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Romans Chapter 13 – Which Power?

Painting by Malczewski Jacek, Render unto Caesar
Painting by Malczewski Jacek, Render unto Caesar

 

This is the third in a series of articles on the subject of “Leadership, Authority and Submission”. The first article was entitled Jesus – The Chief Shepherd. It discussed the often misapplication of 1 Samuel 15:22-23. The second article was entitled The Hebrews 13:17 Dilemma.

What do the scriptures have to say about the subjects of authority and submission? Well, Jesus had a lot to say about spiritual leadership. He said that leaders in the church should be servants. Christian leaders should not act as gentiles who “lord it over” people. A good example of this principle is found in Matthew chapter 20.

Matthew 20:25-28 (KJV) – “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. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

What the scriptures reveal is that authority in the church is very different from authority in the world. Church leaders must first and foremost be servants. In Matthew chapter 20 we see Jesus making reference to Gentile rulers. At this time, Israel was occupied by the Roman army and its’ system of regional government. The Romans had set up an elaborate command structure with multiple levels of authority. The Jews hated the Romans and desired to throw off the yoke of Roman government and oppression. Jesus was discouraging His followers from developing authority structures that were like Rome.

Authority and Submission – Misapplied Scriptures

In my experience these are the Bible passages and issues regarding authority and submission that have been misunderstood and misused within the Christian church:

  • 1 Samuel 15:22-23
  • Hebrews 13:17
  • Romans Chapter 13
  • 1 Peter 5:5
  • Psalms 105:15
  • Shepherding Movement
  • Exodus 19:12

These passages are often taken out of context and misused. Misused in that there is no attempt to study the meaning of each scripture. There’s no attempt to look at the whole body of scripture that deals with the subject of authority and submission within the church. Concordances, commentaries and translations other than the King James Version (KJV) are never consulted or studied. Whether done out of ignorance or malice, the word of God is never rightly divided. The next passages that cause confusion are found in Romans chapter 13.   Open your Bibles and commentaries with me as we explore what the scriptures reveal!

Romans Chapter 13 – Which Power?

Romans 13:1-2 (KJV) – “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.”

Romans 13:6 (KJV) – “For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.”

Here in Romans chapter thirteen Paul is advising the Jewish Christians in Rome to submit to the governing civil authorities. Romans chapter thirteen is NOT about submission to church leaders. Paul is warning them not to withhold their taxes or becoming involved in any anti-Roman protests.

Romans chapter thirteen in the King James Version can be misleading to us English speakers today. To find the meaning of these verses, it is essential to study other Bible translations as well as commentaries. For example, other translations such as the New King James Version (NKJV), New International Version (NIV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and the English Standard Version (ESV), use the term “governing authorities” in the place of “higher powers”. The “higher powers” or “governing authorities” are not religious leaders but civil authorities.

The Tribute Money by Gustave Dore
The Tribute Money by Gustave Dore

Pay Tribute to Who?

What makes this even clearer is that the “tribute” in Romans chapter thirteen verse six refers to “taxes” paid to a civil government. It has absolutely nothing to do with the giving of tithes and offerings. Again translations such as the NKJV, NIV, NRSV and the ESV render the word “tribute”, used in the King James Version as “taxes”.

Let’s look at what Bible commentaries have to say about Romans chapter thirteen:

Adam Clarke’s Commentary – “For, as civil government is established in the order of God for the support, defense, and happiness of society, they who transgress its laws, not only expose themselves to the penalties assigned by the statutes, but also to guilt in their own consciences, because they sin against God. For this cause pay ye tribute also—Because civil government is an order of God, and the ministers of state must be at considerable expense in providing for the safety and defense of the community, it is necessary that those in whose behalf these expenses are incurred should defray that expense; and hence nothing can be more reasonable than an impartial and moderate taxation, by which the expenses of the state may be defrayed, and the various officers, whether civil or military, who are employed for the service of the public, be adequately remunerated. All this is just and right, but there is no insinuation in the apostle’s words in behalf of an extravagant and oppressive taxation, for the support of unprincipled and unnecessary wars; or the pensioning of corrupt or useless men. The taxes are to be paid for the support of those who are God’s ministers—the necessary civil officers, from the king downwards, who are attending CONTINUALLY on this very thing. And let the reader observe, that by God’s ministers are not meant here the ministers of religion, but the civil officers in all departments of the state.

Romans Verse-by-Verse Commentary – “The authorities in power are the civil authorities ordained of God into whose hands God has committed external human government.”

Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans Commentary – “Christians learn at present from this passage the will of God respecting their duty to civil government, just as those to whom this Epistle was addressed. It is true that there is an innumerable variety of differences in circumstances; but this is nothing to the purpose. The things taught in these Epistles are in all circumstances duty. The Roman Christians were under a despotism, and those who read this Epistle may live under a free government. But the duty of obedience is in both cases the same. The powers are under both equally to be obeyed. It is of the utmost moment that Christians, under all forms of government, should have a rule concerning their duty to civil government clear and precise. Such a rule we have here laid down.

Conclusion

Romans chapter 13 contains a number of passages that have traditionally been misunderstood.  The “higher powers” mentioned in Romans 13:1-2 are NOT Pastors or other religious leaders but the powers of the civil governments that we are all under.  The “tribute” mentioned in Romans 13:6 are not referring to tithes and offerings but civil taxes that are required to be paid to a government.

This is the third in a series of articles on the subject of “Leadership, Authority and Submission” within the Church. The articles focus on the misuse of scriptures that relate to this subject. The first article was entitled Jesus – The Chief Shepherd. The second article discussed the confusion surrounding Hebrews 13:17. The next article will focus on the passages in I Peter 5:5.

Ron

Managing Editor at Scripture Revealed
I’ve studied and taught the good news of Jesus Christ and His kingdom since 1985. My goal is to reveal the biblical truths I’ve come to see through prayer and study. I believe that the scriptures are revealed to those that study and rightly divide the "Word of Truth.”
Ron

Latest posts by Ron (see all)

Ron

I’ve studied and taught the good news of Jesus Christ and His kingdom since 1985. My goal is to reveal the biblical truths I’ve come to see through prayer and study. I believe that the scriptures are revealed to those that study and rightly divide the "Word of Truth.”

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