Friday, June 30, 2006

Rulers or Judges (27)

Another key word is given in the third verse of the chapter.

For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (Rom 13:3,4).

The word usually translated as “ruler” is “arkon”. English translations of Romans always choose the strongest possible translation, but this Greek word can also be translated as “judge” or “magistrate”. It is translated as judge in Luke 12:38.

The context confirms that Paul is writing about submission to judges. The role of these authorities is to punish the wicked. This is something done by judges, not political leaders or military leaders.

We should also note that the word “authority” is plural. Paul is not talking about a single political leader. He is suggesting that we should submit to judges (plural). Romans 13 is not a message about a kings or parliaments, but a confirmation of the Old Testament teaching of the role of judges. There will be many judges and authorities and we must submit to the excellent ones.

This is consistent with the Old Testament, which always speaks of multiple judges (Ex 22:8,9; Deut 19:17,18; 25:1).

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Judges Under God (26)

Moses made a strong link between God and judges when describing how property disputes should be resolved.

If a man gives his neighbor silver or goods for safekeeping and they are stolen from the neighbor's house, the thief, if he is caught, must pay back double. But if the thief is not found, the owner of the house must appear before the judges to determine whether he has laid his hands on the other man's property. In all cases of illegal possession of an ox, a donkey, a sheep, a garment, or any other lost property about which somebody says, 'This is mine,' both parties are to bring their cases before the judges. The one whom the judges declare guilty must pay back double to his neighbor (Ex 22:7-9).

The Hebrew word translated twice as judge in this passage is Elohim, a word better known as the plural for God. However, this word was occasionally used by way of deference for judges. Moses was implying that these judges could give the judgements of God. Elohim can also be used to imply a superlative, in which case Moses would be referring the best judges.

When Paul spoke of excellent judges in Romans 13, he was probably referring back to Exodus 21 and 22 and this reference to the best judges.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Human Government

David Lipscomb wrote

The design and purpose of human government on earth was to oppose, counteract and displace the governmeent of God on earth.

It is clear that human government had its orgin in the rejection of the authority of God, and that it was intended to supersede the Divine government, and itself constituted the organised rebellion of man against God. (David Lipsomb - Civil Government)
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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Authority or Judge (25)

In Romans 13:1, Paul uses the word “exousia”, which is often translated as “authority”. I have argued that he was referring to judges. Why he did not use the Greek word “krites”, which can also mean judge?

The answer to this conundrum is obvious from the book of Acts. The word “krites” was used quite frequently in the Roman Empire. Gallio was the Roman proconsul of Achaia when a group of Jews brought Paul before his court. Gallio said,

Settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things (Acts 18:15).
Paul used the same word when he appeared before Felix the governor (hegemon) at Caesarea.
When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: "I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense (Acts 24:10).

Paul could not use the word “krites” when writing this letter to the Romans, because they would have assumed that he was referring to governors and proconsuls. This was exactly the opposite of his message, so he chose to avoid the word “krites” and used the word "exousia" instead. To make his target clear, he qualified the word "exousia" with the adjective “excellent” and made the link to Deuteronomy with the expression “judges that are”.

Paul was advocating government by judges interpreting the law of God.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Excellent Judges are Not Appointed (24)

We are required to submit to the judges that God has established.

The authorities that exist are established by God (Rom 13:1b).

Paul seems to imply that these judges just exist. They are not elected or appointed, they just are. This is quite odd, but it is really important.

If judges are appointed, then the person who has the power to appoint them has the power to distort justice. Judges are appointed by kings or politicians lose their independence, because those who appoint them can also remove them. The people lose their freedom, because they must take their cases to the judges who are appointed. They are not free to choose the best judges.

The Bible describes a better system. Judges emerge as people start taking cases to people who demonstrate wisdom. If a person gets a reputation for making wise decisions, more and more people will submit their cases to them.

Paul said that we should submit to excellent judges, because that is how excellent judges emerge. They are not appointed. Ordinary wise people become judges, as more and more people choose to submit to them.

A judge cannot impose their authority. Free people give authority to the best judges by submitting cases to them. Excellent judges emerge as people submit their cases to the better judges. Poorer judges will get less and less cases, as people hear about heir mistakes. When a judge goes sour, people will stop submitting to him altogether and take their cases to better judges. Paul is saying that the judges that have emerged in a free society are the ones that are established by God. By submitting to excellent judges we allow God to bring into being the judges that he has chose.

Moses, like many leaders, believed that he could do the job better job of judging than anyone else, but exhaustion proved him wrong. When he set up a system of judges, he thought he needed to appoint them, but he was acting on the advice of Jethro his father-in-law, and not on a word from God.

All Moses really had to do was tell the people to take their cases to the people in their tribes and communities that they already trusted (Exodus 18). He actually found that God already had judges in place. The people knew who they were, but Moses had not acknowledged them. The new system worked, because God has put the judges in place. The proved to be effective judges when they were allowed to do the task.

They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves (Ex 18:26).

There is no legitimate judicial authority except from God, so the people that come to be “the judges that are” are God’s order for justice. The judges that exist, (because people trust them) are those placed (tassa) by God.

Only those judges that come in to existence through voluntary submission have a legitimate authority. Their task is to apply the law of God. All other political powers are usurpers of God’s authority.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Powers that Be (23)

The message of submission to good judges is confirmed by Paul's use of the expression “the authorities that exist”. In the King James Version this was translated as the “the powers that be”.

The authorities that exist have been established by God (Rom 13:1b).

When explaining which authorities are from God, Paul constructs a strange sentence that uses the verb “to be” twice in the same phrase. Translated literally the verse means

the authorities that are, are from God.

So the answer to the question: "Which authorities are from God?”
is as follows,

the authorities that are.

This odd expression provides a link back to the Old Testament and is the key to understanding Paul's message to the Romans. He is referring back to the book of Deuteronomy, which refers to “the judges that are”.

Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before Jehovah, before the priests and the judges that shall be in those days (Deut 19:17 ASV).

Thou shalt come..… unto the judge that shall be in those days: and thou shalt inquire; and they shall show thee the sentence of judgment (Deut 17:9 ASV).

The modern translations refer to the "judges that are in office in those days", but the word "office" does not exist in the Hebrew text. A literal translation is “the judges that be in those days” or the “the judges that are in those days”. Paul would have been familiar with these texts. When he started thinking about justice, the Holy Spirit brought this expression to his mind.

Exodus and Deuteronomy described a unique system of government: God’s law applied by excellent judges. Paul is simply confirming that system.

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Governing Authorities (22)

The following translation of Romans 13:1 is typical, but misleading.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.

The first thing to note is that the word “governing” is not in the Greek text. The word that is often translated as “governing” is “huperecho” can mean “superior in rank”, but it also has a strong sense of “excellence”. Paul used the same word in Phil 3:8, when speaking of the “surpassing greatness” of knowing Christ.

Paul is actually saying that we should submit to “excellent judges”. He is giving us a choice when submitting. We are only required to submit to judges who have demonstrated excellence.

The word authority (exousia) is used four times in the first two verses of Romans 13. It has a broad meaning, ranging from freedom to ruler to judge. Exousia is used for the authority that was given to Jesus (Matt 28:10) and for spiritual authorities (Eph 1:21; 6:12). One meaning of exousia is judge or magistrate. This is the way that it is translated in Luke 12:11.

In Romans 13, exousia is authority that has been given by God to those who “implement his law”, so it must be referring to judges. The core message of Romans 13:1 is that all people should submit to excellent judges.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Submission to Whom? (21)

It has taken a long to time to get there, but we now have the background to understand Romans 13. We must decide which authorities “are from God”? It is clear that we must submit to someone. The important question is who?

Most Christians assume that we must submit to all political powers. This cannot be true. If Paul believed that all authorities are from God, he would have used the word all, but he did not. He used the Greek words "all" (pasa) when saying that all people should submit, but he did not use it when saying which authorities to submit to.

Tomorrow the answer to this important question.

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Dealing with Crime (20)

According to Paul, we are not to repay those who do us harm. We must leave revenge to God.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil…Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath (Rom 12:17,19).

We are not to repay evil for evil or to seek to avenge those who harm us. This raises an interesting question. If we are not to take revenge ourselves, but leave it to God, is there not recompense here on earth? Is there a risk that crime will get out of control.

In the Romans 13, Paul explains how a system of godly judges avenges those who do evil. This is God's solution to the problem of crime.

He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (Rev 13:4).

Christians must not seek revenge, but they are permitted to submit their situations to good judges. Judges will ensure that criminals are punished.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Voluntary Government (19)

We need a system of civil government that is voluntary, that does not involve forcing people to do things against their will.

Paul’s solution is for all people to freely choose to submit to excellent judges (Rom 13:1).

  • Everyone remains free.
  • Judges are given authority
  • Evil is not overcome by evil (even if it is a lesser evil).

Submission is a powerful vehicle for bringing order to society without obliterating freedom.

People can always withdraw their submission, if the authority deteriorates.

Authority can be obtained in two ways:

  • Imposing control from the top.
  • Voluntary submission from below.

Jesus condemned rulers who lord it over their people and use force to get them to do what they want. He contrasted the rulers of gentiles domination and control (lording over) with leadership of the kingdom (Luke 22:25-26). We seem to have mixed up these two concepts. We prefer rulers who will force people to do the right thing. Unfortunately, they have no place in the kingdom of God.

Christians believe in salvation by grace, but once we are saved, we rush straight back to using law to change the world; not God's law, but human law. Throughout the Western world, Christians are trying to persuade their politicians and parliaments to pass laws prohibiting a wide variety of sins, including prostitution and abortion.

We seem to have considerable faith in human law, despite the fact that law cannot eliminate sin. That requires a widespread change of heart and only the Holy Spirit can change hearts.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Radical Principle (18)

Before launching into a discussion of civil government, Paul states a powerful principle.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21).
Although this principle restates Jesus command to turn the other cheek, its wider implications are not well understood. Paul is saying that we must not use evil means to overcome evil, even when dealing with the problem of order in society.

Most political authority involves forcing people to do things against their will. However, God gave us freedom, so forcing people to do things they do not wish to do is evil, even if it is done for maintaining order in society.

God does not force people to obey him. He prefers that people do his will, because they love him. Forcing people to be good has no place in the Kingdom of God.

Modern government are based around the use of force.

  • People are forced to obey whatever laws passed by the politicians in power.
  • People are forced to pay whatever rate of tax, the politicians decide to levy.

The use of force is justified by the claim that if people are not restrained by the power of the state, then society will become disorderly. The supporters of political power agree that the use of force is evil, but claim that the evil that would be produced by evil would be even worse. This is essentially an argument for using a lesser evil to overcome a greater evil.

Paul seems to be ruling this option out. If we are only allowed to overcome evil with good, then overcoming evil with a lesser evil is not acceptable.

Romans 12:29 is a radical principle that undermines the basis of all modern governments. If Paul’s words are true, the idea that governments can force people to do things for the good of society is flawed. All systems that force people to do things against their will are illegitimate.

This is why governments have perpetrated so much evil. They are based on a principle that it is morally correct to user a lesser evil to overcome a greater evil.

Democracy is no better. Under democracy, minorities are forced to do what the majority decide. This is not freedom.

Jesus was adamant that his Kingdom would not be established by force (Matt 26:53,54; John 18:36). Christians should not support any government system that is based on force.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Law is not a Guide to Holiness (17)

Another common problem is the false idea that the Law of Moses contains a complete list of all sins. This is just not true.

God gave the law revealed to Moses in Exodus and Deuteronomy to provide a way for people to live in harmony. It was not intended to be a complete list of all sins. Pride is not mentioned in the Ten Commandments. Nor is presumption or gluttony. We should not be surprised at these ommissions, because this is not the purpose of the law.

Moses understood this. He was the most humble man on the earth, even though humility is never mentioned in the Ten Commandments. Moses was humble because he loved God, not because he obeyed the law. He understood that the law was not given to define sin, but to provide a way for people to live together in harmony.

Jesus corrected this error. In the Sermon on the Mount, he gave a new standard of righteousness. He then explained that keeping the law was not sufficient for those who want to live a holy life. There are plenty of people who have never committed adultery, murdered someone, stolen from their neighbour or perjured themselve before a court, but that does not make them holy. Jesus explained that anger and lust are sins, even though they are not forbidden by the law.

Our righteousness must surpass the standard required by the law (Matt 5:20).

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48).

Keeping the law makes us peaceful citizens, but it does not make us holy. God’s holiness requires a much higher standard than the law.

Some Christians assume that Jesus was changing the law and setting a higher standard. This is not correct. He confirmed the law.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matt 5:17-18).

Jesus has not changed the law. What he did was to explain the difference between the standard of the law and the standard of holiness. The law is sufficient for people to live in harmony, because that is its purpose. It is not our standard of holiness.

Jesus has strong warning for those who teach people to disobey the law. Those teachers in the modern church who despise the law should take note.

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:19).

Those who teach the law will be called the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven! This is one that we have not noticed.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Law cannot produce Righteousness (16)

Several false understandings of the law have been prevalent since the law was given. The most common error is the view that we can be made righteous through keeping the law. The Jews believed that they were special because the had the law. They also believed that the could gain righteousness by keeping the law.

Paul spent a large part of his ministry debunking this myth. Here are two statements that make his position clear.

If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (Gal 2:21).

Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith" (Gal 3:11).

The law cannot make us righteous. Only the ministry of Jesus can accomplish that goal.

However, although Paul was very hostile to those who claimed a righteousness through the law, he was careful not to denigrate the law itself. He said the law is spiritual, holy just and good (Rom 7). The law is good and holy when used for the correct purpose (1 Tim 1:7-9). It only becomes a problem when used as a basis for righteousness, something that it was not designed to do. True righteous can only be obtained through Jesus, and we appropriate his righteousness through faith.

Many Christians assume that there is something wrong with God's law. Paul was clever enough not to throw the baby out with the bath water. When the law is used for the wrong purpose, it is useless. However, when it is used for the correct purpose, it is still holy and just.

This begs the question: If righteousness comes through faith, and even Abraham understood this 400 years before the law, what is it for? Most Christian teaching describes the law as a temporay system of righteousness that did not work. That does not make sense, because God does not make mistakes.

God gave the law to restain crime. That was his purpose for the law. It never had any other purpose and that purpose has not changed.

The law cannot be replaced as a method for restraining wickedness. Everyone understands this. Even nations that reject God have laws against theft and violence. They mess up God's law by adding human accretions. The only thing that is finished for the law is the incorrect attempt to use it as a basis for righteousness.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Purpose of the Law (15)

Christians are confused about the purpose of the law. This is not surprising as even the people who received the Ten Commandments were confused did not understand its role. The first table of the law can be summed up in the command to love God. The second table of the law can be summed up in Jesus command to love our neighbours. The second five commandments are all about our relationships with the people live around us.

God gave the law to Moses at a time when Israel was move to live in a defined area of land. He gave the law to enable them to live together harmoniously. This is the reason for focus on preventing adultery, theft, slander and murder. These are four sins are the ones that disrupt the relationships between the people living together in a community. If I am proud and arrogant, my neighbours may not like me, but they are not harmed. If I steal from other people, those I steal from do suffer. A good society needs protection from theft.

There are four ways that another person can harm me. They can steal my possessions, assault my body, lie about my character, or break up my family. Lies, theft assault and adultery are sins that directly harm other people. The last five commandments deal with these sins. The law was given to prevent these sins from breaking down the structure of society.

The context of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 21-23 makes their purpose clear. The case laws that follow the Ten Commandments do not refer to personal holiness. They describe things that happen when people harm those living around them. Solutions are provided for problems between people and their property.

The law of Moses was designed to deal with the issues that arise when people live together in close proximity. This is the purpose of the law. In the modern world, people still have problems with each other and their property, so the need has not disappeared. We still need the law of Moses.

Paul understood the purpose of the law. He knew that it was directed towards those who would disrupt the peace of society.

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels,the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for dulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers (1 Tim 1:7-9).

Paul says the law is not for the righteous. The law is for thieves, murderers, adulterer and perjurers. These are the people who disrupt peaceful and harmony of society. The righteousness of Jesus cannot deal with these people, as they are hostile to him. Until they are transformed by the love of Jesus, society will need the law to prevent them from harming other people. Law provides a solution to the problem caused by people who are willing to harm others. It is the only way to deal with them.

The prophet Habakkuk understood the purpose of the law.

Destruction and violence are before me;there is strife, and conflict abounds.Therefore the law is paralyzed,and justice never prevails.The wicked hem in the righteous,so that justice is perverted (Hab 1:3,4).

When God’s law is ignored, strife and violence abound. Without God’s law, justice is perverted and the wicked prevail.

The consequence of our failure to understand the purpose of the law is prophesied in Proverbs.

Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,but those who keep the law resist them.Evil men do not understand justice,but those who seek the LORD understand it fully (Prov 28:4,5).

When God’s people forsake his law, wicked people benefit. In the last century Christians have rejected God’s law. The result is evil run rampant. Our failure to understand justice, has allowed lawlessness to prevail.

The law deals with people who do not respect their neighbours. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Continuous Law Reform (14)

Human law-makers spell out their laws in enormous detail. They attempt to cover every situation and every permutation of events. They always get it wrong, of course. There are always some situations that they did not foresee. Clever lawyers always find loopholes and criminals escape justice, because the wording of the law is not right. Human laws constantly need to be updated and reformed.

This continuous law reform creates full-time work for the law-makers and lawyers, but creates a lot of confusion for ordinary citizens. The law is constantly changing so they are uncertain about what is a crime. The law gets incredibly detailed. The result is that even lawyers do not fully understand the law. Human law is strangled with confusion.

God has a different approach. He did the task once and got it right. He gave ten basic laws, the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-17). Five shape our relationship with God. Only the five that relate to our relationships with other people have to be enforced by human judges. Their meaning is straightforward and simple.

God also gave same illustrations of how his laws should be applied in the “case laws” (Ex 21-23). The case laws explain the differnce between manslaughter and murder. They give examples of stealing.

God left the rest to wise judges applying the law in various cases. This is a wiser approach. God does not need to reform his law, because the meaning of stealing and murder have not really changed.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Law and Love (13)

Love has not replaced the law. Paul says that the consequences of fulfilling the law and living in love are the same. This is an amazing statement. The law is not the opposite of love, but is consistent with it.

Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:10).
Love does no harm to another person, so good law cannot allow harm to a neighbour. Laws that force people to do things against their will would be inconsistent with love. God’s law is the only law that can be fulfilled by love.

Good law must be capable of being fulfilled by love. Love could never fulfil American federal law, because it is far to complicated. That suggests there is something wrong; not with love, but American law.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Law-making is Illegal (12)

The authorities that Paul urges Christians to submit to in Romans 13 cannot include parliaments, congresses and other legislative bodies. Their reason for existence is to produce human laws. They have no other purpose.

Paul makes no reference to law-making, because God has already given his law. God is our law giver (Is 33:22) and he has not given that role to anyone else, so all human law makers are usurpers of this authority. The role of parliaments and congresses is to make human laws, so their authority is no legitimate. They are in rebellion against God’s law, so God’s people do not need to recognise their authority.

Paul gives no hint that we need human legislators. Later in the chapter, when he states that love fulfils the law, he lists some of the Ten Commandments, so he is clearly thinking of God’s law and not man-made law.

Paul summarises the law in Rom 13:9: The second table of the law forbids adultery, killing, stealing, giving false witness, coveting. These are the laws that judges apply. We have God’s law, so we do not need parliaments or legislators to decide what is right and wrong.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Human or Divine Law: No Contest (11)

God's law does not try to do too much. It attempts to prevent violence and theft by punishing stealing, assault and murder. It protects the family by trying to minimise adultery.

God's law does not try to much more, but recognises the limits of what can be achieved if hearts are not changed. For example, it gives up trying to prevent adultery in a society that is hard of heart (Matt 19:8).

Often the best that God's law can do is minimise theft and violence. That is not a lot, but it is enough for society to live in relative harmony.

God's law does try to eliminate evil or make people good. It leaves that to Jesus and testifyies to him.

Now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify (Rom 3:21).
The law works in advance of Jesus by restraining the worst effects of sin, but does not try to eliminate them, until hearts are changed (Rom 3:20). God's law points to Jesus and restrains sin, until Jesus and the Holy Spirit have done their work. This is the best thatlaw can do, but it is enough.

Human law always tries to do too much. Not content with preventing theft and violence, politicians try to solve ever problem: eliminate poverty, eradicate racism, transform the economy, save the environment, and all before morning tea.

Human law tries to do everything, but succeeds at nothing, except destroying freedom and stealing income. And it is so busy trying to do everything, that it fails to do the basic things like restraining theft and violence.

God's law is superior to human law: no contest.
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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Inferior Laws (10)

Paul is very negative about our ability to be saved by works of the law, but he is positive about the law itself.

Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and
just and good (Rom 7:12).

What could be better for the functioning of society than a set of laws that are just and good? Any other set of laws will be suboptimal. They will be partly unjust and not always good. Why would any society want to have suboptimal laws. God’s law must be the best, because his is God.

Christians say that they live under grace and not under law. They then jump out of the frying pan into the fire by choosing to live under human laws. And very few see a problem with this strange attitude to human law. I cannot understand why Christians living under grace want to live under human law.

God’s law is good. (It cannot provide peace with God; only the cross can achieve that.) God’s law is still the best basis for a harmonious and just society.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Democracy (9)

We assume that because our legislators are democratically elected, they have a legitimate authority to make laws. If we elected them, they are making laws on our behalf. But nothing has changed. Democratically-elected legislators are still making human law.

Human laws will always be inferior to God’s law. We have the odd situation in the modern world where everyone hates God’s law, but loves human law. I can understand why those who hate God would hate his law, but I cannot understand why those who love God are so ambivalent about his law.

When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they were forbidden to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This tree represented the ability to decide between good and evil, between justice and injustice without reference to God. Adam and Eve had a choice; they could obey God, or they could decide for themselves how they would live. We face the same choice today. We can accept for God’s law or we can make up our own.

Most parliaments and congresses are feasting on the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Most people would soon live under human laws, than acknowledge God by admitting that his law is better than any human law.

When we vote for a person to be our representative in parliament, we are saying that we want that person to make laws for us we are actively rejecting God’s law and saying that we prefer human law.

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Politicians and Lawmaking (8)

Paul urges us to submit in Rom 13:1. However that does not mean we submit blindly to every political power.

We do not need to submit to Hitler and Stalin. Their authority is not from God, so it is illegitimate.

Nor are we required to submit to politicians and parliaments, because they are not legitimate either. Here is why.

Every society needs laws to function. There are two ways we can get the law that our society needs.

  1. We can get our law from God
  2. We can make up our own law.
Most modern nations have chosen the second option. They have a Parliament of a Congress that makes up the laws for the nation.

Most Christians also accept the second method. They are happy to accept laws made by the parliament or congress that exists in their nation.

I find this quite puzzling.
  1. Human parliaments and congresses make human law. I can understand why heathens would want to live under human laws, but why would Christian wants to live under human laws.
  2. God has revealed his law. It is simple to read and easy to understand. Why do Christians not want to use God’s law?
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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Authority from God (7)

Jesus explained how to distinguish between authority that is from God and that which has been stolen from him.

The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves (Luke 22:25-26).
The rulers of the Gentiles call themselves benefactors, but they “lord it” over them. They use coercion and control. Kingdom authority is totally different. Those who exercise authority in the kingdom must be servants of those they lead. A servant cannot force the person they are serving to do things they do not want to do. A servant cannot control the one they are serving.

The difference is easy to see. Authority from God is always voluntary and produces freedom. There is no coercion or control. Where an authority uses coercion and control, it is not from God.

Most modern political authority is not based on coercion and control. It does not produce freedom, so it cannot be authority from God.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

What does the State do?

Lew Rockwell commenting on events in Somalia has some interesting thoughts about the role of the state.

Well, consider what a state does. First, it taxes, which means taking from the people and giving to the government, which then gives money to its friends. Second, it regulates, meaning that government tells people to do things they would not otherwise do. Third, it creates a central bank to water down the value of money. Fourth, it builds jails in which to put people who disobey, including political enemies.

Well, rather then just go on with a catalog of what government does, consider the words of the Prophet Samuel from 1 Samuel, chapter 8:11–18.

Under God, Not from God (6)

Most translations of Romans 13:1 say,

There is no authority except from God.
The Greek word translated as "from" is "upo". This word means "under" rather than "from". This is a subtle but important difference (another example of the translators favouring the political authorities).

Saying that all authority is from God implies that he created it, but has given it to someone else. It has gone from him to the political authorities. This is a distortion of the truth.

Authority under God has not gone anywhere. True authority can only be received by those who move "under" God.

Paul is saying that there is no legitimate authority except under God. Any authority which is not under God has been stolen and is illegitimate.

A doctine has emerged that
Jesus is Lord of the church and the spiritual world.
The state has authority in the secular realm.
This is nonsense. Jesus is Lord of all. He said that all authority has been given to him. He has not handed any authority over to the secular state. (He has not even handed authority over to a Christian state that just pays lipservice to his authority.

Kings and Parliaments do not operate in an political sphere with an independent authority. Unless the are totally submitted to God, they are operating with an authority that they have stolen from Jesus, so their authority is illegitmate. Paul was actually warning that they are rebels and usurpers. The truth is exactly opposite of the traditional interpretation.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

False Syllogism (5)

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established (Rom 13:1b).
The traditional interpretation of these verses says that we must submit to all political authorities, because there authority is from God. This a false syllogism. To see the twisted logic, look at the following sets of statements.
All authority is ordained by God
Hitler has authority
Therefore Hitler is ordained by God, so we must submit to him.
This following example exaggerates the point.

All authority is ordained by God
Satan has authority
Therefore Satan is ordained by God, so we must submit to him.
That is not true.
The correct logic is as follows.
All legitimate authority is from God.
Hitler and Satan are hostile to God
Therefore, the authority of Hitler and Satan is illegitimate.

The statement that all authority is ordained by God cannot be used as to legitimise any and every political authority.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

God's Servant - Not! (4)

For he is God's servant to do you good (Rom 13:4).

Many Christians assume that this applies to all rulers. This is nonsense. Rulers like Hitler and Stalin opposed God and slaughtered millions of innocent people. To describe them as servants of God is absurd. This suggests there is something seriously twisted with the traditional understanding of this passage. The word "he" does not apply to every ruler.

In Luke 22:25, Jesus contrasted the rulers of the gentiles who dominate and control (lord it over) their people while calling themselve benevolent dicators, with the leaders of the kingom, who serve. We must have these two concepts mixed up if we think that dictators and politicians can be called God's servants.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Kings or Anarchy (3)

Most commentators on Romans 13 say that God is an orderly God, so he gave us kings and politicians to provide order for society. Kings might be bad at times, but anarchy would be worse. Here are some examples.

Paul’s assumption is that the government in power (even Rome with its erroneous religious views, etc.) is better than the evil that would result from anarchy. (George Herrick)

Anarchy simply replaces the tyranny of the officially powerful with tyranny of the unofficially powerful, the bullies and the rich. (NT Wright)

This assumption that kings and parliaments are part of God's order for society is common to most commentaries on Romans. They assume that God has given us human government because life would be awful without them.

The first problem with this assumption is that it is not supported by scripture. God did not establish kings and parliaments to provide order in society. God gave his law so that we could have order in his society.

Secondly, the assumption that kings are superior to anarchy is never proved. For example, the statement by NT Wright above does not make sense. The "officially powerful" are also bullies, who enjoy telling other people what to do. The officially powerful always seem to be come rich. Therefore the tyranny of the officially powerful is no different from the tyranny of the unofficially powerful.

Tyranny cannot be part of God's order, whether it is official or unofficial. If we think that Romans 13 advocates tyranny, then we have misunderstood God's word.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Translation (2)

Part of the problem with Romans 13 is the way that it has been translated. When ever a word has alternative meanings, the translators choose the sense that give the greatest support to state power.

This is not surprising. Martin Luther, the first of the protestants to translate the New Testament, was protected by Prince Frederick. He was hardly going to translate Romans 13 in a way that undermined his protector's political power. The translators of the King James version of the Bible were not going to translate Romans 13 in a way that denied the power of kings.

Unfortunately, modern translators of the New Testament have not escaped from the influence of their predecessors. They continue to translate the passage in a way that supports state power. This is quite odd. An important theme of Paul's letters is that Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not. If this is true, we should not be translating his letters in a way that maximize Caesar's power.

We need a new translation of Romans 13 that honours Jesus as Lord.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Romans Thirteen (1)

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (Rom 13:1,2).
I believe that these first few verses of Romans 13 have been seriously misunderstood. Over the next few days, I am going to post some different thoughts in effort to get closer to their true meaning.

The passage above has been used to justify all forms of civil government. The common argument is that Paul was writing to the church in the Rome at a time when Nero was Caesar. If a terrible ruler like Nero was instituted by God, then all forms of political power are justified and Christians must submit to whatever political authority arises to power.

Here is my first problem with this view. In the last verse of chapter 12, Paul says.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Why would Paul tell us not to be overcome by evil, and then in his next breath, tell us to submit to evil kings and emporers. This does not compute.

Paul was not stupid. I believe that we have seriously misunderstood, what he was saying about submission.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Dangerous Democracy

The Golden Calf was created by a democratic decision.
The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness after a democratic decision not to go into the promised land.
Jesus was killed by a democratic decision.

So why to Christians claim democracy is the best form of government?


Tax cuts are not the Solution

People are saying that we need tax cuts, but taxation is not the real problem; the problem is salvation. When people expect the government to provide salvation, the government has to take a big chunk of their income. As people demand more and more form the state, it will have to take more and more tax to pay for it. As long as people look upon the state as god and saviour, high taxation is inevitable.

Every god demands sacrifices; because salvation does not come cheap. Jesus paid with his life, for full salvation. The New Zealand government needs billions of dollars a year to provide a fairly ordinary salvation.

The only way to reduce taxation is cut back government expenditure and that will not happen until the world finds a better saviour.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Should Michael Pay (2)

Some would say that Michael should pay to spread the risk. Cancer only strikes some of us and we do not know in advance who it will be. If we share the cost, the burden will be lighter for those who are stuck.

This is a good idea, but there are more ways of skinning a cat than getting the government to tax it. Sharing risk is not a reason for bringing in the government, because risk can be shared in many ways.

London ship-owners did not lose a ship very often, but when they did, the cost was enormous. An insurance business emerged at Edward Lloyd's coffee house in the 17th century. Insurance solved the problem by spreading the risk across a group of ship owners. The group agreed in advance that if one of them lost a ship, they would all share the cost. By sharing the risks, the shippers reduced the cost of a rare event that could cripple them. They found a good solution without involving the government.

The same applies to cancer. If we want to reduce the burden of high-cost low-risk diseases, some form of group insurance is the best solution. We can then decide how much we are willing to spend on health care. This does not have to be done through an insurance company. Any group of people could decide to share the cost of rare sickness.

Insurance does not work for frequent sicknesses that affect everyone, but neither does the government. If everyone receives and everyone pays, any intermediary will just add to the cost. The only solution is savings.

The problem is that when Michael gets involved, everything becomes a political decision. Decisions about my health care should not be made by politicians.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Should Michael Pay (1)

A new drug for fighting breast cancer has been released, but it costs $60,000 to treat one person. Health lobby groups are pressing for it to be funded by the government.

That raises an interesting question. If your wife has cancer, would you spend a large chunk of your life savings on her care? Many people would say yes, but others would find it hard.

Many more would say that the government should pay for it.

The problem is that when people say that the government should pay for something, they are actually saying that other people should pay for it. But why should they? If you are not willing to spend $60,000 on your wife's health, why should other people be willing?

Some would say that the government should pay for those who do not have the money. But if they are unwilling to save $60,000 for a health crisis, why should other people pay for it.