Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Powers that Be

Before we can understand Paul’s teaching about submission, we must answer a basic question: who are the civil authorities that he is writing about? I believe that Paul is only referring to judges. His teaching about submission does not apply to other political powers. There are several reasons why this is true.

The essential key to understanding Paul’s message about civil authority is in Romans 13:1, where he writes,

The authorities that be have been established by God

He was referring back Deut 19:17, for which a literal translation refers to “the judges which shall be in those days.” This link has been missed because we do not love the law and have tended to ignore it. When Paul says that the “authorities that be” have been established by God, he is speaking about judges like those that existed in Moses' time. He is not talking about politicians, parliaments, emperors or presidents.

This is an extremely important principle. We are only required to submit to righteous judges. Romans 13 does not give a blanket authority to political power in all its forms, Paul is simply confirming the Old Testament principle that government by judges is the best way. This is the system of government that has been established by God.


Unknown said...

Hi Ron

You know I appreciate your blog and the research you do, however I want to challenge your assertion that Paul only considered Judges to be the legitimate 'civil authorities' of scripture.

If this were the case, how do you interpret 1 Timothy 2:1,2 Where he says we are to pray for ...'kings and all those in authority, that we may live..'

Surely in this passage Paul is including kings amongst those who hold positions of legitimate civil authority in the nation.

He also implied that there are others who are legitimate civil authoriy figures as well and that we were to pray for 'all those in authority'.

If judges were the only legitimate civil authority it would seem strange don't you think that Paul in this passage would exclude them in favour of kings, and simply relegate them to the status of all others.

As Christians we like to believe we walk in the light of Scriptural truth. If we consider that judges are the only legitimate form of civil authority, that does place us at odds with a good number of other widely recognised civil authorities in our culture.

Would Paul endorse our rebellion against these authorities do you think?


Ron McK said...

You are few days ahead of me, but the simple answer is as follows.

The command to pray for kings, does not mean that they are appointed by God. In first 1 Tim 2:1,2, the word used for authority is not the same word as Paul used in Romans. The word used in Timothy is “huperoché”, which means to be placed above. Kings have placed themselves above us, but they do not have authority in the same sense as a judge who is applying God’s law.

We pray for kings so we can live in peace and have freedom to share the gospel, but our prayers do not make them God’s delegates. We can pray for members of parliament, but that does not mean that they are God’s servants in the same way as judges. Their authority is not authority form God.