It all comes back to love and how you treat your neighbor.  At least, that is what Paul is teaching us in Romans 13.  What Paul does that is different than Jesus in Matthew 22:36-40 (but not contrary to Jesus, just an extrapolation of it) is he pushes it out to the logical assumptions about political and social behavior.

Translation Notes

The most fitful translation choice for me was in verse 7.  There is a remarkable brevity in the way Paul frames these words–literally something like “taxes the taxes, toll the toll, fear the fear, honor the honor.”  I’ve added the verbs “due” and “pay” at the beginning and end of the verse for clarity, but those are not present in this part of the sentence.  They are borrowed from earlier.

In verse 6 Paul uses the word “leitourgoi” which is connected to the root for our word ‘liturgy’, and it is sometimes used to describe Christian worship or service.  Here, however, it is used to denote the secular, civil servant whom Paul also calls a servant of God.  It is fascinating that in 12:1, when he talks about worship, he uses another word, “latreo.”  Even though there are two different words, I wonder how connected in Paul’s mind is the work of Christian service and civil service?

One more translation issue.  Most English renderings add the word “first” in verse 11, when we “first believed.”  That is a giant liberty, for the word just is not there.  I don’t like it, because it implies a second (or third, or fourth etc…) moment of belief.  Paul is chronological here, recalling that time when we believed in Jesus, but the modifier “first” is unnecessary and confusing.

Theological Notes

I feel like these verses need a fresh reading in our current cultural context here in the United States.  Paul lived in a time when the Roman Empire governed everything, and Rome was anything but moral.  Rome was an empire built of power, lust, and greed.  Whatever evil someone thinks might be going on in our government today, it pales in comparison to the evil in Rome–all throughout the empire.  Yet, Paul can say that the imperium (lictor, likely) is chosen by God for the task.  It can only mean that in the larger society (not within the church, mind you, c/f 1 Cor. 5) order, peace, submission, and the public good trumps personal morality.  That is a hard pill for many, me included, to swallow but that seems to be the teaching.

Chapter Thirteen
1. Every soul must be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and they have been assigned to it by God.
2. So, those opposing authority resist the command of God, and those who resist authority will receive judgement.
3. For those governing are not to be feared by those doing good work, but those doing evil. If you do not want to fear the authorities, do good and you will have praise for it.
4. For he is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, you will fear, for it is not for nothing that he carries a sword as a servant of God—an executor of wrath—to those practicing evil.
5. Therefore, it is necessary to be subject, not only because of wrath, but also because of the conscience.
6. This is why you pay taxes, for those are servants of God, constantly attending to the order of things.
7. Pay everyone what is due. If taxes are due, then taxes, if a toll, then a toll, if fear, then fear, if honor is due, then pay honor.
8. Owe no one anything except to love one another, for the one who loves others has fulfilled the law.
9. For, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not lust,” and whatever other commandments, are summarized in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
10. Love for the neighbors does no evil, therefore it is a fulfillment of the law of love.
11. Especially knowing the time, because the hour is now already here to wake from sleep, for our salvation is nearer than when we believed.
12. The night advances, but daytime is at hand, therefore take off the works of darkness. Put on the weapons of light.
13. Let us walk properly as in the daylight—not in orgies, drunkenness, in bed, in debauchery, rivalries or jealousy.
14. Put on the Lord Jesus, Messiah. Do not satisfy your desires.


Here is the second week of Advent’s Gospel  (read last week’s here, read last year’s here) readings for our year translated, by me, from the Greek New Testament.  Not much in the way of textual issues this week; only one variant.  The key theme here is that most of the text is Jesus against his old foes the Pharisees and Sadducees.  He really tees off on them and then the section ends with the Olivet Discourse, perhaps  the most frightening words in the world.


Matthew 22:23-33

On that day Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came and questioned him.  They said, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If any man should die childless his brother must marry the wife and raise up offspring for his brother.’  Now, there were seven brothers and the first, having married, died, but he did not have offspring so he let his wife to for his brother.  Likewise the second, the third, and all the seventh.  Eventually they all died, as did the woman.  Now, in the resurrection to which of the seven will she be a wife?  For they all had her.

Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken.  You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.  For in the resurrection there is neither marriage nor getting married, but they will be as the angels in heaven.  Have you not read what was spoken by God about the resurrection of the dead, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?  He is not he God of those who are dead but those who are living.

The crowds were astonished at his teaching when they heard that.


Matthew 22:34-46

The Pharisees, hearing that he had silence the Sadducees, gathered together.  One of them, a lawyer, questioned him with a test.  “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?  He said to him, “You must love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole soul, and your whole mind.  This commandment is the greatest and most important.  Now, the second most important is similar, you must love your neighbor as yourself.  The whole body of the law and the prophets depends on these two commandments.”

Now, since they were gathered together, Jesus questioned the Pharisees saying, “What do you think about the Christ?  Whose son is he?”  They said, “David.”  He said to them, “How then, does it say that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying ‘The Lord said to my lord, ‘You sit at my right until I shall put your enemies under your feet.’  If David, then, calls him Lord, how is he his son?”

No one was able to answer him a word, nor did anyone question him any more from that day on.


Matthew 23:1-12

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and his disciples saying, “The Scribes and Pharisees sit upon Moses’ seat.  Therefore, you must obey and do everything that they might say to you but do not do what they do because they do not do what they say.  For they bind up a heavy burden which is hard to bear and then put it upon people’s shoulders yet they are unwilling to lift a finger themselves!  Instead, the work they do is intended to be noticed by people—they make bigger religious trinkets and lengthen their tassels.  They love the best table at dinner and the best seats in the synagogue and to be greeted on the street by people as “Rabbi.”

But do not let yourselves be called, “Rabbi,” for one of you is a teacher but all of you are brothers.  Do not let yourselves be called, “Father” upon the earth, for there is one father, our heavenly father.  Neither be called master for there is one master for you, the Christ.  But the greatest among you will be the one who is your servant.  Whoever will exalt himself will be humbled and whoever will humble himself will be exalted.


Matthew 23:13-26

Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees—you are hypocrites because you shut the door on the kingdom of heaven, which is right in front of your face!  You do not enter in neither do they allow others to enter in.


[Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees—you are hypocrites because you yourselves gobble up widow’s homes and pray with false motives.  They themselves will receive greater judgment.  V. 14 is a very suspect textual variant which very likely does not belong to Jesus’ original statements here.  The GNT only includes it as a footnote.]


Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees—you are hypocrites because you travel overseas and far abroad to make one proselyte and when then when he becomes one you make him twice the son of hell as you are.

Woe to you blind guides who say it is meaningless for anyone who might swear by the Temple but if anyone should swear by the gold in the Temple he is obligated.

Blind fools!  For which is greater; the gold or the temple which sanctifies the gold?  [note–spellcheck does not like the word “sanctifies” but I’m sticking with it.]

You say that if anyone swears by the altar it is meaningless but if anyone swears by the gift upon it he is obligated.

Blind!  For which is greater; the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?

Therefore, anyone swearing by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it and anyone swearing by the Temple swears by it and the one dwelling in it and the one swearing by the heavens swears by the throne of God and he who sits upon it.

Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees—you are hypocrites because you tithe on mint, dill, and cumin but forget the weightier issues of the law like judgment, mercy, and faith.  These thins you ought to have done but not forgotten about the other things.

Blind guides!  You strain the gnat but gulp the camel.

Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees—you are hypocrites for you clean the outside of the cup and the side dish but inside it is full of loot and robbery.

O Blind Pharisees!  First clean the inside of the cup and then the outside will become clean.


Matthew 23:27-39

Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees—you are hypocrites because you look like whitewashed tombs that are beautiful on the outside but filled with dead bones and all kinds of unclean things on the inside.  Just like those your outside looks righteous to people but on the inside you are filled with hypocrisy and wickedness.

Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees—you are hypocrites because you build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteousness and you say “If we had lived in the days of our fathers we would not have participated in the bloodshed of the prophets.”  Thus you testify against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets and so therefore you must fulfill the full measure of your fathers.  How will you snakes, you children of serpents escape from the judgment of hell?

Notice that I send you prophets, sages, and scribes and some of them you will kill and crucify and some of them you will flog in your synagogues and you will persecute them in city after city.  You all come from bloody servants continually shedding blood ever since the righteous Abel to the blood of Zachariah, Son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the Temple and the altar.  Truly I say to you, all this will come upon this generation.

O Jerusalem!  Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her.  How of ten I wished to gather your children together as when a hen gathers up her chicks under her wing.  But you refused.

Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.


Matthew 24:1-14

Jesus went out as he was coming from the Temple and his disciples came to him to point out the architecture of the Temple.  Now, answering he said, “Do you not see all these things?  Truly what I am saying to you is that when it is destroyed there will not be left one stone upon another.

Each of his disciples came to him while he was sitting on the Mountain of Olives and each one was asking, “Tell us when these things will be and what are the signs of your coming and the consummation of the ages.”

Jesus answer said, “See to it that you are not deceived.  For many will come in my name saying, ‘I myself am Christ,’ and many will be deceived.  You will be hearing the sounds of war and the rumors of war, but see that you do not become troubled by it for it is necessary that these happen, yet it is not yet the end.  Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.  Famines and earthquakes will come against various places; now all these are the beginning of the birth pangs.  All the nations will hate you, then they will hand you over to afflict and to kill you because of my name.  Then many will become fallen away, betraying and hating one another.  Many false prophets will rise up, deceiving many.  Lawless will increase so much that love will grow cold for many.  But the one who holds out until the end will be saved.  And the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to every nation, and then the end will come.