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Romans 13:1-7—On the Abuse of Biblical Texts and Correlative Abuse

Thus, while Sessions’s appeal to biblical authorization has failed, the larger question is why. Is it that the Bible has been interpreted adequately and rejected by modern society? Or, might it be that a flawed interpretation of a Biblical text has been wielded to support a problematic ordinance, calling for a closer look this notorious passage from Romans? Indeed, the latter is the case, and here’s why.

See Also: From Crisis to Christ (Abingdon Press, 2014).

By Paul N. Anderson
George Fox University
Newberg, Oregon
June 2018

Click here for article.

Comments (4)

Even if I were to agree with Dr. Anderson’s interpetation of Romans 13, I would not use Leviticus 19:33- 34 as evidence that “God loves the alien,” or an example of an immigrant friendly biblical text because:

A. Immigrants must abandon their religion and adopt Yahwism if they wish to be accepted (e.g.,"I am YHWH your god"; my translation)

B. Immigrants might now be subject to the same death penalties for violating certain Yahwistic laws (e.g., the Sabbath law in Exodus 31:15).

As an immigrant myself, I certainly don’t want to be required to adopt my new country’s religion (assuming it had an official one), and I certainly don’t want to be subject to the death penalties of my new country’s religion.
#1 - Dr. Hector Avalos - 06/22/2018 - 18:44

Sometimes we just have to read the text that is there, not cast about for context when the text itself is neither anbiguous nor explicit in its reference elsewhere. The text of Romans 13 is not ambiguous but absolutely plain in its declaration that civil obedience is a moral virtue. It is not linked to the surrounding words by a ‘therefore’ or a ‘so’. It is not cite scriptural verses.
Does it follow logically from what precedes it? I can’t see any way of saying that it does unless we think
that the godly, hospitable, non-vindictive person of chapter 12, would naturally welcome the authority of the state both because it
represses crime and because the
providence of God cannot be thought to stop where election to political office begins.
There is simply no mention of civil disobedience or protest. There is no endorsement of pacifism, quite the reverse and again in plain words. The justification of civil obedience is not purely in utilitarian terms but in moral and theological ones, which are being too much played down.
We are told constantly that Paul is not calling for obedience to tyrants. I don’t think anyone is saying that he is. Those elected by the people can turn against the people and those elected by God can rebel against
God.This is not a discussion of extreme but of normal situations and the Roman Empire is not excepted or treated as abnormal. I expect that Caligula and Nero, not to mention Caiaphas and Paul, would have thought that detention of children in desert holding centres was an inconceivable monstrosity. But for all that he is defending something rather monstrous overall Sessions does have a point about the plain meaning of Romans 13.
#2 - Martin Hughes - 06/24/2018 - 16:34

Martin Hughes' reading of Romans is certainly not 'the text that is there', or '[un]ambiguous but absolutely plain in its declaration that civil obedience is a moral virtue'.
I refer readers to Margaret Nitchell's article:
and also to Jacques Ellul in 'Anarchy and Christianity':'As in the case of all biblical texts (and all other texts!) we must first refuse to detach one phrase from the total line of thinking. We must put that phrase in the general context. Let us, then, take Paul's argument as a whole. In Romans 9 11 Paul has just made a detailed study of the relations between the Jewish people and Christians. A new development then begins which will cover chs. 12 14 and at the heart of which is the passage that we are now considering. This lengthy discussion begins with the words: "Do not be conformed to the present age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." Paul's general and essential command, then, is that we should not be conformists, that we should not obey the trends and customs and currents of thought of the society in which we live, that we should not submit to the "form" of them but that we should be transformed, that we should receive a new form by the renewing of the mind, that is, by starting from a new point, namely, the will of God and love. This is obviously a strange beginning if he is later to demand obedience to political authorities! Paul then goes on to teach at length about love: love among Christians in the church (12:3 8), love for all people (12:9 13), and love for enemies (not avenging oneself, but blessing those who persecute), with a further exhortation to live peaceably with all (12:14 21). The passage on the authorities follows next. Then all the commandments are summed up in the commandment of love and of doing no wrong to others (13:8 10). In ch. 14 some details are offered as to the practice of love (hospitality, not judging others, supporting the weak, etc.)'
And: 'The word used in this train of thought is in Greek exousiai, which can mean the public authorities, but which has also in the New Testament another meaning, being used for abstract, spiritual, religious powers. Thus Paul tells us that we are to fight against the exousiai enthroned in heaven (cf. Eph. 6:12). It is thought, for example, that the angels are exousiai. Oscar Cullmann and Gunther Dehn thus conclude that since the same word is used there has to be some relation.14 In other words, the New Testament leads us to suppose that earthly political and military authorities really have their basis in an alliance with spiritual powers, which I will not call celestial, since they might equally well be evil and demonic. The existence of these spiritual exousiai would explain the universality of political powers and also the astonishing fact that people obey them as though it were self evident. These spiritual authorities would then inspire rulers.'
And finally: 'There are not independent exousiai. All are from the very outset subject to Christ. They may revolt, of course, but they are overcome in advance. Politically this means that the exousia which exists alongside or outside political power is also vanquished. The result is that political power is not a final court. It is always relative. We can expect from it only what is relative and open to question. This is the meaning of Paul's statement and it shows how much we need to relativize the (traditionally absolutized) formula that there is no authority except from God. Power is indeed from God, but all power is overcome in Christ!'
#3 - Bruce MacKay - 07/06/2018 - 23:08

This discussion is very important, but I really fear it is inconclusive. The true problem is not the "theological" interpretation of the text as it is printed in all the Bibles of the world. What really matters is the study of the Greek text in its transmission, manipulations and interpolations, from the second century CE onward. For this we need to know the oldest quotations in early Christian literature and the numerous variant readings of the manuscripts. Unfortunately there are very few studies on this issue which is preliminary to any further inquiry. But this is the right way.
Pier Franco BEATRICE
#4 - pier franco BEATRICE - 07/14/2018 - 15:13

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