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April 25 – I Must Submit To Government Authorities

April 25, 2012

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.  Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” Rom 13:1-2

Paul presents a great challenge to me, and the more so- since he is writing to Christians living under one of the most oppressive leaders the world has seen: Nero.  Not long after this writing, he would himself become a martyr under the same tyrant.  There must have been the strong temptation among those who were oppressed (and the church would have been numbered in that category) to engage in any subversive activities that might hopefully lead to a change in the regime.

Of course, Paul is alluding to governments in general as instruments established by God; but in the immediate context in which Paul wrote- that meant the Roman Empire.  So I must accept that he was not only referring to “good” governments.

As a matter of fact, the Roman government had many positive aspects to its credit.  It was one of the best, and one of the worst political systems ever to exist. On the credit side, we might list:

  1. Improved political stability throughout the Mediterranean world due to the Pax Romana (the Roman peace).  It was, of course, a peace imposed by force, but every political peace is.
  2. Improved economic conditions were promoted by freer and more widespread trade.
  3. They maintained ruthless control of piracy.
  4. A common language (Greek) and a state mail service made communication easier.  It is to the credit of the Roman government that they did not impose their own Latin language upon the world.
  5. Roman justice forever influenced the laws and court systems of the world.  A person accused of a crime was entitled to make his defense before a duly constituted court.
  6. Public buildings, community water systems, and public baths were built wherever the Romans had control.
  7. Good roads and bridges were constructed on all the main routes from one end of the Empire to the other.  I understand that some of their bridges and portions of their highways are still in use today.
  8. Before 70 A.D. The Jews (and therefore the Christians, who were regarded as nothing more than a sect of the Jews by the Romans) were allowed to practice their own religion and their customs that did not break the Roman law.

Some less favorable aspects of the Roman rule were:

  1. Legal rights were guaranteed only to Roman citizens.
  2. All people (the Jews excepted) were required to worship the Emperor and his gods.
  3. Their subjects were required to pay heavy taxes to support the Roman government and army.
  4. Slaves had no rights and women had little more than the slaves. A father had the power of life and death over his wife and children.
  5. There were cruel penalties, usually death, for any infraction of Roman law.  Taxation, as is true everywhere, was a chief cause of dissatisfaction among the common people.  It was generally regarded as perfectly moral to evade the taxes imposed by the hated oppressors.  The Jews found it particularly difficult to support the Roman invaders of their country (Mark 12:14).  Even those Jews living in Rome itself did not coexist on friendly terms with the government (Acts 18:1-2).

So Paul was not talking about a Christian’s duty to be a good citizen in a western style democracy chosen by consent of the governed.  He was talking about any established government.  In the first century A.D., there were no real democracies (as we know it) in the known world.  Government without consent of the governed has been the norm for most of history.

This sets the stage for looking into this very serious issue.  I have had difficulty with this at times.  I’ll talk more about it tomorrow, Lord willing.

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