The predicted snow didn’t amount to much here, but up a little higher there was enough to help this colorful bush stick out even more. Courtesy Leon Kauffman
Does Romans 13 Justify Christian Participation in Violence?
By Jon Kauffman
Some Christians claim that Romans 13:1-5 justifies Christian participation in violence or the military.
13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. Romans 13:1-5
From the time of the Maccabees, many Jews rebelled against Rome. In AD 55 when Paul wrote Romans 13, many zealot Jews were rebelling against Rome. Nero, Emperor of Rome when Romans was written was one of the bloodiest and unjust emperors to ever rule Rome. In 55 AD, Nero who followed Claudius as Emperor had been emperor for a year. Prior to Paul writing Romans, Emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome, resulting in the expulsion of Christians. Paul is advising Christians not to violently rebel against Rome even if the Romans treat Christians with injustice.
In the face of such persecution, it is unlikely that Christians would have been tempted to join the military.
Later in the reign of Nero, Jews rebelled against Rome. Rome sieges Jerusalem. Christians who followed the instructions of Jesus in Luke 21, fled to the mountains and escaped. Very few Christians were killed in this siege. As many as a million Jews died in this revolt against Rome.
God sometimes uses violent men representing the state to control evil and violence, but Jesus does not ask Christians to participate in anything that goes contrary to his teachings. Jesus demonstrates and teaches that it is better to refuse to obey the state than to participate in their evil.
Jesus is not asking non-Christians or Christians to behave in a violent matter. In Romans 13, Paul simply observes that because violent men use the government violently, God will us that violence for good and to control control evil men. Because God is in control he uses even the violent as his agents for good.
Jesus asks Christians to build the kingdom of God by taking up their cross and following Jesus. Jesus died on the cross without resistance against those killing him. Jesus said twelve legions of angels were at his disposal and yet he did not ask for their help. Nowhere in the teachings of Jesus is Christian participation in violence shown to be acceptable. Jesus asks his followers to love their enemies.
The Apostle John told us: 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:16-18
Many Christians live in countries the United States has made war against. How is it possible to love our brothers and sisters in Christ while we kill them? The government war drums are currently beating against Iran, but Iran has the fastest growing Christian Church in the world.
Was George Washington fighting an unjust war when he was fighting a war of rebellion against England during the Revolutionary War? Certainly!
Romans 13 is an admonition not to use violent rebellion against the government and in no way asks Christians to join the military or join in contributing to Rome’s injustice.
Romans 13 does not justify Christian participation in violence or the military.
Copyright © 2019 by Jon Kauffman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit and a live link are given.
Picture: Copyright © 2019 by Leon Kauffman