Lecture 32: Hermeneutics for Epistles (Part 4) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 32: Hermeneutics for Epistles (Part 4)

Course: Biblical Hermeneutics

Lecture: Hermeneutics for Epistles (Part 4)


Alright, the next kind of thing that we want to look at is going from understanding a proposition, a simple statement to following an argument.  And I am going to trace with you a very carefully worked out argument by the apostle Paul in Romans 13:1-7.  Whats nice about this passage is that there is no intimate, needed connection with what precedes or what follows. It follows a general list of exhortations that Paul gives here.

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is
no authority except from God, and those that exist have
been instituted by God. 2 Therefore he who resists the authority resists
what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have
no fear of Him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will
receive his approval; 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you
do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain!
He is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the
wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid
God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason
you ought to pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, 
attending to this very thing. 7 Pay all of them their dues, — taxes
to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to
whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

Now I am not implying in the least, that you should be able to work out what I am going to  show you here. What I am saying is that, I want you to see there are times when you have a very carefully constructed argument and the more you understand the argument, the more rich it becomes for you and the better you are in being able to preach and teach it.

Now let us follow this verse by verse.

13:1 – A general exhortation – let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  Now he then goes on and gives the theological ground for this. For why should I? I don’t like it. Why should I Paul? Be subject to the governing authorities?

For Paul says, there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been instituted from God.  What Paul is saying is that – this governmental authority that we have above us – is a gift of God - a gift of common grace which God has ordained for the well-being of His creation.

This authority that the state has comes from God Himself.  And when you don’t like a President or you don’t like a governor, we don’t have a choice of saying “we are not going to pay attention to them.” Paul says to be subject to the governing authorities.  Their authority ultimately comes from God and therefore when you disobey them, there will be consequences.

So you have a theological ground.  Notice the “for” - the cause. Why should we obey and be subject to the governing authorities? For there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been instituted by God. Now the result of this theological argument is as follows:

“Therefore or so that he who resists the authorities, resists what God has appointed. And as a consequence of that, those who resist will incur judgment.  So you have a general exhortation about being subject to the governing authorities.  And you have the ground for that – the authority comes from God.  And consequently the result is, if you resist them, you will incur judgment. 

Now, second argument. A practical ground.  Notice the “for” in 13a. Here you have another one. A positive example. 

“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” In other words, the reason you should obey government is because they are for our good. They are helpful. They are good for us. If you obey the law, you don’t have to worry about them.  They are a real blessing.

“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.”And the explanation for that:

“Would you have no fear of Him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will
receive his approval; 4 for he is God's servant for your good.”

On the other hand, if you do badly, if you do wrong, then be afraid. For, he does not bear the sword in vain.  The idea of the sword here is the symbol of the power of life and death over the citizenry.  In Roman literature there is an example of one of the emperors who resigned and handed over his sword.   And the person describing this said, “In so doing he showed that he was surrendering the right of life and death over the citizenry and giving that up.”

“He does not bear the sword in vain.”

If you are looking for a proof text for capital punishment, I think that this is a good one. This is what Paul is saying, that he doesn’t bear the sword in vain.

“He is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.”

And you have the explanation of why he bears the sword. 

He is God’s servant to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.

If someone were to say to Paul, “By what right does the state have to punish people who are evil, the answer is – if they don’t – they are not doing what God has ordained them to do. They are to punish the wrongdoer.”

So you have the ground, the result and you have the practical ground and argument, the positive one and a negative one.  Now beginning at 13:5, you have a summary, a chiasmic summary. Chiasmic is A-B-B-A.

5 Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid
God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

Now in 3 and 4, we had reference to the wrath of – 
he is God's servant for … if you
do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain!
He is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the
wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid
God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

Now conscience hasn’t shown up anywhere in this passage so far.  Its unlikely that Paul would just pull out of the hat another reason that he hasn’t dealt with in some ways so my understanding that goes back to his argument that all authority comes from God, those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore if you resist the authorities, you resist what God has appointed. You violate your conscience, because God has given them authority and if you don’t obey them you violate your conscience, because you know that it is right to do so.

Then you have an argument from Christian practice.

6 For the same reason you ought to pay taxes,

Dr. Stein: Think a minute, you Roman Christians. You pay taxes. Now why do you pay taxes? Why do you think the Roman Christians paid their taxes?  What?

Student: They didn’t want to go to jail.

Dr. Stein: Alright. You have the danger of punishment. But why else? The Christians?

Student: {hard to hear}

Dr. Stein:  Yeah. The things that are God’s.  I think this is an allusion to this.  I would word it maybe something like ‘That’s why Jesus’ told you to pay your taxes, because these authorities are ministers of God attending to this very thing. That’s why we pay our taxes, Jesus said.  Because they are God’s servants and they are there to issue wrath and conscience.’

Then you have a concluding exhortation.  We begin with a general one and it concludes with a concluding one. Different ways of referring to a structure where, the beginning and the end look alike. Some taller ring kind of style and the like.

7 Pay all of them their dues, — taxes to whom
taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to
whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

And then we have the complete argument. It begins with the general exhortation and it ends with a concluding exhortation. The general exhortation is followed by a ground, a theological ground that authority comes from God with the result that if you don’t obey them, you resist them, you resist whom God has appointed and you will get … experience God’s judgment for doing so. Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad – if you don’t want to fear those in authority, then do what is good. They are God’s servant however to endear{?} the sword as His servant to execute wrath, therefore, conclusion and you have the argument from Christian practice.

Now the next step having understood what Paul is talking about is the question, “Is this universally true?”  A lot of the Christians for instance in Nazi Germany were wrestling with “Should we obey our government?”  And the government, being in a quote “Christian state”, frequently passed out Christian propaganda and emphasized Romans 13. Obey the authorities. Obey the Furher. He is God’s anointed leader. 

I think the way I would wrestle with this would be, what kind of government, does Paul say, comes from God?  And is the government I am talking about like that government?  Notice that the government that Paul refers to is coming from God and is having divine authority are a terror to good conduct but to bad conduct.

In verse 4, they are God’s servant for a good. If you do wrong, they punish to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. But if you do good, you don’t have to worry.  But it is evident that sometimes you are under a government that that doesn’t seem to square. There are governments that punish good and reward evil.  And then I think you are saying that this is not the kind of government which Paul is talking about here and I think that a lot of the Christians in Nazi Germany said, this is not the kind of government that Paul is talking about.  The Nazi government is not this kind of a government. It is an illegitimate government. It doesn’t have divine authority because they don’t punish evil and reward good.

Therefore you can’t simply blanketly obey them in everything they say. It is not a legitimate government in that way.  The Christians during the Reformation had a real problem with what to do when you have an evil government. Calvin said, if you have an evil government, you have two things you can do: “Flee and pray!”

The Lutherans, said, “No. If there is an evil government, you can defend yourself against an evil government.”  And that was worked out in a city that was surrounded by a Roman Catholic army trying to destroy them.  I think that might have influenced their views somewhat.  Then who is the Presbyterian? John Knox up in Scotland, went further and he said Christians are obligated not only to resist and evil government, but to seek to overthrow them.  They had all sorts of different … uh… we don’t have a clear example of what to do here.

However, I remember as a young pastor during the Vietnam years, where a lot of material was being passed on to pastors and we were being urged not to obey the government in this war. We were being urged to not pay our taxes and so forth and so on.  I remember working my way through this passage and I simply said “Well. Let me think for a minute. Is the government Paul talking about in Romans – Was this a better government than the government that I am presently under?”  And you know I had a hard time thinking that the Romans were really a very noble military machine.  You say “Well. What were they using their taxes for?” It wasn’t for social welfare of the poor and their conquered territories. It was to maintain their legions.  And I thought “Well. You know, in some ways my government may not be the best but I think it is better than that government and Paul says, to his Roman Christians that they should obey the Roman authorities, then how much more should it follow that I carry it over and obey my government?” Now, the time might come when I think my government would be worse than this? But at the present time, I didn’t think they were, so I did continue to pay my taxes and to get involved in some of that.

Now, lastly for tonight, what we want to do is to look at the genre of letters and let me put up here – the form of ancient letters – there is a lot being done today on this area.  I will do some very simple, maybe superficial books at this.

The Form of an Ancient Letter
An ancient letter usually begins with a greeting.  You have the greeting as generally a secular kind of greeting.  Acts 15:23, 23, 26 James 1:1 all involve this kind of secular greeting. 

Let me read Acts 15:23 to you.

“The Brethren, both the apostles and the elders,
To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:
Greetings.”

So you have (A) the writer to (B) the recipient with a greeting. That would be a very secular kind of greeting or salutation as it is called.

Now, if you were Jewish, what kind of greeting would you give?

Shalom. Ok A to B. Shalom. Which would be Hebrew. Peace is our English translation of that, so in the New Testament letters however, peace is often times part of that Greeting, but also grace is frequently one, which makes these greetings - the salutation much more Christianized in that way.  It seemed very early that Christians had this common greeting to one another and salutation and not just a secular greeting.  Shalom might still stay there, but grace is most important. Sometimes grace, mercy and peace. Sometimes just grace and peace. Sometimes … let us see …
Romans, “Grace to you and peace…”
1 Corinthians “Grace to you and peace…”
2 Corinthians “Grace to you and peace…”
Galatians, “Grace to you and peace…”
Ephesians “Grace to you and peace…”
Philippians “Grace to you and peace…”
Colossians “Grace to you and peace…”
1 Thessalonians “Grace to you and peace…”
and
2 Thessalonians “Grace to you and peace…”   

Looks like grace and peace is the common one. Ok. After the salutation, there usually was a thanksgiving or a prayer of some sort. 

“I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you.”
“I give thanks to God upon you.”
“We give thanks to God.”
“I pray for you unceasingly.”

And something of this nature. So you have a normal form.  “I thank my God through Jesus Christ.” After the salutation which includes  the A to B greeting and grace and peace usually, there is a thanksgiving end or a prayer.

After this, there would be a - the body of the letter itself. In Romans, the body of the letter is rather lengthy.  Galatians as well.  1 Corinthians, not quite as long as you might expect.  Then you have after the body of the letter, some exhortation or instruction.  Notice in Romans that the exhortation and instruction is essentially four chapters, whereas the body is eleven.

Galatians and 1 Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians, the exhortation and instruction is much larger and beginning with chapter 7, he answers a lot of questions that they have had.

“Now concerning what you have written.  Now concerning things offered to idols.  Now concerning … now concerning and so forth.”

Now this is then followed by a conclusion which is very diverse, a wish for peace, a greeting, a holy kiss, a concluding autograph, a benediction of some sort or another.  There is no standard kind of conclusion of this nature.  That tends to be the normal form of a New Testament letter, following the normal form of most other letters – secular letter.

You start with the date on the left side.  The address to a business corporation, then dear so and so in the body of the letter and then you have Yours Truly, Sincerely, His always, In Christ love or something like that and the name that follows.  So it’s a standard form, we follow as well. 

Now in this kind of a letter, one of the things that we note is that when Paul introduces a letter, he frequently has a very heavy and pregnant introduction, especially the churches that he has not founded.  This is a clue as to what is about to occur in the letter.  Let me show you here Romans 1:1-7, a very lengthy introduction.

1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle,
set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised
beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,
3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David
according to the flesh and designated the Son of God
4 and was designated the Son of God in power according
to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead,
Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received
grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith
for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including
you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

7To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Very very lengthy. 

Philippians:
1Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at
Philippi, with the bishops
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,  
To the church of the Thessalonians
in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace.

Very short compared to this.  I think that indicates something. I think the reason he writes such a long introduction is that he is writing to a church he has not founded.

On what basis are you writing to us Paul? Who gave you authority to write us and to tell us what to do? And here Paul introduces what he will later argue in the letter. Notice verse 2.

“The Gospel which He promised beforehand
through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 
the Gospel 3 concerning his Son, who was
descended from David according to the flesh”.

We will deal with that at great length, but when we get down here to the Son of God having been raised from the dead, in verse 5 now he begins to give this rationale as to why he writes this letter.

5 through whom we have received grace and
apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith
for the sake of his name among all the nations

That includes you.  Paul has received grace and apostleship to bring obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations and that includes you. That’s why I am writing you. I have never visited you. I didn’t found the church there, but I write to you because God has given me grace and apostleship to be in charge of bringing about obedience and faith among all the nations.

Now he will then bring that up more and more clearly as we go on.  Let me read to you in Chapter 15 of Romans as he gets to the end of the letter, he now writes more and more specific about that grace and apostleship.

Chapter 15, verse 8:

“For I tell you that Christ became a
Servant to the circumcised to show God’s
truthfulness in order to confirm the promises
given to the Patriarchs, in order that the
Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.
As it is written and so forth…”

“I myself am satisfied…” Verse 14, “about you brethren”
“that you yourselves are full of goodness.

“But on some points I have written to you very
boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace
given to me by God

... to bring about obedience, through whom we
have received grace and apostleship to bring
about obedience of faith ...

I have written to you very boldly by way of
reminder, because of the grace given to me by
God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the
Gentiles in the priestly service of God ...
of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the
Gentiles may be found acceptable.

Now he says, verse 22 of that chapter:

This is the reason why I have so often been
hindered from coming to you. But now, since
I no longer have any room for work in these regions,
and since I have longed for many years to come to
you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain,
and to be sped on my journey there by you, once
I have enjoyed your company for a little while.
At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem...

So Paul is talking about his gift of apostleship. The grace given to him for apostleship.  He picks that up also in Galatians when he writes then, and this is why he writes to the church in Rome. He believes that he is in charge of that church and is responsible for it and therefore he writes to them.

In Chapter 1, verse 9 after this:

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit
in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention
you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by
God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some
spiritual gift to strengthen you — that is, that we may
be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both
yours and mine.

I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended
to come to you (but thus far have been prevented),

… I am in obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians,
both to wise and foolish so I am eager to preach the
Gospel to you also who are in Rome …

So right here in the salutation, Paul introduces the reason for writing his letter and this becomes a clue for us.  If you want to understand Romans, you have to understand why he writes in Romans 1:1-7, he gives that overview in regard to the letter.

One other thing I want to comment on in that and then we will conclude.  I mentioned that after every salutation in all of Paul’s letters, we have what is known as a thanksgiving or prayer.  After the salutation in Romans,

“First I thank my God through Jesus Christ
for all of you.  Because you faith is proclaimed
in all the world… “

He goes on and elaborates.  In 1 Corinthians after the introduction, he says,

“I give thanks to God always for you because
of the grace of God which is given to you in
Christ Jesus.”

2 Corinthians:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies, and God
of all comfort, who comforts us in our affliction.

Ephesians:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ in
every spiritual blessing.”

Philippians:
“I thank my God and all my remembrance of
you always in every prayer of mine.”

1 Thessalonians:
“We give thanks to God always for you,
constantly mentioning you in our prayers.”

“We are bound to give thanks to God
always for you as it is fitting.”

Do you get a sense of we thank you God for everything. Every person who had a letter written to them expects a salutation and a word of blessing and comfort.
Here is Paul in Galatians.

“1Paul, an apostle— not from men nor through man,
but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who
raised him from the dead— 2and all the brothers
who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and
the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins
to deliver us from the present evil age, according to
the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the
glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Now what are you expecting?

Blessed? We thank God? Here is what is written here:

“6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting
Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are
turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another
one, but there are some who trouble you and want to
pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel
from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to
that which we preached to you, let him be accursed”

– anathema.  And just as you are about to gain your breath again, he says,

9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone
is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you
received, let him be accursed.

Every letter, even the one in which they had drunk at Communion, there is a God always or Blessed be the God but not this church. So when you see this normal order, if this is missing, it says a lot about the letter. If it is there that’s what you would expect. It is not as clearly important to us because you expect that.  This being out, it shows, there is real trouble in that church.

The lack of a thanksgiving and prayer in Galatians reveals probably more about that letter than all the words what we read in between and so forth.  So when you look now at the form of the letter, this is very helpful.

Today, there is a lot of talk and a lot of discussion as to becoming more exacting on the forms of the letter, whether this is an apologetic letter, whether this is a defense letter and so forth and so on. I think that’s far too specific, I think.  I think its making something into a genre that becomes too complicated and most of Paul’s readers would not have followed it.

Alright it is 9:30. We are a little early. Do you have any questions so far on what we have covered?  My voice is just about…

Student: ???

Dr. Stein: I am not going to give you an exam question on describe the difference between an instrumental of means or an instrumental of cause or things of that nature. I put them in the book to show you that these are the kinds of things that you need to be aware of as a possibility.   I gave you examples that are helpful.

When you learn Greek syntax. You start looking about Hina clauses as a purpose clause. You look at the different…  you were taught that there were only cases to worry about.  The nominative, there was the genitive, there was the dative, there was the accusative, and there was the vocative.

I remember I felt that somebody had lied to me after I realized that there were really eight of them.  And that those had sub-meanings and so forth.  Those are simply the questions that you have to ask.  This is a dative instrumental, locative kind of ending.  Is it more emphasizing the location, the means of something … with the indirect object, and when you talk about the different kinds of instrumental cause, means of… those questions help you to think about what kind of possibility you have here.

And essentially that is something you work on in Greek exegesis as you go on. But no I am not asking you to memorize all those kinds of clausal relationships in the chapter on epistles.