“Conscience” In Romans 13:5 -- By: Page Lee

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 08:1 (Fall 1990)
Article: “Conscience” In Romans 13:5
Author: Page Lee


“Conscience” In Romans 13:5

Page Lee

Professor of Religion
Mars Hill College, Mars Hill, North Carolina

Norman Perrin says that in Romans 12–15 “we have the voice of a great preacher challenging all men at any time and in any place, and as in the case of Romans 8, scholarly comment is ultimately superfluous.”1 But of course the bibliography of articles on Romans 13:1–7 could be longer than this rather modest effort to evaluate two interpretations of Paul’s use of “conscience” in Romans 13:5.

This essay will present some general conclusions about the purpose and meaning of Romans 13:1–7 in the context of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. The treatment of conscience in Romans 13:5 by C. A. Pierce will be evaluated. This will be followed by a summary of Paul Lehmann’s application of his view of conscience to the same verse.

Some Conclusions About Romans 13:1–7

During his three month stay in Corinth in C.E. 56, Paul wrote to the Christians who lived in the seat of the empire. Both Bornkamm and Kasemann suggest that the Christians in Rome viewed their civic obligations and the authorities with indifference or contempt.2 This may or may not have been related to the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by Claudius in C.E. 49 (cf. Acts 18:2). The indifference is more likely the result of a focus on their heavenly citizenship. Paul wrote this parenetic passage to change their attitudes and actions toward the authorities.

The meaning of this passage has varied from “blind submission” to the state to “impassioned protest” against the state and “has raised more questions than it has answered.”3 It is interesting that Kasemann says, “This section has given rise to particularly lively debate during the past generation in the German-speaking areas.”4 In general the verses have led Christians to approve of and submit to the ruling power. Kasemann says, “A basic change has taken place today, however, as the worldwide abuse of power has been so terrifyingly demonstrated.”5 If “acceptance and obedience” characterize Paul’s attitude toward the state, contemporary ethicists like E. Clinton Gar...

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