DISCLAIMER: This series of articles reflects the results of my exegetical exercise to answer the following questions: (1) what did Paul intend to convey to his original audience by what he wrote in Romans 13:1-7? And (2) in light of Paul’s authorial intent, how ought Romans 13:1-7 apply to a 21st Century Christ-follower? In no way, shape or form is this series intended to influence in any way, or cause or be a catalyst for any person to disobey a governmental authority whether it be local, state or federal. This series is merely the exercise of my right to free speech and to practice my religion under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY OF TAKEAWAY(S)
This article discusses the results of my observation of the first Greek sentence, i.e., Romans 13:1a. The takeaway(s) are:
(1) The basic takeaway from verse 1a is that, in the absence of any restrictive gloss, Paul commanded his audience of believers to continuously obey, i.e., “let … be subject” [hypotassō], the Roman government.
(2) By unpacking all of Romans 13:1-7, it becomes apparent that Paul placed restrictive gloss on the absolute nature of hypotassō as set forth in verse 1a.
OBSERVATION OF THE FIRST GREEK SENTENCE – ROMANS 13:1a
The English translation of the first Greek sentence, i.e., verse 1a, reads (ESV)[i]:
1a Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.
The ESV translates the Greek verb hypotassō as “Let … be subject.”. The verb hypotassō means, “to submit to the orders or directives of someone—‘to obey, to submit to, obedience, submission.’”[ii] Note that in the passive voice[iii] hypotassō “is used of be subjected to, be placed under (Rom 8:20a; 1 Cor 15:27b, 28a; Heb 2:8c; 1 Pet 3:22 [cf. Dan 7:27]).”[iv]
Wuest expands on the meaning of hypotassō when he writes:
The verb is a military word speaking of soldiers arranged in order under a general. They are subject to his orders. The translation reads, “Let every soul place himself habitually in subjection to the higher powers.” “Higher powers” is literally “authorities which have themselves over,” that is, authorities who are over the citizen.[v]
In a military context, a soldier would not consider disobeying the legal order of a superior.
Balz et al. makes reference to the usage in a political context, “The vb. can be used parenetically — most often in the household codes — of subordination, obedience: to political authorities (Rom 13:1, 5; 1 Pet 2:13f.; Titus 3:1);”[vi]
On its face, one could easily say that Paul intended to command his original audience to continuously and unquestioningly submit to the government no matter what. Wuest[vii] translates verse 1a to read:
Let every soul put himself habitually in subjection to authorities which hold position over (them), …
The apostle’s basic exhortation is, Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities (lit., “higher authorities”).
Jumping ahead just a bit, in light of the historical-cultural context, which the next article (Article 3) will discuss, this straight forward absolute command ought not to be a surprise. In a nutshell, Paul thought that the Roman government was beneficial to the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, there was an incentive to not “rock the boat” so as to possibly displease the Roman government and interfere with the spread of the gospel.
TAKEAWAY(S) FROM VERSE 1a
The basic takeaway from verse 1a is that, in the absence of a restrictive gloss, Paul commanded his audience to continuously obey, i.e., “let … be subject” to, the governing authorities that are over him or her. Here, the “governing authorities” comprised the Roman government.
Please note that as we dive deeper into Romans 13:1-7, we will see that Paul placed restrictive gloss on the absolute nature of hypotassō as contained in verse 1a. One theological dictionary hints at this restrictive gloss:
d. Also divinely willed is the submission to authorities in Rom. 13:1ff., which acknowledges their legitimacy on the basis of their divine commission to reward good and punish evil. Tit. 3:1 and 1 Pet. 2:13–14 echo this teaching, which possibly rests on the reply of Jesus in Mk. 12:17 and parallels. At issue, of course, is the attitude to government as such rather than specifically the Roman state. Christians do not submit to the state merely because it provides conditions for their life and mission. They and all people owe subjection because government is by divine ordination.[ix]
THE NEXT ARTICLE – ARTICLE 3
To better understand why Paul said what he did in Romans 13:1-7, in the next article, i.e., Article 3, I will discuss the historical-cultural context of Romans. An understanding of the world in which Paul wrote Romans 13:1-7 helps a 21st Century Christ-follower to better appreciate the reasoning behind Paul’s absolute command to obey as set forth in verse 1a.
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.
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[i] To gain a sense of how other translations saw the text, verse 1a reads in other English translations:
Interlinear – [let] every – person – authorities – be in authority over – be subject.
HCSB – Everyone must submit to the governing authorities.
NIV – Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities,
NLT – Everyone must submit to governing authorities.
NCV – All of you must yield to the government rulers.
[ii] See Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 467). New York: United Bible Societies.
[iii] The relevant grammatical aspects of hypotassō are that it is in the present tense, passive voice, and imperative mood. Definitions of these grammatical aspects are:
present — The verb tense where the writer portrays an action in process or a state of being with no assessment of the action’s completion.
passive — The grammatical voice that signifies that the subject is being acted upon; i.e., the subject is the receiver of the verbal action. A verb in the passive voice with God as the stated or implied agent is often referred to as the “divine passive.”
imperative — The mood that normally expresses a command, intention, exhortation, or polite request. The imperative mood is therefore not an expression of reality but possibility and volition.
[iv] See Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990–). Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. 3, p. 408). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.
[v] Wuest, K. S. (1997). Wuest’s word studies from the Greek New Testament: for the English reader (Vol. 2, pp. 222–223). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
[vi] See Balz et al Vol. 3, p. 408.
[vii] See Endnote v.
[ix] Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (p. 1159). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans). The passages referred to by Kittel read:
Titus 3:1 (ESV) – 1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,
1 Peter 2:13–14 (ESV) – 13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.
Mark 12:17 (ESV) – 17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.