Predictably enough, I see that Rom 13:1-7 is being quoted in connection with Obama’s election. I, of course, have no objection to relating Holy Writ to current events. However, it’s lazy to fall back on rote prooftexting. At the risk of stating the obvious (again!), to properly apply Scripture to our own situation, two elementary conditions need to be met:
i) You must first ascertain the meaning of the passage in its original setting.
ii) You must then isolate and identify the analogies and disanalogies between the original setting and our own circumstances.
Rom 13 tends to be silly putty in the hands of those who quote it. It magically shapes itself to fit the prefabricating contours of whatever statecraft the speaker happens to espouse. As on scholar notes, “the interpretation of this pericope has swung from abject subservience to political authorities as virtually divine to critical submission on the basis of their advancement of justice. The endless stream of studies has been marked by advocacy of various appraisals of the role of government shaped by denominational traditions and modern ethical considerations,” R. Jewett, Romans: A Commentary (Fortress Press 2007), 785.
Jewett goes on to register a key qualification in Paul’s argument:
“The form of the final lines in this pericope is compressed, succinct, and correlative. In each of four examples, governmental obligations are paid to those who qualify. Helmut Merklein aptly refers to the ‘conditionality’ of this formulation. Instead of absolute subservience, obligations are to be met if they prove legitimate. The formulation leaves space for assessments of appropriateness made by the community,” ibid. 802.
“’Respect’ in this sense is the acknowledgement of legitimate jurisdiction…In contrast, τιμη ('honor') is a matter not of acknowledging jurisdiction but of recognizing superior status and good performance…Honor was earned by ‘virtue, kingship, public service,’ according to Plutarch…” ibid. 802-03.