Let My People Think

Unthinking respect for authority Albert EinsteinHere’s an interesting passage in the New Testament that concerns submission to governing authorities:

Romans 13:1 New International Version (NIV)
13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

On the surface, a translation like that seems to imply that any expression of Western-style democracy is a direct rebellion against God. That reading would also mean that Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot are legitimately examples of Godly leaders. That’s why this reading a very attractive target for abuse by manipulative preachers and “prophets” who don’t shy away from using out-of-context Scriptural prooftexts to prop up their own agendas.

But there’s a little translation peculiarity that’s often overlooked, and yet it considerably changes the meaning of the entire chapter. Here is Romans 13:1 in hyper-literal translation from ancient Koine Greek:

Romans 13:1
“Every person – be put under authority that is from above. Indeed there is no authority unless it is under God. Moreover, the existing authorities are instituted TO BE UNDER God.”

The original Greek doesn’t say that all existing authorities are originating from God. What the text does say is that all authorities are instituted to exist in submission under God. If they aren’t submitted under God, then they fall from under the parameters covered by the text. Which means that you are free to voice your dissent in a number of different ways, with the ultimate goal of influencing the authority to submit to God.

The prevalent error present in most English translations comes from translating “hypo + noun in genitive” as “by”, whereas every Koine Greek grammar text would tell you that the primary meaning in the local sense should be translated as “under”. Hence, the correct translation here is “every authority is instituted UNDER God”, not “by God”.

Quite a difference from the way we’ve been used to seeing it quoted.

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Comments on: "Is every existing authority from God?" (2)

  1. is there a hyper-literal translation in print?

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  2. Not a good one that I know of. These are my own translations, but they can be easily verified.

    The problem is that a medieval monarchical image of God still informs most theological perspectives even to this day. And so translators keep propagating mistranslations in keeping with their biases.

    Case in point. To this day, church is translated church, whereas the correct translation is simply gathering. But the problem is that anyone can gather (freedom of assembly), and you cannon control gatherings like you can institutional church. Wycliffe worked off of Latin Vulgate translated (transliterated, really) it as church. Tyndale, producing the first English printed Bible, translated directly from Hebrew and Greek (first ever for English versions), rendered it as congregation. That’s one of the “heresies” for which he was ordered strangled and subsequently burned.

    So, that tells you a story. And – no translation is ever inerrant or infallible. About 98% by words and %95 by volume of our existing literal translations are good, but the rest we have to dig for.

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