Friday, July 22, 2022

Romans 13 (7) My Journey

As far as I know, all translations and commentaries just accept the traditional interpretation of Romans 13. This is not surprising because most of the early translations into vernacular languages were done when the Christendom model was still widely accepted. Luther was beholden to political rulers for his protection from the pope so he supported state power. The translators who were set up by King James were not going to undermine his role.

Although Christendom has collapsed, most Christians still have a Christendom mindset, so they still trust in political power to make the world a better place. So the same approach to Romans 13 has been carried through into modern translations without any serious questioning, because they are done by biblical scholars who know very little about political theory.

I come from a different direction. Before, I became a Christian I was studying Economics and Political Theory. The main question of political theory is “How should humans govern themselves” and “what limits are there on government power”? Despite some very clever people having a go over a couple of thousand years, secular political theorists have not been able to come up with a satisfactory answer to these questions. When this frustration drove me to Jesus, I began looking in the scriptures for answers to the questions raised by political theory, because I knew God must have answers to them.

The standard Christian response based on Romans 13 seemed to be that “Whoever grabs power is God’s anointed”, and ”They can do whatever they like”, and “Christians must submit to them even if they are evil”. I had read enough history to realise that view was absurd, so I began to read the scriptures differently trying to find God’s true answer to the questions of political theory. It took a long time and serious study to see that God does have an answer.

Not many Christians take the journey that I did (no translators would), because most who are interested politics go to the scriptures to baptise/justify their existing political views. The traditional view of Romans 13 suits them well, because it gives the justification for the position that they have already adopted (and justifies their faith in political power). However, it is dangerous to answer little questions, if you have not resolved the big question correctly.

This series of posts has been quite selective. My full teaching on this topic can be read in Understanding Romans 13.

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