Submission to the Authorities

Reading from Romans 13:1-7 Submission to the Authorities, it strikes me odd when Paul says “For rulers are not a terror”. Paul knows the rulers of his time were terror to their people, lots of examples to pick from. So what exactly was he referring to?
From my own personal experience, living in communist regime for 20 years, the ruler was a tyran and terror to his people. I do understand that, probably God instituted and let him, but submitting to his authority forever wouldn’t allow me and my family to open to God and follow him. So I am not sure how to take everything that Paul says here.
Secondly "For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. " What God’s wrath, Jesus says “it is finished” … So this passage is really weird …

“13 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. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”


@ahoxha Great Question :slight_smile: The Bible is very realistic about the terror of evil governments. In fact, there is a proverb about this very issue.

Proverbs 29:2 - When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.

So what is Paul doing in Romans? Most likely, as is often the case in the epistles, Paul was responding to a specific situation occurring in the Church in Rome rather than giving a discourse on Christians relationship with government. Possible historical backdrops for this passage include:

  • all Jews had been expelled from Rome in AD 49, which could have led Jewish Christians to resent the government
  • the Jewish Zealots, who supported insurrection against the government, were on the rise in the 50s AD
  • Tacitus mentions resistance against paying indirect taxes in the 50s AD in Rome, culminating in a tax revolt in AD 58. Since Paul ends this section by emphasizing the payment of taxes (13:7), this could be the backdrop of the passage.

As the below commentary points out, Paul would have known plenty about evil governments. In fact, Paul is eventually executed by Rome (we believe) for honoring God over the fear of man.

One of the striking elements of this passage is Paul’s rosy view of government. According to him, civil authorities ‘hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong’ (13:3)… But Paul could hardly have been naive about the potential for governments to be unjust. Probably, then, what Paul was doing in Romans 13:3-4 was describing how governments are supposed to function under their divine mandate. (not wicked governments) Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary

Biblical Theology

If we look at the whole Bible, we come away with a more balanced theology. We see that God:

  • judges wicked nations
  • does not overlook the suffering of the oppressed
  • will one day judge all the people of the world, both small and great, for every deed done while in the body
  • expects us to obey God rather than man
  • expects us to honor governing authorities so long as they do not ask us to violate God’s law or harm others

Even the book of Daniel, which clearly expresses that God is in ultimate control of the nations, has clear examples of civil disobedience in order to honor God rather than men.

Daniel 2:19-21 - During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said:

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.

Daniel 3:18 - “But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

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Hi Sean,
Thanks for the reply and feedback. We always try to hold Bible true and relevant all the times. Yes there are contextual artifacts that are important, but to say the “Paul was responding to a specific situation occurring in the Church in Rome rather than giving a discourse on Christians relationship with government.” doesn’t seem correct to me.

I have read other articles as well and they all seem to think that Obedience to GODs commands has has to do with disobedience to Government. No I don’t think that is true and I don’t think Paul meant that, otherwise would have made Paul a charlatan.

Most of the examples brought us in here, have more to do with us obeying GOD law over and about Government’s law

  1. Refusing to kill the new born babies; It’s obeying to GOD law about “murdering” above over and above the Government wishes.
  2. Refusing to worship other gods; again Obeying the true Sovereign vs man made Government.

If we read John 18:36 - Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”

This statement is in line with what Paul mentioned as well. So I think the obedience that Paul mentioned here has to do more with suffering that we as Christians expect than anything else.

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@ahoxha I do think in many ways your point about suffering unjustly as Christians is true and reminds me of verses like this one in 1 Peter. But I’m not sure that was Paul’s main point in Romans.

1 Peter 3:13-14 - 13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”

I didn’t think Paul main point was suffering neither. But it makes sense as when we obey authorities even when the outcome is injustice, which leads to suffering, we should be ready for good works. Unless government authorities overstep God’s authority and forces us individually to sin against HIM any other injustice in a Christian life is what we are tought to submit to. Am I wrong?

Romans 13 isn’t the only place Pauls talking about this teachings. Read from Titus 3:1 ESV “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work…”

I think I am clear on this teachings but wanted some others feedback from here. I trurly believe and agree with this sermon below

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@ahoxha I agree we are to submit to governing authorities as long as they do not contradict God. I don’t have time to watch the sermon at the moment with grad school, but I do agree on this basic point :slight_smile: