Christ and Caesar: The Gospel and the Roman Empire in the Writings of Paul and Luke.Christ and Caesar: The Gospel and the Roman Empire in the Writings of Paul and Luke. By Seyoon Kim. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. xvi and 228 pages. Paper. $24.00.
Seyoon Kim dedicates this investigation to Professor Martin and Mrs. Marianne Hen-gel at the occasion of his 80th birthday. He is responding to the movement to read the New Testament, especially Paul, as an effort to counter the Roman imperial cult and to subvert the Roman imperial order. One of the main advocates of this view is Richard A. Horsley. But Paul and Luke do not refer to the Roman imperial order anywhere while they oppose pagan idolatry. Kim asserts. Throughout the book, there are references to Horsley's writings and other authors.
In Part I, Kim examines the Pauline episdes. While there are terms which were used in the imperial cult to be found in Thessalonians, Paul's message is not counter-imperial but is concerned with the eschatological expectations. In other epistles also, no opposition to the empire is to be found although Philippians and Romans have been interpreted as providing such opposition. In Romans, Paul polemicizes against the Jewish nationalistic hubris rather than the Roman imperialistic hubris (17). Any anti-imperial political interpretation of the epistle is destined to be shipwrecked at Rom 13:1-7 (21). Horsley sees the church in 1 Corinthians as an alternative to the dominant imperial society. But Kim sees it mainly as an alternative to the world or the ekklesia of non-Christians, in other words as religious rather than political. Kim attacks some features of the method to sec anti-imperialism in Paul's epistles, such as parallelomania, deduction from assumptions, proof-texting, and appeal to coding. According CO Kim, there is no specific critique of the Roman Empire and no reference to the imperial cult. Rom 13:1-7 demonstrates Paul's attitude toward the Roman Empire and Phil 1:19-26 shows Paul's belief in the justice of the Roman court even if the gospel was suspected of being disloyal. Paul preached the gospel to as many nations as possible in order to hasten the conversion of Israel and the parousia of Christ (54). The teachings of enemy love, the transcendental conception of salvation, make it unlikely that Paul resisted the Roman Empire. Kim believes that the absence of anti-imperial interpretation in the early church also proves that Paul did not proclaim an anti-imperial message.
In Part II, Kim examines the Lukan writings, especially the book of Acts. He acknowledges that there are slight suggestions that there is opposition to Caesar, for example, in Acts 17:7 with the accusation that the Christians act contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus. He sees Luke 2:1-14 and Acts 28:30-31 as an inclusio, which shows Jesus as the messianic Son of David for Israel's liberation who will bring the true pax on earth. The same idea is brought out in other passages in Luke. Although all this seems to be anti-imperial teaching, nevertheless, Luke does not advocate an overthrow of the Roman imperial rule.
According to Kim, Luke does not think that the redemption Jesus has brought has to do with the overthrowing of the Roman imperial system or replacing it with apolitically independent government of Israel (95). While Horsley sees Jesus' temple action as his protest against the high priestly oppression and exploitation of the people because the priestly rulers had imperial connection, Kim emphasizes the total absence of any call for overthrow of the Roman rule and his rejection of Jewish nationalism and the idea of vengeance upon the Gentiles. This is supported by the fact that Pilate declared Jesus as innocent. The Israel chat Jesus promises includes Jews and Gentiles and is eschatological rather than nationalistic and this-worldly. Redemption or salvation in Luke is a deliverance from the kingdom of Satan. While for Horsley the exorcism of demons (see legion!) shows that Jesus was trying to bring about the end of the imperialistic domination of Rome, for Kim these exorcisms and healings mean deliverance from the power of Satan. Jesus' redemptive work did not consist in altering the political, economic, and social structures of the day to bring Israel political freedom and social justice (147). Kim points out that according to Luke, the apostles Peter, John, and Paul use their trials to witness to Christ and to attempt to convert the officials. Luke's purpose in writing is to show the gospel as not threatening to the Roman Empire. In Acts, Luke holds both possibilities, that the parousia could take place soon or that it can be delayed. In the Lukan writings both Jesus and Paul are declared not guilty by the Roman authorities. However, it cannot be argued that Luke and Acts are an apology for the church to the Roman Empire. Luke also sees the evil side of the Roman Empire, and at the parousia all the worldly empires will be replaced by the kingdom of God. Luke is not concerned with the materialization of the kingdom of God in the political sphere.
Kim has a brief epilogue with some implications for today. In many countries today, Christians can be politically engaged and attempt to bring about changes. "'The church can fight the principalities and powers in heaven and their representatives on earth only by proclaiming Jesus' gospel of the Kingdom of God and by following his example of self-sacrifice, or by putting on the 'whole armor of God,' which consists of truth, righteousness, faith, love, hope, salvation, the gospel of peace, the word and Spirit of God, prayer, and perseverance (Eph 6:10-18; 1 Thess 5:8)" (203).
Horsley sees anti-imperial thinking just about everywhere in the New Testament while Kim maintains that we must see Paul's arguments as religious rather than political. Who is right? The truth would seem to lie somewhere in the middle. To be sure, statement's are found which are critical of any human dominance, including the Roman Empire, but it seems wrong to interpret Paul comprehensively in terms of anti-Roman struggles. Kim is certainly right in stating that open statements against the empire arc nor found either in Paul's or in Luke's writings.
Wilhelm C Linss
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago