Whenever the question of radical Christianity is seriously discussed the question inevitably arises: “But how does Romans 13 fit into what you are saying?” Few other passages in the New Testament have suffered as much misuse as this one. A series of articles will attempt to deal with the State in the New Testament and the Christian’s political responsibility. The purpose of this paper will be (1) to suggest several causes for the misunderstanding of biblical teaching on this subject, (2) to examine the importance of the Christian’s political responsibility from the contexts of several key passages, and (3) to discuss two commonly misunderstood political motifs in the New Testament: “honor” and “submission.” Biblical research demands that Emily Post and Richard Nixon both be reconsidered.
I. Causes of Misunderstanding
The difficulty in interpretation is more cultural than exegetical and says more about the problem of the American church than the problem of the passage. Neither those with prior allegiance to a particular ideology nor those with vested interest in the status quo can be called “impartial” interpreters of God’s disturbing Word. One wonders whether J. Howard Pew, multimillionaire Christian businessman and chairman of the board of Sun Oil Corporation, had more than exegetical considerations at stake when in a recent issue of Reader’s Digest he writes how the church should keep to the “real gospel” and not get involved in political and social issues. Even those without vested ideological or economic interests are easily caught up in the mind-sets of their age and uncritically adopt an un-Christian nationalism and its myths. Such a cultural ideological-nationalistic grid is then imported to the text with devastating results.