Every once in a while you stumble upon an out-of-print, obscure, and (what appears to be) outdated book that reinforces the idiom, “never judge a book by its cover.” Have you had such an experience? The Freedom Letter by Alan F. Johnson is my latest discovery.
In preparation for a sermon this Sunday in Romans 13, I went to my trustworthy guide Commentaries for Biblical Expositors from the Master’s Seminary’s Dr. Jim Rosscup. In it, he recommended Johnson’s book under his heading of “commentaries of individual New Testament books.” Sure, I’ll bite—and so I found a used copy for $5.
I’m glad I did. Here’s a historical explanation for Paul’s writing of Romans 13:1-7, which deals with the Christian’s response to governing authorities:1
In the first place there is good evidence that, at the time Paul wrote Romans (early A.D. 57), there was considerable hostility mounting between Rome and the Jews. In A.D. 49 the emperor Claudius finally had to expel all the Jews from Rome due to the continual disturbances and riots caused by one Chrestus (or Christ).
A further inscription of the times may show that this trouble was caused by the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus in Rome by believing Jews and the countercharge of unbelieving Jews that the body of Jesus was removed from its tomb by the disciples (Mt. 28:11-15). This tomb-robbery allegation could explain why the trouble resulted in Rome in connection with “Chrestus” between Jewish Christians and unbelieving Jews and also why Claudius wrote an ordinance about this same time (curiously found in Nazareth) forbidding tampering with graves on punishment of death.
In addition, Jewish revolutionary activities (by zealots) against Rome during this period are well-known… Furthermore, there is evidence that due to either pagan or Jewish backgrounds certain Christians entertained perverted theological notions of Christ’s kingship and lordship and its relation to the kingdoms of this world (see Mt. 22:17).
I’m indebted to both of these men for their historical help! It explains much—and likely will make its way into my notes. This old book has just made a new friend.
1 Johnson, Alan, F. The Freedom Letter (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute, 1974). 190-91.