Binding Obligations In Romans 13:7: A Semantic Field And Social Context -- By: Thomas M. Coleman

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 048:2 (NA 1997)
Article: Binding Obligations In Romans 13:7: A Semantic Field And Social Context
Author: Thomas M. Coleman


Binding Obligations In Romans 13:7:
A Semantic Field And Social Context

Thomas M. Coleman

Summary

Insufficient attention has been given to the meaning of the four distinctive terms used in Romans 13:7: ‘tribute’ (φόρος), ‘tax’ (τέλος), ‘reverence’ (φόβος), and ‘honour’ (τιμή). This article will discuss these terms in relation to the Graeco-Roman semantic field of political obligation, dividing them into the categories of ‘tangible’ obligations (tribute and tax) and ‘intangible’ obligations (reverence and honour). We will also examine Romans 13:7 in light of the social context of the Neronean era, in which there was an increasing burden of taxation and the introduction of legal penalties for failure to show due reverence and honour to those in authority.

I. Introduction

Commentators have glossed over the significance of the four terms which Paul uses in Romans 13:7—terms which describe the obligations that Christians have toward civic authorities: ‘tribute’ (φόρος), ‘tax’ (τέλος), ‘reverence’ (φόβος), and ‘honour’ (τιμή). For example, in his pre-war commentary on Romans, R.C.H. Lenski commented, in regard to Romans 13:7, that there was no unique significance in Paul’s use of these terms.1 Lenski argued that the apostle’s ‘great positive principles… apply to all times, to us as well as to the Romans, to our relation to our secular government as well as to their relation to theirs’.2 C.E.B. Cranfield, likewise, discounted the particular relevance which Paul’s words may have had for the Roman Christians, but for different reasons. Cranfield sought to find the

source of Paul’s sayings and located it in Gospel tradition3 and other New Testament documents4 ; the particular significance of the apostle’s words to his Roman audience receives only secondary attention.

However, an important though neglected question to ask is: What was the import of these four terms, i.e. their meaning and the socia...

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