is not the same as God using them to create order. Often the powere create disorder, even as God is working his purposes. If we make order an absolute, we are liable to end up with an absolute orderer.



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Ryan

posted September 29, 2006 at 6:03 am


RonMck,
I think your post (#2) has good examples in God’s dealing with the Isrealites. Babylon and Assyria accomplish God’s purpose of chastising them, but obviously, we do not associate their evil with God. I guess the question that
your statement “God accomplishing his purposes through the powers is not the same as God using them to create order.” leads me to is, if God uses government powers, that are admitedly wicked, to accomplish His purpose without lending to them His goodness/order/authority (no matter how much they claim that they are “doing the will of God”) why do we fall for it so easily? That is, why do we always want to set ourselves up (that is Christians) in the positions of rule?



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John Doyle

posted September 29, 2006 at 9:24 am


The authorities wield the sword, but only those who do evil need fear the authorities’ wrath: this is Paul’s rationale. He says nothing about public works projects, welfare programs, or any other governmental mechanisms for imposing order on society — only the justice function as an enforcer of moral order. So if a government wields the sword even against those who do good, then is the rationale for subjecting yourself no longer valid?
If Paul envisions government as a general source of order, he doesn’t explicitly say so here. The end of Rom. 12 talks about not seeking your own revenge, but instead overcoming evil with good. Context would suggest that Rom. 13 is a further elaboration on one way God deals with evil of man against man; i.e., through civil/criminal justice.
The most disturbing part is Rom. 13:2: “he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and those who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” It seems that Paul is defining resistance itself as evil, which makes every resister rightfully subject to whatever punishment the government doles out. But again, in the context of Chapter 12, I think a case can be made that resistance here refers specifically to the justice function. Victims and perpetrators of injustice might disagree with how the government metes out punishment. Paul tells them to live with it: maybe that’s the main point of the passage.



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Terry Tiessen

posted September 29, 2006 at 9:41 am


I’m finding Wright’s position, as you sum it up, Scot, very refreshing. I’ve been in correspondence recently with someone who takes the strongly negative view of civil government that Hauerwas and his disciples do, and I must say that it is nice to hear my own view affirmed by Wright.
It is always nice to meet someone else who is right. :-)
Terry



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Robert E. Mason

posted September 29, 2006 at 11:18 am


I think context is important here. Living under the authority of imperial Roman or under the authority of a modern military dictatorship is quite different from living under a constitutional democracy. There are constitutionally permissible ways to resist the authority of government—petitions, large assemblies in public space, law suites challenging the exercise of government authority on constitutional grounds, and I would add nonviolent civil disobedience. Laws must be violated so that they may be brought before the courts to test their constitutionality. It is part of our constitutional system. Does Paul’s injunction not to resist authority trump these constitutional rights? I think not!



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Nick

posted September 29, 2006 at 1:05 pm


i agree with robert that we have a right and sometimes a responsibility to resist authorities that are unjust. i don’t fully understand the situation of roman-occupied palestine, but there are many situation around the world today that i believe the common people should protest, refuse to pay taxes, and even violently overthrow corrupt governments. god didn’t order the world governments. they are created by humans, and many times they are corrupt. why should we put up with that? we should pursue justice, peace, and whatever else looks like the Kingdom. it is everyone’s right to have a say-so in how their nation-state is ruled (democracy).



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RonMck

posted September 29, 2006 at 7:18 pm


An interpretation that makes sense in a constitutional democracy, but does not make sense under an empire must have something wrong.



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Jinny

posted September 29, 2006 at 9:26 pm


My Gk Exegesis II prof. showed us a structural outline of this passage! She was using it as an example to move from the Greek to a preaching outline. Her preliminary outline was titled “For the love of God…and the IRS”! LOL.
I think we need to consider how complex dealing with corrupt governments is. The entire scope of the Old Testament’s monarchies from Saul on were corrupted–because the king was never God, we already know that we can’t expect perfection in any form of government.
The theological understanding of the Old Testament is also very different: when the king sinned, it became corporate sin. (Western thought is very individualistic–I believe this more and more: Eastern thought today is much closer to the New Testament than we are) The Bible clearly portrays governments as God’s agents: he used various kings for his purpose along the lines of Gen 50:20 “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” or Jer 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I also strongly disagree with the sentiment of “even violently overthrow governments”–that’s not what Christians are called to. God not only uses governments, but also appoints their downfalls–again using agents who didn’t know him.
Think carefully. Did rights even exist in the first century? No, not as we know them. They thought in terms of privilege and patronage–not automatic, ‘god-given’ rights. Everything could be taken away. A person could go from citizen to slave status.
At times, Israel was ordered to do the exact opposite of what they thought was right–i.e. Ezekiel during the exile: they were told to STOP! urging rebellion in Jerusalem because their hope wasn’t there and wasn’t in the temple; it is in the LORD–in exile! Roughly paraphrasing, rebellion would result in the destruction of the temple. Eventually the glory of the LORD left the city–because God decreed it was time for change (Ezek. 11). Much of this pointed out to me by Dr. Carson, a different prof.
Now we don’t have prophets, because, as Ezekiel described in verse 19ff, the spirit of the Lord is within his people. I don’t think it’s a right, but rather a duty to follow God’s will. Are we wise enough to pray prior to acting? For example, can we honestly say that civil disobedience is warranted in a given situation? Or is God’s will going to call for submission? As I’ve heard it paraphrased, “Love doesn’t demand its rights” (1 Cor 13). Too often, when people are in the situation, they can’t see the big picture. The Bible attests to this over and over again, from the very beginning! Humans get too focused on the now, and often end up sinning. After all, it took Nathan’s parable to get David to see how he much had sinned (2 Sam 12).
Take Paul’s life for example: at some points, he knew he had to flee (Acts 9:24-25) and in the end, he knew he had to stay where he was–even though he could have easily gotten out of there!–because of the Gospel. Paul’s focus always is: how does this make the Gospel and God look? I think American Christianity needs a serious makeover. Secular society now looks upon Christians as ‘those troublemakers.’ Aren’t we supposed to be peacemakers?



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Scot McKnight

posted September 29, 2006 at 9:30 pm


Jinny,
Are you suggesting that we should never oppose injustice or systemic corruption? I see Peter and John opposing — to preach the gospel. Or?



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Ryan

posted September 30, 2006 at 12:31 am


I find it interesting that people always bring up in the whole governemnt discussion David’s sin with Batsheba. However, I feel like his sin by conducting a census gives us a better insight into the issue of governemnt authority. I mean the people suffered for David’s sinful governing, not his immoral behavior.
What does that say about God, what does it say about governments and power and authority, and of course what does it mean for us as Christians?



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John Doyle

posted September 30, 2006 at 3:59 am


“I see Peter and John opposing.” Just shows how egotistical I am: I’m scrolling up through the comments to see what Peter had to say. It’s amazing how many interpretive contexts surround any given passage of Scripture: historical, syntactical, theological, etc., not to mention the personal interests, experiences and preconceptions of individual readers. It makes you wonder: is there one single truth about government embedded in the Romans 13 passage, and all other interpretations are wrong? Or does the passage open up the possibility of seeing many truths, each one valid in a particular context?



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Jinny

posted September 30, 2006 at 12:52 pm


No, I’m opposed to jumping straight away to illegal ways of standing up to the government before going through legal recourses. For example, refusing to pay taxes may seem like a non-violent way to protest, but it’ll also land you in jail (5 years minimum for evasion of taxes?). Why go straight to jail when you can contact representatives, lobby, and otherwise peacefully and legally bring about change? There are ways to get government spending practices changed. For many politicians, the fights are about spending money anyway!
Another scenario I have in mind is respectful, legal protests of abortion. Yes, there is a law to keep a certain distance away from a clinic’s property. Better to appear a legal abiding citizen, than an irrational, lawbreaker for getting too close, and in-your-face of people trying to use the clinic. Is it loving to create a gauntlet of shame? Obviously not, if even unbelievers want to legistate against such behavior!
Ethically, it is not a moral imperative to break laws right away, but some people argue that it is. I think this is more to the point that Peter and Paul are trying to make: you can follow God’s will legally and peacefully.
Paul never illegally asserted his point of view. In the end, he pressed his lawsuit to spread the Gospel and he never had any fear of suffering for following Christ.
In the same way, Peter is encouraging believers all over–they have nothing to fear when they do no wrong–in the eyes of humans AND God. Like Peter writes: when you do things according to God’s will, the ignorant have no fuel with which to criticize you (1 Pet. 2:15, 3:16).
I think in the US, we don’t truly encounter the problem of government opposing the spread of the gospel. Not like places where Christianity is illegal altogether. It is possible to peacefully bring about a change in that attitude and law. I’ve learned that a friend helped do that in Mongolia in just 4 years! Statistically, in 1989, there was only ONE single professing Christian in the whole country, and churches were illegal. How did this change? Peaceful gatherings and legal application for the Church’s registration as a non-governmental organization (NGO).
I didn’t bring up David in the context of governmental sin, but as an example of an individual not fully realizing how he or she can be wrong in his or her actions. Please re-read.



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Broken Messenger

posted September 30, 2006 at 11:25 pm


Scot,
I appreciate and like very much how this is put. Well said.
Brad



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Jinny

posted October 1, 2006 at 3:23 pm


For today’s seromn, my pastor spoke on Eph. 6:10-18. I thought it was an appropriate passage to consider in light of Rom 13 because Paul’s writing about (I think) the same topic from a different point of view (during his house arrest–see Eph 6:19-20). To shed more light on this passage, read G. B. Caird’s Principalities and Powers: a study in Pauline theology (first recommended to me by Scot).



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Dana

posted October 2, 2006 at 5:09 am


Hi Folks: Fantastic discussion and points and references, just came back from the hospital, 45 year old, super healthy guy, slim, athletic and works out all the time, had a heart attack. He came through it, but to see the pain on his face when I got to go in and pray with him, incidentally his name is Derrick, please mention him in your prayers, but seeing his pain- brings home fresh how powerful this writing from Paul is. We believe we have time- Paul knew we didn’t, so his pervading sense of urgency made him address much of a tough subject and maybe that is a portion of the point about conscience sake? Scot thank you for that – “Always? Obviously not. In general? Obviously.” Really pens a find point to it.



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