AN EXPOSITION OF ROMANS 13:1-7
THE CHRISTIAN AND CIVIL AUTHORITIES
This exposition is designed first to set out the Apostle Paul's teaching on the relationship between Christians and civil authorities, and then to examine its contemporary application for Christians using the clearest New Testament text, Romans 13:1-7. This passage contains general commands for both Christians and non-Christians. Paul reasons that obedience is required as civil authorities have been ordained by God (13:1b-2) and because civil rulers are responsible to maintain civic order (13:3-4). Two motivations for obedience are the avoidance of wrath and the maintenance of a good conscience (13:5). Finally, the obligations of obedience are discussed (13:6-7). It is concluded that Romans 13:1-7 is just as applicable today as it was in Paul's time. The Bible is a book whose purposes are to tell us who God is and what He is like, that we are sinners in need of forgiveness, and that Jesus Christ became a man and died for our sins so that we might be forgiven and have eternal life. It is not primarily a book about political and social theory. However, that does not mean that the Bible has nothing to say about political ethics. Quite to the contrary, the subject of civil government is discussed widely in both the Old and New Testaments. Government is a part of God's providence, a fact of biblical history, and an important factor in the outworking of biblical prophecy.
The clearest New Testament text on the relationship between the Christian and civil government is Romans 13:1-7. While it is not the only passage that discusses the issue, it is a coherent and carefully constructed argument on this topic. Paul reasons that God is firmly in control of human history, and that no one comes to a place of leadership without God's permission. Civil government is not a human invention, but of divine origin. Therefore, Christians are to submit to those in authority. Rulers then are established by God (v. 1) as His servants (v. 4). They have a special dignity, but are also in a position that puts them under God.
This understanding of the state has been widely criticized, and it has also been mistakenly used as justification for tyrants and the Christians' obligation to obey them. Some Germans used this text to support absolute obedience to the Third Reich in Germany. It was also used in the defense of apartheid in South Africa. These are just two of the most recent attempts to justify evil regimes through appeal to Paul and Romans.
Much of the literature on this text has to do with matters that are outside the scope of this paper. Some of these issues include whether this is genuinely Pauline or not, what is the origin of this teaching about the State, what historical situation in Rome was the occasion of this passage, whether there are parallels in Jewish, pagan, or Christian literature, as well as lexical studies of various words in the text. Each of these has its value, although one can often do little more than speculate about what the answer is. first let us set out Paul's teaching on civil authorities and then examine its contemporary application. ROMANS 13:1-7 AND ITS CONTEXT
Romans 13:1-7 is a part of a group of exhortations which begins in chapter 12 and ends in chapter 15. There are those who think that it is an intrusion into the context. Some have even suggested that it was a later addition by someone other than Paul. These speculations are entirely unnecessary. It is true that these verses appear quite abruptly without any explicit syntactical connection to what precedes them and that 13:8-10 make good sense if they followed 12:9-21. However, it may be that Paul's teaching about the character of this world is just the reason that he includes 13:1-7. Because a new era is coming, some may be tempted to reject every societal institution including civil government. Moreover, there may be an extreme attitude which rejects...
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