Foreword from the authorThis is my own personal opinion/interpretation of the 13th Chapter of the book of Romans. This is a verse-by-verse dissection of my own particular interpretation of it, and you may take it as you will. Just as every pastor or pope that has ever lived and may ever live in the future, I am just a man reading this book. I commonly read the New English Standard version of the bible, as it is written in what the authors and linguistics experts consider to be the most accurate commonly-available translation of the bible to date, but the quoted passages are in the New International Version as this was the translation of my first bible provided by Westport Baptist Church of Freeport and was the first one I read cover-to-cover. As a man who has done his fair share of linguistics studies, I will say that the translations of the NES, NIV, and KJB bibles are sufficiently similar to eliminate any arguments as to the point they are trying to convey as a result of how they are translated.
The book of Romans, specifically Chapter 13, has continuously been used and abused by those who wish to see their positions as "governmental authorities" to be somehow a benchmark on what is right and wrong. Within the anarchist Christian community, this particular passage is perhaps the one individual chapter of the bible we deal with most frequently, as it is the one passage detractors of faith tend to latch on to as proof that religion is a tool for those who wish the majority of mankind to be subservient. It is, in my opinion, also proof that the Christian church has generally been perverted into a sort of slave-master throughout the ages, giving rise to kings and kingdoms in the name of divine right. Through it all, I am of the opinion that an honest look at the bible through a skeptic's questioning eye will reveal what He wants us to see.
In the interest of full disclosure, I feel it should also be noted that I am not only a Christian but also an anarchist who has disavowed the oath I once swore to the United States Constitution as a requirement of my enlistment in the United States Marine Corps. The various reasons for my swearing such an oath to the constitution are the same reasons I now disavow it, as I have always known in my heart that a search for what is just and right is the true path for a man to follow...but I am nothing more than a mere man, and my opinions should hold no more weight than those of any other man. I'm not asking you to accept my opinions as gospel, I am merely asking you to decide for yourself.
The major difference between now and in the time of the Romans is that we (along with just about every other nation on this rock called “Earth”) do lot live under a king or an emperor. We do, by virtue of our birth in a particular place, live under a set of laws that govern us. God may not have written the laws, but he surely allowed them to be written. God allowed slavery to take place, he allowed the holocaust, and he continues to allow all manner of other revolting shit to happen in the name of “The Law”. It is what it is, but we'll touch on that a bit later.
2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
We live in a nation borne of rebellion, as most nations are the result of some form of rebellion. It is important to note that the bible does not mention whether the judgment will be His, or judgment from those in government. To claim God disapproves of rebellion would be to claim that people are complete morons for claiming “God Bless America” on July 4th, for how can God “bless” a product of a sinful act that continues to celebrate that sin?
3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.
Is Paul speaking of commendation from God or government? Throughout the bible, we are taught that our reward is not in the “here and now”, but in the afterlife. When I was a child growing up in a Baptist church, I was a member of a group similar to the “Boy Scouts”, only we called ourselves the “Royal Ambassadors of Christ”, aka “R.A.”...and part of our R.A. Pledge was to be a dutiful follower of Christ. Last I checked, Jesus had a habit of pissing off those in charge (to the point where they nailed him to a tree), but he's still considered “sinless” in the eyes of God. This would indicate that there is a distinct difference between doing what is right, and doing what is legal.
4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
In these United States, our government specifically states that “We the People” are in authority. This particular verse would indicate that our elected representatives are God's servant for our good. If they do not serve God, how can they serve for our benefit? Again, we see the use of the word “wrong”, as opposed to that of “illegal”. As in the old days, if we were to see a man mercilessly beat a slave because that man's wife “had a headache” for the past three nights, it may be illegal to step in and stop it...but would it be wrong? If the Fuhrer, through his seemingly endless chain of command, said you were to run the ovens of Auschwitz...it would be illegal for you to tell him to brush his teeth with a Mauser, but would it be wrong in the eyes of God?
5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
Again we see the reference to “the authorities”...but who are the authorities?
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.
“...for the authorities are God's servants”. If the people occupying a government-funded position do not serve God, are they still the authorities? It's times like now when I beg you to ask a very simple and basic question. Are your elected representatives and other authorities really serving God? If a Utilities Department worker cuts off the water to a widow with two kids because she spent her money on food instead of an ever-increasing water/sewer/trash bill and her waitressing job wouldn't cover both, is he still an agent of God? If a policeman understands full-well that a functional addict needs help with his addiction instead of a destroyed life accompanied by a felony conviction, yet still arrests a person over a traffic stop that turned up three tablets of Xanax that weren't prescribed to him, is that person really doing God's work? If a prosecutor knows that a person has done what was right and necessary, but against the law because of a specific technicality, is he doing God's work when pursues charges solely for the sake of his image because re-election campaigns are around the corner? Are they truly agents of God?
7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
If 100% of a man's labor is slavery, at what percentage point does it cease to be “slavery” and begin to become “taxation”? If these agents of government arbitrarily raise taxes for the sake of personal gain that has no benefit to the common citizen, and does nothing to contribute to work glorifying God, are they still owed? If the employees of government are not worthy of respect because they do nothing to fulfill or enforce the laws of God, are they still owed respect? If they have no honor, must we honor their badge, robe, or mail carrier's uniform?
From an anarchist perspective, a legitimate debt must be paid, as a legitimately-owed debt that remains unpaid beyond its terms is a contractual violation against the Non-Aggression Principle. All people are deserving of basic love, even if their actions are not. Love for your fellow man does not include punitive action such as stealing his money in the name of paying legal fines and fees, nor does it consist of caging or killing a man unless it is proven beyond any doubt that he actually harmed another living person with his crimes. It has long-since been theorized by philosophers that even most semi-intelligent people understand the difference between right and wrong. Science has confirmed, over and over again, that people will (in the majority of cases, anyway) do what is right unless they have been conditioned to believe that legislation (the laws of man, as opposed to the laws of God) are what guides morality and righteousness. Prime examples of this are the Stanford Prison Experiment, as well as the numerous worldwide studies where traffic regulations are removed in favor of common sense and decency. If you give a man authority over another and create a penalty for petty offenses, you will see an increase in authoritarians abusing their authorities and people focusing on not getting caught instead of doing what is right. If you take away the regulations (and by extension, the fines associated with their violation), you will find that the world is a much safer, kinder, gentler place to live in.
9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This is, in essence, the core of anarchism. It is the Golden Rule of Christ, the Non-Aggression Principle, and so many other wonderful things all wrapped up into a big giant burrito of awesomeness. Just take a bite and see for yourselves!
10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
If “love is the fulfillment of the law”, why do we have so many laws on our books imply the exact opposite? Would those who enforce these legislative edicts not be in direct opposition to the word of God, and therefore be a false authority?
I don't really know how to react to this verse, because it strikes me differently every time I read it. Today, as I write this, we're looking at a looming (partial) government shutdown if two competing groups of people with only their own interests at stake have to offer. Every time I read this passage, it always hits me in a different way, very similar (but far more powerful) than when I watched Indiana Jones movies as an adult and understanding all the stuff I missed when I first saw them as a child. It's like that, but different. Yeah, it messes with my head a lot, but I digress...
12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Strangely enough, as the preceding passage has always held a different meaning for me, this one has always conveyed the same message every time I read it. Essentially, “Hold up, I'm not ready for this shit yet!”. Continuously trying to get there, but you get the idea.
13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.
I know the latter half of this chapter kinda gets away from the message the majority of it was trying to convey, but I do feel like it ties in a bit. We (speaking of the human race as a whole) don't have time for bullshit. We have much more pressing issues to deal with. I enjoy beer and sex, just like 99.44% of the rest of the male half of our species that I've had the opportunity to come into social interaction with. That said, there is a time and a place for both, and they become distractions and detriments when they are enjoyed to excess when there are other things to be doing. It reminds me a lot of something Zakk Wylde (long-time recording and touring guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, who is a huge fan of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and also loves to speak of how much he enjoys making love to his wife) once said in an interview...”When the alarm clock goes off, you gotta get up and fry the donuts like your life depended on it!” As a proficient and well-respected guitarist, he was speaking of maintaining self-control in order to be at the top of his game when he had to record or perform. The Byrds wrote a song, with most of it being direct quotes from Ecclesiastes, explaining that there's a time for everything. There's a time to be upset about how things are going. There's a time to get angry about what government is doing. There's a time to sit back and have a beer or six when it's time to relax. There's a time to hop into bed with your woman and enjoy that special thing she does, just the way you like it.
That time is AFTER you've handled all your responsibilities, not before. We cannot claim a moral high ground if we do not hold it. It's not enough to sit around drinking a cold beer and bitching on the internet about what is wrong with this world, knowing in our hearts that the things we bitch about are wrong. The time for doing that is after we've walked through the front door and untied our bootlaces, knowing our feet and every other part of our bodies are drenched in sweat doing what we know is right. It ain't enough to “do enough”. Last I checked, there were three miles that Jew boy traveled with the Roman soldier. He carried the Roman's bags that first mile as required by law, even though he shouldn't have. He said “fuck you and your emperor” , shucked the bags while he shot a finger, and walked that second mile out of spite just to prove he was more of a man than the Roman could ever be. By the time they started down that third mile, both their hearts had been changed...and the Roman carried him to mile marker 3. Or so was the story I was told, but it made a lasting impression on me and the lesson has served me well to this day.
14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.[c]
I'm pretty sure this is Paul's way of saying that we should abandon our worries about the new iPod update, stop worrying about what the neighbors are driving, and most importantly, stop worrying about what people might think of you. Other “Christians” may not approve of your lifestyle, they may not have the same relationship with God that you have. Your coworkers may not approve of your opinions, political beliefs, or the way you've invested in your 401(k) plan. Your neighbors might think you're insane for not having cable television or a $28,000 debt on the latest and greatest used SUV that serves no purpose other than picking the kids up from school. Do you think their opinions, or your actions, mean more to the eyes of God?
The lesson I'd prefer we all took away from this that we really need to concentrate on what we are doing. We don't need to give in to societal pressures about what is proper, moral, or even “legal”. The corollary to this is that we shouldn't accept what is considered by society to be proper, moral or legal in order to ascertain how we choose to conduct ourselves within society.
I know my faults, and I've got more than a few. It's my responsibility, and no one else's, to remedy these faults. Likewise, it is no sin to prevent others from forcibly imposing the laws of man upon others simply because a group of people do not agree with the way that certain people conduct themselves, so long as they are not actually harming anyone by anything other than by setting a poor example. I firmly believe that Christ wishes us to use force only when absolutely necessary, and to moderate that force only to what we know is absolutely necessary. Sometimes, a man needs a good swift kick in the ass to get himself squared away. It's our responsibility to ensure that the “kick in the ass” does not get lost in translation along the way, and become written in stone to be “12lb hammer to the head”...and it's also our responsibility to ensure that if/when such a thing does happen, it gets corrected.