Paul, Christians And The Civil Authorites

GovernmentWhat did Paul of Tarsus mean when he told Christians living in Rome to be subject to the government? How can we apply Paul’s advise to modern Christians living under both post-Christian and non-Christian nations?

Answering the first question, Stephen Charles Mott contended, and I agree, that Paul asked Christians in Rome to put their “ interest below what is required for relationships with the civil authorities”(Mott 1993:142) He expounded,

“[s]ubordination to civil government, particularly in the symbolic act of paying taxes, is an aspect of the call to spiritual worship in the everyday life of the world[…] Their service to God is at the same time for the people, restraining evil and promoting their good (Rom 13:4).”(ibid)

As a Jew believing that God has ordained all civil authorities, Paul undoubtedly held Judaic understanding of submission to civil authorities, “which is a matter of nonresistance or nonviolence, not always of obedience.” explained Craig Keener,  “unless it involved a conflict with obeying God’s law.”(Keener 1993: n.p)

When the government is in conflict with God’s law,  Christians are called to join Peter and the apostles’ position, “We must obey God rather than men.”(Acts 5:29) but at the same time if possible, so far as it depends on them, they are called to live peaceably with all, never to avenge for themselves, but trust that God will avenge for them. Christian ought not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.(Rom. 12:18-21)

“The Christians” wrote N. T. Wright, “ are called to believe, though, that the civic authorities, great and small, are there because the one true God wants his world to be ordered, not chaotic.”(Wright 2004: 86) Wright pointed out that “[t]his does not validate particular actions of particular governments”(ibid) but it is to show that some civilly authorities are necessary in a fallen world were evil may flourish if undealt with.

Brooks correctly remarked that “[o]bedience to civil magistrates is one of the laws of Christ whose religion makes people good subjects.”(Brooks 2009: 46) Christian ought to be subject to the government knowing that God works through it for His praise and glory.

Question To Theologians: Do you agree with Stephen Charles Mott position on Christians relation to civil authorities?

Bibliography:

Brooks, K. (2009). Summarized Bible: Complete Summary of the New Testament. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Ro 13:1–2). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Mott, Stephen Charles(1993) “Civil Authority” in Dictionary of Paul and his letters. Hawthorne, G. F., Martin, R. P., & Reid, D. G. ed. et. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Wright, T. (2004). Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part 2: Chapters 9-16. Both volumes include glossaries. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

16 thoughts on “Paul, Christians And The Civil Authorites

  1. Paul’s ancestors lived under Roman rule, Ptolomeian (sp?) rule, Greek rule, Persian rule, Babylonian rule, Assyrian rule… God even commanded his ancestors to pray for and support the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Paul lived as a Jew and Christian under Roman rule. His understanding of civil authorities was simply this: during this age the wheat and weeds share the same field (the kingdom of man in theological terms), so let’s work to bless our neighbor, promote the social good, and support political peace — always remembering our primary allegiance to Christ’s kingdom. Makes sense to me.

  2. “When the government is in conflict with God’s law, Christians are called to join Peter and the apostles’ position, “We must obey God rather than men.”

    This quote really upsets me at the core. For what is referred to as ‘God’ Law is merely what other humans have declared is God’s Law.
    If this god is omnipotent, let him tell me himself. He should have no need of any intercessor, or grubby words on ancient papyrus.
    How are we to know whether those who claim to be espousing god’s law have not misheard it? Have not corrupted it or indeed, have not made it up completely merely for their own selfish ends?
    God’s Law? No my friend, if your god wishes to convey his law then all he has to do is speak and I will most assuredly listen.

  3. Oh no my friend, you should be better than the Christian PR stereotypes like “…a worthy issue to look at.” when confronted with obvious theologico-ethical inconsistencies.
    As I told you, as much as the christian community hates, or feels sorry etc. for, “backsliders/Judases” like myself, I come from the other -your- side, from depths I don’t wish you ever to go to…
    Let me ask you something…
    Have you been informed why Vincent Van Gogh, the netherlandish region’s acclaimed painter has given up his promising missionary/theological carrier amongst the poorest of mining families, where he went/was sent by his own, state and government obedient denominational leadership? Why and what determined him to become the “shame” of his family and church, and the human shipwreck he was during his tragic life? Encounter with Truth, my friend, does set you free, but that hurts so bad, that most won’t dare facing it, returning again and again to their -fear of hell fuelled- pathetic and fake mantras about “god’s love”…
    Please, if you haven’t yet, get acquainted with the story and if you wish, please reply to me concerning this “worthy issue”…
    PLEASE NOTE: The tone of my posts and replies may and do often-times turn extremely passionate, nevertheless, without any intent to become a personal offence against anyone. My polemics aim always at ideas displayed in the blogosphere’s public arena, but as ideas are usually upheld by people, they may get the heat of it sometimes…
    Same concerning you dear Daniel, for whom in spite of our obvious differences, I do have the utmost respect, all because of the moral values you believe in and practice, regardless of their believed source.

    (Rev.) Rom…

    • Rom, the reason I try to avoid going into topics I did not rise in the article is to help us focus on what is at hand.

      If you would love, I could write a post dealing with what the Bible say about slavery, how some Christians used it to condone slavery while others used it to condemn.

      But here Rom, I addressed Christians relationship with the government.

      Yours,
      Prayson

  4. Hi Daniel,

    It just amazes me the extent to which practicing Christians would go to explain something as confusing and abnormal as this another piece of Pauline theological mess…
    I hope a day shall come when they would understand that most of today’s Christianity is some perverted mutation of the horrendous deal between the constantinian desire for rule at all price, and the church’s new priesthood’s desire for pretty much the same.
    Condoning slavery and tyranny, just to name the most striking aberrations about the human condition, is what would anyone call a religion of love?
    My dear Human Beings reading this: don’t you realize that the day anyone silently acknowledges his life under such authority will ultimately have to remain silent when the powers to come shall buy and sell your children as slaves in front of your own eyes, while you will be forced to joyfully read that slaves must obey their masters? Are you looking for marks of the beast? I am telling you that the marks are allready burnt into the hands with which you have beaten your children into obeying rules and rulers taking away from their mouths the blood sweated fruit of your labour!
    You don’t see the marks yet? You’ll see them on your foreheads after you will beat your heads against the walls of your slavery condoning religion, when it will be too late…

    • Hi Rom,

      It the case that whether Christianity condoned slavery and tyranny is a worthy issue to look at, but in this article I aimed on Christian relationship with the government. Thank you though Rom, for sharing what is on your mind on how you understand Christians ethics.

      Yours,
      Prayson

  5. Thought provoking. It gets a little complicated, or at least feels complicated, when Christians are citizens of a democratic or representative government. I see so many Christians in the States who seem to think that they cannot live under a government that allows, condones and sometimes even promotes sin. But when you stop to think about it, Jesus specifically told his followers to pay taxes to the Romans, one of the most warmongering nations of their time. That money would go fund any number of things that Christians would not condone. As citizens of free nations we are obligated to use our voice and vote to promote and defend morality, but what do we do when we are voted down?

  6. “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;
    Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
    Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” 1 Peter 2:13-17

    The Bible has many examples of civil disobedience that is justified and necessary as well,

    1) Christians should resist a government that commands or compels evil, and should work nonviolently within the laws of the land to change a government that permits evil.
    2) Civil disobedience is permitted when the government’s laws or commands are in direct violation of God’s laws and commands.
    3) If a Christian disobeys an evil government, unless they can flee from the government, they should accept that government’s punishment for their actions.
    4) Christians are certainly permitted to work to install new government leaders within the laws that have been established.

    Lastly, Christians are commanded to pray for their leaders and for God to intervene in His time to change any ungodly path that they are pursuing: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).

  7. I agree with Mott and the conclusion you arrived at. Government is ordained by God, but not the corruption it is prone to exude. We have the example of David. Though he had been anointed king of Israel, he still recognized the authority of King Saul because God had not yet removed Saul.

    The apostles could have easily called on the early church to rise against the corruption and ungodliness of Rome, but they didn’t.

    In America, we have the right to remove corrupt leaders and must oppose corrupt and anti-Biblical laws. We’re seeing this played out in the battle between government forcing churches, religious organizations, and Christians to provide abortions on demand. The US Catholic bishops have rightly rejected the Obama administration on legal grounds, but more so on the idea that Scripture demands the sanctity of innocent human life.

    When, and if we oppose the immorality of a government, we must be willing to also pay the consequences for doing so. We may be on the side of God, but that does not mean that He’ll spare us from the rod of the civil authorities.

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