Christian Relaunch

New Testament Statism?

"Those who are supposed to rule over the nations lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all."

Mark 10:42-44. (RSV but with "Gentiles" changed to "nations" which is what Greek "ethnoi" means.)

Slavery and the State

The New Testament's words about the state resemble its words about slavery. If you think they teach statism, try applying the same interpretive principles to slavery; it is illogical to take one as (permanent) support and the other as mere (temporary) acceptance.

Romans 13:1-7

The idea that Rome's violent subjugation of foreign lands was legitimate conflicts with Paul's doctrine of the ekklesia as a self-organising (that is, free) body. More likely either (A) Romans 13:1-7 is not Statist, or (B) Paul did not write it. Neither of these hypotheses looks promising at first, but unless Paul was being uncharacteristically illogical one of them must be true. Let us explore them ....

(A) Interpretation

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.

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

(1) The passage is not about Rome at all. For instance, it has been supposed to refer to angelic powers.

(2) 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.

(3) 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.

(B) Authorship

There is no textual evidence of interpolation.

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.