Christian Relaunch

New Testament Statism?

The New Testament in General

The New Testament authors' view of the state resembles their view of slavery. If you think they teach statism, try applying the same interpretive principles to slavery; their "approbation" of both is expressed in similar terms, and it is illogical to invoke them for one and not for the other.

Romans 13:1-7

If Paul really did regard Rome's violent subjugation of foreign lands as inherently legitimate, then I think he was confused, for such a view is incompatible with his doctrine of the ekklesia as a self-organising (that is, free) body.

For that reason I consider either (A) that Romans 13:1-7 is not statist, or (B) that Paul did not write it.

Both of these hypotheses are inherently speculative.

(A) The passage naturally reads as statist. The language is borrowed from Stoicism, and later writers took it as assent to the Stoic doctrine of the (Roman) state as overarching social bond.

(B) There is no textual evidence of interpolation.

On the other hand neither hypothesis is impossible, and I think that one of them must be true.


Possible non-statist interpretations include the following. None apppeals to me much, but all are plausible enough.

The passage is not about Rome at all. For instance, it has been supposed to refer to angelic powers. Fanciful I think, but possible.

The author was advising his readers against armed uprising in present circumstances, and wrote "in code" to avoid antagonising Roman agents. His approbation of imperial power was polite rather than serious. I don't suppose that Paul really thought Porcius Festus was "most excellent", as reported in Acts 26:24, but it seems that didn't stop him saying it.

The author was indirectly commending Rome for the relative mildness and non-encroachment (usually) of its rule, and encouraging it to continue and enhance that approach.


The passage has no clear connection with the surrounding passages.

Its doctrine strikes me as a bleeding chunk of Stoicism, which I find it hard to square with the rest of Paul's writings.

Back to The State is always Gangsterism.