Study Guide: Twisted Scripture: Matthew 22 and Romans 13

Sunday July 27, 2014 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

This week we look at the twisted interpretation of Matthew 22 and Romans 13. This is a text with a long standing tradition that teaches Christians to serve both the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms in which they live on earth. In this sermon, we will learn why this interpretation is false and how to better understand it.

Extended Summary:

Our twisted Scripture today comes from Matthew 22 and Romans 13:1-7. From these verses come a misinterpretation and misapplication of a Scriptural passage that has done more damage to the Kingdom movement than any other Jesus started. Within the Christian tradition there is a long and rarely questioned way of understanding this passage that goes back to 5th century. In this traditional interpretation, Christians argue that we have a duty to give to Caesar all Caesar asks of us. This long standing tradition is known as the “two kingdoms” interpretation and is used by most American Christians to insinuate we have a patriotic duty to vote, participate in all levels of government, defend our country, and kill for our country if need be. The thought behind the argument is that for a Christian to disobey government means they are disobeying God.

Problems arise with this interpretation when it is compared to the rest of Scripture. One issue with the traditional understanding is that it does not reflect the way the New Testament describes Jesus. Jesus didn’t submit to either Roman or Jewish leadership. In fact, he was crucified as a revolutionary, a non-conformist, and a subversive example to his people and his times. Another problem is that it does not align with the teachings of Jesus. Jesus teaches that the commandment which encompasses all others is that we are to love God and love others above all else. Jesus tells his followers that the clearest way to manifest the truth of the Father’s love is to love indiscriminately—even towards your worst enemies.

If the traditional interpretation of this text doesn’t align with the rest of the New Testament, then how should it be interpreted? The word establish in this context is better understood as the way God files governments, in the manner in which he finds them. God orchestrates the sword wielding power to preserve law and order, as much as possible. This isn’t to say God approves of it. The New Testament teaches us very clearly that this filing is to be left to God. Christians are never called to judge or exact vengeance. Christians are called to only serve one Kingdom. We are to only serve one Lord—Jesus Christ.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Christians shouldn’t vote, run for office, serve on the police force, or any other governmental office. It does mean that all Christians should recognize there is much ambiguity depending on the specifics surrounding these areas, and discernment is required for each individual and in each community. As Christians, we should always extend grace to others. Although each Christian may apply things differently, all Kingdom people are called to embrace the ideals of the Kingdom. These ideals call us to love indiscriminately, live non-violently, and devote our singular fidelity to Jesus

Reflection Questions:

  1. With which of these interpretations were you most familiar?
  2. Has there ever been a time when you or someone you know felt required to serve in two kingdoms, in order to be faithful to God?
  3. Are there areas in your life in which you are serving in two kingdoms? What action could you take to resolve better align with the one Kingdom you are called to serve?
  4. Greg discussed giving to God what it his—in other words, our whole selves as image bearers of Christ. In what ways could you give more to God what is His?
  5. Are there any areas of this twisted Scripture that are still uncertain to you or that you have questions about?