Romans 13: does it call us to do whatever our governments tell us to?


A plain reading of the beginning of Romans 13 could mean that we have to submit to leaders like Hitler or Stalin. I outline different approaches to interpreting this awkward passage that avoid this and would appreciate hearing about any other approaches:

Romans 13: does it call us to do whatever our governments tell us to?


The non-denominational site Got Questions, did this presentation - regarding the American revolution


Well, maybe it told those who where there when Paul was touting Romans 13, but I dare say it has little to do with us. Your WE is a non issue. It happened then, we are now.


Chad, when are you going to stop this nonsense about Paul’s words applying only to the people of his day? So what if it “happened then, we are now”? Paul was writing to Christians. Are not we “now people” Christians? Why should his advice not apply to us just because we live at a different time?


Mcarans, I’ve had a lot of difficulty with this passage, too. But I don’t see how we can interpret Paul any way other than the “plain reading.”

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,
4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

However, Richard Wurmbrand, a Jewish Christian who was tortured in a Communist prison for 14 years stated that the authorities ordained by God are “not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” (verse 3). He said the Communists were just the opposite!— that were not a terror to bad conduct, but to good. For this reason, Wurmband believed that the Communist “authorities” were NOT ordained by God


Because that is who he was talking to and you want to dismiss it though all logic points to that.


It’s the words ‘only for them’ that stick in my craw. Jesus Christ and the truths about Him are the same yesterday, now, and forever. Paul was not thinking about us? - I wouldn’t be too sure about that. Certainly he was not thinking of airplanes and atomic bombs, but he was speaking to humanity about the kingdom of God with every intent of that kingdom, under Jesus, as lastingly important to human beings forever.


Only for them, yes that is what was happening. Please don’t tell me Dave or Don, that in the crazy time of the first century, as Paul was dealing with problem churches, prison, and dealing with the Jewish brethren who were constantly trying to sidetrack his message, that he was consciously delivering a message to the ages. Now having said that, Paul’s message of reconciliation to the nations was and is the good news of the Gospel. But Paul’s message was first and foremost to the Israelites whom Paul considered his brethren.


Of course BUT - it is bleeding OBVIOUS that Paul went to great lengths to show that the body of Christ is now Jews and Gentile believers, and there is NO reason to believe that he did not envision that body, under that Head, to further the kingdom until the Last Day.
Is there?


Well, the body of Christ is believers. Pure and simple. You are one and I am one. But From my view we need to understand the difference of what the NT scriptures say to ‘those who were there at that time’ and us, some 2000 years later. If we do this much of the problems that plague forums like this tend to go away. We believe. We look at what was said by Jesus, Paul and the apostles as what it is and was. History. Freaking Great History. I think we need to take it for what it is and run with it. It is good news.


Don, you will notice that I do not point to other authors on this subject. This is purely and simply my own view. I hope you understand and appreciate this. Thus my meaning to the OP is that we need to clarify what was being written in the first century about following the gov and what we have now in the 21st cent.


Chad, I have no problem with you as a person. My reference to “this nonsense” was an expression of my frustration with your position on the matter—not with you. It just seemed to me that it was useless to quote the New Testament writers to you on any subject since you just seemed to dismiss all their words as inapplicable since they were addressed to people in the first century.

May the Lord be with you and grant you His grace in every aspect of your life!


Thank you Don, I will take that as a positive. Thanks :+1:


MCarans, you might enjoy the pdf book God vs. Evil, particularly Murray’s take on this question of Christians and government:


Jesus NEVER said ALL governments were ordained by God to execute the sword over evil doers or that government officials were ministers of God. And yet Paul said all these things in Romans 13:1-7. But, one could argue that this differed from Jesus’ view because in the wilderness temptations it is revealed that all the kingdoms of the worlds are in the power of Satan to give to whom he pleased (Luke 4:5-6). 1 John 5:19 confirms that the whole fallen world lies in the power of the evil one – Satan. Thus, one could make the Scriptural argument that earthly governments are unspiritual at best and demonically influenced at worst.

Yet, Paul had a higher view of government as a godly authority, or at least he did when he wrote the book of Romans. But let’s think about that for a moment. Paul was a Roman citizen, a status which gave him a lot of protection. Time and time again, Paul was protected from death at the hands of the Judaizers BECAUSE he was a Roman citizen. To Paul, the government he was exposed to offered him and his ministry a level of protection.

…The point is that what Paul said about government was HIS philosophy, HIS best Christian opinion, and HIS best advice to a young church in need of practical counsel. BUT, what Paul said about government was NOT his “third heaven” revelation. Paul’s “third heaven” revelations consisted of his transcendent epiphanies of the Lord’s “SUPERNATURAL GRACE” and the matchless “IN CHRIST” realities available to all believers.

…By the way, the Holy Ghost has definitely managed a few “technically illegal” jail breaks in his day, such as in Acts 5:19; 12:10; 16:26. If Paul’s Romans 13:2 propositions were universally true, then the apostles, who frequently escaped numerous lawful prisons, along with the Holy Ghost Himself, would ALL be guilty of “resisting the power and ordinance of God.” I wouldn’t like to be the officer who tries to serve THAT arrest warrant on the Holy Ghost. …

HFPZ, although the above excerpts from Murray could be used in defense of the American Revolution, I still think Christians, like non-Christians, have too much appetite for war and violence. There is confusion in distinguishing between Christianity and patriotism. And as I have argued before, we serve a nonviolent God.

The “quick fix” may not always address the underlying problem. Please see my discussion with Gabe on the rationalization of the use of “lesser evil” to combat “greater evil,” where I remind him that, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood”:


On the first part of what you quoted about authority, as I mentioned in the article “The problem is that Peter says something similar to Paul, but elaborates on authority in 1 Peter 2: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.””

The second part makes sense.


That’s where the argument in the article about what submitting means comes in - submitting may not entail obeying - it might mean disobeying but taking the legal consequences (eg. being imprisoned).


I added two more approaches people raised to the post.


Well, then the vast majority of Christian churches, theologians and professional Christian philosophers - are missing the logic. But then again, they might be missing the Zombie Apocalypse logic…as the most probable, end times tribulation scenario.


Again, Peter indicates that every human AUTHORITY is sent by God to "punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” This seems to be the way in which Paul and Peter DEFINE authority. If a so-called “authority” doesn’t punish wrongdoers and commend those who do right, then then are not true authorities.


You see Don, semantic gymnastics will always have to be made when we take verses like these to mean governments for all time, Peter was talking about the same thing as Paul, both being the Romans there and then. So many will start to make adjustments like ‘well this government or ruler must not be from God or this can’t be a government God wants us to obey blah blah’ It is so obvious that the Romans were what was being talked about in those verses, and the Roman Power was the God ordained ‘authority’ and the Jews that did not listen to the Christ (have faith, believe) were going to be destroyed. :neutral_face:

Yes, we could also say that a vast majority also missed the logic during the reformation, the lemming way does have it’s problems. :wink: