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Romans 13:1-5 -- Verse by Verse

What follows is a very abbreviated study of Romans 13:1-5. The traditional view of the State and of Romans 13 is so entrenched in the minds of most Christians that it will take many months of study in the other "13's" of Scripture to overcome this tradition. All we can hope to show here is that our view of the State is not inconsistent with Romans 13.

It must be remembered that this is not a dispassionate and objective look at Romans 13. It is an argument for a particular view of the State. So as we go through Romans 13 keep the question in mind: is this passage consistent with the interpretation we have been given in Isaiah 13 and Revelation 13, that the State is essentially demonic? Or does Romans 13 teach that the State is prescribed by God as a laudable, exemplary, and (possibly) Christian institution? Can a Christian, having read Isaiah 13, Revelation 13 and Romans 12 then conclude that he would like to grow up to be a part of the State?

Verse 1

"The powers that be are ordered by God."

Isaiah tells us that the State is animated by demonic powers. We are also told that God is sovereign over the powers and orders them according to His purposes. Romans 13:1 confirms this. The powers are "ordered by God." "Ordained" has the connotation of "enthusiastically appointed." "Ordered" is a bit more neutral, consistent with other passages, and avoids the problem of having this one verse indicate "enthusiastic appointment," when everywhere else in the Bible God is less than enthusiastic over the State. God "ordained" Saul to be king, but it wasn't enthusiastically (I Samuel 8). Many Bibles accurately have "ordered" in the margin.

"There is no power but of God"

Satan could do nothing unless God has allowed it. The State can do nothing that God has not predestined for His own sovereign purposes. The State would like to delude itself into thinking that it has autonomous power: Pilate said to Jesus, "Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?" Jesus did not disagree; Pilate did have that power. But He added, "Thou couldst have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above." (John 19:11) Does this mean that Pilate's exercise of his power to crucify the Lord of Glory had God's divine sanction and approval? Should a Christian in the same position today follow Pilate's example? Of course not; God's predestinating decree is not the same as His prescriptive decree (in His Law).

"Be subject to the higher powers."

Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Colossians 2:15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

Does this square with Revelation and Isaiah 13? It certainly does. Most Christians who can quote Romans 13 cannot also quote any or all of the other occurrences of the word "powers" in Paul's writings. Simply look up each of these verses and you will have an idea of what Paul is saying when he speaks of "the powers." I Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Colossians 1:16; 2:10,15 (cf. also Luke 12:11; I Peter 3:22). Titus 3:1 is similar in thought to Romans 13. We analyzed the "principalities and powers" more extensively in another paper. To be on their side hardly seems a desirable goal.

In what sense, then, can it be said that we should be "subject" to them? Render them absolute obedience and support? No. No more than God's "ordering" of the powers indicates absolute approval and approbation. Christ is said to have (in principle) spoiled the powers that be, and will (in fact) put them down before His second coming. And it is precisely by being "subject" to them -- not revolting against them -- that their judgment is made certain. Our judgment of the powers is not to be "blasphemous" or vengeful, but is to be rooted in obedient faith. God will judge the State through His Spirit. Other verses support this view:

Notice how Peter and Jude warn us not to "blaspheme" Satan (Jude 8-9; 2 Peter 2:10-12, where "railing accusation," etc. is the Greek word "blasphemy." Notice also the reference to cosmic warfare (see also Daniel 10 for explicit reference to the State). Jude 9 literally speaks of a "blasphemous judgment" (cf. 2 Peter 11). We are not to take judgment into our own hands; it is God who is to shake the heavens (Isaiah 13:10,13), not us; our judgment is to be in obedience, by allowing the Spirit to empower us to live independent of the State and its welfare/warfare machinery (John 16:11). Isaiah speaks of a cosmic "crisis," and Jude and John use the Greek word "krisis" to describe the act of judgment. Our judgment is not be violent vengeance.

Do not revolt against the State and the powers behind it. They are stronger than your autonomous efforts. Revolution is taking vengeance on the State (Romans 12:19). God is in control; He orders the State and judges the kingdoms of the world through their mutual self-destruction. "All" you have to do is resist the State and its ministers of propaganda as they tempt you to abandon the pursuit of holiness.

Verse 2

"Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

Revolutionaries deny God's sovereignty. They assert that their land does not deserve God's judgment. God has "ordained" a Babylon or an Assyria or a Soviet Union to judge us for our sins (2 Chronicles 24:24), our incompetence, our covetousness, our indebtedness (Deuteronomy 28:44), and our love of State benefits (Luke 22:25), but the revolutionary manifesto says we can take vengeance against the State; that we can eliminate God's judgment without eliminating our sin. Paul says "whoever resists the power" (lit., is against ["anti-"] God's "order" [v.1]) "resists God's disposition; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." By focusing on the consequences of sin, rather than the sin itself, revolutionaries damn their nation as well. We do not eliminate bureaucrats by taking vengeance or by resisting (Matthew 5:39). We eliminate bureaucrats by Love, in the full theonomic sense of that word (Romans 13:8-10), applied to our relationships with the uneducated, the sick, the delinquent, and the aged (Matthew 25:35-36ff.).

But doesn't the Bible say we're supposed to "resist" the Devil? Yes, but by positive, faithful obedience, not by negative, vengeful, revolutionary violence (I Peter 5:9). We don't push Satan away; we stand with God and Satan runs (James 4:7). We don't blaspheme the demons, we stand in the Word and resist by faithfulness to God's Law-Word (Ephesians 6:12-13). Satan cannot resist the Word prophesied and applied (Luke 21:15). Romans 13 does not contradict Romans 12. Or, put another way, once you have finished feeding all the poor and strengthening all the weak, and taking dominion over all the earth, then -- if you still feel the need -- you can take time out to go kill some Redcoats (but at least read Romans 12 first).

Verse 3

"For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:"

If you preach the gospel will the powers praise you? Not always (Acts 5:29). Have any praiseworthy Christians ever been unjustly martyred by the State? Quite possibly. Are communist dictatorships a terror to good works? Not in my mind. Was an unjust occupation government a terror to Jesus?

Romans 1-2 says that God's Law is known to all human beings. When we obey God's Law, others recognize it and secretly admire it, regardless of what they say. Most governments claim to be upholders of justice and godness. They will usually honor upright behavior.

If America would put God's Law into practice we would eliminate the threat of Saddam's biological terrorism. If Nicaraguans would put God's Law into practice they would eliminate the threat of American Imperialist intervention and Soviet Marxist expansion. Israel never learned: practice evil and create terror (Assyria). The message in Romans 12-16 is clear: Decentralize; depend upon Providence, not politics; defend the powerless; support the weak; "Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate." Advance the interests of your struggling neighbor, not yourself; then you shall have praise from the withering State (2 Chronicles 12:7; Isaiah 60:10; Isaiah 49:23).

Verse 4

For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

But if you jump on the political bandwagon, seeking security from the State, justice from revenge, and peace from violence, then you may expect what Israel, Babylon, Assyria, and all other statist populations receive: The sword (2 Chronicles 36). God will send His "minister" (Romans 13:4), His "sanctified ones" (Isaiah 13:3), the army of the Beast from out of the earth (Revelation 13:11) against you and your society. God's wrath, anger, and indignation rest on a nation that refuses to trust Him and obey His Law. When God takes vengeance upon such a nation, He often uses famine, pestilence, tornadoes, etc., as His "ministers." At other times, depending on how appropriate it is to the society to be judged, He uses the war-monger State. After the State has done its work, judgment then falls on the destroying State (Revelation 13:10; Ezekiel 25:15).

It is certainly no honor for the Medes to be called His "sanctified ones" or His "ministers"; they were subsequently judged for "obeying" God's "command." God calls them his deacons because they serve His purposes. When God says to Babylon, "I am sending my ministers," he does not mean to comfort the Babylonians with the promise of the presence of his divine ambassadors, the army of the Medes. This is a threat of judgment! This is the way it is in Romans 13. God is saying, NO! Don't revolt against the State! I have it there for a purpose, and if you want it to disappear, then obey My Word! In Isaiah 13 the message is threatening. In Romans 13 the message is a warning: don't take vengeance on the State, or the State will take vengeance on you!

"He beareth not the sword in vain."

This is a statement of universal fact. God's predestinating plan covers all contingencies. Nothing escapes His Will. As you have always understood Romans 13, does the State at times bear God's sword in vain? Does Saddam Hussein bear weapons of mass destruction in vain? Do Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji have missles pointed at L.A. in vain? If you think Bill Clinton bears the sword in vain, then you may not understand the Biblical doctrine of the State. Paul says "he beareth not the sword in vain," period. This is a description, not a prescription.

Hitler did not bear the sword in vain. Not every German joined the SS, but the majority were in favor of them. Not of their excesses, of course, but they tolerated the excesses because the National Socialist Party promised -- not a return to Biblical Law -- but economic prosperity, health, welfare -- in short, everything that the Biblical word for "salvation" describes. Hitler promised "law and order," he opposed smoking, drinking, foreign imports, and all the great "evils" of the day. Hitler was swept into power on the crest of a wave of conservative support. And among his biggest supporters were the Protestant clergy. Hitler did not bear the sword in vain.

And the Lord is not finished with the "ministers" that he has been raising up since Hitler's day. The Soviet-American coalition that divided up post-war Germany (and much of the rest of the world) are being positioned by God to serve His plans of judgment. The world powers are serving and will serve God's purposes. As you read this paper, is God "mustering an army" (Isaiah 13:3-4) to be used against your nation? Remember, not every single person has to be Godless before the Godly will feel the effects of judgment upon the lawless; God deals covenantally. Besides, are you going to claim that you have nothing to fear from the Lord's "sanctified ones"? Is your home a "L'abri" (shelter) for the poor and powerless, or a showplace for the entertainment of the powerful?

The Soviet Union does not bear the Bomb in vain.

Verse 5

Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

As Christians we are not to react to the State, simply fearing its coercion. This is its function for the unsaved (Galatians 3:19-4:9). Its very nature and existence should be viewed in faith. We live and overcome by our faith in Christ, following His example of non-resistance; we do not overcome by our own vengeance. So for conscience' sake we do not resist the evils of the State (I Peter 2:19). "Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other" (1 Corinthians 10:29). The State has no right to confiscate our wealth. "Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them (Matthew 17:27) we "give to him who asks" (Matthew 5:42).

Verse 6

For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

And as long as unbelief exerts an influence, demanding earthly gods and a military State, we will be subject to tribute (Proverbs 21:24). Not that the State has any lawful right to redistribute wealth, especially over those who are not even its subjects (Matthew 17:24ff.; Philippians 3:20). But until the Gospel has taken root and the New Day has dawned (Romans 13:11-12), the State will be dedicated to lining its coffers, ever continuing to exact tribute, ever fueling its war-fires, and readying itself to take vengeance upon its enemies.

In another paper we have tried to answer the commonest questions about this interpretation of Romans 13 and this view of the State. Through the miracle of high-tech word processing, this paper is updated frequently. Your questions might be included and answered in the next edition. Please write us with your comments and questions.

[The National, 1976 graphic]

Christian "Anarchism" is Our Goal  | |  All Evil is Predestined by God   | |  Pray for a Servant's Understanding  | |  Angels and God's Throne of Government  | |  Stars and Idolatry  | |  Why the State Always Encourages Immorality  | |  Unlucky 13 -- Romans 13, Revelation 13 and Isaiah 13  | |   A Roman's-Eye View of Romans 13  | |  "Principalities and Powers"  | |  Lakes of Fire in "Smoke-Filled Rooms"  | |  Romans 13: The Burden is on the Archists  | |  Taxation, Representation, and the Myth of the State  | |   Why the State is not a "Divine Institution"   | |  Angels and Autarchy  | |  95 Theses Against the State   | |   Here is what a Christian Anarchist looks like after he has joined The Christmas Conspiracy.

The Christmas Conspiracy




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