Friday, October 31, 2008


In my previous post I make some assertions concerning the Christian’s responsibilities toward God and toward human government. I feel I need to say more about these two relationships which frequently conflict.

Old Testament on Human Government
At least as early as the Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9:5, 6) man has been given the authority to take the life of another man. Whether we should call this the institution of human government has been debated, although it is the first place we read of God authorizing the use of force in governing. Chapter 10 tells of the division of mankind into nations after the flood and the establishment of at least one kingdom.

It is in the book of Daniel that we find some of the clearest teachings on the establishment of the nations. “His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation” (4:3b). “The Most High is Ruler over the kingdom of mankind and bestows it on whom He wishes, and sets over it the lowliest of men” (4:17b, 25b). This book is the story of Hebrew believers living in a Gentile kingdom. It emphasizes over and over that God is sovereign and that all human government has been set up by Him. Even though elsewhere in the book the nations of the world are seen as ravenous beasts, they are still under the sovereign control of God.

There are, of course, many more passages of Scripture which teach this, though I hope these will suffice.

Earlier God had made a covenant with Abraham and promised that He would make him “a great nation,” which, of course, would be Israel (Genesis 12:1-3). Later God established a kingdom in Israel under the rule of David and his descendants (2 Samuel 7:5-17), “ … I will raise up your seed after you … and I will establish his kingdom … I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12, 13).

The “nations” and “peoples” of the earth are, however, in opposition to this established kingdom. “Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed” (Psalm 2:1, 2).

So we see something of a paradox in the Old Testament. God has established a particular nation/kingdom as His own, and He had also established every other nation of the world, even those which were in opposition to His nation.

The New Testament has a similar situation except that the follower of Christ does not have an earthly kingdom. He is expecting a future kingdom to be established at the return of Christ. He is both a citizen of that future kingdom and he is presently a member of the body of Christ, the church.

Jesus recognized the tension between the worldly kingdom and the heavenly in His well-known “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God that things that are God’s” (Mark 15:17; Matthew 22:21). Of course, we should be careful to interpret that saying in its context. He had been posed a question designed to trap Him. Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar or not?” A “yes” or “no” answer would have gotten Him into trouble, so He asked to see a denarius, the tribute coin. The denarius had Caesar’s image and so it was due him. But man is the image of God, so what is due to God is man himself.

Paul in Romans 13, recognized the fact that God established human government. He tells us that the governing authorities are established by God,” that these governing authorities are “the ordinances of God,” “God’s servants,” “God’s religious servants.”

Both Paul and Peter tell us that governing authorities have responsibilities.

They are to minister “for good” (Romans 13:4); they are to be “an avenger for wrath upon the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:4); they are to promote tranquility (1 Timothy 2:2), which I would assume means a maintaining of order; they are to punish evildoers and commend those who do good (1 Peter 2:14). To sum up: they are to promote and execute justice.

Paul tells us that we also have a responsibility toward government: to submit; to pay to them what is their due: taxes, tribute, fear, honor (Romans 13). Elsewhere he tells us that we have a responsibility to pray for “kings and all in positions of authority” (1 Timothy 2:1, 2). “To submit to rulers, authorities, to be obedient …” (Titus 3:1). Peter says much the same (1 Peter 2:13-17).

But we should be wary of any simplistic legalism which equates the two spheres and makes blind obedience to government equal to obedience to God. The New Testament has much more to say on the subject than the above passages: in fact the picture of human government is pretty negative.

Jesus twice paints a seemingly negative picture of the “leadership style” of the world’s rulers. The first time is when James and John are jostling for front seats in the future kingdom and the other ten disciples become indignant. Jesus calls them to Himself and says, “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them and their great ones exercise authority over them. It will not be so among you …” (Matthew 20:25, 26; Mark 10:42, 43).

The second time is at the last supper when the disciples were having a dispute over which one was the greatest. Again Jesus uses similar words, “The kings of the nations lord it over them and those who exercise authority are called benefactors. But not so with you … “ (Luke 22:25, 26).

It would seem that Jesus saw the political leaders of His day as serving as negative examples of leadership for His disciples. We should note, however, that while He does not speak favorably of these leaders, neither does He condemn their actions. I believe He is simply stating the difference in leadership “style” within the two spheres. Interestingly, Peter many years later uses the same term (katakurieuō) when he tells church elders, “ … shepherd the flock of God … not as lording it over … “ them (1 Peter 5:2, 3). Apparently he got the message.

When Jesus was on trial before Pilate, He acknowledged two kingdoms. “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting so that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). Later in the trial when Pilate threatened that he had authority to either release or crucify Him, Jesus reminded him, “You would not have authority over me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

Paul, writing to the Corinthians believer who were fixated on wisdom, tells them that there are two types of wisdom: “the wisdom of God” and “the wisdom of men,” or “the wisdom of the rulers of this age” (1 Corinthians 2:5-7). “ … we speak God’s wisdom … which none of the rulers of this age understood, for if they had understood, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (2:7, 8).

This goes along with the statement in the prayer of the early disciples after persecution had begun. They quoted the second Psalm (see above) as being somehow fulfilled in the crucifixion of Christ. “For truly in this city, there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate along with the nations and the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:27).

So where am I going with this? If I may summarize:

God, in both Testaments is seen as having established two different and sometimes conflicting entities: human government (the kingdom of man) and the kingdom of God. The believer will always find himself in tension between the two, as he in a sense is a citizen of both kingdoms. Our first allegiance, of course, must always be to the kingdom of God.

The established human government – in our case, the USA – has responsibilities, both towards its citizens and also toward God. It has its laws and has a God-given right and responsibility to enforce them, by physical force, if necessary. They are to hold people accountable for obeying their laws.

But this is not the responsibility of the church or the believers. Our responsibility is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Where we are convinced that the laws of the land are just, we are responsible to obey them.

But where we feel the laws are contrary to the law of God, we are responsible to disobey. For example, there are thousands, even millions of Christians in Muslim and communist dominated lands who regularly break the law by gathering for worship or reading the Bible.

More later.

Bill Ball

Monday, October 27, 2008


When I have taught the book of Romans, one of my favorite questions I’d ask students on Romans 13:1-7 was, “Could you have signed the Declaration of Independence?”

Answers were always varied; some were very confused; some students gave a tentative “No”; some gave a positive “Yes.” I found that many of us really aren’t sure what to do with this passage.

Romans 13:17:
1. Every person should submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been appointed by God. 2. So then, the one who resists the authority has resisted God’s appointment, and those who resist will receive judgment on themselves. 3. For rulers are not a cause of fear for the good work, but for the evil. Do you want to not be afraid of the authority? Do good and you will have praise from it, 4. for it is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do evil be afraid, for it does not bear the sword for no purpose, for it is God’s servant, an avenger for wrath to the one who practices evil.
5. So then it is necessary to submit, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’s sake. 6. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s religious servants, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7. Pay to all what they are owed: tax to whom tax is due; tribute to whom tribute is due; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

It seems pretty clear and straight-forward, until we consider our own national history. Or until we compare it with other passages of Scripture, or biblical examples. Or until we attempt to apply it in our own lives.

What bothers me lately about this passage is how it is being used as a sort of mantra in situations where I don’t believe it has a direct application. Two uses in particular trouble me, both by friends of mine – evangelical Christians.

One was used in a blog condemning those who oppose the current (or any) war. My friend rages against (among others) conscientious objectors. He said, “To those who may be conscientiously objecting to bearing arms, I say, ‘Study God’s Word here in Romans 13,’” and then paraphrased a portion of it.

My comment was “ … weren’t Peter and John conscientious objectors when they said, ‘We ought to obey God rather than Men’ (Acts 5:29)? I believe there will be times when those who follow Christ will have to conscientiously object to those in authority over us.” I went on to tell about some personal experiences that Uni and I have gone through, when we had to refuse to do something we were told to do by someone in authority.

Apparently because these authorities were employers and not governmental he saw no connection. He also told me that Peter and John were disobeying a command to refrain from preaching, so that is the only proper application.
The second use of Romans 13 was by a friend of mine in response to my post STRANGERS AND ALIENS. According to him, Romans 13, trumps all this about loving the stranger. If the “stranger” is an illegal alien he is breaking the law; he is not submitting to the governing authorities. Though my friend didn’t say so, he apparently felt that our obligation to love is therefore cancelled.

So does this passage take preeminence in all of our ethical discussions? I think not?

This passage is one of many passages in the New Testament commanding the believer to submit:
We are to submit to those who labor in the ministry (Romans 16:15, 16).
We are to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21).
Wives are to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22, 24; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:15).
We are to submit to all those in authority (1 Timothy 3:1).
We are to submit to every human institution (1 Peter 3:1).
Servants are to submit to their masters (1 Peter 3:18).
Younger men are to submit to the elders (1 Peter 5:5).
Of course, the overarching command is to submit to God (James 4:7).

We’re told that we are to submit to those whom God has set in positions in authority over us for a number of reasons. The first is that God has established these authorities – ALL authorities. These passages do not make distinctions between good or bad ones. Both Paul and Peter wrote when Nero was emperor of Rome. Their readers were soon to suffer persecution under this authority (1 Peter 4:12). Paul and Peter themselves were going to be martyred under Nero. Many would die because they refused to submit to imperial commands to confess Caesar as lord. Were they disobeying the injunction of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 3? Whether they were or not, when are we ever allowed to refuse to submit to authority? Is this some sort of ethical dilemma?

I believe the answer is much simpler than all our theorizing and theologizing. Look at those passages in Acts where Peter and John are commanded to stop preaching in the Name of Jesus. Their reply was clear.

“Whether it’s right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you be the judges, for we’re not able not to speak of what we’ve seen and heard” (Acts 4:19, 20).

“We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

I believe that they are giving a general principle that goes way beyond the context: What God commands supersedes what man commands. We are obligated to obey God, whether or not man’s commands agree with His.

Understanding this helps us to understand Romans 13. God has clearly revealed His will on many matters. Our ethics must be in line with His commands. Where God has not spoken we are obligated to submit to human authority. This authority can only demand and expect submission in two areas. First, in areas where government agrees with God: laws against murder, theft, etc. Secondly, in areas that would be considered amoral: speed limits, building codes, etc. When government legislates in these areas they take on a moral tone simply because God has commanded us to submit.

There is another area that needs to be considered: the commands given in these passages are given to followers of Christ; they are not there for our use against those who do not know Christ. Our obligation to those who do not belong to Christ is to win them to Christ, not to pass judgment on them. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9-12; See SIN, POLITICS AND RELIGION.)

So then in the matter of illegal immigrants (See previous post. Danny Carroll prefers to call them “undocumented”.) my obligation is not to condemn, but to love. To see them as people in need of Christ, sometimes in need of material care.

There are many people who are in need who are in disobedience to the laws of the U.S. our responsibility, toward them, as toward all others, is to obey the Law of Love, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s quite simple, though it may not always be easy.

Bill Ball

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Having spent much of my ministry reaching across racial and ethnic lines, and having studied what the Bible has to say, I have become quite passionate on these matters and have been a bit outspoken in this blog, as well as elsewhere.

I am saddened by the fact that many of my Christian friends hold views that I feel are unbiblical and sometimes even downright unchristian. Some feel that these issues are political and/or economic and have little to do with our Christian faith. This is especially the case in regard to illegal immigration. That is why I was overjoyed to find the book, Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church and the Bible, by M. Daniel Carroll R.

Uni and I have known Danny and his wife Joan for over 25 years, and though I would not consider him a close friend, I have known him well enough to be impressed by his deep and humble walk with Christ.

Danny is presently Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary and is adjunct professor at El Seminario Teologico Centroamericano in Guatemala. He is the son of a Guatemalan mother and an American father and in a real sense has a foot in each culture.

He tells us the title to his book is a double entendre. Yes, there is a literal physical border to our southwest which divides the United States from all of Latin America, but he tells us that “for Christians there is an additional border. It is a metaphorical decision point.” We must choose whether our stand in the debate is “based on the Word of God” or “on other grounds” (page 23). We “Christians must think about and act on Hispanic immigration as Christians.”

Before diving into the biblical teachings on the issue, in the first chapter the book gives us some background: a brief history of Hispanic immigration, questions of identity and questions of economics. The book also points out the impact of Hispanic immigration on the churches.

The second chapter is devoted to showing that much Old Testament history is the story of immigration. Peoples were on the move from Genesis on: Abraham, Jacob and Joseph. (Was Ruth an “illegal alien”? See the book of Ruth, cf. Deuteronomy 23:3.)

The third chapter deals with the Old Testament teaching on hospitality – care for the stranger. The various Hebrew terms for stranger or sojourner are discussed. Provisions were made for the alien along with those for other at-risk people: widows, orphans, hired workers, servants and the poor. Danny sums it up in a rather eye-opening statement: “ … the arrival and presence of sojourners were not a threat to Israel’s national identity; rather, their presence was fundamental to its very meaning. The people of Israel could not be who there were supposed to be before God and the world if they forgot who they had been and from where they had come” (pages 109, 110). See Leviticus 19:33, 34.

In chapter 4, we are taken to the New Testament to see Jesus’ attitude toward outsiders. We also see Peter’s teaching on Christians as sojourners. Each section is concluded with “implications for today.”

I especially appreciated the fact that Romans 13 was dealt with in this chapter, albeit only briefly. For many of my Christian friends, the mantra on this issue is Romans 13. Danny answers that “Discussion on legality cannot be limited just to questions about complying with the present laws” (page 133). Though I agree, I wish he had dealt with it at greater length.

The book concludes with some final thoughts and the repeated admonition that we must approach this matter of immigration as Christians.

This is a brief book and can be read in a few hours, though it will take longer if the reader checks out all the Scripture references.

If anyone who reads this is forming or has formed an opinion on the immigration question, I would beg you, read this book before you set your ideas in concrete.

Bill Ball

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Re: XLT’s comments and questions on previous post.

I have many theologian friends who claim there is a difference between “inheriting” the kingdom and “entering it.” In their view, “entering” the kingdom has to do with receiving eternal life. “Inheriting” the kingdom has to do with rewards. All who believe in Christ enter, but only a certain few inherit. I agree with you that this “sounds like hair-splitting without biblical support.”

The phrase “inherit the kingdom of God” is only found in Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 15:30. The phrase “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” is found in Matthew 25:34 and is equated with entering “eternal life” in verse 46.

The phrase “inherit eternal life” is found in 3 places; 2 of which are parallel passages: Mark 10:17 = Luke 18:18; and Luke 10:25.

Interestingly the passage in Mark 10 seems to equate a number of phrases: “inherit eternal life” (verse 10); “enter the kingdom of God” (verses 23-25); “be saved” (verse 26); “in the age to come, eternal life” (verse 28).

It seems to me that all of these speak of present salvation and the guarantee of citizenship in the kingdom of God which is yet future. This seems the simplest understanding (Occam’s Razor?).

I believe that 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and Galatians 5:16-21 are similar passages, though they speak to different problems.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.”

This passage seems to be the clearest. This passage speaks of 2 different groups of people. Paul refers to the first group as “the unrighteous” and describes them in verses 9 and 10. These people will not “inherit the kingdom of God.” In other words, they are lost people. They have not received the righteousness of God in Christ. It is not their behavior that bars them from the inheritance. It is their unrighteous state.

In verse 11, Paul describes his readers, the Corinthian believers. Though some of them could at some time in the past have been described thus, they are so no longer. They have been “washed,” “sanctified” and “justified,” all words describing what had happened to them at conversion. The implied command is “STOP IT” – stop living like this, because you are not such persons any longer.

When we compare the Galatians 5 passage, we find a similar exhortation.

Galatians 5:16-21: “But I say, walk in the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: fornication, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealously, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Paul is here speaking of the struggle that goes on in the life of the believer. Though the believer is indwelt by the Spirit of God, he still has “the flesh,” in the sense that his old nature still is alive and well and has desires contrary to those of the Spirit.

Again, as in the Corinthians passage, Paul is speaking of 2 different groups of people: one group is those “under the Law,” who are “in the flesh” (see Romans 8:8). These are lost people, those who are attempting to please God by the works of the Old Testament Law. But all they can produce are “the works of the flesh” (verses 19-21a). They belong to the same group mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10. They “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

But the Galatian believers are of a different group. Two truths are mentioned about them. First, they “are led by the Spirit” (verse 18). Paul is not exhorting them to BE led, he is assuming that they ARE led (first-class condition in Greek). Notice Romans 8:14: “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the Sons of God.” These are positional truths. They are led by the Spirit and secondly, they are not “under the Law.” Therefore, as Paul tells the Romans, they are able to please God (Romans 8:9-11). They are able to produce the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22, 23, if they “walk in (or by) the Spirit” (verses 16, 25).

Josh, I hope I have contributed to answering the question.

Bill Ball

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Recently, I was involved in a lengthy e-mail dialog with a friend of mine on a number of issues. The expression “The Kingdom” came up and I realized that he and I had some disagreements on what exactly it is and what it has to do with present-day believers. So I thought I had better clarify my position which I believe is the biblical position, on the Kingdom.

The New Testament and the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) use the Greek word basileia, which can mean either “kingship” (the actual rule of a king) or “kingdom” (the sphere of rule).

The Old Testament concepts still appear to be valid in the New Testament and in the present age. There are essentially two aspects of the Kingdom, corresponding to the two definitions given above. One is the eternal reign of God over the heavens and the earth. God reigns (Psalm 45:6; 103:19; Daniel 4:3, 17, 32, 34; 6:26)! A second aspect is that of the future reign of God on the earth through His Messiah, His anointed Davidic king (Isaiah 9:6, 7; 11:1ff; Psalm 2:6; Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:24; Revelation 11:15). This is the Kingdom spoken of in the New Testament.

The expressions “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” (literally “the Heavens”) describe the same entity. In the Jewish mode of speaking in Jesus’ day, “heaven” was often used as a euphemism for “God.” Matthew’s gospel, the more Jewish gospel, is the only place in the New Testament where the expression “Kingdom of Heaven” is used – 37 times by my count. All other writers use “Kingdom of God.” Often he uses Kingdom of Heaven where the other synoptic gospels use Kingdom of God in the same context. Compare Mark 1:14, 15 with Matthew 4:17; Mark 4:11 with Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:30, 31 with Matthew 13:31. Matthew also uses the expression “Kingdom of God” 4 times. Other expressions are also used throughout the New Testament, such as “His Kingdom,” “the Kingdom of their Father,” “Your Kingdom.” All refer to the same entity. There is no basis for attempting to define these as different spheres of rule.

Both Jesus and John the Baptist preached “The Kingdom has drawn near” (ēggiken) (Matthew 3:1; 4:17) and other such expressions. It seems that the Kingdom had drawn near in the person of Jesus the King, although Israel rejected the Kingdom when they rejected the King. Hence, it is still future in our days as we await His return. Jesus promised Hs disciples at the Last Supper, “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s Kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).

The expression “mysteries of the Kingdom” is only found in three parallel passages in the synoptic gospels (Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10). A mystery is a truth revealed in the New Testament which was not previously known in the Old Testament age, though it is not incompatible with Old Testament teaching. The Kingdom mysteries are expressed through parables. They have to do with the age preceding the inauguration of the Messianic Kingdom.

Some major “mysteries” are:
-- There will be a period of growth of unspecified length.
-- Good and evil will increase together.
-- The inauguration of the Kingdom will be preceded by a period of judgment.

Not all will enter into this Kingdom, only a select few. Others will be banished to “outer darkness.” There are a number of expressions that describe this entrance. Compare Matthew 19:16-24: “have eternal life,” “enter into life,” “enter into the Kingdom of Heaven,” “be saved.”

We who have placed our faith in Christ in this age are members of that Kingdom (Colossians 1:13) even though it is still future.

There is no real basis for the popular teaching that the Kingdom is some present inner thing. The word translated within in Luke 17:21 NIV is entos and is better translated “in your midst” as the NASB does. Jesus is not telling the Pharisees that the Kingdom is “within” them (of all people!), but that it was right there in their midst in the person of the King – Jesus Himself.

Nor is there any basis for the teaching that the preaching of the Kingdom was only for the period of Jesus’ earthly ministry. We find it still being preached in the book of Acts (1:3; 8:12), even by Paul (Acts 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). It is referred to frequently in his epistles.

Some Dispensationalists teach that Jesus’ ethical teachings, such as the Sermon on the Mount, are part of “The Law of the Kingdom” and have no application for us in the Church Age, the Age of Grace.

However, this seems to be completely arbitrary. Nowhere in the New Testament is this expression “The Law of the Kingdom” used, and nowhere is it even implied. The Sermon was directed at Jesus’ disciples (Matthew 5:1; Luke 6:20). Later, not long before His ascension into Heaven, Jesus told some from this same group, “Go … make disciples … teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20).

He set the maximum of His commands as “all,” and the duration as “always.” What part of these two words don’t we understand?