Human Government in the Five-Fold Replacement of Torah

Paul mentions five sources of guidance that replace the Law. One of them is Love itself. The five sources of guidance are 1) the Spirit, 2) love, 3) human conscience, 4) human government, and 5) scripture. The one he discusses the least in Romans as a source of guidance is scripture. His most controversial substitute for the Law seems to be human government.

Paul coaches us on our attitude to human government in Romans 13:1-7. My modest comments undoubtedly only duplicate what others have written.

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 Diaspora Jews.As I was reading Romans 13:1-7 I realized that Paul probably developed this idea with his Jewish synagogue.  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 responsible 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 imperial Tarsus courts, 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 state, whether or not the state acknowledged the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  

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

Paul’s Five Replacements for the Law’s Guidance

Human government is not the single reliable source of guidance for us. I mention it 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.

The question arises, “How can you say human government is a replacement when it was created because of man’s rejection of God?”  

Human government does not completely replace the Torah by itself. It replaces one part of the Torah, those passages which address civil order.

In a world populated with only kind and ethical primates we would not need human government–everyone would act in love toward one another. Unfortunately, we do not live in that ideal world, and primates with the strong drive to protect others, and have the political will to devise the rules by which we referee the game–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.
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