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.”

1 Like