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The Apostle Paul and Caesar

Randy England has an interesting article at LewRockwell.com regarding Paul’s attitude toward secular authority. Here is a short excerpt:

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Christian statists will always drag out St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans to demonstrate that disobedience to government is not an option:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. Rom. 13:1-4

They cannot ignore, however, certain exceptions to that “always obey the government” rule, for St. Paul here equates obedience with “doing what is good.” Governments have never confined their conduct to what is good. We find the famous standoff recorded in the Acts of the Apostles where St. Peter and the apostles defy the rulers saying “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29. Numerous other approving recitations of civil disobedience occur in both the Old and New Testaments.

So we must disobey some laws, but even government manages to get a few laws right – the ones that seek to prevent or correct harm to others – but those prohibitions would have to be obeyed in any society. In between the protective laws (which must be obeyed) and the laws which command us to do evil (which must be disobeyed) we still have that great morass of laws designed either 1) to steal from us; or 2) punish us unless we behave as the ruler demands.

It is often wise to obey these particular laws out of self-defense, but as to any Christian moral obligation to obey, a closer look at St Paul’s epistle to the Romans suggests another layer to the analysis and raises the question as to what duty – if any – is owed to the authorities:

For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Rom.13:6-7.

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