Friday, June 12, 2015

Christian teaching and Romans 13, part 5

Comparison with Christian teaching on submission

Romans 13:1-7 includes teaching on submission with a reason given that the institution of the state is legitimate, and that it has a legitimate function in society. It also requires payment of taxes as a moral debt, validly arising from it performing its legitimate functions. However, before accepting this at face value we should consider the Christian teaching on submission.
Peter taught about slaves submitting to their masters as follows:

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. (1 Pet 2:18-20)
In this example we can observe that Peter does not appear to be asking slaves to submit to their masters because the institution of slavery is morally right, in fact he even requires submission to harsh masters and even when it involves suffering for doing good. Does the same teaching apply to submission to the state?
 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.
For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
‘He committed no sin,    and no deceit was found in his mouth.’When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Pet 2:11-17,19-25)
A careful review of the above passage shows that the same teaching indeed applies. Although the emperor claims that his governors punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right, Peter does not accept that claim and he knows that his readers also recognise it as false propaganda. The reality is that the emperor Tiberius Caesar’s governor Pilate punished the good man, Jesus, and released the murderer Barabbas, and that Jesus then suffered for doing good and was commended by God, not Pilate the governor. Yet Jesus still submitted to the state as our example of rejecting violence even in the face of violence in its name under colour of law.
So the reason Paul provides in Romans 13:1-7 for submission to the governing authorities appears inconsistent with Christian teaching on submission given by our example Jesus as explained by Peter.
Payment of taxes is another area where Romans 13:1-7 does not fit well with Christian teaching. Although Romans 13:7 is remarkably similar to Matthew 22:21, a closer look at Mat 22:15-22 shows that Jesus did not teach taxes were due to Caesar at all.
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.  They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.  Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the poll-tax to Caesar or not?’
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.
Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. (Mat 22:15-22)
The purpose of the trap was to ‘hand him over to the power and authority of the governor’ (Luke 20:20). This purpose only works if they believed that he did indeed teach against Roman taxes. Their purpose was not to make him unpopular with the people for endorsing Roman taxes as they knew he taught no such thing.
The coin used for paying the tax was used by Jesus as evidence, and as the way to help authoritatively answer the hostile question from the law of Moses. The coin had an image and an inscription on it. The coin with the image on it was an idol, prohibited by the law of Moses (Ex 20:4). The inscription was a blasphemous claim for Tiberius Caesar to be the son of the divine Augustus, and high priest. The coin, therefore, provides evidence of the illegitimacy of the Roman emperor and his rule and his tax claims. The law of Moses also prohibits a foreigner to rule over Israel (Deut 17:15) and such a situation is the curse for Israel breaking God’s covenant with her (Deut 28).
The injunction to give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s requires us to ask and answer, from the law of Moses, the question of what belongs to Caesar. Of course the Law of Moses gives Caesar nothing and gives everything to God (Ps 24:1).
However, to Roman ears the teaching sounds like an endorsement of Roman taxes, and provides no usable evidence for an arrest and handing him over to the governor Pilate. Of course that is exactly what they did later:
Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.’ (Luke 23:1-2)
But without usable evidence the tax count went nowhere, with Pilate only investigating the claim to be a king.
Jesus also had a teaching about taxation in connection with the Temple tax:
After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?’
‘Yes, he does,’ he replied.When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. ‘What do you think, Simon?’ he asked. ‘From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes – from their own children or from others?’‘From others,’ Peter answered.‘Then the children are exempt,’ Jesus said to him. ‘But so that we may not cause offence, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.’ (Mat 17:24-27)
In this teaching Jesus does not accept the legitimacy of the tax at all, and he taught that he (and his followers), as sons, were exempt. However, he submitted and paid the tax ‘so that we may not cause offence.’

So in the case of why taxes should be paid, again there appears to be an inconsistency of Romans 13:1-7 with Christian teaching.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Christian teaching and Romans 13, part 4

Comparison with Christian teaching on the state

Paul presents the governing authorities in an entirely positive and legitimate light in Romans 13:1-7. However, before accepting this at face value we should consider the Christian teaching on the state to check for consistency with this interpretation.
Jesus subtly called Herod a reed swaying in the wind (Mat 11:7-8) and not so subtly called him a fox (Luke 13:31-34). He taught that the prince of this world stands condemned (Jn 12:31, 14:30, 16:11).  Jesus taught an alternative to the Roman Empire (and the state) that did not operate based on power, authority and coercion (Mat 20:25-26).
The gospels present state-political power as of Satan and a temptation to reject (Mat 4:8-10 cf. Mat 16:23, Luke 22:3, John 6:70; 13:2).
John presents the governing authorities as beasts deriving their authority from the devil or Satan, and using it to persecute the followers of Jesus Christ (Rev 2:10, 13, 12:9-13:18).
Paul is no stranger to such adverse views of the state, even describing it as the devil’s scheme:
Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph 6:11-12)    
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col 2:15)
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Cor. 2:6-8)
These verses should not be over-spiritualised to the point that Satan rules merely ‘the air’ and the spirit world because we do not want to impugn the rulers, authorities and the powers of this dark world as actually being Satan’s kingdom. The Christian teaching, however, is that the whole world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19).  
As mentioned above, Jesus endorsed ostracism of tax collectors in Mat 18:17.
This topic will also bear a brief comment on the subject of prayer for those in authority. Paul urges prayers be offered for those in authority:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:1-4)
Sometimes this passage is used to suggest Christian teaching is that the legitimate function of the state is to produce the peace, quietness, godliness and holiness mentioned by Paul. Just as the Jews always refused to make sacrifices to the emperor, and instead offered to make sacrifices to God on behalf of the emperor, allowing both to save face, so Paul instructs Christians to pay for those in authority rather than to them, as a means of avoiding offense and mitigating conflict. Paul is instructing us to follow the teaching of Jesus to pray for those who persecute us (Mat 5:44), but, for justice especially, not to them but to God (Luke 18:1-8). As to the content of the prayers, it is not for them to ‘govern wisely’ or ‘judge fairly’: those notions, concerning secular authorities do not exist in the New Testament, not even once.

So it appears that the interpretation of Romans 13:1-7 discussed above does not fit the Christian teaching and approach to the institution of the state, including from elsewhere in the writings of Paul. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Romans 13 and Christian teaching, part 3

Comparison with Christian teaching on commendation

Paul states in Romans 13:3-4 ‘do what is right and you will be commended, for the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.’ However, before accepting this at face value we should consider the Christian teaching on commendation to check for consistency with this interpretation.
Jesus taught about rewards in the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mat 5:10-12)
It is clear that Jesus taught that the governing authorities were the persecutors of the good, and that their reward was from God and not from the governing authorities.
Jesus taught we must not sue our enemies but to love them instead and do good to them, so that we would be rewarded by our Father in heaven:
‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Mat 5:43-47)
The sermon on the Mount continues with further teaching about rewards in heaven, rather than on earth:
‘Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.‘So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Mat 6:1-4)
For this reason Jesus taught us to pray to the Father in heaven rather than to earthly judges, who he described as unjust, for justice and reward:
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”‘For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”’And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’ (Luke 18:1-8)
Paul taught that true people of God get their praise directly from God and not from men:
No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. (Rom 2:29)
Paul also taught that we do not seek praise from human courts and that we must not judge prematurely, buy wait for God’s judgement at the right time:
I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. (1 Cor 4:3-5)
Finally we can note that in the other case in the New Testament where the passage Paul quotes is quoted, the indication is that God commendation, as with his punishment, is the opposite of man’s and the state’s:
 For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. (Heb 10:30-35)

The Christian teaching on rewards and praise from God and men is the opposite of the interpretation of Romans 13:3-4 developed above. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Romans 13 and Christian teaching, part 2

Comparison with Christian teaching on revenge

When we compare the above face value interpretation, and its implications, with Christian teaching on revenge of wrongdoing, we can see some issues and apparent inconsistencies. There is only one place where Jesus positively provided a procedure for dealing with wrongdoing and seeking a remedy from the wrongdoer:
 ‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Mat 18:15-17)
Items to note from this passage:
1.       There is no reason to believe that the term ‘brother or sister’ is being given in a narrow or literal sense. Rather, it is likely that the use of this term is to encourage us to treat anyone who sins against us as an object of brotherly love, in accordance with Jesus’ command to love our enemies (Mat 5:44). In the same way that Jesus commanded us to ‘forgive your brother or sister from your heart’ (18:35) and we understand it applies to all men who have wronged us, this teaching about procedures for responses to sins applies to all from whom we seek compensation or repentance. At the time it was given the concept of a ‘brother in Christ’ would not have been well understood, and it is more likely to have been understood as a reference to any fellow Israelite. On the other hand the ‘brother’ concept may instead be referring to someone who we recognise has some honour to appeal to, with the non-brother being beyond any hope of seeking a remedy from. In any case Jesus gives us no other permitted procedure for formally seeking earthly remedies.
2.       The ‘church’ referred to simply means the assembly or court. At the time Jesus gave this law, there was no ‘church’ as the term was used later for the assembly of the followers of Jesus. The hearers would have understood this to be a general-purpose judicial body, i.e. the synagogue or local court.
3.       This is given as a law and as a legal procedure. It is mandatory and sets out the procedure in steps and the consequences that can result from its use. It was a challenge to and replacement for the law of Moses for redressing wrongdoing, a new administration of the law.
4.       The available remedies that the court can impose are both extremely limited and apparently fully enumerated. Any judgement the court makes appears to be of a declaratory nature only, with no judgement enforcement procedures available whatsoever. Fundamentally it is an appeal to honour and communion rather than force or coercion.
5.       The two witnesses, unlike the law of Moses, were not witnesses of the sin that caused the dispute, rather that are brought along as part of the dispute resolution process. They are witnesses of the conduct of the parties in resolving the dispute rather than concerning its cause. Jesus says they are there to listen and to encourage the person to listen. The procedure is more consistent with a compositorial rather than an adversarial style of dispute resolution.
6.       Although there is reference to witness testimony, there is no reference to giving testimony under oath to the court. Given the fact that the witnesses did not witness the sin being complained about, it would appear that the court would have difficulty finding a person liable for that sin in the conventional sense on the basis of their testimony. Even if it did find a person liable, the court is not given any powers to impose liability or to execute orders to enforce any form of liability.
7.       The only remedy for the successful plaintiff is to shun or disassociate from the defendant, and only should he not provide the ordered satisfaction or repentance for his wrong.
8.       Even though Jesus brought his love and acceptance to repentant tax collectors (Luke 18:9-14), there is no suggestion that he wished to redeem the institution of taxation or the profession of tax collector themselves from ill repute.
This teaching should not be considered a minor administrative matter for the future Christian church dealing with personality clashes and cases of hurt feelings: here is a brash challenge to the civil legal procedure of his day, and new legal concept of solely appealing to reconciliation, communion, conscience, honour and, as a final resort, a measure of social validation and support. This teaching should be understood as mandatory and its application universal, and a replacement for the litigious and coercive procedures used then and now.
However, in application, as the world does not accept the law of Christ and does not follow his procedures, it is the Christian church that is the proper judicial body to practice the ‘assembly’ part of this law. Accordingly, Christians are forbidden from filing suit in the worldly courts that do not follow the law of Christ and that issue orders inconsistent with those Christ provided for. This can be seen from the only other places in the New Testament this law is discussed:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: a man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. …
 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court – and this in front of unbelievers!The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? (1 Cor 5:1-5,5:9-6:7)
Firstly, like Jesus, Paul makes it clear that the sanctions available for Christians and the church as a judicial body are expulsion and disassociation, rather than compulsory subpoena, seizure of property, arrest, debtor’s prison, debt-slavery or capital punishment.
Secondly, Paul teaches that Christians have no business judging those outside the church. The word ‘judge’ also includes sue, and the context is both litigation and judgement, and the word is translated both meanings in this passage (the word is used 6 times in this passage).  The inside/outside distinction can also imply that the proper forum is the Christian church as a judicial body, and that we may not use the alternative fora of the worldly courts. This applies to both filing suit and judicial-judging.
Thirdly, although Paul does refer to the case of a Christian taking another Christian to a worldly court as an incomprehensible embarrassment to the name of Christ, he does not thereby permit Christians to sue non-Christians, indeed he states it is better to be wronged and have no effective financial remedy than to sue in worldly courts. The source of the embarrassment is not the fact that Christians may have disputes to settle, but that Christians would engage in such unchristian conduct as worldly litigation on any grounds or circumstances whatsoever. Isn’t it obvious that Christian values and teaching entail a very different and competing set of laws and judicial procedure? How can a Christian not know that he is a citizen of a different kingdom?
Finally it is clear that God’s judgement referred to in 1 Cor 5:13 is not through the channel of the state courts – if it were then Christian litigation against non-Christians would be expected rather than proscribed.
Finally this from Paul’s first letter to Timothy:
Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. (1 Tim 5:19-20)
This passage confirms the procedure Jesus laid down concerning the two or three witnesses, and confirms the nature of the available remedy (censure), but does not elaborate on jurisdictional issues.
Having detailed the only passages positively providing for resolution procedures for wrongdoing, we now turn to the teachings restricting other fora and procedures.
Jesus taught that the existing civil litigation and debt enforcement procedures were signs of what was wrong with the administration of the law:
 He said to the crowd: ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, “It’s going to rain,” and it does.  And when the south wind blows, you say, “It’s going to be hot,” and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?
‘Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.’ (Luke 12:54-59)
Why would Jesus list an unspecified civil litigation case and debt enforcement procedures as a sign of the times? Why does he appeal to his listeners to judge what is right about them – or wrong with them? Normally one would expect the sign of the times to be the type of case or judgement or judicial procedure rather than the fact of resort to court and enforcement of the judgement that would be of concern. Jesus is apparently concerned with the litigious society and its debt enforcement procedures. This concern is addressed at more length in the Sermon on the Mount:
 ‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, “Raca,” is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell.
‘Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.‘Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. (Mat 5:21-26)
Note that in this passage, unlike Luke 12:54-59, Jesus refers to and contrasts two types of cases: the capital case of murder and the civil (and politically dangerous) case of insult. Jesus is focused on the judgements that result from these two cases: ‘will be subject to judgement’ (twice), ‘will be answerable to the court’ (literally the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of Israel), ‘will be in danger of the fire of hell,’ ‘taking you to court’ ‘your adversary may hand you over to the judge,’ ‘the judge may hand you over to the officer,’ ‘you may be thrown into prison,’ and ‘you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.’
The first judgement Jesus referred to was the judgement of the assembly permitting the avenger of blood to slay the murderer, provided for by Moses (Numb 35:16-34). Other than the ‘in danger of the fire of hell’ the rest of the judgement and enforcement procedures Jesus referred to relate to civil litigation for money damages and the consequent judgement debt enforcement procedures.
To understand the point being made and the rhetorical strategy of the passage it is necessary to be aware of the legal and political environment at the time Jesus spoke and how it operated in practice:
1.       Jewish teachers of the law and judges had de facto abolished the death penalty by way of impossible burdens of evidence, thereby sparing the lives of murderers that Moses required executed. They were not particularly unhappy to lose the power to impose the death penalty to the Romans because they didn’t want to practice it themselves.
2.       Nevertheless, they allowed money damages suits for insult that the law of Moses did not provide for, including the judgement and enforcement procedures listed by Jesus.
3.       Insulting the teachers of the law and the priests and/or the Roman high officials could result in suffering the death penalty at the hands of the Romans. For subversive types this would be by way of crucifixion, with the body of the condemned person being in danger of dishonourable disposal in gehenna, the burning rubbish dump outside Jerusalem. This place is also used as the symbol of the place of final punishment of the wicked and is here translated ‘hell’.
With these points in mind, the rhetoric becomes clear: the judges of Israel would spare the lives of murderers, but insulters would face the full legal works of the civil courts and debt enforcement procedures, and potentially be handed over to the Romans who had no qualms about the applying death penalty to troublemakers. In fact the gospels tell us again and again that the teachers of the law wanted to kill Jesus for insulting them and undermining their status and perks, and ended up getting the Romans to fulfil their murderous demands, while at the same time pleading for the release of the murderer Barabbas (e.g. Acts 3:14). Is the dramatic irony not clear?
Jesus is not criticising them for having mercy on murderers, rather he is criticising them for not extending the same mercy to those who have done lesser wrongs.
Jesus directly addresses the legal principle and rule from the Law of Moses providing for the death penalty for murder and awards of money damages for other injuries/losses:

‘You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. (Mat 5:38)
This rule in the Law of Moses exclusively relates to legal procedures for responding to wrongdoing after proper trial procedures and evidence requirements, and the carrying out of the enforcement of the award or any other debt was regulated and limited by law. Jesus does not call for compliance with these forum, procedural and evidence requirements, as would apply if he were solely concerned about unregulated private revenge, instead he abolished this administration of the law entirely. In fact he goes on to use a lawsuit as an example of evil that must be responded to without litigation or violence (v 40).
Jesus prohibits oaths with these words:
 ‘Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not break your oath, but fulfil to the Lord the oaths you have made.” But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne;  or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.  All you need to say is simply “Yes,” or “No”; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.  (Mat 5:33-37)
It is apparent from the context that the reason oaths are prohibited is because they are advance appeals to the evil remedies of the court that Jesus abolished. Oaths are also sworn when giving evidence in court, so in prohibiting oaths Jesus is denying the court the admissible evidence it needs to judge and condemn. As James says, the reason oaths are prohibited is for the avoidance of what oaths invoke and procure from the court: condemnation (Jam 5:12).
Jesus summarises his teaching about responding to wrongs through legal action as follows:
‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Mat 7:1-2)
Note that the word translated ‘judge’ also means ‘sue’ (e.g. Mat 5:40). The teaching is given as a rule with a reason. The rule is ‘do not sue, do not judge’ – an absolute command. Again this differs fundamentally from the Law of Moses: ‘judge your neighbour fairly.’ (Lev 19:15)  The full context of Christian teaching shows that the litigation and judgement Jesus is prohibiting is the kind that is not within his law set out in Mat 18:15-17 which is, in a very real way, something less than suing and judging in the normal sense of those words. Whatever can be said about the legal procedure Jesus gave us to respond to wrongdoing, it can never be described as a sword-wielding agent of God’s wrath consistent with Romans 13:4.
Finally, the worldly courts are recognised in the New Testament as a source of oppression and persecution:
Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? (James 2:6)

At my first defence, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. (2 Tim 4:16-17)
All these teachings are exactly the opposite of what we would expect from the face value interpretation of Romans 12:17-13:7.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Romans 13 and Christian teaching, part 1

Romans 13:1-7 and Christian teaching

Paul makes some bold statements in Romans 13:1-7. These bold statements have seen a lot of work done to qualify and moderate them, and the result has been that Paul somehow accommodates the changing political ideologies of the ages.
Unfortunately these approaches do not do justice to the gospel of Jesus Christ or the bold statements Paul makes. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a bold challenge to the existing social power structures and to oppression. However, Romans 13:1-7 presents an entirely unqualified and uncritical approach to the state – how can we do justice to both?
This series addresses this question primarily by examining and expositing Christian teaching, building up the tension between the two, and presenting a resolution that takes the passage – and Christian teaching – seriously and honestly.

Face value of the text

We begin by analysing the face value of the text in more depth. The focus will be initially on the crucial concept of redress of wrongdoing.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:
‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.[And the LORD will reward you. (Pr. 25:21-22)]’Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Let everyone be subject 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, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 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 you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour. (Rom 12:17-13:7, emphasis added, quotation extended)
The face value of the text may be analysed as follows:
1.       Do not take revenge against wrongdoers, but leave room for God’s avenging wrath.
2.       God has instituted the governing authorities as his agents of wrath, avengers of wrongs – God’s proper channel for redress of wrongs.
3.       God has also instituted the governing authorities to commend those who do right.
4.       Submission to the state, including payment of taxes, is required because of its legitimacy.
This face value can be further developed by working through the implications. To illustrate these implications we will examine the Westminster Confession of Faith, of 1646, which, along with traditional Protestant doctrine, takes the passage at face value.
1.       The type of revenge being prohibited is private and direct personal revenge. Revenge through the ‘proper’ legal channel is not prohibited; rather it is permitted, even enjoined.
2.       The state courts are the proper and legitimate God-ordained forum for hearing cases of alleged wrongdoing, and, when proper cause is shown and supported by adequate evidence, are the proper channel for using its sword to enforce awards for money damages, capital punishment or other civil or criminal remedies and punishments. Accordingly, Christians are not prohibited from using the state courts as they are ‘God’s servants for your good’ in Paul’s words. (The above two implications are not in the Westminster Confession of Faith, not because they were not held, or because of controversy about them, but because there was no one at the time taking any contrary position.)
3.       Christians are permitted to make advance appeal to the remedies of the court by swearing oaths that imply the availability and permission to use such remedies, and likewise they may give evidence to the court under oath in connection with lawsuits and criminal prosecutions. ‘Yet, as in matters of weight and moment, an oath is warranted by the Word of God, under the New Testament as well as under the old; so a lawful oath, being imposed by lawful authority, in such matters, ought to be taken.’ (Ch XXII:II)
4.       Positions in the state courts, and the state law enforcement and judgement enforcement agencies are legitimate occupations for Christians to hold and practice. Indeed Paul describes such activities as being in service to God and to us and protecting us against wrongdoers. Even tax collection is an acceptable Christian occupation. ‘It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto’ (Ch XXIII: II)
5.       Obtaining state court judgements in our favour is a form of commendation and vindication of our conduct by the governing authorities that God has provided for our good and is in this sense a reward from God for right conduct. In the same way that state court judgements against those who do wrong are God’s institution against them, state court judgements in favour of those who do right are God’s institution for their good. ‘God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defence and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers.’ (Ch XXIII:I)
6.       Submission to the state is limited to the extent of its legitimacy – if submission is required because of its legitimacy, the submission could be more or less coextensive with the legitimacy. For example unjust governments could potentially be validly overthrown and there could be circumstances where refusal to pay unfair taxes could be justified. ‘It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience' sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, does not make void the magistrates' just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them: from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted, much less has the Pope any power and jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people; and, least of all, to deprive them of their dominions, or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretence whatsoever.’ (Ch XXIII:IV) – note that the Protestants had no problem, in principle, with civil as well as religious rebellion against the Pope and aligned civil powers.
7.       In addition to justifying the power of the sword in principle for civil justice and public order purposes, in like manner its use in warfare can be justified: ‘they may lawfully, now under the New Testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion.’ (Ch XXIII:II)
Interestingly enough, most Christians today would agree without reservation to all the points above. Others would insist on some ultimately minor qualifications, for example saying that we should not sue a Christian brother but may sue an unbeliever if necessary to recover a debt or achieve justice against him that may rightly be regarded as sufficiently important. Or that Christians must not swear oaths but they may ‘affirm’ even though such formal affirmation has the same legal effect in court as a sworn oath. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 16

Foundations of Christian Life

 ‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Mat 7:24-29)
The foundation of the Christian life and doctrine are now clear. This is Jesus’s final summary of asset protection – if we want to be truly rich and secure we need to build our social and commercial affairs and systems on the rock of solid good, and not on the shifting sands of justifiable evils. The rains and winds and streams of competing financial and personal interests erode the sands of procedural safeguards, humane protections and quantum limits until we have so much ‘justifiable’ evil that our morals fall with great crash at the time of trial.

The closing summary shows that Jesus taught with authority his new law: these teachings are obligatory for all society even though the obligations are not enforced.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 15

False disciples

‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Mat 7:21-23)

As in the instructions in Mat 5:21-26, this teaching prioritises compliance with the teaching on civil litigation and loving enemies above other ‘spiritual’ activities. Jesus taught that the way we show we are children of the Father was to love our enemies (Mat 5:44-45). If we call Jesus our Lord we should follow his laws concerning civil disputes, violence, litigation and divorce, and faithfully teach his laws. Sadly few who call Jesus ‘Lord’ realise that he viewed litigation, debt enforcement and re-marriage as very serious sins, and even fewer understand the wisdom of his teachings systematically.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 14

False prophets

‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them.  (Mat 7:15-20)
The false prophets Jesus warned about are described using a number of different images. The sheep represents the innocent, non-violent animal that does not defend itself with violence. The wolf systematically uses violence.  The teachers of the law claimed to be zealous for the law, and upholding its protections from assault, murder etc. by teaching and applying the law of legally justified and judicially administered violent responses.
The combined images of grapes, figs and thorns is an allusion to the parable of the trees:
One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, “Be our king.”
‘But the olive tree answered, “Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and humans are honoured, to hold sway over the trees?”‘Next, the trees said to the fig-tree, “Come and be our king.”‘But the fig-tree replied, “Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?”‘Then the trees said to the vine, “Come and be our king.”‘But the vine answered, “Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and humans, to hold sway over the trees?”‘Finally all the trees said to the thorn-bush, “Come and be our king.”‘The thorn-bush said to the trees, “If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thorn-bush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!” (Jud 9:8-15)
There is no other combined reference to these two images anywhere in the bible. Generally speaking, the grape vine, fig tree, and olive tree represent God’s holy people being supported by God and producing fruit. Thorns and thistles represent God’s curse and unfruitfulness, and violent danger. In the parable of the trees, the teaching is that the act of ruling over others makes one unfruitful, and it is the violence of ruling over others that oppresses people and puts them at risk of total destruction.
Jesus is asking us to see the fruit of the court system and of the teachings and doctrines of those who purport to teach us God’s laws. We should be perceptive to the fear, the hardships, the inhibition, the losses, the oppression and the violence going on under the name of ‘the rule of law’ and of civil litigation in the court system,  and the state’s criminal justice system. Likewise of the doctrines and concepts that underpin the world’s legal system and the teachings of the theologians who apologise for legally justified violence.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 13

Ask for wisdom

 ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
‘Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Mat 7:7-12)
The law and the prophets that Jesus did not come to abolish is the underlying principle of ‘do no harm to a neighbour’ (Rom 13:8-10) or ‘do unto others what you would have them do unto you.’ On this point Jesus has little to say, because he is not changing it. However, when it comes to the new law prohibiting wrongs as responses to breaches of the law, it is here that we do need wisdom from God to understand, accept and follow the teaching. Putting this new law into practice may require costly sacrifices, even to the point of laying down one’s life rather than resorting to ‘justified’ wrongs to defend it.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 12


Jesus now summarises the rules and the concept:
‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
‘Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. (Mat 7:1-6)
The concept is now very clear: do not judge. The word translated judge (krino) also includes sue, for example ‘And if anyone wants to sue (krino) you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.’ (Mat 5:40). So do not sue, do not judge, do not condemn. Do not feed the legal violence machine with oaths, sworn testimony, and lawsuits. Do not sit as a judge and sanction violence. Do not carry out court orders to do evil to any man, however deserving of it he may be. The measure used is whether or not one measures out wrongdoing as the remedy for wrongdoing. Measuring is a symbol for judgement (e.g. Gen 15:16, Is 65:7, Jer 10:6, Rev 11).
This teaching is in contrast to the law of Moses: ’judge your neighbour fairly.’ (Deut 19:15). While Moses required us to judge, so long as we do it fairly, Jesus prohibits it with a reason being the consequence of rejecting his injunction. He is not permitting us to judge so long as we are willing to accept the consequences he lists as reason not to. He tells us not to measure out wrongdoing to others for the wrongs they have done to us or anyone else. We are prohibited from dealing in and sanctioning wrongs.
Refusing to measure out wrongdoing to others can also make them more kind to us and save us from their enmity by making them our friends.
The plank is the use of wrongs to respond to the wrongs of others. To use wrongs to respond to wrongs is not to put them right, but to do further wrongs. Compared to the use of judicially sanctioned violence to respond to the first wrongdoing, the first wrongdoing is but a speck!
The purpose of the metaphor is not to address the hypocrisy of saying one thing and doing another, it is to address the hypocrisy of doctrine and of law in maintaining the position that the law both prohibits wrongs and justifies them as a means of deterring and recompensing them. When Jesus said the teachers of the law ‘devour widows houses’ (Mark 12:40) he is likely referring not to theft or fraud on their part in their private lives but to their giving of court orders to attach the property of the widow to satisfy her debt according to regular legal procedure as part of their judicial functions.
When we remove wrongdoing from our dispute resolution procedures, then we have good eyes (generosity and mercy) filling us with purity and light to address the underlying wrongs giving rise to the dispute without sanctioning further wrongs. Then we can be truly meek peacemakers, guiding disputing parties to honourably settle their disputes and to pay or compromise their debts.
Judging others, whether in the form of filing lawsuits or judicially condemning a person or executing a judicial sentence against someone is now something we no longer have a justification or excuse to do, and if we do so we are doing the very wrongs we are supposed to be redressing, as mentioned by Paul:
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Rom 2:1)
Likewise, James:
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbour? (James 4:11-12)

The reference to sacred things and pearls are referring to God’s law and wisdom. If we possess these things, we are wise enough to understand that they cannot be imposed on others who are hostile to it and to us. We cannot bring justice and peace to the world by forcing our ‘peace-making’ services on them. Such efforts do not produce peace, they produce conflicts that harm us.