bible blog 2016


Let everyone be subject to the ruling powers for there is no authority which is not from God: existing authorities are appointed by God. Anyone therefore who stands against the authorities stands against what God has appointed; those who do so will bring judgement upon themselves.

Rulers are not a terror to good conduct but to bad. If you want to have no fear of the one in authority, do good and you will have his commendation, as he is God’s agent for your good. If however you do evil, be afraid, as he does not bear the sword for nothing; he is the agent of God, an enforcer of divine anger on the wrongdoer. It’s necessary to subject yourselves, not only from fear of God’s anger, but for conscience sake. For this reason you also pay taxes, because the authorities are officers of God, administering these matters. Pay everyone what is owed to them; taxes to tax collectors, tolls to toll collectors, fear to those who deserve fear, honour to those who deserve honour

translated M Mair 2016

This passage has been attacked by those who see it as a justification of rule regardless of its legitimacy. In this case Paul was encouraging Roman Christians to be subject to Roman rule, knowing that Rome had brutally imposed it on much of the known world including his own nation. Of course he had read the Hebrew prophets whose view of rulers was far from subservient and whose commitment to justice cannot be doubted. It is therefore daft to imagine that Paul was defending tyranny. He gives no word of approval to Roman rule, but simply acknowledges its existence. If it exists, he believes, God has allowed it to exist, as part of his way of governing the world. God does not rule in person over the affairs of nations, but entrusts the responsibility for justice to kings, emperors, consuls, and their officials.

He also believed passionately that the multinational, multi-ethnic assemblies of Jesus, were a new form of humanity, a new polity, which would ultimately replace nations and their systems of rule. But not by the usual means of political change, namely armed rebellion, but by the fierce coherence of mutual love and worship of God alone.For this vision he traveled preached, taught and organised throughout his life. He certainly did not want the young assemblies crushed by the power of Rome.

On the other hand, the passage is in no way as “conservative” as some critics have thought. His understanding that the de facto power of government is given by God, is not merely a reason for asking his audience to obey it, but also a way of putting the whole of the vast apparatus of Roman power, under the authority of God. Emperors are not as they liked to think, divine beings, but are mere mortals who rule by the permission of God. Moreover, the power of the sword, their monopoly on violence, is to be used solely for the encouragement of good and the punishment of evil! It’s unlikely that Claudius or Nero would have approved this description of their power.

Paul also explicitly teaches that it’s right for Governments to levy taxes for the services they provide.

I do not think Paul could have written these words without seeing some benefit in Roman rule. He had after all seen it working in many different territories and perhaps appreciated its relative order and protection of communications. But he is not advocating subservience. Rather he is placing its power and its citizens’ obedience under the same rule of God.

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