As part of the impending third year of my degree, I can do a 12,000 word dissertation on pretty much anything theological. I’m quite a Biblical Studies-orientated person, but hopefully the topic I’ve chosen can bring in some historical and systematic stuff as well. I’m choosing to look at Paul’s thought on the relationship of the Christian to government in Romans 13 with a look particularly at the history of interpretation in 20th century German scholarship vis-à-vis the Nazi state. I’ll be looking at the Greek of Romans 13, and various commentaries, but particularly at some of the German scholarship. I’ve been reading the excursus on the history of interpretation in Ulrich Wilckens’ Der Brief an die Römer (Zurich: 1982) 3:43-66 which, although focussed mainly on the Reformation, covers the 20th century well. I’ve also read Stephen Ozment’s paperback history of Germany, A Mighty Fortress, which traces some currents relevant to the discussion of the Nazi state back to the Reformation and Martin Luther, so it will be interesting to see how this affects the history of interpretation of Romans 13.

I came across some of the basic discussion concerning the theological responses to Nazism when I was studying German and History, funnily enough – and this topic does manage to bring together a lot of things I’m interested in. I expect to find that it will be quite challenging for me to study, though – my default setting is not towards a positive view of the “state”, though neither is it towards political activism in the name of Christ. In fact, as I have remarked at different times to many people, one of the hardest examples I find to follow in the New Testament is that of Paul in Acts 23, where he applies the commandment “do not speak evil of a ruler of your people” to prohibit him from talking back to the High Priest who was ordeing him to be beaten and opposing the gospel. I hope studying Romans 13 (and other things Paul has to say about government and the “state”) will help me to see which of my attitudes need to change.

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