Human Government and the Torah

I received the following feedbak to a previous post from a reader named Daniel. Here are Daniel’s comments in full.

To love God and others is fulfilling the Torah. We have the Torah written in our hearts. I would call it a fulfillment rather than a replacement. The law is a misconceived term for Torah because the Torah is not a set of rules to govern others but actually God governing within ourselves through love.

The biggest problem with this article is that it says human government is a replacement for the Torah. That is actually pretty disgraceful considering the fact that most of the world’s problems and biggest evils throughout history are done at the hands of government. Human government is no where near worthy enough to be considered on par with God’s righteousness, much less to imply it could ever be a replacement for His Torah. Human government and law constantly changes because it seeks the desires of the rulers whereas God never changes. How can you say human government is a replacement when it was created because of man’s rejection of God?

I agree with most of what you said. Yes, according to Jeremiah 31:31ff, the Law of God is written on our hearts and minds. And I agree that the Law of God is the Law of Love. The problem is that I didn’t suggest that human government by itself replaced the Torah.  I agree, that to replace God’s Law of Love with human government would be disgraceful. But I never said that the Torah was replaced by human government alone. I don’t know if you intended to say that, but that’s how it sounds.

Daniel, Paul discusses or mentions five things that give us guidance in place of the Law. One of them is what you mention (correctly) as the goal of the Torah–Love itself. The five sources of guidance are 1) the Spirit, 2) love, 3) conscience, 4) government, and 5) scripture.  The one he discusses the least scripture.

Paul tells us what our attitude to human government should be in Romans 13:1-7. The books and monographs written on this topic could fill several floor-to-ceiling book shelves, and my modest comments undoubtedly only duplicate what many others have written.

I think it is important to remember that, prior to his name change, Paul was known as Saul of Tarsus. Tarsus was a major city in present-day Turkey, and in the first century was home to stoic philosophers like Athenodorus, Zeno, Antipater, and Nestor, and was a center of gnostic teaching as well. Saul’s congregation was composed of Jews dispersed among the gentile nations (the Diaspora).

As I was reading Romans 13:1-7 I realized that Paul could easily have shared similar sentiments with a Jewish synagogue as well.  It is not difficult to imagine Jews young and old chafing at laws imposed on them by the magistrates. And who doesn’t resent taxes?  I can hear them now, “The Lord is our God. Why do we have to pay taxes to these uncircumcised dogs? The Lord is our God. When will God deliver us from the hands of this Pharoah?”

And what I also hear is Saul’s reply, consisting of Romans 13:1-7 (NIV).

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.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  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.  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.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

There is nothing especially Christian about the Romans 13 passage. There is no mention of mysteries or revelations or Christ as such.  It could easily have been taught to Jews in Tarsus who objected to paying taxes for building monuments to the gods.

I believe that Saul found himself outside of Palestine, in a context where the Jews were no longer required to enforce civil laws like prohibitions against moving boundary markers (Deuteronomy 19:14; 27:17) or dealing with accidental loss of life (Exodus 21:13, 22; Numbers 35:6, 11, 15). Such cases were addressed in the Tarsus court system, and Saul knew that it was in the best interest of his congregation that, so to speak, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

The apostle Paul is actually an early precursor of the separation of church and state, except that he yielded the authority of his religion’s own sacred book and urged submission to the laws of the governing authorities, whether they acknowledged the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob or not.  

Romans 13 takes the responsibility for meting out punishment for civil offenses and gives it to the state, whether the state is secular or not, whether the state adheres to your religion or not. 

Paul’s Five Replacements for the Law’s Guidance

Daniel, I need to say that human government is not the single reliable source of guidance for us. I did not mention it alone, but alongside four other sources. There are five things that replace our reliance on the Law for guidance: 1) the Spirit, 2) love, 3) conscience, 4) government, and 5) scripture.

Daniel, in your conclusion you ask me, “How can you say human government is a replacement when it was created because of man’s rejection of God?”  First, it does not completely replace the Torah by any means.  It replaces one part of the Torah, those passages which address civil order.  Second, this was Paul’s idea, not mine.  

Ideally we would not need human government–everyone would act in love toward one another.  Unfortunately, we do not live in that ideal world, and people with the strong drive to protect others, and have the political will to devise the rules by which we play–these people will protect the victims of the strong and write the rules by which we are protected from rule breakers.

Paul’s Eleven-Fold Cancellation of the Law

You might consider reading aloud the phrases and sentences in bold italic text. 

  1. Galatians 3:10— All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
  2. Galatians 3:13—Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us,
  3. Galatians 3:25—Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
  4. Galatians 5:1—It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
  5. Galatians 5:18—But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
  6. Romans 2:12—All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.
  7. Romans 4:15—The law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
  8. Romans 5: 13—Before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.
  9. Romans 6:14—Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
  10. Romans 7:8b—Apart from law, sin is dead.
  11. Colossians 2:13b-14—He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code,with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
This entry was posted in Antinomianism, Deeper Life, Romans. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Human Government and the Torah

  1. Samuel says:

    The law of the Heavenly Father was never abolished or canceled. No matter what man says or thinks. His law is sill in affect. The sabbath and feasts days still apply as well as the clean food laws. Elohim set his commandments and statutes in place and they are to be followed. Unfortunately Galatians has been misinterpreted by so many. This is why it’s very important to understand context. Context is key. We have to ask ourselves who Paul is talking to first. We know he is talking to the Galatians. So what is his concern and what is he talking to the Galatians about? The Galatians came to the faith and he was afraid they might go back to their old ways. He did not want them to go back under their old man made laws and traditions. Those things that were not pleasing to the Father. In scripture it says “those things which were against us” well the Heavenly Fathers laws have never been against us from the beginning of time. They were never set as a weight or burden upon us. They were for the best. It’s very important that we always understand context and realize that the Torah is important. We are to honor and keep all his commandments.


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