In my blog a while back, I discussed the usage of Rom. 13 by one author. Here, in this blog, I will detail another usage of a superficially similar passage in 1 Pet. 2.13-14. I say “superficial” because even though passages may share the same topic, their contexts, both historical and literary, will create different meanings.
The Meaning The typically superficial reading of this passage resembles the other interpretation of Romans 13 which simply says to obey all governing authority with no consideration of the context of the Greco-Roman Empire. The author states rightly that the idea of government established by God is not explicit (p. 81). He could just stop right there, but he goes on. He states, “The idea … is hinted at when Peter says that Christians are to be subject ‘for the Lord’s sake.’” He believes that the government has the function of punishing the evil such as N. Korea, Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba. The only trouble is, he’s assuming moral high ground when he lists these countries.
I hate to say it, US policies, especially the right-wing policies of past administrations, have not endear ourselves to many in the middle east, Asia and South America. The mistake here is to assume that evil resides in others, and not in us. He explicitly argues that the US government’s role to punish “others” and being the world’s policeman.
There’s no parallel here with 1 Peter where even if the government was going good (and it was not), it was doing good on behalf of the world. Neither the US nor the Romans were ever granted the position of the world policemen. This mentality has to change or Christians who support such US policies will continue to be sneered upon and despised by the rest of the world. In his reading of 1 Pet. 2.13-14, he states that there is widespread agreement in the Bible that God had established the government for the benefit of humanity. This however does not mean that everything God allows is morally good. There is a vast difference. He does not distinguish between an observation and ideal-laced assumption.
Appeal to widespread agreement assumes that also all faithful interpreters also agree with his interpretation. Such is not the case, even if we survey superficially the commentaries written on 1 Pet. 2.13-14. Regarding his view of obedience to government, this author calls 1 Pet. 2.13-14 as God’s moral standards. Quite clearly, we can’t debate that! Of course not. After all, evangelical theology is full of such thoughtless clichés. The fact is, I have already shown that this was not loosely about “morality.” (p. 61) The sayings addressed a certain situation the real historical audience faced. Would Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil disobedience be considered immoral? Would Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth disobedience to the Nazis be immoral? No wonder he never had King, Bonhoeffer and Barth in his bibliography because these recent examples alone prove that biblical interpretation is quite varied and situational. His utter disregard for these examples only shows to me that if he existed in the time of Nazi German or 60s US society, his theory would be in complete favor of the powerful oppressive forces.
Let’s expand that a bit to the rest of the world, shall we? How about those who resist the religiously oppressive regime such as China, N. Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, and many parts of the world? He clearly does not elaborate on these examples, hinting at the fact that he is unaware of global issues that require a more global interpretation of these verses instead of the American evangelical “oasis” from which he reads the Bible. If he reads the passage carefully, the real point is not the nature of divinely ordained governing authority. The real point comes at 1 Pet. 2.15ff where the church was called to do good so that society could not criticize its existence. What good is the church doing? That is the real question.
The thing I object most about his treatment of the passage is his rhetoric. The arrogance of his tone is amazing in that he makes straw men of opposition point of views and just knocks them down triumphantly. He also assumes that those who disagree with him do not preach 1 Pet. 2 because he asks, Have you decided that you wont preach on Romans 13.1-7? Or that you won’t preach on 1 Peter 2.13-14?” I do preach on those passages, just not in the thoughtless colonial paradigm that he does. Apparently, he calls those who disagree with him as those who selectively preach the Bible. I hope by now in my blogs that I have demonstrated that he is the selective writer, not the other way around.
In his view of government, we can see the selective use of certain texts with no regard to other texts or even the historical context of the said text. Revelation was rarely quoted and when quoted, usually misquoted. The author of Revelation did not have much good to say about the Roman government. When he quotes Revelation, he almost always neutralizes the text, either because he wants to support his own view or that he is completely ignorant of Revelation. The best example is his usage of Rev. 18.3, 9 where “sexual immorality” is viewed as the modern evangelical prudish morality. Such is not the case, the sexual vocabulary in Revelation is mostly about faithfulness to God or walking in line with God’s ideal. In short, it is disturbing that works by such a scholar has been so widely used by evangelical systematic instructors. I don’t believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for a long time for those who are trained under this textbook
As always, the problem is not the text. The problem is the interpreter.