In the two previous blog posts we covered many of the prooftexts commonly used to legitimize human civil government, both in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament. Because the subject of Romans 13 is uniquely exhaustive and tedious, we have decided to give it its own space here. The relevant scripture is as follows:
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: or he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.” (Romans 13:1-7)
This passage is probably one of the most commonly misunderstood portions of scripture and that is only owed to the treason of translators and the laziness of the vast majority of Christians who are hardly ever concerned with the pursuit of truth, but rather the justification of their own idolatry using twisted scripture to assuage the fact that they take Christ’s name in vain. In context with the rest of the message of Scripture however, this passage is probably one of the strongest in favor of an anarchist political science, and therefore of abolitionism. The initial confusion hinges on the phrase “higher powers,” which is the most accurate translation in all of the english versions of the Koine, while “governing authorities” is the most antonymous because it is not just an oversimplification of the Greek phrase “exousiais hyperechousais,” it is an irresponsible subterfuge expressing the opposite of the intent of the passage.
“Hyperechousais” comes from the word “huperechó” which means “to hold above, to rise above, to be superior,” “to stand out, rise above, overtop,” “to excel, to be superior, better than.” According to Strong’s it is “from huper and echo; to hold oneself above, i.e. (figuratively) to excel; participle (as adjective, or neuter as noun) superior, superiority — better, excellency, higher, pass, supreme.” There is a definition that means “to be above, be superior in rank, authority, power,” but this understanding is only applied in circular logic to Romans 13:1, or to a contradictory reference in 1 Peter 2:17, calling King Christ the “superior in rank, authority, power.” The most common place this word seems to be used in the New Testament is in Philippians, referring to the idea of esteeming others as better than ourselves, or of the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, or the excellence of the knowledge of Christ as one’s Lord. None of the times the word is used does it convey that human civil government is a “higher,” “excellent,” or “supreme” concept. In fact, it is the testament of scripture that authoritarian positions are, and the idea of going under them is, “lower,” “inferior,” and “reprobate,” as can be exampled in the actions of Abraham, Moses, Nehemiah, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the declarations of Gideon, and Samuel.
“Exousiais” comes from the word “exousia” which means “power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases; leave or permission,” “physical and mental power; the ability or strength with which one is endued, which he either possesses or exercises,” “the power of authority (through influence) and of right,” and “the power of rule or government.” Nowhere in scripture is this last definition qualified with the adjective of “higher,” because that concept exclusively refers to the things of God rather than man-made governments. Exousia is a combination of two words: “Ex” meaning “of” or “from”, while “ousia” means “what one has, i.e. property, possessions, estate.” This simple description reveals a simple fact: whoever possesses the dominion retains the right, liberty, or power of choice in how to use it. That will be discussed shortly. There are many words for “power” in the Koine Greek, from Dunamis, dunamai, didomi, arche, ischus, ischuros, kratos, and energes. Many of them could have been used to help convey the notion of human civil government in Romans 13:1, but the nature of the term exousia expresses a competing notion entirely, by both Scripture and history:
“After further analysis he defines the citizen as a person who has the right (exousia) to participate in deliberative or judicial office (1275b18–21). In Athens, for example, citizens had the right to attend the assembly, the council, and other bodies, or to sit on juries.” (Miller, Fred. “Aristotle’s Political Theory.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 7 Nov. 2017.)
“Aristotle says that… The right (exousia) to do anything one wishes…” (Paul Bullen: Lawmakers and Ordinary People. 1996.)
“Brancacci notices that the term used by Enomaos to refer to human freedom is not the typical Cynic one ( ἐλευθερία), but ἐξουσία [exousia], which expresses ‘the new concept of freedom in opposition to the already defunct and unhelpful ἐλευθερία [eleutheria]…'” (Boeri, Marcelo. Bryn Mawr Classical Review. 19 Aug. 2001.)
“This is implicit in Socrates’ observation that ‘where there is such an exousia, it is also [the case] that everyone would privately construct his own life for himself in a way that pleases him’ (577b). Shorey and Bloom translate exousia as ‘license,’ a term that seems appropriate in light of Plato’s presumed objections to democratic disorder. Yet exousia is surely one of democracy’s contested symbols, for it can also represent the capricious richness captured in the image of the multihued garment.” (Mara. Gerald M. The Civic Conversations of Thucydides and Plato: Classical Political Philosophy and the Limits of Democracy. State University of New York Press, 2009.
In Romans 13:3, the word for “rulers” is “archon,” meaning “a ruler, commander, chief, leader…” which could have replaced the phrase “higher powers” if Paul had wanted to intimate “governing authorities” by that phrase. The same word is used by Jesus Christ in the context of appointing the Kingdom of God to his apostles, and barring his followers from holding civil office. “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes [archon] of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant…” (Matthew 20:25-27) Christ did not want the servant-ministers of his adhocratic government to be like the “public servants” and “prime ministers” of the bureaucratic governments of pagan nations because His Kingdom was one bound together in faith, hope, and charity rather than yoked in the unbelief of contracts, entitlements, and taxation. In fact, it was Christ’s purpose to fulfill God’s Law and, by the power of His Gospel, set man free from the dominion of man, making him a free soul under God alone, as is repeated all throughout scripture:
“For this [is] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.” (Hebrews 8:10-11)
“And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout [all] the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.” (Leviticus 25:10)
In every case, subjecting ourselves to the higher law of God explicitly means that we retain our original liberty and rights to our property and relationships, because it is only when we have forfeited God’s providential liberties and responsibilities to the arbiters of human civil government that we find ourselves under their lower powers to regulate our lives and bring us under tribute. When we give up our dominion, we deposit it into the centralized hands of rulers who bear dominion over us. God made man upright, in His image, with the natural responsibility to maintain a natural family, work the land, enjoy the fruits of his labor, and to thereby obey the Dominion Mandate. Only when his wealth is his own, without the burdens of legal encumbrance or property and income tax, is he subject to the “more excellent liberty” of God. It is only when his family is his own, without the illusions of legal guardianship and marriage licensing, that he is subject to the “more excellent liberty” of God.
However, God also gives man the liberty to squander his liberty by establishing human civil governments and going under their lower powers, though without impunity. It is not God that institutes rulers, unless it is as a recompense for those who no longer desire to be ruled by Him. Men raise up rulers, which Scripture describes as false gods because they become the providers and protectors, and lawgivers and judges, and saviors and lords over the people who are within their jurisdiction. “The people always have some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness…. This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.” (Plato, The Republic, bk. 8, sct. 565) As Romans 13:2 declares, the people receive to themselves damnation… because rulers are a terror to the wicked works that reject God in favor of human rulers. Those who do not give up their rights and liberty, and do good works to retain them, will not find themselves subject to human rulers, so their jurisdictions are not a terror to good works. In fact, because only sinners will find themselves trapped into the fleshpots of human rulers, they are a safeguard for the righteous who remain set apart from their encompassing black holes of covetous and slothful singularity that compresses their wicked with their wakes of temptation and imprisoning mass.
Human civil government is an ouroboros of debt, destruction, and damnation for anyone who legitimizes it, and the Bible says that all of the terrors and maladies contingent on man-made governments occur by consent of the people who partake in their citizenship. “When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what [is] before thee: And put a knife to thy throat, if thou [be] a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties: for they [are] deceitful meat.” (Proverbs 23:1-3) This temptation to yoke together with unbelievers and eat of their socialist provision makes one a surety for that provision. “Let their table become a snare before them: and [that which should have been] for [their] welfare, [let it become] a trap.” (Psalm 69:22) This is because governments are not ever interested in doing good by their subject slaves, unless of course it is to bait the hooks of temptation to acquire their wealth and rights through citizenship and consent to partake in socialism. “The real destroyers of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations, and benefits.” (Plutarch)
When the Israelites decided to go under the lower powers of Pharaoh, he did not bear his sword against them in vain. They gave up the rights to their property, including land and livestock, and gave up the rights to their labor through a twenty percent income tax. When they petitioned Samuel for a king of their own, they consented to God’s revenge and received the wrath of their “public servant” by having to give up their land and fruits of their labor, concentrating their wealth into the coffers of the king, having their sons drafted into a standing army, becoming employees of the government, and raising up men with legislative and judicial authority to bind them in legal burdens, under heavy administrative yokes. In addition to all of that, their idolatry, paganism, and statism afforded them one more blow of God’s wrath: God would no longer hear their prayers, or their cries of salvation from the just desserts of their rejection of Him. “The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.” (Proverbs 15:29)
Even though Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome is a dissertational proof for the efficacy of the Christian worldview as a redemptive solution to the bondage of human civil government and the sins that lead people into that bondage, it is easy to forget that Paul often employs the first person or second person points of view, not as reflections of personal anecdotes, or as direct descriptions of his actual audience, but as rhetorical devices in technical writing. In the case of Romans 13 (and most of Romans), we are witnessing a second-person imperative mood directed at a hypothetically implied situation that might have applied to some of Paul’s direct audience, and maybe even none of them, but are relevant only if the right conditions are met. Those conditions will be revealed in the following:
At Pentecost, those that followed Christ who previously had political affiliation with the social security administrations of Herod and the Pharisees, were kicked out of the temples and synagogues and were barred from receiving the socialist benefits afforded in subjecting themselves to their legislative authorities. These Jews were then free to bind themselves together in freewill congregations, to keep the weightier matters as free souls within Christ’s Kingdom of Heaven. Instead of being baptized into Herod’s citizenship, they were born again into God’s adoptive society. The early Christians had their own political structure, their own customs, their own laws, their own system of welfare and even their own (servant) government. This means that even though they were “in the world” of the Pax Romana as unregistered inhabitants and unenrolled residents, they were not “of the world” of the Pax Romana as civil citizens and numbered persons. It was Edward Gibbon in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire who commended “the union and discipline of the Christian republic” which “gradually formed an independent and increasing state in the heart of the Roman Empire.”
Although the Christian faith promised civil liberty and delivered that liberty to thousands of Jews at Pentecost, as a sort of second Exodus, many who repented of their worldly civil citizenships after Pentecost, and sought to uphold the pure religion of the Christians and be counted in their networks of charity, still had debts and legal obligations to their former civil masters. In short, they still had political liabilities as consequences for the sins that had initially brought them under bondage. “The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute.” (Proverbs 12:24) This made the international Christian community an amalgam of freemen and slaves who bore each other’s burdens and had to navigate serving two masters until either they were freed of their debt or their old “marriage contracts” were nullified by the death of their “former husbands,” referring to the collapse of Rome’s civil and social structure, as is the end result of all socialist societies and unrighteous mammon.
So when Paul starts speaking in the second person imperative in Romans 13, from verse five through verse nine, he is talking to a mixed audience. If any of them were still slaves, then they should continue to pay taxes. For it is this wrath that makes human rulers the servants of God in spite of themselves, punishing the wickedness of sloth, covetousness, and idolatry merely by existing and exercising authority. If tribute is owed, those punished should pay it. If custom is owed, those punished should pay it. If fear is owed, those punished should be afraid. If honor (obligations, burdens) is owed, those punished should pay (fulfill, bear) it. He goes on to explain the end result of this arrangement: “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8) Paul himself did not have civil obligations and professed himself to be subject to the original, higher liberty given to man by God, and expressed the inopportune and enslaving nature of discarding that liberty and going into bondage: “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)
It may still be the recourse of the multitude to appeal to the debate in the same way as most professing christian theologians as they take the conventional approach to dissecting this passage. If that is the case, then there is minimal debate on what this prooftext means, and how it is in favor of a statist interpretation. However, with a little thought, it would show that this is a conflict of interest. 501c3 churches and state-sanctioned seminaries can only ever produce scholars who sympathize with Balaam or the Nicolaitans to justify the worldview that legitimizes their authoritarian organizations. Just like the scholars and Pharisees of Christ’s day appealed to generations of compounded dead tradition and adopted presuppositions through generations of “church history,” so do pharisaical scholars of today. Just like those pharisees said “no King but Caesar“, these pharisees legitimize political office through democracy. Just like those pharisees ruled over the people with religious fervor and political enthusiasm, these pharisees are proud of their government-sponsored degrees and express their self-importance from their pulpits. These are blind guides leading the blind, and so any notion of true liberty, as repeated over and over throughout scripture, must be stricken from churchian dogma.
It should be expressed that the Koine Greek was developed during a similar time period of Greek history as most languages are established during their respective cultures: as Greece and Rome were moving from a period of free republics to a more centralized, authoritarian, and even autocratic empires. Languages change along with those changing social conditions, but those empires were establishing the very same wrath as the rulers described in Romans 13 were supposed to conduct: from heavy taxation, to wars, to food shortages, to oppression, to mass murder of their own citizens, to many other atrocities contingent upon Empire. The Pharisees legitimized civil rulers then just like the Pharisees legitimize civil rulers today, under the same conditions. In every era, there will be scholars who presume to have the answers and deny any possibility of being in error. They are educated by the best professors and attend the best bastions of institutional education, and they all belong to an elite fraternity of historical pedigree and intellectual echo-chambers. Even Saul had belonged to this demographic while he was persecuting Christians for refusing to subject themselves under Caesar’s dominion. It was clear that he did not actually know the God he had prided himself on studying. “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (1 Corinthians 1:27) It is true that word meanings will change to be palatable to the sensitivities and political correctness that evolve with the “sophistication” of Empire, but God’s plan for humanity never changes. Since creation, man was always meant to be free souls under His sole authority, rather than property of the State as human resources for the Cains, Nimrods, Pharaohs, Caesars, or Constantines of the world. Anybody peddling a different message, usually for greedy gain and puffed up accolades, is invariably preaching a false gospel: “ever learning, never coming to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7)
“Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:20-23)