Archive for the ‘Theological Issues’ Category

Now onto Romans 12.
I have heard the pacifist argument that to understand Romans 13 you must read it in context of Romans 12, which I will do soon, but let’s address the issues directly arising in Romans 12.
What is the chapter of Romans 12 specifically speaking about? The header in the translation I am currently using (NASB) reads “dedicated service.” Dedicated service? To whom? Well to God, of course. Only reason this is important to bring up is that Romans 12 is not specifically addressing the issue of violence but rather the all-encompassing service (actions) that should be seen in a Christian life.
There are many good verses here, some of which I will touch upon later but they do not directly pertain to the current discussion of violence; so we will jump to the first one, Romans 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”
The verse is often used as evidence for pacifism, so I looked up the original Greek words in Strong’s Concordance, ‘bless (G. 2127),’ ‘persecute (G. 1377),’ and ‘curse (G. 2672).’ Even with study, these words only carry the same sort of understanding that our English words have; there is no hidden meaning. I bring this up to make the point pacifists use this verse to justify their beliefs, but does it answer the question ‘is violence an action a Christian can never take’?
Let’s analyze some more verses in Romans 12 to gain a better perspective.
Romans 12:17-21 “17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord. 20 “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 ON HIS HEAD.’ 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (emphasis in original text)
‘Never pay back evil for evil’ is speaking about vengeance, whether big or small. This is confirmed latter where Paul commands to ‘never take your own revenge.’ Paul goes on to say that all vengeance belongs to the Lord and He will assuredly repay those who have done evil with justice.
This verse also a warning, if a Christian (or Non-Christian for that matter) decides to take matters into his own hands; not allowing the Lord to mete out His justice, but decides to bloody his hands (whether figuratively or literally), they have become as guilty as the one who committed the original evil against them.
How are we to let such justice come? That will be fully answered when we dive into Romans 13 and its implications, but it can be partially answered by what Paul speaks of next.

‘Respect what is right in the sight of all men’ could be referring specifically to the topic of vengeance, as vengeance is the subject Paul was speaking of just before and shortly after. What Paul would be saying in this interpretation is that a Christian should not be surprised if they are punished by their act of vengeance by others, even if those others are Non-Christians (the ‘all men’ Paul refers to).
Here would be a modern-American example.
Let us say a husband avenges the rape and death of his wife by killing the man who committed the terrible crime. A Non-Believing judge could still sympathize with the husband, as he, being a husband himself could understand that he would probably desire to do the same thing had he been in the similar position. However, it doesn’t matter how much sympathy the judge feels for the husband, the husband still committed murder. The judge must still bring about a sentence, no matter how “justified” the killing was or how much sympathy he feels for the husband.
Paul could be referring to a situation like this, however, it seems more likely that he is referencing a broader form of proper conduct, what is often called Natural Law, an aspect of Common Grace. If you are not familiar with the term Natural Law, here is Webster’s 1828 definition “Law of nature, is a rule of conduct arising out of the natural relations of human beings established by the Creator, and existing prior to any positive precept. Thus it is a law of nature, that one man should not injure another, and murder and fraud would be crimes, independent of any prohibition from a supreme power.” (emphasis in original text)
Just for clarification, a ‘positive precept’ is considered right only because it is commanded and ceases to be obligatory if it is repealed (e.g. laws concerning marijuana use). ‘Supreme power’ is referring to human-made government of some sort as opposed to being a reference to God.
God’s Common Grace is imbued into all of us (Romans 1:18-21, 32), as evidenced by the vast majority of humanity that still adheres to certain aspects of God’s universal laws (aka, Natural Law) such as not to murder, steal, commit adultery, etc. It is because of Common Grace and Natural Law that God is able condemn all sin, even Non-Christians have “no excuse” (Romans 2:1) for their lawlessness. God gave every person a conscious, hence Paul’s admonishment to “respect what is right in the sight of all men.” (Romans 12:17b)
This sentence naturally leads to the next verse, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18) Once again, I looked into the original meaning of ‘possible (G. 1415, but the word is derived from G. 1410),’ and it does not change the meaning of the passage.
I tried looking up the word ‘depends’ but Strong’s actually didn’t have a numbered reference for the word, and the closest references to the word on either side (G. 991 and G. 2749) didn’t seem to fit too well, so if you know an expert on Biblical Greek, you might want to get their help to fully understand the word and thereby the phrase; but it shouldn’t significantly change your understanding of the phrase we see in the English versions of the Bible we possess.
I also looked up the phrase ‘be at peace with all men.’ which contained the very similar words eireneuo (G. 1514) and eirenopoios (G. 1518). Eireneuo, means “to be (act) peaceful,” while eirenopoios, means “pacificatory, i.e. (subj.) peaceable” which is often translated to “peacemaker.”
This particular part of the verse does seem to support pacifism, it certainly supports peaceful living and being at peace with fellow humans but even supporters of self-defense would agree with this assessment; most Christians after all, do desire to live in peace. However we must look again at the words that proceed the sentence ‘be at peace with all men.’
‘If possible, so far as it depends on you…’ This seems to denote that there will be times where Christians cannot ‘be at peace with all men,’ so a strong argument for pacifism shouldn’t be made here; even though pacifist thought (in comparison to self-defense or protecting others) is the strongest within the passage. This verse doesn’t condemn violence, in fact it could possibly be used as evidence that certain types of violence are acceptable, but it also doesn’t specify what sort of violence; Paul after all, could just be implying taking a verbal stand as opposed to a physical one.
Another thing to consider is what sort of event or thing would cause us to no longer be at peace with other individuals? Like what we did with verse 14, let us pause for a moment until we come to the conclusion of the chapter.
We already covered verse 19 (vengeance) so let’s jump to verse 20, “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 on his head.”
This verse is directly taken from Proverbs 25:21-22, although the original passage also has “and the Lord will reward you” (Proverbs 25:22b) at the very end. One mustn’t ignore the context in which the original passage was written. Fortunately we are given that very context in the Bible, “These also are
proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah, transcribed.” (Proverbs 25:1) Solomon is giving these instructions on wise and Godly living, so now, Paul is using them to remind Christians of their dedicated service to Christ.
Is Romans 12 New Testament proverbs? Perhaps, it is more akin to a proverb rather than any particular declaration of pacifism or justification of violence. But what about loving your enemy as verse 20 clearly speaks about; certainly that can only be taken in defense of pacifism? But is verse 20 speaking of pacifism, or is it speaking about loving your enemies?
The word ‘enemy’ is ekhthros (G. 2190), it comes from an even more primitive word echtho, which means ‘to hate.’ Ekhthros, means “hateful;” passive use of the word can mean “odious” while an active use of can mean “hostile.” Ekhthros, as a noun means “an adversary (especially satan): enemy, foe.”
Given this particular usage of the word, especially considering the reference to satan, in combination with verse 14 ‘bless those who persecute you’ (referring to suffering inflicted upon us because of our belief in Christ as opposed to suffering being inflicted upon us because of some other reason), and that the entirety of Romans 12 is pertaining to service to Christ; I believe it is reasonable to say that the enemy in reference to in verse 20 is an individual who desires to persecute Christians for their faith as opposed to an individual trying to murder for gain (self-defense) or participating in genocide (defense of others).
This is not to say that the verse condones violence if a Christian is not being attacked because of their beliefs. There is nothing contained within verse 20 to give that impression, one could even say that the verse could apply to all situations as adherents of pacifism believe about the verse. They are not necessarily wrong but that doesn’t make them right either, given the context in which the word ‘enemy’ is used.
Paul gives the final teaching in verse 21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Once again, Paul could be specifically speaking about vengeance, since he was talking about it just a few verses ago; but this teaching could also be a general admonition as when he asks for Christians to be at peace with others as much as possible.
Taking an overview of Romans 12 with what has been discussed, Paul is writing about dedicated service to Christ, not about specific lines of thinking pertaining to violence. Violence is never specifically mentioned, this is important to keep in mind as there are multiple ways one can ‘curse’ (verse 14), ‘pay back evil’ (verse 17), and take revenge (verse 19), without taking another person’s life or even physically harming them.
Remember that Jesus said that to be angry without reason towards another is the same as murder (Matthew 5:21-24). Just because our minds may naturally fall to thoughts of lethal vengeance when regarding Romans 12, doesn’t mean that only lethal vengeance is what Paul is speaking about; he is speaking about vengeance in all its forms.
Verse 18 could be used to make a case for the possibility of self-defense and defending others, but the verse simply states for Christians to be at peace with all people as much as possible. Never once is the broken peace specified. Does the absence of peace include the use of lethal force or physical force in certain situations? Maybe, but it isn’t said. It could mean that only forms of non-physical, and by extension non-lethal, means of breaking the peace are allowable. Maybe, but it isn’t said. Or perhaps Paul is just saying that we don’t have to agree with everything people say, especially considering many people do not posses views that honor God; it’s okay to disagree, but you can do nothing more. Maybe, but it isn’t said.
The only conclusive thing Romans 12 does speak about concerning the issue of self-defense is that we are not to curse or seek vengeance upon those who persecute us for our faith; and also to not seek vengeance period. Does this mean that if our lives are only threatened because we are Christian, that if we are only being physically attacked because of our faith, we then do not have the right to defend ourselves? A case could be made for this but we can only get a better understanding by studying Romans 13, which will be dealt with shortly.
Thus, strong evidence for pacifism as a whole, for self-defense, or for defending others, is not overly strong in Romans 12; and to make a case for any of these systems of belief based solely upon this chapter would not be the wisest of moves. Of course, there are other verses that will be analyzed and the observations made from Romans 12 will be used in those analyses, but Romans 12 must be looked over independently as well, and conclusions must be drawn. Unfortunately, the only thing that can be concluded from Romans 12 is that there is no conclusion (yet) upon this subject.