A Change is Gonna Come

Consistent with the title of Sam Cooke’s song “A Change is Gonna Come,” if the Biden-Harris ticket wins the election, “a change is gonna come.”  In fact, with a Biden-Harris win there will be a seismic change in the political landscape for Christians.  If along with a Biden-Harris win the Democrats wind up with control of the U.S. Senate via victories in the Georgia runoff races for two Senate seats, there will be a catastrophic earthquake for Christians in the United States. 

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer made chilling remarks

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer made chilling remarks about America’s future as reported in an article entitled “IT BEGINS: Schumer Declares Democrats will ‘Change America’ If They ‘Take Georgia’ Senate Seats” in the Daily Wire (link: https://www.dailywire.com/news/it-begins-schumer-declares-democrats-will-change-america-if-they-take-georgia-senate-seats  :

“Now we take Georgia, and then we change the world,” Schumer said at a political event in New York City following the media’s declaration that Democrat Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. “Now we take Georgia, then we change America.”

What’s a Christian to do? – “Get’n Ready” by Studying Romans 13:1-7

What’s a Christian to do?  What I’m doing is studying Romans 13:1-7 to better determine the nature and scope of a believer’s obligation, IF ANY, to obey a government like what the Biden-Harris administration will most likely implement.  While my study is still ongoing, one interesting facet of this text is Romans 13:4a (NASB95) which reads that the “authority [i.e., the “governing authorities”]:

… is a minister of God to you for good [agathon]. 

Here, Paul intended to convey that the government was to govern in such a way that it was for the “good” [Greek adjective agathon]  of “every person.”  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?  

While there may be additional steps, for this analysis I took four steps to better comprehend what Paul intended to convey through verse 4a.

The first step to determine the meaning of a New Testament word is to look to a lexicon (Greek-English dictionary).  One popular lexicon gives the following definition, “positive moral qualities of the most general nature—‘good, goodness, good act.’”  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. 

While this definition better defines the term, is there another place to look that unpacks agathon [the lexical form is agathos] even more?  This is especially the case when trying to determine what Paul meant by the government governing for “good” in Romans 13:4a.

Another important source to determine the meaning of a word is the literary context.  In 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.  Email me and I’ll send you a copy of the diagram.  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.  A look at these usages reveals the following factors that impact the interpretation of Romans 13:4a.

First, in Romans 10:15, Paul wrote that the saving gospel of Jesus Christ is “GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS.”  Paul expressed the complete process in Romans 10-14-15 (NASB95):

14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

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 A.D. 56-57 when Paul wrote Romans is remarkable.

Second, Paul wrote that God’s will was “good.”  In Romans 12:2, he wrote that, “… you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Paul appears to have advanced the same teaching in Romans 8:28.  The impact on interpretation is that God’s will is “good” so that the government is to govern consistent with God’s will.  God’s will includes the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Third, Paul made a contrast between what is “good” and what is “evil.”  To do “good” was cast in a positive light and to do “evil” was cast in a negative light.  See Romans 7:18-19; 9:11; 12:9, 21; 14:16; 16:19.  The interpretative gloss is that if the government is to govern for “good” then it is NOT to govern for “evil.”  The proclamation of the gospel is “good” and the hinderance of the gospel is “evil.”

Fourth, Paul wrote that, “the commandment is … good.”  See Romans 7:12-13.  What God’s Word affirms is good and what God’s Word condemns is evil.  A government ought to govern so as to be consistent with what God’s Word affirms and with what God’s Word condemns.

The literary context unpacks the meaning of Romans 13:4a to a significant extent.

Another good source to help better understand the meaning of a word is a theological dictionary.  One theological dictionary is the “Little Kittel” (Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (pp. 3–4). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans).  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).

“Little Kittel” appears to reinforce the principle that a government is supposed to be God’s servant that governs in a way consistent with Gods will which includes facilitation of the spread of the gospek.

The final “sanity check” step is to refer to commentaries just to make sure my interpretation is not “out in left field.”   One commentary (Morris, L. (1988). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 463). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press) reads:

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

Paul intended to teach his audience that a government must govern in such a way so as to facilitate the spread of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

Morris seems to support the interpretation that through what he wrote in Romans 13:4a, Paul intended to teach his audience that a government must govern in such a way so as to facilitate the spread of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

I hope this article has been helpful to better appreciate the value of the literary context in the interpretation process.  My goal is to compete my analysis of Romans 13:1-7 in the near future.

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.


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