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Christians and secular authority: Part 8

On the other hand, Christians were and are bound in conscience to pay taxes levied by the state, according to Matthew 22.17-21, Mark 12.14-17, Luke 20.22-25, Romans 13.6-8, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Origen. No extant early Christian source counselled tax evasion on the ground that part of the money went to buying sacrificial animals, military purposes, gladiatorial combats, or other activities repugnant to believers. Apparently Christianity banned only direct and proximate participation, while it permitted indirect involvement. For a full discussion, see pages 6 to 8 of http://www.rcnzonline.com/fnf/backissues/Oct_2010.pdf.

Nor was it forbidden to petition the secular authorities or ask for changes in government laws and policies. In the AD 120s, the Christians Quadratus in Turkeyand Aristides in Athenswrote to the leaders of the Roman Empire, asking that they repeal laws that made membership in the church a capital crime. Similarly, Justin Martyr in the City of Romein the middle of the second century wrote two such pleas, as did his former student Miltiades in Turkeylater in the century. During the AD 170s, Bishops Melito of Sardis and Apollinaris of Hierapolis (both in Turkey) did likewise, as did the Christian thinker Athenagoras in Athens. And do not forget Tertullian’s Apologeticum, or Origen’s personal letter to the Emperor Philip. All this demonstrates that articulate Christians tried to influence their rulers while their religion was still illegal.

This series asks a number of questions. They are just that, questions. They are not rhetorical devices to back holders of other views into a corner by misuse of the Socratic Method. The only agenda behind these questions is to demonstrate that neither Scripture nor other ancient Christian writings can be interpreted in a simple or swift manner, or without regard to differences in culture. Reading the Bible alone for half an hour does not produce infallible interpretation or guidance. Much more evidence from outside the Bible and post-biblical early Christian literature is required, as is much study and comparison.

The Bible is not to be treated as if it fell from heaven last week, with wording that addresses current conditions and culture. It is the task of an exegete of a Scripture passage to determine, using non-biblical sources, what the meaning was at the time it was written and find the closest modern-day situation in order to discover what it means in Canadatoday. The same is true of the church fathers, who are one source of material for interpreting Holy Writ.

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