…I have watched, with great horror, the way Romans chapter 13 has been increasingly misinterpreted by pastors and laymen alike.
- Dr. Chuck Baldwin
Romans 13: The True Meaning of Submission, by Timothy Baldwin and Chuck Baldwin
This book, written by Chuck Baldwin and his son Timothy, examines the meaning of Romans 13, a chapter used by many Christians to advocate that we must obey the government no matter what.
Now, regarding such Christians, there was a time that I would have said something like “except if the government tells us that we cannot go to church on Easter Sunday,” but I can no longer even say that much….
Would such Christians also demand submission of a wife to a husband no matter what? An employee to an employer? A church member to a pastor? Yet these are also examples of governing authorities.
Instead of being understood as a chapter requiring Christians to submit to government (meaning the modern state), the passage describes the proper and expected role of those in governing positions. For example, verse 3 offers: “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.” Or verse 4: “For he is the minister of God to thee for good.”
So, what of rulers who are a “terror to good works”? Or they are not ministering for good? Well, such in governing authority are not conforming to God’s requirement of Romans 13.
The book is ten chapters long, with a total of 144 pages. About forty of these pages offer over six-hundred endnotes – it is a very well documented and researched book. I have written much on this topic (most recently here, written a few weeks after the madness of March 2020), so I will only highlight a few of the many areas that struck me as points I had not previously considered:
The Greek word for “power” connotes the meaning of limited authority…
The authors note that the same Greek word is used when Jesus describes, for example, the limited authority a master gives his servant to perform certain works. This understanding is consistent with the verses from Romans 13 cited above: the authority is given to governing powers in order to be a terror to the evil; to be a minister for good. The authority is limited only to such things – most certainly, not to be the opposite of such things.
So, how do we know when to submit and when not to submit. The authors offer some considerations, all in accord with the responsibility demanded for the one in authority: husbands are to love their wives; parents are to nurture and properly admonish their children, and not provoke them to wrath; pastors are to watch for the souls of their flock; masters are to treat their servants justly. When this guidance is not followed, one need not submit.
How, then, can this be applied to government? Romans 13 describes what is good, God-ordained government. It does not change the standard set by God, as described in numerous other Biblical passages:
So Scripture reveals, government must protect the innocent, protect freedom and rights, provide justice, give fair trials to all accused, provide expeditious due process of law and fair judgement, punish evil, and protect state borders….
Which, it should be clear, is precisely the opposite of the actions taken by the current government we are told by many Christians that we must obey.
The laws implemented in society necessarily reflect a religious belief system.
This is a very noteworthy point. Politics is always downstream from religion. Do the laws of the United States (or virtually every other government or multi-national entity) reflect a Christian religion? Laws allowing the bombing of innocents overseas (for which too many Christians applaud); laws condoning and supporting the murder of unborn children; laws that strip parents of their authority over their children; laws that teach corruption, even to toddlers in government-approved pre-schools. Is any of this Biblically supported?
One could hardly justify in the name of “Christian duty” submission to government which causes harm to innocent persons.
Read the above list again, and add a few dozen other equally egregious examples. Which leads to the obvious conclusion:
The very purpose of law is to restrain evil men, not to give evil men God’s ordination.
Those who pass and enforce such laws are evil men.
The authors then make a very interesting argument regarding natural rights by looking through the other end of the telescope, in a manner of speaking:
…there could be no (1) stealing if there were no right to private property; (2) murder if there were no right to life; (3) coveting were there not security in one’s property; and (4) theft were there no right to keep property.
There are countless references to examples in the Bible of the earliest patriarchs, prophets, Jesus, the Apostle Paul, all disobeying government or questioning the good in obeying the government. Let’s not forget these….
Eventually, as government’s actions become more and more evil, the cause of resistance towards government becomes more and more righteous.
These words were written ten years ago, and nine years before the actions dating to March, 2020. They certainly ring truer than ever.
Scriptures, common sense, natural law, and human history all confirm that unconditional submission creates anything but peace….
No justice, no peace.
..Not to mention that the author of Romans was a ringleader of a criminal organization (an illegal religion).ReplyDelete
To those pastors I would simply ask "good according to who,God or the political authorities"?ReplyDelete
Thanks for this.
I'm reading the late Michael Davies's trilogy of books about the liturgical revolutions of the English Reformation leading into and influencing Vatican II. At the end of the first book, "Cranmer's Godly Order," he makes the interesting point that it was in the English Church where the seeds of this blind obedience were sown. Davies notes that the bishops in England made the decision at some point, likely early in the Tudor dynasty, that their submission to the king was to be offered at the expense of their submission to the Holy Church. This allowed, virtually without protest amongst the presbytery, the heresy of Henry VIII and then the destruction of worship by Cranmer, et al.. His explanation: some twisted combination of excessive reverence of the divine ordination of the monarch and earthly temptations, such as position, power, money, etc..ReplyDelete
The Church rejects the separation of church and state, of course; however, that symbiosis has limits. What the English bishops failed to exercise was any kind of principle on behalf of their true sovereign, the Holy Mother Church, allowing the temporal sovereign to run roughshod over areas of life he was not entitled to trod upon. They just sort of rolled over and sighed over it all. It started small; but grew in to a monster.
Reading this post, I can't help but think of the source being less a misinterpretation of scripture, but an application of that misinterpretation as a cover for other, more human sins.
Yes to your last sentence.Delete
Also to the history, as you explain and I understand. Rome was always a check on the king - not always working perfectly, not always in balance, often one side becoming more powerful for a time. But when a king was excommunicated, he usually dealt with the situation via reconciliation.
Romans 13 is referring to participating in the godly order of creation. Whether tribal chief, or king, or modern state, or technocratic bureaucracy there CAN be a benefit to society if it in fact rewards the good citizen and punishes the criminal. But once it starts arbitrarily makes laws and orders, they are on the path to rewarding evil and punishing the righteous.ReplyDelete
I think of "The Road To Serfdom" as the blue print. One we are on today.
Another thoughtful write up about Romans 13 is linked if I may say so, ha ha. Touches on the same issues. Defines terms and traces political ideas through history at a 1000 ft view.
I heartily agree with your analysis, however, one point has always troubled me about Paul's description of the role of government and difficult to reconcile with the fact that the government he was living under and, I must assume, he was referring to was ruthlessly pagan and remorselessly sinful Imperial Rome! In view of this fact, what are we to make of his judgments on our obedience to the State and a libertarian's response?
My sense on this, and your point is a valid point...Delete
Had Paul written directly of the Roman corruption and abuses, he likely would not have lasted long once his letter was discovered.
Also, for the sake of the Christians under Rome (and we know the persecution they faced at the time and for a few centuries thereafter), any direct attack on the Roman government would have turned all Christians into enemies of a ruthless state.
So, the way he wrote the chapter allowed the Roman government to read it as advocating subservience, while sending the message that proper government is established for good, not evil.
As there is no doubt that the Romans in government felt that they were carrying out "good," they would not have reason to complain about Paul's words.
I haven't thought of that point much but it makes sense. It is similar to Jesus answer in Mark 12 about paying the poll tax to Caesar. He said give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. Who knows exactly what it means but there is a kernel in there that God owns everything so Caesar doesn't get anything.Delete
Now I do think that God wants us to follow the laws of the land in general. Jesus doesn't call us to be criminals or saboteurs or revolutionaries. He calls us to preach the gospel, show how to love, and demonstrate what a peaceful life looks like.
But when the state is coming after you, there is nothing in Scripture saying you shouldn't fight injustice with violence. You actually see people doing just that with and without violence throughout the Bible. The church is the conscience of society. That means we must push back when the state or society are running off the rails.
All of the faithful readers of your site are well aware of and support your Christian views on the State and the proper response of Christians to its obvious evils. But is it morally correct (forgive me for not being able to think of a better way of expressing this idea) assume that Paul, in this Epistle to fellow Christians, was practicing "practical politics"; sending one message to Imperial Rome and another to the faithful? My personal opinion of St. Paul's personality is that he was the most direct and outspoken leader in the Church...to attribute this type of subtlety to him seems to be out of character. Aquinas, for one, did not agree with your supposition.Delete
James, I cannot disagree with your point. I offered speculation; perhaps not a wise thing to do on such a matter.Delete
James, I will add one other consideration: Jesus, when He was pressed via a trick question (for example, paying taxes to Caesar), would give a less than direct answer - speaking truth, but in a manner that would avoid immediate punishment. He knew it was not yet His time, yet a wrong answer might prematurely bring on His death.Delete
Might it not have been similar for Paul? Again, I am speculating....
Does submission mean obedience? Christ and the apostle instruct us to submit and turn the other cheek to those who abuse us. But they first teach us to obey the word of God above all else. So, we obey God's word first. If that conflicts with the authorities, then we stay true to the Word and submit to whatever punishment the authorities bring upon us. We do not rebel or seek to take over the power structure in order to "bring change." If this is not so, then Congress could eliminate Christianity from America with a stroke of the pen.ReplyDelete
The title of this article intrigues me. Does God Ordain Evil Men?ReplyDelete
"For there is no authority except from God and the authorities that exist are appointed by God." Romans 13:1b, NKJV
According to various dictionary definitions, 'ordain' means to grant authority, either in a religious or civil sense. Ordain can mean the same thing as appoint.
If God appoints authorities, either in a religious or civil sense, then it is true that God ordains them with authority. That some of them turn out to be evil does not take away from the fact that God has appointed them to leadership positions. (See the story of Israel and Saul in 1 Samuel 8, 9.)
For those who take offense at the idea of God appointing (ordaining) evil, then consider it this way. We get what we deserve. God is the ultimate authority, the final judge, and the executioner of true justice. This works out in human affairs as an aspect of 'natural law' or the notion that there are consequences, both good and bad, for every decision and action which mankind makes. If society rules itself well, in a good manner, the leaders which rise up will reflect that attitude. If it does not, then evil persons will become dominant and gain authority (ordination). This is a naturally occurring phenomenon and it happens all the time. Since God, as the Creator, instituted natural law as the primary societal code of conduct, then it follows that God does in fact grant authority to evil men as a means of bringing society back to a correct position.
"The very purpose of law is to restrain evil men, not to give evil men God’s ordination." -- Chuck Baldwin
"Those who pass and enforce such laws are evil men." -- Bionic Mosquito
There is something about this interchange which does not seem right to me, but I cannot quite put my finger on it. It sounds somewhat contradictory. If law does not ordain evil men, then how is it that evil men make law and enforce it on everyone else? God's ordination does not necessarily mean God's approval. Evil men are used by God to further His purposes, as are good men. This does not mean that God approves or condones their actions, but He allows them and then metes out justice on those societies which fostered those evil men and action.
Many persecuted Christians did not obey and hid in catacombs to escape the government ... and survived.ReplyDelete
Not related to this article but related Bionic to your ongoing quest for liberty and understanding Natural Law. I found a free copy of Rothbard's The Ethics Of Liberty. I will start reading it in a few days. Guess what the first section is about? Natural Law! Going to be learning more about it and writing a bit. I expect to disagree with Murray on abortion but excited to jump into it.ReplyDelete
Rothbard writes in many place about natural law, including the first section of this book.Delete
As you note, there will be a couple chapters with which you will disagree (as do I).
"Ordained" in Romans 13 only means "put in place," not "approved." Everywhere the word "powers" occurs in the New Testament, it refers to demonic forces. http://Romans13.com/exousiai.htm Everyone in Paul's day agreed that empires were guided by demons. Caesar believed the demons were good, Christians believed they were evil. Paul taught that God works all things together for good for His people (Romans 8:28) even evil things, like "persecution," "tribulation," "distress," the "sword," or anything else the "powers" can dish out (Romans 8:35-39). Jesus said "Resist not evil" (Matthew 5:39-41), which is what Paul is saying in Romans 12:14 - 13:7. The correct understanding of these verses is "anarcho-pacifism."ReplyDelete