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Michael Bird

Michael Bird’s interpretation of Romans 13:1-7 in three points:

“First, we must remember that Paul’s terse remarks about submission to state authorities are saturated with God language with six references to Theos in the space of seven verses.  For Paul there is no authority except from God; the powers are appointed by God; those who resist his appointed political authorities oppose the authority of God; political authorities preserving social order with the sword are in effect the agent of God; the political authorities are even servants of God. This is not capitulation to political power but a fervent affirmation of divine authority over civil powers. Second, nothing in Romans 13:1-7 compromises Jesus’ lordship. However we read Romans 13:1-7, Jesus remains the one in whom the nations place their hopes. Third, we have read Romans 13 in light of Paul’s apocalyptic narrative about the overthrow of all authorities at the return of Jesus. Paul declares the ‘powers,’ be they political or spiritual, have been disarmed and are impotent before Jesus’ lordship (see Rom 8:38-39; 1 Cor 2:8; 15:25-26; Col 2:15).”

Michael Bird, “‘One Who Will Arise to Rule Over the Nations’: Paul’s Letter to the Romans and the Roman Empire” in Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica, Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies, 159.

Bird goes on to explain that “Paul’s remarks about governing authorities in Romans 13:1-7 are relativized by his exhortation in Romans 13:11-14.” In those veres Paul reminds his audience “…that salvation is at least impending and will bring with it the dissolution and judgement of these very same authorities.” Paul’s words were designed to prevent the infantile Jesus movement from being perceived as seditious and dangerous. Christians did not affirm Roma aeterna (eternal Rome), but neither did Christians intend to overthrow any government themselves. Rome would be judged by Christ one day, so there was no reason to accept Rome’s claims of eternality or divine favor, but the Kingdom of God would be established by God in God’s time, so there was no need to attempt to overthrow Caesar to install Christ.