USA (PT) – One of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted passages from the New Testament is Romans 13:1-7. Oftentimes, it is used to justify subservience to government; usually when it’s a form of government or the political party in power that is in line with the beliefs of the person in question. They remain silent, though, when it is a form of government or political party in power with whom they disagree. We see this now with Evangelical Christians saying that God put Trump into power and so Trump should be supported; yet those same people were actively opposed to President Obama and never told the people that God placed him in power. If they were consistent in their interpretation of Romans 13, then they would say the same thing about all US Presidents, regardless of their political party, and about all world governments. Their interpretation would literally put an end to all US-backed wars and regime changes, since such actions would fly in the face of the above mentioned passage.
The reason why this passage from the Bible is so widely misused and misunderstood is because of, mainly, faulty translations and biased advocacy by pastors and pundits who claim to be Christians. For example, we often see the New International Version (NIV) translation of Romans 13 being used, which states:
Let everyone be subject 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, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 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 you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
The New Living Translation, the second most popular English translation of the Bible, says:
Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.
Well, what an opened-and-closed case. I mean, it mentions governing authorities and taxes; says that those authorities are established by God, and that rebelling against said authority is rebelling against God. Clearly, it is wrong for any Christian to be a libertarian, or, actually, to question the motives of the world leaders; any of them. Even if a government or leader is committing injustices, it is wrong to rebel against that; the government in power was placed there by God. So, not only are Democrats wrong for opposing Trump, but also, as I stated earlier, it would be wrong for Republicans to oppose a Democratic president. Right? Essentially, this interpretation absolves any government or leader from any culpability, makes rebellion wrong, and makes the State, essentially, a god itself.
Is Romans 13:1-7 really that cut-and-dried? Fortunately, the answer is no. As I mentioned previously, these are faulty translations, which clearly have a political motive behind them. They are a product of an unholy marriage between the State and the Religious Establishment. Think of Judea during the time of Jesus, and how the Roman State had wed itself with the Jewish religious authorities to create a monstrosity. The only marriage that God has is with the Body of Christ, the Church, the body of believers, which Scripture refers to as the Bride (Rev. 19:7), the Lamb’s Wife (Rev. 21:9), and refers to God as the Husband (Isaiah 54:4).
So, what does the Bible actually say? What is Romans 13 really about? The answer can be easily found by simply going back to the original Greek language of the New Testament. To many, that may sound like a daunting task, but it’s really not. The internet puts all this information at our fingertips. One can access this by going to the King James Version + Strong’s Concordance found on Bible Hub. It is a great tool to check the original Greek and Hebrew of the Bible. Doing so can alleviate a lot of confusion, especially on tough verses. Here’s what it has to say:
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.
On the surface, this seems to uphold the belief of those who think that God places governments in authority, and that rebelling against them is wicked. This is why we need to look further into it. I won’t go into a ton of detail, so as to not overburden or bore the reader, but I’d like to touch on a few of the words used.
In the first verse, it states, “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.” Is this referring to government authority? No. When we check Strong’s Concordance, we see that the word used for “powers” is the Greek exousia, which means:
(a) power, authority, weight, especially: moral authority, influence, (b) in a quasi-personal sense, derived from later Judaism, of a spiritual power, and hence of an earthly power.
Further down under the definition, it goes on to state:
In the NT, 1849 /eksousía (“delegated power”) refers to the authority God gives to His saints – authorizing them to act to the extent they are guided by faith (His revealed word).
So, from the very start of this passage, we see that the power to which is being referred is a spiritual power. The verses are literally about the spiritual authority of the Church, the Body of Believers, not the modern abomination known as churches, buildings of brick and stone. When reading this passage in proper context, the rest of it makes much more sense.
Verse three refers to “rulers.” Does this mean government authorities? Absolutely not. Again, I invoke the context of the passage, but also refer you to Strong’s Concordance and the original Greek:
Archón: a ruler, governor, leader, leading man; with the Jews, an official member (a member of the executive) of the assembly of elders.
A member of the assembly of elders, meaning those in the Church who are elder members. It’s about deferring to those with more experience and understanding in the Church. It’s about discipleship. So, in this passage, Paul is writing that Christians need to obey the spiritual authority of the Church, to abide by what God, the Bible, the Church, and the elders say. God set spiritual rules in place, and rebelling against them is, quite literally, rebelling against God.
Now, some will say, “But, wait, it mentions taxes in verses six and seven.” Again, it says so in those manipulated translations. The word the KJV uses is “tribute.” So, let us look to the original Greek once more:
Phoros: a tax, tribute, especially on persons.
Yes, the word can mean a tax, when used in a secular sense; but it also means tribute. The root word of phoros is the Greek pheró, a verb meaning “to bear, carry, bring forth.” A tribute is that which is brought forth by someone to something or someone else. So, does this refer to a government tax or something else? If we look at the original context, which I have pointed out is key in understanding this passage, we can undeniably say that it has nothing to do with a government tax. What it is actually referring to is paying tribute to the Church, or giving voluntary donations to it; as it is commonly called, a tithe. This is made even more evident when reading verse 6 which states,
“For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers”
The Elders of the Church are God’s ministers, or servants, from the Greek leitourgos; the actual definition of which is “a minister, servant, of an official character; of priests and Levites.” This is to whom we are to pay tribute; the ones which verse seven says to give “tribute to whom tribute ,” not the government.
From all of this, we can easily surmise that Romans 13 is about the spiritual authority of the Church and its elders, and not about any secular governments. Anyone who says otherwise is seeking to lead you astray, or has been easily led astray themselves. They believed what they were taught without doing the research themselves.
In closing, I’ll leave you with these words from Christ:
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents…” – Matthew 10:16
“He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” – Mark 4:9
Editor’s note: This article was published with the idea that you shouldn’t allow yourself to be brainwashed by any authority. The religious opinions therein do not necessarily reflect that of my own, nor The Pontiac Tribune. It is also not in the best interest of PT to judge the author or withhold this article based on religious beliefs that are not held by the other staff. In short… It’s up to you as the reader to discern the text.
This article was prepared by Joshua Stewart for The Pontiac Tribune.