Tag: Bible study

Is Romans 13 another love chapter? Bridging the Romans 13:7-8 gap

 

Version 1

Romans 13:5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

Exhortation to Love Neighbors

Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “Do not commit adulterydo not murderdo not stealdo not covet,” (and if there is any other commandment) are summed up in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.  (NET Bible)

Version 2

 Romans 13:5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants.           7Remembering all this, give everyone what is due them.  If taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. 8 Even though you owe them nothing but mutual love, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law. (RSV plus Finger’s variations*)

(verses highlighted to clarify discussion below)

 Introduction

Romans 13 has been in the news recently.  In much of the attention, verses 1-7 are treated as a separate section from the rest of the chapter.  Most translations put a section break after verse seven.  I began writing this reflection late 2017, but it had its roots in the years before The Message came out.   I found the contemporary phrasing and language of The Message appealing.  I had been thinking about Romans 13, so decided to turn to The Message. But, I found it too, had a section separator between the verses seven and eight in the traditional way. I was disappointed.  I felt that verses 1-7 were treated as a separate unit from their context of chapter 12 and chapter 13, verses 8 to the end.  I had read that there is no punctuation in the Greek.  Especially important, the punctuation and section break that The Message and others insert in Romans 13 are not in the Greek. This information is available from several sources, but I found it in the Rita Haldeman Finger work cited below.

Questions

Where is the key to this passage? First, note that in the Greek the words translated “owe” and “due” in verses 7 & 8 are the same*.  “Nothing is due anyone except the debt of love.”—would be appropriate for the NET version.  The second translation smooths the transition to the focus of this section of Paul’s thought.  How does one justify translating the words differently in 7 and 8? How do verses 1-7 connect to verses 8-10?  How does one’s view of government influence punctuation and paragraph division?

Paul was writing to Christians in the capital city of an oppressive government.  Any writing clearly seen as encouraging allegiance another Lord/Caesar or to another kingdom would bring retribution.  Is “ordained of God” at odds with “nothing is due except the debt of love” . . .”  and Love does no harm to a neighbor? Dealing with the word “ordained” requires more attention than I want to give it.  Careful analysis of this term can be found in Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder, pages **.  Yoder says Paul is telling us that God has an order everywhere, whether a robber band or a supposedly democratic/republican form of government. Followers of God are to recognize that order.

However, “what is due” is tempered by what “does no harm to a neighbor”.  The academic dean at the college where I worked talked of his flights on a bomber crew in WWII.  He said did not feel hate towards the Germans as he was dropping bombs on them.  He was following the commands of his government to punish evil people.  The standard Paul took from Jesus did not come up on his radar.  (I didn’t then pursue the discussion partly because I was surprised by his statement and partly because he was the academic dean and I was a beginning librarian.)  But he clearly elevated “punish evil-doers” above “doing harm to a neighbor”.

If nothing is due “but the debt of love” what kind of response to government oppression of others is warranted by Christians? What should be our expectation of persons in government who claim to uphold Christian values? Is it possible that Paul was allowing for civil disobedience in the tradition of Shiphrah and Puah or following Daniel and his Hebrew brethren?  If “doing no harm to a neighbor” is primary, what is the response of those disadvantaged by our economic and political systems and the people who control and are controlled by those systems? If obeying the command to love one’s neighbor is the more important, then is Paul encouraging disobeying a government that commands its citizens to do “harm to one’s neighbor”?  In his time?  In ours?

Conclusion

My understanding is that the controlling thought of this part of Paul’s writing is verse 10: Love does no harm to a neighbor. The chapter builds to verse 10 (and, of course, to the thought of the soon return of the Lord). The broader context of the chapter connects it to 12:1-2 and Paul’s image of a “living sacrifice” (I prefer the expression “continuing gift”).  Paul, in Romans 13, while not on the same level as I Cor. 13, lifts up love as the key factor in our relationship to others. (Paul here sets love in the context of response to corrupt and violent authorities).  How does love control our response to authorities today?

 

 

*Based on the discussion in Reta Halteman Finger, Paul and the Roman House Churches.  Herald Press, 1993.  Page 140.

**Yoder, John Howard, Politics of Jesus.  Eerdmans, 1972.  Pp193ff.

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June Notes

Peace prayer for June/July

Pray for the peaceful reunification of North & South Korea. Pray that the food aid the Mennonite Central Committee provides North Korea may show the love of Jesus for all people. — Washington Memo Vol. XLIX, No. 2

Showing compassion is one way to promote reunification.  The Mennonite Central Committee has sent food to North Korea for nearly 20 years.  MCC has provided medical supplies and supported orphanages, also.

The above was taken from the Washington Memo Vol. XLIX, No. 2.  For more information, check out:

washington.mcc.org  or read the blog at washingtonmemo.org

 

Waiting for God

The Psalmist counsels us “wait on the Lord”! What do you think of or imagine yourself doing in response to this counsel? In what situations have you recalled passages from the Bible that include this phrase? In the passages below, what is the context of the word “wait” or “waiting”? In the past I have thought of “waiting” as suggesting prayer and meditation. Is this made explicit in the text?

For the subjects of the Psalm, what would be the alternative to “waiting”? What more than prayer in suggested by “waiting”? How often does the “waiting” command come in the context of violence? What is the significance of this?

Psalm 33:  16-22

16 The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.

18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 that he may deliver their soul from death
and keep them alive in famine.

20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.

Psalm 37:(5-9) 14-15, 32-34

14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose way is upright;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.

32 The wicked watches for the righteous
and seeks to put him to death.
33 The Lord will not abandon him to his power
or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

34 Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.

(See below for a list of similar passages*)

In Psalm 33 use of the word “wait” is preceded by description of violence against the people of God. (“Whether the king is to use his great army or not is not clarified.) Action by God’s people is not needed. Waiting leads to affirmation of God’s presence and control of the situation. Note the words “help”, “trust”, “hope” as helper words for “wait”.

In Psalm 37 the situation is bleak. Not just the people of God are the target of the forces of evil, but specifically “the poor and needy”. Violence is what evil people do. In the end “the wicked [will be] cut off”. The people of God “wait” and “keep his way”. Keeping God’s way (v. 34) refers to covenant/Torah behavior. In Isaiah 40, the setting is a bit different. While in these Psalms there is the implication that God will overpower the enemy or the evil Hebrews, that is not as clear in Isa.40:28-31. Is the vindication of the “suffering servant” what one is to wait for?  (See my blog on Isa. 40, “Exodus to Exile”)

Waiting and then what?

Are these “wait” passages behind Paul’s instructions in Romans 12:19 and following? “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19 with Deut. 32:35)? How is Paul’s reminder related to the need to wait? The normal response to violence is vengeance.  Note surrounding the “vengeance” command we are encouraged to “love”, “seek peace”, and “feed” [your] enemy”. Here we have some of the things from the life and teachings of Jesus that are to the focus the people of God while waiting for God to act.

The “First” Testament basis for the peace understanding of Anabaptists needs further exploration. While there is much violence found in the first testament, the new testament affirms the contrasting thread lifted out here that calls for us to wait on God. From God comes protection and vengeance/justice.

 

*Similar passages are:  Psalm 25:1-5, Psalm 27: 11-14, Psalm 62:1-7 (See also, Psalm 40:1-3—no suggestion of violence in this passage), Psalm 130:1-6, Proverbs 20:22, Lamentations 3:13-26, Isaiah 30:15-18 (the word “rest” is used in this passage), Micah 7:2-3, 7; Isaiah 40:28-31 (God has just “rescued” Israel from Babylon), Isa. 64:1-4, Zephaniah 3:8

Related concept:

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14).