Monday, June 16, 2014

Romans 13 and the First Table of the Law

Romans 13

King James Version (KJV)
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

This text requires the state to use the power of the sword to punish evildoers, that is, those who violate God's law. As such, there is nothing about Romans 13 that is opposed to the view that the judicial laws of Moses (especially those that punish violations of the moral law) are binding on all nations today. 

However, some may say that the state's power of the sword today is restricted to crimes by man against man; therefore, the evildoers that Romans 13 has in view are those who commit murder, rape, theft, and other offenses against the Second Table of the Lawbut not those who violate the First Table of the Law, such as blasphemers, public idolaters, and high-handed Sabbath breakers.

I am not sure how such a view can be Scripturally supported, and, moreover, here are three considerations from Romans 13 in regards to punishing offenses against the First Table of the Law:

1. While the Second Table of the Law is summarized as the command to love one's neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22:39), the First Table of the Law is summarized as the command to love God with all one's heart, soul, and mind—the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:36-38). It logically follows then that violating the greatest commandment is the greater offense. 

As such, we could argue from the lesser to the greater: since Romans 13 requires civil rulers to punish evildoers, then if they should punish violations of the Second Table of the Law, how much more should they punish violations of the First Table of the Law? Should not the punishment of evil acts include the punishment of the most evil acts? 

2. Romans 13 is clear that civil government is instituted by God. Since God then is foundational to civil government, then it follows that government should oppose blasphemy, witchcraft, atheism, etc. Such acts that directly attack God also promote the subversion of proper civil government, for by attacking the foundation, one attacks that which the foundation upholds. 

God is the ultimate authority; as such; He is the ultimate political authority. Therefore, a direct attack on God is the ultimate act of treason.

3. Romans 13 refers to a ruler as a "minister of God." Surely a minister is to defend the honor of whom he represents. And rulers act as ministers of God when they use the sword on evildoers: 
But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
And so since the title "minister of God" assumes the need to defend God's honorand since a ruler acts as God's minister by punishing evildoers with the swordthen it follows that rulers should defend God's honor by punishing violations of the First Table of the Law.

Similarly, Nathaniel Morton, Pilgrim Separatist and Secretary of Plymouth Colony, states:
[W]e conceive, that as the magistrate hath his power from God, so undoubtedly he is to improve it for the honor of God ... [1] 
If Romans 13 was unconcerned with the rights of God (so to speak), and solely concerned with the rights of man (such as in libertarianism and all forms of secularism), then perhaps a more appropriate title for rulers than a "minister of God" would be a "minister of man." 

But as a minister of God, the civil ruler is to concern himself first and foremost with God's honor—which logically leads to protecting the rights of his fellow man as well. To reject God's honor logically leads to disregarding the rights of man; as Romans 1 explains, those who refuse to glorify God end up hating their neighbor as well

Therefore, to only be concerned with man's rights in civil government is ultimately self-defeating. When God is foundational, man has rights. When He isn't, man is tyrannized.


[1]  William Brigham, ed., The Compact with the Charter and Laws of the Colony of New Plymouth (Boston, MA: Dutton and Wentworth, Printers to the State, 1836), 107. We have modernized the language.