The United States is in the midst of a revolution with its inherent political turmoil. The seemingly insurmountable divide between Republicans and Democrats is understandable because Republicans stand for capitalism, democracy, and law and order in contrast to the Democrats that stand for socialism, dictatorship, and chaos and fear. This ongoing revolution is the lens through which I did my reading so that it was no surprise that Romans 13:3 was the text that stood out for the Day 169 reading.
If the Democrats win the 2020 Presidential election and socialism become a reality, how should a Christ-follower react? How should a Christ-follower live vis-a-vis the government? While this article does not completely answer these questions, hopefully it will cause one to think about how he or she ought to respond consistent with the Bible.
Romans 13:3 lies within the block of text comprising Romans 13:1–7 (ESV), which reads:
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. 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.
I began my analysis by phrasing verses 1-7 keeping in mind the definition of the Greek words and the grammar. Also, I broke the text along the line of the Greek sentences.
The first sentence comprises verse 1, and it seems to demand unswerving obedience; namely, that “every person” obey the governmental authorities. The underlying reason to obey is because they have “been instituted by God” meaning that God put them in this position of authority. The ESV translates the Greek noun psychē as “person” and it has the sense of a person being understood by their immaterial aspect especially as the agency by which one obtains salvation. See Exegetical Guide, Logos 8. While it may not be determinative, I found it interesting that to cause physical obedience, Paul referred to the mental aspect of a person.
The second sentence comprises verse 2, and it makes it clear that legal ramifications will result from opposing any ordinance enacted by the governing authority. Note that the ESV translates the Greek noun diatagē as “what … has appointed”, but the meaning is an ordinance or statute enacted by a governing authority. The rationale is that resisting a statute enacted by the authorities is akin to resisting God. I believe this rationale adds a moral requirement to the diatagē [ordinance] of verse 2. In other words, because the underlying source of consequences is God and not mankind, it is inherent that such a law must be consistent with what the Bible teaches. For example, if the law was contrary to biblical morality, then the mandate to obey does not exist.
The third sentence comprises the first phrase of verse 3 (ESV), and emphasizes that rulers are not a terror to those who do good, but to those who do bad. The ESV translates the Greek adkective agathos as “good” and it means moral excellence. The ESV translates the Greek adjective kakos as “to bad” and it means morally bad or wrong. There is a strong sense of obedience only if the ordinance is morally right, i.e., consistent with biblical morals.
The fourth sentence comprises the remainder of verse 3 and the first phrase of verse 4. The sense here is that doing right is pleasing to a ruler because “he is God’s servant for your good [agathos].” In other words, the substance of the ordinance ought to be consistent with biblically moral conduct.
The fifth sentence comprises the remainder of verse 4, and it warns about the dire consequences for doing wrong. Here, there will be God-ordained consequences for morally wrong conduct.
The sixth sentence comprises verse 5, and it teaches that because of these consequences, one must submit to the authorities for two reasons. First, submission avoids God’s wrath. Second, submission soothes one’s conscience with the inference that the conscience can differentiate between right and wrong. It appears that one’s submission must be to a morally correct requirement.
The seventh sentence comprises verse 6, and it calls on people to pay their taxes. The ESV translates phoros as “taxes” and it refers to a tribute such as on a nation that pays another for protection and as an acknowledgement of submission. The reason to pay this tribute is that the authorities are devoted to diligently working as servants of God. This verse carries a sense that the authorities are devoted to the protection of those under their authority. Tribute is paid in exchange for protection which is a beneficial result and necessary to a peaceful life.
The eighth and final sentence comprises verse 7, and it calls for the payment in four situations. The first two involve money and are the tribute (phoros) of verse 6 and revenue (Greek telos) which is a tax on goods and services. One can consider the telos as the price to carry on commerce. The third and fourth situations pertain to the character of the authorities where “respect” is due to the fact that God has appointed them and “honor” is because of the specific rulers. These four payments are because they either bring benefits (protection and commerce) or are based on who God is or who the ruler is.
On its face in English, some could view verse 1 as an absolute no-questions-asked mandate to obey the government no matter what. But, that is NOT what verses 1 and its companion verses teach. Christ-followers are supposed to obey and be willing to submit to ordinances or statutes that are consistent with the teachings of the Bible including biblical morality. Christ-followers are not required to obey or submit to statutes that run counter to biblical teachings. One commentator (Boa, K., & Kruidenier, W. (2000). Romans (Vol. 6). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers) writes (boldfacing in original):
There obviously comes a time when governing authorities are to be “resisted” (the question of “How?” is another worthy discussion) through disobedience to their injunctions. The key to discerning when that time has come is found in Paul’s words, what God has instituted. When rulers put themselves in the place of God by legislating moral or spiritual positions (all acts have moral and spiritual roots) which are contrary to the revealed positions of God, resistance is warranted. … The moral and spiritual standards that God has instituted are to be upheld whenever the positions of the authority come in conflict with them.
For example, someday there may be a statute that requires a church to conduct a same-sex marriage. The practice of homosexual sex is an abomination in God’s eyes which runs counter to biblical teaching on this subject. Likewise, someday there may be a statute that blurs the genders by permitting a male who says he is a female to use the public female restrooms and vice versa. The Bible teaches that God made male and female. This difference is readily apparent in a baby because of the physiological differences. One’s gender exists at the time of their birth. A Christ-follower ought not to comply with this statute.
It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss how a Christ-follower opposes or resists a statute consistent with Romans 13:1-7. Although it is something worth thinking about in advance should the day of decision become a reality. One option to consider reads:
The first way some people have interpreted this verse is to assume that Paul was speaking only of the norm. The normal situation would be a good government that punishes evil and rewards good. Obviously rebellion and revolution would be wrong in such a situation. However those actions might not be wrong if the state ceased to serve its God-given function and began denying the rights and removing the liberties of its citizens. Moderate advocates of this interpretation usually do not suggest that the church as an institution should lead a revolution. Most of them would say, however, that Christians as individuals could justifiably participate in a revolution against such a government. Christians should speak out against such abuses at least. We must be careful not to confuse submission with silence. Silence can express approval.
Constable, T. (2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Ro 13:3). Galaxie Software.
If you are reading this post and are not a Christian, unless God intervenes, your eternal destination is hell. But, your destiny can change. Today can be the day of your salvation. Please see my blog (https://stevebelsheim.com/2020/04/20/for-god-so-loves-you-2/) for a description of how you can be saved.
The Professor Grant Horner Bible Reading System is a great 500 day Bible reading plan. The following link presents a description of the plan ( https://sohmer.net/media/professor_grant_horners_bible_reading_system.pdf). My goal is to briefly share my thoughts on the passage that stands out the most for me each day. For Day 160, John 4:35-36 was the passage that stood out.
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