Submit to Every Ordinance of Man? 1 Peter 2.13

Jerald Finney
Copyright © July 17, 2012
Revised May 25, 2014

Click here to go to “Self-exam Questions: Submit to Every Ordinance of Man? 1 Peter 2.13”
[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.

Sermons and teachings:
Pastor Jason Cooley, “1 Peter 2.13: Proper Submission to Government,” August, 2012
Jerald Finney’s Audio Teaching on 1 Peter 2:13 
I Peter 2.13: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man….”

To download right click link to audio and left click “Save link as…”

“The forming of the constitution and appointment of the particular orders and offices of civil government is left to human discretion, and our submission thereto is required under the name of their being the ordinances of men for the Lord’s sake, 1 Pet. ii, 13, 14. Whereas in ecclesiastical affairs we are most solemnly warned not to be subject to ordinances after the doctrines and commandments of men, Col. ii, 20, 22” (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), p. 313).

Crucifixion of Peter
Crucifixion of Peter

1 Peter 4:12-19: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”

1 Peter 2.13, quoted below along with 1 Peter 2.9-12 and 14-20 to put the verse into it’s immediate context, is often cited, again alone and out of context, to support almost total submission to civil government.

“9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. 11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. 13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 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. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. 17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. 18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God” (1 Pe. 2.9-20).

If the above verses had only stated, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man” and nothing more, the statement would have contradicted the entirety of Scripture. However, the verse in its immediate context can only be analyzed as was Romans 13, and such an analysis renders the verse consistent with the rest of God’s Word. Much of the analysis of Romans 13 could be considered and included in this analysis of 1 Peter 2.13 but will not be repeated in this article.

In addition to the scriptural context covered in the article on Romans 13, one must consider, as to 1 Peter 2.13, such texts as 1 Peter 2.9-12 and 14-20 to put the verse into it’s immediate context. Venturing further, one should look at 1 Peter 4.12-19 which is quoted above. Then, one can go to the book of Acts, and such verses as Acts 3-5. In Acts 3, Peter, the author of 1 and 2 Peter, healed a lame man and preached repentance, conversion, Jesus Christ. In Acts 4, Peter and John were arrested because they “taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Ac. 4.2). They “commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Ac. 4.18).

“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. So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done. For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shewed. And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast 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. 4.19-31).

The apostles, including Peter, continued to preach, teach, and heal in the name of Jesus. As a result, as one can read in Acts 5, the high priest and those that were with him imprisoned them. They were brought before the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests who said to them, “Saying, Did not we 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.” (Acts 5.28).

1“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). They called the apostles, beat them, and “commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Ac. 5.40). Of course, the apostles and the followers of Jesus continued to obey God rather than men, and as a result, were martyred for their faith, Peter being crucified upside down.

Bible experts have commented on 1 Peter 2.13:

  • “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man – In every settled state, and under every form of political government, where the laws are not in opposition to the laws of God, it may be very soundly and rationally said: ‘Genuine Christians have nothing to do with the laws but to obey them.’ Society and civil security are in a most dangerous state when the people take it into their heads that they have a right to remodel and change the laws. See the whole of this subject fully handled in the notes on Ro. 13:1, etc., to which I beg every reader, who may wish to know the political sentiments of this work, to have recourse …” (SWORDSEARCHER software, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible).
  • “Every ordinance of man; all human laws which are not in opposition to the law of God. For the Lord’s sake; for the purpose of honoring him” (SWORDSEARCHER software, Family Bible Notes).
  • “Verse 13. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man. Gr., ‘to every creation of man,’ (anqrwpinh ktisei.) The meaning is, to every institution or appointment of man; to wit, of those who are in authority, or who are appointed to administer government. The laws, institutes, and appointments of such a government may be spoken of as the creation of man; that is, as what man makes. Of course, what is here said must be understood with the limitation everywhere implied, that what is ordained by those in authority is not contrary to the law of God. Cmt. on Ac. 4:19. On the general duty here enjoined of subjection to civil authority, Cmt. on Ro. 13:1. For the Lord’s sake. Because he has required it, and has intrusted this power to civil rulers. Cmt. on Ro 13:6. Comp. Cmt. on Eph 6:7. Whether it be to the king. It has been commonly supposed that there is reference here to the Roman emperor, who might be called king, because in him the supreme power resided. The common title of the Roman sovereign was, as used by the Greek writers, autokratwr, and among the Romans themselves, imperator, (emperor;) but the title king was also given to the sovereign. John 19:15, ‘We have no king but Cesar.’ Ac. 17:7, ‘And these all do contrary to the decrees of Cesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.’ Peter undoubtedly had particular reference to the Roman emperors, but he uses a general term, which would be applicable to all in whom the supreme power resided, and the injunction here would require submission to such authority, by whatever name it might be called. The meaning is, that we are to be subject to that authority whether exercised by the sovereign in person, or by those who are appointed by him.  As supreme. Not supreme in the sense of being superior to God, or not being subject to him, but in the sense of being over all subordinate officers” (SWORDSEARCHER software, Albert Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).
  • “Our apostle having exhorted them in general to take care that their conversation be honest among the Gentiles, he now decends to particular duties, which he advises them to be very exemplary in the performance of.“And the first is, in their subjection to governors and government; submit yourselves, says he, to every civil ruler, both supreme and subordinate.“Where observe, 1. How the apostle calls magistracy and civil government, though originally of divine institution, an ordinance of man. First, As to the end of it, it being appointed and ordained for the good and benefit of man.“Secondly, In reference to the kind of it, every nation having a liberty to choose what kind and form of government human prudence shall direct them to, as most agreeable to, and commodious for, the people.“Observe, 2. The quality of that obedience and subjection which is to be given unto magistrates, it must be for the Lord’s sake, that is, in obedience to the command of God, and with an eye at the honour and glory of God. Christianity is no enemy to the civil right of princes, it requires subjection for conscience, Pr. 8:15.“By me, says God, kings reign; some read it, for me kings reign; both are true: princes then hold not their crowns either from the pope or from the people, to be kicked off by the one, or to be plucked off by the other, at their pleasure: Submit yourselves, says our apostle, to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.“Observe, 3. The reasons assigned why magistrates should be thus subjected and submitted to; namely,1) “Because they are sent by God for the punishment of evil-doers, and the praise of them that do well; the magistrate’s office is to punish evil-doers; the fear of the magistrate’s sword awes many men more than the fear of God’s hand. If some men were not gods among men, many men would be devils among men; there would be no living among those who fear not the invisible God in heaven, if there were not some visible gods on earth to fear.2)     “Because God will, by this their subjection given to magistrates and governors, silence, or, as the word signifies, put a muzzle upon the mouth of, foolish and unreasonable men, who rage against his people, as if they were enemies to order and government: by this kind of well-doing in particular, namely, by subjection and obedience to rulers in the Lord, and for the Lord’s sake, we put to silence the foolishness of wicked men” (SWORDSEARCHER software, William Burkitt’s Expository Notes).

A_GodOverIndividual...Thus, the Americanized interpretation of 1 Peter 2.13a, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake,” leaves out or misinterprets, “for the Lord’s sake.” 1 Peter 2.13a, even when considered alone and out of the context of Scripture, does not say what the Americanized version asserts that it says since that version leaves out “for the Lord’s sake.” Usually, an uninformed Christian or a lost person, in asserting that one is to obey all civil government laws, will merely state, “Obey every ordinance of man” without even knowing where the verse can be found in Scripture. In the context of Scripture, that phrase indicates that Christians are to submit to every ordinance of man which man made “for the Lord’s sake”—that is, which God granted civil government jurisdiction to make. In other words, believers are not to obey any ordinance of man which is outside civil government’s God-given jurisdiction and which restricts Christians in the exercise of their spiritual responsibilities. As with Romans 13, the immediate context of 1 Peter 2.13 as well as the context within Scripture as a whole make clear that God grants civil government jurisdiction over only certain matters regarding man’s relationship to man, and not over any matters regarding man’s relationship to God. As has been stated, this does not mean that God does not desire civil governments to operate under Him—He gives civil governments (and all other governments) the free will as to whether or not they will operate under Him.

1 Peter 2.13 is therefore consistent with all of Scripture and consistent within itself. Men are to obey all laws of man which are within the God-given jurisdiction of civil government. God gave man responsibility to rule over man only with regard to certain matters involving man’s relationship with his fellow man. On the other hand, God gave civil government no jurisdiction over matters involving man’s relationship with God. As to spiritual matters, God wants man to have free will as long as their free will does not violate criminal laws which are within the God-given jurisdiction of civil government. Christians in America are protected in the exercise of their free will by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Render Unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses:

  1. 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.)
  2. Doth not your Master pay tribute? Matthew 17.24-27 (Chapter 2 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
  3. Render unto Caesar…? Luke 20.25, Matthey 22.21, Mark 22.17 (Chapter 3 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
  4. Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers? Romans 13 (Chapter 4 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
  5. Submit to every ordinance of man? 1 Peter 2.13 (Chapter 5 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
  6. Pray for all rulers? 1 Timothy 2.1-6 (Chapter 6 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
  7. 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)

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