Romans 13 part 3

Warning: May contain traces of Greek

With this in mind, we can examine the indicative statements that Paul uses to support his commands. The core of these descriptive passages are four predicate clauses, which describe the authorities as: ὑπὸ θεοῦ τεταγμέναι (v1), θεοῦ … διάκονός  (twice in v4 ) and λειτουργοὶ … θεοῦ (v6). The verb τάσσω means ‘to bring about an order of things by arranging’ (BDAG). The perfect tense of τεταγμέναι brings  heightened proximity and emphasis to God’s ordering. With this participle, Paul is painting a picture of God authoritatively placing the authorities where he wants them. This is further emphasised by Paul’s double reference to them as being God’s διάκονος. BDAG offers various meanings of διάκονος, including ‘assistant’, ‘agent’ and ‘intermediary’ (BDAG). In both occurrences in verse 4, the word order places the emphasis on the fact that it is God whom the authorities are serving (Dunn 764). This is not a spiritual service; as Dunn notes, there is ‘no indication of a sacral or cultic reference’ (Dunn 764). In the same way, λειτουργός holds no religious connotation in this context. Though Paul does use the term in a liturgical sense in Romans 15:16, the most common usage means ‘public servant’ or ‘official.’ (Cranfield 668-9, Dunn 766) Thus λειτουργός  is basically synonymous with διάκονος. The key theme of these descriptions is the subordinate position that the authorities inhabit in service to God. It is God who places them there, and he uses them for his purposes.

Those purposes are expanded on in the more detailed descriptions of this passage. Government is a terror to those who do wrong (v3), and an avenger that brings wrath upon them (v4). At the same time, it approves those who do good (3). O’Donovan is not alone, nor unjustified, in concluding that Paul is describing the sole role for government under the reign of Christ (c.f. Stott 344). The function of distinguishing between the good and the wrong, and rewarding them as they deserve, is what O’Donovan means by ‘judgment’.

The other description of the authorities in this passage is μάχαιραν φορεῖ – bearing the sword. Commentators are divided about this phrase, and much of it depends on structural decisions. As noted earlier, Dunn considers verses 6-7 to be the climax of the passage and the main purpose of the exhortation. In this vein, Furnish argues that the bearing of the sword is only referring to enforcing tax collection, and has nothing to do with capital punishment or any other form of coercive punishment  (Furnish, 1979, 115-41). On the other hand, Moo sees verses 6-7 as part of a bigger exhortation, and so argues that the sword is ‘generally … the right of the government to punish those who violate its laws.’ (Moo 802) Somewhere in the middle, Witherington agrees that Paul is speaking of a government’s ‘right to use force’, but considers it ‘unlikely that Paul has capital punishment in view’ since the μάχαιρα was not used for executions. (Witherington 314)


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