On Romans 13

This is the second post in a series entitled “Why Anarchist Christianity?” meant to present why Christians should take anarchism seriously. This ground has been covered by many others before me, to whom I owe a great debt, and I do not claim that the logic of my arguments is original, as most have been discussed ad nauseum among my friends and online. However, I hope that by presenting these claims in my own words and voice and from my own perspective, I might provide a resource for those seeking to understand these ideas in more detail.

In writing this, I have leaned extensively on the research of Alexandre J.M.E. Christoyannopoulos.The article in question is attached to this for your own reading and edification. I will refer to Christoyannopoulos when I am pulling from their research.

I have made the general mistake of reading and responding to people reading my work online, and something keeps popping up: “What about Romans 13?” My professional academic training is in philosophy, not in theology, though I dabble extensively in philosophical theology and incorporate it into my philosophical work. What I most certainly am not is a biblicist – I do not have the training necessary for extremely nuanced work on the Bible, I know neither Greek nor Hebrew. However, in both my reading and in my own life, I have considered Romans 13 a great deal.

What I would first like to note is simple: many of the people who cite Romans 13 against the idea of an anarchist Christianity are applying a double standard unless they recognize that every (almost) contemporary government is in violation of their reading of it. Almost every government on the face of the Earth has risen out of a revolt.

I also want to say that I, unlike other Christian Anarchists (see Christoyannopoulos p. 6 for a list) do not view Paul as in some way violating the message of Jesus. The Pauline Epistles are older than the Gospels, and Paul has defined much of how Christianity was formed as a movement. Paul’s understanding of Jesus has deeply informed much of the Christian understanding, and I (unlike some others) do not wish to rehash the fights over the tradition.

Further, I agree with other Christian Anarchists (again see Christoyannopoulos pp. 8ff) that Paul must be understood as not meaning this literalist reading. He himself defied authorities and spend much of his life post-conversion under arrest. I also agree that Paul is likely engaged in an attempt to make sure that Christians don’t stick their heads out too much (lest they get them chopped off). However, this seems dismissive, if it is left to stand alone.

Thankfully for me, there are others who have done the work of examining the text faithfully, and I follow the line that reads Romans 12:1-13:7 as a single passage. Remember that the chapter divisions were added later. Essentially, it moves from love of those easiest to love to those who are our enemies to those who are hardest to love, our greatest enemies: the State and its representatives (Christoyannopoulos p. 9). As such, it is clear that the State is not good, but Paul puts forward the argument that it is necessary due to human evil.

Some Christian Anarchists put forward the idea that therefore the State remains necessary as long as not everyone is Christian (p. 14). This is the point at which I diverge more strongly from other Christian Anarchists. Paul must be read in his historical context, one in which empires were viewed as a fact of life. However, we have seen many experiments in forms of justice that do not rely on the State, and advances in communication show that many standards for communication and other forms of exchange can be maintained through collective voluntary labor, rather than through the enforcement of the State.

Further, I believe that the State prevents the full exercise and form of Christianity, but that belongs to the realm of philosophical theology, rather than biblicism, and as such is a subject for another post.

The Christoyannopoulos article (PDF).

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