Ellul and Biblical politics

Before taking a look at Paul we must glance at a strange passage in a later epistle, namely, 1 Peter 2:13ff., which tells us to “be subject to the king as supreme” and to “honor the king.”  Oddly, this passage has never given commentators any difficulty.  As they see it, the matter is simple enough.  The king was the Roman emperor.  That is all.  On this basis, then, sermons are preached on the obedience and submission of Christians to political authorities.  Interestingly, in parallel Bibles there is usually a cross-reference to the saying of Jesus that we must render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.  In fact, however, this whole line of exposition displays great ignorance regarding the political institutions of the period.

First, the head of the Roman state was then the princeps.  This was the term for the emperor at the time when Christian texts were written.  This period is known historically as the principate.  The princeps was never called the king (Greek basileus).  The title was formally forbidden in Rome.

–Jacques Ellul, Anarchy and Christianity, p.74-75

Picked up this book recently while getting a couple of others.  After it arrived in the mail, I started flipping through it and immediately found enough racism to tell me I should take this book with a sack of salt, specifically a sack and not a grain so that there will be enough to form a circle and ward off the evil as I sift through this thing for anything novel or good.  And while I haven’t found anything quite like I’d hoped for when I bought it, I did find this take on 1 Peter 2:13, which… is one I haven’t been exposed to before, at least.

The direction he goes with this is, um, not what I thought it’d be.  He rules out that “king” could mean the Roman emperor, and then somehow he interprets this as meaning the author was talking about pledging loyalty to… a different nation that did have a monarchy?  Dude, what?  I… okay.  Sure, I guess.

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