Civil Government: God’s Design for Peace and Justice

A Context Study of Romans 12:17-13:7

Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, peace, justice, and security have been very scarce upon this earth. Adam and Eve had not been out of Eden for long when “Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him” (Gen. 4:8). Six thousand years later, this earth is still a very dangerous place. The Bible tells us that it will remain so until Christ’s Millennial Kingdom comes, when the promise of Isaiah is fulfilled.

Isaiah 32:18
My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.

So, is peace and justice now impossible? Has God made no provision for security in society until Christ’s Kingdom comes? The answer to both is no. Since Genesis 9:6, God has commanded that the safety and security of the people in a society is the responsibility of the government of that society. After the Flood, God commanded Noah and his descendants to govern themselves and protect themselves from evil people. This was the birth of civil governments that have the God-given authority to protect the innocent by punishing evildoers, up to and including the death of those who are guilty of capital crimes.

But, in general, mankind has abysmally failed to obey God and strictly enforce the civil law modeled in the Bible. Societies have often been extremely dangerous places, wherein the average person becomes tempted to act as “judge and jury” and avenge himself when he is threatened or wronged. But, at best, vigilante action fixes the problem only temporarily, and eventually leads to the ruin of the society.

Understanding and supporting God’s design for social order is the better path to take. In John 19:11a, Jesus recognizes Pilate’s godly role as civil governor, and affirms God’s hand in the design (“You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…”). Romans 12:17-13:7 simply reaffirms for the Christian Church the authority of civil government and the need to honor that authority and be subject to it. It reminds us that the way to live in peace in this world is not to avenge ourselves, but rather to give place to the wrath of God as it is executed by civil authority.

Throughout Church history, many Christians have not believed that Romans 12:17-13:7 refers to civil authorities. They point to the occasional atrocities of the civil governments that have existed through the ages, and assert that this section of Romans must be speaking about authorities in the Church. This article has two purposes, to show that Romans 12:17-13:7 refers to civil government, not Church government, and to establish from God’s Word that God’s design is for civil government to punish evildoers so that the general population can live peaceful and secure lives.

Because Romans 13:1-7 is often taken out of context, we must begin our exegesis at Romans 12:17. It is unfortunate that the translators placed a chapter break (Ch. 13) right in the middle of this subject, because it makes it harder for the reader to see the continuation of the subject matter from Chapter 12. Chapters were not part of the original God-breathed Word. Major breaks, chapters and paragraphs were added to the text through the ages, and the chapter breaks that appear in modern Bibles are from the 1200s AD. Although the translators usually appropriately marked the subject changes with chapter breaks, Romans 13 is one they misplaced (Gen. 2 and Isa. 53 are other examples). The actual context begins in Romans 12:17. Christians are exhorted to not avenge evil with evil, but as much as possible to live in peace with everyone and to “give place unto [God’s] wrath” (12:19). (Note: we will be using the King James Version unless otherwise indicated).

Romans 12:17-21
(17) Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
(18) If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
(19) Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto [God’s] wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
(20) Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
(21) Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Several things immediately become clear from these verses. First, they contain instruction regarding proper Christian behavior (v. 17). Second, they refer to proper Christian behavior toward non-Christians as well as Christians. How do we know this? By asking the question, “If the words ‘no man,’ and ‘all men’ used in verses 17 and 18 refer only to Christians, would the verses still make sense in light of the rest of Scripture?” In other words, “no man” and “all men” must refer to some group of people. If it does not refer to all human beings, then to whom does it refer? “Christians” would be the probable answer (and the only answer if you are trying to make the case that Romans 13 is dealing with the internal affairs of the Church). Therefore we will see if it makes sense for the “all men” to refer to Christians (our comments are in italics).

Romans 12:17 and 18
(17) Recompense to no “Christian” man evil for evil (This does not make sense, because it would be implying that it might be okay to return evil to a non-Christian). Provide things honest in the sight of all “Christians” (It is okay to be dishonest to non-Christians?).
(18) If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all “Christians” (Is it okay to return evil to a non-Christian? Christ taught that we should love even our enemies).

It is readily apparent that the uses of the word “all” in these verses do not refer to a subgroup of human beings. God never wants us to do evil to anyone (Rom. 12:21; 1 Cor. 13:5; 2 Cor. 13:7, and especially 1 Thess. 5:15). We can properly conclude that the section immediately preceding Romans 13 refers to proper Christian behavior toward all people, and it is speaking of living in peace with them. In light of that, we need to reexamine verses 18 and 19.

Romans 12:18 and 19
(18) If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
(19) Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

The Bible and history both testify that Christians (and non-Christians) have been victimized by both non-Christians and unscrupulous Christians (any survey of prison populations will show clearly that a significant percent of those incarcerated are professing Christians). How is the godly Christian supposed to protect himself from these evil people? How is he supposed to “live in peace” with them? By avenging himself? No, because Romans 12:19 says, “avenge not yourselves.” Can godly Christians get protection from these evil people by calling on the authorities in the Church? Hardly.

Church authorities have only “charismatic influence,” and lack the ability to protect the godly from the ungodly. This is just as true today as it was 2,000 years ago. Anyone who has been in the pastorate knows that if a Christian under his or her care is assaulted, raped, robbed, or worse, the best the pastor can do is comfort the victim and pray for justice. That is not very helpful to the one who wants a way to live in peace in our evil society. There has to be a satisfying answer to the question, “How can a Christian live in peace with evil people without protecting himself by avenging himself?”

The satisfying answer we need, and the way a Christian can live in an evil society without avenging himself, is by “giving place unto [God’s] wrath.” That sounds good, but what does it mean? Does it mean that a Christian who has been horribly wronged should simply wait until God strikes the wicked person dead or punishes him in some lesser way, such as giving him the measles or perhaps breaking his car or computer? No, because God does not work that way. God is not actively punishing criminals on the earth today. [1] In both the Old and New Testaments, God commands people to punish criminals as the agent of His wrath. [2]

It is humans who execute criminals (Exod. 21:12-17), levy fines (Exod. 22:2-6), inflict corporal punishments such as beatings (Deut. 25:2), and who build and incarcerate others in jails (Gen. 39:20). What makes punishment “the wrath of God” is not that God directly does the punishing, but that it is carried out according to His will and laws. The phrase “wrath of the king” means the king is directly doing the punishing. The phrase “the wrath of the king” appears three times in the Bible (Esther 2:1; Prov. 16:14; Heb. 11:27), and it is clear that the king did not directly execute his wrath. Rather, the king gives commands, which are carried out by his servants, his army, etc. So when the king’s army carries out the will of the king, the action is called “the wrath of the king,” and when the will of God is carried out by people against those who oppose God’s laws, that is “the wrath of God.”

Some have argued that the wrath of God in Romans 12:19 is the wrath that sinners will face at the Final Judgment. However, that belief is even less satisfying to those who want peace here and now than believing that God will directly deal in this life with evildoers. There will be wrath from God at the Final Judgment, but that is not the wrath that is being spoken of in this context, as is seen by the direct reference in 13:4b to someone or something being the one to execute God’s wrath now (“he is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” NIV). Yes, there will be a Final Judgment, but that will not keep society safe now, or help Christians deal with the injustices of this life and live at peace with all men.

In this context, we should expect to see a concrete way that Christians can live peaceably in this evil world, a way that the wrath of God can be wielded upon those who unlawfully and immorally afflict others. That way of peace is through civil government, and that is exactly what is set forth in the opening verses of Romans 13.

As we examine the opening verses of Romans 13, we will look carefully at the language used to determine to whom the “authority” in the chapter refers. We will do this by taking a close look at each verse to determine whether this section of Romans is speaking of a civil or Church leader.

Romans 13:1
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

The phrase “every soul” means “every person,” and just as we have seen above, this does not just mean every Christian person. How would it help Christians to live peaceably with “all men” if only they, and not evildoers, were subject to the higher powers? It would not. The evildoers who were not subject to the higher powers would prey on Christians, who would have to resort to avenging themselves in order to live in peace. Then the problem first brought up in Romans 12 would not be solved.

When this passage says that “every soul” is to be subject to the higher powers, it means every person on the earth, not just Christians. Biblically, the word “soul” and the word “person” are equivalent terms, indicating that the “higher powers” in this verse are not Church authorities. There is no way that every person on earth is going to be subject to the leaders of the Christian Church. On the other hand, all the people on earth, no matter what their religious preference, are subject to civil authorities.

“Subject” is the Greek word hupotasso, which, in the active voice, means “to subjugate, place in submission, to subdue.” However, in the middle voice or passive voice it means “to subject oneself, place oneself in submission.” [3] In Romans 13:1, hupotasso is in the middle voice, so the meaning of the verse is that every person should voluntarily subject or submit himself to the governing authorities. Other verses where hupotasso appears in the passive or middle voice include Luke 2:51, Romans 10:3, Ephesians 5:22, and James 4:7.

In each of these cases, hupotasso refers to voluntary submission. Thus we can see that Romans 13:1 is saying that people are to voluntarily submit to the governing authorities. These authorities have the power and ability to force submission, but that is not the way a society should have to be run. The most effective way to have a peaceful society is to have just laws and then have the citizens agree to obey them. Obedience to the law should not have to be coerced, but rather be a loving act of submission. If the people willingly submit to just laws, great peace and prosperity should result.

Concerning the “higher powers,” “powers” is the Greek word exousia, meaning “authority,” or “delegated power.” Here are some examples of its uses in Scripture:

Matthew 7:29
For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

Matthew 8:9
For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth, and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

Mark 13:34
For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.

Exousia should be translated “authority” in Romans 13:1a, which would then read: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher authorities.” These verses also show that authority can be spiritual (Luke 4:36) or civil (Matt. 8:9). So the word “authority” itself cannot tell us about the nature of the authority, which must be determined from the context.

“Higher” is the Greek word huperecho, which means to “hold high in regard or in position,” and it can also mean “to be above, be superior in rank, authority, power.” [4] Examples of this word are:

Philippians 2:3
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

Philippians 4:7
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

The dative present active participle form in Romans 13:1 could be translated “who are in a higher position.” So the first phrase could be translated “Let every soul be subject unto the authorities who are in a higher position.” Thus, we should voluntarily put ourselves under the obedience of higher authorities, but who are they? In the context, they must be civil authorities but we will continue our study for more clarification.

The word “power” in the second half of this verse is again the word exousia, authority. “For there is no power but of God” could be better translated “For there is no authority except from God.” The third use of “power” in verse 1 (in the phrase, “the powers that be are ordained of God”) is not in the original Greek text, which more accurately reads, “and the existing [powers] have been ordained by God.” We will come back to the word “ordained,” after we examine the word “of” in the phrase “but of God.” It is the Greek preposition hupo, which, like many prepositions, has several meanings that are determined by the grammatical case of the preposition and by the context. In this particular form it is used to express influence or cause, and should be translated “from” or “by.” [5] Hupo in the genitive case is also used in the following verse:

Matthew 1:22
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of [hupo] the Lord by the prophet, saying.

The word “of” indicates that which originated “of,” or more clearly, “from” the Lord. Another example is in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 11:24
Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.

Paul received beatings from the Jews or by the Jews. Now we are in a position to construct Romans 13:1 as we would more accurately translate it into English from the Greek text: “For there is no authority except from God, and those that from (or “by”) God are ordained.”

The word “ordained” is the Greek verb tasso, which Zodhiates defines as, “to place, set, appoint, arrange, order.” [6] Although it is common to think of “ordain” in a spiritual sense, there is no inherent spiritual sense in tasso, and in fact a very good case could be made for the fact that “ordain” is a poor translation. When Christ ordained the 12 apostles, the Greek word used is poieo, and when Paul commanded Timothy to ordain elders in every city the Greek word is kathistemi. Not one of the eight uses of tasso refers to “ordination” in the way it is usually thought of in the Christian ministry. Tasso is used eight times in the Greek New Testament, and it is translated by five different English words in the King James Version: appoint, set, ordain, determine, and addicted. The verses below show that the concept of “appoint” is central to tasso.

Matthew 28:16
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.

Luke 7:8
For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

In Romans 13:1, tasso is a perfect participle, which means that the action of the verb is completed in the past, but has continuing results. The authorities were appointed at a particular time in the past but that the effect of that appointment continues. In other words they are still appointed. Let us now review Romans 13:1 as it can be translated from the Greek.

Romans 13:1 (Authors’ translation)
Let every person be subject to authorities in a higher position, for there is no authority except from God, and those that have been appointed by God.

Because this verse seems to say that God appoints authorities, some have concluded that the verse must be referring to authority in the Church, not civil authority, based on the following logic: If all secular authority is appointed by God, then what about Hitler, Stalin, Chairman Mao, or other corrupt or evil governing leaders? Did God appoint them too? Christians do not want to say that God appointed evil men and women to rule, so therefore the logical conclusion seems to be that the section must be speaking of authorities in the Church.

The first and most obvious problem with the above conclusion is that the authorities of the Church have been just as corrupt as the civil authorities. In fact, more so, because while they were doing evil and ungodly things, they held up the Cross and claimed to be acting in the name of God. Historian Edward Gibbon says that in the one century from 325 AD to 425 AD, Christians killed more fellow Christians for “heresy” than the Romans had killed in the previous three centuries.

Unfortunately, that was only the start of what became centuries of murder in the name of God. Church officials tortured people, such as the burning of Michael Servetus over green wood so he would burn slowly. They also tortured the minds of those who had no access to the Word of God or did not have the education to understand it. So if the heinous acts of civil leaders disqualify them from being the “authorities” in Romans 13:1, then that would apply equally to the religious authorities.

Since neither civil authorities nor church authorities have always behaved in a godly manner, ungodly behavior among some leaders cannot be a reason to disqualify any group from consideration as the authorities in this section of Scripture. To find out to whom the authority refers we must continue to study the vocabulary and context, keeping in mind that the context we have already studied points toward civil authority. We now move on to Romans 13:2.

Romans 13:2
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

The word “damnation” is the Greek word krima, and means “judgment, legal decision, lawsuit, verdict, or authority to judge.” As the following verses indicate, it can be either spiritual or civil in nature.

Romans 2:3
And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest [krima] them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment [krima] of God?

1 Corinthians 6:7
Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law [krima] one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?

In Romans 2, krima is used in a spiritual sense, while in 1 Corinthians 6 it is used in a civil sense. So by itself krima does not tell us the nature of the authorities in question. However, since Romans 13:2 clearly states that “they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation,” it does tell us that those who resist the authority that God has appointed will not escape judicial judgment. So we definitely want to know who these authorities are and not resist them.

Romans 13:3 contains the word “rulers.” In the context, these are people who hold the authority mentioned in the previous two verses. However, a study of the 37 uses of this word in the Greek New Testament shows that a “ruler” can be in the religious realm, the civil realm, or the spirit world, as the following three verses show.

Luke 8:41
And behold, there came a man Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at Jesus’ feet, and besought him that he would come into his house.

Matthew 20:25
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.

Matthew 9:34
But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils.

Since a “ruler” can be in either a civil or religious system, we need to continue to search out who the authorities are to whom we are to be subject.

Romans 13:4 gives us a definitive reason for believing that this section is about secular authorities, not Church authorities, and we will develop the argument piece by piece after reviewing the verse.

Romans 13:4
For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

At first glance, it seems that the phrase “minister of God” refers to a religious leader, not a secular one. However, the word “minister” is diakonos, and simply means “one who carries out the commands of another, a minister, a servant.” Just as “rulers” can be civil or religious, which we just studied above, the same holds true for “servants.” If a civil servant is doing God’s will, then he is a “minister of God.” If he is carrying out the will of God by judging and punishing people, then the person becomes a minister or servant of God, and the punishment he metes out is “the wrath of God.” The following verse is an example of a civil servant.

Matthew 22:13
Then said the king to the servants [diakonos: in this case those deputed to carry out the civil orders of the government], Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The king in the above verse is the ultimate civil authority, and his “servants” (ministers) act in the civil realm. Thus, the phrase, “minister of God” would then be one who is in some way serving God, which could be by serving His interests in either the civil or religious arena. However, before we try to conclude whether the man with the authority is civil or religious, we need to take a much closer look at the verse, because there is another, totally different way of looking at it.

The Greek word translated “he is” in the King James Version is esti (from eimi), which is the Greek verb “to be.” In this case it is in the third person singular. It could be translated “he is” but it can also be translated “it is,” which is how it is translated in the New American Standard Bible.

Romans 13:4 (NASB)
For it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.

It is vitally important that the reader understand that the “it” in the above verse is the civil authority that is the minister of God, not a person. And what does the verse say about this authority and its service to God? It is a servant of God to punish evildoers. It is “authority” that is the servant from God to do good. Obviously, if authority is not used for a purpose that is good and orderly, it does not reflect well on God who originally gave it for good purposes. God gave free will for good purposes too, but we do not say that God or free will is evil if someone misuses it and chooses to do evil. If a man uses authority in an evil way, he himself becomes an evildoer and will eventually suffer wrath for his evil doings.

Realizing that it is the authority that is the servant or minister of God does away with most of the emotions that arise when someone believes that Hitler or some other godless person is a “minister of God.” That is simply not what the verse is saying. Now that we know that authority is the servant of God spoken of in verse 4, we still need to determine who this section of Scripture is saying should wield it so that Christians can live in peace without having to avenge themselves.

The second sentence in verse 4 says that people who do evil things should “be afraid.” Thus, verse 4 concretely supports the flow of the context that began in Romans 12 by revealing definitely that this section of Romans is talking about the civil realm, not the Church realm. Remember that the context of Romans 13 concerns all the people of the world who might not live in a peaceful manner toward Christians. The evil people of the world will not subject themselves to Church authorities. Neither evil non-Christians nor evil Christians are “afraid” of Christian ministers. Why should they be? The men and women of the Church have no power to harm them. In contrast, those same evil people are “afraid” of the civil authorities because they bear “the sword” and are “agents of wrath.” Christian ministers are not agents of wrath, they are agents of grace and mercy. Christian ministers have no power to punish robbers, murderers, thieves, rapists, etc., the ones who make society dangerous. The only people who would be “afraid” of Christian ministers would be faithful Christians. But it is clear that Romans 12:17-13:7 is not about faithful Christians, but about evil people with whom the faithful Christians are trying to live peaceably.

The phrase “bear the sword” is important. As an individual word, “sword” is used in both a civil and spiritual sense. Matthew 26:51 uses it in a physical or civil sense, while Ephesians 6:17 uses it in a spiritual sense.

The context determines the use of the word “sword,” and in this case it is clear. The reason that evil people are to be afraid is that the authorities bear “the sword.” That cannot mean the Word of God because, as we have already seen, evil people ignore the Word of God. In the Roman empire, the civil authorities literally “bore” (i.e., carried) a sword. The word “sword” used in this verse is the common word for the Roman short sword, which was the weapon carried by the soldiers who were deputed to arrest criminals. Remember that the book of Romans was first sent to the city of Rome itself, and any student of Roman history understands the impact that this verse would have had when read by a Roman citizen 2000 years ago. The Christians reading the epistle to the Romans would have heard the sound of the hobnail boots of the Roman soldiers as they patrolled the streets and seen their brightly colored uniforms among the crowds. They knew from experience that those highly trained and well-armed men were not to be tangled with. You could ignore a Christian minister, but any evil person had good reason to be afraid of those soldiers who “bore the sword,” because they certainly did not bear it “in vain.” Roman law was very hard on robbers, highwaymen, etc., who had every reason to fear the civil authorities.

In verses 6 and 7 the subject shifts to supporting the government by paying taxes.

Romans 13:6 and 7
(6) For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
(7) Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

The word “tribute” in verses 6 and 7 is the Greek word phoros. It appears only four times in the Greek New Testament, twice here in Romans and the other two in Luke.

Luke 20:22
Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?

Luke 23:2
And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.

According to Vine’s lexicon, phoros (akin to phero, “to bring”) was a tribute or tax brought by a subjugated nation. [7] Bullinger says it is a tax or tribute “brought by persons as imposed on their persons and property,” [8] The key word is “imposed.” Phoros was not used of money that was brought voluntarily. It was a tax. In contrast, giving an offering in the Church is specifically commanded to be “not reluctantly or under compulsion.” In fact, God wants money given to the Church to be given “cheerfully,” because “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Taxes and other “imposed” payments are rarely given cheerfully. This information makes it clear that the “tribute” money being referred to is not the voluntary giving that supports the Church. It is the involuntary taxes that support those who “bear the sword” so that Christians and non-Christians alike can live in peace without having to avenge themselves.

The word “custom” is the Greek word telos. Like most other words, telos has more than one definition. [9] While it commonly means “end,” in this verse it means an “obligation, tax, or toll.” It is also used that way in Matthew.

Matthew 17:25
He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? Of their own children, or of strangers?

As with the word “tribute,” the concept that we must understand is that the custom or tax was not voluntary. Those in authority required it to be paid so that the state could be properly maintained.

The word “fear” in verse 7 is phobos, which is the standard Greek word for fear and the word from which we get “phobia,” an intense fear. Phobos in the New Testament is used both of fear in a negative sense and as respect and reverence in a positive sense. In this context, it refers to fear of being punished by the government if you do evil or do not pay the taxes required by law.

The word “honour” is the Greek word time, which means “a value or price.” In the New Testament it is used as a literal price and it is used figuratively as the esteem or value placed on a person by other people. A couple of examples show this clearly.

Acts 19:19
Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.

Romans 12:10
Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.

We can see that the first usage above refers to a value of money and the second usage refers to valuing a person, and it is the second usage that appears in Romans 13:7. We should honor those people who are deserving of honor.

Looking back at Romans 13:1-7, we can now conclude that when this section says that “every soul” should be subject to the “higher authorities,” it is referring to everyone being subject to men in secular authority. Their authority is granted by God for the purpose of executing judgment upon the wicked. The “authority” is held by the civil government, which is responsible for maintaining order in society and protecting people so that they can live peacefully without having to avenge themselves.

Should it surprise us that Romans 13 is talking about being subject to the civil authorities? No. The Bible teaches us this same truth in other places as well, such as the following:

1 Peter 2:13-17
(13) Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme:
(14) Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.
(15) For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:
(16) As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
(17) Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

Like Romans 13, these verses from Peter tell us to be subject to the ordinances of man, i.e., the civil laws. The book of Peter, like Romans, contains the idea that civil government is responsible to punish evildoers. Finally, like Romans, Peter speaks of “fear” and “honor.”

The book of Titus also tells us to be subject to the civil government.

Titus 3:1
Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work.

The book of 1 Timothy also contains the idea that if we are going to live quiet and peaceful lives, we need to pray for those in civil authority.

1 Timothy 2:1-3
(1) I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men.
(2) For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
(3) For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.

We will be able to lead quiet and peaceful lives only if the civil authorities protect us from the evil element of society. Evil people do not respect God or His laws, and many even steal from churches. Evil people are certainly not “afraid” of Christian ministers. In fact, fear of the civil law with its fines and prison sentences does not always keep criminals from hurting society, but at least if the criminals are caught by those who “bear the sword,” they can usually be taken off the street so that society is protected.

In conclusion, then, we can see that Romans 13, like 1 Peter 2, Titus 3, and 1 Timothy 2, is talking about people being subject to the authorities in the civil government. We support civil authorities with our taxes. We need to pray for them and honor them. They are agents of wrath who punish evildoers and keep society safe. Proverbs says: “A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them” (Prov. 20:26). May our governments be wise, and the wicked be scattered. May we live peaceable lives without the need to avenge ourselves.


[1] John W. Schoenheit, The Christian’s Hope: The Anchor of the Soul (Christian Educational Services, Indianapolis, IN 46205, 2001). pp. 247-255, Appendix G, “Does the Lord Judge Now or at the Judgment?” See also, Graeser, Lynn, and Schoenheit, Don’t Blame God! (Christian Educational Services, Indianapolis, IN 46205, 1994), pp. 95-106.
[2] John W. Schoenheit, The Death Penalty: Godly or Ungodly (Christian Educational Services, Indianapolis, IN 46205, 2000), pp. 7-10.
[3] Romans 13:1 says that each person should voluntarily subject himself to the governing authorities. Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN 1992), pp. 1427, 1428.
[4] Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA. Reprinted, 2000). p. 640.
[5] In Romans 13:1, hupo is governed by the genitive case and means the place from which something comes, a loosing or freeing from under something, through, from, or by. Zodhiates, op. cit.,. The Complete Word Study Dictionary, p. 1419.
[6] Zodhiates, op. cit., The Complete Word Study Dictionary, p. 1419. Thayer has, “to place in a certain order, to arrange, to assign a place, to appoint. Thayer, op. cit. Greek-English Lexicon, p. 615.
[7] W.E. Vine, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN 1996), “Tribute.”
[8] E. W. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament (Bullinger Page 820, 1982 Printing).
[9] Zodhiates lists quite a few, among them: 1) end; 2) result; 3) figuratively for the final purpose or sum total; 4) goal; 5) figuratively for a tax, toll, or custom, “particularly what is paid for public purposes for the maintenance of the state.

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