Romans 13 is an often cited passage these days. (And it always has been whenever church and empire collude.) Brian Zahnd points out that Romans 13 frequently gets used as a kind of trump card over Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, as if somehow this one (misunderstood) passage in Paul’s letter to the Romans holds more weight than Jesus’ own words. Further, to pit Paul and Jesus against one another is incredibly misleading. Paul himself would likely never approve of such a thing. Zahnd wants us to read Romans 13 with Romans 12. After all, they are of one thought in Paul’s letter; Paul did not insert chapter divisions. When we read them together, we see that Romans 12 sounds an awful lot like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and only from there does he talk about the political authorities. This should call us back from so fervently defending governments and their violence. There is a place for governments, certainly, but they do not have unlimited power to expand and conquer.
“When Paul talks about the government in Romans 13, he is talking about a pagan government in rebellion to the Lordship of the resurrected and ascended Christ. But the pagan government still serves a useful purpose in maintaining a civil society. What Paul is not thinking is that he’s giving us a way to ignore Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount!”
Zahnd calls American Christians today to reconsider their motives in citing Romans 13:
“So this is my question to American Christians who are fond of using Romans 13 to call for endless military buildup and waging what can only be an endless ‘war on terror.’ Why are the American Revolutionaries of 1776 exempt from Romans 13? Is your use of Romans 13 to call for Christian support of American war-waging principled and consistent or is it self-serving and inconsistent? Are you using Romans 13 to help clarify how Christians should live as ‘exiles’ within an empire, or are you using Romans 13 to endorse the militarism of your favorite empire?”
Read Brian Zahnd’s full blog post here. It is worth reading in its entirety.