Christians, whether of Greek Orthodox or of some other Christian denomination, always find themselves feeling uncomfortable when faced with Paul’s epistle to Romans. Enemies of Christianity try to use the Apostle’s words to “frame” him and to prove that Christian religion is nothing but a scheme put up by worldly authorities in order to commit Christians to blind obedience, like “sheep” (in the word’s derogatory sense) being milked and sheared and slaughtered without uttering a single word of protest. Well – are you buying into this?
Romans 13 is commonly misquoted for justifying tyranny Let’s read what the New Testament says. I mean, let’s really read what the text says. Mind you, not all translations are equal. The epistles were originally written in the Greek language of the era (Hellenistic Koine) which was spoken throughout the literate Mediterranean world. What does this mean? It means that the Apostles conveyed their exact thoughts on paper; that this first Greek version contained the God-inspired words and meanings that the Apostles had in mind. All subsequent translations should remain faithful to the original, as minor variations in a mere word may result to a world of difference in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. This is not always the case, though. Thank God, I am a native Greek and a philologist too.
The controversy revolves around Romans 13:1-7, so let us compare the first sentences in three different translations. GOD’S WORD ® Translation (oh dear! is this a trademark on God’s Word?), published in 1995, reads “(1)Every person should obey the government in power. No government would exist if it hadn’t been established by God. The governments which exist have been put in place by God. (2)Therefore, whoever resists the government opposes what God has established. Those who resist will bring punishment on themselves.” Now, really? Also, the New American Standard Bible ©1995, closely resembling the International Standard Version © 2008, stipulates that “(1)Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. (2)Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” “Governing authorities” has a broader meaning than “government,” yet we are quite remote from the original script.
What about older versions of the New Testament? King James Bible (1611) and the American King James Version, the two following very close the original Greek text and thus being considered more or less authentic translations, read as: “(1)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. (2)Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” See? From “higher powers” and “power of God,” latest versions have come down to “government” – now, isn’t this a fall, or what? Brethren, listen! – People. Are. Tampering. With. The. Word. Of. God.
The very best part, though, comes with Romans 13:4 and Romans 13:6-7, King James Bible being used here. Paul preaches that a ruler “is the minister* of God to thee for good,” that a faithful needs “be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake ” and “render…to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.” I believe Paul is being crystal clear here: we should consult our “conscience,” i.e. our Christian conscience, according to the true (and original, mind you) Word of God, in order to judge the deeds of those rulers and whether they are set “for good” or for evil among us. If they are “for good,” then tribute is indeed due. If they are for evil, then “fear” is due. Now, hand on heart, are your rulers true followers of God?
Who is our ultimate ruler? Who should our earthly ministers follow and obey? Jesus Christ said it clearly: “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” Christ is the beginning and the end. Greek Orthodox Church has a beautiful illustration for this concept of all-ruling Christ. The Greek word for Christ is CHR ISTOS or ΧΡ ΙΣΤΟΣ. The group of the four letters X, P, Alpha and Omega forms the verb ΑΡΧΩ (ARCHO) meaning “I rule.”
Only He rules. His ministers are but those following His Way and functioning by His example. To them, our tribute is due. Don’t deal with the rest.
- Eleni Poulakou, www.Greek-Orthodox.org via Greek-Orthodox.org