Monday, December 28, 2009

Did Paul Instruct Believers to Submit to Nero In Romans 13?

According to longstanding, traditional interpretation of the Bible, yes.

So what is the relevance? Gregg Frazer explained in the following post in October:

Re the Nero issue:

The flexibility of people holding your position on Romans 13 (especially as it applies to the American situation) never ceases to amaze me. In one sentence, you can justify a revolution against a “tyrant” for imposing a $1 per year tax to pay for a war which protected those people; in the next, you can with a straight face assert that a Roman emperor who drained every Roman of every cent to build extragant palaces for himself was not a tyrant. In one sentence, you can demand CONSENT as the only legitimate basis for government; in the next you can defend a Roman emperor as legitimate and not meeting the standard of tyranny that, of course, an English king met. While Nero had not yet begun specifically persecuting the Christians, he was hardly elected and hardly “consulted the public welfare and the good of society” by your and Mayhew’s standard!

You must remember that Paul wrote Romans UNDER THE INSPIRATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. God knew what Nero was going to do – and inspired Paul to write to those people how they must conduct themselves not just for that day, but when the persecution came. If it was just Paul’s opinion or limited by Paul’s finite understanding, then I wouldn’t give it any more weight than my own thoughts or those of a “wise” man. But it was GOD’s Word to those people – and it wasn’t bound by time constraints because God isn’t bound by time constraints. Paul did not say: “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities until they start doing mean and nasty things.” There are no qualifiers – despite Mayhew’s penchant for adding them. So, no, Nero had not yet begun burning Christians alive or feeding them to animals or nailing them to crosses, but the God Who inspired Paul’s writing knew he was going to.

Though my friend and co-blogger Jim Babka has referred me to some evangelical-fundamentalist scholarship that now (for whatever reason) doubts that Paul instructed believers to submit to Nero. It should be noted that this is the "novel," or "revisionist" position (and indeed Christianity is so vast and old that one might be able to dig up some old heretic that first thought of this interpretation long before the age of revolution, as one can with theological unitarians, universalists, Gnostics, dissident authority figures who argued for a different biblical canon, etc.).

Sometimes the "revisionist" position turns out to be correct (not saying that it is here, just making a point).


King of Ireland said...

Whether he instructs them to submit to Nero is not the point. It is that Nero was not yet a tyrant when he wrote this. Your point is mute. Frazer even admits it is the quote you use.

I already stated it below but I will repeat it here. You need to call him out the same way you do Barton. You cannot make a historical claim, get called on its inaccuracy and then use your theological opinion to back it up. That is not history and illustrates a lot of what Tom and I have tried to say to the good doctor about his Calvinist biases not allowing him to give this topic and honest untainted look.

This type of historical analysis is out of bounds for a professional historian. He needs to stop repeating this this non-sense about Nero.

Jonathan Rowe said...


Frazer quite clearly stated his logic and you didn't mute it.

The problem -- perhaps what needs to be brought out more -- is you & Frazer have different theological premises. According to his, the interpretation he writes re Nero makes 100% sense.

If on the other hand the Holy Spirit (3rd person in a omnipotent Godhead) DIDN'T inspire Paul to write what he did (perhaps Paul was inspired in a more "general" sense, whatever that might mean) your interpretation makes sense.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"If it was just Paul’s opinion or limited by Paul’s finite understanding,...." [Italics mine.]

King: I understand why Frazer gets frustrated with you. He answers your claim and then you summarily dismiss his answers as though he didn't. Perhaps that's why he doesn't seem to be dropping by for Romans 13, round three.

What I reproduced above ANSWERED your objections, at least in terms of the way Frazer interprets the Bible.

Some self-defined Christians, more heterodox than you, believe that Paul was just a man who gave his opinions, not divinely guided at all. The first part of the passage I quoted represents that view ("just Paul’s opinion"). I'm not sure if Brad Delong is a self identified "Christian" but it was on this basis that he left a comment at Positive Liberty where he said Paul should be cut some slack.

I think you believe Paul was inspired in some sense but, as a mere man, had a finite understanding when writing his epistles. That's NOT Frazer's -- the biblical canon is the inerrant, infallible Word of God -- hermeneutic and you should know that. And he addressed YOUR hermeneutic when he wrote "or limited by Paul’s finite understanding,..."

Frazer's hermeneutic is that the Holy Spirit, the omnipotent omniscient, omnipresent 3rd person in the Trinity, guided Paul's hands when writing Romans 13, and therefore, the fact that Nero had not yet begun to persecute Christians is IRRELEVANT. The Holy Spirit, knowing what Nero would do, could have had Paul write a qualification in Romans 13 but didn't. It's an entirely valid and fair point and it will not be dropped.

King of Ireland said...


None of this has anything to do with him making it seem like Paul was telling Christians that were being persecuted to submit to the guy that was burning them. That is the context he used the remarks about Nero in more than once.

His dates were wrong and he should have known better. I read his argument, understand it well because I used to believe it, and know enough to know that this type of reasoning does not pass historical muster.

If what he is saying is true then there is no reason to look at the context that things were said in anywhere in the Bible. I am open to the fact that what Paul wrote was inspired, I actually do believe in that sort of thing, but this way of interpreting this passage and ignoring the present context of when Paul wrote violates many "orthodox" and even "fundementalist" approaches to Bible study and interpretation.

For his point to back up the context he was using it in the present context surrounding Paul's writing of the letter is super important if not every thing. He was writing to people long before Nero did anything tyrannical to Christians.

Read my comment below about how I feel that his theological and doctrinal views cloud his historical views. I said my peace and I will drop it unless anyone wants to comment.

King of Ireland said...


Does pre-Aquinas thoughts on deposing kings count as long stand biblical interpretation? Ever generation of Church History thinks they are fighting a battle for purity of the faith that no one has fought before. But just like in secular history this stuff repeats itself.

Calvin is a new comer compared with most of historically Christian theology. We have to keep that in mind that though he had a great influence his was not the only one. Thank God for that because I think he brought bad Augustinian thinking back into mainstream after it seemed that Aquinas had sent it packing.

Brad Hart said...

If you read some of Tacitus (a contemporary historian of Rome) he makes it sound as though Nero was a pretty jacked up dude but his court did a good job of obscuring his less-than-noble qualities.

That is until the great fire of 64 and then all hell broke loose. Nero wasn't to be quieted as the killing of Christians became common place.

But still, Tacitus does mention that Nero wasn't very well liked by those who knew him or knew of him. One can only wonder if Paul was privy to such information...whether it was from the Holy Spirit or some other means.

Jonathan Rowe said...


Again, his logic has EVERYTHING to do with the point he makes and you wrongfully accuse him of "should have known better." He misunderstand NO dates, but addresses the point.

That Paul "was writing to people long before Nero did anything tyrannical to Christians" detracts NOTHING from his point whatsover. He explained why this is so.

Look, if you want to construct an alternate hermeneutic, that's fine. But realize and admit THAT'S the difference between you, NOT any kind of error in fact, logic, or history on his part.

Again, I understand why he wouldn't want to come back when you keep on casting these unwarranted aspersions.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Does pre-Aquinas thoughts on deposing kings count as long stand biblical interpretation?"

It counts in the same sense that Trinity denial, universal salvation, Gnosticism, and arguing for non-canonical books count: They have a long history as dissident or heretical movements within Christendom.

That's why Frazer, after more notable historical authorities, is correct when he notes, up until the age of revolution (around the time of GB's glorious revolution) HIS position dominated Christendom.

King of Ireland said...

Jon stated:

"The Holy Spirit, knowing what Nero would do, could have had Paul write a qualification in Romans 13 but didn't. It's an entirely valid and fair point and it will not be dropped."

The point is that some think just as validly that the Bible teaches, not natural law, he did make exceptions in this verse and in other parts of the Bible. Calvin seems to agree with this. Interposition, by definition, is an exception. Is it not? Samuel Adams and Witherspoon sure thought this way.

You can keep using it if you want even though you do not believe it but make sure that you state that the persecution did not take place until many years after Romans was written and give Frazer's thoughts on that being ok because God was just using Paul to tell them what to do later. Since you write for a mostly secular audience I think we both know what they are going to think of that.

I might add that I think Paul wrote some later epistles after Nero had persecuted people. Why did God not wait until then so they knew it was written to them? Why did God pick out only those that would read Romans, which was a limited audience, and leave out all the poor Christians that would suffer because of Nero out of the loop as to what to do because they were not privy to Paul's letter?

We have think about things like this that just do not make any logical sense. Anyone can state anything and call it an interpretation. If this is part of Frazer's then I agree with West that Paul must have been joking. I know from dealing with the secular crowd that if given all the information these are the types of questions that will come up. But just to state that they this generically that this was written at the time of Nero leaves a lot out for the secularists that would like to use Frazer's thesis to refute David Barton.

Do you think Brad De Long had God writing through Paul to speak to people 8 years later in mind when he stated what he did about Nero? I noticed he did not return to answer when the rest of the information was given.

King of Ireland said...


I actually do not care if Frazer comments again on this topic. I think he has said all he wants to and that is fine with me. I do not have to agree with him and he is free to disagree with me. He responded to everything I asked him.

I stand by my statement that for either of you to use this line of reasoning that you must put it in full context and give the dates. If that is done then I am more than certain that all secular use of this reasoning will cease because we all know it was taken as proof that Paul must have been talking about Hitler too because after all Nero was killing people when Paul wrote this.

That is exactly how I took it in the context he stated it to me and I know about all the different interpretation methods and sola scritptura. I guess we would have to ask Frazer himself if he knew the dates before I pointed it out. But that puts him in another pickle of someone asking why he did not explain that first off knowing that there may be some confusion about it.

Again, I am not saying he is a bad guy I am stating that I think he is biased and blinded by his beliefs. In some ways we all are. But we have to try and put all that aside when we study an analyze history. More so when it is our profession.

King of Ireland said...

I know I am beating this to death but one last thing,
I think the post would be more accurately titled:

Did Paul Instruct Believers to Submit to Nero When it was Known He was a Tyrant?

I think the answer would be no unless one believes that God was using Paul to instruct people eight years later. My other comments about this being crummy theological reasoning already have been stated. Though I think this is a good example of using reason to point of logical flaws in a supposedly Authoritative interpretation.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Again King, according to Gregg's fundamentalist hermeneutic that holds the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent 3rd person in the Trinity guided Paul's hand when writing Romans 13, the dates are IRRELEVANT to Gregg's point.

All your discussion of "context" simply argues for a different hermeneutic.

I don't care if you blast the hermeneutic. You never know what will happen in the future; but were I to convert to "Christianity" (who knows?) I don't see myself converting to a system that believes the canon infallible and that every word recorded in the Bible -- especially out of Paul's mouth in Romans -- was guided by the Holy Spirit.

But that's Gregg's hermeneutic and accordingly -- if we accept his premises -- there is no error in history, dates or logic on Gregg's part.

And of course, according to Gregg's hermeneutic, Paul's words were to be followed 8 years later! The point of the Bible is Paul's instructions are to be followed eternally or at least until Jesus' return. They are to be followed 2008 years later.

There are lots of things in the Bible -- as interpreted faithfull and literally, through the likes Gregg that I find extremely disturbing and distasteful. If I want to blast them on those grounds and offer a different "understanding" I will.

But I realize it's precisely because I don't opt for the "the Bible is the inerrant infallible Word of God," all of it (including everything St. Paul said in Romans, St. John said in Revelation) guided by the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent 3rd person in the Trinity. According to THAT premises, Gregg stands on solid ground.

King of Ireland said...


Forget Gregg for a minute and let me ask you if you knew that dates before I pointed it out? If not then you too need to be careful to give all the information here. It is not somewhat what Gregg is saying is the problem. If he states that that was his reasoning behind the statement and he knew that dates I will except that. But most people who read your posts have no idea what interpretation really is or entails. You have to keep that in mind. I know that De Long got that angle from somewhere but I bet he has no idea how Frazer interprets the Bible and that the dates point to the fact that no tyranny had taken place at the time of the writing.

What are your thoughts on my challenge to you leaving Frazer aside since he is not here to defend himself, nor do I expect him to other than maybe to clear up whether he knew the dates when he wrote his thesis?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yes of course I knew the dates. Samuel West writes about them in his sermon.

King of Ireland said...

Why not make that known when this comes up? I for one did not think Frazer knew what he was saying when I looked up the dates.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I think that's because according to the hermeneutic we see the dates as irrelevant. The Holy Spirit knew EXACTLY who He instructed St. Paul to submit to and what Nero would do shortly thereafter. Your understanding, it seems to me, takes Paul as a good guy, divinely inspired in some sense, but limited when he writes his epistles, in a way he would not be if the Holy Spirit were guiding his every word.

King of Ireland said...

My take is Paul's take. He says sometimes he is giving his own opinion. Every admonition then cannot be divinely inspired. It also had to past the test of logic as to why God did not wait until the persecution actually came so there would not be all this confusion thousands of years later. What about what I said about God telling the recipients of Romans this far in advance but not thinking it was too important at the time it was actually going on to mention it in the other epistles that were written by Paul and others after 64 AD?

Either way this needs to be made clear so people that only care about what Paul wrote and not where it came from, most secularists, do not run around spouting this off not realizing that Frazer is predicating this on the fact that he believes that the Holy Spirit wrote ahead of time for them to consider when the time came.

Jonathan Rowe said...


I think it's very important, for clarity's sake that you wrote that. Again, I have no problem with your assertion, "[Paul] says sometimes he is giving his own opinion. Every admonition then cannot be divinely inspired." And would make room in "Christianity" for your theology as well as Gregg's. However, it is a theological-hermeneutic difference that lies at the heart of your dispute with Gregg.

King of Ireland said...

Not really Jon. I have some historical problems with him too. Theistic Rationalist is high on my list of problems with him and that has nothing to do with biblical interpretation.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Theistic Rationalist is high on my list of problems with him and that has nothing to do with biblical interpretation.

It probably has more to do with the history of theology. There are more than a number of important folks who argue to be a Christian by definition means to worship a Triune God (why so many orthodox are fond of saying "Mormons aren't Christian"). Now that may not be right but that is how all of the major churches of late 18th Century America defined what it means to be a Christian, sans the Quakers.

My own personal opinion is call yourself a Christian and you are one, including the Christian witches of Unitarian Universalism. But that's just my personal opinion. We are searching for something more objective and meaningful.

King of Ireland said...


Tough question. I have debated it in my mind for years. Maybe I need to personally re-visit it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Are you saying the Quakers weren't considered Christian, Jon. Because you need to, if your line of argument is to be viable.

Brian Tubbs said...

A couple quick points...

To argue that Romans 13 calls for an unqualified, unconditional obedience to civil authorities ignores that fact that Paul himself practiced civil disobedience. Otherwise, he wouldn't have lost his own life as a martyr.

Among the things that Paul is saying in Romans 13 is, I think, that just because it may be just to disobey government in some cases (i.e., when government commands you not to pray, as was the case with Daniel in the OT), that doesn't justify completely throwing government off altogether.

To use a rough example...

Let's say the U.S. makes it illegal to openly practice Christianity. Should Christians disobey that? Of course. As Peter says in Acts, it's better to obey God rather than man. BUT...

This doesn't mean that, in such a scenario, it would be okay for Christians to then start disregarding ALL the laws of the United States, such as the speed limit.

Submission to civil government is something that's expected of all Christians. That's the clear teaching in Romans 13. But there are scenarios in which Christians can and should disobey government.

Jonathan Rowe said...


Quakers are the outliers and as I've noted, if the FFs like GW, TJ, JA, JM, BF -- despite the creeds of the sects to which they actually belonged -- are to be considered "Christian," they are closest to the Quakers and indeed admired them precisely for that reason. They certainly didn't like the Quakers' for their refusal to take up arms.

Jonathan Rowe said...


Gregg's (and John MacArthur's) teachings reflect exactly what you wrote above. They would note, SUBMISSION is absolute, OBEDIENCE is qualified by authorities not making believers, by affirmative act or omission, sin.

This takes care of Paul and the other Apostles' getting in trouble with Caesar for refusing to stop preaching the Gospel. However, it doesn't take care of armed revolt, in any circumstance.

King of Ireland said...


How is Calvin's interposition submission, obedience, or avoidance of sin?

Gregg Frazer said...

Again on Nero:

a) I never said that Nero was particularly persecuting the Christians at the time that Romans was written (although Christians were always mistreated in Rome because they would not attend to the pagan gods/rituals). I teach ancient Roman history -- I know the dates [Romans written in 56, probably]. I said that Paul's words in Romans 13 carry greater significance because they were addressed to people living under Nero, a tyrant so bad that many believe he was the Antichrist. Was Nero the emperor when it was written? Did Romans live under Nero? Was he a tyrant? Do many believe he was the Anti-Christ? The answers to all of these questions is: yes.

b) His tyranny was far greater than, say, King George at every point in his reign. He came to power by murdering his stepfather -- hardly a legitimate ascension, right, Aquinas? He was unelected -- anathema to the Mayhew crowd. He never consulted the people regarding the public welfare and the good of society -- big Mayhew no-nos that KOI has emphasized in a recent quote from Mayhew. He headed a regime based on brutal, lifelong slave labor -- do you think the slaves in Rome (many of whom were Christians, by the way) thought Nero to be a good ruler concerned for their well-being? Taxation was oppressive and saturated with corruption -- infinitely worse than in America [Americans were the least taxed people in the world in the 18th century]. I could go on, but you have the point.

c) Paul's words do, in fact, apply equally to Nero and to Hitler -- that's the point. The instruction is not dependent on the particular authority under which one finds oneself -- they all get their authority from God and are to be submitted to.

d) As for it being written "long before Nero did anything tyrannical to Christians," that's if you don't think holding them as slaves who could be killed at their master's whim "anything tyrannical;" or taking them as slaves to begin with as "anything tyrannical;" or punishing them for refusing to worship the gods of the state as "anything tyrannical;" or having the arbitrary power of life or death over them at any time "anything tyrannical;" or him not consulting them about their welfare or seeking the good of society "anything tyrannical" -- which you said it was via Mayhew.

e) As for Paul writing this under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (God knew what Nero would do to Christians in a mere 8 years) before the particularly nasty persecution began, do you prefer to have information already at hand when a calamity occurs? Or would you rather be caught unprepared and then wait for tardy instruction? Do you think that most of those who were the audience for the book of Romans were still alive a mere 8 years later when it became important information for them to know? I do.

f) I am tempted to save the following statement and to bring it out every time you "revolution guys" try to support revolution by the 18th-century Americans:

"Nero was not yet a tyrant when he wrote this." If an emperor of a militaristic, imperialistic, slave-based, absolutist, brutal society who came to power via assassination is not a tyrant, then surely it is patently ludicrous to even suggest that anyone would have been justified to take up arms against "Good King George," as they continued to call him even after the first shots were fired!!!!!!!!!!

And, again, I love this: "Did Paul Instruct Believers to Submit to Nero When it was Known He was a Tyrant? I think the answer would be no unless one believes that God was using Paul to instruct people eight years later." Let's keep that in mind when we try to trump up a case for the American Revolution, OK?

"the dates point to the fact that no tyranny had taken place at the time of the writing" -- what? Again? You're the quote gift that keeps on giving.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oy. There's no disagreement here.

But Gregg, perhaps you missed my elegant argument comparing Chauncy's elegant argument about why the Bible didn't forbid slavery paralleling Locke's elegant argument on Romans 13, that for Jesus or Paul to introduce political revolt as the will of God would have obscured Jesus' real message of love your neighbor as yourself, etc.

The fact is, playing the Nero card is the same as playing the Hitler card or the slavery card, arguing the Bible against itself as being unconcerned with man's inhumanity to man, or opposing the concept that men are created equal, and free.

"Man has free choice, or otherwise counsels, exhortations, prohibitions, rewards and punishments would be in vain."---Aquinas

Christianity didn't start with the 95 Theses, and neither did the Founding principles start with the Enlightenment.

Yes, Jon---then we agree. Call the Quakers "theistic rationalists" if you must, but call them also "Christians."

And I wish you wouldn't keep trying to slip James Madison into the Jefferson theological soup. Of Madison's personal theology, we know nothing. He intended it that way.

Jonathan Rowe said...

But Gregg, perhaps you missed my elegant argument comparing Chauncy's elegant argument about why the Bible didn't forbid slavery....

I think you meant Channing.

Jonathan Rowe said...

And I wish you wouldn't keep trying to slip James Madison into the Jefferson theological soup. Of Madison's personal theology, we know nothing. He intended it that way.

And he intended it that way for good reason:

[Madison] talked of religious sects and parties and was curious to know how the cause of liberal Christianity stood with us, and if the Athanasian creed was well received by our Episcopalians. He pretty distinctly intimated to me his own regard for the Unitarian doctrines.

-- George Ticknor, Founder of the Boston Public Library.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Channing, yes. Oooops. Thx.

And I'm inclined to believe that reference about Madison. However, such a unitarian Christianity is not the same as Jefferson's theistic rationalism and should not be lumped in with it.

Jefferson was nearly alone in his rejection of the Bible as being Holy Writ, the word of God. Even Franklin was simply agnostic about it, i.e., unsure one way or the other, as we see here in his autobiography:

John Adams still called Christianity a "revelation," and something man's reason alone couldn't have devised.

And Washington called the Bible "Holy Writ" and swore on one. Whether or not he personally believed the Bible is the word of God, that was his "public religion."

And there were many more Founders than that handful. Lest we forget.


King of Ireland said...

Jon stated:

"it doesn't take care of armed revolt, in any circumstance."

Is the only condition not being able to preach or is it magistrates being able to what you just stated was not permitted under any circumstance? Not under any circumstance means none. Them disobeying to being able to preach is in the Bible. Interposition is not. When one exception is made it is no longer absolute. How is Interposition "submission" by what you stated in this quote.

The logic is flawed. But I agree with Tom we have beat this thing to death. For Historical purposes both Frazer's and Mayhew's interpretations were excepted into orthodox circles and even Calvinism itself. To pretend like it was something new is not true. Maybe to the ears of the congregation but I doubt it. Then all still had relative in Britain that I am sure were aware of the numerous Revolutions that Adams cites in "Defense of Constitutions".

If you are going to say that the Calvinists that turned over were affected by "Enlightenment" teaching then the Enlightenment must have been in full effect when Ponnet said all the same things that Mayhew did. I think it was Thomism not Enlightenment and there is a difference. The former influenced Salmanca, Spain and other areas of Europe and the United States. The latter took root and France and we see the consequences.

Look up the contract between King and People in Aragon before Ferdinand and Isabella. Same concepts as America. I see a contract their long before Hobbes. I think Elliot is the historian. I forget the name of the book I found it in.

King of Ireland said...


Since I do not share you interpretation of Romans 13 the questions about Nero are moot to me. To a secular person with no real Bible knowledge, when this evidence is brought forth then do not take into account that you think God was instructing the Christians through Paul to submit 8 years later when things got bad. They think that Paul knew Christians were going through the worst persecution ever and Paul was writing to tell them to just grin and bear it. Oh yea he was telling them not only that but to honor Nero.

People like Ed Brayton and Brad De Long pass this stuff on to secular audiences all the time. It is one thing to say that a great preacher preached a sermon in 1924 about respecting the government in Germany and that the scriptures he used could be applied universally. But it is another thing to imply(not saying you did but others have taken it that way) that what he said was to Jews at the height of the Holocaust.

It is not your interpretation method that is wrong it is how that information is relayed. I apologize to you not I understand what you were saying. But I still concerned that you theology is being relayed to secular audiences that do not understand a lot of what I do in an unclear way that causes confusion. I am aware of different interpretation methods and was confused by what you were trying to say.

If it is as clear as you say and he wrote it to people who were being fed to the lions that would be a smoking gun. Of course i do not believe it is as clear as you say but i think you get my point. I think it would be more wise to state:

It was written at the time of Nero but before the severe persecution after the fires. In historiography omission can be a sign of bias. I do not think you did this intentionally because I assume most of your audience is Christian and is familiar with interpretation methods. But I think maybe you do not realize that when secularists start using your stuff then your audience changes. Or maybe you do realize it. Well I said my peace on the topic. Forgive me for the misunderstanding I was wrong.

Anonymous said...

Apostle Paul says you must submit to your leaders. But what does Jesus Christ say?

Matthew 23 Neither be called leaders, for you have one leader, the Christ.