SGCB | A REVOLUTIONARY READING OF ROMANS 13: A Biblical Case for Lawful Subjection to the Civil Magistrate and Dutiful Resistance to Tyrants

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A REVOLUTIONARY READING OF ROMANS 13: A Biblical Case for Lawful Subjection to the Civil Magistrate and Dutiful Resistance to Tyrants
Timothy L. Decker


Does Romans 13 command Christians a near unqualified obedience toward the civil magistrate? Is there an appropriate occasion and even a duty to resist tyranny, even if the tyranny is not sinful, per se? The aim of this book is to shed light on the fact that Paul's appeal for submission to governmental authorities in Romans 13 is far narrower than it so often gets treated. The many events and crises of 2020 revealed the broad brush strokes Christians often painted with it and thereby abuse of it. It is here argued that the apostle Paul wrote Romans 13 within a specific historical context, a pastoral occasion if you will, to take up the matter of warding off the common Jewish revolutionary spirit so pervasive in that period. Such a sentiment of private revolution among church members of Rome would have undermined a Gentile government and thereby destroyed the gospel influence of the Christian church in Rome. In this way, this book offers a revolutionary reading of Romans 13—that Paul opposed private revolution among private citizens. Therefore, rightly understood, Romans 13 teaches lawful subjection to the civil magistrate while at the same time affirming a Christian's duty to resist tyranny.




*PART 1: The Historical World Behind Romans 13

Chapter 1: The Background to Romans and Paul’s Pastoral Occasion

Chapter 2: Common Jewish Sentiments Against Rome

*PART 2: The Exegetical World Within Romans 13

Chapter 3: Jew and Gentile Controversy in Romans 1–11

Chapter 4: Jew and Gentile Controversy in Romans 12–15

Chapter 5: Exegetical Exposition of Romans 13:1–7 (Part 1)

Chapter 6: Exegetical Exposition of Romans 13:1–7 (Part 2)

*PART 3: The Theological World In Front Of Romans 13

Chapter 7: Romans 13 Read with Other Passages of Scripture

Chapter 8: Sphere Sovereignty and Self-Governance

Chapter 9: Tyranny Biblically Defined

Chapter 10: Romans 13 Applied Today


Scripture Index


"By placing Paul’s famous pericope about believers and the civil magistrate into contextual perspective, Dr. Decker has provided God’s people with a helpful analysis of Romans 13:1–7. With exegetical acumen supplemented by historical sensitivity, the reader will better understand how this text fits the larger context of Scripture and will be aided by careful application." -James M. Renihan, President, International Reformed Baptist Seminary

"It is always gratifying to see increased exegetical clarity with regard to an important passage of Scripture. It is especially gratifying when that clarity provides timely, practical guidance to the believer. Such clarity and practicality are the blessed results of Tim Decker’s study on Romans 13. I have been convinced for many years of his exegetical approach to and understanding of Romans 13 and have defended it in my Political Revolution in the Reformed Tradition: An Historical and Biblical Critique. Recent events in the church and society have only emphasized both the doctrinal and practical necessity of this understanding of Romans 13. May God give this book great influence!" -Sam Waldron, Pastor, Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Owensboro, KY, President, Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary

"Christians are tasked with the difficult duty of navigating the “city of man” as citizens of the “city of God,” and as we do so, we look to the Word of the King for instruction on how to do so well in both cities. As the city of man morphs from affording “peaceful and quiet lives” (1 Timothy 2) to the saints of God to challenging some of the basic tenets of natural law, Christians return ad fontes. A key text for understanding our duties in the common kingdom is Romans 13, and Timothy Decker walks his readers through cultural, textual, and theological issues at play in this locus classicus. Pastors need tools in their belts as they help Christ’s people lead godly and honorable lives under the civil government. Decker’s work will be one such tool, contributing to your thinking as you prepare to lead the people entrusted to your care." -Daniel Scheiderer, Pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Chambersburg, PA, Professor of Systematic Theology at IRBS, Author of Still Confessing

"Dr. Timothy Decker’s new book, 'A Revolutionary Reading of Romans 13: A Biblical Case for Lawful Subjection to the Civil Magistrate and Dutiful Resistance to Tyrants', is a book that needed to be written and that needs to be read by our generation, both pastors and laypeople alike. As Dr. Decker notes, the recent COVID-19 crisis has exposed a great deal of confusion in the Christian church regarding the true meaning and implications of Romans 13:1–7 as well as other texts in Scripture that address the precise nature of the believer’s relationship to the civil authorities. He effectively challenges the shallow assumption that Christians and churches are simply to obey the dictates of the government under which we live, no matter what, unless we are specifically required to do something egregiously sinful. The matter, as he demonstrates, is not quite that simple. This book is marked by careful, detailed, and yet engaging exegesis of the relevant passages. It also interacts with the history of Christian thought as Dr. Decker demonstrates that we are not the first Christians to wrestle with these issues. Many have thought hard about them and have written about them before us from whom we can learn. Especially helpful in that regard are the chapters in which he writes about what is called the lesser magistrate doctrine that was hammered out from Scripture and handed down by our forefathers, his treatment of the issue of sphere sovereignty and of tyranny biblically defined. These chapters are gold! But he doesn’t merely leave his treatment at the exegetical, theological, and historical level; it is also marked by very practical and helpful application. I am very thankful God put it into the heart of this brother to write this book and for how well it is written. I highly recommend it!" -Jeffery Smith, Pastor, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Coconut Creek, FL, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Reformed Baptist Seminary

"Anyone who lived and labored through the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and beyond will have surely encountered the invocation of “Romans 13” in the relevant discourse. How ought people have responded to the various government mandates? Were these mandates wise or lawful? And if one’s conscience was violated, does he have a duty to then “defy tyrants” (as was alleged by some), or must he heed the admonitions in Romans 13 (as alleged by others) and simply comply with the mandates of the God-ordained authorities who are over him? It seemed a horrendous dichotomy: loyalty to Scripture pitted against loyalty to one’s family and neighbors, obedience to the dictates of Romans 13 vs. the dictates of one’s conscience. Throw in some confusing mandates and contradictory data claims, and many Christians were left in an ethical lurch. In this impressive volume, Dr. Timothy Decker does the hard work of diving deep into the exegetical, contextual, and hermeneutical factors that inform our understanding of Romans 13. Does Romans 13 require simple, blanket obedience to state mandates, as many Christians understand? Is there, perhaps, more nuance and complexity at play in the background of this much-contested chapter of Paul’s letter? While one may not agree with all of Dr. Decker’s premises or conclusions, one will still be biblically stimulated, challenged, and perhaps even encouraged as he thinks through the intricacies of the church’s relation to the state in a more theologically informed way." -Sean G. Morris, Academic Dean, Blue Ridge Institute for Theological Education

The Lord granted Pastor Timothy Decker repentance and faith when he was 19 years old. After attending Bible college and meeting his wife Liz there, he started his first pastorate in eastern NC. He has also ministered in Honduras as well as the mountains of Virginia. During those times, God was constantly reforming him. On November 11, 2018 Timothy was ordained as an elder at Trinity Reformed Baptist Church. Along with his pastoral ministry, Dr. Decker is also a professor of New Testament and Greek at Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, International Reformed Baptist Seminary, and the Blue Ridge Institute for Theological Education. He and Liz were married August 6, 2005 and have 4 children.


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