Romans 13: obedience to the governing authorities

A discussion has sprung up on the ‘Quiero a mi Mami’ thread about the correct interpretation of Romans 13 as cited by Jeff Sessions:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.

I’m going to attempt to summarise the arguments so far rather than fill this OP with reams of quotes, so I apologise for any distortions and simplifications.

Dave W argues that the passage shows divinely sanctioned authoritarianism, and the proper response to it is to repudiate it rather than to try and explain it away.

Enoch says that a.) it’s a warning not to consider yourself above the law of the land just because you’re under grace; b.) it’s a pragmatic warning to keep your heads down; c.) a participative democracy like the US is predicated on citizens’ engagement, which includes citizens’ opposition to current policy, so if citizens oppose a particular policy then they are doing what the state intends, not rebelling against it.

Penny S points to a hypothesis that the whole passage is sarcastic.

I have observed that the author of that passage was jailed multiple times by the authorities, so whatever he meant by it, it wasn't "The government is always right" or even "Breaking the law is always wrong".

Other thoughts?
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Comments

  • LeRocLeRoc Shipmate
    I'm more or less with Enoch here, but I like Penny S's idea.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    And now a direct response to Dave W:
    Oh absolutely he could have meant that ["The government is always right" or even "Breaking the law is always wrong".] Why should we assume Paul must have thought or acted with perfect consistency? If you let him be an ordinary human, you no longer have to tie yourself in knots trying to come up with fanciful explanations for how he didn’t really mean this stupid thing he obviously really did say.

    Yes, he could, if you assume that being imprisoned had somehow slipped his memory, and he'd forgotten that he'd persecuted the church when he'd been in a position of authority himself, and that he thought the bloke the Romans crucified (forgotten his name but Paul thought he was important) got what was coming to him ... but that wouldn't meet my personal threshold for 'ordinary human' or 'really obvious'.
  • There is a huge difference between a subject encouraging fellow-subjects to be submitted, under God, to the authorities (which is what is happening in Romans 13), and the authorities using this passage as an instrument in an attempt to bludgeon people into submission.
  • There are those who are subject to the law but powerless to influence it (which is no longer the case, though even in the best democracy there will be some people who are disenfranchised in some way) stating that those who are, like them. subject to the law that they should obey authorities.

    There are political authorities who are setting the law, and when they use the "you must obey us" there's a big difference.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    There are those who are subject to the law but powerless to influence it (which is no longer the case, though even in the best democracy there will be some people who are disenfranchised in some way) stating that those who are, like them. subject to the law that they should obey authorities.

    There are political authorities who are setting the law, and when they use the "you must obey us" there's a big difference.

    No longer the case? I'm not sure at all where that leaves the average citizen of many countries of the world. Can you elucidate?
  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    Ricardus wrote: »
    And now a direct response to Dave W:
    Oh absolutely he could have meant that ["The government is always right" or even "Breaking the law is always wrong".] Why should we assume Paul must have thought or acted with perfect consistency? If you let him be an ordinary human, you no longer have to tie yourself in knots trying to come up with fanciful explanations for how he didn’t really mean this stupid thing he obviously really did say.

    Yes, he could, if you assume that being imprisoned had somehow slipped his memory, and he'd forgotten that he'd persecuted the church when he'd been in a position of authority himself, and that he thought the bloke the Romans crucified (forgotten his name but Paul thought he was important) got what was coming to him ... but that wouldn't meet my personal threshold for 'ordinary human' or 'really obvious'.
    You don’t have to be suffering brain damage to be inconsistent or contradict yourself. It’s the most natural thing in the world.

    For example - Jefferson famously included a passage in his rough draft of the Declaration of Independence condemning King George III for slavery in the American colonies:
    he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
    We don’t need to think Jefferson somehow “forgot” that he was himself a slave-owner in order to believe that this passage was meant to be just what it looks like: a criticism of the crown’s role in encouraging a vile institution.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    I think the motivation may well have been "keep your head down". At the time of writing, Nero was emperor of Rome.

    What it meant then was probably very different to how it might be applied (or ignored) today.

    Anyway, as I intimated on the other thread, nonconformists traditionally believe in dissent, challenging the authority of rulers on matters of conscience. We rationalise Romans 13.

    One of the ironies of the current attitudes of the religious right in the US, given their predominantly nonconformist roots, is their generally authoritarian attitude towards dissent. The role of individual conscience seems to have got discounted.

  • Gee D wrote: »
    There are those who are subject to the law but powerless to influence it (which is no longer the case, though even in the best democracy there will be some people who are disenfranchised in some way) stating that those who are, like them. subject to the law that they should obey authorities.

    There are political authorities who are setting the law, and when they use the "you must obey us" there's a big difference.

    No longer the case? I'm not sure at all where that leaves the average citizen of many countries of the world. Can you elucidate?
    You're right, I was writing to the situation we're in, of living in representative democracies where we have influence over the laws that are passed (through our choices at election time, through exercising our rights to tell our representatives what we think, through the right to peaceful protest). That isn't the situation in many nations.

    The situation for US is different to the situations in other nations or at different times in history since WE don't have to just lump it, we can protest and seek to change laws we disagree with in a manner unknown in other times and places.
  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    Barnabas62 wrote: »
    I think the motivation may well have been "keep your head down". At the time of writing, Nero was emperor of Rome.
    I agree that fear of a dangerous, tyrannical ruler sounds like a plausible pragmatic reason for writing “keep your head down” or words to that effect. The problem is that it makes no sense as a justification for writing that the dangerous tyrannical ruler is God’s servant who only punishes wrongdoers and holds no terror for those who do right.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    The Emperor of Rome was in a different position to the President of the United States, in that the latter is elected by voters, and thus is in his position not by divine fiat but by the will of the electorate (or at least those who bother to vote) (modulo vote stealing and voter suppression). So inasmuch as this chapter is referring to someone appointed by God to wield the sword, it simply does not apply to the US.
  • LeRocLeRoc Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    The Emperor of Rome was in a different position to the President of the United States, in that the latter is elected by voters
    But less and less often by a majority of voters.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    Dave W wrote: »
    You don’t have to be suffering brain damage to be inconsistent or contradict yourself. It’s the most natural thing in the world.

    Sure. I'm not an inerrantist and I'm quite willing to accept that St Paul could be inconsistent. But that doesn't mean personal inconsistency is an equally plausible explanation in all circumstances.
    We don’t need to think Jefferson somehow “forgot” that he was himself a slave-owner in order to believe that this passage was meant to be just what it looks like: a criticism of the crown’s role in encouraging a vile institution.

    Of course not, because loudly condemning something you yourself are doing is so universal a trait as to require no further comment. But that's not what's going on here.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    Dave W wrote: »
    Barnabas62 wrote: »
    I think the motivation may well have been "keep your head down". At the time of writing, Nero was emperor of Rome.
    I agree that fear of a dangerous, tyrannical ruler sounds like a plausible pragmatic reason for writing “keep your head down” or words to that effect. The problem is that it makes no sense as a justification for writing that the dangerous tyrannical ruler is God’s servant who only punishes wrongdoers and holds no terror for those who do right.

    Spies are everywhere, Dave W! Perhaps there was some danger of a copy of the letter falling into the wrong hands?

    Mind you, I take your point. There were and still are folks in my local congo who have a pretty fundamentalist view of the authority of scripture but absolutely refuse to believe that the sycophancy in Romans 13 applies today. They 'weigh scripture with scripture' and simply do not believe that those verses can be trusted to carry a lot of weight.

    Well, maybe their exegesis is inconsistent but I have zero problems with their theology.

  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    Ricardus wrote: »
    Dave W wrote: »
    You don’t have to be suffering brain damage to be inconsistent or contradict yourself. It’s the most natural thing in the world.

    Sure. I'm not an inerrantist and I'm quite willing to accept that St Paul could be inconsistent. But that doesn't mean personal inconsistency is an equally plausible explanation in all circumstances.
    Do you have a better one?
    We don’t need to think Jefferson somehow “forgot” that he was himself a slave-owner in order to believe that this passage was meant to be just what it looks like: a criticism of the crown’s role in encouraging a vile institution.

    Of course not, because loudly condemning something you yourself are doing is so universal a trait as to require no further comment. But that's not what's going on here.
    Isn’t it? Paul condemns disobedience of authorities, but is disobedient himself.

    If you’ve got a better explanation, why don’t you give it already.

    Barnabus62: The “spies” explanation is almost as ludicrous as the sarcasm explanation. (The latter opens up a lot more interesting possibilities, though, as it suggests a powerful method for inverting any part of scripture you happen to find inconvenient.)
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    LeRoc wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    The Emperor of Rome was in a different position to the President of the United States, in that the latter is elected by voters
    But less and less often by a majority of voters.
    Sadly true. But my point is that the government of a democratic republic is "our" government in quite a different way than an unelected monarchy or other such non-democratic government. Our government's founding document starts, "We the people." We're allowed to disagree with each other. Disagreeing with whoever is in power at the moment is just disagreeing with each other. Paul's admonitions don't apply.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    Paul's views on obedience to authority are certainly rather different from the frankly jihadist approach of Revelation. I sometimes wonder if readers of the latter book, or something very like it, actually took it on themselves to start the Great Fire of Rome in an attempt to kick-start Armageddon.
  • sionisaissionisais Shipmate
    Dangerous, tyrannical rulers have often been elected democratically. Many others have, at best, turned out to be disappointments.

    If Jeff Sessions really wants the people to be cowed by proof-texting he and the government had better be very careful, for the requirements for "Kings/Powers and Principalities" are very clear. I'll give him Ephesians 6:12 for starters "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [places].'
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    It's not all that ludicrous, Dave W. The letter was entrusted to Phoebe to be delivered by hand. And Phoebe was a most trustworthy person. If some special precautions were put in place for its delivery, that at least shows concern about it falling into the wrong hands.

    Proclaiming Jesus as Lord was subversive. It got you martyred.

    Of course I don't know that was on Paul's mind. But in the first century in Rome, with Nero as emperor, Rome was a dangerous place to hold beliefs which did not regard Nero as Godlike.

    Some Roman Christians worshipped underground, in the catacombs, a practice for which there is archeological evidence.

    But I don't care if you think it is ludicrous. Consider this alternative. Perhaps Paul knew he had to strike some kind of balance in the text since he was known to be a Roman citizen? And that had been useful to him. So he went OTT to safeguard that to some extent. In the end of course, it didn't do him a lot of good since it is clear that he was executed for his faith. Roman citizenship did not prevent that

    Context is everything and the dangers and constraints faced by citizens of Rome are easy to overlook at this distance in time.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    I think this may depend on things we either don't know, or need experts to tell us.

    First of all, it depends on when Romans was written. Was it before or after either Nero's accession or the great Roman fire? Up until then, Christians may not have been particularly controversial. To the Romans at the top of the tree, they would have just been a faction in a minority they weren't very interested in as long as they behaved themselves. What Paul was saying changes meaning enormously if he wrote it before or after persecutions started.

    Second, do any shipmates know what was prevailing Jewish teaching on how one relates to the state if one was in the diaspora rather than in Judea? It's possible that Paul was merely relaying something that was standard in the synagogues of the Greco-Roman world.

    Third, what Barnabas has suggested about Paul being cautious in case his letter was read, is interesting. I've not heard that before. Does anyone know how bothered the Roman state was about what people wrote or spoke, so long as they didn't riot or take up arms - as happened in Jerusalem and Ephesus? Were they watchful for possible subversion in books and letters, or is this something that didn't really develop until the late Middle Ages, the era of Hus and others?

    Besides, if there was a Roman equivalent of a Commissar, is there much in the rest of Romans that he'd likely to have been interested in. If you're a more or less satisfied worshipper of Jupiter, Mars or even Diana of the Ephesians, would it have made much sense, yet alone have been interesting or subversive?
  • Enoch wrote: »
    Does anyone know how bothered the Roman state was about what people wrote or spoke, so long as they didn't riot or take up arms - as happened in Jerusalem and Ephesus?

    I'm no expert, but here's my understanding:

    The Roman approach to religion and the gods was a very functional one. The Romans didn't care in the slightest what you actually believed. In their functional worldview, you made the proper sacrifices to the gods on the proper occasions, and then the gods were satisfied and you prospered. If you failed to deliver the proper tribute, the gods got angry and did something bad to you.

    So the problem the Roman state had with Christians wasn't that there was a group of people talking nonsense about some dead Jew, but that those people refused to make the proper sacrifices to the Roman gods. And having people who didn't give the gods their due in your city or state put your city or state at risk for divine vengeance.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    edited June 22
    The conflict was between the believed exclusive sovereignty of the emperor and the believed exclusive sovereignty of Christ. LC is right I think about the pragmatism of Romans to religious beliefs, provided these didn't get in the way of paying proper tribute and honour to the emperor. The martyrs were those who could not compromise their Christian beliefs in order to fulfill the duty to make tribute and sacrifice to the emperor. That in the main was what got them into trouble.

    In some places it was a finer line than others, but it seems likely that Rome, being the centre of power, was less tolerant of non-observance than others. Martyrdom was sporadic in the first century, oppression became worse later on.

    But Paul would have some appreciation of the risks to himself, and others, in crossing a line. That's the context within which Romans 13 was written.

    More than this I can't say for sure. I'm arguing that the risks and the context need to be taken into account in interpreting Romans 13 and making sense of any application to today's circumstances.

    Essentially I'm saying about Paul, the human author that some allowance should be made for these difficulties. The text arose in a context and cannot be taken uncritically to identify timeless truths as a result of the difficulty of the context.

  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    Barnabus62:
    But I don't care if you think it is ludicrous. Consider this alternative.
    If you don’t care what I think, perhaps you’ll understand that I don’t feel particularly minded to bother considering your alternative.

    Since I’ve already looked it up, though, here’s a link to the Wikipedia article on Romans, with a couple of different takes on chapter 13 (no mention of spies or sarcasm, though.) The consensus seems to be that it was written in the mid to late 50’s, well before post-fire Neronian persecution.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    edited June 23
    Sorry Dave W. I meant I don't mind, rather than I don't care.

    So far as the date of the Romans is concerned, the probability is that it was written during the early
    part of Nero's reign. Writing about that reign, Suetonius describes the Christians as a mischievous new sect subject to some oppression and of course Jews had been oppressed by previous emperors. Claudius, Nero's predecessor, had expelled them from the city. And LC's point applied also to prior emperors.

    You are right that the first reports of martyrdoms post dated the writing of Romans. Nero scapegoated Christians after the great fire. However, Paul would certainly have been aware of the hostility to Jews. So I am sure he would have seen the need to be careful in his advice to the Roman church re its attitude to governing authorities.

    I don't think sarcasm works as an argument about the text but prudence was certainly justified on the basis of the recent past. Christianity would have been known as an offshoot of Judaism. It's a short journey from mischievous to subversive. I think a decent historical case can be made on those grounds.
  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    I don’t think it makes sense either as a prudential “keep your head down” message, or as a way to deceive putative Roman spies. Going on about how how the authorities are God’s agents to punish the wicked is hardly necessary for the former purpose, and it seems a perverse thing to claim about God if you don’t actually mean it. And if you’ve gotten to the point where you’re afraid of Imperial spies seizing your correspondence, I don’t think this passage is going to assuage the authorities after they’ve read all the parts about how there is only one God who will judge all, those who worship idols instead of him are all disgustingly depraved, you are heirs of God, and you’re out to spread the gospel to all the gentiles. (They might find the list of members at the end very helpful, though not for any purposes that are likely to benefit you.)
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    It seems to us that Romans 13 flows directly from Matthew 22.21, rendering to Caesar that which is Caesar and to God that which is God. I'm surprised that no-one has mentioned this beforehand. And both seem to us to answer the Anabaptist argument which has been seen on this board from time to time (is that allowed? I've not seen that poster for some time and don't know if he has been planked)
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    Gee D

    Jesus's reply leaves nicely open where the point of balance is. Romans 13 definitely tips the balance in favour of obedience to earthly authority.

    Dave W

    There is a famous line from 'A Man for All Seasons' in which Sir Thomas More, facing the need to sign up to the King's loyalty test, says the following.

    'What exactly does this law say?'. And when his daughter loses patience with him at that point, he observes that depending on the exact words, he may be able to sign it. Then comes out with this.
    A man must serve the Lord wittily, in the tangle of his mind.

    Personally, I don't think Romans 13 carries much weight at all as a guide to behaviour today according to one's conscience.

    But here in Keryg we are free to look at the text in context, consider origins. I'm cutting the author some slack. Maybe he was just plain wrong? Maybe, just maybe, he was using his wits to offer some means of protection to his contemporary readers?

    I don't think it matters which of those reasons strikes us as more likely. What really counts is the way in which we are guided today, the way we exercise our consciences in the face of autocratic or corrupt or just plain fallible government.





  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    I don't agree that Romans 13 carries no weight at all and I think Gee D has a point in linking it to rendering to Caesar.

    It seems to me that whatever else it is, or isn't, saying, it is definitely saying we cannot claim the right that some batty Christians have claimed, that we don't have to obey the law and behave ourselves, that 'we are not under law but grace' gives us a sort of moral immunity from sedition or even a gospel obligation to be seditious.

    I'm also still very unpersuaded, if Dave W is saying such, that it doesn't include the message to keep our heads down.

    In a polity which allows, or expects, citizens to engage in the political process, I don't agree that either Romans 13 or scripture as a whole obliges Christians to eschew all engagement in public life as some version of 'the kingdom of Satan' as some Anabaptists and the more exclusive sorts of Brethren will say. I think some of this tradition gets its impetus from a long standing tendency in Christian history to transpose the Torah into ethics, and to treat various statements in the gospels and the epistles as labelling particular pragmatic statements as marking some conclusions as ethically kosher and others as ethically frum.

    Nor do I think that either Romans 13 or scripture as a whole obliges Christians to sign up to political parties, that being a political eager beaver is somehow a better sort of Christian service than all others, or even a duty, as a strong theological strain we've inherited from the C20 would imply.


    I'd still, though, like to know whether there was a prevalent theology in C1 Judaism about how to relate to the state in the diaspora rather than in Judea, and whether Paul was saying something different, or relaying what was generally taken for granted.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    Enoch

    You and I agree that it has something to say to the 'batty Christians' you describe. But I agree with Dave W that it goes OTT in terms of God appointed. Tell that to those who suffered under Stalin, or May, or apartheid, or Idi Amin, or the Kims in North Korea.

    There have been and still are evil governing authorities and to be punished by them is not a sign that you have done something wrong and deserve to be punished. There is a lot of middle ground between no authority and divinely appointed.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    edited June 23
    That should have been Mau :blush:
  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    Mao?
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Good kitty.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    Third time lucky. Autocorrect! Yes, Mao!
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    If rulers that have been appointed by God are not a terror to good conduct but to bad, the logical contrapositive is that anything that is a terror to good conduct is not a legitimate ruler appointed by God.
    If we follow Quentin Skinner, the intellectual historian, and say that one valid interpretation of a text is what the author was trying to address in writing the text (Skinner would say the valid interpretation), then I think Enoch is right: Paul is addressing Christians who think that they need not obey any secular law, or that all secular laws are unjust. He is not addressing Christians who are wondering whether to disobey an authority that has palpably no interest in the good of its people, let alone overthrow such an authority.
    In natural language, a phrase like 'the governing authorities' can mean 'the specific government authorities in the place I'm addressing' or 'normal (typical) governing authorities' or 'exemplary government authorities' or 'all governing authorities'. The assumption that Paul must mean the last is just an assumption.

  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    edited June 23
    The governing authority in Rome was Nero who at the time was strongly under the influence of Aggripina his mother, who organised his ascent as emperor by poisoning his predecessor, Claudius. (Perhaps worth adding that Nero murdered his mother about 5 years later).

    I'm not sure that process can be justifiably described as producing a God-ordained ruler in Rome. Nor that it would be a good idea to look for good governance as a result.

    Although Romans may also have been an encyclical i.e. copies distributed to other than the Christians in Rome, it is a bit of a stretch to argue that Paul didn't mean the text should apply to the current governing authority in Rome.

    Hence the "keep your head down" argument.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    edited June 24
    Dave W wrote: »
    Ricardus wrote: »
    We don’t need to think Jefferson somehow “forgot” that he was himself a slave-owner in order to believe that this passage was meant to be just what it looks like: a criticism of the crown’s role in encouraging a vile institution.

    Of course not, because loudly condemning something you yourself are doing is so universal a trait as to require no further comment. But that's not what's going on here.
    Isn’t it? Paul condemns disobedience of authorities, but is disobedient himself.

    I thought the part you were objecting to was the part where Paul says (or implies) the government is ordained by God and therefore universally a Good Thing. The discrepancy to which I was drawing attention was the fact that Paul himself was persecuted by the authorities, and therefore he is claiming that it's Good while himself having personal experience that it isn't.

    You can call it Stockholm Syndrome if you like, but then that's importing more assumptions into the text.
    If you’ve got a better explanation, why don’t you give it already.

    I don't think any explanation is unproblematic. Certainly not 'Really Obvious'.

    My take is that through most of history, people have been able to simultaneously hold in their heads the thoughts 'the Government is wrong', and 'overthrowing the Government is an intrinsic moral evil' (that is, an extra evil in addition to the violence). In the ancient world this is manifest in David not wanting to kill the Lord's anointed and by the way Chronicles whitewashes the way he came to power compared to Samuel; in the early modern world this is shown by the general squeamishness about executing Charles I; in the contemporary world this is shown by people saying they respect the office but not the holder. I don't think this is particularly irrational as I am struggling to think of any examples where violently (as opposed to peacefully) overthrowing the government has made life any better for anyone.

    If your moral system takes right and wrong to be ultimately founded on God, then there is little difference between 'overthrowing the government is a moral evil' and 'government is instituted by God'.

    The government may be God's servants to administer justice, but that doesn't mean they are actually doing that job, as Paul himself could testify, and as indeed is the foundation of his atonement theology which he mentions more than once.

    The government holds no fear for the righteous, because if the government does choose to persecute the righteous then it will itself be held accountable to God and the righteous will be vindicated. (He says something of the sort in 2 Thessalionians 1 about persecution by the Jews - and if you wish to attack this passage as a fountainhead for anti-Semitism then I won't stand in your way; as I say I am not trying to push an inerrantist line here.)
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    Barnabas62 wrote: »
    The governing authority in Rome was Nero who at the time was strongly under the influence of Aggripina his mother, who organised his ascent as emperor by poisoning his predecessor, Claudius.
    Machiavelli, inspired by Roman histories, pointed out that there's a difference between unjustly carrying on the competition between other members of the ruling class to run the government, and unjustly governing the mass of the people.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    Very true, as far as it goes. But if plotting and murder are rife amongst the rulers, do you have any real grounds for believing that the proles will receive considerate treatment?

    A lot would depend on whether the Senate might have some ameliorating influence. But they were a patrician bunch as well.

    No, keep your head down and avoid offending looks like about the best, most prudent strategy available.

  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    I think it's entirely possible to warn people against provoking dangerous psychopaths without also saying that those dangerous psychopaths are God's agents who only punish wrongdoers.
    Dafyd wrote: »
    If rulers that have been appointed by God are not a terror to good conduct but to bad, the logical contrapositive is that anything that is a terror to good conduct is not a legitimate ruler appointed by God.
    Well that sounds reasonable at first, though a little odd, since it's not exactly clear why you should have to go to such pains in telling people to obey good rulers (whereas they might need persuading to obey bad ones on the "head down" principle, dealt with elsewhere.)

    But then go back to the first sentence of the passage:
    Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.
    He doesn't make any distinction between legitimate and illegitimate rulers; in fact he almost seems to be determined to exclude the option you're trying open up, Dafyd. If you want to go the contrapositive route on this one, I think you'd have to conclude that anything that is a terror to good conduct (*cough* Nero *cough*) isn't an authority at all. In other words, there are no bad authorities because anything bad isn't really an authority.

    This is radical; it's pretty much the exact opposite of the "keep your head down" idea. I like it - it's got a real "throw caution to the winds", "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" vibe.

    It reminds me of IngoB's answer when I pressed him on what it would mean if the Pope said something ex cathedra that was provably wrong. I thought maybe he'd deny the premise, saying perhaps that papal infallibility meant that the Holy Spirit would prevent such a thing from happening in the first place. But no - his answer was that it would simply prove that the particular man in the hat who made the statement wasn't really the Pope after all!

    Ricardus:
    The government holds no fear for the righteous, because if the government does choose to persecute the righteous then it will itself be held accountable to God and the righteous will be vindicated.
    Same problem as with Dafyd's take; Paul says the righteous shouldn't fear the government because it doesn't persecute the righteous. No allowance is made for the possibility of bad government.
  • RdrEmCofERdrEmCofE Shipmate
    edited June 24
    Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

    Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Interpolation). Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
    ______________________________________________________

    Whenever there is a passage of scripture which seems 'out of place', 'uncharacteristic of the rest of the author's work', or 'superfluous to the natural flow of the previous and following paragraphs', it is sometimes helpful to remove the offending text, just to see if the sense of what is left has been violated or detrimentally altered, after the suspected interpolation has been removed.

    As can plainly be seen, the removal of Rom.13:1-6. does no disservice to what is left whatever. Rom.12:21 is followed quite logically by Rom.13:7, without any sense of 'loss' whatever. The logical progression of:

    "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. - Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed."

    Flows seamlessly from the pen of Paul's scribe without any incongruous meandering into deification of The Roman Authorities, or uncharacteristic kowtowing to secular authority, which elsewhere Paul claims we 'wrestle against'. Eph.6:12.

    Bear in mind that Paul was not just referring to 'intangible spiritual powers' in Eph.6:12, he was also using a term which commonly referred to institutional secular powers, of which he had bitter experience on many occasions, both of Roman and Jewish authorities in outright opposition to the gospel Paul preached.

  • BroJamesBroJames Shipmate
    Yes but (a) this kind of emendation is pretty easy to do with any text (indeed I was tempted to do it with your post as a case in point); (b) although there are text-critical issues (which might justify an emendation) with the end of Romans, they don’t extend back to Romans 13; (c) even if it’s not Paul’s own words it’s still in the canon from the earliest date and needs to be reckoned with as Scripture; and, finally, (d) simply cutting it out is to avoid the proper work of making sense of it - which, frankly, is more difficult if it is post-Pauline than if it’s his own words.
  • RdrEmCofERdrEmCofE Shipmate
    (a) Not with any text. Often it will be clear that something is missing as one subject does not reach a conclusion or another seems to come from nowhere or is clumsily introduced. There is some uncertainty though where exactly the original text might have continued after the interpolation was introduced. Interpolation was apparently not uncommon in letters which were subject to being copied many times for distribution.

    (b) There is no reason whatever for any interpolation to be removed from scripture unless an obvious mistake confirmed by many correct manuscripts. God knows it is there and we can assume that even if it is indeed an interpolation not originally penned or dictated by the original apostolic author, the passage performs a function, acceptable to God. Even if that function is to alert us to the fact that everything we read in scripture cannot simply be taken at face value.

    (c) Just being in the canon does not guarantee its authenticity. It only guarantees its antiquity up to a certain date. Authenticity, to be certain, needs comparisons with all existing other manuscripts of the same letter. If this passage was an early interpolation, it was almost certainly a very early one, long before the Roman persecutions alluded to in Revelation, for instance and as far as we know, no copy of Romans exists which does not contain it. More is the pity.

    (d) It need not be post Pauline. Once written and delivered Paul probably never saw a single one of his documents ever again. If he did he probably only saw copies of his original, and never in his own hand because even the originals were not written by Paul. He dictated them.

  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    Wikipedia mentions interpolation as a possible explanation for Romans 13:1-7, naming James Kallas as one supporter of this theory. His 1965 article on the subject (abstract) isn't available for free; Wikipedia links instead to a cranky criticism, but there's a more sober treatment (and eventual rejection) of this and a lot more on the passage in this long article (which I haven't read in its entirety) at Bible.org.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    Dave W wrote: »
    I think it's entirely possible to warn people against provoking dangerous psychopaths without also saying that those dangerous psychopaths are God's agents who only punish wrongdoers.
    . I agree. That is the biggest problem I have with the wording of Romans 1-7.
    Dave W wrote: »
    If you want to go the contrapositive route on this one, I think you'd have to conclude that anything that is a terror to good conduct (*cough* Nero *cough*) isn't an authority at all. In other words, there are no bad authorities because anything bad isn't really an authority.

    This is radical; it's pretty much the exact opposite of the "keep your head down" idea. I like it - it's got a real "throw caution to the winds", "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" vibe.
    I admit to being more than a little tempted by this view. But my reflections on the Romans 13 text in context are influenced by subsequent behaviour in the Roman church. Essentially, there were two groups. Those who were subsequently martyred for their faith following the great fire and Nero's scapegoating. I'm not sure they had much choice about that, unlike subsequent martyrs in other places who did refuse to renounce their faith and make sacrifices to other Gods as an honouring of the emperor. The historical accounts suggest that they were just seized.

    The second group was those who were not seized. And as the catacombs evidence gives testimony, they went underground. They did in fact keep their heads down. And we can understand why. So either way I think the behaviour points away from Paul actually meaning that by definition any real authority was a good one,

    I've read the long article about the interpolation theory and while I'm not against these kinds of form criticism in principle, I agree with the article that in this case it doesn't really work.

    So we are left with the conundrum. Why did Paul write the text in such a way that it would appear to endorse government by dangerous psychopaths (like Nero, whether or not he was that dangerous at the time of writing). And I'm not sure there is a satisfactory explanation for that. He seems to go much further than Jesus's cryptic "Render unto Caesar" and I'm not clear there is a need to do that.



  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    Barnabas62 wrote: »
    The second group was those who were not seized. And as the catacombs evidence gives testimony, they went underground.
    Are you quite sure of this? The Wikipedia article on the Catacombs of Rome describes them as burial places and says nothing about them being used for hiding. During a visit in April I found the guide at the Catacombs of Priscilla (maintained by the Benedictine nuns of Priscilla) quite emphatic that the Roman catacombs weren't used for refuge; it sounded like he got asked about that a lot and was trying to preemptively clear up a widely held misunderstanding. (This is not to say that Christians weren't persecuted, just that they didn't hide in the catacombs.)
    They did in fact keep their heads down. And we can understand why. So either way I think the behaviour points away from Paul actually meaning that by definition any real authority was a good one,
    I'd be reluctant to take the subsequent behavior of other people as an indication of Paul's actual meaning. If you go down that road, you're putting a lot of the aspirational ideals of the gospel at risk. "Did Jesus really mean we should love one another as we love ourselves?" "Well, if you look at the subsequent behavior of Christians throughout the ages..."

    If you're already committed to the sacredness of the Bible, I think you're naturally going to be a lot more willing to give its authors the benefit of the doubt and struggle to find ways of reading it that others not so committed will find less than convincing. I can understand modern Christians* looking at such passages and saying "that seems obviously wrong, so he can't have meant it that way", whereas non-Christians can more easily conclude "I agree that's wrong, but lots of people have said and written wrong and inconsistent things so there's really no fundamental mystery to be solved."

    *Evidently this doesn't include people like Jeff Sessions, who really does seem like the kind of person who would have been happy to use this passage to justify slavery as his forebears did.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    Thanks Dave W. I haven't visited them myself. I've looked at various online sources and there seem to be differences of opinion about use. They were certainly used for burial but I'm pretty sure there is somr evidence of areas of communal gathering (e.g benches). Probably a tangent too far for Kerygmania but you've certainly stimulated me to have a closer look.

    For the sake of this discussion, however, I'll take your point and drop that part of the argument.

    Re rationalisations as opposed to simple errors, I'm sure that happens a lot, indeed that's an issue which has been discussed re biblical inerrancy in Dead Horses. I think I'm just using a historical critical approach to the text in arguing that I can understand cautious and prudent advice, given the (shall we say) 'quality' of the ruling emperor. But we agree that the text goes a lot further than prudence. Verse 3 is the key. Rulers hold no terror for those who do right? When those rulers are unprincipled, immoral in the pursuit of their own advancement, arbitrary and cruel in the use of their authority?

    If I may contrast with say the 23rd Psalm, the psalmist says he will fear no evil for God is with him. That's very different from saying that you need fear no evil from any authority if you do the right thing!

    But rather than just dismiss it as a mistake (which can of course be done) I'm exploring reasons why the text goes OTT. That's pretty normal exegesis. What did the text mean then?

    We agree entirely about the misuse of the text by Sessions and others today.

  • ThunderBunkThunderBunk Shipmate
    How does this fit with Matthew 6:24? This is service, even obeisance, to Mammon; where does God come in? How does it serve the building of the Kingdom, assuming that the Kingdom is not build on the protection of exploitation?

    To me, biblical texts are in dialogue with each other, and the dialogue has to be both intra- and inter-generic. I'm treating the Epistles and the Gospels as being separate genres, without further separation.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    Dave W wrote: »
    Dafyd wrote: »
    If rulers that have been appointed by God are not a terror to good conduct but to bad, the logical contrapositive is that anything that is a terror to good conduct is not a legitimate ruler appointed by God.
    Well that sounds reasonable at first, though a little odd, since it's not exactly clear why you should have to go to such pains in telling people to obey good rulers (whereas they might need persuading to obey bad ones on the "head down" principle, dealt with elsewhere.)
    One presumes that the position Paul is arguing against is something like, the Roman authorities in general are a bunch of pagans; their laws are not ordained by God; therefore, we need not obey them.
    But then go back to the first sentence of the passage:
    Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.
    He doesn't make any distinction between legitimate and illegitimate rulers; in fact he almost seems to be determined to exclude the option you're trying open up, Dafyd. If you want to go the contrapositive route on this one, I think you'd have to conclude that anything that is a terror to good conduct (*cough* Nero *cough*) isn't an authority at all. In other words, there are no bad authorities because anything bad isn't really an authority.
    Let's consider a statement.
    The President of the USA preserves, protects, and defends the Constitution of the United States.
    That can mean two things. One possible meaning is that the current President actually does that. Another possible meaning is that the President is supposed to do that, and that it is one of the functions of the office, regardless of whether or not the current President does anything of the sort. A children's book describing the US Constitution to somebody would mean the sentence in the second sense. The second sense is not a descriptive sense, but a normative sense.

    Now, I think Paul is putting forward a normative sense justification for obeying laws made and administered by pagans. For the interpretation to work, he has to also assume that the authorities that his addresses come into contact with are doing their jobs with reasonable integrity. (I don't know the Greek, but I think 'governing authorities' and 'rulers' here primarily means the judges and magistrates that an ordinary citizen might come into day-to-day contact with, rather than the Emperor.) But I don't think he need be taken to be saying that all governing authorities everywhere are executing those functions, or that all laws everywhere are just, or so on. He's not considering those kinds of questions. Nor is he addressing whether there is ever any justification for overthrowing a government, or whether one should disobey a law or ruler that is not exercising the functions put forward. Again, he's not addressing that question. He is simply putting forward an argument that government by non-Christians should not be thought to lack authority on the grounds that they're not Christians.
  • RdrEmCofERdrEmCofE Shipmate
    edited June 25
    I think that is a reasonable explanation of what Paul appears to have written. He would have been well aware of the way his own people had been conquered by the Romans and very reluctant to imply to them that the Romans were perfectly justified in doing so, that God was already punishing them by putting them under the heel of Roman domination, and it was therefore God's will that they should be subjugated by Rome. (Though similar theological theories were common in Judaism, since God was held responsible for everything that happened, good or bad).

    Then again Paul would have wished that they had all become 'as he was', a completed Jew, whose allegiance was always to Christ first before unquestioning obedience to the emperor or any of his lacky's of state, were they ever to have demanded disobedience to Christ or his teaching.

    The puzzling thing about the tone of the short 'misfit' passage is it's tacit assumption that Roman authority is universally beneficent and legitimately ordained by God. A step too far for credibility, as true Paul, I think.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    edited June 25
    Thunderbunk

    I think the Matt 6:24 context is about the wrongness of putting your trust in earthly wealth (where your treasure is, there your heart will be also - v21) and it is not directly about authority, or submission to it. In the 1st letter of Timothy, which is attributed to Paul, he endorses this understanding by stating that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

    But I do agree about texts in dialogue - or weighing scripture with scripture. It may be worth throwing in some further texts from the 1st letter of Peter, Chapter 2. It's generally recognised that the letter was meant specifically for folks being persecuted. (Chapter 1 v 6)
    13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
    Similar to Romans 13 but without the God-ordained bit. But there is wriggle room between the view of the emperor and his governors about what it wrong, and the understanding of Christians about what is wrong.

    I think that is pretty much "keep your head down" advice.










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