Romans 13:1-7

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Many church leaders invoke biblical passages like Romans 13:1-7 to bolster the congregation's trust in the government and keep paying taxes, as it says in the King James Version of this passage:

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.  Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.  For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:  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.  Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.  For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.  Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Ok, some churches teach out of this passage because they're looking for the truth, and that's what they should be doing.  Not all churches use this passage for social control.  I'm referring to this misuse of scripture:

So I'll break it down thought-by-thought.

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.

This is where people get confused.  I believe "higher powers" do not refer to all governments like the video says, but only the ones God has established.

For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

This further emphasizes the fact that if God didn't ordain it, it's not a valid power.

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

So it's extremely serious to resist the power God ordains because it's tantamount to resisting God.

For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.

Now this is a clarification about who those powers are embodied by.  The key here is that if the person of authority is a terror to good works and not evil, that person is not a ruler.

Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:  For he is the minister of God to thee for good.

This further links the ruler with the power God ordains.  The ruler embodies the power.  If the person of authority does not praise good works, we should question the legitimacy of their leadership.  They don't fit the description God has given us so they are impostors.

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.

Again, if you do evil and you are not punished by the person of authority, this further identifies that person as not being a minister of God.  They continue to defy God's description of a real leader.

Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

But only under the true authority defined previously.  It is a determent to our conscience to allow an unfit authority to rule us.

For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.  Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Only pay moral taxes.  Only allow your tribute to pay for things God would approve.  Only honor God's servants with our precious resources.

In summary, the Bible defines the kind of ruler we should follow.  A qualified ruler rewards good and punishes bad.  Do rulers reward bad and punish good?  If you ask people in the world if they know rulers who do that, they'd say yes.  So we have a problem.  Is the Bible in contradiction or are people's definitions wrong?

The Bible is not in contradiction.  The Bible refers to bats as birds.  Now we refer to bats as mammals that happen to fly.  Did the Bible become wrong because science changed?  No, and likewise, just because a person subjects himself to an unworthy authority and calls them rulers, doesn't make the Bible wrong.  They are just not true rulers.  They are cheap copies.  The Bible gives us a narrow description of what a ruler is and therefore excludes unjust rulers from having any authority.  We widened the definition beyond what the author originally intended.

Posted via email from Anthony Martin's Weblog

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25 Comments

  1. Looking back at this post, I noticed something I said:

    Only pay moral taxes. Only allow your tribute to pay for things God would approve. Only honor God's servants with our precious resources.

    I no longer think there are moral taxes because all tax is theft. So how does this resolve the matter of scripture?

    Well, if you agree to pay taxes, then you owe them. If you agree to pay for protection, you owe that. And if you are forced to pay taxes, make darn sure they are used for moral purposes. If not, you are partially responsible since you didn't defend your property from misuse.

  2. Marcie Mathews says:

    You say, "This is where people get confused. I believe "higher powers" do not refer to all governments like the video says, but only the ones God has established."

    I believe you are fundamentally wrong here. God 'ordains' all governments because He uses pagan governments for His ultimate will as well as the so called christian governments. No human government anywhere in the world is any where near perfect, they all error. So I think this is where we depart in agreement. Because I think God is able in His perfect understanding to bring them all, dispite their grievous errors, to His will for this earth. We don't see how it works because we're too close to it , but He sees the bigger picture. Romans 11:33 "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" Our job as Christians is as it says in Romans 12:18 "If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceable with all men." and Romans 12:21 "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." So we go to work, pay taxes, keep the laws and do our best, even in a society that is .....going downhill fast. I do not support sacantions by this government against Israel, but I'm still an American. I take my grievance with me to prayer for Israel because I trust the God of the Bible to be able to save Israel. Romans 11:26 "...all Israel will be saved" knowing that one day Isaiah 9:6 will be fulfilled and we will have His government. Amen

    • Let me ask you this. Twenty years ago would you have believed that the US government would ever be so bold as to take ownership of GM, or that they would give 100 billion dollars to an insurance company, or that they would purchase 90% of all new mortgages or that they would run a 2 Trillion Dollar deficit while funneling hundreds of billions to Wall Street?

       

      All of this would have seemed inconceivable to me. And except for the vestiges of civil rights we still possess we are literally turning into the old USSR where our entire economy is run by central government command.

       

      Why stop there? World government is the obvious next step. We're there already. Treaties have been signed to make international law have full force in the US. It would place itself as yet another higher power, above the sovereign nations of the world. I guess my question is when does something that calls itself world government suddenly become an illegitimate higher power, if ever? Do we offer any non-cooperation or resistance to it and the body that appointed it?

  3. I simply have a different exegesis for this passage than you.

     

    Am I free to have this interpretation? Some of us think government is evil and aggressive so we have decided we can handle our business without them.

  4. Aaron says:

    Of course you are free to hold a different interpretation. Unfortunately, your Mom's exegesis uses a broader context (and a correct one I believe), takes into account the historical/cultural aspects of the relevant texts (although it isn't explicitly spelled out as such), and has the support of being the more accepted interpretation.

     

    Your interpretation discounts much of what was going on during the 1st and 2nd century when the text was written (how the Romans and Christians interacted), ignores much of the context i.e. Paul's constant appeal to live peacefully and sacrifice one's freedom, and is conveniently attractive to your anarchists worldview. We have been through this before. I am not saying you cannot be an anarchists or believe government is overall evil and aggressive, I am saying you are not free to make Scripture work in ways that are convenient for that particular view.

     

    I think it is important to point out that I am NOT saying there is not some point at which Christianity trumps nationalism. There are lots of intricacies this dialog as there are with most. The simple bottom line is that I believe your interpretation of much of what Paul said that can be related to human government is wrong.

  5. Aaron says:

    Oh, and you are free either way to "handle your business" as you please to a large degree if you are willing to live with the consequences i.e. prison, separation from family, living on the run etc.

  6. It's interesting because if we all realized that Christianity trumps nationalism, our political problems would end. Christians should end aggression for better world (and so none of us would have to trot out this intricate passage over and over).

  7. Aaron says:

    It's not that simple. When I say "nationalism" I am not contradicting what I said above. As a matter of fact, I am not strictly defining nationalism...which I think is the point of the balance that we have to find with this passage. We live in a fallen world and much that would be black and white in the Garden of Eden has taken on shades of gray once we are pushed into the wide world.

  8. True, it's not that simple.

     

    But a strictly blaming fallen world doesn't explain the complacency and downright collusion many Christians offer these powers to undermine The Great Commission.

     

    This complacency limits the spread of the Gospel.

     

    You will know them by their fruits. The US is the fifth larges mission field.

     

    What would $2 trillion dollars do to facilitate this goal? But it is being taken from us to wage war instead. I repudiate.

    • Aaron says:

      Each of your "bullet points" here are probably true, but that does not change the principles Paul was teaching here...and elsewhere.

       

      Jesus taught that there is a literal hell and lots of people will go there. I'm really not comfortable with that or the myriad of implications that follow, but it doesn't change well done exegesis.

       

      I still think you are misinterpreting Paul's words and your observations about our world do not change that...rather it should challenge you to figure out a biblical response to those things that takes into account an explanation of Paul's words based on well principled exegesis...

      • So what do you do with the book of Acts where it records the Apostles "going against the decrees of Caesar" (Acts 17:6-8) and being cast in prison? How does one exegete that the principle that they were obeying the civil authorities. Paul was imprisoned numerous times for going against the Roman State. Paul was even scourged and beheaded by the civil authorities, it is said.

         

        I'm curious, was the Roman centurion who scourged and beheaded Apostle Paul the "minister of God" sent for our good, as referenced in Romans 13:4?

    • Marcie says:

      We will always have the issue of enmity between good and evil, that too is from Genesis. But as I see it, we're obligated to do our best without pointing a finger at others.
      God knew Elijah was not the only one 'that did not bend a knee to Baal,' God knew there were 7000 besides Elijah, even though Elijah felt like the last person on earth that loved God.
      But God was workiing with Elijah, not the other 7000 (as far as Elijah knew).
      So that tells me we need to do our best as we feel led. Yes, some brave men have done a lot more for our country than others, I say, God Bless them.
      Personally I do not want to disappoint Jesus with my life. I know I have at times failed miserably, but thank God He has forgiven me.

  9. Marcie Mathews says:

    If the early chruch started a new government and resisted the Romans I wonder what that would have done to their witness?
    As it was, we all benefited from thier stanch belief that their faith was more important that what the government did to them.

  10. Marcie Mathews says:

    You say "Am I free to have this interpretation?"
    I don't know, that's between you and God.
    I just think you're streaching your interruptations a bit too far, it's like a commentary gone wild.
    I'm a simple person and I would rather read God's word and let it speek to my heart as a "little child". I don't need all these great debates to fill my days.

  11. You support government but you say it's between me and God. This is a contradiction.

  12. Aaron says:

    "I'm a simple person and I would rather read God's word and let it speak to my heart as a "little child". I don't need all these great debates to fill my days."

     

    That is just about the most unbiblical view of how followers of Christ are to approach the Scriptures ever. Unfortunately, it is also a view that automatically prevents another follower of Christ from explaining why it is wrong because it has a built-in defense, namely, "I don't need to discuss this because I just let the Bible speak to me". This view is very young historically speaking (about 150-170 years), and would be considered heretical by just about every church father from the first century on.

     

    It is ironic that you would say this considering that your interpretation above is based (apparently by accident) on three principles of strong exegesis: 1) historical/cultural context 2) literary context, and 3) interpretive history...none of these things can be done by letting the bible "speak to me". Even if you pulled your interpretation from something you heard someone else say, you can be assured that someone at some point did the hard work for you...and you were lucky enough to hear this view and not one that someone just heard the Bible "speak to them".

    • Marcie Mathews says:

      I'm not saying I cannot discuss the Bible. I only meant that I read it for myself in that I don't need a pile of commentaries to tell me what to believe. I trust the word and I stand on the word as the foundation for my faith. And I come to it as a little child as Jesus told us to.

  13. Marcie Mathews says:

    Wait a darn second. Did you really just suggest that Jesus submitted to Pilate's authority concerning life and death? Is that a typo?
    You said, "Wait a darn second. Did you really just suggest that Jesus submitted to Pilate's authority concerning life and death? Is that a typo?" No, it is no typo.

    I don't see your issue on what I said here.

    Of course Pilate was involved with Jesus's death.
    God used Pilate in his authority in order to bring about God's ultimate will, purpose and good.

    But again, that's yours and mine issue from the start of this dialoge.

    I believe God is in contol in all of these things. Just like a flower needs air, rain, soil, sunshine as well as the ability to grow that are all provided by God.

    We people indeed have a role in what happens and that is why God warned: "These things will happen but woe unto him from whom they come"

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