The Wackadoodle Way Christians Use Romans 13

The Wackadoodle Way Christians Use Romans 13 July 5, 2019

 

Yes. I said “Wackadoodle.” But, it’s true.

I’m constantly running into Christians who use Romans 13 to justify horrible things, like supporting military conflict regardless of who suffers as a result, or like explaining why immigrant and refugee children need to be taken from their parents and locked in cages and forced to sleep on concrete floors, or like supporting political leaders who enact policies that harm the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

That’s just for starters.

I’ve heard Christians whip out Romans 13 to explain why we can’t criticize the President’s policies, or why we can’t protest police brutality, or why we can’t oppose the death penalty, for example.

But, here’s the real “wackadoodle” part: If you try to apply Romans 13 to anything else, these same Christians suddenly drop it like a hot rock and back peddle like a frightened lobster.

 

For example:

Paul wrote Romans 13 to Christians who were suffering under the Hitler-esque reign of one of the most vile, evil and cruel leaders the world has ever known – Nero.

What did Paul urge those Christians to do as they suffered under this oppressive Pagan regime that burned them at the stake – sometimes just to light up Nero’s garden – and tortured them and threw them to the Lions for sport? How did Paul want those Christians to react? Well, he told them to “be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Paul even went as far as to say “…they [Political leaders] are God’s servants.”

Yes, since even Nero was “God’s servant”, those Christians should not revolt or rebel against their authority. In fact, Paul even says exactly this in verse 2 of Romans 13: “…whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

So, what about when the ruler isn’t an evil, God-mocking Pagan who burns Christians alive? What if the ruler is actually one of your own people, chosen by God, and affirming of your own Christian faith? What if this same Government not only affirms your faith but even went to the trouble of translating the entire Bible into the common tongue for everyone to have access to the Holy Scriptures? And then what if that ruler’s main offense is that he raises your taxes too much? What then? Surely if we cannot rebel against godless Pagans who crucify and torture Christians we can’t possibly rebel against one of our own, Christian leaders who translate and publish the King James Bible and send out Christian missionaries to establish Christian churches all over the globe…can we?

Well, if you were applying Romans 13 consistently, I think you’d have to say that Paul’s admonition remains: Don’t rebel against this authority that God has instituted, or else you’ll bring God’s judgment on yourself.

Right?

Well…not exactly.

See, the same Christians who today affirm Romans 13 to make excuses for all sorts of other horrible injustices perpetrated by their Government, will at the same time re-tell the story of the American Revolution as a tale of Christians who were led by God to ignore Romans 13 and rebel against their own people, their own Government [not an occupying force, mind you, and not a Pagan authority, but their very own people], and fight and kill those soldiers who were representing the authority established by God to rule over them.

To them, this rebellion was blessed by God, and led by God and the heroes of this revolution were ministers of God’s will to establish a brand-new Government that these same Christians must now submit to, per Romans 13.

Does that make any sense?

Well, to me it really doesn’t.

What does make sense to me is how my friend Steve Scott responded when I asked him about Romans 13:

“Romans 13 suffers from a poorly-placed artificial chapter division that if read from 13:1 distorts the true meaning of the overall context flowing from ch 12. The overall context is that if somebody commits evil against you, you do not take revenge, but allow the civil magistrate to punish the evil doer. If you start reading in 13:1 it seems to create an authoritarian government that demands that we obey all laws. But taken in the overall context, ch 13 is actually telling us that if WE commit evil, then WE should submit to the punishment given to us. It is far less about obeying the government and being loyal to it than it is about accepting justice when we are the ones doing the evil.”

So, the point is that Romans 13 is less about endorsing a certain ruler [or rulers] as “God’s Servants” regardless of the evils they do, and more about how we shouldn’t rebel against their authority in terms of wielding the sword to punish those who do evil, [and less about cheering for our nation when it wields the sword against others].

Still, if we’re going to be Christians who stand behind Romans 13, we should at least try to be consistent.

If we can’t rebel against Nero’s regime, we certainly can’t justify rebelling against the rule of King George who never killed Christians for sport.

What’s more, we don’t get to arbitrarily celebrate lawlessness when it comes to our Founding Fathers, and then vilify it when women and children from Honduras and Venezuela try to seek refuge in our country by crossing our southern border.

This is what my friend tried to do the other day in response to my post about detention centers that harbor refugee children. “Did Jesus ever endorse lawlessness?” he asked me.

No, I thought. He didn’t. But it’s fascinating which lawless acts we excuse and which acts we do not.

When in doubt, maybe grace is still the best policy.

We’re all just human. We all want freedom for our children and safety for our families. We all dream of a better life. Some of us have it and take it for granted. Some of us don’t have it and are willing to risk death for a taste of it.

God forgive us for looking down on those fathers and mothers who die trying to enjoy something we did nothing to earn.

God forgive us for mocking their pain, and for justifying their torture.

Please God. Forgive us.

Maybe we should also remember that Paul had a few things to say about the Law, and how it brought death, not life and how the only thing that really counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Or, as Paul phrased it:

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” [Gal. 5:6]

I’ll take more of that, please.

**

Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today, He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure.


His newest book, “Jesus Unveiled: Forsaking Church As We Know It For Ekklesia As God Intended” released on June 9, 2019 on Amazon, and features a Foreword by author Richard Jacobson.
He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” with a Foreword by Greg Boyd.His Podcast: Heretic Happy Hour Podcast is on iTunes and Podbean. Can’t get enough? Get great bonus content: Patreon page.Upcoming events:

*Hot Springs, NC – July 11-14 “Wild Goose Festival”

*Woodstock, GA – July 27-28 “Unleashing the Word of God” [With Richard Murray] – FREE!

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • otrotierra

    Fantastic. Thank you for this.

  • Brandon Roberts

    the whole “get them they exist” approach hasn’t worked for america so far.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    According to Wikipedia at least, the consensus is that Paul wrote Romans in around 57-58AD, but Nero’s persecution of Christians didn’t start until 64AD. At the time Paul was writing the Roman authorities weren’t persecuting Christians.
    This is important as Paul’s letter doesn’t actually say “the powers that be” – i.e. authority generally – but “the current authorities” – i.e. the Roman authorities of Paul’s time. Paul’s point is that since, despite being pagan, the Roman authorities were nevertheless administering justice and keeping the peace to the benefit of everyone, Christians had no business rebelling against them or refusing to pay taxes and should instead be as law abiding and well behaved as possible as an example to all, and indeed to avoid if possible attracting the persecution that did, in the event, nevertheless come.
    In verse 3 Paul says that the authorities “are not a terror to those who do good, but to the evil”. This could not have been written to Roman Christians in 64AD. In so far as specific advice as to how Paul’s advice to Christians as to how to deal with the authorities in 57-58AD Rome can have any general lesson as to how to deal with (non-Christian) society and authorities generally, it would seem to be that Christians should co-operate with authorities by paying their taxes, performing their civic duties and being peaceable and doing good, in so far as the authorities are fulfilling their (God-given) mandate to preserve order and run things. It does not permit Christians to refuse to pay taxes or break laws because the government is not to our religious taste, but nor does it give Christians blanket permission to ignore, cooperate with, vote for or perpetrate evil because “it’s the law” or the government is doing it.

  • Joanna Hoyt

    Thank you for this. I keep having the Romans 13 conversation with my fellow Christian friends, but hadn’t thought of bringing up the Revolution in that context.
    But as far as Jesus ‘endorsing lawlessness”–I think he does endorse breaking the laws of his fellow countrymen and co-religionists: he’s constantly in trouble for Sabbath-breaking and behaviors incurring uncleanness, and he speaks against a lawfully sanctioned punishment for adultery. And of course his early followers–Paul inlcuded– do a great deal of illegal preaching.

  • Paul

    Most people don’t acknowledge that the Greek word ‘theos’ can be interpreted in more ways than simply as “God.” Here’s a fourth definition for explaining’theos’ found in Thayer’s lexicon: 4. θεός is used of whatever can in any respect be likened to God, or resembles him in any way: Hebraistically i. q. God’s representative or vicegerent, of magistrates and judges (Thayer). In this context in Romans 13, Paul uses ‘theos’ to refer to a person or group of persons in power, in charge, in control whose purpose is to keep order in a larger group of people. Common sense assumes the guidance of those in authority is good, equitable, and just rather than corrupt, punitive, or self-serving. Throughout verses 1-7, Paul uses ‘theos’ in this manner and I have inserted the term “governing body” in my own translation of it. In verse 4, since there is no definite article in front of ‘theos’, Paul is speaking in generalities.
    “4. Truly, a representative of a governing body exists for what is beneficial to you. However, if you do what brings harm, be afraid, for he or she does not wear the small sword without just cause; for a representative of a governing body is an executer of justice for punishment (i.e., wrath) to the one who commits a harmful deed;”

  • ashpenaz

    Hillary was, and Obama and Pelosi and AOC are, all governing authorities. . .hmmm. . . haven’t noticed a lot of humble obedience to them. It’s interesting–they see abortion law as unfair and something that should be changed, but they don’t see immigration law as unfair and something to be changed.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    That is one of my favorite questions to ask every time I work with a new group of teens. And of course, not being a native to this country, July 4th does not mean a whole lot to me. I am more in to May 4, 5, and 10 (well, 2 as well, but that’s my birthday). May 4th is when my native country remembers those who were killed in WWII. On the 5th we remember the liberation from those oppressors. And on May 10th, we think about that horrible bombing of a city, without cause, and after all demands were met.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    According to same source, Nero ruled from 54-68, so that would cover Paul’s time of writing…
    Perhaps the most infamous of Rome’s emperors, Nero Claudius Caesar (37-68 A.D.) ruled Rome from 54 A.D. until his death by suicide 14 years later. He is best known for his debaucheries, political murders, persecution of Christians and a passion for music that led to the probably apocryphal rumor that Nero “fiddled” while Rome burned during the great fire of 64 A.D.

  • Ocelot Aardvark

    By that Biblical definition, TЯ卐m₽ is also an “anointed servant of God” … but as the Beast.

    In God’s direct answer to my decades-long prayer, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus” … before our Lord can return for us, His prophesies concerning the Beast (Rev. 13, Daniel 7:25) must first be fulfilled.

    That does not mean we as God’s children, should align ourselves with such a wicked, treacherous, unrepentant, ‘leader’. In fact, we, as Christians should be fervently warning everyone of the dangers of allowing the evil spirit of the Beast to replace the Holy Spirit of Christ in our hearts and minds.

    • “Go ye therefore and preach the Gospel, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 28:19-20

    NOT in the name of the Beast! … “Those who have ears, let them hear.”

  • RossM

    If Trump was appointed by God, so were Clinton and Obama.

    But we Christians are obligated to love one another, and there is a long line of prophets who spoke out against injustice – refer the Bathsheba story and Nathan’s parable of the ewe lamb, and of course, Jesus himself cleansed the Temple.

    Its also worth pointing out that the chapter and verse divisions are not in the original text but were added much later (1551) for convenience in locating texts.

  • Bobby Walker

    Funny how some use the Bible to support their current views. I am sure they avoided Romans 13 when President Obama was in office.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    I think that’s part of Paul’s point – the existing authorities were not only pagan but corrupt, immoral and deeply unpleasant, but, nevertheless, in so far as they were running the place and keeping order, Paul thought Christians should cooperate with them in that. I think it relevant, though, that systematic persecution of Christians had not started at that point, and Paul’s exhortation against rebellion is interesting given that one of the excuses used for the persecution when it came was Christians being alleged subversives. One wonders who Paul was addressing and what it was they were doing Paul was trying to head off.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    Whether or not the persecution of Christians was systemic is not the point. Paul writes this to believers where the persecution was felt more than anywhere else in the empire – Rome, the capital. And it would make sense to react quickly for him, since persecution on Rome was already taking place.
    Also, his call to submit to to current authority makes all the more sense because of the persecution taking place. If current authority was behaving itself, there would be mo reason for the call to submit.

  • soter phile

    We must obey God, not men. (Acts 5:29)
    The counterbalance to an overstated God-ordained ‘sovereignty’ of the state

  • The Jews were an oppressed people. That is the context. They really did not stand a chance against the Romans, as history attests. Jesus, however, was willing to stand up to the Pharisees who did not want to relinquish their power and control.

  • fractal

    Honduras and El Salvador are now considered to be the most violent and dangerous places on earth—more so than the Congo, Somalia, Bhutan or Pakistan.

    Imagine what it would take to consider leaving everything behind to walk thousands of miles in search of safety and hope!

    Who of us would not do so for the sake of our children?

  • Kyllein MacKellerann “

    For a lot of Christians, the Bible is a book to be quoted when it supports your position and ignored when it doesn’t. Paul was saying essentially, “Don’t male waves” and while that may help the Community of Christianity, it’s next to useless for those being hurt or killed. Remember, though, that Christianity is a religion that disparages Life in this world and only focuses on Life in the next, while paradoxically creating a climate of “fear” regarding death. Ahh, Good Sense,Quo Vadis?

  • kzarley

    I agree with Giles main point about Christians in later times applying Paul’s admonition in Romans 13 to obey rulers and using the American Revolution as a case in point. But I don’t think Giles’ is right about what Paul says there in relation to Roman Emperor Nero. He became emperor in 54 AD. Scholars generally agree that Paul wrote Romans in the mid-50s; Dunn says late 55 or early 56. Plus, I think historians agree that Nero was not at all the madman as emperor which he later became. I say all of this to make the point that Paul was writing this to the Christians at Rome at a time when the Roman Empire government was rather peaceable toward Christians. Government persecution toward Christians arose at different times, but not then. The political climate and culture that existed when a document was written ought to be considered in understanding the author’s intent therein. Thus, if the Apostle Paul would have lived in Germany during the late 1930s, I do not think he would have written Romans 13.2 to German Christians. Different time, different place, different politics. Therefore, Bible readers should be careful about interpreting and applying everything in the Bible universally and for all time. See my post about this at my Patheos blog at https://www.patheos.com/blogs/kermitzarleyblog/2016/10/does-paul-teach-unconditional-obedience-to-civil-authorities/.

  • Robert LIMB

    Your friend Steve Scott is right.

  • Robert LIMB

    I presume the “they” above does not refer to Obama and H. Clinton etc, as it appears to do.

  • Good thoughts, Keith. I agree – some consistency on this passage from Christians would be nice.

  • katie99

    Thank you for the translation! The number of times I’ve thought, “I should study Hebrew, Greek, and Latin so I can argue with people about religion” is only outmatched by the number of times I’ve thought, “That usage of x Hebrew/Greek/Latin word is so fascinating and changes so much of what we think we know…so I should learn Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.” This time it’s both.

  • r3VOLutionist777

    Is being a “progressive Christian,” the logical equivalent of being a “Jewish Nazi?”

  • Lindy Norris

    We are to obey governing authorities as long as they do not contradict the law of God. The first people came to this country to escape the government that was trying to control how they were to worship God. Anyone who wants to become a LEGAL citizen of this country is no problem.

  • Arrrrrggggghhhhh

    For all of you who believe in the Christian accounts of “persecution,” please read the excellent book “The Myth of Persecution” by Candida Moss

    Nero was in no way shape or form persecuting Christians, instead he was pursuing outgroups such as the followers of Chrestos and, perhaps, Jewish militants. What is more this “persecution” was not Empire wide or long lasting.

  • Claire

    El Salvador, huh? But that’s a prolife country with conservative Christian family values. You’re saying that prolife isn’t actually prolife?

  • fractal

    The “first peoples” came to the Americas about 15,000 years ago from the Siberian land bridge.

    The first plunderers came to the Americas from Spain to steal all the gold already mined, and rape as many indigenous women as possible.

    The first Pilgrims came because they were loony religious nutters with no sense of balance or humor. They were insufferable and no one in Britain wanted to live around them.

    I refer you to “The Scarlet Letter” for a reminder of their cultivated grimness.

  • Lindy Norris

    You need a hostory lesson

  • fractal

    You are welcome to refute, if you can.
    And you would benefit from a Her-story lesson or two.

  • fractal

    Urban dictionary:
    Hostory:

    A story told by a woman, relating to meaningless sexual encounters.

  • fractal

    Just cannot WAIT to drag your fetus fetish into the discussion…

  • Lindy Norris

    It was a typo stop being so childish.

  • Lindy Norris
  • fractal

    You send a link to the Whole of American history?
    You really don’t know how to make a rational argument, do you…
    Too bad you never went to University.

  • Lindy Norris

    Im not making a claim that that is the whole but that is definitely a part. Surprised you don’t know that part of our history.

  • Lindy Norris

    Do you mean never went to AN University.

  • Lindy Norris

    This is the garbage they feed you in your prestigious universities. How come you are ignorant of the fact that law makers have been trying to change and surpress history for a few years at least.

  • fractal

    Do a grammar check, silly girl.
    My form is correct/so is “a university”
    Your form is incorrect.

    It is becoming more obvious with every remark, that you are uneducated and callow.

  • fractal

    Sweetie,

    I took at least 7 history courses in college, including 2 semesters of American History. I also took a political science course, and a college level Civics course.

    What coursework do you have under your belt concerning our nation?

  • fractal

    You made it.
    Own it and stop being defensive.

  • fractal

    Oh,
    Now Lindy, who has no education to speak of, is going to tell all of us that the PhD’s at Universities don’t know what they are talking about!

    The only cure for your brainwashing is to actually go to college.
    I suggest a nice community college where you can start slow, and it won’t be too embarrassing.
    Just stay away from those Jesus colleges; they are known for their absurd propaganda.

  • Lindy Norris

    Touche on the grammer. But I am definitely not uneducated. And won’t continue a conversation that can’t focus debating points but instead stoop to insults.

  • Lindy Norris

    I was actually trying to understand what you were saying . I wasn’t correcting your grammer.

  • fractal

    Excuse me—who started this nonsense about grammar?
    OWN IT.

    And you obviously are uneducated; you embarrass yourself further with each comment.
    I would quit now if I were you—it can only go downhill.

  • Lindy Norris

    You actually started it about grammer. I said, (if you would read, ) that i was simply trying to understand what you were saying not knowing that you could say it like that. I wasnt correcting your grammer. I own it. I’m not perfect. And I won’t shut up because of it either. I know you’re trying to be, but you’re not intimidating.

  • Lindy Norris

    I’m simply not embarrassed by anything I wrote. If I was insulting someone, I would be embarrassed by that.

  • Lindy Norris

    Don’t call me sweetie. I study history online where you will NOT get a biased liberal twisted view on actual events. Colleges have become so liberal they teach what they want. Even Wikipedia has changed their views recently. Broaden your mind.

  • Lindy Norris

    So you NEVER make typos. You’re perfect right. Lol.

  • Lindy Norris

    I just finished a debate with an orthodox jew on Facebook who obviously doesn’t believe in Jesus. We ended on good terms. He said I was very intelligent and respectful so you can’t both be right. I have a suspicion that this is all you.

  • PeaceFromChurchill

    but they don’t see immigration law as unfair and something to be changed.

    Unfortunately, all people, in one way or another, do not practice the latter part of Romans 13 where Paul stresses the importance of loving one another. Christians should constantly remind each other of where they may fall short of their duties to love one another.

  • Lindy Norris

    I must sincerely apoligize for saying you need a history lesson. I was unaware of your background. But I still think those are skewed facts. Religious oppresssion was one of the things that drove separation of church and state in our country. But any way. Have a good day.

  • Texan Independence .

    Really? You think people don’t rebel unless there’s a good reason?

    I seem to recall a tiny tax on tea causing a bunch of slaveowners to start yelling about their freedom eventually leading them to violent rebellion…

    There was also that whole Whiskey Tax Rebellion over a tax on Whiskey that nearly destroyed the nation….

    People sometimes rebel over the darnedest things. And on the flip side, people often tolerate the most abominable things and don’t rebel when they maybe should.

    Biblically, unless the authority is requesting you to do something that violates your faith, the Bible encourages submission to authority.

    Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar, Joseph to Pharaoh, Paul to the Emperor. Generally speaking, it often led to good things for the people. As some argued here, perhaps some Christian rebellions is what caused things to escalate and get worse, but even if not, eventually the loyal nature of Christians did win over Rome, eventually with Constantine embracing the religion, albeit taking hundreds of years, but time is relative and that was just a blink of the eye in the scheme of things.

  • bowie1

    You seem to be blaming the victims instead of those who oppress them in cruel ways.