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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

Analysis

The Apostle employs the first seven verses of this chapter in inculcating the duty of obedience to temporal authority, or, it should be rather said, in enforcing the natural duty of obedience to legitimate authority, by the sanction of Christianity: his reason for so doing shall be explained in the Commentary. He grounds the duty of obedience—first, on the source of all authority, God (verses 1, 2); secondly, on the end and object of the institution of supreme and governing authority (3, 4); thirdly, on the fact, that supreme rulers are appointed as ministers of God in securing the general welfare, by protecting the good and punishing the wicked. Hence, their claims to obedience on religious grounds; hence, their claims to tribute, on the same grounds (5, 6). In verse 7, he draws a general conclusion regarding the payment of their respective dues to all men in authority. He again reverts to the duty of charity due to all men, of which he treated more at large in chapter 12. (8, 9, 10); and, finally, he exhorts all to enter on a life of greater fervour, to lay aside the works of darkness, and put on Jesus Christ (11).

Paraphrase

1. Let every man, placed in subjection, be obedient to all who are set in high authority over him: for, God is the source of all supreme and public authority, and the order and distinct arrangements of existing authorities are made by him.

2. Whosoever, therefore, arrays himself in resisting legitimate authority, legitimately exercising its functions, resists the ordinance of God, and, by such resistance purchases and deserves for himself eternal damnation.

3. Another reason for tendering obedience to those set in high authoeity is, the end of the institution of such supreme authority, which is to favour and protect those who do good, and to restrain evil doers by the fear of punishment. But if you wish to have no dread of supreme power, do good; and instead of punishment, you shall receive a reward.

4. For, the possessor of supreme power is appointed by God as his minister to promote the public good as well as that of individuals; but if you do evil, you have reason to fear; for, it is not in vain that he carries the sword, the emblem of his power of life and death; for he is the minister of God, to take vengeance and inflict punishment for the crimes of those who do evil.

5. Is is not, therefore, a matter of option, it is a duty of strict preceptive necessity to be obedient to them, legitimately exercising authority; and this, not merely from motives of fear, or, in order to escape punishment, but, also from motives of conscience, so as to avoid incurring the guilt of sin before God, whose ministers they are.

6. It is from the same motive of conscience you pay them tribute, as you are bound to do, because they are the ministers of God, in protecting the good and punishing the wicked, laboriously and perseveringly devoting themselves to this duty.

7. Render, therefore, unto all men what is due to them. To the man to whom tribute is due, pay tribute; to whom custom is due, custom; to whomsoever reverence and honour are due, render honour and reverence suited to their rank and condition.

8. Finally, discharge all your debts of what kind soever, so as to owe nobody any debt, save the debt of charity and love, which is of such a nature as to be always paid and yet still due. By this exhibition of mutual charity, you shall fulfil the law.

9. For the precepts of the law, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour, Thou shalt not covet, and every other precept of the law whatsoever, regarding our neighbour, are briefly recapitulated and summed up in this short precept of charity, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

10. The love of our neighbour in the prescribed degree neither prompts nor even allows us to inflict injury on him (it, on the contrary, procures for him every possible good). Love, therefore, is the perfect fulfilment of the law.

11. And with this duty of loving our neighbour, we should the more faithfully comply, as we know the time is urgent; because the hour for us to awake from the drowsiness and sleep of sin has arrived. For now our salvation is nearer than when first we embraced the gospel.

12. The term of our existence in this world of sin and darkness is fast passing away, and the bright day of eternal and unchangeable happiness is fast approaching. Let us, therefore, cast aside and abandon for ever our wicked works, which cannot bear the light, and are only suited for darkness; and let us put on the armour of light, by becoming clad with good works, which shall serve as a secure panoply to protect us against our enemies.

13. Since, therefore, the day for disclosing our actions is soon to shine upon us, let us conduct ourselves with propriety, and appear in the decent garb suited to such as come forth at day time, not indulging in banquetings or drunkenness, not in lasciviousness or impurities, not in altercation or envious contentions.

14. But so express and manifest in your morals, our Lord Jesus Christ, who by his grace dwells in your hearts, that you may appear to be clothed with his sobriety, chastity and charity—the opposite virtues of the vices referred to—and thus you will not carry the reasonable care, which each one should take of his body, to the guilty extent of indulging its vices and corrupt passions.

Commentary

1. “Let every soul,” i.e., every human being, without exception, who is placed in subjection, and not himself the occupant of power; for, a man could hardly be called upon to be subject to himself, in the sense here contemplated. “Be subject to higher powers.” By “higher powers,” are meant persons vested with political power for governing and ruling others, whether kings, princes, magistrates, &c. (verses 4–7). Of course, this obedience has its limits. The duty of submission on the part of the subject, has for limit the matter to which the jurisdiction of the superior extends. If there be question of men, who have usurped, or have unjustifiably possessed themselves of authority, there is no more obedience due to them than to robbers; the exhibition of resistance is a matter of prudence. If there be question of a superior lawfully possessed of power, but who outsteps the bounds of his authority, obedience is not necessarily to be tendered to him; should he command what is good or indifferent, he may be obeyed; should he command what is evil, he must be resisted. In this latter case, “we ought to obey God rather than men.”—(Acts 5:29). Obedience, therefore, has its limits. The zeal displayed by the Apostle in inculcating so strictly, both in this and in his Epistle to Titus, &c., the duty of obedience to temporal authority, was, in a certain degree, owing to the spirit of disaffection with which the Jewish converts, as we learn from Josephus (Antiq. xviii. 1, De Bello Jud. ii. 8), and Suetonius (Claud, xxv.), were imbued towards the Roman emperors. Owing to the high and exalted notions they entertained of themselves, as the chosen people of God—as the descendants of Abraham, to whom were made such magnificent promises, they considered it degrading to them to obey or pay tribute to foreigners and unbelievers. This was the cause of disastrous tumults and rebellions, the most remarkable of which was, that headed by Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:37). Our Redeemer and his Apostles were Galileans, and the change of religion of which they were the authors, might give grounds for classing them with the followers of this Judas. This charge would serve as the greatest obstacle to the spread of Christianity; hence, the care with which our Redeemer (Matt. 17:26) and his Apostles removed every ground for so false and calumnious an imputation.

“For there is no power but from God,” i.e., God is the original source of all power. Whatever may be the immediate source of power, whether derived immediately from the popular will, or from hereditary succession, or from conquest, &c., its original source is God, who, having created man for society, and having made the social his natural state of existence, gives to rulers the authority necessary for upholding social order. It appears a very probable opinion, that secular power comes immediately from God; that it has been immediately vested by Him in the collection or community, by whom it has been placed as a deposit, in the hands of those who actually exercise it, be the form of government established by them what it may—whether kingly, republican, &c. In truth, we have no formal or explicit revelation awarding supreme authority to this or to that individual; and the instances to the contrary mentioned in SS. Scriptures, regarding Saul, David, &c., are only exceptions, which serve to confirm the opposite rule. By others it is maintained, as a very probable opinion, that God makes the election of the people merely as a necessary condition for immediately conferring power, Himself, on the object of the people’s choice. “There is no power,” &c. The Apostle is, of course, referring to legitimate power. In the foregoing, or rather in this whole passage, there is question only of secular power. For, as regards spiritual authority, which resides in the church, it is of faith, which no one can question without the guilt of heresy, that it comes immediately from God.

“And those that are,” &c. (In Greek, and the powers that be, &c. The Chief MSS. omit the word “powers” and support the Vulgate.) That is to say, God is not only the source of supreme civil power in general, which exists with his sanction and by his ordinance; but the different gradations and species, and distributions of governing authority are arranged so by him. In what sense they are arranged by him can be easily inferred from the foregoing. It is remarked by St. Chrysostom, that the Apostle says, “there is no power but from God,” meaning all legitimate power. But he does not say, there is no ruler but God.

2. There is an inference from the foregoing, “resisteth” (in Greek αντιτασσομενος, is arrayed against), “the power resisteth the ordinance of God;” the Apostle speaks of power legitimately possessed and legitimately exercised, neither pushed beyond its proper limits, nor prescribing anything evil. Usurped or abused authority is not the authority referred to; nor are unjust enactments, strictly speaking, laws which demand obedience as a duty. “Purchase damnation.” (In Greek, λῃμψονται ἑαυτοις κριμα, shall receive to themselves damnation), i.e., temporal punishment here for resisting civil “power,” and eternal damnation hereafter, for resisting the “ordinance of God.”

As, then, power is “from God,” obedience is due to its possessor, as the vicar of God; voluntary, hearty, and interior obedience, out of respect for God, whom he represents.

As the distinction and order of power is from Him, we must not only obey supreme power, but subordinate occupants of power, duly exercising it.

Princes and superiors, legitimately created such, are, therefore, to be obeyed, although wicked and impious; for, they derive their power from God. Nero was the reigning prince, at this time. They are not, however, to be obeyed when commanding evil.

3. The second argument to prove the duty of obedience derived from the end, &c., (see Paraphrase), which is to deter the wicked from the commission of crime, to protect, favour, and reward the good. “To the good work,” (in the common Greek, good works). The chief MSS. have the singular, τῷ αγαθῷ ἔργω, i.e., to him that performs a good work. The Apostle shows first, that they are placed to protect and favour the good. “Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise from the same.”

4. And he gives us proof of this, “for he is God’s minister to thee for good,” i.e., to promote the good of the community and of individuals. This is the end of the institution of Supreme Authority—an end which, doubtless, many placed in authority fail to advance. “But, if thou do evil, fear.” He now proves that the occupant of power is placed to punish the wicked. “The sword,” is carried by him, as an emblem of his authority and power to punish. It is put for all instruments whereby punishment might be inflicted, such as chains, fires, gibbets, &c. The Apostle refers to the custom prevalent in his own time, of having a sword carried before the governors and others vested with authority.

As power is given “for good,” it is a question, whether, in the case where it is exercised for evil and not for edification, and its end, consequently, perverted, its occupant might not be divested of it, at the call of the people from whom it emanated. Many hold, that the people and chiefs of a state have a right to release themselves from a state of injustice, to which they might have been unjustifiably reduced; which can, in some cases, be done only by deposition; and they could lawfully carry on a just war against a tyrant, who would abuse power, to the injury of the community. But as no private individual has power of life or death over his fellow-men, individual resistance is, therefore, never allowed; since it is a practical assertion of the power of life and death.

5. In this verse is introduced the third argument for proving the duty of obedience. “Wherefore be subject of necessity,” (in Greek, ἀναγκη ὐποτασσεσθαι, it is a necessity to be subject), “not only for wrath,” i.e., from fear of punishment, which the violation of the law entails, “but also for conscience sake,” i.e., from religious motives; for God makes civil obedience a matter of religious duty. By “conscience,” the Greek interpreters understand the consciousness of benefits resulting from their administration. The interpretation in the Paraphrase is by far the more probable.

6. “Therefore also you pay tribute.” “Therefore,” i.e., on account of the conscientious obligation you contract, of obeying them, you are in the habit of paying tribute. These words are a further explanation of the words in preceding verse, “for conscience-sake,” and they have reference to the following words, “for they are the ministers of God,” &c. In one word, it is because of the conscientious obligation, which the relations they hold, of being ministers of God, who wishes to uphold social order, and to provide the necessary means thereto, impose on you, that you pay them tribute. “Serving unto this purpose,” i.e., unto the purpose of advancing the cause in which they are ministers of God, viz., the purpose of advancing the public interest, by punishing the wicked and protecting and rewarding the good.

7. “Tribute,” is a tax on land, and on persons, such as a capitation tax. “Custom,” a tax on exports and imports; by “fear” is meant reverential fear, due to such as are placed over us.

8. All other debts once paid, cease to be any longer due, but the debt of charity is of such a nature that though always paid, it remains always due; for our neighbour is always to be loved by us—“He that loveth his neighbour hath fulfilled the law.” By the “law,” both in this and verse 10, some understand the entire law, as regards God and our neighbour; since the love of God is included in the love of our neighbour, as a cause in its effect; for, the supernatural love of our neighbour and the love of God, have the same motive, the same formal object, viz., God loved for his infinite good in se. By loving our neighbour, we wish him the enjoyment of sovereign happiness, which is to enjoy God; and by loving God, we wish him to be enjoyed, known and loved by all his creatures. Others say the word “law” only refers to the second table, which regards our neighbour, for it is of the precepts which regard our neighbour he speaks in the next verse.

9. For, all the precepts of the law regarding our neighbour, viz., “Thou shalt not commit adultery;” “Thou shalt not kill,” &c. (“Thou shalt not bear false witness” is wanting in the Greek copies), “and if there be any other commandment,” i.e., every other commandment regarding our neighbour, are “comprised” i.e., recapitulated, or “summed up in this word,” i.e., in this general precept: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The word “as” does not imply love in an equal degree, but love of the same kind, as is expressed by our Redeemer: “whatsoever you would that man should do to you, do you also to them.”—(Matthew, 7:12). The Apostle omits quoting the only positive precept contained in the second table of the Decalogue, “honour thy father and thy mother;” because, it was sufficiently expressed in verse 7, “to whom honour, honour.”

10. “The love of our neighbour worketh no evil.” There is here, a Meiosis. The Apostle intends more than he expresses. He wishes to convey that it prompts not only not to work evil, but also to procure for him all possible amount of good. And hence, by loving our neighbour, we fulfil the entire law which regards him, both as to abstaining from inflicting any injury on him, and doing him a service. “The fulfilling of the law,” may regard the entire law, which has reference to God and our neighbour, as in verse 8.

11. “And that,” refers to our paying all our debts, and loving our neighbour. “Knowing the season,” i.e., knowing the urgency of the time, and the short period we have to work. “Season may also be interpreted to mean the favourable opportunity, which in Christianity is afforded us for doing so. The former meaning is rendered more probable by the following words, “for it is now the hour,” &c. The day of judgment is fast approaching; and hence, we should be prepared for it, “for now our salvation,” i.e., the day when we are to receive eternal glory as the recompense of our labours. “Than when we believed,” i.e., when we first embraced the faith. St. Chrysostom remarks, that the Apostle says this to remind them of their great fervour at the time of their embracing the faith, from which they were falling off, according as they receded from that period; and that now he wishes to rouse them to fervour and redoubled piety as their eternal salvation, which commences for the just at the hour of death, when they shall enter on the life of glory is much nearer. “Cast off the works of darkness,” i.e., bad works which are suited only to darkness; for he who does evil, “hates the light.”—(St. John 3:20). “And put on the armour of light,” i.e., the shining armour of good works; or, there may be reference to the spiritual panoply mentioned (Ephes. chap. 6) viz., the shield of faith, the breastplate of justice, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which enable us to resist the enemy and to do good.

12. Some Commentators, and among the rest, A’Lapide, understand the word “night,” of the night of darkness and infidelity in which men were enveloped, before the coming of Christ; and “day,” of the period of the Gospel revelation, when the full light of faith and justice has brightly dawned upon us. According to him, the words, “when we believed,” (verse 11), regard the Jews, who also believed in God; “and the night is past,” the Gentiles. The interpretation given in Paraphrase is preferable; for, it is quite a common thing with the Apostle to stimulate men to fervour and fidelity in their Christian duties, by the consideration of future rewards.

13. “Let us walk honestly as in the day,” i.e., conduct ourselves decorously as persons do who appear in the full blaze of day; “as in the day,” would render the interpretation of A’Lapide very probable. The words, however, can be explained and accommodated to our interpretation (as in Paraphrase). “Not in rioting,” i.e., feastings, instituted for the purpose of gluttony and debauchery; and “drunkenness,” i.e., excessive drinking, even though it were not carried to the extent of causing a deprivation of reason; “in chambering,” designates all acts of impurity. “Contention and envy,” the result of ambition.

14. “Put on our Lord Jesus Christ,” so that his sobriety, chastity and charity—so opposed to the vices enumerated—would alone appear in you, as the clothes appear on the man vested with them. This metaphor of putting on Christ is employed by St. Paul in several places:—(Ephes. 4:24; Col. 3:10; 1 Thes. 5:8; Gal. 3:17). “And make not provision,” &c. He does not prevent proper care of our bodies; “for no one hates his own flesh,” &c. (Ephes. 5), but only the indulgence of its vices and concupiscences.








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