by A.T. Robertson (1863-1934)
|"For I could wish that
I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren s sake, my kinsmen according
to the flesh; who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, and the glory,
and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and
the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ as concerning
the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever"
[FIRST PREACHED DURING THE
TIME OF WORLD WAR I, 1917-1919]
Patriotism and piety are
apparently placed in opposition in some countries by the issues of the
world-war. One of the first
fulminations was the declaration of a large group of the foremost scholars
and theologians of Germany justifying the conduct of the Fatherland in
Belgium and in France. British scholars and theologians were quick to reply
in a spirit of holy horror at the apparent blindness of the German group
to the moral and spiritual issues of the war. The republic of letters was
torn asunder, and the kingdom of God seemed rent in twain. Protestants
have risen against Protestants, Roman Catholics against Roman Catholics,
Greek Catholics against Greek Catholics, Mohammedans against Mohammedans,
Jews against Jews. Kings have dragged their peoples into war. Neutral nations
have been driven into the war in self-defense. In each case citizenship
rises above religion, or at any rate the Christian citizen is compelled
to be loyal to the position of his own country or be guilty of treason.
The issue raised is one of tremendous import, and is intensely vital now
in the United States, as our own country has entered upon war with Germany.
We have millions of men of German birth or descent who must decide what
they are to do. There is but one thing to do: to be loyal to the land of
adoption. So real Americans all feel. So the great mass of the German-Americans
feel, and will act. They are now Americans, not German-Americans.
The case of Paul is worth
our study in the present situation. He was caught in the maelstrom of world
politics; for Rome, like the United States, was the melting-pot of the
nations, though not in quite the same sense. Racial and national characteristics
persisted with considerable tenacity in the various provinces of the Roman
Empire, which in Asia Minor paid little attention to the old boundaries.
The old names for the peoples held on, so that Galatia, for instance, meant
either the great Roman province or the old Celtic people in North Galatia.
Paul was at once a Jew, a Tarsian, a Greek, a Roman, and soon a Christian.
He was true to the best things in these elements, however contradictory
they seemed at times. The terms and the concepts designated by them overlapped
in various ways, and were not mutually exclusive.
Paul appears first as a brilliant
young Jewish rabbi, a graduate of the school of Gamaliel in Jerusalem,
pleased at the stoning of Stephen by the Sanhedrin, and soon the leader
in the first general persecution of
the Christians by the Jews.
Racial and religious motives are undoubtedly mixed in him, as he presses
persecution with zeal and
success, dragging men and women from their homes to prison and to death
for no other crime than that of believing in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
very breath came to be threat
and slaughter, his taste for blood, as always, growing by what it fed on.
conversion stopped his career
as a persecutor; but he was always a Jew, was proud of his people and his
tribe, gloried in their wonderful history, and cherished their noblest
hopes and aspirations (cf. Acts 22:3 ; 26:3-7; 2 Cor. 11:22; Gal. i :i3f.
; Rom. 9:1-5 ; Phil. 3:4-6). To be sure, relatively in comparison with
Christ all this pride of race seemed mere refuse (Phil. 3:7ff.). With Paul,
Christ is supreme, and rules even in the sphere of race and politics. Paul
had been "exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers" (Gal. 1:14),
and never ceased to love the Jews, even when they persecuted him bitterly.
As a Pharisee he shared their political conception of the Messianic kingdom
as a great Jewish empire which was to drive Rome out of Palestine and dominate
the earth, a Pan-Jewish propaganda. Paul remained a Pharisee in many things,
particularly in the belief in the bodily resurrection (Acts 23:6), though,
as a Christian, he perceived the spiritual nature of the kingdom of God
in Christ. This he conceived to be the true Israel, the spiritual Israel,
the children of faith, both Jews and Gentiles, gathered from every land
on earth (Rom. 3:6, 28; 9:6ff.). Paul held that he was interpreting the
true Judaism to the Jews in the cosmopolitan view of the promise to Abraham
and the destiny of his people. He rises to the very height of patriotism
in these words: "For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ
for my brethren s sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh; who are Israelites;
whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving
of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers,
and of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh,
who is over all, God blessed
forever" (Rom. 9:3-5).
It is not easy to define
patriotism, for it is more than mere love of the land of one s birth or
of his citizenship. It is that, but it broadens out into the love of one
s people wherever found, as Japanese love Japanese; Chinese, Chinese; Germans,
Germans; Jews, Jews. The Jews had at this time lost their independence,
though many of them still lived in Palestine under Roman rule. But many
millions more dwelt in the Diaspora. Some of these fell much under the
spell of the Greco-Roman civilization, and gave up many of their Jewish
customs and views. But Paul was not Hellenized, though a Hellenistic Jew
with Aramaean traditions. We see in Paul the struggle of the cultured Jew,
loyal to his faith and people, to adapt himself to the world conditions
in which he found himself, and to be a loyal Roman citizen.
But Paul was "born in Tarsus
of Cilicia," "a citizen of no mean city" (Acts 21 139; 22:3). He had a
modern man s pride in the city of his birth and residence. In his "Cities
of St. Paul," Ramsay gives ample reasons that justify Paul s praise of
It was one of the
great cities of the Roman world, a Greek city where the Orient met the
West, the seat of a great university, the home of philosophy, the meeting
place of many cults, a town where Jews had a strong foothold. He was glad
to be known as Saul of Tarsus, a Jewish citizen of this great city. Paul
never forgot that he was a Jew, though always the educated Jew, trained
to life as a Roman citizen in the most aristocratic position among the
population of the great Hellenized, yet more than half Asiatic, city of
Paul "was brought up
to a certain stage at Tarsus in the fashion needed for a Jewish boy who
was born in the local aristocracy as a Roman citizen and a burgess of Tarsus."
He may have attended the University of Tarsus, and, after entering Gamaliel
s school in Jerusalem, he probably spent his holidays at home like a modern
college-student. Tarsus undoubtedly left its impress on Paul, and made
him more than a narrow Palestinian Jew. Probably most men to-day love the
towns where they live, whatever their race may be. This is the least of
the problems of patriotism.
But Paul was a Hellenist,
though not a Hellene or a Hellenizer. Being a Jew, he could not be a Greek
by birth. Being a loyal Jew, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, he would not be a
Greek in religion and custom. And yet nothing is more certain than that
Hellenism made its appeal to Paul s intellectual nature. He spoke and wrote
the Koine, the current Greek, with power, as well as the Aramaic (called
"Hebrew" in Acts 22:2). He shows points of contact with Greek thought in
various ways. He was able to speak with the Stoics and the Epicureans in
Athens, and used many of the Stoic terms in his Epistles, and quoted from
three of the Greek writers. "Previous comparisons have not sufficiently
appreciated that which may be stated in one word as Paul s Hellenism."
Indeed, one of the modern interpretations of Paul s theology is that he
derived much of it from the Greek Mystery-Religions. That is not true,
but Paul certainly knew the dialect of the initiates in those mystic cults,
and knew how to answer them, and to turn their terms to the service of
Beyond a doubt, Paul is a
citizen of the world, a true cosmopolite, and not a narrow Palestinian
Jew or a mere provincial Cilician. His patriotism must be interpreted in
terms of world-sympathy, not of world-power. He does not wish the Jews
to conquer Rome as they tried to do in 66-70 A.D. and failed.
But Paul is a Roman citizen
with full privileges and prerogatives. Roman citizenship was a prize that
was not open to all. There were more non-citizens than citizens in the
Roman Empire; probably more slaves than citizens. Claudius Lysias bought
it "with a great sum" (Acts 22 128); but Paul proudly said: "But I am a
Roman born." The man who could say Sum Romanus felt an instinctive superiority
over others who did not possess this advantage.
We know that Paul appealed
to his rights as a Roman citizen in other emergencies, as in Philippi (Acts
16:37) and in Csesarea (25:1 if.). What was Paul s attitude toward the
Roman government after Roman magistrates and officers, finally including
the Emperor himself, became hostile to him? It is as a Roman
citizen that we touch the
side of Paul s life that is more nearly parallel to our modern idea of
in an American, British,
or German citizen. Roman officers were not all unkind to Paul. Gallic practically
gave a decision in Paul
s favor, and recognized Christianity as a form of Judaism and so a religio
(Acts 18:14-16). The Asiarchs
of Ephesus were friendly to Paul (19:31). Sergius Paulus, Proconsul of
Cyprus, was a convert under Paul s preaching (13:12). Julius the Centurion
treated Paul kindly (27:3). Even Nero, during Paul s first Roman imprisonment,
probably finally dismissed the case for lack of evidence without a formal
trial. Certainly the Prefect Burrhus or the Stratopedarch to whom Paul
was delivered in Rome gave him a great deal of liberty (28 :3of.). But
Paul was mistreated by the city officials in Antioch in Pisidia (Act 13:50),
in Iconium (14:5), in Philippi (16:22), in Thessalonica (17:6-9), where
Paul and his followers were accused of acting contrary to the decrees of
Caesar, as in Philippi he was charged with introducing Jewish customs which
Romans were not allowed to receive. The duplicity of Felix and Festus was
hard to bear (Acts 24-26). Thus early in Paul s ministry he saw the shadow
of the Man of Sin who set himself up as God to be worshiped (2 Thess. 2
The Emperor-cult was the
chief religion of the Roman Empire, and Paul was bound as a preacher of
the gospel to meet it in an acute form. But the point to note just here
is that Paul did not allow the injustice done him and Christianity as represented
by him to pervert his views of government as an ordinance of God, or to
make an anarchist out of him. Paul was a rebel against all wrong. He hesitated
not to show the injustice of rulers when it was necessary (Acts 16:37;
25 :iof.). No abler champion of human liberty has ever lived than Paul.
"For freedom did Christ set us free" (Gal. 5:1). "For ye, brethren, were
called for freedom" (5:13). These words are as pertinent for political
freedom in Russia and Germany as for religious liberty. It is sometimes
said that Paul s words in Roman 13:1-7 were written during the Golden Quinquennium
That is true, but Paul s
words here are quite independent of the personal character of Nero. "The
powers that be are ordained of God." They derive their power from God,
but not by "divine right of kings." Vox populi vox del in this case. The
people have the right to rule from God. "Rulers are not a terror to the
work, but to the evil."
This is the ideal, and is not a picture of Romanoffs, Hapsburgs, Hohenzollerns,
police grafters in New York
or Chicago. "He is a minister of God to thee for good." "They are ministers
of God s service, attending continually upon this very thing." Here Paul
sketches in broad outline the functions of civic rulers, whether mayors,
governors, presidents, or kings. If they had always lived up to this ideal,
there would certainly have been fewer wars between nations and rebellions
against rulers. Nations, as a rule, do not rush into wars of conquest.
They are led on or driven on by rapacious rulers who misuse their power
for personal aggrandizement or wild schemes of empire. Paul is a staunch
supporter of law and order, including taxes. To be sure, he is no blind
standpatter or reactionary. He is not, like Seneca, the apologist of Nero.
He was the first champion of the emancipation of slaves, and urged Philemon
to set free and treat as a brother in Christ Onesimus, his converted runaway
slave whom Paul returned to him (Philemon 14-21). He urged the Christian
slaves to bear their lot with Christian fortitude, but announced a doctrine
which was the
death knell of human slavery:
"There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free,
there can be no male and
female; for ye are all one man in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). Paul preached
the brotherhood of man to a world of slaves. He, more than Tom Paine and
Voltaire, proclaimed the rights of man and the world as his country.
But did not Paul become embittered
toward Nero and the Roman government after Nero began his fierce
persecution of the Christians?
Unless we follow the Pastoral Epistles, we have little to guide us in answering
this query. I think that they are genuine, and so have no hesitation in
appealing to them for witness. After Nero had charged Christians with burning
Rome, and was burning them and feeding them to the lions and tigers, Paul
wrote: "I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers,
in tercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men; for kings and all men
that are in high place; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all
godliness and gravity" (i Tim. 2:if.). Here the purpose of government is
clearly presented. Paul is still a loyal Roman citizen, in spite of Nero.
At the end, when the first stage of the last trial made it plain what the
outcome would be, Paul has
no bitter word for Nero, unless he called him "the lion" (2 Tim. 4:17),
as is not likely. He probably refers to Nero s failure to give him to the
lions, which he had escaped as a Roman citizen. Would Paul have responded
to the call of Rome to fight? That would depend on the issue. He would
have opposed a war of conquest and pillage. Most of the soldiers were mercenaries
anyhow. They were hired to fight, and did not always express national convictions
or the will of the people. In a war of defense, Paul would have been ready
to "do his bit," I believe. He spoke kindly of soldiers, and used them
as illustrations of service for Christ. "Suffer hardship with me as a good
soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service entangleth himself in the
affairs of this life; that he may please him who enrolled him as a soldier"
(2 Tim. 2:3f.).
And Paul was most of all
a Christian. We may be sure that with Paul Christ was Lord and Master.
He would not subordinate service to Christ to Caesar, let alone to Greek
philosophy, to Tarsus, or to Judaism. Paul saw the issue coming between
Christ and Caesar. The papyri and inscriptions give abundant evidence of
the use of the phrase "Lord
Caesar." We know that the offer of life was made to Polycarp if he would
only say, "Lord Caesar" ; but he steadily refused, and said, "Lord Jesus."
So he went to death rather than recant. We know how Paul felt about it.
"No one can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit" (I Cor. 12:3).
This was the spirit of the martyrs who were slain for the word of God (Rev.
6:9) at the hand of Roman emperors. Paul met that fate at the hand of Nero
rather than renounce the Lord Jesus.
Ten thousand Chinese Christians
laid down their lives at the feet of Jesus rather than renounce him at
demand of the Boxer leaders
and the Empress Dowager. So then, with Paul patriotism is not the highest
virtue, though it is very
high. Loyalty to one s land is secondary to loyalty to one s God. To be
sure, it is high treason or rebellion to refuse to obey the command of
one s government. One who takes that position must be willing to pay the
price. That price is one s life. But the price is not too high when the
alternative is to disobey the clear will of God. "But Peter and John answered
and said unto them, Whether it is right in the sight of God to hearken
unto you rather than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things
which we saw and heard" (Acts 4:i9f.). No Christian should have blind patriotism.
Christ is above Cnesar. This does not mean that the Church is above the
State. Christ is more than the State, more than the Church. One of the
blessings of free government, of the people, by the people, for the people,
is precisely this : that the alternative between Christ and the State is
avoided. Certainly, if there is a solid body of Christian citizens in a
free commonwealth, it will be avoided. The men who are citizens of heaven,
a colony of heaven on earth (Phil. 3 :2o) , will not so far forget themselves
as to rush into war contrary to the clear spirit of Christ. Christian citizens,
if allowed to rule, wish peace if it is possible to have it and be true
to other high obligations (Rom. 12:18). But Paul was not a peace-at-any-price
man. His teaching justifies the "League to Enforce Peace." His gospel is
the gospel of courage that calls upon all soldiers of Christ to put on
the panoply of God, and to withstand in the evil day against the world-rulers
of this darkness (Eph. 6:10-16).