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A ROMAN'S-EYE VIEW OF ROMANS 13
The State: The Religion of Man
The formation of the State in Genesis 10 was the formation of a new religion. The formation of the State was an act of rebellion. We have attempted to spell this out in previous papers. Let us briefly restate what we saw there.
When Cain, and following him, Nimrod, apostatized, they left the Household of Faith to form a new social organization under a new religious perspective. They were fleeing Godly men and Godly society. Life under Adam (for Cain), or under Noah (for Nimrod), was under God and His Word. Life under Cain and under Nimrod has been widely seen to be life away from Biblical patriarchy and under a new form of order, which has been called the "State." Nimrod's Empire, Babylon, has thus ever been the epitome of the State and of the Godless enemies of the People of God (Micah 5:6; I Peter 5:13; Revelation 17-18).
"Conservative" Humanism has long defended the State, and when it sought Biblical support, has alleged the institution of the State in the laws concerning the shedding of the blood of capital criminals (Genesis 9:4-6). But this was a Family-based power; it was given "unto Noah and his sons," not to something called "the State."
There was no "State" in Israel until I Samuel 8. It could also be said there was no "church." Israel's social order was Family-centered. Israel itself was considered to be a Family, the "Household" of God. All Israelites looked upon themselves as sons of Abraham; the Gospel was a Gospel of "Adoption." When the people rebelled and rejected God, asking for a king, they were importing the trappings and humanistic power of the State from the nations around them, Babelic descendants of Nimrod. This concept of a State was brought alongside Israel's Patriarchal social order. This generated (or, rather, moved toward "epistemological self-consciousness") conflict between God (Family) and Satan (State -- or as Rushdoony calls it, "The Society of Satan").
The implications of this early Biblical record of social and religious apostasy are staggering. A decentralized Patriarchal social order under God's Law must be contrasted with a centralized polis-based order. This is in fact the contrast between God's people (the Church) and apostates (the State).
The Liturgical State
In the pre-Christian world Israel claimed to be Holy based on God's Presence and calling. Out of Israel radiated concentric circles of holiness: the Holiest of Holies, the tabernacle, the camp, outside the camp, with holiness decreasing and uncleanness increasing with distance from God's Presence. Yet in complete denial of this truth, all ancient empire-states claimed to be holy, in direct contact with the Source of cosmic power. Religion was a public (political) function.
Now, in post-Christian times, we see the reversal of this. King Jesus, through His life and priestly work on the Cross, has definitively cleansed the entire world, and all is in principle sanctified and consecrated to the service of His Kingdom. Now (wouldn't you know it) all empire-states claim to be "secular." Whereas before, in the age of limited holiness, all empires claimed/imitated true holiness and were thus religious at root, now, in the face of Christ's total, world-wide victory and sanctification of the world as God's Garden-Temple, the empires claim non-religious "scientific" neutrality. (At least when it's convenient; Secularism is a pseudo-religion.)
Egypt is a compelling example of the Religious Empire. Rushdoony notes that
"Totally and inescapably statist," because totally and inescapably relgious. This was the nature of all States in the ancient world. They were overtly religious. They claimed a continuity of being, or a communication between the underworld, the earth, and the heavens. The State was the divine mediator. Babylon, Egypt, Assyria, all claimed to be what in fact only Israel could be called -- the locus of God's communication with man. Ancient empires claimed to be truly religious.
It is necessary to recognize, with Rushdoony, that
No one has noted more forcefully than Rushdoony that this was precisely this kind of conspiracy in which the early Christians were engaged. They refused to bow to another god. Jesus was Lord.
In proclaiming Himself the True King, the only Emperor, Jesus was conspiring to overthrow the polis. He was executed for treason as an anarchist. Yet He rose, was enthroned, and Babylon has indeed fallen.
The conflict between "Church" and "State" is thus a war between two religions: Dominion Religion vs. Power Religion: Decentralized Patriarchal Service vs. Centralized Political Control.
The religious nature of the State and the blasphemy of emperor-worship was part of the perspective Paul shared with his Roman readers.
The Supernatural State
But the Apostle Paul also understood the dominant view of the State
as a supernatural entity. "The State" -- were that word to be
used by Paul -- would carry a meaning of more than just the emperor and
his henchmen, but a myriad of demonic forces which the Bible associates
with the State, and which all ancient men associated in some form with
the State. The pagan view of the State was certainly not an accurate
picture of the Biblical view, but a perverse exploitation of God's
revelation for the purposes of polis-power. The Bible does not
deny that there are demonic forces associated with Empire, it only says
not to put our trust in them. The pagans listened when they were told
about the demons; they did not listen when they were told not to worship
Clinton Morrison's important survey of recent interpretations of "the powers" in Paul's writings contains a summary of the spiritual forces which the ancient world universally linked to the State. The Roman world was a "syncretistic" world, that is, one which drew from all corners to form a composite world-and-life view. We must therefore look at the ancient Near-Eastern view of the State in the Cosmos. We shall follow Morrison's discussion in The Powers That Be.
The Syncretism of the Universal State
"The key word, at least the one most commonly used, for the Hellenistic period is syncretism" (p. 69). "Syncretism" is the attempt to merge or combine differing religious beliefs. The Roman world was a combination of all sorts of religious and cultural beliefs. This was because Rome was the universal state, continually incorporating all peoples under its imperial mantle. The Empire was truly a commercial and cultural "melting pot."
More than a uniting of nations, Rome was the Cosmic State. The trade-off between "the one and the many" was fundamental. The ultimate power State could only arise in a community vacuum. Lack of personal ties and the destruction of the Family created a vast, atomistic sand heap of men, easily unified by the collectivist State.
Political universalism caused
Ancient Views of the State:
|"In the higher religions the power concept
served to explain the relationship between deity and the facts
of world history and human destiny, but in the lower religions
the belief in powers become the basis for the popular and
growing belief in daimones, magic, amulets, etc. And in
this animate Cosmos, where the wills of men were inferior as
well as in the minority, it is not surprising that there should
result what a modern scholar would consider a confounding of the
natural world with the spiritual, a confusion of myth and
history, a mixture of superstition and faith, of magic and
religion. The ability of simple folk to disassociate a symbol
from the power behind it was no greater in antiquity than today,
when statues and medals enjoy a popular use beyond the bounds of
the theology which sanctions them. Nilsson has cited
Moschopoulos, a Byzantine author, who assessed the situation
It is in the broad and popular concept of power in the Greco-Roman period upon which a number of the most characteristic beliefs of that age depend. Not only in general, but also in great detail the world was considered subject to the guardianship and authority of gods, spirits, and daimones; formulas, symbols, and special objects were treasured for their actual ability to influence these 'world rulers' and 'elemental spirits' with regard to the health prosperity, and social relationships of men who used them properly, and we cannot suppose that symbols and physical objects were always consciously distinguished from the invisible powers associated with them. It is precisely the dynamic character of the Hellenistic world which renders the vocabulary of that period so complex for us today; our modern effort to analyse words used in magical formulas and power concepts as either fact or fancy appears to be wholly unrealistic." (p. 76-77)
As applied to our study of Romans 13, this means that when we see the world "exousiai" we should think of both the civil magistrates and the spiritual guardians of the magistrates.
|"'Astrology fell upon the Hellenistic mind
as a new disease falls upon some remote island people;' its
influence was thorough enough to include our concern with the
State and the Cosmos.  It was astrology from the East which
filled in the gap left by an expanding universe and a static
Greek religion. The fact that Babylon was the first to establish
a scientific cosmic religion, broad enough to encompass world
conquerors as well as displaced populations under the universal
astral deities, played an important part in the appeal of
oriental religions to a world which had burst the bonds of
national religions and sought a more comprehensive and
satisfying faith. From the beginning astrology belonged to the
religious elements which were to characterize Hellenistic
thought, and no popular movement was to escape its influence.
'Astrology revolutionized the world in which lived men with no
tincture of philosophy by bringing them for the first time in
touch with universals.'" (p. 77; notes omitted)
"The basis for astrology is the older belief in a correspondence between the activities of the gods above and events of human history below. Earlier we observed that this concept was integral to ancient oriental thought, and now we see that astrology built upon this ancient concept of correspondence which had its origin in the idea of the place of the State in the Cosmos." (pp. 77-78)
"Astrology spread far and wide, and became an integral part of the popular conception of the world, because it offered men the possibility of making sense of an environment which did not make sense by itself.  From the hopeful aspect of astrology they concluded that there was some kind of order and established authority in the Cosmos." (p. 78)
"It was the belief in correspondence and order dominated by heavenly powers which was of particular significance with regard to the Graeco-Roman conception of the State in the Cosmos.  Plutarch [held that] 'rulers are ministers of God for the care and safety of mankind, that they many distribute or hold in safe keeping the blessings and benefits which God gives to men. . . .' Plutarch accepted a view in which daimones presided over whole lands. He also recorded that Caesar's guardian daimon was mightier than Pompey's. This compares very closely with what has been considered the Jewish conception of folk angels. Demonology was important for Plutarch as a means of understanding the order of the world." (pp. 79-80, + footnote; citations omitted)
"[T]o the unlearned man the universal rulers, emperors and powers, appeared to have more in common than they had differences. The seat of imperial authority was so far removed that it belonged to the universal order. How the emperor, as a deputy in that system, compared with other beings appointed to authority and invested with power, could have been merely an academic matter. (pp. 79-80)
"It has been important for us to consider the place of astrology in Graeco-Roman thought because: (1) It was one of the most significant characteristics of thought in this period, with a wide cultural, intellectual, and religious appeal. (2) It was based upon, and became the medium for the propagation of, the idea of correspondence in a united cosmic order. Here it became closely integrated with the idea of power, discussed above, and a coherent Weltanschauung became possible. (3) There is strong evidence that an important political philosophy and a wide range of popular thought associated the world empire and cosmic order after the pattern of the older oriental theory discussed above. (4) Astrological interest in universal harmony permeated the cosmic context within which politics and the emperor were viewed, and belief in rulers as 'ministers of God for the care and safety of mankind' was only natural to men for whom 'world rulers,' spiritual and civil, were instruments of divine Providence.
"In short, astrology, as a principal factor in Graeco-Roman thought, was of decisive significance in giving a cosmic dimension to affairs of state in the thought of that period. This is not to say that men could not think of kings or government without thinking of stars, but that astrology had so accustomed men to think in terms of cosmic unity and correspondence that the world State and its ruler were quite naturally assumed to be a part of the universal order. (p. 80)
"The power of the popular mind is too easily unappreciated because it was not literary. Yet we may observe that Zeno and Epicurus, both uncompromising thinkers who constructed complete philosophical systems almost free from popular superstitions, finally admitted the spiritual powers because the consensus supported belief in them." (p. 82)
|"As has been evident already, an important
phase in the development of Graeco-Roman religious thought has
been the tendency toward monotheism. [A.D. Nock's important
article, "The Emperor's Divine Comes," contains
As indicated above, the popular concept of the universe's subjection to the vassals of one god was in terms of the powers. This form of monotheism was encouraged by a contemporary science 'which made no distinction between physical and occult forces . . . the latter being the more important.'" (p. 81)
This movement towards monotheism is consistent with Rushdoony's analysis concerning "the unity of the godhead" and the United Nations (Politics of Guilt and Pity, pp. 186-93). It is strikingly confirmed when Morrison points out that the religious systems are determined by the political systems:
|"As the physical and occult forces blended
and religion was hardly distinguishable from magic in this
period, the documents of learned ancients upon whom we must
depend should not lead us to consider the place of the State in
that ancient world as any less a part of its dynamic and vital
unity. While astrology's emphasis upon correspondence between
heaven and earth served to draw the State into an integrated
universe, the monotheistic character of that order was no less
directly derived from the contemporary political system.
Again we see that the State not only existed in the Cosmos, but played a decisive part in understanding the character of the universe. [Stauffer, in Christ and the Caesars, p. 21f. writes,] '"The Myth of the Empire" comprehended "the whole of history, in nature and in humanity, in heaven and on earth . . . as the history of the Empire.'" (p. 82; emphasis added)
Philosophers have long been supported by the State in its universities and churches. The Empire undoubtedly profited from the religious and philosophical writers who constructed a view of the universe consistent with the goals of the Empire.
Morrison goes on to discuss the concept of demons (daimones) and emperor-worship. We shall discuss this extremely important concept in another paper.
What needs to be done at this point is to summarize and apply Morrison's research to the State in Romans 13.
It is clear that Paul adopts a view of the Cosmos which is very similar to the view which dominated the Roman world. This is because the pagan world always and necessarily presupposes Biblical truth in order to destroy it. Biblical concepts are always appropriated in a perverse way, as the writings of Meredith Kline lead us to suspect that ancient Near-Eastern treaty forms were expropriated from Biblical Covenant language. The Biblical conception of the State as controlled by angelic (or demonic) forces was used by pagan States to buttress their power. A monotheistic concept of an animated, spiritual universe is used to support a monarchical power State. Emperor-worship is perversely monotheistic.
But is this the same concept of the universe and of God that the Bible presents? Unequivocally, NO! It is a perverse mirror image, is it not? The anti-parallels seem to go on forever. Caesar says that there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby men may be saved that that of Caesar Augustus. What does the Apostle Peter say? "There is none other name under heaven given among mane, whereby we must be saved, than the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth" (Acts 4:12,10). This is matter and anti-matter; it is "contrary to the decrees of Caesar;" "there is another king, one Jesus!" (Acts 17:7). The preaching of the Apostles, precisely because it took the myths of the Roman State and reversed them, turned the Roman Empire upside down (Acts 17:6).
Paul similarly turns the Roman view of the State upside down. It is a deliberate assault on the State, using anti-imagery. Whereas Rome held that the powers were monotheistically integrated in the Emperor to the eternal blessing of the Empire, Paul says the true God is going to destroy these rivals (I Corinthians 15:24-25). Whereas the Imperial Court jesters -- excuse me: "philosophers" -- held that emperors are ministers of an ultimately unknowable god which brings order and prosperity to the empire, for the perpetual good of mankind, Paul says that the powers are tools of the God he has been describing throughout his letter: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our forefathers, the God of Isaiah the prophet who declared, with Paul, that the disobedient emperors of the world are controlled and ordered by God as instruments of his wrath (not prosperity) and whose effects can be (and hopefully will be) avoided by our obedience to God's Law. Whereas the pagan world took a positive view of the State as ministers of an impersonal god unto the prosperity of the empire, the Bible takes a view of the State as servants of an infinite-personal God Who will put down these evil empires and establish a world under His Law.
Just as the full impact of Peter's declaration in Acts 4:12 cannot be appreciated without reference to the beliefs of the Romans, so Paul's optimism concerning the downfall of the State in I Corinthians 15:24-25 and Romans 13:1-10 and 11-12 cannot be obeyed when it is turned into a tool for the prosperity of Babylon.
The Romans of the first century understood Paul because he used their language. "The powers that be" are ordered by God -- not just any god, but the Triune God of Scripture. And not for the benefit of Caesar's kingdom, but for the benefit of Christ's Kingdom, and for His glory.
Christian "Anarchism" is Our Goal | | All Evil is Predestined by God | | Pray for a Servant's Understanding | | Angels and God's Throne of Government | | Stars and Idolatry | | Why the State Always Encourages Immorality | | Unlucky 13 -- Romans 13, Revelation 13 and Isaiah 13 | | A Roman's-Eye View of Romans 13 | | "Principalities and Powers" | | Lakes of Fire in "Smoke-Filled Rooms" | | Romans 13: The Burden is on the Archists | | Taxation, Representation, and the Myth of the State | | Why the State is not a "Divine Institution" | | Angels and Autarchy | | 95 Theses Against the State | | Here is what a Christian Anarchist looks like after he has joined The Christmas Conspiracy.
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