A Publication of Separation of Church and State Law Ministry.
Copyright © February 21, 2018
“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.”
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..”
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 in Chapter 4, supra, included an analysis of 1 Peter 2.13 and will not be repeated.
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 context, does not say what the Americanized version asserts that it says. 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.
Bible scholars have commented on 1 Peter 2.13:
- “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.”
- “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’ 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.”
- “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, 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.”
- “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 13:1, etc., to which I beg every reader, who may wish to know the political sentiments of this work, to have recourse….”
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.
- Click here to go to the 3 1/2 to 6 minute video lectures.
- Click here to go to the booklet, Render Unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses.
- For accompanying study from Render Unto God the Things that Are His click here.
 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.
 1 Pe. 2.9-20.
 SWORDSEARCHER software, Family Bible Notes.
 SWORDSEARCHER software, Albert Barnes’….
 SWORDSEARCHER software, William Burkitt’s Expository Notes.
 SWORDSEARCHER software, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible.