In the last post I took issue with Ernst Kasemann's argument for the dismissal of Romans 13 from Scripture. My first point was that Scripture is a historical record that is outside our editorial control. We have every right to disagree with the writers and redactors, but to call for the dismissal of portions of Scripture is simply a category mistake.
In this post I want to do an exegetical thing to point out that Kasemann is not seeing the overall context of Paul's argument in the surrounding chapters of Romans. You may raise your eyebrows since Ernst Kasemann was an expert scholar on the epistle and my credentials are non-existent. And admittedly I'm out of my league here and just working off of a quick read of the surrounding passage. But I really do think that Kasemann is missing the larger point Paul is trying to make. Here's my attempt to make that case.
Romans 13:1-7 is the text that he specifically takes issue with so I've pasted that in below. Be sure to keep the context of his daughter's "disappearance" in mind as you read. Paul says,
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due."
Knowing the one fact about what happened to Kasemann's daughter, you can see why he views the passage with revulsion. If that's not enough, does it help to know that Kasemann joined the confessing church in Germany in 1933, that he spent time in Gestapo detention in 1937, and that he watched his countries governing authorities slaughter 6 million people over the next several years? That should assist with contextualization.
You can also see how his revulsion is nothing new or unorthodox, as I mentioned in the last post, by a quick perusal of the OT scriptures. Does the phrase "Why do the wicked prosper?" come to mind? In the NT, at the focal point of Revelation's 22 chapter temple scene, the altar, we don't find answers, but a question: "How long?" Those two passages just scratch the surface of the Bible's theme of lamentation and complaint. These people had passion and they had faith. Interestingly enough, Romans is in large measure a defense of God against complaints about his justice, or perceived lack thereof. That's hardly a side note to the subject at hand.
Crammed between a discourse on ethics and a reminder about the end of the age, Romans 13:1-7 seems like it could easily be a later addition to the text. But I'll argue that the passage fits precisely where it is placed and adds to, rather than detracts from, Paul's message. Hopefully, in the process, I'll remove some doubt about Pauline authorship of these verses regardless of whether or not that is Kasemann's position.
The Purpose of Romans Chapters 12-13
If we view Romans chapters 12-14 as a literary unit, ignoring for a moment the long-range context of the surrounding chapters, I think we'll see that the climax of Paul's message, his thesis statement, is found in 13:8, immediately following the passage in question:
"Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law."
This simple statement is really the summation of a long argument begun in 12:2 under the rubric, "Do not be conformed to this world." In fact, these two pieces of advice form bookends on Paul's argument in these two chapters. Everything else in these three chapters, and much of Paul's message generally, should be viewed through the lens of these two appeals: "Do not be conformed to this world" and "Owe nothing to anyone."
In chapter 12, Paul is calling on his fellow Christians to form a distinctive community. In fact, chapter 12 reads like a recapitulation, or footnote, to Jesus' sermon on the mount, which was a blueprint for Christian ethical and public life. Paul's message here can read like a incoherent laundry list of to-do items. But it all fits under one theme: freedom. Specifically, Paul's advice concerning interaction within the body of Christ is given with a view towards freeing those who are in Christ so that they can devote themselves to love and love alone (13:8), freeing them from alternative obligations so that they can fulfill their only true obligation to Christ (14:17), and freeing them from conformation to the world so that they can be transformed instead (12:2). In short, Paul wants them free to live the sermon on the mount. With that goal in view, Paul's warnings concerning government become a small part of a larger argument.
What Then Shall We Say? Is God Unjust?
Kasemann understandably rails against the seeming injustice at the beginning of chapter 13. But has he completely glossed over the injustice of 12:14? It says, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not." Did he overlook 12:17? It states, "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone." Why no argument against 12:18-20? It reads as follows,
"If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengence is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. 'But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.'"
And anyone who has suffered real injustice or pain inflicted by other human beings can't help but be scandalized by 12:21 where Paul seems to be heaping some kind of burning item on the presumably pissed-off heads of his readers when he writes, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
I imagine that if Kasemann were to take a look at these previous verses, he'd rail against them as well, and his response might look something like this: "Excuse me bitch, but did you lose your daughter to a military junta?" Paul's readers probably wanted to say, "Have you ever lost a son to the Roman persecution? Don't talk to me about overcoming evil, you ignorant fool." And yet where is Kasemann's authoritative voice on these? If Paul doesn't piss you off at the end of Romans 12, then you've probably forgotten what it means to suffer. And you're certainly not ready to make a credible judgment call regarding chapter 13.
Viewing the odd recommendation of Paul concerning subjection to government in light of these difficult verses in chapter 12 is one way to place the text in context. Paul is making an extended request of his readers: Be in subjection! Be in subjection to whatever it takes to keep you free to love. Be in subjection to one another (12:10). Be in subjection to those that persecute and curse you (12:14). Be in subjection to those that rejoice, those that weep, the saints, and the lowly (12:13, 12:15-16). Be in subjection to your enemies and those that do you evil (12:17-20). Be in subjection to those who are weak in faith (14:15). And in an unsurprising continuation of the theme: be in subjection to government (13:1-7). Romans 13:1-7 is best seen as an unremarkable piece of a larger argument that stretches from 12:2 through chapter 14.
Because paradoxically, subjection means freedom. Surely it's not a coincidence that Paul put his exhortation in 13:7 and 13:8 side by side, is it? Look here. 13:7 reads as follows: "Render to all what is due to them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor." Then in 13:8 he dispenses with listing the things we shouldn't owe and cuts to the chase: "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law." Interestingly enough, 13:9 begins with a list and ends by cutting to the chase as well. Read it for yourself to see. I think that's an intentional parallel by Paul. It's as if he is saying that the reason to heed the advice of 13:1-7, the reason to be in subjection in all the ways mentioned in chapter 12 and soon to be mentioned in chapter 14, is to clear the balance sheet of liabilities so that love can be the only debtor.
When you have rendered to all what is due, you are then freed to fulfill your only true obligation which is to love. This is what it means to not be overcome, but to overcome (12:21). This is what it means to not be conformed, but to be transformed (12:2). This is why for Paul, slavery to Christ is freedom from sin. Subjection to man is freedom to love man.
The message of chapter 12 is essentially this: Don't let internal strife and injustice done unto you get in the way of your obligation to Christ! Bear with one another and be wronged to leave room for the Lord.
The message of chapter 13 is essentially this: Don't let secular obligations get in the way of loving your neighbor! Obey government so that you are free from any obligation imposed on you by Caesar so that your only remaining obligation can be to God.
The message of chapter 14 is essentially this: Don't let food, drink, and trivial ritual get in the way of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit! These are things that Jesus might have called the "weightier matters of the law." If a fellow brother wants to consider some food or another unclean, let him consider it unclean! Who gives a rats ass? Live in harmony. Only love, submit, and bear with. All these conflicts are secondary, a distraction. To the message of 14:17 which says that "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking," you could add that the kingdom does not consist of taxes, revenues, respect, vengeance, status, and honor. It only consists of love. The same goes for 14:20 which says, "Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food." I might add, "Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of honor, respect, vengeance, status, or taxes."
Paul's constant refrain in all of these verses: Owe nothing to anyone. Live at peace if possible. Be free from conformity, and thus entanglement to obligation, so you can be transformed, and thus free to love.
I'm confident of the my theses on the theme of Romans 12-14 above in large part because this theme is not out of character for Paul. For example, we find it in I Corinthians 6 where Paul discourages entanglement with pagan law courts and suggests a sort of community rule or legal structure within the church. [side note: Muslims call this Sharia law. Christians have yet to flesh out the practical application of I Corinthians 6.] Again, Paul's refrain is the same: Stay out of entanglement legally and financially. Be a distinctive community. I Corinthians 6, which says, "Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?" That sounds unmistakeably similar to the passages from Romans above. Read the rest of I Corinthians 6 through that lense. Notice food is mentioned again.
One more example should suffice. Titus 2 is a litany of relationship advice emanating outward from the family household (chapter 2), to the church community (chapter 1), to public civic duty (chapter 3). Titus 3:1-2 should ring a bell: "Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing consideration for all men." Remind them that mercy is a gift (3:5), that strife is unprofitable (3:9), and that this gift comes with an obligation (2:14).
I really could go on with examples, so for me, the question of Pauline authorship of Romans 13:1-7 is settled if there ever was one. Now, at what point of textual evidence accumulation does Paul's constant refrain in all these passages become a lense through which to read the entirety of the New Testament?