The interpretation and application of Romans 13

Discussion in 'General Baptist Discussions' started by rlvaughn, Oct 27, 2005.

  1. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    In a thread concerning Rosa Parks, some of the discussion has centered on the proper interpretation and application of Romans 13:1-7. I am starting a new thread, hoping to remove the discussion from an emotionally charged atmosphere and to focus on the Bible rather than events.

    My experience and reading is perhaps not as broad as others, but, unless I am mistaken, I have not heretofore run across the idea that these passages meant anything other than obedience to civil authority. That does not invalidate another interpretation, but it makes it suspect in my book.

    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." (or, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities." ESV)
    2. Government is authorized or appointed by God: "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God" (or, "whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed" ESV).
    3. This authority spoken of bears the sword: "he beareth not the sword in vain" (or, "But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain." ESV)
    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." (or, "For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer." ESV). 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..." (or, "For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God..." ESV). 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 a creation of man. In Paul's thought here, 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?
     
  2. John1981

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    Scripture seems rather clear that unless the government orders us to do something contrary to God's law (such as happened to Daniel, etc.) we are to be obedient and peaceful.
     
  3. JGrubbs

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    The best way to bring understanding on Romans 13 is to ask, "Who was apostle Paul writing to at Rome?" The answer is found at Romans 1:7: Paul was writing to all those in Rome who are "beloved of God, called to be saints." He was not writing to the general population at Rome. He was specifically addressing the "called out ones," the Body of Christ.

    If apostle Paul was advocating obedience to secular authorities, then Caesar would have no cause against him. Why would Caesar have Paul beheaded if he was promoting obedience to Rome?

    The truth is that Apostle Paul was beheaded for promoting a rival government known as the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. Already this new government was turning the world upside down. Caesar had Paul killed to help stop this threat to Rome's power.

    If Romans 13 does not mean "obey the State," what does it mean? Romans 13 means, "Remember them which have the rule over you," as you will also find at Hebrews 13:7. Since Paul was addressing the saints at Rome, it is logical that he would instruct them to submit to those who look after their souls. It is a reminder to be obedient to the authorities God has placed over His people. For they are truly the "ministers of God to thee for good." Unlike worldly rulers, God's ministers are not a terror to good works but to the evil. Therefore, "do that which is good and thou shalt have praise of the same."

    Romans 13 is probably the most devastating thing to a Christian in the hands of the ungodly. It sounds so convincing to obey those who appear to be in power. For too long, secular governments have used Romans 13 as a club to beat Christians into obedience to them. Just because a group maintains power through their guns and jails, does not mean God put them there.

    God said there are powers not ordained by Him at Hosea 8:4, "They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not."

    Source: http://romans13.embassyofheaven.com/understanding.htm
     
  4. JGrubbs

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    Christians today believe they are to give unquestioning obedience to the state. Such an attitude is based on a faulty misinterpretation of Romans 13:1: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (please read vv. 2-7 also). Statists are accustomed to appeal to this text as if it supported an unconditional and uncritical subjection to any and every demand of the state. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    The immediate context shows that Paul’s point is something quite different. He is at pains to show that the state performs properly what is forbidden to the individual Christian: it takes vengeance on the one who does evil (see verse 4). Christians, on the contrary, must never repay evil for evil (12:17), and therefore they are not to oppose this legitimate function of the state but are to submit to it. God alone may take vengeance, and it is the “sword” of the state that he uses for this purpose. Essentially, Paul is teaching the same thing that Jesus taught: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Jesus assumes that the existence of the state is willed of God – even the existence of the pagan Roman Empire. But the disciple of Jesus is not allowed to give to the state what is God’s. Whenever the state makes an illegitimate claim to what is God’s it has transgressed its limits; and the Christian will not render to the state what is unjustly required of him.

    The state is often confused with the kingdom of God. Indeed, many Christians are guilty of this false association. The state is a temporary institution (see 13:11). It will pass away, whereas the kingdom is eternal. Therefore, as long as the present age exists, Christians need not oppose the institution of the state as such. Rather they are to give the state what it needs to exist (e.g., taxes) and submit to its right to bear the sword. This is the plain meaning of Romans 13.

    Source Dave Black

    Dave is currently Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
     
  5. JGrubbs

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    The scholarly journal Novum Testamentum, Volume 46, Number 3, 2004, pp. 209-228(20) offers an essay on "The Irony of Romans 13," arguing that what at first blush appears to be an uncompromising endorsement of political authority is actually a deft criticism of Roman rule under Nero.

    Source: Novum Testamentum
     
  6. rlvaughn

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    JGrubbs, when you pasted Pastor Revere's views on Romans 13, I took it that you meant that as an endorsement of a view that these passages refer to rulers in the church rather than civil government. Now you paste Dave Black's views in distinction to that, so I'm not sure which you favor.

    As for me, I found some things on the Embassy of Heaven site with which to agree, but cannot fit their view of Romans 13 into the context. I read Black's entire piece on his site, and find little with which to disagree, though we might disagree on application.
     
  7. rlvaughn

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    This link demonstrates that someone else might vary from the standard interpretation of Romans 13, but appears to offer us little more than that without paying the purchase price of 20-something dollars. Do you have any views of your own on the subject?
     
  8. JGrubbs

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    I find parts of Pastor Revere's page on Romans 13 and I agree with Dave article on Romans 13, they both believe that Romans 13 does not mean "obey the state", and I agree.

    Mr. Black goes on to say in his writing that "Inasmuch as the state remains within its proper limits, the Christian will acknowledge it as the servant of God. But inasmuch as the state transgresses its limits, it is to be considered the instrument of Satan. But even when the state functions properly as God’s servant, the genuine state for the Christian – his politeuma (the Greek word Paul uses in Phil. 3:20) – is in heaven.

    And so the Christian gladly acknowledges the place of the state in God’s earthly economy, but he also knows the state’s place within the divine order. For that reason he will see his task regarding the state as one of watching to see that at no point does the state fall away from the divine order.

    Thus I am forced to conclude that, far from teaching that the state is to be accepted uncritically in all that it does, Paul’s discussion in Romans 13 serves as a warning against the state exceeding its limits."

    I believe that states that governments that are "ministers to good" to the people are ordained by God, but governments that are not doing good to the people are not ordained by God. While there may be some disagreements in what I posted from Pastor Revere and Dave Black, I can see that they both agree that not all governments are ordained by God, and therefore not all governments are to be submitted to by Christians.

    There are many who use Romans 13 to say that all governments are ordained by God, even governments like Hilter's, Saddam's, etc. I don't believe that is a proper understanding of Romans 13.
     
  9. Marcia

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    So how does one decide which government is in the "divine order" and doing "good?" Where do we draw the line?

    What about when Paul was writing Romans -- isn't it true that the government at that time would not have been seen as good? So Paul was writing something that he would not have applied to the Roman gov't he and other believers were living under?

    Rom. 13.1 says that there is "no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God" and it seems pretty clear that there is no exception. I don't see the biblical basis for believing that Rom. 13 is only speaking of "good" governments. :confused:
     
  10. JGrubbs

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    You can't read verse one alone, you have to read the entire context, verse 3 describes what a government ordained by God is, "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil." Verse four continues in this description of a "good" government, "For he is the minister of God to thee for good."

    A government that is not a terror to evil, but to good works and not a minister of God to thee for good, is not the government that is said to be ordained by God in the Scriptures.

    Do you believe it was a sin for those few Christians who opposed Hitler to do so because of Romans 13?
     
  11. Marcia

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    Do you mean the Christians who hid the Jews? That was to protect their lives. They were disobeying a gov't that was directing people to turn people in so they could be imprisoned, injured or killed.

    I think disobeying a law directing us to do evil is different from breaking the law when we merely disagree with it.
     
  12. rlvaughn

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    JGrubbs, I think you and I read verse four very differently. If I understand you correctly, you believe the civil government is a minister of God if it/he does good. I understand it to mean that civil government is a creature of God ordained for the general good of people. I would think of concerns like the particular government that Paul was living under when he wrote Romans, along with things like God's insistence that He raised up Pharoah and that Cyrus was His anointed, as contradictory of your interpretation.

    Though Paul Revere's and Dave Black's expositions may seem to have the same effect, it seems to me that they are opposed to one another. Further, I just don't see how Pastor Revere can maintain his interpretation of Romans 13 in light of other scriptures, for example Titus 3:1,2 and I Peter 2:12-17.

    I want to further note two of Black's statements: (1) "Statists are accustomed to appeal to this text as if it supported an unconditional and uncritical subjection to any and every demand of the state." I don't know exactly who Black means by the Statists", but I am absolutely in agreement with him that this text DOES NOT support "unconditional and uncritical subjection to any and every demand of the state." I don't know where he draws the line. I draw the line when the choice is either obey God or the government. (2) "The state is often confused with the kingdom of God. Indeed, many Christians are guilty of this false association. The state is a temporary institution (see 13:11). It will pass away, whereas the kingdom is eternal. Therefore, as long as the present age exists, Christians need not oppose the institution of the state as such. Rather they are to give the state what it needs to exist (e.g., taxes) and submit to its right to bear the sword. This is the plain meaning of Romans 13." If I understand him correctly, all I can say is amen.
     
  13. Bro. Curtis

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    Verse seven states we are to pay tribute to those who are due. By not giving her seat to the man who by law was entitled to it, she is in biblical trouble allready.

    I beleive verse 4 tells us to obey the government as long as it doesn't cause us to disobey God's word. This law, however horrible it appears to us now, does not violate any scripture.

    I read that Rosa Parks was a Christian lady. I hope it's true, but I think with prayer, and a Christ-like attitude, she would have given up her seat.

    But I sure have an immense amount of respect for the woman. She seemed to be pretty humble.
     
  14. rlvaughn

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    Discussing Romans 13 in another thread, a member seemed to take a position similar to Revere, that this would refer to church leaders rather than civil governments. His argument seemed to be based on this being out of context if it refers to civil government. Instead he felt that in context, Paul's message was "to the Christians at Rome about the Jewish law and church leaders" and that to "break the course of the whole book with one chapter on civil government" would have been illogical.

    I'm not sure I can follow this argument. To , I checked several purported outlines of the book of Romans. Most of these seemed to grasp a discussion of civil government fitting logically into Paul's thought and argumentation. Ryrie, for example, outlines it this way (my "reader's digest" version):

    1. Salutation
    2. Righteousness Needed
    3. Righteousness Imputed
    4. Righteousness Imparted
    5. Righteousness Vindicated
    6. Rigtheousness Practiced
    A. In relation to ourselves
    B. In relation to the church
    C. In relation to society
    D. In relation to government
    E. In relation to other believers
    7. Benediction

    This is just one example of many outlines of the Romans that demonstrates a logical progression to discussing government here in no way has to be "out of context".
     
  15. Filmproducer

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    rlvaughn,

    You are referring to my argument. Here is the outline I use for the book of Romans.

    </font> </font>
    • All men's guilt as sinners: 1:18- 3:20</font>
    </font>
    • Salvation available to all by faith: 3:21-8:39</font>
    </font>
    • The plan of God for Israel: 9:1-11:36</font>
    </font>
    • Christian relationships/attitudes: 12:1-15:13</font>
    </font>
    • Greetings and benediction: 15:14-16:27</font>

    Romans 12 deals with the body of Christ and a Christians love and respect for one another. In Romans 14 Paul deals with conduct toward those of weaker faith, (i.e., the stronger Christian is not be a stumbling block to the weaker in faith). I do not believe that Romans 13 is a call for blind obedience to civil government. I do not consider civil government to be necessarily "ordained of God." Church leaders, however, are "ordained of God." Romans 13:1 says, "There is no power but of God." Romans 13:2 says, "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God." Do you not think an argument could be made that this verse is directed toward church leaders?

    (BTW, I am a she, not that it matters- [​IMG] )
     
  16. rlvaughn

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    First off, sorry about the "he/his" reference; and second, thanks for your post and explanation.

    In regards to your comments and questions: I also do not believe that Paul teaches blind obedience to civil governments, but I do think the reference is to civil governments. This passage, taken as a stand alone without the rest of the New Testament, may seem to some to teach that. I think he calls to general obedience to the requirements of governments as long as they do not require one to disobey God. That seems to be his own practice, and in harmony with other passages on the subject. I do believe government is ordained by God. Ordained here would not be ordained in the sense of a church ceremony of laying on of hands, but ordained in the sense of "assigned", "set in order", which is well within the meaning of the word, and accords with Genesis 9:5,6, et al. As far as whether an argument could be made for this referring to church leaders, JGrubbs' link to Pastor Revere's teachings are an example of that. But church leaders do not bear the sword, take revenge or receive taxes, all of which is in context of Romans 13:1-7.

    Thanks for the reply.
     
  17. Aaron

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    No. Church leaders do not "bear the sword," in the execution of their duties.
     

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