Saturday, September 27, 2014

Lex Rex

This spring, Peter Enns labored to use Rom 13 as a wedge tactic in the inerrancy debate:

I'd like to make a few brief observations:

i) Inerrancy makes allowance for the fact that Paul is describing an ideal. This is the proper role of gov't. This is how gov't ought to function. 

It would, however, be naive to assume that Paul was describing reality, without further ado. After all, Caligula desecrated the temple in Jerusalem. So did Pompey, before him. And a Roman magistrate authorized the execution of the Messiah.

Likewise, Paul was a student of the OT. He believed the OT. Yet the OT views some gov't officials as so corrupt that they must be deposed. You even have a pious high priest engineer a coup d'etat (2 Kgs 11). 

ii) As Samuel Rutherford pointed out, in Lex Rex:

2. The powers (Rom. xiii. 1) that be, are ordained of God, as their author and efficient; but kings commanding unjust things, and killing the innocent, in these acts, are but men, and sinful men; and the power by which they do these acts, a sinful and an usurped power, and so far they are not powers ordained of God, according to his revealed will, which must rule us. Now the authority and official power, in abstracto, is ordained of God, as the text saith, and other Scriptures do evidence. And this politicians do clear, while they distinguish betwixt jus personæ, and jus coronæ, the power of the person, and the power of the crown and royal office. They must then be two different things.
iii) Surely it's not a coincidence that Paul is writing to Christians who live in the capital of the Roman Empire. They must be model citizens. They must set an example. For Roman officials are watching them. Roman authorities will judge the Christian movement in general by the conduct of Roman Christians. 

iv) Even if there was another side to Paul's view of the Roman state, we'd hardly expect him to disclose that in a letter to Christians in Rome. What if the letter was intercepted? What if Roman officials got their hands on a copy of the letter? If it contained seditious material, consider the political repercussions, both for Paul and his recipients?

This doesn't mean Paul is dissembling in Rom 13. There is, however, a difference between saying what you don't believe and saying less than you believe. A difference between saying what you don't believe and not saying what you do believe. Rom 13 is true as far as it goes. An ideal. But this is not the occasion for Paul to spell out caveats which Roman authorities might view as treasonous or revolutionary.  

v) Finally, it's not as if mid-1C Christians were in a position to overthrow the Roman state even if that was desirable. So you learn to adapt. God, in his providential wisdom, had put Christians in that situation for the time being. 


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  2. Nero ruled Rome from 54-68 AD, and the epistle to the Romans was written from Corinth on Paul's third missionary journey in 60 AD, so it would be absurd to think that Paul was affirming the criminally insane ruler of the Roman empire as being a model of how "God's man" should comport himself in office. 

    I wonder why Enns hates God so much.