Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Response to Greg Frazer on Romans 13-Part IV

This post will resume my quest to respond to some of the arguments of Dr. Gregg Frazer regarding Romans 13. Nonetheless, in an attempt to more align my thoughts with the unique character and format of this blog I have modified my quest that was stated in my last post to attempting to explain why many Clergy at the time of the Revolution:

1) Did not believe that the Declaration of Independence was rebellion against God.
2) Believed that the Bible seemed to uphold the duty of the Christian to submit to the institution of government but also allowed(and perhaps demanded)resistance to tyranny in certain circumstances. 3) Validated the THEOLOGICAL and philosophical ideas on government of Shaftesberry and Locke in their pulpits; whether they mentioned them by name or not or agreed with their views on salvation or not.

The sermon that has been the center of this dialogue is the most famous of this period: "Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to Government Powers." It was preached by a man named Jonathan Mayhew and his core theme was that "rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God." For this to be true then the more absolute interpretations of Romans 13 and the extreme doctrines that came with them had to be proven wrong. In short, Mayhew was out to disprove the interpretations of the Bible that lead to the doctrine of the "Divine Right of Kings."

The following is the crux of his argument against a more absolute interpretation that seeks to argue that people must submit to tyrants no matter what they do:

"For what can be more absurd than an argument thus framed? “Rulers are, by their office, bound to consult the public welfare and the good of society: therefore you are bound to pay them tribute, to honor, and to submit to them, even when they destroy the public welfare, and are a common pest to society, by acting in direct contradiction to the nature and end of their office.”

Mayhew is pointing out the inherent contradiction of what Paul would have to be saying if the more absolutist interpretations are to be believed. To interpret this the way loyalists of that day and Frazer do, one would have to believe that Paul was saying not only did we have to submit to people who were obviously violating clear biblical mandates about the duties and obligations of civil rulers but that we had to pay honor to men who were killing people for their own pleasure! Thus, unless one believes that honor is due a tyrant then the first verse of Romans 13 can not mean what they say it does. Either submission does not mean what they say it does or what we are to submit to means something different than what they say it does. In other words, if Frazer and the loyalists are wrong then Paul would seem to be talking about the institution of government in general and not tyrants.

Another sermon of the era, preached by a man named Abraham Keteltas, seems to shed more light on the thoughts of the time on this matter. It was called "God Arising and Pleading His People's Cause." It more or less was stating that God was with the people of the Revolution and was pleading their cause because it was his cause. One would probably ask, If God ordains all authority and the leaders are his anointed then how could the fight of the common people to secure their rights from a King be God's cause?

I think Keteltas sheds great light on this with this excerpt:

"God commanded the Israelites, saying, ye shall not oppress one another. Leviticus 25, 14–17. When the ten tribes had revolted from Rehoboam, because of oppression, and when Rehoboam and Judah went out to fight against them to bring them back to subjection, God sent his prophet to Rehoboam and Judah, saying, ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren! 1 Kings 12, 24. God declared to Abraham, I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee. See also 1. Chron. 16, 22, compared with Psalm 105, 15, where Jehovah is represented, saying, touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm: i.e. God’s anointed people, and not kings, because it is said in the preceeding verse, he suffered no man to do them wrong, yea, he reproved kings for their sake.

If this is to be believed, then God's anointed people can be kings and common folk alike. This would seem to indicate that what God ordained to be submitted to was something different than a tyrant King and possibly just the institution of government itself intimated before.

This brings me to a question that gives us insight into the reasoning behind the Frazer/Loyalist argument:

"If Romans 13 does not mandate subjection to wicked, ungodly, tyrannical rulers -- what sense did it make to the addressees of the letter? What sense did it make to those for whom the letter was written and to whom it was sent -- Christians living under Nero?"

Since this is not a new debate and to bring this discussion into line with the history of this debate lets allow for the fact that Frazer is not just questioning my theological and philosophical line of reasoning when it comes to government. He is questioning a line of reasoning that goes back to Locke, Shaftsberry, and possibly some of the scholastics. I put theological in bold face because it seems that most want to read Locke's Second Treatise and ignore his First Treatise. The first is filled with biblical arguments against the Divine Right of Kings and the second is his philosophical views that are grounded in his theology. Thus, if true, this line of reasoning that Frazer questions is based on a theological argument not a non-theological enlightenment one. In other words, Frazer and company will have to answer the question and stop changing the subject by calling everyone who disagrees with them "Theistic Rationalists."

Thus, I will attempt to answer this question as one who is a modern heir to the theological line of reasoning that Locke and others applied to civil government. With that said, a simple look at the History answers Frazer's question. According to several sources I read, Paul wrote Romans in either 54 AD or 56 AD. Since Nero took office in 54 AD it would seem like this question/argument would destroy the whole "Paul was referring to good government/institution of government line of reasoning" that Mayhew and company used. As I mulled this over yesterday I assumed that Frazer knew his history so I began to doubt Mayhew's whole line of reasoning.

However, after many hours of reciting story after story in the Bible that would seem to contradict the loyalist/Frazer absolute interpretation, I decided to check the history this morning. As it turns out, this is either a foolish question by Frazer or there is something about the History of this I do not know. If it is the former then this is really a non-question because Nero did not start his persecution until around 64 AD or at least 8 years after Romans was written. Simply, one of Frazer's strongest arguments turns out to be paper thin. Nero's persecution seems to have no bearing at all on what Paul wrote which leaves the door open for the argument that says that Paul was talking about submission to the institution of government in general not to unconditionally to tyrants.

Another argument that Frazer uses against the Lockean style of theological reasoning about civil government is that while there are examples in the Bible of men disobeying authority they should never cross the line into resistance or rebellion. When asked what the difference is because they both seem to be NON-SUBMISSION and a violation of Paul's admonition in Romans 13:1, Frazer responds that submission and obedience are two different things. He states that one can disobey an authority and still submit himself to that authority. He adds that we should only disobey if that authority asks us to do something that God commands us not to do.

The following question was posed as a challenge to me:

"You have not responded to my EVIDENCE for the difference between "subjection" and "obedience." I gave you the Greek meanings of the terms and showed you how they are consciously separated in Titus 3:1. You just keep saying they're the same thing -- do you have any EVIDENCE to support your view?

Titus 3:1 states:

"Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good.

I have two thoughts on this. The first is that if submission is absolute in Romans 13 then obedience is absolute according to Titus 3:1. In other words, Paul is telling Titus to tell the people to submit to AND obey the authorities. He adds obedience in this passage to the submission in Romans 13. So this verse actually destroys Frazer's argument that submission is absolute and obedience is conditional. If Romans 13 is absolute then Titus 3:1 has to be as well. Inversely, this would mean that if obedience is conditional then submission must be as well which contradicts Frazer. If I am right there is no way Romans 13 says what he says it means. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. Accordingly, we need to look for another explanation.

This brings me to my second thought on this verse. Paul seems to hint at the type of governments he is talking about when he tells the people to be ready to do "good" in their obedience and submission. This seems to go right along with the stream of theological reasoning as handed down by Shaftsberry and Locke that Paul is talking about the institution government in general should be submitted to and obeyed. How could they possibly be ready to do "good" by carry out the commands of a lunatic like Hitler? There has to be more than meets the eye to this right?

Well it seems that there is. In fact, I found a copy of Locke paraphrasing Romans on line last night. I think he can answer for himself as Frazer's line of reasoning continues:

"How can the proper interpretation of a passage of Scripture change based on how it is applied or misapplied? Did God not have a particular message? Did He not know what He was saying -- it depends on how people use it? How could the people to whom the message was originally given know what God wants them to do, since they cannot see into the future to see how men misuse the passage?"


"And St. Paul had taught them, in his epistle, that all Christians were free from Mosaic Law. Hence corrupt and mistaken men, especially Jewish converts, impatient as we have observed of any heathen dominion might be ready to infer that Christians were exempt from subjection to the laws of heathen governments. This he obviates by telling them that all other governments derived the power they had from God as well as that of the Jews, though they had not the whole frame of their government immediately from him as the Jews had."

I think his thoughts are self explantory but I think it would be helpful to expound on a couple things. First, is that this kind of interpretation would be consistent with the rest of Romans and epistles in general in that they are often written in response to letters from the people with specific questions and usually to deal with some sort of false teaching that was going on. When Locke uses the phrase "impatient as we have observed of any heathen dominion" refering to the Jewish converts, it would seem that he was referencing other parts of the letter. Accordingly, since most of the letter was written to stress that the Jews were no better than the Gentiles(a common theme in Paul's letter) this would seem to jive. Secondly, from other things I have read, it seems that the people he was writing to were mainly Jewish converts.

In response to Frazer, it would seem that the message that God seems to want to convey according to the theology of Locke, Mayhew, Keteltas, is clear and consistent. It is also specific and relevant to the people of that time as Frazer demands it be. They see that God wants all men to submit to and obey the institution of government itself even if one is a Jew and the government of Gentile. It would seem that they all thought this was as simple as Paul validating Gentile government. It might be possible that he was essentially stating that "all governments, not just Jewish ones, are ordained by God." Also, I think that the fact that Romans 13 was misapplied in the "Divine Right of Kings" is important in that often that is the smoking gun that the the theological interpretation behind the philosophical stance is as flawed as the stance itself. This would seem to be whether Frazer thinks this is relevant or not.

I would also state that some of the doctrines least friendly to liberty were constructed on the shaky foundation of theological interpretations that seek to apply a specific exhortation to a specific people at a specific time and make it universal.(Modern Day Domionists) The best example I can give is Paul telling people it is better not to get married in one letter and in a later letter telling windows to get married if they are going to be busy bodies. Either he changed his mind or there are missing pieces we do not understand because he was addressing a specific audience and more than likely specific questions we are not privy to. I think some of his exhortations to women fall into this trap as well when used to make universal dogma. This can be avoided if we look beyond the surface of what the text seems to indicate to the whole counsel of scripture. We have to realize that there is often information left out of the text of the letters because it would be redundant to the people who are receiving the letter. Thus, a possible reason that "including Non-Jewish" was omitted to give context.

Well enough said. I hope I have done a credible job representing the theological and philosophical ideas on government that were passed on from Shaftsberry to Locke and that made it into numerous pulpits in colonial America during the time of the founding. I know that this dialogue kind of turned into what Tom would call a "intramural battle" of competing doctrines at times. However, I do not want people to lose sight of the three most important points that these posts have tried to make:

1. Many of the Christian philosophical ideas on civil government from the Founding Era are grounded in a stream of theology that is taken from the text of the Bible.

2. That this stream of theology and philosophy on civil government preceded the enlightenment.

3. That to state that these preachers' ideas were shaped more by Enlightenment Philosophy than Christian Theology is wrong.

I part with a quote in response to the charge of number three above from David Barton that I do believe is TRUE:

"While such charges certainly reflect the personal views of these critics, they definitely do not accurately reflect the extended theological debates that occurred at the time of the American Revolution. In fact, contrary to Dr. Cornett's claim that the Founding Fathers turned to Enlightenment rhetoric for validation of the American Revolution, the topic of civil disobedience and resistance to governing authorities had been a subject of serious theological inquiries for centuries before the Enlightenment. This was especially true during the Reformation, when the subject was directly addressed by theologians such as Frenchman John Calvin, German Martin Luther, Swiss Reformation leader Huldreich Zwingli, and numerous others."

Maybe Barton is right about some things. Oh and least someone try to use the old "they are all Theistic Rationalist" lines of thinking, Ketelas was an orthodox as they come judging by the first half of his sermon that was quoted above. From a lot of the reading I have done about Locke I think he was orthodox and liberal. The trouble most have in reading him is that he separated doctrine regarding salvation(Where at first glance he seems Orthodox)from doctrines on civil affairs.(Where he is obviously Liberal) I think we would be wise to do the same and avoid the pitfall of labeling everyone a "Theistic Rationalist" that disagrees with the loyalist/Frazer line of reasoning.