I know.  I’m remiss in posting.  Lemme tell you why and you can pick out the lame excuses versus the REALLY lame excuses…

My house looks like Christmas.  I don’t just do Christmas a little.  I DO CHRISTMAS.  So there’s lights and trees and sparkles and stuff everywhere, including the occasional turkey or pumpkin which have not yet found their way back to the decoration room dungeon.  That room would stress out even the most non-ADD mind.  Shocking I open the door to it with anticipation and awe and wonder and excitement every time.  Oh, and also I started teaching again at Redemption House (check it out Here) and traveled like a fool over Thanksgiving and double Oh!…end of year in the sales world is cray x infinity.

Lame over…Discussion Post 6 of 7 below.  (It’s the whole kit and caboodle [or kitten kaboodle depending on your love of grammar/animals]…settle in with some festive coffee or hot chocolate first before pouring over this one).
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After reading Keck, pp. 289–311, Blackwell, et al, ch. 16 (pp. 136–42), Simmons, “Priest—Sacrifice—Life as Worship,” 85–99Preview the documentView in a new window (essay available on Canvas), please respond to the following questions:
(1) Spiritual Worship and the Body of Christ: (A) Discuss how Romans 12:1–2 is a transition from the argument in Romans 1–11 and what follows in the ethical exhortations of 12–15. How is the “spiritual worship” a culminating image that portrays the ‘embodiment’ of the powerful gospel message? How is the rest of the paraenesis in. 12:3–21 an outworking of this “be[ing] transformed by the renewal of your mind”? How do these acts of being a “living sacrifice” reverse the rebellious humanity portrayed in Romans 1–3? How does Paul use liturgical imagery to present his exhortation for the sanctification of the community?
(B) How does Paul in his paraenesis of ch. 12 here direct Christian believers to act towards ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ of the community? How does Paul appeal to (traditions of) the teaching of Jesus in order to exhort the believers to respond to difficult or challenging situations?
 
After reading Keck, pp. 311–34, Blackwell, et al, ch. 17 (pp. 143–50), and Neil Elliott, “Romans 13:1–7 In the Context of Roman Imperial Propaganda,” pp. 184–204Preview the documentView in a new window (essay available on Canvas), please respond to the following questions:
(2) Church & State / Empire: (A) Begin by discussing how you have heard Romans 13:1–7 read in your church tradition. What kinds of appeals have been made to this passage? What kinds of practices and politics have been supported or challenged by use of this passage? What other biblical passages does this passage usually get associated with in your tradition, and what is the message that comes form this association?
(B) Next, briefly discuss your understanding of what Paul is saying in Romans 13:1–7. Then, discuss how this understanding relates to (i) Romans 12:1–21, to (ii) Romans 13:8–14. (What is Paul’s basic message here? How does this relate to the kinds of exhortations regarding ‘spiritual sacrifice’, ‘genuine love’, and ‘not avenging oneself’? What importance is it that Paul is writing his letter to the capital of the Empire? How might this relate to the issue of Judean-gentile relationship?)
(C) Next, discuss your understanding of the proper relationship between this passage and civil (dis)obedience. How does Elliott challenge or strengthen your reading of this passage? What does the “liturgical” (12:1–21) and “eschatological” (13:8–14) framework do to strengthen or mitigate the ‘political’ implications of 13:1–7?
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1A.  Paul writes about the radical transformation that has occurred [in believer’s lives] “in view of God’s mercy” (12:1).[1]  Paul implies this by starting out the passage with “therefore,” signaling that the exhortations are his response to God’s action of mercy – which the whole argument in Romans 1-11 has been about.  It’s as if the first 11 chapters were Paul’s long intro of “here’s how NOT to live,” and not Chapter 12 is now calling the readers to an approach towards life that is the absolute antithesis of that.  This “new way” of living is founded on a new way of thinking, a “renewing of your mind” (12:2).[2]  No longer are believers to act upon their emotional impetuousness, but rather they are to act deliberately (i.e. with emotional intelligence) according to this new way of thinking that encompasses an entirely different way of treating others.  The inward change is to invoke even greater outward action-based changes.

 

The “spiritual worship” is a culminating image portraying the ‘embodiment’ of the gospel message in a parallel way to that which is the ‘embodiment’ of the believing community.  The spiritual worship of the entire community is now to be a rational worship (12:1) which stems from renewed minds thus leading to proper discernment of God’s will (12:2).  The best part about this embodiment among the believing community found in these passages is the sense of absolute teamwork/camaraderie/oneness.  There is a unity.  And as such, all who are part of the collective body are to function independently with their own gifts, but are not to think too arrogantly or highly of themselves because of their God-given giftedness and instead think with self-control (12:3). 

 

This renewal results in an outworking outside oneself.  The puffed up mind of the Gentile believer was to be humbled by both the grace and the infinitely wise mind of God in chapter 11.  The Christian’s transformation (12:2) is the result of the renewingof the mind, while thinking is the primary activity in verse 3.  Chapter 12 in its entirety has to do with this new mindset of the Christian as a result of God’s grace.  The Christian doctrine which Paul taught in Chapters 1-11 addressed the mind, but now Paul is calling upon the Christian to exercise their minds so they can conclude that the worship of sacrificial service is the only proper response.  This reverses the incorrigible humanity which Chapters 1-3 portrayed by shifting from inner selfish behaviors to [new mindsets] of external selfless behaviors.  It is clear that the individual is no longer the focus but rather the greater good of the whole community, expressing corporately a right response to God’s grace and mercy.

 

According to Simmons, Paul utilized priestly and sacrificial imagery to precipitate his law-free gospel to the Gentiles.  The phrase “the sacrifice of the Gentiles” in 15:6 balances the accrued weight of Paul’s liturgical language which picked back up in 12:1-2 as he instructs the hearers of his message to “present themselves as living and holy sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God.”  Paul did this with ONE end goal in mind – in fact, his entire ministry was hinging on this one truth: “he served as a ministering priest of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest for the gospel of God, so that the sacrifice of the Gentiles might be well received, they being made holy by the Holy Spirit.”[3] 

 

Paul used the classic imagery of priest and sacrifice to argue for the full inclusion of Gentiles in the church community as well as to substantiate/legitimize his calling among them, for he was aware that if his sans-law gospel was to have success, the Gentiles could no longer live like “sinners of the Gentiles” (Gal. 2:15); they had to be holy, sanctified, and separated unto God.[4]

 

1B.  The challenge is given to those who are already Christians to present themselves as a ‘living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,’ which is the proper “worship” [of the messianic age].  By having the Spirit’s presence in their lives, the Spirit who is holy enables God’s people to live in a way that is pleasing to Him, i.e. in their treatment of others – both inside and outside the community [of believers].  An important dimension to this new pattern of life is explained in 12:2:  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  We know it is the Spirit’s work to bring about renewal in Christians (cf. 7:6; 2 Cor. 3:18; Tit. 3:5).  Renewal of the mind makes it possible for ‘insiders’ to go on discerning God’s will and preparing themselves for daily obedience, not only despite countless pressures from ‘outsiders’ to do otherwise, but also to act accordingly towards them (so that someday they can no longer be on the outside if they renew theirminds and are transformed).

 

The exhortations that follow in Romans 12 (through 15) reveal the dimensions of a life consecrated to God, under the Holy Spirit’s direction.  This involves effective ministry to one another within the body of Christ (12:3-13) and maintaining love and forgiveness towards those outside the Christian community (12:14-21).

 

In Romans 12-14 there are, by my count, eight references which echo Jesus’ teachings that Paul is drawing on in an effort to incite the believers to respond appropriately in trying situations.  Most parallels between Jesus’ teaching and Paul’s teaching deal with ethics.  For example, Romans 12:14 teaches, “bless those who persecute you” (cf. Matt. 5:44), Romans 12:17 states, “do not repay anyone evil for evil” (cf. Matt. 5:39) and in Romans 12:21 it is written, “overcome evil with good” (cf. Matt. 5:39-42).  Beyond what is stated, I believe Paul appeals to the traditions of the teaching of Jesus simply in the way he conducts his ministry.  It is how Jesus operated; their styles are similar.  Jesus had an all-inclusive outreach to the fringe of society (i.e. prostitutes/tax collectors) which is seemingly extended in Paul’s Gentile mission.  Paul’s central theme(s) is closely related to the teachings of Jesus.  Paul’s Christology, how he views the Kingdom of God, the death of Jesus, the mission of the church, and his eschatology all have close compatibility with the Jesus of the Gospels.

 

 2a.  I have always been taught within my church tradition that Romans 13:1-7 was our guide for how to treat those individuals in positions of “authority,” with authority being synonymous with a hierarchal structure.  So from police officers, to teachers, to mayors, to governors, to the President of the United States – we are to submit, defer, and not question or speak ill of them, because in so doing, we are “sinning” against God since He put them in those positions.  The only time we were given the proverbial green light to politely question a person of authority is if they instructed us to do something in direct contrast to God’s teachings; yet oddly, that always seemed secondary to making sure we listened and respected earthly authority.  I never fully understood (or accepted) this teaching, probably because I always felt like there were a ton of “fine print” situations that would challenge the usage of this passage.  For example, what happens when people claim legitimate governmental authority but are not?  What happens when a Christian is living in a country where a military coup is going on and determination of which government is in power is next to impossible?  What about Hitler?  For that matter, what about Obama?  (Ok, ok, I know…politics and religion, but we’re already hitting .500 here…).  I continue to struggle with the “God put them there” summation that always preceded this entire teaching within my church upbringing.

 

Other biblical passages that usually were lumped in with Romans 13:1-7 were of course the obligatory “wives submit to your husbands” (Eph. 5:22-33) and those dealing with slaves submitting to their masters (Col. 3:22; 1 Peter 2:18).  I was usually already rolling my eyes when the priest began to go to these (in his mind) corollary passages, as it seemed as if the message that was being conveyed from the association is that God put husbands in charge of their wives (and even if they were saying something absurd, wives had to listen or else they would be “sinning”) which intimated almost an arranged marriage situation.  The way in which it was portrayed and associated slapped the notion of a loving, submissive spirit in the face every time in favor of condemning the non-authoritative person for sinning.

 

2b.  I understand Paul to be giving advice here, to a particular community of faith in a particular historical context.  My take on his concern is that it was primarily pastoral.  I think Paul was teaching and advising the Jewish Christians to submit to the governing authorities.  He was looking out for their best interests, as if they followed his instruction, perhaps it would keep them from withholding taxes or from becoming involved in any anti-Roman protests.

 

The thesis of Paul’s argument here is in verse 1a, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities.” He then supports that argument by appealing to various reasons why the Roman Christians are to submit to the authorities.  First, no authority exists except from God, and all authorities that exist have been instituted by God (13:1).  Second, rulers are not an intimidation towards good conduct but rather towards bad (13:3).  Third, the authority/ruler is God’s servant in three ways: for the good of the Romans, to initiate wrath on the wrongdoer, and by being busy with “this very thing,” – that is, collecting taxes (13:4,6).  Paul infuses his reasons with examples and consequences, i.e. 13:2 where he notes the results of resisting authority.  He also makes a noticeable shift from making statements of fact to a command, i.e. “pay to all what is due them” thus connecting submission to the authorities with a duty to pay taxes and offer revenue.

 

The reasons (facts) for submission to the governing authorities are fundamental to Paul’s command that the Roman Christians fulfill their civic obligations.  Paul is essentially arguing that because the authorities were instituted by God, and continue to serve both God and the Christian, the Roman believers must submit to their rule.  He is telling the Roman believers that the rulers of Rome are to be respected and obeyed for reasons of conscience and their possible wrath (13:5).

 

Paul argues for an attitude of love and nonresistance in the face of suffering in Chapter 12 (1-21), hence it is not inconceivable that he would discuss the Roman community’s relationship to the governing authorities later on in Chapter 13 (I call paying taxes “suffering”!)  Paul may have decided at this point in the letter (13:1) to address a problem the Romans were experiencing and if so, the relation becomes clearer.  I think it needs to be understood within the context: as a letter written to a group(s) of people who are committed to a new messiah and living in the capital of the Empire.

 

Romans 13:1-7 is part of Paul’s overall ethical advice that the hearers and readers encounter in chapters 12-15.  Paul is making it clear that he intends his previous theological arguments to call forth a response of gratitude and commitment which will reorient the life of the community.[5]  If gratitude, responsiveness, and commitment are Paul’s hope for the Roman believers, it gets a little dicey and potentially confusing as to how we are to understand the sudden shift in subject matter that occurs between 12:21 and 13:1 (and continues for the next six verses).  However, I don’t believe Paul was attempting to write out a manifesto for Church-State relations for the next two or three millennia; rather, I believe his concern to be pastoral and local.  He was (pastorally concerned and) advising against anti-Roman and Palestinian nationalist conceptions among the Jewish Christians in Rome.  They were to submit to the governing authority (the Roman Empire) because that authority was derived from God.  I can’t even imagine how well that must have gone over, given what we deal with concerning “submission to our government’s decisions” today…

 

Lastly, in 13:11-12, Paul’s end-time consciousness is apparent.  Perhaps part of his argument for acquiescence to the governing authorities was based on his consciousness of the end of the age nearness.  The hope that the world and the Empire itself was passing away and thus being rendered inoperative, might have given a Jewish Christian in Rome a sign of humanity’s ultimate liberation from all authorities, oppressive or otherwise.  The very rulers that had been instituted by God, including even the Empire itself, were to be brought under the final rule of Christ (13:12).  I use this argument frequently when I have to remind myself how to deal with difficult people or with topics that pretty much just don’t matter: by remembering that we all have to answer to the same God someday and when that day comes, none of “this” will matter (like it “matters” now, in the present day).

 

2c.  The Elliott article strengthened my longstanding position and understanding of this passage, at least insofar as the whole “God puts people in the ‘right’ positions” is concerned.  Elliott states that there is one significant obstacle with reading 13:1-7 as a consistent and coherent response to a particular Roman situation happening at that time – “the passage itself does not express an unequivocally positive attitude toward the ‘governing authorities.’”[6]  Elliott points out that certainly not everyone in authority could have followed God, and further, that the passage is almost self-contradictory.  “On the one hand, we read absurdly positive comments about the purpose and function of the authorities.  They are ‘instituted by God’ (13:1); they ‘approve or reward those who do good’ (13:3); they are ‘God’s ministers for good’ (13:4); and ‘God’s servants’ (13:6).”  And yet, while those assertions were traditional in Hellenistic Jewish propaganda, he goes on to say that, “what is missing in Romans 13:1-7 is the characteristic criticism of those foreign powers in the present evil age.”[7]  To be subordinate in Judaism inferred that there was almost always implicit and explicit judgments of those foreign governments – even if God was somehow using their evil for His good.

 

Blackwell hits the nail on the head when he says that, for Paul, there is more to life than politics.  That statement essentially sums up (for me) both the liturgical and eschatological frameworks and their respective relation to the political implications of 13:1-7.  The (few) verses on the state are rooted in Paul’s more expansive vision for Christian ethicsin Chapters 12-15 which is to essentially, “do good” (12:21; 13:3-4) while focusing on their “continued debt to love one another (13:8)” – present company of the state, of rulers, of non-believers notwithstanding.




[1]Blackwell, Ben C., Goodrich, John K., Maston, Jason. Reading Romans in Context, Paul and Second Temple Judaism. Page 139. Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2015.
[2]Blackwell, Ben C., Goodrich, John K., Maston, Jason. Reading Romans in Context, Paul and Second Temple Judaism. Page 139. Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2015.
[3]Simmons, William A.  Priest – Sacrifice – Life as Worship:  A Pauline Matrix for Understanding Romans.   Page 86.  Bibliotheca Sacra, Jan-Mar 2015.
[4]Simmons, William A.  Priest – Sacrifice – Life as Worship:  A Pauline Matrix for Understanding Romans.   Page 86.  Bibliotheca Sacra, Jan-Mar 2015.
[5] Culpepper, Alan R., “God’s Righteousness in the Life of His People: Romans 12-15,” Review and Expositor73 (4, 1974), 451.
[6]Elliott, Neil.  “Romans 13:1-7: In Context of Imperial Propaganda.” Paul and Empire. Page 196. Harrisburg:  Trinity Press International, 1997.
[7]Elliott, Neil.  “Romans 13:1-7: In Context of Imperial Propaganda.” Paul and Empire. Page 196. Harrisburg:  Trinity Press International, 1997.