Archive for December 3, 2010

Paul’s Roman Citizenship

December 3, 2010

Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned? (A.D. 58; Acts 22:25).

Some believe that passages such as this from the Book of Acts somehow show that Paul was advocating involvement in Gentile politics. However, things are not always as they first appear.

The Nature of the Book of Acts

One must be careful about establishing their doctrine from the Book of Acts. This book was not written by Paul, nor was it written to establish doctrine for the Body of Christ, nor was it designed to be a pattern for our practical living. Instead, Acts is a book that reveals the transitional history of the fall of Israel and the rise of the Body of Christ. To obtain truth for the church, the Body of Christ, one must turn to the epistles of Paul.

What Paul Was NOT Doing

Paul did, on occasion appeal to Roman law, but this can’t remotely be compared with being an active participant in influencing and determining governmental policy. Neither Paul nor Jesus ever tried to reform Caesar or the Roman government.

What Paul Was Doing

To understand what Paul was doing when appealing to Roman law, we need the historical background to understand the passages where Paul brings up the issue of citizenship (A.D. 59; Acts 22-25).

First, let’s realize that all throughout Paul’s earlier 20-year apostolic ministry as recorded in the Book of Acts he is never recorded as having made any such reference to citizenship, even in the face of severe torture. A Roman citizen was protected from such treatment, nevertheless without any apparent appeal from him he received 39 stripes on five different occasions, and was three times beaten with rods (all prior to A.D. 57; II Corinthians 11:24). So why does he suddenly change and make an appeal?

The background of events will provide us with the answer. Paul had for “many years” (Romans 15:23) desired to make a trip to Rome; but he had been “much hindered” (Romans 15:22) because of constant delays caused by persecution from unbelieving Jews. Paul planned to make a trip to Jerusalem to deliver relief that he had been raising for the poor saints there. His plan was then to move on to Rome after that, provided that he is “delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea” (Romans 15:31).

After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome (Spring, A.D. 54; Acts 19:21).

Paul wrote to the saints at Rome to inform them of his plans to come to them.

For I long to see you [the saints in Rome], that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, to the end you may be established. … I have been much hindered from coming to you; but now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you, when I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey … But now I go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. … When I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come … And I am sure that, when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ. … That I may be delivered from them who do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed (Spring, A.D. 58; Romans 1:11; 15:22-32).

While at Jerusalem heavy opposition broke out against him. Seizing upon an opportunity to be delivered from the unbelieving Jews so that he could finally take his ministry to the capitol of the Roman Empire, he simply inquired, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?” (Acts 22:25).

Paul appealed for the civil authorities to act in accordance with the law which bound them. He appealed to the principle of Roman law, an intervention that delivered him from the hands of the Jewish persecution. With his opposition constrained, Paul now only needed a means to get to Rome. He saw this opportunity in by exercising Roman rights to “appeal [his case] to Caesar (A.D.59; Acts 25:11). Relatively, the government saw Paul as a Roman citizen, and Paul related to their treatment of him as such – pressing upon them the standard of their own law – and as a result he was able to make his long-desired trip to Rome under Roman authority.

A Greater Revelation

Now, before we assume that statements found in the Book of Acts have some instruction for the believer to become political, we must first be careful not to anticipate revelation. This is a significant concern when reading the Scriptures. We need to recognize that Paul received an abundance of progressive revelations over his some thirty-year apostleship.

I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord … through the abundance of the revelations (Autumn, A.D. 57; II Corinthians 12:1, 7).

It must be remembered that even if Paul intended to advocate an earthly citizenship in the Book of Acts, later, upon receiving greater revelation from the Lord, he clarified the issue entirely. While in a Roman prison God gave him additional revelation which he recorded to the Philippians. This was a revelation of singleness of mind; and a Roman prison was quite an amazing place for such a celestial revelation.

For our citizenship is in heaven; from where also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (A.D. 62; Philippians 3:20).

Paul did not write, “one of our citizenships is in heaven,” or “we have another citizenship in heaven,” or “we have two citizenships, one of which is in heaven.” Instead he writes absolutely, and plainly of one singular “citizenship.” From his Roman bondage he boldly and without qualification declares this citizenship to be celestial.

Clyde L. Pilkington, Jr.
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