Jesus, Paul and Peter and the Roman State

 

 

The creation of an Islamic theocracy in Iran following the overthrow of the Shah and the rise of the Jihardist movement have raised critical questions about the state and the Christian’s relationship to the state.  Clearly the nature of ‘the state’ is the big issue of our times.  Does the NT shed light on this issue?  In fact it does shed considerable light since this was a major concern to Jesus and his apostles Paul and Peter.

There were two streams of thought in NT times that create the context for Jesus’ teaching about theocracy.  One was the Zealots’ vision for a renewed Davidic theocracy and the other was the Roman Caesar’s demand to be recognised as a universal king.

1.            Jesus and the Zealots

The Davidic kingdom was a theocracy.  In that kingdom (at least considered in ideal terms) the king ruled the people for the covenant LORD through the divinely given Torah-Law.  Within that kingdom the Temple and its priests and rituals were of utmost importance.  Those ideal terms, however, rarely coincided with reality.  The kings themselves were the problem in the main, as witnessed by the continuing conflicts between those kings and the prophets who admonished them for their failures to uphold the Sinai covenant.

Theocracy in Israel didn’t last for very long, in fact for only those years when the great powers of the Fertile Crescent and the Mediterranean region were weak and Israel was strong.  The successive rise of and invasion by Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans meant that Israel existed as a minor satrapy in those great kingdoms, whether Babylonian, Persian, Greek or Roman.  By New Testament times, then, theocracy in Israel belonged to the distant past.  In any case, Israel was now largely existing in its scattered Diaspora with perhaps as few as ten percent of Jews living in their historic homeland.

Nonetheless, theocracy remained a fiercely held ideal, most obviously from the time of the Judas Maccabeus’ revolt against the Hellenising programmes of King Antiochus IV in Antioch.  The language of zeal and zealotry now begins to be used in Israel, based on the extreme actions of Phinehas (Numbers 25.6-9) and Elijah’s slaughter of the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel (1 Kings 18.36-40).  Judas Maccabeus’ revolt against Antioch marks the beginning of the ‘zealot’ mindset that was to dominate Jewish thinking in the next two centuries, including the era of the New Testament in which Christianity was born.

There are some points of contact between the Zealots of Israel and the modern Islamic Jihardists, in particular the willingness to lay down one’s life for a religious cause.  Clearly, then, Jesus’ attitude to zealotry and the apostles’ attitude to zealotry are important for the concerns of the times in which we live.

In Jesus’ day the zealot hope was expressed in the slogan ‘No master except God’.’[1] The catalyst was the Roman demand that individual Jews submit to a census for the payment of personal tax to the pagan overlord.  Hence the cry of Judas the Galilean in AD 6 ‘No master except God’.[2] Zeal for the name of Yahweh meant killing or being killed in his name.  That ‘Name’ and its honour were more valuable than one’s own life, anticipating in some respects the attitudes of contemporary suicide bombers.

2.            Jesus, the Zealots and the Roman Caesar.

(i)            Jesus’ teaching specifically opposed zealot paradigm, which was to ‘hate the enemy and love the friend’.  This paradigm was fundamental within extreme Jewish groups, whether Qumran covenanters[3] or the followers of various warlords like Judas the Galilean, Simon bar Gioras or John of Gischala.  Let us be reminded of Jesus’ teaching.

You have heard that it was said,  ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Matthew 5.43-45.

Love, not hate, lay at the heart of Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus’ attitude to the ‘men of violence’ of his times is clearly stated in these words:

From the days of John the Baptist until now
the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence
and men of violence take it by force.

Matthew 11.12.

Jesus’ words offer commentary on the violence dear to the heart of the ‘zealots’ of Jesus’ times.

The attempts of Robert Eisler and S.G.F. Brandon to identify Jesus as a zealot or zealot sympathiser have rightly been discredited.  Jesus’ teaching was in direct contradiction of the zealot ideal and the zealot method.

(ii)            Ironically, however, the Romans executed Jesus for fulfilling a role he had strenuously opposed.  It began with the accusation of the Temple authorities.

Then the whole company of them arose, and brought him before Pilate.
And they began to accuse him, saying,  ‘We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ a king’.

Luke 23.1.

This is, indeed, ironical.  These were the very crimes of his fellow Galilean Judas two decades earlier.  That Judas forbade paying taxes to the Romans and he claimed to be a king.  Moreover, as we have seen, he had a ‘kingdom’ message.  It was ‘No master except God’.

The Romans found Jesus the Galilean guilty of claiming to be ‘king of the Jews’ and he was crucified for that crime, that is, of treason against Rome.

It was a spectacular miscarriage of justice.  The Temple authorities wanted Jesus out of the way; he had a large and growing following.  Though Pilate was a tyrant and a brute the chief priests had a hold over him.[4] So Jesus was removed on the pretext that he was a zealot king with a theocratic programme that was inimical to the Pax Romana.  But it could not have been further from the truth.

The truth was that Jesus identified himself as the fulfilment of the prophecies of the oracles of God.  Specifically Jesus identified himself as the Son of Man (prophesied by Daniel) and the vicariously suffering Servant (prophesied by Isaiah).  Paradoxically, the one was the most exalted of figures and the other the most humiliated.  The only pathway to glory, he said, was through suffering for others.  Only at the last did Jesus publicly disclose himself as the Lord’s anointed, his Christ (fulfilling the prophecy of Nathan).  Only to his immediate circle did Jesus reveal himself to be ‘the Son’ of Abba, his Father-God.

The Jewish authorities did not or would not penetrate into the true persona of Jesus, who unimaginably amalgamated within himself the disparate strands of OT hope.  And so he was accused, condemned and crucified as a bloody local warlord, a new Judas the Galilean.

(iii)             Here, though, we must note carefully Jesus’ recorded reaction to this injustice.  The Johannine tradition is particularly important in bringing out the involvement of the Roman authorities in the arrest and trial of Jesus.  According to John Jesus was arrested by a significant cohort of Roman troops, with Temple police playing a subsidiary role.  Again, according to John Jesus submitted to more extensive Roman interrogation than we would have guessed from the Synoptic accounts.

In the course of those interrogations Jesus makes important and revelatory replies.

Jesus answered,
‘My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight…’

John 18.36.

Pilate…said to him,
‘Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?
Jesus answered him,
‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above…’

John 19.10-11.

From this exchange between Jesus and Prefect we note:
a)            Jesus is no theocratic king; God’s kingdom is not a theocratic kingdom.
b)             Jesus rejects the zealot ideal of violence; his is a heavenly kingship.
c)            Pilate holds his imperium from Caesar, including the IUS GLADII, the authority to execute.  But Jesus teaches that Caesar and therefore his delegate have their authority from God himself.  Implicit in John’s Gospel is the divine indictment of Pilate who failed to provide a duty of care to a powerless and innocent provincial like Jesus.
d)            Consistently, Jesus does not threaten revenge against those who wrongfully and illegally torture and execute him.  Luke records Jesus’ words, ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do’.  Accordingly, Jesus’ manner of death and his attitude to Jewish and Roman authorities do not subvert or overthrow the divinely appointed lines of government but uphold it.

These four elements – Jesus’ heavenly, not theocratic kingship; his recognition that God (the ultimate authority) bestows mediating authority to those like Pilate who hold office and his forgiving, non-subversive attitudes towards authority will reappear in the New Testament letters of Paul and Peter.  Furthermore, these will be critical in the centuries following, ahead of the Constantinian settlement.

(iv)            We come now to Jesus’ famous reply to the entrapment question about paying taxes.  This bears on both the vision of a Jewish theocracy (signalled by the zealot ban on tax paying) and the Roman demand on Caesar’s theocracy (acknowledging his unrivalled kingship).

Of course, the question was not merely about the rights and wrongs of taxation, the rate of taxation or whether direct or indirect tax is better.  True, taxes were high; the local people lobbied Tiberius in AD 17 for their reduction.  Furthermore, Roman provincial administration was proverbially corrupt.  Tiberius himself cynically observed that governors were like blood sucking flies.  The real issue, though, was the hated ‘poll tax’ which symbolized the subservience of Yahweh’s people to the hated heathen Romans.  This is an important passage with far-reaching consequences.

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to entrap him in his talk. And they came and said to him,
‘Teacher, we know that you are true, and care for no man;
for you do not regard the position of men,
but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?
Should we pay them, or should we not?’
But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them,
‘Why put me to the test?
Bring me a coin, and let me look at it.’   And they brought one.

And he said to them,
‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’
They said to him,  ‘Caesar’s.’
Jesus said to them,
‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,
and to God the things that are God’s.’
And they were amazed at him.

Mark 12:13-17

The answer was clever, extricating him from the apparently inescapable trap.  To have said ‘yes’ would have identified him as a ‘zealot’ and to have said ‘no’ as a Roman collaborator.  Jesus was neither a zealot (and an advocate of theocracy) nor an unquestioning devotee of the hegemony of the Roman Caesar.

Beyond its cleverness, however, Jesus’ answer articulated his unique view of the state – even the pagan state – in the purposes of God.  So what was that answer?

First, he actually directed the payment of taxes to the heathen occupier.  In a single stroke, Jesus repudiated zealotry and theocracy.  The believer can live under the rule of the infidel, a view that radical Islam repudiates.

But second, Jesus directed the people to ‘render to God the things that are God’s.  This was likely in reaction against the iconic and idolatrous character of the coin, showing the effigy of the emperor (Tiberius) and the words, Tiberius Caesar, son of the deified Augustus, Pontifex Maximus.  In other words, the coin portrayed the emperor as a demi-god.  Jesus’ words, ‘render to God the things that are God’s’ clearly prohibited any veneration of a mere man like this.  Let the emperor know his place.

In effect, then, Jesus attributes all authority to God, demanding due recognition of his deity and sovereignty.  Beneath that sovereignty, however, Jesus located a rightful role ‘Caesar’, that is, for the state.  In the divine order, Caesar is to provide an infrastructure for the welfare of his citizens.  Clearly, though, Caesar’s state must not be an oppressive totalitarian state, whether a heathen totalitarian state or a religious totalitarian state. ‘Caesar’ must know his place’.

In passing, the context of the book of Revelation indicates that the Caesar of that time (mid-nineties) did not know his place.  That Caesar was, so far as we can tell, Domitian.  This was the emperor who insisted on being called ‘Dominus et Deus’.

And the beast (the emperor) was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months; it opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, every one whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.
Revelation 13.5-8.

That ‘Caesar’ was demanding reverence and worship of himself, a worship that should only have been ‘rendered’ to God himself.

Clearly, therefore, Jesus words ‘render to Caesar’ are sharply qualified and conditional.  All Caesars including leaders in modern democracies should heed his words.

Where a ruler takes to himself a divine right and acts as a demi-god that ruler becomes anti-Christ and the ‘Beast’ of Revelation 13.  His city becomes ‘Babylon’, a place of captivity and suffering for the people of God (and others).

—-

Let me now draw a line under this section about the immediate era of Jesus and his response to the challenge, on one hand posed by zealotry and theocracy within Judaism, and on the other by the demands of the omnipotent Roman state.

 

3.            Apostolic Catechesis based on Jesus’ Words and Works
There is strong evidence of an early catechesis in relation to disciples and the state.  This evidence emerges from Romans 13.1-7 and 1 Peter 2.13-17.

In Romans 13.1 Paul enjoins ‘be subject (hupotassestho|) to governing authorities’ and in 1 Peter 2.13 Peter says ‘be subject (hupotage|te) to every human institution’.  The similarity is clear.  In Romans 13.3 Paul observes ‘rulers are not a terror to good (to| agatho|) conduct but to bad (to| kako|)’’ and in 1 Peter 2.14 Peter states that kings and governors are ‘sent to punish those who do wrong (kakopoio|n) and praise those who do right (agathopoio|n)’’.  Again the similarity is evident.  In Romans 13.7 Paul encourages’honour (time|) to whom honour is due’ and in 1 Peter 2.17 Peter says ‘honour (time|sate) all’.  Once more the similarity is clear.  Nonetheless, these texts from Paul and Peter are not identical.

The similarities point to some connection between the texts but the dissimilarities imply that they are depending on a common source rather than one upon the other.  In other words, a catechetical source had been created in the few decades between Jesus and the writing of these texts that called for a distinctive ethical attitude to the Roman state.  That source did not arise from within Judaism since anti-Roman feeling ran high among the Jews at that time.  On the contrary, this tradition sprang from Jesus’ distinctive attitudes, on one hand against zealotry, and on the other, his recognition of the role of Caesar, pagan though he was.

Significantly, there are further connections between these two state-related passages.  I refer to the almost identical demands of these respective letters – Romans and First Peter – for non-retributive behaviour against official persecution.

In the passage in Romans immediately preceding his injunctions regarding the state Paul writes, ‘repay no one evil for evil’ (me|deni kakon anti kakon apodidontes)’ – –Rom 12.17) whereas Peter wrote ‘do not repay evil for evil’ (me| apodidontes kakon anti kakou – 1 Pet 3.9)’.  The words are strikingly similar, yet not identical.  Once again the juxtaposition between similarities and dissimilarities points to an earlier independent common catechetical source that was formulated soon after Jesus (cf. 1 Thess 5.15 orate me| tis kakon anti kakou tini apodo|  – ‘See to it that no one renders to anyone evil for evil’).

In addition (i) to the injunction ‘not returning evil for evil’ (me|deni kakon anti kakou apodidontes – Rom 12.17), (ii) Paul also exhorts, ‘bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse’ (eulogeite tous dio|kontas, eulogeite kai me| katarasthe – Rom 12.14).  Clearly this non-retributive behaviour urged by Paul springs from the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel tradition (Matt 5.38; Lk 6.29, 35 for Rom 12.17 and Matt 5:.44;; Lk 6.26 for Rom 12.14).

In First Peter, however, the non-retributive attitude is inspired by Jesus’ own example where he suffered unjustly.

Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example,
that you should follow in his steps.
He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips.
When he was reviled, he did not revile in return;
when he suffered, he did not threaten;
but he trusted to him who judges justly.

1 Pet 2:.21-23

Christ’s manner of dying – non-subversively – inspired Peter’s injunction:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,
whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him…

1 Pet 1.13-14.

The Lord’s own non-retributive ‘subjection’ to the emperor’s governor Pilate provided his own ‘example’ of ‘rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’.  In other words, Jesus did not subvert but upheld the Roman state, both by teaching and his own powerful example.

Peter’s important emphasis on Christ as exemplar of faithful, non-retributive sufferings under injustice is balanced by his emphasis on his role as the Deuteronomic-Isaianic sin-bearer.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,
that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Pet. 2.24.

For Christ also died for sins once for all,
the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring us to God…

1 Pet 3.18.

Overall in First Peter, however, the greater emphasis appears to be on Christ the exemplar, who by deed and word shows believers how to live but also to suffer and die in a hostile society.

It is clear, therefore, from these passages in Romans 13.1-7 and 1 Peter 2.13-17, 21-23; 3.9 that Jesus’ teaching and example (in relation to both the zealot theocracy and the Roman state) profoundly influenced the catechetical instruction of disciples in the Pauline and Petrine churches.  This catechesis, however, predated the writing of these letters, springing from Jesus himself soon after his historical lifespan.

This instruction of the Lord, mediated through his apostles, was to prove hugely important in the following centuries when believers were to suffer under various emperors.  While important this teaching is, nonetheless, negative and defensive.  Is there more that can be said?  In particular, do these apostolic writings prompt the disciples of Christ to ‘Seek the welfare of the City’.

4.            Caesar and the City

Two key passages (once more) are Romans 13.1-7 and 1 Peter 2.13-17 which are overwhelmingly positive.  Paul speaks of the ruler as ‘God’s servant (diakonos) for your good’ (v.4) and as a ‘minister (leitourgos) of God’ who is to be ‘respected’ and ‘honoured’ (v.7).  Thus Paul enjoins ‘pay all of them their taxes for they are attending to’ these matters (v.7).

Peter’s sentiment is similar.

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him… Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor.
1 Peter 2.13-14, 17.

It is of utmost importance to note that Paul and Peter are not making these requests of believers living in a Christian theocracy like those in the centuries following Constantine.  The emperor at the time Paul wrote Romans and Peter wrote his First Letter was the infidel, Nero.

Indeed, in the centuries before Constantine Christian leaders repeatedly called on Christians to submit to and be loyal to the Emperor.

It needs to be pointed out, however, that submission to Caesar is voluntary and discretionary.  Believers don’t give Caesar a blank cheque.  There have been many occasions when Christians have opposed the State and its leader.  This prophetic opposition to a corrupt king has its roots in the OT and in John the Baptist’s opposition to his tetrarch’s marriage.  It has risen to the surface many times in the centuries since, whether by John Chrysostom or Thomas a ‘Becket.

Seeking the welfare of the city specifically means giving a voice to the voiceless and power to the weak and marginalised.  It is by no means necessarily the same thing as compliance to Caesar.  Caesar may be acting against the weak, and has often done so.

5.            Seeking the welfare of the city.

There are echoes in First Peter from another letter written centuries earlier, written by the prophet Jeremiah to the exiles from Jerusalem now captive in Babylon.

Jeremiah’s letter mentions ‘exiles’ and ‘Babylon’, references that also appear in First Peter (1.1, 17; 5.13).

1                   These are the words of the letter which Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

3                  … It said:
4                    “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel,
to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
5                   Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.
6                   Take wives and have sons and daughters;
take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage,
that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.
7                   But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile,
and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Remarkably, despite their exile in Babylon Jeremiah calls for positive attitudes and actions towards the city where God’s people are in captivity.  He urges ‘seek the welfare of the city and to pray to the LORD on its behalf’.  Similar attitudes are implicit in Peter’s words to these ‘aliens and exiles’ in Babylon, that is to say, the disciples of Christ (2.13-17).

Despite their present sufferings of persecution that show signs of becoming even more intense, they are witness to Christ by imitating his patience and non-vengeance.  More than that, they are to ‘be subject’ to – that is, cooperate positively and voluntarily with – appointed authorities.  Likewise, they are to avoid any form of anti-social behaviour.

In other words, like Jeremiah the apostle Peter is calling on believers to make their home in a place that is not ultimately their home.  Although the world beyond (the kingdom of God) is that home, in the meantime they – and we – are to seek the welfare of this city, even though it is the city Babylon and not the city of God.

 

6.            Seeking welfare in the centuries following

It is well known that in the following centuries Christians were noted for their works of charity, including towards those who were not of the ‘household of faith’.  It is worth recollecting some examples of this ‘welfare’.

Justin, writing earlier in the mid-second century, notes that a collection was made during the weekly assembly of Christians for distribution by the ‘president’ for a rather broader group.

This collection was for the succour of the orphans and widows, and those who through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in prison, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need (Apology 1.66).

The same development is on view half a century later in Tertullian’’s comment.

Even if there is a chest of a sort, it is not made up of money paid in entrance fees, as if religion were a matter of contract.  Every man once a month brings some modest coin – or whenever he wishes, and only if he does wish, and if he can; for nobody is compelled; it is a voluntary offering.  You might call them the trust funds of piety.  For they are not spent upon banquets or drinking parties; but to feed the poor and to bury them, for boys and girls who lack property and parents, and then for slaves grown old and ship- wrecked mariners; and any who may be in mines, islands or prisons, provided it is for the sake of God’s school, become the pensioners of their confession (Apology 3.9:1-6).

As well, the churches were concerned for others distant from themselves, following the example of Paul’s collection from the Gentile churches for Jerusalem.  These post-apostolic Churches did not confine their generosity to their own members, but were aware of the needs of the fellow-believers in other places.  The Church of Rome was noted for its generosity, both to its own needy members, but also to those further afield.  Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth wrote to his counterpart in Rome c. AD 180:

This has been your custom from the beginning, to do good in manifold ways to all Christians, and to send contributions to many churches in every city, in some cases relieving the poverty of the needy, and ministering to Christians in the mines, by the contribution you have sent from the beginning…(Eusebius HE 4. 23.11).

At the time of the plague in Carthage Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, addressed the Christians.

…there is nothing remarkable in cherishing merely our own people with the due attention of love…we should love his enemies as well….

Cyprian’s biographer added:  ‘Thus the good was done to all men, not merely the household of faith’ (quoted R. Stark, The Rise of Christianity, San Francisco: Harper, 1997, page 87)

Such a caring attitude by Christians towards pagans may have contributed to their growing sense that this religion was relevant to them and destined soon to become the new religion of the Roman world.  Within fifty years or so this began to be an accomplished fact.

In AD 360 Constantine’s nephew Julian became emperor.  He is famously known as Julian ‘the apostate’ whose short tenure is noted for his brief but futile attempts to take the Roman world back to the paganism it left behind with the conversion of Constantine.  Although intelligent and a capable soldier Julian’s surviving writings disclose a rather eccentric and impractical personality.  Of special interest are Julian’s attempts – also futile – to have that paganism express various forms of welfare replicating those that had been established by the Christians.  Julian was specially galled by the ways the Christians assisted those who were not of their own persuasion.  Accordingly Julian wrote to the High Priest of Galatia decreeing what had to be done.

In every city establish frequent hostels in order that strangers may profit from our benevolence; I do not mean this for our own people only, but for others also who are in need of money.  I have but now made a plan by which you may be well provided for this; for I have directed that 30,000 modii of corn shall be assigned every year for  the whole of Galatia, and 60,000 pints of wine.  I order that one fifth of this be used for the poor who serve the priests and the remainder be distributed by us to strangers and beggars.  For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to  beg, and the impious Galileans (= Christians) support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men  see that our people lack aid from us (Ep. 49).

At the same time, Julian was exercised by the fact that Christians were teaching the children of the empire rhetoric and grammar based on the classical pagan authors.  Since Christians did not believe in the gods or hold the beliefs of classical paganism it was absurd for them to be teaching what they did not believe.  Let them stop teaching pagans and go off to the churches of the Galileans and there teach the Gospels (Ep. 42).

A number of basic Christian values combined to inspire a concern for ‘welfare of the city’ by the disciples of Jesus.  There was the conviction that their God and Father was the creator and sustainer of all people, whether believers or not.  Likewise the incarnation and the saving death and resurrection of the Son of God were seen to be a source of redemption for all people.  There was universal application of the Gospel.  Jesus’ miracles of healing the sick and feeding the hungry showed the way for the believers’ care of one another in the churches, widows and orphans in particular.  From early times the churches appointed almoners to bring practical aid to needy members.  This ‘hands on’ concern was expressed on a massive scale in Paul’s ‘collection’ from the Gentile churches for the poor saints in Judea.  As well, there were hints that ‘good’ was to be done to ‘all men’ and not just within the household of faith (Gal 6:.10; 2 Cor 9.:13).

In a word, the Christian gospel was inspired by ‘love’, the love of God, and believers were to express that love in highly practical ways, not only to fellow believers, but to all.

Beyond these values, however, we must note the distinctive teaching and example of Jesus.  He rejected the way of violence implicit in the zealots’ theocratic programme, on one hand, and the totalitarian theocratic claims of Caesar, on the other.  Rather, Jesus insisted on the ultimate authority of God and his own rightful claim to be the messianic Son of Man.  To God and his Christ must be rendered veneration and service, to them and to them alone.  Caesar must know his place.

But Caesar does have a place, ruling over human societies for their good.  Let Caesar learn from King Christ who is a server and not an exploiter of those under his rule, especially the vulnerable.  The place Christ gives to Caesar, admittedly qualified, is articulated within the apostolic instructions in the following decades, as we have noted

These things combined to inspire the Christians of the next centuries in their service not only of their own people, but of all people.  And this, as much as anything else, contributed to the astonishing events of the fourth century whose effects are still working themselves out.

7.            Reflection

 

a.            Jesus does not call for a theocratic polity.
b.            Since rulers receive their authority from God they must exercise it as servants of the people.
c.            People, including Christian people, are to live respecting, honouring and cooperating with rulers, unless their rule has become a criminal rule.
d.            There is a prophetic role for Christians and their leaders in confronting rulers who are not acting out of care for their people.
e.            Where a ruler becomes an anti-Christ the city becomes ‘Babylon’.
f.            Christians should seek the welfare of the city, in particular the welfare of the weak and voiceless.

Paul Barnett

A paper read in Singapore November 2005 at a conference, Seek the Welfare of the City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1]I am employing the term ‘zealot’ in a generalised way.  To be precise the zealot faction arose only within the period of the war AD 66-70.  Nonetheless, there were individuals who were referred to as ‘zealot’ (e.g., ‘Simon who was called “zealot”‘ – Luke 6.:15).

[2]Josephus, Jewish War 2.118.

[3]Cf. IQS 1:4.

[4]Philo, Embassy to Gaius 301-302.