RE: Rom 13:1- TASSW

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Wed Aug 27 1997 - 08:47:43 EDT

Clayton Bartholomew wrote:


<You are raising a notoriously difficult theological/ethical question and
<you are trying to solve it buy the application of philology to the word
<TASSW. I wonder if philology is the way these kind of questions get

<I can think of a number of texts (in Exodus, Isaiah, Daniel, Revelation)
<that openly teach that God has established evil rulers in power. The
<loaded part of your question is the phrase * . . .God has not the full
<responsibility . . .*. This is the Problem of Evil being addressed here
<and I don't think the application of philology to the word TASSW can
<bear the weight of solving the problem of evil.

Dear Clay,

Thanks for showing that my question was not so clearcut as I wanted it to
be. The question sprang out from my work with translation problems, and it
was not my intention to start a theological/ethical discussion, even though
I tried to show the importance of the problem by linking it to a particular

I believe that the thesis "words don`t have meaning without a context" is
wrong. I view words as sematic signals of concepts being stored in the
mind, and the role of the context is to make visible the particular side of
the concept intended by the author. Paul and the Romans shared a common
presupposition pool (broadly speaking), and when he used TASSW, they would
probably by the help of the following text and this pool comprehend what he
meant (but see 1 Pet 3:16). Our presupposition pool is different, and what
I want to know is whether the choice of the English gloss "appointed" (or
similar) adequately convey the thoughts of Paul to modern man.

The subject of the clause (in Rom 13:1) is plural, and in such a case it is
not always easy to know how much of the force of the verb is reserved for
each individual member. There are at least two possible interpretations of
Paul`s words:
(1) God has appointed each government, and therefore share the
responsibility of its acts (cf 1 Tim 5:22).
(2) God has made an arrangement for mankind in this world that nations have
governments, because we benefit from order rather than chaos (Rom 13:2,3).
In this case God does not necessarily share any responsibility.

<I can think of a number of texts (in Exodus, Isaiah, Daniel, Revelation)
<that openly teach that God has established evil rulers in power.

This is true, but we cannot take for granted that God DIRECTLY was
responsible for a particular ruler before we study each case.Particularly
the OT is full of cases where God is said to do something when he only did
it in an indirect way (Ex 7:3 vs 8:15). Additionally, Rom 13:1 seems to be
allembracing, which is something completely different.

My concern regarding Rom 13:1 is translation. As far as possible the
translator should arrange for the reader to do the interpretation of a text
rather than force an interpretation upon him through his choice of words.
In our verse, however, it seems that even with the ambiguity created by the
plural subject, the gloss "appointed" is so restricted in meaning an
connotations that only interpretation (1) is possible. Looking in the
context in the NT and the LXX where TASSW occurs and at the English glosses
used, it seems strange that so few instances suggest the meaning

I therefore raise the question related to lexical semantics whether a more
ambigues rendition of TASSW is POSSIBLE in Rom 13:1. Could we for instance
translate (I use RSV as pattern): "For there is no authority except from
God,and those that exist have been put in order by God"? or "For there is
no authority except from God, those that exist have been arranged by God"?
(or something similar in good idiomatic English). Such renderings would
make both interpretation (1) and (2) possible. I welcome all comments on
the translation of this verse.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:26 EDT