Copyright © September 16, 2014
Romans 13:1-2: “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.”
Romans 13.1-2 speaks of the powers which are ordained by God. Romans 13.1 says that God ordained powers; all lower powers are ordained of God, and there is no power but of God. Only a higher power can ordain a lower power. To repeat, God as the Highest Power established (ordained) lower powers. He obviously is the Highest power because only a higher power can ordain lower powers. Every soul (every individual) is to obey the higher powers – the powers that are above him; and all lower powers are below God who is the highest power. Only the highest power, God, has no higher power to which He is subject.
What are the powers which are ordained by God? They are individual, family, civil, and church governments. Each lower power is subject to higher powers. Power means the possession or control or command over oneself, another or others. “Powers” as spoken of in Romans 13.1-2 means “governments” since government means direction, control or rule. This is obvious from the immediate and overall context of Scripture. Each power or government has a God-given goal (the glory of God) and jurisdiction. Civil government and God have jurisdictions (Matthew 22.21, Mark 12.17, Luke 20.25). God gave each of the lower powers free will or choice of whether to honor the higher powers.
Every soul is told to be subject to the higher powers. According to the Bible (1) individuals, who can legitimately direct and control only themselves, are to be subject to God first and civil government second; (2) within the family government wives are to be subject to God first and their husband second, children to their parents; (3) civil governments are to operate under God in line with the biblical doctrine of government (this does not mean union of church and state: see the article “Is Separation of Church and State Found in the Constitution?”); and (4) churches are to direct and control their organization, goals, and affairs according to the biblical doctrine of the church. All lower powers are to be guided by the word of God. When church government, civil government, or family government has rules which contradict the laws of God, the individual is to “obey God rather than men” (Ibid., Acts 5.29); he is to be subject to God, the highest power first. God desires each government to operate under Him with His word as its guide. For example, God is the power higher than civil government; therefore, God desires that civil government choose to operate under Him. (See, e.g., Hierarchy of Law and Laws Protecting New Testament Churches in the United States: Read Them for Yourself.
God explains when and why He ordained each power (government) and set out the jurisdiction and guidelines for each in the Bible. The Bible teaches that the lowest power is the individual to whom God gives free will and the responsibility of self-direction and control (self-government). God ordained self-government in the Garden of Eden. Man in the Garden was innocent. God gave one simple rule for the individual in the Garden of Eden. God did this because God wanted man’s love and love requires a choice; without a choice, no man can love. The man who must be forced to marry a woman does not love that woman; a man shows love by making the choice to love. Love is action (See 1 Corinthians 13). Man disobeyed God’s rule and fell; God judged man for his decision to disobey the Highest Power.
The next power ordained by God was family government which was established at the fall. He did this to establish an order to a fallen race. Man was no longer innocent and therefore he was given the knowledge of good and evil (conscience). God forbade man to judge man; in other words there was to be no government (direction and control) over man by man (See Genesis 4.8-15). After the fall mankind was only to be guided by conscience, and he quickly forgot about God, the Highest Power. All mankind except for Noah and his family quickly became totally corrupted and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was evil continually. As a result, God was grieved and had no choice but to judge mankind by destroying the earth and all mankind except for Noah and his family. Something more was needed to control man and his evil imagination.
At the flood, God gave man the responsibility to rule over man for God thereby establishing civil government (direction and control of man by man under God, the highest government). God ordained civil government because, as demonstrated between the fall and the flood, the knowledge of good and evil (conscience) was insufficient to control evil. Certain evils were from that time forward to be judged by man through direct punishment by man (civil direction and control) here on earth. God then divided Gentile nations in the earth as explained in Genesis 10. Again, mankind soon rebelled against God and, led by Nimrod, built the Tower of Babel in an attempt to start a one-world government. As a result, God confounded their language and scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. He knew that as one people with one language nothing would be restrained from them, which they had imagined to do (See Genesis 11.1-9). Man has proceeded with individual government, family government (according to man’s choice), conscience, and civil government since that time.
The Old Testament after Genesis 11 deals extensively with, among other things, nations or civil governments. God called out Abraham as the father of both an earthly people (the nation Israel) and a spiritual people (those who are saved by grace through faith). When Israel was called out, the Gentile nations proceeded according to God’s original plan to be guided by conscience (see, e.g., Romans 2.14-15), but Israel was established as a theocracy in which the religion and state were to walk hand in hand directly under God. The goals of both the religion and the state were to be the same with the two working together in furthering those goals. Israel was the only theocracy ever ordained by God. A believer who studies God’s teaching and prophecies concerning Israel and the relationship between Israel and the Gentile nations will see God’s ultimate history and philosophy of history unfolding before his eyes. Old Testament history and prophecy as well as secular history prove that civil government operating alongside individual government, family government, and conscience was insufficient to control man’s evil imagination.
The last government God ordained was church government as recorded in the New Testament. Individual, family, and civil government had proven insufficient to control evil, so God established his churches which were to be made up of born-again believers. Believers in the churches were to seek to walk in the spirit, and organize and operate the churches according to God’s directives. Because man’s evil imagination, the church, civil government, individual government, family government, and conscience have proven insufficient to control man’s evil imagination. Most churches are heretical at best. A great proportion are apostate.
Nonetheless, there is ultimate hope even though mankind, because of a sin nature, fails all God’s tests and makes inevitable the judgment of God. To this point in time, the basis of all earthly governments is the individual, whom God desires to be led according to His rules. The individual hope is salvation through repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20.21; see also Jerald Finney’s Bible Study notes on Repentance, the new creature, the new life, and changed behavior and God’s Plan Of Salvation). The Holy Spirit leads a believer (a saved person) who studies God’s word into the truth which will make him free (John 8.31-32). An individual who is saved and who walks in the spirit will positively affect the family, the nation, and the church he belongs to. Sadly, no civil government on earth now honors the highest power; believers walking in the spirit are few and far between; God-honoring churches are rare and make up a small remnant. Just as the Old Testament chronicles the apostasy of Israel, the New Testament explains the apostasy of the churches. Only when the Highest Power Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ, returns and crushes the Gentile nations at Armageddon will a government over all mankind be established on earth under the leadership of the Highest Power. Man will fail all tests God has given Him since the creation and only God will have the power to bring order out of the chaos which man has created.
Other resources which cover the Romans 13 issue include:
- Online version of Render Unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses (booklet)is updated and more complete than the PDF linked to below.
- PDF of Render Unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses (booklet)
- A Short Treatise on Romans 13 (052720)
- Romans 13 and Related Verses (020717)
- More On Romans 13.1-2: The Powers That God Has Ordained (091614)
For more on the various governments ordained by God, go to
The Biblical Doctrine of Government
For more on church government, go to
The Biblical Doctrine of the Church