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.
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: