Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Subject to Higher Powers

A couple of months ago, Bob Murphy had a conversation with Lawrence Ludlow regarding the interpretation and understanding of Romans 13.  I found it quite worthwhile, including an explanation of why words in Greek or Latin require so many English words for us to grasp at the possible meaning.  Which means that the English word chosen to translate from Greek or Latin must be determined based on context and must be understood in the context and in the way that the same word is used elsewhere.

In any case, anyone interested in a further exposition of this passage – one that has caused no shortage of grief for humanity and for Christians who value liberty – it is a good exposition.  One will also find a comment from our very own RMB!

As background, I have written on this topic several times, including:

·         Christians and Government – this is a review of the relevant chapter from Gerard Casey’s book, Freedom's Progress?: A History of Political Thought

·         Does God Ordain Evil Men – a review of Romans 13: The True Meaning of Submission, by Timothy Baldwin and Chuck Baldwin

·         Enough With Romans 13 – my own thoughts in the immediate aftermath of March 2020.

Then there is this, from RMB: The Church And State In Romans 13


  1. Thank you for posting this. It's important for listeners to understand the main points of this conversation:

    1. Romans 13 does not "exist" as a separate chapter or topic since Paul's letter never had any chapter numbers. It is integral – a continuous flow of thought -- and should be read only with the preceding discussion of Romans 12 in mind.

    2. Once a reader understands the important context developed in Romans 12 -- which is a discussion entirely about spiritual life, spiritual authority, spiritual leadership, and specialization of spiritual gifts -- it is easy to see how one should properly choose the English words used to translate from Greek into English. And since the English language includes more than 20 times as many words as Koine Greek (and 300 times as many words as were used in the actual Greek New Testament), the selection of the correct English word is important. Only by selecting English words that correspond to the spiritual context already established in Romans 12 can one properly understand Paul’s message.

    3. Consequently, the message of what is called Romans 13 should continue the message of Romans 12. It SHOULD NOT be construed as a capitulation to, worship of, or high regard for the state and its political authorities. That is all. Once you understand this, it is up to your conscience and guidance by the Holy Spirit to determine your actions.

    I’d like to apologize for the duplication of comments that I made on Bob’s site. My comments appeared not to be posting, so I tried again and again! This led to a clumsy result.

    I’m hoping to write up this conversation in an essay, and there I will try to address some of the very poorly conceived and even dishonest criticism that Bob and I received elsewhere. These are easily dismissed as pot-shots based on exaggeration, intentional misunderstanding, straw men, etc.

    At Bob’s site, I also posted some early Christian writings that bolster the conventional pro-state interpretation merely to show HOW FEW of the earliest writers commented in such a way directly on this text. Some people think that I somehow weakened my case by doing this. But that view only reveals a lack of understanding. I was merely attempting to "steel man" the case against me, and there was not much steel. The comments I posted are commentaries directly on the passages cited, and they are very few indeed. There are – in contrast – so many, many texts that are anti-state that I did not feel compelled (or even capable) of posting them. It is enough to read what is in the Bible about the depredations of the state in its many forms.

    Finally, I encourage listeners to become familiar with the writings of Jacques Ellul on Christian anarchism. He lists numerous examples showing how the church became more “statist” in its relationship to political authorities as Christianity became more accepted. I didn’t go into this with Bob because it is a huge topic.

    1. Lawrence, thank you for these additional thoughts. My hope, in writing this post, was that people would go to the original interview as I could never capture all of your thoughts.

      If you write an essay, as noted, I would appreciate it if you will remember to let me know, as I will want to read it and may post something further based on it.

    2. I certainly will. And I'll add the points raised by Bob. He noted several things that brought the points out more clearly.