We are looking at the first seven verses of chapter 13. Last week we looked at what these verses don't mean. These are controversial verses. Douglas Moo writes, "It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the history of the interpretation of Romans 13:1-7 is the history of attempts to avoid what seems to be its plain meaning." Pauline authenticity of these verses has been questioned. There are those who, for several different reasons, reject 13:1-7 as truly from the hand of Paul.
The majority of Christians believe that this text is calling for submission to the State of Rome, and thus calling for Christians to submit to all civil government. Bob Deffinbaugh writes, "There is no reason for the Christian to fear government for its purpose is to punish evil-doers and to reward those who do good. Since the Christian is to practice what is good and avoid evil, there should be no conflict between the Christian and government." Is he serious? We are constantly in conflict with a government that is devoid of any spiritual values.
The view that this applies today to our civil government is reinforced by some translations. The Good News Bible says at Romans 13:1: "Everyone must obey the state authorities, because no authority exists without God's permission, and the existing authorities have been put there by God." Some Bibles have subheadings for each chapter. One of them at Romans 13 says, "Submission to the State." Another says, "Be Subject To Government." Now those words are not part of the Scripture, but because they are in the Bible many think they are inspired. But they are just someone's opinion of what Romans 13 says, but does it? I don't think so, and one of the main reasons that I don't is the context. The surrounding context is all about love. Does Paul then just inject seven verses on submission to civil government?
There is another view out there that is held by some Christians that says that this text is referring to the leaders and authorities of the Church. Paul Revere, on the web site "Embassy of Heaven," says, When Paul said, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers," he specifically meant, "Be subject to the authorities within the Church."
Mr. Revere goes on to say, "Paul uses the word "sword" figuratively to indicate that Church officers will chasten those who do evil. Paul's purpose for writing to the Church at Rome was to instruct the congregation to be subject to the chain of command within the Church, who look out for their souls." Do church leaders have the power of the sword? I see no indication of this is Scripture. Or do they collect taxes? I don't see this text talking about Church leaders.
There are some Preterists who believe that this text is calling for the transition saints to submit to the government of Rome until the return of Christ. Then Rome's authority is crushed, and the believer is under King Yeshua only:
then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 1 Corinthians 15:24 NASB
So if all rule, authority, and power are abolished, then they assume there are no authorities over Christians. The next verse helps us understand what he is talking about:
For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 1 Corinthians 15:25 NASB
From this we see that the rule, authority, and power that are abolished are those that are enemies of Christ. This is not saying that after the Second Coming the Christian's only authority is Christ. There is still authority and submission in the Kingdom of God.
Their position would be that this text does not apply to us, it only applied to the transition saints. I would agree with them on that, I don't think that this text applies to us. But I don't think this was calling transition saints to obey Rome, that doesn't fit the context.
Alan Bondar writes, "Thus, even the Christians were taught to submit to Rome. But in A.D. 70, on the day of oversight, Christ took the throne of the new oikoumene and took away the authority of all human civil governments forever." Alan is a friend and a good teacher, but I disagree with him here. But let me say that if you are looking for good teaching you should check him out, he has a lot of good things to say. I think that the more teaching you expose yourself to the more balanced you will become.
Then there is the position that I hold right now, which is: Romans 13:1-7 is referring to--the Synagogue rulers in Rome. This is the position put forth by Mark Nanos in his book, The Mystery of Romans. Much of what I believe comes from Nanos.
I think that in order to understand Romans 12-15, we need to have an understanding of the Jewish synagogue in Rome. By the time of Christ, it was the synagogue, not the Temple, that was the central institution for Jewish worship. This makes sense, because even the Jews living in Israel would only go to Jerusalem three times a year (and most went only one time), but they went to their synagogue every Sabbath.
When you think of the church in Rome, what comes to your mind? Do you think of them meeting in a church building similar to our church buildings? I want to suggest to you that in Rome the church met in a synagogue. Both Jews and Gentiles met in the synagogue to worship Yahweh.
When Saul was persecuting Christians, where did he find them? At the local Church?:
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Acts 9:1-2 NASB
So the believers were meeting in the synagogue, and that is where Saul hunted them.
"And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities. Acts 26:11 NASB
The Jews, who believed in Yeshua, would go to the synagogue on the Sabbath just as they had always done, and the believing Gentiles would join them.
Evidence indicates that in Rome Christianity and Judaism shared a common heritage and were probably inseparable before A.D. 60, and even perhaps until the middle of the second century. Robert Goldenberg asserts that it is increasingly accepted among scholars that "at the end of the 1st century CE there were not yet two separate religions called 'Judaism' and 'Christianity.'" Outside the synagogue environment the early Christians would have had little opportunity to learn the Scriptures.
In Rome Jew and Gentiles were meeting in the synagogue, and Gentile believers were being tempted to look down on unbelieving Jews; they viewed them as excluded from God's purposes. So Paul tells the Gentiles:
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. Romans 11:17-18 NASB
They were being arrogant toward the unbelieving Jews. This is the main point of this section, it is a warning to Gentiles about the dangers of pride. At the heart of his concern is that the Gentile believers were beginning to look at the unbelieving Jews in the synagogue with disdain because they rejected and crucified the Messiah.
In Chapters 12-15 it seems that Paul is specifically addressing the Gentile believers. He wants them to treat the non-believing Jews in the synagogue with love that they may be won to Christ. Remember what Paul said in Romans 11:
I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. Romans 11:11-14 NASB
The stress rests on the purpose of Israel's fall. Through their transgression, "Salvation has come to the Gentiles." So in Yahweh's eternal purpose the rejection of the Gospel by the Jews works to the salvation of the Gentiles, but it doesn't end there. He goes on to say, "To make them jealous"--the "them" is Israel. This is quoted from Deuteronomy 32, "The Song of Moses," which is a prediction of Israel's last days. So the unbelief of Israel is ordained to promote the salvation of the Gentiles, which in turn promotes Jewish jealousy, which leads to their salvation. Later in this chapter Paul says:
From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God's choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; Romans 11:28 NASB
Who are "enemies for your sake"? This refers to the remnant that have not yet believed the Gospel. It is the unbelieving Jews that they are in close contact with at the synagogue. They are the branches that can be grafted in again. From God's choice they are beloved. So they must be part of the remnant who have not yet believed in Christ.
so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. Romans 11:31 NASB
"These" is the elect remnant that have not yet come to faith in Yeshua, but they will be shown mercy. Because of the Gentiles coming to Christ, the Jews were made jealous, and they also are coming to Christ. The Gentiles are to live righteously so as not to cause the unbelieving Jews to stumble. Paul is calling on the Gentiles to do all they can to promote unity in their assembly so that the Jews who do not know Yeshua (the broken off branches) will come to faith in Him.
Nothing in chapters 12 or 13 supports the idea that Paul has switched his focus in chapter 13 to discuss the Christian's relationship to civil government. Chapter 13 begins with what has traditionally been regarded as an abrupt transition, because it lacks either conjunction or joining particle, and has a change to third person. Paul wrote this as though there was no major transition in topic from the issues he was addressing in chapter 12. The thematic links between 13:1-7 and its surrounding verses is important. The words, "evil," "good," "wrath," and "vengeance" appear in these seven verses and in the surrounding context of 12:9-21 and 13:8-10. In 12:9-21 he is talking about love, loving each other and loving enemies, then in 13:8 he is right back to talking about love and the law of love, "TheTen Commandments." And I think that 13:1-7 is still talking about the Christian Gentiles need to love the stumbling, those Jews that have not yet trusted in Messiah; those who they associate with in the synagogue, particularly those unsaved Jews who are ruling in the synagogue. They must love and submit to them even though they may view them as enemies. They are to:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14 NASB
This could not have been easy, because they could view those leaders as not too bright since they had Torah that gave detailed prophecies about Messiah, and they had the feast days and sacrifices that pointed to Messiah, and yet they have not realized that Yeshua is the promised Messiah.
So in 13:1-7 the issue is still love and fits nicely with the surrounding context. Paul is calling for love and unity in the synagogue for the sake of the elect Jews that have not yet come to Christ. Paul is clear of his love for his fellow kinsman:
Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. Romans 10:1 NASB
So Paul is calling on the Gentile believers to be good witnesses to his unsaved brothers that they may be won to Christ.
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Romans 13:1 NASB
"Every person"--is the Greek pas psuche, which here has the meaning of Jews and Gentiles! "Be in subjection"--is from the Greek word hupotasso, which is a military term meaning: "to line up, to take your orders." It's in the present imperative middle, which means: "to habitually be in subjection" to "The governing authorities"--this comes from huperecho, which means: "to be above, superior," and the word "authorities" is the Greek word exousia, which means: "power, ability, privilege."
Of its 102 uses in the New Testament Paul rarely applies exousia to the State, yet this is generally accepted to be his application here. Luke used "exousia" to describe the synagogue authority, which he understood that Paul represented in his mission against Christians:
and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name." Acts 9:14 NASB
Paul uses exousia of his mission when explaining it to Agrippa in Acts 26:10-12. And Yeshua uses exousia to speak of synagogue leaders in Luke 12:
"When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; Luke 12:11 NASB
Notice that Yeshua speaks of "rulers and authorities" in the synagogue, and Paul also uses both words in Romans 13:1-7.
Who are the exousia or authorities that Paul was referring to in this verse? It is the leaders of the synagogue who are to be obeyed, for their authority is from God and is recognized even by the Roman emperor. Josephus indicated that Julius Caesar's decree forbid the assembly of foreign religious societies other than Jewish ones in the city of Rome, and according to Suetonius, Caesar had "dissolved all guilds, except those of ancient foundation."
Tom Holland writes, "Recently, an alternative understanding of 'authority/ies' in Romans 13 has been put forward. It is argued that local churches did not always separate from the local synagogues perhaps because they afforded protection to the believers, and that this was the situation in Rome... This historical setting has been used to argue that the 'governing authorities' of v.1 are not representatives of the Roman state but of the synagogue...This recently argued understanding has Paul pleading for the Gentile believers to accept the authority of the Jewish leadership of the synagogue because God has appointed it."
Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. Romans 13:2 NASB
The Greek word for, "resists," is antitassomai, which means: "to arrange in battle against, to oppose one's self, resist." Wuest translates this verse this way: "So that the one who sets himself in array against the aforementioned authority, against the ordinance of God has set himself, with the result that he is in a permanent position of antagonism."
One commentator writes, "Refusal to submit to one's government is tantamount to refusing to submit to God." This is how many see this. Piper writes, "Pay to all what is owed to them: speed limits to whom speed limits are due, building codes to whom building codes are due, fishing licenses fees to whom fishing licenses fees are due--hunt deer only in season, keep only five trout in southeast Minnesota and only one over 16 inches, no bird trapping or squirrel shooting in the city, keep your grass cut, no debris behind your garage, no loud mufflers, emission control device in place, seat belt fastened, egress windows in the basement if you live down there, shovel your front walk, don't park more than two hours by the church, etc." So if you put your garbage can out 24 hours before the scheduled trash pick up in Chesapeake you are sinning against God? This text has been used to put Christians in bondage.
Paul wants the Christian Gentiles meeting in the synagogue to realize that Yahweh has put the leaders in their position, and they are to submit to them.
For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; Romans 13:3 NASB
The word "rulers" here is the Greek word archon, which is used 37 times in the New Testament, and 24 of them are referring to synagogue rulers:
And there came a man named Jairus, and he was an official of the synagogue; and he fell at Jesus' feet, and began to implore Him to come to his house; Luke 8:41 NASB
The word "official" here is archon, speaking of the Diaspora Synagogue in Iconium.
And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, Acts 14:5 NASB
Luke refers to the "rulers" of the Jews and uses the word archon.
Do you think that verse 3 is true of any rulers?:
For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; Romans 13:3 NASB
Tom Constable writes, "One way of interpreting this verse is to take Paul's words at face value and trust in the fact expressed in 8:28." That makes no sense to me.
Even synagogue rulers often punished Christians because of their faith in Christ. So how can it be said that they are not "a cause of fear for good behavior"? I think that the words "good" and "evil" in this verse have a specific sense. The words "good" and "evil" in this verse are the same words used in verse12:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 NASB
Being overcome by evil means: "giving in to the temptation to pay back evil for evil." When Paul says, "Do not be overcome with evil," what he means is, "Don't let revenge destroy your life." Then three verses later he says, "Rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil." Then in 13:10 he says:
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10 NASB
The word "wrong" here is the same Greek word used for evil in our text. So I think that the "evil" and "good" spoken of in verse 3 in reference to the synagogue rulers is the "good" of loving your brothers and the "evil" of not loving them. This seems to fit with the context. If you are loving your brothers in the synagogue, you have no fear of the rulers.
If "rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil" is taken in a general sense it doesn't fit any rulers. But if we see it as a reference to loving others, then it fits well with the synagogue rulers. but it sure doesn't fit with civil rulers. No matter how you take it, it does not fit with civil rulers.
for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Romans 13:4 NASB
The word "minister" here is from the Greek diakonos, which means: "an attendant, a waiter (at table or in other menial duties)." It's the word from which we get the English word "deacon."
The Living Bible paraphrase says, "The policeman is sent by God to help you." How in the world did they take the word "diakonos" and come up with a policeman? I would find it difficult to believe that Paul would be speaking of secular rulers as deacons. This is an ecclesiastical term. Paul uses this word to describe the authorities in verse 1. This strongly supports the fact that he was talking about God's leaders, not Rome's.
But the text says, "for it does not bear the sword for nothing"--this verse is often used as proof that Paul was talking about civil authorities, since Rome had the power of capital punishment. The word "sword" is from the Greek word machaira, which is used of a knife used for circumcision in Joshua 5:2; and in the offering of Isaac in Genesis 22:6, 10; and of a dagger or small sword in Judges 3:16. Sword could be used here symbolically or metaphorically as in:
For the lips of an adulteress drip honey And smoother than oil is her speech; But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword. Proverbs 5:3-4 NASB
Here it speaks of the effect of a harlot. Sword is used symbolically for the Word of God:
And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17 NASB
Paul could be using sword here figuratively for the Word of God. The authorities of the synagogue were the interpreters of the Torah, God's word to Israel. The authorities would judge behavior based on their interpretation of Torah. They would praise good behavior according to their understanding of Torah; and they would administer God's wrath on those who violated the faith.
The sword was used as a symbol of Judicial authority. Paul goes on to call them, "an avenger who brings wrath"--the word wrath is a deeply nuanced word in Judaism. Do you remember what we talked about a month ago about the position of the servant of the synagogue?:
And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. Luke 4:20 NASB
The word "attendant" here is the Greek word huperetes, which means: "servant." This synagogue position is also found in the Talmud. He is the "servant" of the synagogue. He cleaned the synagogue, attended the lamps, and did other necessary jobs, including meting out corporal punishment and beatings:
"But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; Matthew 10:17 NASB
Rome had given the synagogue the power of the sword. They had the authority to punish those who violated their laws. The synagogue was the legal center of the Jewish community and the place where punishment was meted out on those who violated its laws. Paul himself had represented such a ruling authority, brandishing the sword on behalf of the high priest (Acts 9:1-2; Gal 1:13-14). Indeed, after his conversion on the Damascus Road he became the recipient of its judgment:
For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Romans 13:6 NASB
This is used as another proof that Paul was commanding submission to the civil authorities--because only the civil authorities collect taxes!
Paul Revere writes, "Paul was dealing with many new converts who had been raised in Roman society. Taxing was a commonly accepted fact of life. It is quite possible that Paul was describing their responsibility to give of what they had in support of God's work. He used the term 'tribute' as a word they could easily understand. Paul was reinforcing the idea that Christians were no longer citizens of this world, but had come under their own government. If they wanted to enjoy the benefits of God's government, they were obligated to support it."
Is New Testament giving ever referred to as a tax? Does Yahweh tax his children? Giving in the New Testament is always voluntary.
The Greek word used for "tax" here is phoros, which means: "a tax, properly an individual assessment on persons or property." I think that the tax that Paul is talking about here is the Temple tax:
When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?" Matthew 17:24 NASB
There are historical references indicating that "righteous Gentiles" paid the Temple tax during this period. Josephus mentions that the vast wealth of the Temple was directly related to the extensive contributions of Jews and "God fearers" from around the world. Tacitus refers to those Gentiles as "'people of the worst sort' who, renouncing their ancestral religions, would send their tribute and gifts there [to Jerusalem] in heaps."
"For rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing"--the word "servants" here is leitourgos, which means: "a functionary in the Temple or Gospel, or [generally] a worshipper [of God]." It is where we get our word "liturgy." It speaks of spiritual service to Yahweh. It is used in Hebrews 1:7 of the service of angels. Would Paul call those in the government of Rome "servants of God," devoted to His service? This word leitourgos is only used five times in the New Testament, Paul uses it of himself in:
to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:16 NASB
Minister here is leitourgos, and Paul is speaking here about his priestly ministry. And he links this with his own devotion to the collection for the Jerusalem saints in 15:15-33. Nickle, in his book Collection, pp. 74-79, develops the idea that historically leitourgos was used in the context of the Temple tax. The functions of the "servants of God" within the Jewish community was to devote themselves to the collection and safe delivery of the Temple tax to Jerusalem.
Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. Romans 13:5 NASB
Paul wanted the Gentile Christians in Rome to understand that they were not obligated to pay theTemple tax according to the interpretation of the law--not because of wrath. But they are to pay it because they shared in Israel's good things:
Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. Romans 15:27 NASB
They were not obligated by law to pay it, but they were obligated by love--for conscience sake:
Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Romans 13:7 NASB
Paul extends the principle of what is owed to authorities to what is owed to those in daily life. He tells the Romans that they are to settle all their debts--no matter to whom they are indebted.
One commentator writes, "Paul's instruction is very direct and uncomplicated: 'Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities.' By this it is clear that Christians are to be in subjection to their government, national or local." Maybe this text is not so clear and uncomplicated as many assume.
In my understanding, Paul's purpose in Romans 13:1-7 was to promote peace among the Jews and Gentiles in the synagogue as much as it was possible:
If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Romans 12:18 NASB
He wanted them to do this so that the Jewish community would not be alienated prior to his arrival in Rome to preach the Gospel.
We are not involved in the synagogue with unsaved Jews, but I think that the application to us is that we are to live in such a way as to be a light to the lost. We are to live in a way that makes that Gospel of Yeshua attractive to unbelievers:
Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Colossians 4:5 NASB
The common term, "conduct," is the Greek word peripateo, which refers to the way you live your life. It is elsewhere translated as: "walk" or "behavior." It points to the Christian giving attention to his spiritual walk, that is, the whole of his daily lifestyle.
Paul says, "...making the most of the opportunity." This translation seems a little weak to me. "Making the most" is from the Greek word exagorazo, which means: "seize the opportunity, buy up an opportunity." It comes from two words: "out" and "to buy," and in this passage means: "to buy up for oneself." It implies a sacrifice or loss of something to gain something else.
"Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words." Saint Francis of Assisi
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