Submission to Whom?
Paul’s letter to the Romans has important teaching about the role of civil government sandwiched within a discussion about the meaning of love. At the end of Romans 12, Paul is expounding Jesus message about “turning the other cheek”. He explains that we must not use force against those who harm us, but wait on God to provide justice. We must overcome evil with
Paul then answers a question that he had probably been asked many times when talking on this topic. Does the injunction to turn the other cheek apply to the civil authorities? Was Jesus saying that they should turn the other cheek to those who break the law instead of punishing them? Was Jesus advocating absolute pacifism? Paul gives his answer to this important question in Romans 13:1-7. He then goes back to talking about love for the remainder of the chapter.
The heart of Paul’s message is that Christians should submit to civil authorities that have been instituted by
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (Rom 13:1,2).
This passage has been used to justify various forms of political control. The common argument is that Paul was writing to the church in the Rome at a time when Nero was Caesar. If a terrible ruler like Nero was instituted by God, then all forms of political power are justified and Christians must submit to whatever political authority they face.
The problem with this argument is that it does not define the “governing authorities” that Paul is writing about. The entire passage has been badly translated into English. Almost every English version has been translated in a way that gives the greatest possible power to political leaders. This is odd given that we are supposed to be submitted to God and that Paul was in trouble with the political authorities throughout his ministry. The assumption that Paul is commanding us to submit to every political authority including dictators and tyrants is
The Powers that Be
Before we can understand Paul’s teaching about the civil authority, we must answer a basic question: who are the civil authorities that he is writing about? I believe that Paul is only referring to judges. His teaching about submission does not apply to other political powers. There are several reasons why this is true.The essential key to understanding Paul’s message about civil authority is in Romans 13:1, where Paul
The authorities that be have been established by God
This rather odd expression “the authorities that be” refers back to Deut 19:17, for which a literal translation refers to “the judges
which shall be in those days.” This link has been missed, because we do not love the law, so have not connected Romans and Deuteronomy. When Paul says that the “authorities that be” have been established by God, he is speaking about judges only. He is not talking about politicians, parliaments, emperors or
This is an extremely important principle. We are only required to submit to righteous judges. Romans 13 does not give a blanket authority to political power in all its forms, Paul is simply confirming the Old Testament principle that government by judges is the best way. This is the system of government that has been established by God.
When considering the expression “governing authorities”, we should note that the word “governing” is not in the Greek text. The word that is often translated as governing is “huperecho” can mean “superior in rank”, but it also has a strong sense of “excellence”. Paul used the same word in Phil 3:8, when speaking of the “surpassing greatness” of knowing Christ. Paul is actually saying that we should submit to “excellent judges”. This gives us a choice about submitting. We are only required to submit to those judges who have demonstrated
he word authority (exousia) is used four times in the first two verses of Romans 13. It has a broad meaning, ranging from freedom to ruler to judge. Exousia is used for the authority that was given to Jesus (Matt 28:10) and for spiritual authorities (Eph 1:21; 6:12). One meaning of exousia is judge or magistrate. This is the way that it is translated in Luke 12:11. In Romans 13, exousia is authority that has been given by God to those who “implement his law”, so it must be referring to
Implementing the Law
Another key word is given the third verse of the chapter.
For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (Rom 13:3,4).
The word usually translated as “ruler” is “arkon”. English translations always choose the strongest possible translation, but this Greek word can also be translated as “judge” or “magistrate”. It is translated as judge in Luke 12:38. The context confirms that Paul is writing about submission to judges. The role of these authorities is to punish the wicked. This is something done by judges, not political leaders or military
We should also not that the word “authority” is plural. Paul is not talking about a single political leader. He is suggesting that we should submit to authorities (plural). Romans 13 is not about kings and parliaments, but confirms the Old Testament teaching of the role of judges. There will be many judges and authorities and we must submit to the excellent ones. This is consistent with the Old Testament, which always speaks of multiple judges (Ex 22:8,9, Deut 19:17,18;
Paul says that good people do not need to fear rulers.
For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you (Rom 13:3).
If Paul were speaking about all political authorities, this statement would be nonsense. All over the world and throughout history, good people have had terrible harm done to them by rulers. Kings and armies have pillaged and burned houses and farms without discrimination. In the Soviet Union, millions of good people were sent into exile and many were killed. Millions of innocent people were slaughtered in Communist China. Political powers have always been a source of terror for good people.
Democracy does not prevent the political powers from doing terrible harm to good people. After the London bombings, a man was shot dead by police while he walked onto a train. Tax authorities can make life miserable for innocent people. Paul cannot be speaking about all political power, when he says that they hold no terror for those who do right. In fact, the opposite is true. Modern political authorities have so much power that they are terror to good people.
Paul’s statement can only be true of excellent judges implementing God’s law. They have no power hurt good people and can only harm those who have broken God’s law. This is further confirmation that Paul is only commanding submission to judges. His statement cannot be true of other forms of political
All authority belongs to God.
There is no authority except that which God has established (Rom 13:1).
If all authority belongs to God, there cannot be another source of authority. There can only be delegated authority, but delegated authorities only have authority, while they are submitted to their superior authority. If they claim an independent authority, their legitimacy disappears. If a king’s servant claims the right to make his own decisions, he is refusing to accept the authority of his
If all authority comes from God, then Caesar cannot have an independent authority. The same applies to a parliament. The only legitimate authority is one that acknowledges God’s authority and implements his law. Political powers that claim sovereignty and an independent authority are in rebellion against God’s authority. Any institution that creates its own law is usurping the authority of God. To be legitimate, a political power must apply God’s law in every situation. The only legitimate government is righteous judges applying God’s
We have totally misunderstood Paul’s message. He is not saying that we should submit to parliaments, kings and emperors. The real implication of his message is exactly the opposite. These so-called authorities are in rebellion against God, because they are refusing to apply God’s laws, but are trying to establish their own laws. The role of parliament is to create laws, so by definition, they are illegitimate. Being law-givers, they have become law breakers. A parliament that acknowledged God’s authority would have to vote itself out of existence and hand its power over to anointed
Paul says judges “bear the sword” (Rom 13;4). The sword is a symbol of punishment. This is a confirmation of the Old Testament teaching that judges have the power of coercion. They do not need to turn the other cheek, but are required to punish those who break the law. This can only be done by using force.This passage is not a justification of absolute political authority or democratic political powers. It is a confirmation of the role of judges as developed in the books of the law. God instituted rule by law which must include enforcement by judges. This is the authority that was instituted by God.
Paul warns that resisting what God has instituted is dangerous. This is a challenging thought. We think that a Parliament is better than a King, but neither is instituted by God. A parliament puts the law of the people above God’s law. A king put his own laws above God’s law. So any nation that is ruled by a king or a parliament is “is rebelling against what God has instituted” and will “bring judgment on themselves”.
A more detailed study of Romans 13 can be found
Only One King
A kingdom can only have one king. If God is King then all other kings must stop being kings. If God is lawgiver, then other law givers will have to find something else to do. If they are unwilling to become judges applying God’s law, they are usurpers and rebels.Unfortunately, Christians have failed understood this message and have twisted the scriptures to give a justification to kings and parliaments who have set themselves up in opposition to God.
Peter’s comments about political rulers in his letter are often misunderstood, because the context is ignored. Whereas Paul is giving basic principles of life, Peter is writing to Christians about practical living in a hostile
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world.... Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds.… (1 Pet
He says that Christians who are ruled by kings and dictators should submit to the political powers for the sake of peace.
Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers… that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men (1 Pet 2:13-14
Peter is not describing God’s will for government, as Paul does in Romans 13. He is explaining to Christians how to should live under a hostile government. He is not teaching about God’s ideal. The contrast with Paul’s teaching is interesting. Whereas Paul says that judges are instituted by God, Peter is very clear that kings and governors are instituted by man (the ordinance of man). The word translated as ordinance is a derivative of the word for “create”, so kings and governors are the creation of man. The reason for the different attitude is that Peter is describing life under an ungodly government, whereas Paul is confirming God’s ideal government (just as he describes how Christians should respond to bad people in Romans
The Greek word that Peter uses for governor is “hegemon”, which is not a positive word like "judge". (We should also note that governors are sent by the king and not by God as some translations
Kings and governors exist and they have real political power, so fighting against them is pointless. Since Christians have very little choice, they should submit to kings and “hegemons” for the sake of peace and to gain freedom for God’s work. Peter is being a realist, but he is not saying that political rulers are instituted by God. We might have to submit to them to survive, but submitting to a king or a parliament is not the same as submitting to God. They are the creation of man, so their power has been stolen from
Christians should not attract unnecessary attention, by trying to overthrow the government, but should submit to it, so they can get on with preaching the gospel. We do not need to start a revolution against emperors or parliaments, because our gospel is revolutionary. As more and more people at converted and give their allegiance to Jesus, the power of kings and rulers will gradually leak away. The gospel undermined and defeated the Roman empire, so it can destroy any political power. Powerful preaching of the gospel supported by prayer will be more effective than any revolution.
Peter encouraged Christians to be clear about what they are doing. Although they are submitting to political rulers for pragmatic reasons, they must guard our freedom, so that we can continue to serve God.
Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God (1 Pet 2:16).
If God required us to submit to evil rulers, then we would not be free. However, Peter is advocating voluntary submission. The distinction is important, because a person who submits voluntarily remains free to disobey when the need arises. For example, Pete mostly ignored the political authorities, but if they prevented him from do God’s work he refused to obey
And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:18-20).
Peter advocated voluntary submission to political powers, but he never forgot that serving God takes priority. A Christian should not draw unnecessary attention from the political authorities.
If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler (1 Pet 4:14,15).
Christians should try to stay out of trouble with the state, so they can be free to get on with God’s work.Honour the King
We must honour the king, but surprise, surprise, we are required to honour everyone. The king is not worthy of special honour.
Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king (1 Pet 2:17 NASB).
We should love other Christians and we must fear God, but we are not required to love or fear the king. The king is below God and our Christian friends, but on the same level as other people. We should honour the king, but no more than we would honour any one else.
I am to submit to my Christian brethren, but I am not required to submit to all people. I am not require to submit to a king or hegemon.
Praying for Kings
The scriptures tell us to pray for kings, but that does not mean they are appointed by God.
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Tim
The word used for authority is not the same word as Paul used in Romans. The word here is “huperoché”, which means to be placed above. Kings have placed themselves above us, but they do not have authority in the same sense as a judge who is applying God’s
We pray for kings so we can live in peace and have freedom to share the gospel, but our prayers do not make them God’s people. We can pray for members of parliament, but that does not mean that they are God’s servants in the same way as judges. Their authority is not authority from
We pray for Kings because God is greater than they are. He was able to bring down Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler of Babylon and one of the most powerful emperors that have ever existed (Dan 4). God decides the times and boundaries of the nations (Acts 17:26), but this does not mean that kings, dictators and parliaments are appointed by him.
Servants of God
Judges who apply God’s law are his servants.
For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (Rom 13:4).
God has given us his law, but he cannot implement it himself. He needs servants to do this for him. Excellent judges are as much his servants as pastors and apostles (Eph 4:12).
Jesus stated clearly that we cannot be a servant of two masters.
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other (Matt 6:24).
Most modern judges serve a king or a parliament. There loyalty is either to one man or the entire people as represented by their parliament. However, a judge cannot serve two masters. A judge serving a democracy cannot be serving God. God is needs judges who will serve him alone.
Paul summarises these principles in his letter to Titus.
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good (Tit 3:1).
Rulers and judges are “arkon’ and “exousia”, so Paul is urging people to submit to judges and magistrates. This is another confirmation that God’s government consists of judges and magistrates applying biblical law.Achieving this goal will require most people to believe in Jesus. However punishing theft, assault and murder will make sense to most people, so judges who apply God’s law would be acceptable to people who do not believe in
Payment of Judges
An important issue for Christians is the payment of judges. If judges are God’s servants do they have authority to impose taxes for their support? The answer is a loud “No”. In a godly society, being a judge will be a part-time work. Most local communities will not have enough cases to occupy a full-time judge. Judges will be able to earn their living by pursuing another career. If a case is complicated and involves a lot of work for the judge, litigants might be requested to pay costs. The biblical principle that a workman is worthy of his wages would apply (1 Tim 6:18). Appeal judges hearing a log cases might also need payment for their work. The person causing the case and the person benefiting would have a responsibility to cover the costs of the
As the kingdom of God expands, the incidence of crime will decline and there will be less work for judges. Sometimes some of the people of a community might decide to pay a good judge a retainer so that they might always have a judge that they trust available to hear cases when they arise. This would give the judge time to study God’s law and keep update with decision being made by other judges. Any contributions to the retainer would be voluntary and should not give those who pay any benefits in terms of justice. This principle of voluntary payments to judges is confirmed in
For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor (Rom 13:6,7
This passage also states that judges are God’s servant. The thing that they are “attending continually” is the punishment of law
The work translated as “taxes” is phoros, which has the root meaning “burden”. I find it ironic that a word for burden is translated as tax. Paul is actually making a play on words. He had earlier said that judges carry the “burden” of the sword (Rom 13:4). Their burden is a responsibility to provide justice to everyone without fear or favour. This gives Christians a burden to ensure that they are supported in this work, especially if they are attending to this work
The meaning of the word phoros has a strong sense of compensation. The Roman Empire required a phoros from every province as compensation for providing defence. So when Paul is saying we must pay the burden, he is saying that we must compensate judges for providing justice for us.
Valuation of a Judge
The word “render” literally means “give back”, and includes a strong sense of repayment or paying back. Paul does not give judges the right to impose taxes, but he does give Christians responsibility to support their judges. He is commanding them to pay the judge for the benefits they receive through having a good system of justice. Judges cannot decide what they are worth to the people of the community. Only the people can decide what value they place on justice. They are the only ones who can decide what they
Some people may decide they do not care about judges and pay nothing. Most will decide that good justice is worth having and make a contribution, just as most people freely pay for fire insurance. They will hope that they will not need a judge, but they will be willing to pay a small amount to ensure that a good judge is there when they need one.
At the end of verse 7, we are told to honour those to whom honour is due. God does not expect us to worship any human. The Greek word is translated as honour is “timé”. The root meaning of this word is “price”. The basic meaning of the verb is to “set a price” or “determine the value” of an object. The idea of honour is derived from this concept of valuation. So Paul is not commanding us to honour judges in the modern sense of the word, but to evaluate a judge and decide what he is worth. We should be making a payment to a judge based on what we perceive that he is worth. This links back to the idea in of submit to the excellent judges at the beginning of the
A judge or authority should not decide what he is worth. Citizens will decide themselves what the judge is worth. Judges cannot impose taxes, but they should be paid what they are worth to their community. All taxation is voluntary so it ceases to be a tax. It is a burden we owe to those who have provided justice to us. Paul concludes his teaching on civil government by saying.
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law (Rom 13:8).
Render to Caesar
Jesus stated the same principle when confronted by the Jews.
They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: "Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
He saw through their duplicity and said to them, "Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?" "Caesar's," they replied. He said to them, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent. (Luke 20:20-26).
This incident has caused a lot of confusion. The usual interpretation is that Caesar’s image and name on the coin proves that he owns it, so it must be give back to him if he asks for it. This is economic nonsense. An image on a coin proves nothing. New Zealand five dollar notes have a picture of Edmund Hilary, the first person to climb Mount Everest. To suggest that he owns every five dollar note is absurd. The coin that Jesus looked at belong to the person who had given it, unless it was stolen, and then it belonged to the person it was stolen from. It did not belong to
Jesus was telling the people to pay to Caesar what they owed him. Caesar had provided them with a service by minting coins. Having a coinage that was accepted through the world was a benefit for those engaged in trade, so they owed him something for that service. Rome may have provided roads that were beneficial to their communities. Maybe Caesar also provided some justice services (I am not sure how much), so they owed him something for that. Caesar had not defended them, so they owed him nothing for defence.
By way of contrast, everything does belong to God, so we must submit everything to him. Jesus had declared over and over again that all authority belongs to God. Even the Son of God must submit to the authority of God. Since all authority belongs to God, so we must submit to God in everything him. This applies to Caesar as well as to ordinary people. Caesar must give to God, everything that belongs to him. A political power cannot be above God in anything.
Jesus statement about giving to Caesar has been used to develop a theory that Jesus rules the church and the spiritual life and that political powers control the political and economic dimension of life. This is nonsense. Jesus could not assign authority over the political dimension to Caesar, because all authority belongs to God. He could not give authority to make laws to political dictators or parliaments, because God is our law maker and has already given us the law that we need. God is not interested in power-sharing with Caesar, or any other political authority.
When Jesus said to give to Caesar what belongs to him, he was not giving Cesar authority over secular life. He was not legitimising political power. He was simply restating the biblical principle that stealing is wrong. If the people had accepted a service from Caesar, they owed him payment. If he had taken more than he had given, they owned him nothing.
Jesus told people to “give” Caesar what they owed him. He did not say paying tax was compulsory. Giving is a voluntary concept. If something is taken by force, it is not given. If someone steals your car, you do not say “I gave it to the thief”. We must choose to give, or it is not giving. Jesus told us to give what we owe to Caesar. This confirms that he was talking about something voluntary and not compulsory payment of taxes. Jesus was teaching that all payments to the state are
Failure to pay taxes is not a crime. There is no punishment specified in the Old Testament law for failure to pay either tax or tithe. Restitution can only be enforced when a person has stolen something that belongs to another or has breached a contract to make a payment. We do not have a contract with the state, so we only owe payment for what we have personally asked the state to provide. A state that demands payment of taxes is like a mail order company sending out unsolicited goods and demanding payment for them. Because the person receiving the goods has not entered into a contract to buy them, they do not owe anything.
Jesus and Tax
An interesting incident occurred when Jesus came to Capernaum.
The collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" "Yes, he does," he replied.
When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?" "From others," Peter
Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours." (Matt 17:24-27).
Peter made the mistake of speaking for Jesus without checking with him first, so he had to put things right. Jesus made two important points. The first was that the sons of kings do not pay tax. This referred back to the practice during the time of King Saul (1 Samuel 17:25). Jesus is a son of the King of the universe so he does not have to pay tax an earthly power.
When Jesus ascended into heaven he became our king and we became sons of the king. As sons of the true king, Christians are not required to pay tax to a king. We cannot serve to kings. If we accept Jesus as our king, we cannot serve another king by acknowledging his right to impose taxes.
Jesus second point was that at times it is better to keep the peace than to stand on your rights. He chose to pay the tax voluntarily to avoid embarrassing Peter. Christians will sometimes choose to pay taxes to political powers, because they do not want to get distracted from their work for God. When they pay tax they are following Jesus example. They are not morally obliged to pay the tax, but they will pay up to avoid unnecessary offence. For Christians, payments to political powers are voluntary. We are only required to pay for services that we have received.
Taxation is theft
Modern governments face a problem. If tax rates are set too high, people stop trying to earn more and the government loses revenue. To resolve this problem, economists have put considerable effort into designing efficient taxation systems. An efficient tax is one that collects as much revenue as possible without changing behaviour. This effort is misguided, as taxation has nothing to do with efficiency, but is a moral issue.
Here is a key moral question. What gives governments the authority to take money from people without their consent? If an individual or business takes something from another person without permission, they have committed a theft. Taking another persons money is stealing, which is morally wrong. Even if I take a rich person’s money to give it to someone who is poor, most people would consider that I have stolen
People believe that they should be able to do what they like with their own money, provided they do not commit a crime. If someone wants to give away their money that is fine, but giving away another person’s money is wrong. Why does this not apply to
Governments seem to operate under a different set of rules. We allow governments to tax as much money as they like and do what they like with it without protesting or resisting. If person or business treated us in this way we would all be screaming about theft. Yet we happily allow government’s to a third of our income and spend it on programmes we do want and people we do not like. Why is this
Some political scientists talk about a social contract that we have made with the state. However this contract has never existed. I have never entered into a contract with the state.
Others suggest that democracy confers on governments the authority to tax. However, the fact that a government is elected does not mean it has authority to impose taxes on anyone, as they may have voted against it. The most that can be said is that a democratic government might have authority to tax those who voted for it. However even this will not do, as many who vote for a government might not have supported its tax policy. Or they might have voted to avoid a worse option.
Everything we own belongs to God. By giving the government authority to take our wealth, we are making it into a god. The corollary is that we expect the government to provide full salvation. However, most governments are a poor imitation of the true God.
Nothing in the scriptures allows governments to impose compulsory taxes. The biblical tithe is sometimes used to justify taxation, but the tithe was voluntary. Compulsory taxation cannot be justified from the bible. Taxation is theft.
The best protection against tyranny is voluntary taxation. Governments become powerful, because they have greater resources than any other institution in society. The power of taxation is the source of their enormous resources and power. If governments lose the power to tax, they also lose their power. People will only make voluntary tax payment to the government, if they support its policies (a more accurate way of voting). If the government starts doing things that are not supported, their tax base will dry up. Before they can start on a new programme of spending, they will have to persuade their citizens to pay for it. The state becomes another business offering services to those who will pay the price.
The greatest danger in a society where the only government is godly judges is that a judge might try to take on an expanded role. The most important constraint against judges expanding their power will be their inability to impose taxes. The people will just withdraw their financial support for that judge. If a judge were to attempt to collect compulsory taxation using the enforcers they employ to collect restitution, the people could take a case of theft to another judge. The judge with big ideas would be labelled as a thief and would quickly lose their credibility. They would no longer be able to act as a judge.
Voluntary taxation is the best protection against tyranny. It may not prevent it completely, but if the ruler imposing compulsory taxation is portrayed as thief, they will not last long. A modern government can enforce taxation, because it is seen as saviour when it is really a thief. We must dispel that myth to obtain freedom.