A Short Treatise on Romans 13

Romans 13:

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 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.

5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

6 For 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.

8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

9 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.

10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 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.

12 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.

13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.

14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

EN [i] Has links to more studies on Romans 13 and related verses.

A Short Treatise on Romans 13

Jerald Finney
Copyright © May 27, 2013

God the Supreme Power (Authority or Government; See EN [ii] for definitions of “power,” “authority,” and “government.”) ordained (established with particular functions and jurisdictions) lower powers (13:1). He ordained four powers to operate below Him. Romans 13 speaks to civil government, which he ordained at the flood. The Old Testament explains why God ordained civil government; and the two types of civil governments, Gentile civil government and also the theocracy of Israel. In Romans 13, God gives the jurisdiction of Gentile civil government and instructs believers as to their responsibilities to that government. The God-given jurisdiction of civil government is over certain evils of man against another or others. God gave civil government no authority over man’s relationship with God. Man is under man or civil government only as regards certain temporal, fleshly, earthly matters.

God ordained the powers that be, and there is no power but of God (13:1). God, the Supreme Power, ordained the lower powers. The lower powers (authorities) which God ordained are:

  1. individual government (Genesis 1-3);
  2. family government (Genesis 3 and other passages throughout the Bible);
  3. civil government (Genesis 9:5-6);
  4. church government (Mt. 16:8, 18:15-17, Paul’s epistles).

God, the Highest Power established an hierarchy of law. God is the highest power. He is at the top of the hierarchy. Every lower power is subject to him. He is over the individual, the family, the civil government, and the local church. Each lower power ordained by God is subject to the earthly powers above it (13:1-2). God is the judge of every lower power. Certainly, a lower earthly power has no authority to overrule the God-given authority of any higher earthly power above it, unless that power becomes tyrannical and acts outside its God-given jurisdiction. The individual is subject to God in spiritual matters and to civil government as to certain worldly sins against the life, liberty, and property of his fellow man. Each lower power is given free will and can decide whether to obey the Supreme Power and any higher earthy power acting within its God-given jurisdiction.

A civil government, a lower power or authority, can choose either to honor the Supreme Power and operate within its God-given jurisdiction or to become tyrannical.  A civil government, as with all lower powers, is free to operate outside of its God-given jurisdiction. A civil government can honor or dishonor God and will be blessed or cursed accordingly. They that resist the ordinances (See EN [iii] for definition of “ordinance”) of God shall receive to themselves damnation (13:2).

Romans 13 deals with Gentile civil government, which was ordained by God at the flood. Sometime after the flood and after the ordination of Gentile civil government, God called out a civil government, a nation, unto Himself, the nation of Israel. At that point, all other nations, all Gentile nations, continued under the dispensation of human or civil government. EN [iv].

Romans 13 states the jurisdiction of Gentile civil government. God ordained Gentile civil government to be God’s minister to reward those who do good, and to execute wrath upon those who do evil (13:4). Rulers are “not a terror to good works, but to the evil;” and are to praise those who do good (13:3). Thus, God gave civil government jurisdiction over the last Six of the Ten Commandments, which deal with man’s relationship to man (Romans. 13:8-10). He did not give civil government jurisdiction over men’s relationship with God, which is the subject of the first Four Commandments. When a civil government exceeds its jurisdictional boundaries and intrudes into religion and conscience, it has exceeded its God-given jurisdiction.

The New Testament, not to mention the Old Testament, records the activities of many who did not bow down to civil government when civil government acted outside its God-given jurisdiction: Jesus Christ, Stephen as recorded in Acts 7, those Christians who were sought and persecuted by Paul and the Jewish religious crowd before he became an apostle, all the apostles. According to history, Christians from the beginning of the dispensation of grace to this very day have been and are being persecuted for not bowing down to earthly civil governments or earthly establishments, unions of religion and state.

The Apostle Peter, who wrote “… obey every ordinance of man …” (1 Peter 2:13; see the immediate context of that statement in your Bible) understood God’s hierarchy of law. He and John were arrested after healing the lame man and preaching in the name of Jesus. The authorities ordered them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus, threatened them, and let them go. Then, they immediately:

  • “… 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” (Acts 24-31).

Notice their prayer. They understood God’s hierarchy of law. They quote from Psalms 2, which is particularly instructive on the matter of the authority of God and of Gentile civil government. They knew that all the work they did for God was to be done in the name of Jesus, under the authority of God. They understood that the earthly power has assumed unlawful jurisdiction over the things of God. After their prayer, they continued to do what God commanded them to do, contrary to their orders for their earthly authority who has stepped outside their jurisdictional authority.

Most American “Christians” walk in darkness. They carelessly cite Romans 13 when asked about their submission to the authority of civil government in all things. Some will qualify their submission with, “If the government ever tells me that I cannot preach salvation, they will have crossed the line.” They eliminate all the commandments and precepts to Christians in the New Testament but one. They fight on one front only, while Satan has been very active on all fronts. When the day of reckoning comes, many or most of those sort will obey civil government when told they cannot preach salvation. As the Lord, the apostles, and martyred and persecuted Christians since the beginning of the New Testament churches have understood, believers and churches are to be soldiers for the Lord Jesus Christ, and to engage in the spiritual warfare He has commanded us to fight (2 Timothy 2:1-7; Ephesians 6:10-18). “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” (13:12).


EN [i] Render Unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses and other works cited on that page.

EN [ii] Power means:

Command; the right of governing, or actual government; dominion; rule, sway; authority…. The powers of government are legislative, executive, judicial, and ministerial…. Power is no blessing in itself, but when it is employed to protect the innocent. Under this sense may be comprehended civil, political, ecclesiastical, and military power. 13. One invested with authority; a ruler; a civil magistrate. Romans 13:1.

Authority means:

“Legal power, or a right to command or to act; as the authority of a prince over subjects, and of parents over children. Power; rule; sway.” or “Government; the persons or the body exercising power or command; as the local authorities of the states.” (1828 WEBSTER’S DICTIONARY, definition of “authority.”)

Status as a legal entity of any kind is a product of man-made law (civil government law) and gives the civil government authority over the church in many matters. Civil government, man’s law, creates and is sovereign, for many purposes, over a corporation sole or aggregate, an Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3) or § 508(c)(1)(A) federal tax exempt organization, a charitable trust, etc.

Government means:

noun Direction; regulation. These precepts will serve for the government of our conduct.

  1. Control; restraint. Men are apt to neglect the government of their temper and passions.
  2. The exercise of authority; direction and restraint exercised over the actions of men in communities, societies or states; the administration of public affairs, according to established constitution, laws and usages, or by arbitrary edicts. Prussia rose to importance under the government of Frederick II.
  3. The exercise of authority by a parent or householder. Children are often ruined by a neglect of government in parents. Let family government be like that of our heavenly Father, mild, gentle and affectionate.
  1. The system of polity in a state; that form of fundamental rules and principles by which a nation or state is governed, or by which individual members of a body politic are to regulate their social actions; a constitution, either written or unwritten, by which the rights and duties of citizens and public officers are prescribed and defined; as a monarchial government or a republican government

  1. An empire, kingdom or state; any territory over which the right of sovereignty is extended.
  2. Management of the limbs or body. [Not in use.]

EN [iii] Ordinance means, in this context: “A rule established by authority; a permanent rule of action. An ordinance may be a law or statute of sovereign power. In this sense it is often used in the Scriptures. Exodus 15:25Numbers 10:8Ezra 3:10.”

EN [iv] See God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application, Part One, Section I, The Biblical Doctrine of Government.

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