Jesus for President, part 1

I’m roughly 260 pages through and so far not impressed. Positvely, however, it is refreshing to hear someone admit that being American and being a Christian are not necessarily part and parcel. That is, as Christians, when there is a conflict between what God says and what the state requires of us, we have a higher responsibility to God than we do to our nation (Acts 5:29). After all, we are first and foremost citizens of a heavenly kingdom which awaits physical establishment in the age to come (Philippians 3:20, John 18:36).

So, while being a Christian and being American are not identical, they are not mutually exclusive either. Actually, when we submit to our government (even when they bear the sword), we are submitting to God. This is where Claiborne frustrates me. When speaking of the famous episode where Jesus says, “Render to Caeser that which be Caesar’s and to God the things which are God’s,” Claiborne says,

It’s hard to know what Jesus would do about paying taxes if he were a citizen of the ole US of A, where nearly half of every tax dollar (the same dollars that say “In God We Trust”) goes to the war machine. And yet the more you look at the similarities between the Roman Empire and the American Empire, the more you get some idea of what he might do. Like the Roman Empire, the American Empire is loved by some and hated by others, but feared by everyone. And scholars estimate that Rome’s military expenditures, like the US’s, were also around 50 percent of the budget. So if the IRS came to Jesus, what would he do? Pull the money out of a fish’s mouth? What if we can’t pull that one off (or don’t have a lake nearby)?…the idea of war tax resistance has emerged in fresh ways in this era of military building. One of our favorite approaches to taxes, which is employed by many Christians in the US, is to send a letter to the IRS along with a check for a portion of of the taxes owed and a receipt showing that the sender has donated the amount that would have gone toward weapons to a nonprofit doing the work of the kingdom of God. Usually such letters applaud the use of tax money to benefit the poor and the common good (which is about half of all tax receipts) but lets the government know that as people of the gospel, we are peacemakers and cannot contribute to the destruction of life.

This troubles me for a number of reasons.

1. Why would Shane go to pains to paint the parallel between our government and the Roman empire at the time of Christ, if in the next few sentences, he applauds Christians taking a completely different stand than Christ did? Even if Jesus placed the coin in the mouth of the fish and didn’t spend his own money (that’s an ironic thought as everything is his anyway), He still ended up giving the Roman government the funds they demanded.

2. His endorsement of Christians only giving the IRS a portion of their tax dollars seems to directly contradict the teaching of Paul. He claims the money is going to a “war machine.” He even admits the parallel between the US and the Roman government. The question arises: what about Romans 13:1-7? Do we ignore it? 

 1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Shane endorses resisting the government. Paul says that we ought not to resist the government; when we resist the government, we resist God and bring damnation upon ourselves. Our role is to submit…and in this context it means paying our full taxes.

Honestly, the book has been pretty boring so far…


  1. #1 by bob on April 16, 2008 - 11:35 am

    “Honestly, the book has been pretty boring so far…”

    simple question, dave, i’m not trying to bait you.

    what were/are you hoping for this book to be?

  2. #2 by Justin on April 16, 2008 - 12:46 pm

    I’ll admit, this book is not a page turner, and I guess I was hoping for something more like “revolution”. I will admit however, that after hearing Shane, and reading “revolution”, I can see many times where it is Shane talking and Where it is Chris Maw talking. Others, aren’t so apparent. Captivation factor is low on the scale for me too…but there are shining moments where a line or a paragraph just jump off the page!

    I’ll also admit, that this is a tough one for me. I didn’t completely agree with “revolution” although I thought it was a fantastic book! However, Gov. and God… what to do? That’s a really tough question that I consistently wrestle over. I do not think that America is “God’s chosen country” (another Israel) as some think. I also don’t like what we’ve done as a nation in the past so many years. I have issues with our consumerist mindset, especially how it has seeped into western Christianity. What ARE we supposed to do… in the world but not of the world…that’s a tough enigma.

    I do applaud books like this though, that (agree or not)try to tackle these issues. I think that these issues and struggles are the same that many Christians (who happen to be American) struggle with, esp. given our contemporary headlines over the last (at least) 6 years. Waging questionable war, ignoring issues like poverty, environment, AIDS, genocide, etc… all in the name of Democracy…but not just any democracy… the one that runs on the dollar bill…the same dollar bill that DOES say “in God we trust”.

    I think that there is a lot in with the U.S. to be compared to the other “greatest empire; Rome”. I’m still of the personal opinion that Christianity was at it’s best (historically speaking) whenever it was loathed by the empires it was under. Before Constantine, when Christians had no power or office in the imperial machine. I know you might disagree with this, but I truly think that Christ’s message was political…and not just pan-political, but of a political nature spicific to that imperial nations like Rome, as well as all those empires (from America to the Galactic Empire of Emperor Palpatine) who would follow in her stead.

    Tough Tough issues. I’m not sure what I EXPECTED out of the book, but it has made me think even more than I was before… and I absolutely LOVE the PRESENTATION of the book itself! I want to go back to all my grad papers and redo my bibliography with a visual bookshelf:)

  3. #3 by Jim W on April 16, 2008 - 2:09 pm

    Isn’t it amazing how those who are so against paying taxes to the “American War Machine” are still living under that “oppression”? You’d think they’d go to a country that doesn’t tax it’s citizens, except for the programs that it’s citizens all agree with. Where would one of those countries be, anyway?

  4. #4 by clearly on April 16, 2008 - 6:17 pm

    bob: “what were/are you hoping for this book to be?”

    More interesting.


    My wife and I were commenting as well on how cool the book looks. I just wish that its contents were less objectional to me. I will get to some more of these soon.

    Jim W,

    Exactly what I was thinking!

  5. #5 by clearly on April 16, 2008 - 7:37 pm


    You have already stated that you don’t believe in the innerancy of the text.


    You have stated that you like what Jesus taught but that you aren’t a big Paul fan.

    My question for both of you: when someone like Claiborne seems to directly contradict Paul’s teaching in Romans 13, what do you think?

    1. “Paul is giving his opinion again and, like his other writings, this is not binding on me today.”

    2. “I can ignore altogether what Paul has written and choose not obey it, unless I can square it with what Jesus taught”

    3. “Paul and Jesus had different opinions; I shouldn’t have a problem with them contradicting each other. After all, that’s part of being in community.”

    4. Other

  6. #6 by Raquel on April 17, 2008 - 8:47 am

    What gets me about the “war machine” mentality that I hear from oh-so-many people in my neck of the woods is how contradictory that their lives are to their “opinions.”

    The “war machine” over oil (presumably this is the argument) hasn’t stopped them from driving or buying goods that were delivered using oil or flying on airplanes for business and pleasure. Nope. One side of the mouth whines about war over oil while the other whines about the rising price of gas. Ironic?

    While I’m ranting about my opinions, I’ll throw another one in here… some LOVE to shout about genocide and how wrong that it is. And yet are they so against it that they’re willing to sacrifice some of our troops over it? Nope. Remember Rwanda, Croatia, Ethiopia, then IRAQ, or how about Sudan, Congo and the DRC??

    Seems to me that people like to whine if we do get involved and whine if we don’t.

  7. #7 by Justin on April 17, 2008 - 8:50 pm

    Let me first say that I don’t agree with Claiborne’s statement of not paying taxes. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like paying taxes, esp. when some 80% goes towards paying off the interest gained on our national debt for a war I never thought we should fight. BUT… I do want my wife, mom, and dad (all state employees) to get a paycheck. What I’m saying is that I don’t mind paying taxes…and I think that it is a very easy statement for Shane to make since he has no income in his monastic lifestyle, and gives away 100% of any book/speaking earnings… Taxes are a choice for him. It is thought-provoking, but unrealistic to the average American.

    That being said, by taking a little time and researching the passage (As opposed to a blind reading), I’m not convinced that Shane is contradicting paul. I guess in your multiple choice approach I would have to go with #4.

    We have to remember that first of all Paul was writing to a SPECIFIC group in a SPECIFIC time addressing their SPECIFIC concerns. One thing, esp. with Paul, that we have to be careful on is that we don’t simply transliterate his statements from the First century straight to the 21st century. That’s not a fair reading or application of the text.

    1) we don’t know that Paul would give this advice as general or spicific to whatever struggle the Roman ch. was having.
    2) We can only guess (even educated, still a guess)as to what the exact concern was the ch. was having since we are only listening to ONE side of the conversation. (we don’t have the original correspondence of the Ch. asking for Paul’s council if there was one, or an account of what prompted Paul to write this letter).
    3) There are 2 dominant views of the government by the subjugates during this time period (which may be the discussion that the Roman ch. was arguing over: which view is “right”).

    Reading the text (Rom. 13), I see the wording as specified not generalized, meaning that it doesn’t appear that Paul is meaning for this teaching to be for all times and all places, rather a spicific council for this spicific time and situation. I could go into GRK translation issues here but I won’t. However, the text doesn’t call for COMPLETE obedience to the state, and IF it did would contradict other epistles (1 Cor. and 1 Tim. as examples).

    It also can be argued that focusing on the life of Jesus (the gospel accounts) that you don’t find a consistent view of how the Gov. was viewed, which makes sense seeing that the writers had different backgrounds and experiences with the Roman Gov., and the public (esp. Christian view) of the gov. changes as Nero’s policies change. Dates of these writings are important.

    I don’t think we can take what Paul is saying and simply transfer the words to our own lives today. At the very least we need to practice Translation of the text into our lives rather than transliterating the text into our lives. We must read this as Paul is talking about Rome, not thinking of the future Empire of America who runs and Acts (in most ways) very differently from this era of Roman history. Paul was not thinking about Consumerism and Democracy, but an imperial dictatorship where Ceaser was also supposed to be hailed as a god or the “son of god”. That’s not to say that there isn’t wisdom in the text for us today, but we can’t take a passage and cut and paste the “obvious”/surface level meaning into our lives… that to me is an irresponsible reading of the text. (Don’t mean that mean, just saying, true Bible study requires work).

    As for the words of Christ in MK., I think he legitimizes gov. But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want us to challenge our government… and he doesn’t put stipulations on HOW to challenge our gov. We usually read “who’s face is on this coin… give unto Caesar…” as give the gov. what’s theirs and give God what’s his. But if we do a direct transliteration of that to today, the coin he would be holding up would be Washington, Lincoln, Franklin (not even a pres.), etc… and his next statement wouldn’t make sense. “Give to Ben Franklin what is his, and to God what is God’s”? That’s not even taking into account that our coinage says “in God we Trust”. So who DOES it belong to? SPECIFICITY is an attribute we have often missed in our approach to the Bible! That’s why we can’t just take it as surface level and transliterate it directly into our lives, but have to struggle with translating it into what it might mean for us today.I know this makes it harder, but THIS is where community and interpretation come into play. I think that many churches should be asking these questions and struggling together as a community over these very passages right now! It’s not as easy as a pastor getting up and telling you what to believe, but again, true Bible study requires work. Something else I think we’ve stopped teaching in our churches (at least all the ones I have known).

    Ok, so that was long, but you asked. I tried not to make it exhaustive, but I didn’t think you wanted to read an exegetical paper being that you have your own to focus on:)

    But again, given our situation in THIS empire, I don’t think I agree with Claiborne and taxes. Not perhaps on a Biblical basis, but on a logistical basis.

  8. #8 by clearly on April 18, 2008 - 4:51 am

    I just wrote a long post that was lost when I tried to submit the comment. Now, I am out of time and just have a second.

    Even if the occasionality of the book of Romans renders it inapplicable directly to our modern context (I am conceding this for argument sake alone), then how do you explain the timeless truth on which the imperatives are based. If you want to talk Greek, I can try. It seems that in Pauline writings, imperatives regularly flow from indicatives. In this case, the imperative ὑποτασσέσθω is connected to the indicative by a logical connector (γὰρ) showing the reason they should submit to authority. Paul’s command to submit to government flows from a TIIMELESS TRUTH, the fact that οὐ γὰρ ἔστιν ἐξουσία εἰ μὴ ὑπὸ θεοῦ (there is no power if it is not from God). If all governmental power, then, flows from God himself, then the imperative of verse 1 should hold for all governmental contexts.

    The only Scriptural exceptions would be when we are commanded to do something God has forbidden or forbidden to do something God has commanded; then we ought to disobey and resist. It is obvious, then that paying taxes is not a situation in which we ought to disobey. If it were, our Lord would have not payed taxes to the “Roman war machine” any more than Paul would have instructed the Roman believers to pay the same “war machine.”

  9. #9 by Ken Silva on April 18, 2008 - 6:53 am

    “We have to remember that first of all Paul was writing to a SPECIFIC group in a SPECIFIC time addressing their SPECIFIC concerns.”

    The historical-grammatical method; foundation of porper Biblical hermeneutics. However, the Holy Spirit was also writing through Paul with the idea of the future times believers would face.

    This is all but lost in postevangelicalism and the postliberal Emergent rebellion against the Bible. How odd that these “Christian” mystics have so little regard for the illumination of God the Holy Spirit.

    Dr. John MacArthur is right when he says, “It’s not that the Bible isn’t clear…they just don’t like what it clearly says.”

  10. #10 by Raquelamisto on April 18, 2008 - 7:59 am

    I just wonder what of the Christians who memorize the Bible because they don’t have a copy of their own? What of the Christians who don’t have a personal library, public library, book stores, nor college degree with which to study such things? Are they all wrong and un-enlightened? Is God that small that He doesn’t/can’t speak through the Word plainly for the 99% of the population that doesn’t have the resources that you do?
    You imply that one must be a scholar in order to understand what is so simply written in the Bible. Maybe I’m not getting you… but please know that this is how you come off.

  11. #11 by Justin on April 18, 2008 - 8:14 am

    I’ve stated my opinion, and respect both of yours.
    The GRK translation issues that I speak of (I don’t have time to dissect the passage) are simply that there are different ways to translate this passage…subtle but important.

    For more on these issues I submit to people much more informed than me and who have had the time to write more exhaustively:
    The Epistle to the Romans (New International Commentary on the New Testament) (Hardcover)–Moo
    A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching–Achtemeier
    Along with this series see Art Ross’ addition
    The IVP Bible Background Commentary (NT)–Keener
    myth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Romans–Charles Talbert

    I don’t spout authors to dodge, but these authors all have researched, translated and wrestled with the passage more exhaustively than me. Some may agree with your assesment, most came to the same conclusion I did. However, they show the troubles within and without in dealing with this passage. If you have to pick two, Achtemeier and Talbert is the place to Start.

    NOWHERE in there do I claim to be Postevangelilc. You are jumping to some broad labeling conclusions. As a matter of fact, this has nothing to do with post-liberal, Emergent, or Post-evangelism. Pardon my bluntness, but this was simply educated research and reading(although not to the extent that I usually would do) of the passage. This is a result of two hard-earned degrees in Religion in mostly conservitive-slightly moderate Baptist Schools. Their curriculum doesn’t teach POST-anything, but academic responsibility and training in your chosen field. I did not go to a cutting-edge seminary, nor did I have anyone in the Emergent movement as a prof. This was simply a result of responsible exegetical studies. That’s not to say that I have not been influenced by Postmodern thinking, but I detest labels because no one really fits nice and neatly into any singular label unless they are purposely TRYING to adhere to one label in Christianity, or have been brought up and follow people who have made that decision for themselves and push others into their chosen category.

    I concede that the interpretation that I put forth may not be the best interpretation (although strictly speaking,It isn’t a full interpretation. I don’t apply the passage, so It is just historical background), but sometimes what it “clearly says” is not clear at all.

    I was simply answering the question I have been asked. There was no need for your jumping in and labeling me (whom you don’t know), and berating me in your last sentence. I have not done as much to you, nor Dave, and I pray to God I never stoop to that level. This is NOT rebellion against the Bible, it is a responsible embrace of the text, and a proper exegetical approach to something that deserves that kind of time spent with it.

    As I said, I’m not saying that my assesment of the passage is correct, but it is backed and contested (I read both) by these highly respected academic writings listed above. Even they can be wrong. I am not above that… but I really do take offense to your blatant labelization of me. I don’t expect an apology… It’s ok. But I will say that when you do stuff like this, you just discredit yourself even more in the eyes of those you label.

    I hope I answered your question somewhat…it was a very deep question to ask, but a valid one none-the-less. I will agree with you that it seems (off the top of my head) that Paul was a good Roman citizen (although I did point out possible exceptions in advice from other texts) and at this point in time would not advise not paying taxes. But this is also in Nero’s early days… what would this statement look like later and why? I think that’s a valid question too. Again, I leave it up to other academics (like above). That isn’t an extensive list, but ones that I used or would go to in for further research and guidance off the top of my head. Truly, if I had the time (and you have drawn my interest into further research into this passage), I would go back to the Div. school’s academic library and spend a day researching EVERYTHING I could find on the passage.

    I will say this is why I have not commented on your Divorce post. You ARE doing the exegetical work, and I would have to do it too. That is a tough passage in this day and age, and It would need to be properly studied before I could comment. It is a good passage to study though and I hope you share your findings.

    I apolojize for my bluntness and anything that does not come across as humble, It is hard to express in writing the frustration that something like what ken wrote brings and allow the humility in my heart to show. So please note that Everything I submitted was with a humble heart, and I hope it reads that way.

    peace and grace

  12. #12 by Justin on April 18, 2008 - 8:40 am

    I do not imply that one MUST be a scholar to interpret scripture. If it seems that way, then I ask humbly for your forgiveness, and stand by my statement above. Please note that I acknowledge other interpretations as being valid (to the extent of being more-so than my own!).

    However, I think that those who have the MEANS to better examine and study the passage SHOULD do so, because it invokes better understanding and better teaching. I know Dave is an educated person. I know he has the means to be responsible in his exegetical studies.

    As to your question about those that do not have the means, I honestly believe that that is part of the great commission. To educate those and provide the means for those to do in-depth bible study. I have taught in a seminary in Brazil to pastors who do not have many of the resources, but they LOVED it when the resources were made available to them through our classes, and donation of commentaries and books (all through the spectrum of interpretation. I don’t only read that with which I know I will agree).

    But let’s bring this closer to home. Again, I don’t think churches (in my experience in the last 10 years of ministry, and the 18 years before that growing up in a church) do a good job of teaching congregants HOW to do in-depth Bible study, and PROVIDING the means with which to do so. Thinking back, all of the commentaries and research books were kept in a person’s office, while the ch.’s libarary had nothing of value save Barclay (every ch. seems to have a ton of extra Barclay lying around) when it comes to in-depth study of the Bible.

    I have taught classes to laity, esp. those that are in teaching roles, on this very topic. A very good starter book I used and GAVE them (although I’m not sure I agree with everything in it…it is still a valuable book in teaching laity HOW to go about in-depth (low exegetical) Bible study. It is:How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth– Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart.

    There are other resources out there that teach the same, but this one is easy to read and a good “jumping point” into exegetical studies. Now I know that they can’t and prob. won’t, sit in a library like I will, but that is part of being a responsible minister. One of the things they are paid to do is to take a responsible approach to scripture.

    I would say that ANY interpretation is better than NO interpretation. Those that don’t have the means or know-how, still can interpret. We can’t leave the Holy Spirit out of this process. However, usually you will find that their interpretation stems from one of two things: 1) they believe a spicific interpretation because someone has TAUGHT them that that is the only interpretation. or 2) that their life experiences has led them to “hear” a passage in a certain way that speaks to that experience. Neither discredit their interpretation, in fact, we should be respectful and sensitive to their interpretations when conversing with them. we shouldn’t be hostile towards their thoughts simply because we don’t agree or because it isn’t “scholarly”. Yet those in America have a lot less excuse to not practice some sort of exegetical discipline because the means and the know-how ARE available. At the same time, they shouldn’t just throw out the teachings of others nor their own life experiences when dealing with a passage simply because the availability of resources exist.

    We can’t treat the Bible on a simply academic level (as simple literature), and must remember always that it is a living, breathing window into God’s heart, and humanity’s soul.

    I hope that makes sense.
    thanks for asking, and I don’t claim this to be THE answer to that question… just an opinion.

  13. #13 by clearly on April 18, 2008 - 8:45 am


    Have you read Dr. Moo’s commentary to the point where you can honestly say that he would disagree with this (apart from trying to talk Greek; the man thinks in Greek)?

    “Even if the occasionality of the book of Romans renders it inapplicable directly to our modern context (I am conceding this for argument sake alone), then how do you explain the timeless truth on which the imperatives are based. If you want to talk Greek, I can try. It seems that in Pauline writings, imperatives regularly flow from indicatives. In this case, the imperative ὑποτασσέσθω is connected to the indicative by a logical connector (γὰρ) showing the reason they should submit to authority. Paul’s command to submit to government flows from a TIIMELESS TRUTH, the fact that οὐ γὰρ ἔστιν ἐξουσία εἰ μὴ ὑπὸ θεοῦ (there is no power if it is not from God). If all governmental power, then, flows from God himself, then the imperative of verse 1 should hold for all governmental contexts.”

  14. #14 by Justin on April 18, 2008 - 10:04 am

    I agree, I placed in my bibliography good resources, not simply ones that would agree with me. It is a good study in the Greek of the passage. Also see Talbert’s take on the grk. (sorry, don’t have time to pull out all my Grk resources again. See Talbert for an example of a translational discussion.

    Also see Richard Cassidy, “Christians and Roman Rule in the New Testament”. He speaks about the specificity of this parenesis. Without going into a long debate on the Greek, The “Timeless Truth” (all power flows from God) is not the next logical leap from the spicific teaching of “subject yourselves” (verb-hypotassetho 13:1(better translated into the middle imperative)….sorry, don’t have grk font on this laptop.). True Power may come from God, but perhaps the “timeless truth” is not that “gov. that has power thus has power from God”, but reverts back to a very old theme (prevalent throughout the OT and NT) that “All that is legitimately ascribed to the authorities is punishing evil and rewarding the good. This limited homage is far from an enthusiastic endorsement of the empire.” –Talbert

    I would also Quote Achtemeier, but my wife “borrowed” his book after I used it last night. Remember, this is the same God who DIDN’T want Israel to have a King. And well, we saw how many of those kings worked out. There is an (in my opinion) undeniable anti-imperialistic theme running throughout the bible. Everything about Christ’s birth was anti-imperialistic. Please don’t jump (as some has) as saying that do not believe in the Virgin birth, but the symbolism found in the birth narrative is very anti-Roman. That just makes the events all the more beautiful and meaningful.

    It also should be noted, that Christ (nor Paul) seems to take the zealot’s approach, nor a Laissez-faire approach. Yet, Christ and Paul seem to be showing a “Third Way” to the people around them.

    In any case, I AM agreeing with you in disagreeing with Shane. Lest we get bogged down in this side debate. I understand your approach and respect it. I think I have said all I can on mine without spending more time than I have at this moment, and taking up way too much space on your blog:) Note, I don’t claim to have the answer to this…I’m just exploring the text… I still haven’t explored the application…I will do that on my own time and for my own benefit.

  15. #15 by Ken Silva on April 19, 2008 - 7:23 pm


    I wasn’t even addressing you before. Your comment was illustrative of the point in general I was making.

    A word to the wise, if you’re going to interact on Internet message boards it appears you’ll need to develop a little thicker skin dude.

  16. #16 by Justin on April 19, 2008 - 8:10 pm

    Buddy Ken…
    Don’t think that I’ve lost sleep over what you say. Where I respect you as a human, I have some serious issues with your methodology and representation of a “Christian”. In the Blogosphere your name may pop up when people find out I’m a Christian, but I constantly have to say, “I’m not that kind of Christian”.

    simply expressing my frustration with your methods…sorry i assumed you were talking about me. It’s hard not to automatically jump to that conclusion when you attack almost everyone!!! not a logistical stretch.

    I’m glad to see I became an illustration for you.

  17. #17 by Justin on April 23, 2008 - 9:35 pm

    I’ve been thinking a lot about y our discussion here on the Romans passage, and esp. the comment of Paul’s words meant as “timeless truths”. I’ve been doing some thinking, writing and researching and found that the best response to this comes from someone I usually wouldn’t turn to. IDK how you feel about NT Wright, but as far as he goes, I do respect him as a Biblical Scholar, although I can’t agree with all of his conclusions all of the time. Anyway, I think he has the best take on “timeless truths” in his lecture on Biblical authority. Below is an excerpt:
    Timeless Truth?

    A regular response to these problems is to say that the Bible is a repository of timeless truth. There are some senses in which that is true. But the sense in which it is normally meant is certainly not true. The whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation is culturally conditioned. It is all written in the language of particular times, and evokes the cultures in which it came to birth. It seems, when we get close up to it, as though, if we grant for a moment that in some sense or other God has indeed inspired this book, he has not wanted to give us an abstract set of truths unrelated to space and time. He has wanted to give us something rather different, which is not (in our post-enlightenment world) nearly so easy to handle as such a set of truths might seem to be. The problem of the gospels is one particular instance of this question. And at this point in the argument evangelicals often lurch towards Romans as a sort of safe place where they can find a basic systematic theology in the light of which one can read everything else. I have often been assured by evangelical colleagues in theological disciplines other than my own that my perception is indeed true: namely, that the Protestant and evangelical tradition has not been half so good on the gospels as it has been on the epistles. We don’t quite know what to do with them. Because, I think, we have come to them as we have come to the whole Bible, looking for particular answers to particular questions. And we have thereby made the Bible into something which it basically is not. I remember a well-known Preacher saying that he thought a lot of Christians used the Bible as an unsorted edition of Daily Light. It really ought to be arranged into neat little devotional chunks, but it happens to have got all muddled up. The same phenomenon occurs, at a rather different level, when People treat it as an unsorted edition of Calvin’s Institutes, the Westminster Confession, the UCCF Basis of Faith, or the so-called ‘Four Spiritual Laws’. But to treat the Bible like that is, in fact, simply to take your place in a very long tradition of Christians who have tried to make the Bible into a set of abstract truths and rules—abstract devotional doctrinal, or evangelistic snippets here and there.

    This problem goes back ultimately, I think, to a failure on the part of the Reformers to work out fully their proper insistence on the literal sense of scripture as the real locus of God’s revelation, the place where God was really speaking in scripture. The literal sense seems fine when it comes to saying, and working with, what (for instance) Paul actually meant in Romans. (This itself can actually be misleading too, but we let it pass for the moment.) It’s fine when you’re attacking mediaeval allegorizing of one sort or another. But the Reformers, I think, never worked out a satisfactory answer to the question, how can the literal sense of stories—which purport to describe events in (say) first century Palestine—how can that be authoritative? If we are not careful, the appeal to ‘timeless truths’ not only distorts the Bible itself, making it into the sort of book it manifestly is not, but also creeps back, behind the Reformers’ polemic against allegory, into a neo-allegorization which is all the more dangerous for being unrecognised
    The full lecture and context (well worth the read, can be found at:

    Just something I thought you might “enjoy”, or at least find interesting given the route this conversation took. I know you probably won’t agree with Wright’s lecture, but that’s ok. I’m not trying to be disrespectful towards your beliefs, just thought that his voice adds something to this discussion.

  18. #18 by clearly on April 24, 2008 - 6:50 am

    Justin, the nuances of my posts were not directed towards viewing the Bible as simply a collection of timeless truths; while I do believe the Bible teaches timeless truth, it is not necessarily that simple all the time. Although I do believe that what Paul told Timothy stands for all NT writings as well…that they are God-breathed and therefore profitable for every sphere of life and ministry, including doctrine, refuting error, and sovling difficult ethical life quesitons.

    That being said, I recognize that Romans 13 was written to a specific people at a specific time. Paul’s commands toward them, then, were specific; that’s a given. However, he based his commands on the timeless fact that governmental authority stems from God himself.

  19. #19 by Raquelamisto on April 24, 2008 - 7:22 am

    The irony is that liberal theologians often HATE anything that Paul wrote and mark it off as “culturally based.”

    But, Justin, I’m curious as to (since you quoted it and stated your agreement)what portion of the gospels somehow dispels any truths that are in the epistles?

  20. #20 by Justin on April 24, 2008 - 10:31 pm

    I am complete agreement with you that “the Bible does teach ‘timeless truths’ but is MORE than a collection of timeless truths”. Please don’t take me posting that article as me making assumptions. Again, I thought you would find it interesting.

    Now I return your question to me back to you…”how do you choose what is a “timeless truth” and what isn’t?” Everyone picks and choses.

    My other thought is this: looking back through history I see where this passage was used extensively; during the reformation. But the new reformers and protestants at the time were having trouble when people were trying to use Luther to invoke a peasant’s revolt. They used Acts 5:29 (“we must obey God and not man.”)to try to justify being against both the Papal authority and governing as well as their own European governments (depending on the place in which they resided). This is a well documented event at which both of these verses were presented as “timeless truths”. Both logically make sense when presented in that manner, but become circumspect to contextuality when better studied.

    My other question is not to bait you, but a question of how to reconcile Romans 13 as a “timeless truth” when we think about people in power like Hitler, Stalin, and not long after Romans was written; Nero’s reign of terror. One of my favorite stories is of Bonhoeffer and his group’s plot to kill Hitler. Why? not because I am in favor of murder (I’d much rather see Bin Laden captured, tried, and placed in prison than killed), but because of the angst and struggle over a situation that was not black and white. He felt, as a Christian, a great conviction to act in a way that would save lives.

    Did God give them power? If so, why? It doesn’t make sense. I can perhaps see the argument that “God gave them power (like Saul) and they abused it and left the ‘path’ intended, etc…” But then you feed right back into the heart of what Shane is saying here. Maybe a boycott on taxation is not the BEST (i won’t call it right OR wrong) response, but when people in that kind of authority abuse that power, and we are called by God to something greater, should we not take action. Hasn’t that been the whole point of the Christian Right (Moral Majority) politically? The debate with Shane then becomes “WHAT should we do?” as opposed to simply, “should we do?”

    I think that the message of this passage is that we can’t simply disregard civil authority in the name of a higher power. There is some sort of Divine link between Paul’s understanding of the Roman gov. and God. This is easier advice for Paul to give at this point in history because it is essentially the same government with which Christ dealt, and this was closer to Christ’s specific approach to this government.

    I honestly think the “divine connection” has more to do with our nature as humans and the need for civil gov. But that doesn’t mean that all civil gov. are “God approved”. The purpose of Civil gov. is to “reward good and punish evil” (Achtemeier). Yet when a gov. begins rewarding evil and punishing good, then those civil authorities are no longer a part the purpose for which God has created them, and thus these verses can no longer apply to such governing forces.

    Now at what point a person decides that a government is no longer doing that, and what actions are thus called for is something that we (like bonehoeffer, except hopefully never to that extent)would have to struggle with. I think that’s where Shane is coming from.

    I would also invoke a non-Biblical quote here. We claim that our country was founded on “Christian principles”, and historians agree that the reformation and Luther in particular had a huge impact on the idea of “human rights”. Therefore one could argue (using this verse)that our Dec. of Independence was “inspired” by God (I don’t mean that to the level of the Bible, but that the Holy Spirit was actively involved). It says: “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”

    again, just some thoughts thrown out there. Not meant to bait or argue with you, but this is a tough topic…It’s good to discuss!

    I’m not sure where I see that you get that the “gospels somehow dispels any truths…in the epistles.”, but it’s late and my focus is faltering.

    I think that there are “truths” in the epistles as mentioned above. But let us use this example of Romans 13. We have to first acknowledge contextual understandings of the gospels and the epistles (date, author, purpose, audience, etc..) If you pull out the “give unto Caesar…” passage and assimilate it with Rom. 13:1, then yes it seems on the surface to match up. But taking into account the contexts listed above, we begin to see that the gospels are not as clean-cut on the issue of following the Roman Empire as those two statements suggest.

    There are many symbolic instances that are a direct defiance to the Roman gov. The entire birth narrative was symbolically anti-Roman Empire. Again, I’m not denying that it all happened like that, I just think that it happening like it did, and the deep symbolism is a puzzle that only God could have put together.

    But there are other subtle instances. I won’t list them all, but the fact that Jesus invited a tax collector to follow him as well as a Centurion would have been VERY political in it’s 1st century message. The fact that Jesus placed that tax collector and a zealot at the same table to eat is another political statement.

    The Anti-Empire theme is rampant in the gospel accounts. That’s just an example…but it only conflicts if you interpret Rom. 13 as a timeless truth. I’m not saying it’s not, but perhaps it’s more wisdom than truth. That’s not cutting it down or devaluing it… but people seem more comfortable questioning and scritinizing a portion of the text when they view it as wisdom instead of truth. (wisdom as in wise advice, not as in the lit. genera “Wisdom”.)

    I guess what I’m saying is that I’m more weary of everything Paul says as assuming it was meant by him to be a “timeless truth” than the things said by Christ to begin with. Not denying that they are present in the epistles, just saying I think it is a better position from my experience to approach the epistles. (I don’t mean that to discredit or insult other approaches, simply a personal preference).

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