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.