Copyright © July 16, 2012
Click here to go to “Self-exam Questions: Let Every Soul Be Subject unto the Higher Powers? Romans 13
[To be added when time permits]
Links to all chapters of “Render Unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related verses” is at the bottom of this article.
Jerald Finney’s audio teaching on Romans 13
To download right click link to audio and left click “Save link as…”
Romans 13:3-4: “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.” God, in these verses and many others in the Bible, lays down the jurisdictional boundaries of civil government. Romans 13 and other portions of the Bible limit civil government, and give directions for the believer’s behavior within that jurisdiction.
No born-again believer who has studied the issue can reasonably believe that Romans 13 or any Scripture supports total submission by believers and churches to civil government in all things or in all matters except perhaps a decree that would prevent Christians from preaching the Gospel. As this article will show, The Old and New Testament contain many accounts of violtations of civil government and religious laws by God’s people, including such disobedience by the apostles. By acting thus, these people violated the false teaching that Romans 13 requires submission to civil government in all matters; nonetheless, Romans 13.1 is often taken out of context by some “Christians” to support that position. Neither the verses immediately preceding or following Romans 13.1, nor the rest of the Bible are considered by those who promote a violation of the true meaning of Romans 13. The author challenges one who believes that the Bible teaches such submission to civil government to study the issue and show him where he is wrong.
The Bible teaches the Supreme hierarchy of law, not the hierarchy found in state and federal law in which is declared that the United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land with the hierarchy descending down to local laws and ordinances. God is the Supreme judge, lawgiver, and king. His law is the Supreme law. Below His law is the law of civil government. After all, He ordained civil government and laid down the parameters thereof. Thus, the local, State, and United States Constitutions and laws are below the law of God. Therefore, any Constitutional provisions or laws which are not in line with God’s principles and laws are illegal and the Highest law is to be observed at all costs; for the believer to do otherwise results in the loss of his liberty. See First Amendment Protection of New Testament Churches/Federal Laws Protecting State Churches (Religious Organizations) for more information on the hierarchy of law and also on true liberty; one may also listen to Jerald Finney’s lecture on “Hierarchy of Law” to gain more understanding of this matter.
Romans 13.1-7 says:
“1 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. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 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: 4 For he is a 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 a minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.”
Americans are witnessing the proliferation of civil government use of pastors, Christians in general, and churches to address problems, disasters, and emergencies. When that happens, those pastors, Christians, and churches are required by civil government to violate certain biblical principles. Romans 13 is used more than any other verse to justify such cooperation. In addition, other verses are, to a lesser degree, utilized out of context to support submission to civil government in every conceivable way (To fully understand the issue of separation of church and state, see God Betrayed, Part One which is also in the process of being reproduced on the on this website (“Separation of Church and State Law.”)). Indeed, believers, of all people, should be there to help others in times of disaster or need, but not under the auspices of civil government. Of course, everyone, including the believer, is and should be subject to civil government with regard to those matters within its God-given jurisdiction.
Both church and state should submit to God and His principles. The Bible lays out the jurisdiction and duties of both the the church and civil government, and makes clear that church and state are to be separated. It is wrong to believe that individuals and churches should work under, with, or over civil government for at least two reasons. First, to believe that Romans 13, 1 Peter 2.13, and 1 Timothy 2.1-6 teach blind obedience by individuals and by churches to civil government would make those verses inconsistent with the biblical teaching concerning the hierarchy of law (See “Laws Protecting New Testament Churches in the United States: Read Them for Yourself”) and separation of church and state. For example, Scripture tells us that the authors of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2.13 consistently violated these verses as wrongly interpreted by civil government and many “Christians.” Second, Romans 13 would be inconsistent within itself. The Word of God is never inconsistent.
Romans 13.1 first makes clear that every soul is to be subject to the higher powers. Thus, even human leaders, since they also have souls, are subject to a higher power. According to the Bible, God is the power higher than all other governments. As shown in Part One, Section I, of God Betrayed which is reproduced on the web at The Biblical Doctrine of Government, God ordains all governments, is above all governments, and lays out the jurisdiction of all governments. Man is to be subject to civil government concerning those earthly matters over which God has given civil government jurisdiction. According to Romans 13.3-4, civil government was ordained by God to be a minister of God to execute judgment over evil doers and to reward those who do good. Man is to be under God only, regardless of what the rules of civil government declare, concerning those spiritual matters for which God has retained jurisdiction for Himself.
Romans 13, consistent with Old and New Testament principles, proclaims the God-ordained purpose of civil government, and that God—the highest power—ordained and is over civil government. According to Romans 13.7, Christians are to render to civil government tribute, custom, fear, and honor—where due under the God-given jurisdiction of civil government.
Romans 13.3-4 and 1 Peter 2.13-14 lay out, consistent with the rest of Scripture, the God-given jurisdiction of civil government over man. In those verses, God grants civil governments jurisdiction over certain earthly, not spiritual, matters, and instructs man to do good and to refrain from doing evil. Many Christians point to those Scriptures and incorrectly declare: “That settles it. The Bible orders blind obedience to civil government in all matters, period;” or they proclaim that those verses require Christians to obey civil government in all things with the possible exception of the preaching of salvation.
Even with the establishment of the church, as recorded in the New Testament, God found it necessary to continue the institution of civil government. The original God-given purpose and jurisdiction of Gentile civil government was to continue. In Romans 13.3 He proclaims that “rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil” since if citizens “do that which is good,” rulers will praise them. The word from which “evil” in Romans 13.4 is translated means “generally opposed to civil goodness or virtue, in a commonwealth, and not to spiritual good, or religion, in the church” (Roger Williams and Edward Bean Underhill, The Bloody Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed and Mr. Cotton’s Letter Examined and Answered (London: Printed for the Society, by J. Haddon, Castle Street, Finsbury, 1848),p. 133). Romans 13.4 proclaims that this is because a ruler is a “minister of God to thee for good,” just as he is “a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”
Many civil governments go beyond their God-given jurisdiction. Was Rome a minister of God for good when she executed untold numbers of Christians before the marriage of church and state in the fourth century? What about those governments during the Middle Ages that worked in conjunction with the Roman Catholic “church” to persecute and kill millions of Christians labeled as heretics for refusing to bow down to a false theology? Was Hitler a minister of God for good when he forbade, on penalty of imprisonment and/or death, authentic biblical teaching which condemned his actions against the Jews and true Christians? How about Lenin and Stalin who were not only responsible for the murder of tens of millions of Christians, but who also required the teaching of atheism and established atheism as the official faith of the Soviet Union? How about the governments of Red China, Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and many others at the present time? Are such civil governments legitimately operating under God and His principles? Is the Christian who lives under such civil governments expected by God to follow all their rules?
How does God feel about Christians who obey God and thereby disobey civil governments which go beyond their jurisdiction? Were those Christians who conspired against Hitler wrong? Were Corrie Ten Boom and others wrong to save Jews from extermination? Were Moses’ parents wrong to save their son against the order of Pharaoh (Ex. 2.3)? Was the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews wrong to praise them for hiding Moses, not being “afraid of the king’s commandment” (He. 11.23)? How about the Egyptian midwives when they “feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them but saved the male children alive” (Ex. 1.17)? Was God wrong in dealing well with those midwives for saving the male babies and lying to Pharaoh (Ex. 1.20)? Was Moses wrong when he “refused to be
called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; [c]hoosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; [e]steeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward” (He. 11.24-26). Was God wrong when He told Moses to defy Pharaoh (Ex. 3.2-12; 3.15-22; 4.21-23)? Was Moses wrong to exercise his faith, obey God, and defy Pharaoh (Ex. 5.12; He. 11.27)? Was
Rahab the harlot wrong to lie to the authorities about the whereabouts of he Jewish spies in her land in order to save their lives (Jos. 2)? Was Joshua wrong for allowing her to live as a reward for defying her governing authorities (Jos. 6.22-25)? Was God wrong to include Rahab in the hall of faith, along with such people as Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and other heroes of the faith (See He. 11 and 11.31)? What about Ehud who killed King Eglon (Jud. 3.15-26); Joshua who attacked the governing authorities by God’s command (See the book of Jos.); Jael, who nailed her governing authority to the ground with a tent stake (Jud. 4.17-22); Samson who revolted against the governing authorities (Jud. 13.24-16.30); David who ran from Saul (See I S. 18.8 through chapter 31); Mordecai who refused to bow down and worship Haman (Est. 3.5); Elijah who ignored the order of a wicked King even when fifty soldiers showed up, then stood against King Ahab, Jezebel, and their false prophets (1 K. 18.17-41; 2 K. 1.9-16);
Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (See the book of Daniel); the apostles including Peter who said, “We ought to obey God rather than men (Ac. 5.29);” Paul who disobeyed many of his ruling authorities; all those down through the ages since Jesus’ resurrection and return to glory who have suffered persecution and death for the cause of Christ, including all the apostles, eleven of whom were ultimately martyred for the faith; Christians down through the last 2000 years from Christ to this very day who were imprisoned, tortured, and killed because they would not submit to the governing authorities in spiritual matters, many times religious organizations such as the Lutheran or Catholic churches, or renounce Christ, or quit rebaptizing, or quit street preaching, or succumb to false doctrines and/or worship the governing authorities; and those contemporary Christians in the underground churches of China, Cuba, Korea, Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam,, Laos, Malay, the Sudan, Morocco, Libya, Somalia, Algeria, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Colombia, the former Soviet Union, and many other nations (An excellent source to keep abreast of the ongoing persecutions of Christians throughout the world is “The Voice of the Martyrs,” 1-800-747-0085; e-mail: email@example.com; web site: www.persection.com; children’s web site: www.kidsofcourage.com; address: The Voice of the Martyrs, P.O. Box 443, Bartlesville, OK 74005-0443)?
Did the blessed Savior and God, the Lord Jesus Christ, sin when He chose to continue to do His miracles, to preach to the people, to condemn the religious leaders of His day and their errors, to proclaim that He was the Messiah even though He was upsetting the religious rulers of His day who ultimately used the governing authorities to crucify Him?
The Bible, history, and reality show that some rulers, according to Romans 13, exceed their God-ordained power. America does not honor God and His principles. America is a pluralistic nation. All religions are regarded equally, except for Christianity which is now attacked from all quarters. America allows abortion, the murder of unborn babies, to go unpunished (Jb. 31.15: “Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb?” Is. 44.24: “Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; …” Is. 49.1: “… the LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.” Je. 1.5: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”). Abortion is the ultimate attack on God (Ge. 1.27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”) and the legitimacy of God’s supreme rule. Abortion is an attack on the first institution ordained by God in that it tells men, and especially women, that they can discard God’s rules concerning sex before marriage (See, e.g., Ro. 1.29; 1 Co. 5.1; 6.9-10 (“… Be not deceived: neither fornicators … shall inherit the kingdom of God.”), 13; 18 (“Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.”); 7.2; 10.8; 2 Co. 12.21; Ga. 5.19; Ep. 5.3; Col. 3.5-6; 1 Th. 4.3) and engage in sex outside the marriage vows with impunity. (In Mt. 19.4-6 Jesus confirms the Genesis narrative of creation ([Jesus said to the Pharisees who were attempting him,] “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”). See Ge. 1.27 and 2.23-24 (God created male and female in his own image). See also, for example, Mt. 5.31-32, 32; Mk. 10.1-12; Lu. 16.18; and 1 Co. 7.10-15 which deal with dishonoring the marriage relationship.). Abortion attacks individuals by tempting them to ignore God’s rules regarding fornication and adultery. Women who have their babies killed risk great emotional, and spiritual damage. Likewise, men who allow their babies to be murdered suffer, at the very least, spiritual and emotional harm. Abortion is the ultimate attack on the God-ordained institution of marriage, the basic building block of society.
America has also redefined marriage and the family contrary to biblical definitions and principles. In fact, what authority has the state to define marriage other than it is defined by God? Who—the state or God—ordained marriage? America has redefined marriage as a contract between two equal people. God said marriage is a covenant between a man, a woman, and God (See, e.g., Mt. 5.31-2; 19.3-9; Mk. 10.1-12; Lu. 16.18). America has redefined the family to be a group of people living together all of whom should have an equal voice, even children. Are fathers and mothers wrong to structure and operate their
families according to biblical principles, denying their children an equal voice? Perhaps they are if the state married them since they willingly submitted their marriage and family to the authority of the state. If married by the authority of the state, perhaps they are also wrong to operate their family according to biblical principles because they willingly submitted their family to state authority. Are couples wrong to choose to marry under the authority of a God-ordained minister who refuses to pronounce them man and wife by the authority given him by a God-hating government which operates under Satan’s principles (See God Betrayed, Section VI for more insights into this civil government attack on the marriage of man and woman and the family as well as the marriage of Christ and His church. That section will be reproduced in its entirety on “Separation of Church and State Law” website in the days ahead.)?
America has enticed churches, as will be developed, to operate by the authority given them by the state. Are pastors wrong to continue to operate solely under the Headship of God? By the way, a church can still preach, teach, and operate solely by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ in this nation. Yet, most pastors choose the government cheese and ease over the principles and promises in the Word of God. Why? The Christian who walks in the flesh does not cherish at least one of the promises of God for the Christian—persecution. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Ti. 3.12). Most American “Christians” reject suffering instead of accepting it as instructed (“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Ph. 1.29), as mild as it would be compared to the suffering of Paul, Peter, and other apostles and millions of Christians down through the last two thousand years. Those “Christians” do not know what they are missing: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Ph. 3.10). And how almost non-existent is the persecution to be suffered by the church and the Christian who refuses to put himself or herself under the American civil government in spiritual matters. What would the American Christian today—who bows down to civil government despite the very mild inconveniences that would result from doing things God’s way—do should he face the persecutions endured by the early Christians; persecutions by, for example, the Apostle Paul and otherswho lived in a society in which Paul, before his conversion, had “imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on [the Lord]” (Ac. 22.19), and the persecution of Paul and others after Paul’s conversion. Paul noted, shortly before his martyrdom, that he had endured many persecutions (2 Co. 11.23-27: [speaking of the persecutions he endured for serving the Supreme Ruler]:
“… in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness….”), but that “out of them all the Lord delivered [him]” (2 Ti. 3.12).
Let it be emphasized that despite the fact that America is no longer a nation under God, Christians are required by Scripture to obey, for the Lord’s sake, every legitimate biblically consistent American law dealing with wrongdoing against one’s fellow man.
Although the early colonial dissenters such as the Baptists were persecuted by the established churches in the colonies, they were nonetheless free. On the other hand, today’s Americans, including Christians in churches which place themselves under civil government, are in bondage. The eighteenth century words of Isaac Backus apply to Americans today:
“Now how often have we been told that he is not a freeman but a slave whose person and goods are not at his own but another’s disposal? And to have foreigners come and riot at our expense and in the fruit of our labors, has often represented as to be worse than death…. But how is our world filled with such madness concerning spiritual tyrants! How far have pride and infidelity, covetousness and luxury, yea, deceit and cruelty, those foreigners which came from Hell, carried their influence, and spread their baneful mischiefs in our world! Yet who is willing to own that he has been deceived and enslaved by them? … All acknowledge that these enemies are among us, and many complain aloud of the mischiefs that they do, yet even those who lift up their heads so high as to laugh at the atonement of Jesus and the powerful influences of the Spirit and slight public and private devotion are at the same time very unwilling to own that they harbor pride, infidelity, or any other of those dreadful tyrants. And nothing but the divine law … brought home with convincing light and power, can make them truly sensible of the soul-slavery that they are in. And ’tis only the power of the Gospel that can set them free from sin so as to become the servants of righteousness, can deliver them from these enemies so as to serve God in holiness all their days.
“… Therefore the divine argument to prove that those who promise liberty while they despise government are servants of corruption is this: For of whom a MAN is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage, 2 Pet. ii. 18, 19. He is so far from being free to act the man that he is a bond-slave to the worst of tyrants. And not a little of this tyranny is carried on by such an abuse of language as to call it liberty for men to yield themselves up to be so foolish, disobedient and deceived as to serve divers lusts and pleasures, Tit. iii. 3” (Isaac Backus, “An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty,” Boston 1773, an essay found in Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, Pamphlets, 1754-1789, Edited by William G. McLoughlin (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968), pp. 311-312).
The biblical truth is that God gives Gentile civil government control only over certain earthly sins involving man’s relationship to man as is attested to by Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2.13 in their immediate context and in the context of Scripture as a whole. As at His original establishment of civil government at the flood, God never mentions one act which involves man’s relationship to God in any Scripture involving the authority of civil government. In Romans 12.9-20 and 13.8-14, the verses immediately surrounding Romans 13.1-7, the Word of God, speaking to Christians, elaborates upon the Christian responsibility to his neighbor and to civil government. Nothing the Christian’s responsibility to God is left out (Notwithstanding, treating one’s neighbor as God desires is a responsibility to God.). For example, Romans 12.9-20, the verses immediately preceding Romans 13, state nothing about man’s responsibility to God and spiritual matters:
“Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.”
Those verses state that believers are to bless those that persecute them. Believers been persecuted for Christ’s sake down through the centuries until the present day. They have been persecuted by civil government for not bowing down civil government and the official state religion in certain matters.
Romans 13.8-14 which follow Romans 13.1-7 says:
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. And that knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.
Notice in those verses that, in regard to obeying the ordinances of men, Paul only dealt with the law of love toward one’s neighbor; that is, with man’s relationship to man, and not man’s relationship to God. God did not give Gentile civil government responsibility for exercising authority over spiritual matters, over the first four commandments dealing with man’s relationship to God.
Civil government has no authority over matters dealing with man’s relationship to God since such matters are spiritual. Spiritual matters, according to God, the Supreme Ruler of the highest government, include both our duties, as individual believers and as members of a church, to God and to man. Christians are to love both God and their neighbor.
Religious and secular rulers, being led by the god of this world to satisfy their own lusts, have always been concerned with their authority. Not knowing God, they are their own gods. We see that over and over again in the Old and New Testaments. Jesus faced that problem.
“Then the Jews took up stones again to stone [Jesus]. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, ye are gods (The Lord here quotes Ps. 82.6a: “I have said, Ye are gods[.]”).If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him” (Jn. 10.31-38).
The apostles always obeyed God in regard to spiritual matters, even when, in so doing, they violated ordinances of man. Disregarding threats, imprisonments, and beatings, the apostles continued both to do good for their fellow man and to preach, both in the name of Jesus, repeatedly violating Romans 13, and I Peter 2.13 as interpreted by most contemporary “ Christians.” Peter wrote: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well” (1 Pe. 2.13-14). Notice that Peter pointed out the purpose of civil government and therefore the ordinances of man—to punish evildoers, and to praise those who do well. According to him, Christians were to obey every “ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake,” and civil government was to deal only with earthly matters. More is said about this in the next article.
Punishment by civil leaders did not cause Peter and John to violate the biblical principle of separation of church and state which was at odds with the worldly principle of separation of church and state. The people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon Peter and John, laid hands on them, and held them (Ac. 4.1, 3), after they performed the first apostolic miracle, healing the lame man. The “rulers, and elders, and scribes” brought them in and asked them, “By what power, or by what name, have ye done this” (Ac. 4.5, 7)?
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, … [B]y the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Ac. 4.8, 10-12).
Their response: “[T]hey conferred among themselves, Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Ac. 4.15-20).
These rulers would have had no complaint had Peter and John and the other apostles done what they did under the authority of the rulers. Obviously, Peter and John had not yet been taught that Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2.13 required them to obey the earthly authorities over them in all matters, including spiritual matters. Of course, the apostles, under the authority of the rulers, would not have been able to heal and do other miracles, nor to preach in the power of the Holy Ghost. They still understood that the Highest Power, God himself, told them to do what they were doing and gave them the power to do it, that no earthly power was given the authority to direct them concerning spiritual matters, and that even had an earthly power given the authority to do those matters under earthly authority, they could not have done the miracles or preached the true gospel with power. Many “Christians” today believe that they and the church can simultaneously achieve God’s spiritual goals while operating under the authority of the god of this world. “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Ti. 3.5).
After their release, the response of Peter and John and their Christian friends was quite different from what can be expected of “Christians” today, who now have America’s interpretation of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2.13 at their disposal. Peter and John then went “to their own company” and prayed:
“Lord, thou art God, which hath made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word. By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Ac. 4.24-31).
These men knew their Bible. Within their prayer they quoted from Isaiah 51.12, 13 and Psalm 2.1-3. They did not take Scripture out of context so that they could forego confronting the rulers. They just asked God to give them boldness to remain under His authority while speaking the Word of the Lord and doing signs and wonders in the name of Jesus. They were concerned with not only preaching the Word but also with “doing” for their fellow man under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. They knew that they could not do any good for their fellow man without the power of God and that they could not have the power of God should they operate under the authority of the state or anyone else.
The apostles continued to violate today’s perverted interpretation of Romans 13 and I Peter 2.13, accompanied by God’s own angel; and they were so presumptuous as to do so in public places, which is improper according to many of today’s state indoctrinated “Christians” who advise Christians not to preach on the street, or do door-to-door evangelism or any public ministry because they “feel” that to do so is offensive to others and wrong and the proper place for these activities is within the four walls of the church. The apostles continued to do signs and wonders among the people (Ac. 5.12), “healing many sick folks and them which were vexed with unclean spirits” (Ac. 5.16). Because of this, the high priest and all they that were with him, “laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison” (Ac. 5.17-18). The angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, released them, and told them to “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life” (Ac. 5.19-20). Here God’s own angel was instructing the apostles to violate America’s false version of Romans 13 and I Peter 2.13. The apostles did what the angel told them to do: “[T]hey entered into the temple early in the morning and taught …” (Ac. 5.21, 25).
Notice, as a side note, that they were not going into their own meeting-place, but were going into the temple—all through Acts they are depicted as not going into the four walls of their own meeting place, but are preaching and helping their fellow man in synagogues, in public places, and going door to door. Maybe the Lord in His wisdom did not mention that a church should own property for a reason—if a church has to operate in the world, outside the four walls of a building, that church, if its members love the Lord, will probably do what God commissioned her to do: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16.15). Luke recorded the words of Jesus:
“Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promises of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Lu. 24.46-49).
Obviously, God’s intent for the church was to get His message to the whole world, not for the church to seclude itself within four walls. Notice that Christians were to begin at Jerusalem, then to go
to all the world, to all nations. Because of persecution in Jerusalem for speaking and acting in public in the name of Jesus, the governing authorities forced them to leave Jerusalem and go to the world. God’s will was accomplished through persecution.
The apostles continued to operate under God regarding spiritual matters. They were again apprehended and brought before the counsel who said to them, “Did we not straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Ac. 5.28). “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (Ac. 5.29-32). [Bold emphasis mine].
“When they heard that they took council to slay them” (Ac. 5.33). Gamaliel talked them out of killing the apostles (Ac. 5.34-38). Instead, they beat the apostles and “commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Ac. 5.40). The apostles “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Ac. 5.41-42). and continued to do for their neighbor: Peter healed Aeneas of palsy of which he had been in bed eight years and raised Tabitha from the dead in Jesus’ name (Ac. 9.32-41). Later, the angel of the Lord violated the popular Americanized version of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2.13 by breaking Peter out of prison (Ac. 12.5-11).
Paul was determined to obey God, not man and not civil government, in regard to spiritual matters. Paul wrote on this matter in Romans and many other books in the New Testament. For example, he instructed the Christian: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Co. 10.5).
Because of the power of God upon Paul as he was challenging the religious leaders, they took council to kill him:
“And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ. And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket” (Ac. 9:20-25).
Paul simply did not obey the civil government laws which contradicted God’s laws relating to spiritual matters, nor did he teach submission to civil government in spiritual matters. He and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison after casting out a demon from a damsel (Ac. 16.1-24). The masters of the damsel, because they lost the gains of her divination, brought them to the magistrates, charging that they “teach customs, which are not lawful for [them] to receive, neither to observe, being Romans” (Ac. 16.19-21). Paul was frequently imprisoned as a result of ministering for Christ (2 Co. 11.23). He was concerned with obeying God and with “casting down every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.”
Paul, inspired by God, understood that the true Christian was in a warfare initiated by Satan who would do everything in his power to usurp the God-given duties of Christians and churches to love God and to love one’s neighbor. His understanding is reflected in instructions he gave:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Ep. 6.10-18).
Notice that the armor he mentioned was totally spiritual—loins girt with truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
As to the prayer mentioned in the above verses, Paul instructed Christians to pray in the Spirit that all men, including kings and others in authority, would be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Christ died for all, including rulers, but he gave everyone a choice of whether to submit to Him.
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Ti. 2.1-5).
He instructed Christians to include rulers in their supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks so that Christians could lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. In other words, a ruler who is saved and comes to the knowledge of the truth will provide an atmosphere, under God his Supreme Ruler, in which Christians can live quiet and peaceable lives. By implication, and as shown consistently throughout history, lost rulers and others in authority likely will not provide such an atmosphere. This is discussed more in Chapter 6, infra.
Paul knew that Satan would continue to come against the church through earthly powers, through civil government. He also knew that God wanted His children to fight this warfare using only spiritual, not earthly, means. His goal was the glory of God, not the happiness of man.
- Introduction to “Render unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses” (Chapter 1 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses. This material was also covered in less detail in God Betrayed, Section III, Chapters 5, 6.)
- Doth not your Master pay tribute? Matthew 17.24-27 (Chapter 2 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
- Render unto Caesar…? Luke 20.25, Matthey 22.21, Mark 22.17 (Chapter 3 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
- Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers? Romans 13 (Chapter 4 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
- Submit to every ordinance of man? 1 Peter 2.13 (Chapter 5 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
- Pray for all rulers? 1 Timothy 2.1-6 (Chapter 6 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
- Conclusion to “Render unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses” (Chapter 7 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
Sermon on Romans 13: Pastor Jason Cooley, “Romans 13 in Context,” July 13, 2012