[FT] Fw: On-line Bible Study: What About Government?

Joe Ginder joe.ginder at lbfc.org
Sat Jan 3 12:38:50 PST 2009

Bill Samuel writes:
> In Romans 13, Paul seems to be saying that governments are 
> established by God and therefore must be obeyed as God's 
> servants.  Paul appears to be saying there is no conflict between 
> obeying God and obeying government.  How are governments established 
> by God?  I don't see any clear explanation of this, and it is 
> certainly far from obvious.
> In Acts 5, the apostles are arrested and hauled before the 
> Sanhedrin.  Peter and the apostles reject their authority in no 
> uncertain terms, telling them, "We must obey God rather than men!"
> Is it significant whether it's the Sanhedrin or the Roman 
> authorities?  The Sanhedrin here appear to be exercising not only 
> institutional religious authority but the governmental authority to 
> arrest and adjudicate.  Certainly the lines between church and state 
> that we know today in America did not exist then.
> I think there must be a way to reconcile Acts 5 with Romans 13, but I 
> haven't figured it out yet.  I would appreciate Friends' insights on 
> this issue.

Well, one could start with the observation that Paul says governments have a
clear mission, given by God.  That mission is obviously not to stand against
God.  When the apostles reject the authority of the Sanhedrin to stop them
preaching Jesus, it is because the Sanhedrin can't possibly be carrying out
it's God-given mission when it stands against God who gave the mission.  In
Romans, Paul is speaking in somewhat ideal terms, perhaps.  In Acts 5, Peter
and the other apostles face a situation in which governing authorities are
clearly acting outside their given authority.  And the apostles are acting
as ambassadors of the One who gave the governing authorities a legitimate
purpose.  It would be nothing short of sin - even active rebellion - for
them to forsake the mission given them by Jesus for any reason whatsoever.

> I think it can be seen from the New Testament record that we must 
> accept the punishments of the authorities, not fight them, but the 
> record about duty to obey does not seem to be so clear.  The Friends' 
> view generally seems to be that you should obey the authorities 
> except when that interferes with our obedience to God.  Friends have 
> often found this interference, but on the face of it Paul doesn't 
> seem to recognize the possibility in Romans 13.

Paul didn't obey the Sanhedrin's injunction against preaching Christ after
he was converted to be a follower of Jesus.  In Acts 9, even after finding
the other apostles still afraid of him, he preached in Jerusalem in spite of
the Sanhedrin's injunction against preaching in Jesus' name.  I'd say the
general Friends view is pretty much on target.  Generally speaking (at least
in America), I'd say it is more often a problem for everyday people to lack
recognition of or show disrespect for properly constituted authority than it
is to be improperly constrained by authorities in how we obey God's will.


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