A Second Look at Romans 13

Rom 13:1-6 NIV

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities1, for there is no authority1 except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority1 is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers2 hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant3 for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants3, agents of wrath4 to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.  6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants5, who give their full time to governing.

The underlined words above are translated from the following original greek with English definitions, verified with the Mounce Reverse-Interlinear New testament at http://www.biblegateway.com

  1. Exousia: power, authority, jurisdiction
  2. Arccontez: the first ones, chief ones, the leaders, the powers
  3. Diakonos: deacon, servant
  4. Ekdikos: out of righteousness, an exactor or righteousness
  5. Leitourgos: liturgy, a form of public worship

My Commentary 1:

Paul is declaring that God is the Source of all power and authority, in verse 1B.  He establishes lesser authorities by delegation to civil government over their citizens, just as God delegates authority to husbands over wives (Eph 5:23) and parents over children (Ephesians 6:1).  God sets limits on all of these examples of delegated authority.  God’s Law limits a husband’s authority; a man does not have authority to do harm or injury to his wife.  Likewise a civil government does not have authority to unjustly punish or rob its citizens.

In Romans 13:1-6, the command to be subject to and in obedience to government is conditioned upon the authorities being servants of God (verse 4), exactors of righteousness(verse 4), and a form of public worship(verse 6).

Submitting to usurped civil authority is a form of idolatry.  Whatever source of Law we obey becomes the God we worship.  If our government is rebelling against God, and if we decide not to resist such a government, then we are resisting God’s Authority and are practicing idolatry.

There are various forms of resistance God expects us to exercise.  First is exercising free speech, as long as we still have it.  If violence is threatened, then flight is a legitimate way to avoid violence (Matt 2:13-14; Matt 10:32; Matt 23:34). Sometimes flight does not work, if a whole body of people or an entire state is under threat.  Nehemiah believed it was lawful to defend the work of God and the lives of God’s people with the weapons of his time (Neh 4:7-17).

As a general rule our best weapons are spiritual.  Consider Ephesians 6:12, which challenges us to take on usurped civil authority:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers1, against the authorities2, against the powers3 of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

  1. Arche: first place, headship; high estate, eminence, an authority, magistrate
  2. Exousia (see above)
  3. Kosmokrator: monarch of the world

Now I have written this, I wish to direct you to Sean Kirkpatrick’s post on the same topic, who said it so much more eloquently:

To fully test whether anyone must “submit to those in authority – no matter what” just substitute the word “authority” in Romans 13 with an evil murderous tyrant like Adolf Hitler. Does the following make any sense?:

“Let every soul be subject to Adolf Hitler. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists Hitler resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For Hitler is not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of Adolf Hitler? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For Hitler is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for Hitler does not bear the sword in vain; for Hitler is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject to Hitler, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for Hitler is God’s minister and attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”

and compare that with this 2nd excerpt from Sean’s post:

For Americans in our Constitutional Republic here is how Romans 13 applies to you. Replace the word “authority” with “U.S. Constitution”:

“Let every soul (in America) be subject to the (U.S. Constitution). For there is no (Constitution) except from God, and the (Constitutions) that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever in America resists the (U.S. Constitution) resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For the (Constitution) is not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the (Constitution)? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For the (Constitution) is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for the (Constitution) does not bear the sword in vain; for the (Constitution) is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject to the (Constitution), not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the (U.S. Constitution) is God’s minister attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”

And I really like Greg Dixon’s summary on this topic:

As we rightly divide the word of truth and take this passage in its total context, we will discover seven truths:

1) Good government is ordained by God.
2) Government officials are to be good ministers who represent God.
3) We the people must obey good and godly laws.
4) As we relate Romans 13 to America, our Constitution is the higher power.
5) Good government is not to be feared.
6) In America, we are to pay honor and custom constitutional taxes to whom it is due.
7) Government is to protect the righteous and punish the wicked.

Footnotes

1. John Weaver’s sermon series on the Christian and Civil Government

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