Does Sessions’ use of the passage match its original context?
The Apostle Paul wrote that passage while living under the brutal Roman Empire. Paul, a convert to Christianity who went around evangelizing people, was a known troublemaker, said Douglas Campbell, a professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School. His preaching had caused riots in Ephesus and Jerusalem. These public disturbances earned Paul disfavor with Roman administrators who greatly feared any incitement to revolution.
“He was in legal trouble so he had to cover himself,” Campbell said.
Paul wrote this letter to the church in Rome before he had met its recipients. Many Jewish followers of Jesus were returning to Rome under the emperor Nero years after the previous emperor had expelled a number of Jews, according to Lynn Cohick, chair of the Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies at Wheaton College in Illinois.
Cohick describes the passage as an introduction, as well as instructions: “After five years, how are they going to reintegrate?” she said. Chapters 12 to 15 deal with that question, with Paul echoing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in lines like, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” and “Bless those who persecute you.”
“He’s framing all of this in their context of, ‘We want you to be a good citizen as much as you are able. You’re not going to be able to offer sacrifices to the emperor. … If that’s the law then you’re just going to break the law and go to jail. In terms of the government raising funds through taxes, that’s just what you do,” Cohick said.
That’s where that plug for taxes comes in.
But the fact Paul himself was imprisoned by governing authorities several times and eventually executed shows “You don’t follow the government at all costs,” she said.
“That’s not what Paul was saying.”
RNS national reporter Jack Jenkins contributed to this report.
Courtesy: Religion News Service
Photo courtesy: Wikipedia
Publication date: June 17, 2018