An Anarchist Reading of Romans 13; Lloyd Pietersen

The keynote session of the 2015 Newman Research Centre for the Bible and its Reception conference (Dead Letters and Living Words) was given by Dr Lloyd Pietersen who presented a paper on ‘An Anarchist Reading of Romans 13’ (video and notes below).

The question about what is the relationship between church and state is one that has repeatedly been raised throughout Christian history. Romans 13 is a key passage in this debate and is often quoted to endorse a pacific and accepting attitude by the church towards state authority and rule.

Is Paul, a frequent and hostile critic of the Roman Empire who spends much of the time contrasting it unfavourably with the new empire being established through Jesus Christ in the church, really saying that either the church should accept the dictates and of the state? Pietersen’s paper challenges this reading.

Paul’s exhortation to show solidarity with the oppressed resonates well with anarchist protest against corrupt and disempowering practices by those in power.

Lloyd's profile picture
Dr Lloyd Pietersen

In this paper, Dr Lloyd Pietersen presents a concise and extremely helpful introduction to the historical context of anarchism before exploring in greater detail the Christian anarchist tradition. He offers an anarchist perspective of the depiction of monarchy within the Hebrew Bible before introducing Tolstoy’s reading of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 7:1-5) and an examination of Jesus as anarchist archetype. In the light of this, Pietersen then presents a very different reading of Romans 13 that considers its historical and literary contexts and in which Paul scathingly attacks the failures and injustices of Roman Imperialism.

For presentation notes please click here: Anarchist Reading of Romans 13 presentation notes:


5 thoughts on “An Anarchist Reading of Romans 13; Lloyd Pietersen

  1. Video posted at along with the following comment…

    I applaud Mr Pietersen’s intention and effort, but I think his argument is unnecessarily convoluted due to his face-value acceptance of modern translations. One should realize that those translations were made with the heavy influence of—or under the outright threat of—centralized governments. When the accepted translations are bypassed and the original Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew is looked at with anarchist eyes, the entire Bible becomes one of the most exciting tools there is for spreading the gospel of anarchy.

    For example, when one looks at the Greek words behind Romans 13, it becomes clear that Paul was not speaking of governing authorities at all. Instead, he was explaining that honoring HIGHER LIBERTY took presidence over all else.

    Early in the video, Mr Pietersen correctly notes the anarchic importance of the book of Judges. But he suggests forgetting about Moses. But a deeper look at the Hebrew shows that Moses helped to bring Israel back to their anarchist Abrahamic roots. And Jesus brought them back to those roots yet again. The “Bastard’s Summary of the Bible” helps tie all this together:

    Abraham the Anarchist:

    Tithing as Taxes of a Free Nation:


    1. Thank you for taking the time to add your comments. It is always great to hear from people who use the site. I am sure Lloyd will be very interested in your readings and shares your excitement over anarchist readings of the text.
      There is plenty here that we could discuss at great length – although the limitations of blog formats do not make them particularly suitable.
      Yes, you are perfectly right in noting the dangers of accepting translated texts at face value (though perhaps overplay the influence of centralised governments on all(?) modern translations) – nevertheless, they are, in one way or another, negotiated texts. As you would, no doubt, expect, Lloyd is also a first-class Greek scholar and also very mindful of these matters.
      I am always wary of the tendency to lock a word to a specific meaning and am not totally convinced that ἐξουσία (exousia)is always used in the way you suggest and should not be translated as ‘authorities’, but I do like your reading of Rom 13:1 – it’s something that I’m going to have to think more deeply about!


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