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DISCLAIMER: This series of articles reflects the results of my exegetical exercise to answer the following questions: (1) what did Paul intend to convey to his original audience by what he wrote in Romans 13:1-7? And (2) in light of Paul’s authorial intent, how ought Romans 13:1-7 apply to a 21st Century Christ-follower?  In no way, shape or form is this series intended to influence in any way, or cause or be a catalyst for any person to disobey a governmental authority whether it be local, state or federal.   This series is merely the exercise of my right to free speech and to practice my religion under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY OF TAKEAWAY(S)

In the last article (Article 5), I looked at the fourth Greek sentence, i.e., Romans 13:3-4a (ESV), which reads:

3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4a for he is God’s servant for your good [agathon].

In verse 4a, Paul intended to convey that the government was to govern in such a way that it was for the “good” [Greek adjective agathon[i]] of the citizens.  In verse 3, Paul used agathos  twice in the sense that the government ought not to be a “terror to good [agathō] conduct” and a citizen ought not to fear the government if they “do what is good [agathon].  In light of the three uses of agathos in vv. 3-4a, one important question becomes:

what did Paul intend to convey when he used the Greek adjective agathon in the context of how a government is supposed to govern the citizens?  

A summary of the takeaways from my analysis is set forth below.

First, the government must govern for its citizens in a way that is consistent with God’s will including when it comes to the issues pertaining to the beginning of human life, human sexuality, gender, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and the free assembly of believers to worship God.

Second, the government must govern for its citizens in a way that is consistent with the teachings of God’s Word including when it comes to the issues pertaining to the beginning of human life, human sexuality, gender, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and the free assembly of believers to worship God.

Third, the government must govern for the citizens in such a way that it promotes biblical good and does not promote biblical evil including when it comes to the issues pertaining to the beginning of human life, human sexuality, gender, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and the free assembly of believers to worship God.

THE WORD MEANING OF agathos

To carry out this analysis, I took several basic steps to better comprehend what Paul intended to convey to his audience through his use of agathon in verse 4a.

Use of Lexicons and Theological (Expository) Dictionaries

First, I looked up the meaning of agathos in one popular Greek-English lexicon (Greek-English dictionary), which gave the following definition, “positive moral qualities of the most general nature—‘good, goodness, good act.’”[ii]  Another lexicon[iii] listed the many ways agathos had been translated into English:

18 ἀγαθός, ἀγαθοεργός [agathos /ag·ath·os/] adj. A primary word; TDNT 1:10; TDNTA 3; GK 19 and together with Strongs 2041 as GK 15; 102 occurrences; AV translates as “good” 77 times, “good thing” 14 times, “that which is good + 3588” eight times, “the thing which is good + 3588” once, “well” once, and “benefit” once. 1 of good constitution or nature. 2 useful, salutary. 3 good, pleasant, agreeable, joyful, happy. 4 excellent, distinguished. 5 upright, honourable.

Mounce’s expository dictionary[iv] helped me better understand agathos as shown by the following takeaways.

First, the nature of “good” is theocentric since the triune God defines what is good and only God is good (Matthew 19:17)[v].  The logical inference from this is that what comes from God is “good.”  This is consistent with the basic principle that God’s will is good.[vi]  It is also consistent with the teaching that God’s law and commandment are good per Romans 7:12.[vii]

Second, God-breathed Scripture equips the man of God for good works (e.g., 2 Timothy 3:16-17[viii]).  This is consistent with the teaching that what God’s Word teaches a believer to do is good and what it teaches a believer not to do is bad or sinful. 

Third, salvation is good as shown by the fact that the good soil in the parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-15) means a good heart receptive to the gospel (Luke 8:8, 15[ix]).  Along this line, God redeems His people and purifies them so they will be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14[x]).  Finally, sharing the faith leads to an understanding of every good thing we have in Christ (Philippians 1:6[xi]).

 “Little Kittel”[xii] is another resource that helped me better understand the nature of agathos.    In reference to agathos, Little Kittel reads [in part]:

a. The basic approach is again religious. Only God is truly good (Mt. 19:17). His goodness is the “kindness” which through Christ confers the “good things” of salvation (Heb. 9:11). Apostles are thus preachers of “good news” (Rom. 10:15; cf. Is. 52:7). … The law is good, but even through the law sin works death (7:12–13). Distinctions can be made between good and bad people (Mt. 5:45), or speaking good and being evil (Mt. 12:34). Government can also be called a servant for good (Rom. 13:4). … Yet the good of salvation is still the determinative goal (Rom. 8:28). The “good work” that God has begun will come to “completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

The Literary Context

In Bible study, context is very important..  As Kay Arthur writes at p. 20 in her book How to Study Your Bible, (1994) Harvest House Publishers, Eugene OR (italics in the original):

One of the most important principles of handling the Word properly and studying the Bible inductively is to interpret Scripture in the light of its context.  Why?  Because context always rules in interpretation.

There are different contexts in which to analyze a passage.  One of these contexts is the literary context which comprises the passages that surround the text under review.  In reference to the literary context of Romans 13:4a, the very helpful book entitled “A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis,” Blomberg et al. describes the impact of the literary context, i.e., the text that surrounds the primary text, using concentric circles.  See Figures 4.1 at page 95.[xiii]  The surrounding text that is closer to the primary text is more relevant than text farther away.  This principle makes common sense. 

It appears that Paul used agathos twenty times in the book of Romans.  My review of these passages revealed the following features that impact my understanding of agathos as used in Romans 13:4a.

First, in Romans 10:15, Paul wrote that the saving gospel of Jesus Christ is “good [agatha] news.”  Paul expressed the complete process in Romans 10:14–15 (ESV):

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good [agatha] news!”

Note that Louw et al.[xiv] defines this usage of agathos a little differently than in v. 4a when they write,“pertaining to having the proper characteristics or performing the expected function in a fully satisfactory way—‘good, nice, pleasant.”[xv] 

Second, Paul wrote that God’s will was “good.”  In Romans 12:2 (NASB95), he wrote that, “… you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”   The NASB95 translates the Greek phrase to agathon as “that which … good.”  The article to (lexical form ho) is an attributive article which relates to the relevant noun in the sense of adding definiteness to its meaning.[xvi]  By using this attributive article, Paul added the quality of being “good” to the will of God.   In other words, that which is the “will of God” is “good.”

Third, Paul made a contrast between what is “good” and what is “evil.”  To do “good” was cast in a positive light so that was what a believer was supposed to do.  To do “evil” was cast in a negative light so that was what a believer was not supposed to do.  See Romans 7:18-19; 9:11; 12:9, 21; 16:19.[xvii] 

Fourth, Paul wrote that, “the commandment is … good.”  See Romans 7:12-13.[xviii]  What God’s Word affirmed was good and what God’s Word condemned was evil. 

Conclusions from the Word Study

After carrying out the above-described word study of agathos, I came to the following conclusions about Paul’s use of agathon in Romans 13:4a in the context of how the government ought to govern including the issues pertaining to the beginning of human life, human sexuality, gender, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and the free assembly of believers to worship God.

First, the government must govern for its citizens in a way that is consistent with God’s will including when it comes to the issues pertaining to the beginning of human life, human sexuality, gender, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and the free assembly of believers to worship God.

Second, the government must govern for its citizens in a way that is consistent with the teachings of God’s Word including when it comes to the issues pertaining to the beginning of human life, human sexuality, gender, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and the free assembly of believers to worship God.

Third, the government must govern for the citizens in such a way that it promotes biblical good and does not promote biblical evil including when it comes to the issues pertaining to the beginning of human life, human sexuality, gender, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and the free assembly of believers to worship God.

Commentaries as a “Sanity Check”

The final “sanity check” of my analysis is to refer to commentaries just to make sure my understanding of agathos is not “out in left field.”   One commentary[xix] considers spreading the gospel as within the scope of “good”:

The ruler’s function concerns the individual subject. And this function is “for good”. The authority is God’s servant to bring about good and not something else, but this “good” can be understood in more ways than one. Some hold it to mean the good of the individual, his prosperity. Or, bearing in mind 8:28 where God works everything for good, it is possible to see the words as meaning that what the ruler does will in the end promote God’s purpose for the blessing of his people, that is, their salvation

One translation handbook[xx] emphasizes that the government is God’s servant or agent who is to govern for the benefit of or to help or to cause good for the citizens:

For he is God’s servant working for your own good is literally “for he is God’s servant to you for good” (see KJV). The NEB has essentially the same meaning, except for the use of the plural in place of the singular (“they are God’s agents working for your good”; see also Goodspeed). The NAB has “the ruler is God’s servant to work for your good”; while the JB states this same meaning in different words: “the state is there to serve God for your benefit.” In some instances the most convenient way of translating for your own good may be “in order to help you” or “in order to cause good for you.”

Still another commentator[xxi] focuses on the fact that government is to govern for the welfare of the people:

To do you good—that is, to secure or promote your welfare. Governing authorities or rulers are not appointed for their own advantage, but for the benefit of society, and therefore while those under them are on this account to obey them, they themselves are taught what those in power are so apt to forget, that those in power are the servants of the people as well as the servants of God, and that the welfare of society is the only legitimate object which they as rulers are free to pursue.

These commentaries appear to confirm my understanding of agathos.

TAKEAWAY(S) FROM LOOKING AT THE WORD MEANING OF agathos

The takeaway(s) from looking at the word meaning of agathos are those takeaways expressed above.

• First, the government must govern for its citizens in a way that is consistent with God’s will including when it comes to the issues pertaining to the beginning of human life, human sexuality, gender, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and the free assembly of believers to worship God.

• Second, the government must govern for its citizens in a way that is consistent with the teachings of God’s Word including when it comes to the issues pertaining to the beginning of human life, human sexuality, gender, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and the free assembly of believers to worship God.

• Third, the government must govern for the citizens in such a way that it promotes biblical good and does not promote biblical evil including when it comes to the issues pertaining to the beginning of human life, human sexuality, gender, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and the free assembly of believers to worship God.

THE NEXT ARTICLE – ARTICLE 7

The next article presents the observation of the fifth Greek sentence.

If you are reading this post and are not a Christian, unless God intervenes, your eternal destination is hell.  But, your destiny can change.  Today can be the day of your salvation.  Please see my blog (https://stevebelsheim.com/2020/04/20/for-god-so-loves-you-2/) for a description of how you can be saved and a more concise description at my (https://stevebelsheim.com/2020/10/20/there-is-hope-even-when-there-seems-to-be-no-hope-2/ ).

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Scripture quotations marked “ESV” are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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[i] The  lexical form is agathos.

[ii] See Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 741). New York: United Bible Societies. 

[iii] Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

[iv] Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old &New Testament Word, (2206), Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI at pp. 300-301.

[v] Matthew 19:17 (ESV) – 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

[vi] A discussion Romans 12:2 is set forth in the discussion of the literary context. 

[vii] Romans 7:12 (ESV) – 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

[viii] 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV) – 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

[ix] Luke 8:8 (ESV) – 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Luke 8:15 (ESV) – 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

[x] Titus 2:14 (ESV) – 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

[xi] Philippians 1:6 (ESV) – 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

[xii] Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (pp. 3–4). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

[xiii] Email me and I’ll send you a copy of the diagram.

[xiv] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 622). New York: United Bible Societies.

[xv] Since proclamation of the gospel and the gospel itself are “good,” the government ought to govern in such a way so as to facilitate the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The connection between this factor and the historical-cultural context of early A.D. 57 when Paul wrote Romans is remarkable.

[xvi] See Lukaszewski, A. L. (2007). The Lexham Syntactic Greek New Testament Glossary. Lexham Press. 

[xvii] These Scriptures read:

Romans 7:18–19 (ESV) – 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

Romans 9:11 (ESV) – 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—

Romans 12:9 (ESV) – 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

Romans 12:21 (ESV) – 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 16:19 (ESV) – 19 For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.

[xviii] Romans 7:12–13 (ESV) – 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.

[xix] Morris, L. (1988). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 463). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press

[xx] Newman, B. M., & Nida, E. A. (1973). A handbook on Paul’s letter to the Romans (p. 246). New York: United Bible Societies.

[xxi] Hodge, C. (1993). Romans (Ro 13:4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.