Romans 13
ICC New Testament Commentary
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.

13:1-7. The civil power has Divine sanction. Its functions are to promote well-being, to punish not the good but the wicked. Hence it must be obeyed. Obedience to it is a Christian duty and deprives it of all its terrors.

So too you pay tribute because the machinery of government is God’s ordinance. In this as in all things give to all their due.

13. The Apostle now passes from the duties of the individual Christian towards mankind in general to his duties in one definite sphere, namely towards the civil rulers. While we adhere to what has been said about the absence of a clearly-defined system or purpose in these chapters, we may notice that one main thread of thought which runs through them is the promotion of peace in all the relations of life. The idea of the civil power may have been suggested by ver. 19 of the preceding chapter, as being one of the ministers of the Divine wrath and retribution (ver. 4): at any rate the juxtaposition of the two passages would serve to remind St. Paul’s readers that the condemnation of individual vengeance and retaliation does not apply to the action of the state in enforcing law; for the state is God’s minister, and it is the just wrath of God which is acting through it.

We have evidence of the use of vv. 8-10 by Marcion (Tert. adv. Marc. v. 14) Merito itaque totam creatoris disciplinam principali praecepto eius conclusit, Diliges proximum tanquam te. Hoc legis supplementum si ex ipsa lege est, quis sit deus legis iam ignoro. On the rest of the chapter we have no information.

1. πᾶσα ψυχή: cf. 2:9. The Hebraism suggests prominently the idea of individuality. These rules apply to all however privileged, and the question is treated from the point of view of individual duty.

ἐξουσίαις: abstract for concrete, ‘those in authority’ cf. Luke 12:11; Titus 3:1. ὑπερεχούσαις ‘who are in an eminent position,’ defining more precisely the idea of ἐξουσίαις: cf. 1 Peter 2:13; Wisdom 6:5.

ὑποτασσέσθω. Notice the repetition of words of similar sound, ὑποτασσέσθω … τεταγμέναι … ἀντιτασσόμενος … διαταγῇ and cf. 12:3.

οὐ γὰρ ἔστιν ἐξουσία κ.τ.λ. The Apostle gives the reason for this obedience, stating it first generally and positively, then negatively and distributively. No human authority can exist except as the gift of God and springing from Him, and therefore all constituted powers are ordained by Him. The maxim is common in all Hebrew literature, but is almost always introduced to show how the Divine power is greater than that of all earthly sovereigns, or to declare the obligation of rulers as responsible for all they do to One above them. Wisdom 6:1, 3 ἀκούσατε οὖν, βασιλεῖς, καὶ σύνετε, μάθετε δικασταὶ περάτων γῆς … ὅτι ἐδόθη παρὰ τοῦ Κυρίου ἡ κράτησις ὑμῖν καὶ ἡ δυναστεία παρὰ ὑψίστου: Enoch xlvi. 5 ‘And he will put down the kings from their thrones and kingdoms, because they do not extol and praise him, nor thankfully acknowledge whence the kingdom was bestowed upon them’: Jos. Bell. Jud. II. viii. 7 τὸ πιστὸν παρέξειν πᾶσι, μάλιστα δὲ τοῖς κρατοῦσιν· οὐ γὰρ δίχα Θεοῦ περιγίνεσθαί τινι τὸ ἄρχειν. St. Paul adopts the maxim for a purpose similar to that in which it is used in the last instance, that it is the duty of subjects to obey their rulers, because they are appointed and ordained by God.

The preponderance of authority (א A B L P and many later MSS., Bas. Chrys.) is decisive for εἰ μὴ ὑπὸ Θεοῦ. The Western reading ἀπὸ Θεοῦ was a correction for the less usual expression (D E F G and many later MSS., Orig. Jo.-Damasc.). The reading of the end of the verse should be αἱ δὲ οὖσαι ὑπὸ Θεοῦ τεταγμέναι εἰσίν א A B D F G.

2. ὥστε ὁ ἀντιτασσόμενος κ.τ.λ. The logical result of this theory as to the origin of human power is that resistance to it is resistance to the ordering of God; and hence those who resist will receive κρῖμα—a judgement or condemnation which is human, for it comes through human instruments, but Divine as having its origin and source in God. There is no reference here to eternal punishment.

3. οἱ γὰρ ἄρχοντες. The plural shows that the Apostle is speaking quite generally. He is arguing out the duty of obeying rulers on general principles, deduced from the fact that ‘the state’ exists for a beneficent end; he is not arguing from the special condition or circumstances of any one state. The social organism, as a modern writer might say, is a power on the side of good.

τῷ ἀγαθῷ ἔργῳ: cf. 2:7 τοῖς μὲν καθʼ ὑπομονὴν ἔργου ἀγαθοῦ. In both passages ἔργον is used collectively; there it means the sum of a man’s actions, here the collective work of the state. For the subject cf. 1 Timothy 2:1, 1 Timothy 2:2: we are to pray ‘for kings and all in authority that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.’

The singular τῷ ἀγαθῷ ἔργῳ ἀλλὰ τῷ κακῷ is read by א A B D F G P, Boh. Vulg. (boni operis sed mali), Clem.-Alex. Iren.-lat. Tert. Orig.-lat. Jo.- Damasc. Later MSS. with EL, Syrr. Arm., Chrys. Thdrt. read τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἔργων … κακῶν. Hort suggests an emendation of Patrick Young, τῷ ἀγαθοεργῷ, which has some support apparently from the Aeth. ei qui facit bonum: but the antithesis with κακῷ makes this correction improbable.

θέλεις δὲ … ἐξουσίαν; The construction is more pointed if these words are made a question.

As the state exists for a good end, if you lead a peaceable life you will have nothing to fear from the civil power.

4. Θεοῦ γὰρ διάκονός ἐστι. Fem. to agree with ἐξουσία, which throughout is almost personified. σοι, ‘for thee,’ ethical, for thy advantage. εἰς τὸ ἀγαθόν, ‘for the good,’ to promote good, existing for a good end.

τὴν μάχαιραν. The sword is the symbol of the executive and criminal jurisdiction of a magistrate, and is therefore used of the power of punishing inherent in the government. So Ulpian, Digest, i. 18. 6. § 8; Tac. Hist. iii. 68; Dio Cassius, xlii. 27.

ἔκδικος εἰς ὀργήν, ‘inflicting punishment or vengeance so as to exhibit wrath,’ namely the Divine wrath as administered by the ruler who is God’s agent (cf. ver. 2 and 12:19). The repetition of the phrase Θεοῦ διάκονος with both sides of the sentence emphasizes the double purpose of the state. It exists positively for the well-being of the community, negatively to check evil by the infliction of punishment, and both these functions are derived from God.

5. διό: rulers, because as God’s ministers they have a Divine order and purpose, are to be obeyed, not only because they have power over men, but also because it is right, διὰ τὴν συνείδησιν (cf. 2:15, 9:1).

6. διὰ τοῦτο γὰρ καί, sc. διὰ τὴν συνείδησιν: ‘and it is for this reason also.’ St. Paul is appealing to a principle which his readers will recognize. It is apparently an admitted rule of the Christian communities that taxes are to be paid, and he points out that the principle is thus recognized of the moral duty of obeying rulers. That he could thus appeal to a recognized practice seems to imply that the words of our Lord (Luke 20:20-25) had moulded the habits of the early Church, and this suggestion is corroborated by ver. 7 (see the longer note below).

λειτουργοί, ‘God’s ministers.’ Although the word is used in a purely secular sense of a servant, whether of an individual or of a community (1 Kings 10:5; Ecclus. 10:2), yet the very definite meaning which λειτουργὸς Θεοῦ had acquired (Ecclus 7:30; Hebrews 8:2; see especially the note on Romans 15:16) adds emphasis to St. Paul’s expression.

προσκαρτεροῦντες must apparently be taken absolutely (as in Xen. Hell. VII. v. 14), ‘persevering faithfully in their office,’ and εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦτο gives the purpose of the office, the same as that ascribed above to the state. These words cannot be taken immediately with προσκαρτεροῦντες, for that verb, as in 12:13, seems always to govern the dative.

7. St. Paul concludes this subject and leads on to the next by a general maxim which covers all the different points touched upon: ‘Pay each one his due.’

τῷ τὸν φόρον, sc. ἀπαιτοῦντι. φόρος is the tribute paid by a subject nation (Luke 20:22; Luk_1 Macc. 10:33), while τέλος represents the customs and dues which would in any case be paid for the support of the civil government (Matthew 17:25; Mat_1 Macc. 10:31).

φόβος is the respectful awe which is felt for one who has power in his hands; τιμήν honour and reverence paid to a ruler: cf. 1 Peter 2:17 τὸν Θεὸν φοβεῖσθε· τὸν βασιλέα τιμᾶτε.

A strange interpretation of this verse may be seen in the Gnostic book entitled Πίστις Σοφία, p. 294, ed. Schwartze.

The Church and the Civil Power

The motive which impelled St. Paul to write this section of the Epistle has (like so many other questions) been discussed at great length with the object of throwing light on the composition of the Roman Church. If the opinion which has been propounded already in reference to these chapters be correct, it will be obvious that here as elsewhere St. Paul is writing, primarily at any rate, with a view to the state of the Church as a whole, not to the particular circumstances of the Roman community: it being recognized at the same time that questions which agitated the whole Christian world would be likely to be reflected in what was already an important centre of Christianity. Whether this opinion be correct or not must depend partly, of course, on our estimate of the Epistle as a whole; but if it be assumed to be so, the character of this passage will amply support it. There is a complete absence of any reference to particular circumstances: the language is throughout general: there is a studied avoidance of any special terms; direct commands such as might arise from particular circumstances are not given: but general principles applicable to any period or place are laid down. As elsewhere in this Epistle, St. Paul, influenced by his past experiences, or by the questions which were being agitated around him, or by the fear of difficulties which he foresaw as likely to arise, lays down broad general principles, applying to the affairs of life the spirit of Christianity as he has elucidated it.

But what were the questions that were in the air when he wrote? There can be no doubt that primarily they would be those current in the Jewish nation concerning the lawfulness of paying taxes and otherwise recognizing the authority of a foreign ruler. When our Lord was asked, ‘Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or no?’ (Matthew 22:18 f.; Luke 20:22 f.), a burning question was at once raised. Starting from the express command ‘thou mayest not put a foreigner over thee, which is not thy brother’ (Deuteronomy 17:15), and from the idea of a Divine theocracy, a large section of the Jews had refused to recognize or pay taxes to the Roman government. Judas the Gaulonite, who said that ‘the census was nothing else but downright slavery’ (Jos. Ant. XVIII. i. 1), or Theudas (ibid. XX. v. 1), or Eleazar, who is represented as saying that ‘we have long since made up our minds not to serve the Romans or any other man, but God alone’ (Bell. Jud. VII. viii. 6), may all serve as instances of a tendency which was very wide spread. Nor was this spirit confined to the Jews of Palestine; elsewhere, both in Rome and in Alexandria, riots had occurred. Nor again was it unlikely that Christianity would be affected by it. A good deal of the phraseology of the early Christians was derived from the Messianic prophecies of the O. T., and these were always liable to be taken in that purely material sense which our Lord had condemned. The fact that St. Luke records the question of the disciples, ‘Lord, dost thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ (Acts 1:6) seems to imply that such ideas were current, and the incident at Thessalonica, where St. Paul himself, because he preached the ‘kingdom,’ was accused of preaching ‘another king, one Jesus,’ shows how liable even he was to misinterpretation. These instances are quite sufficient to explain how the question was a real one when St. Paul wrote, and why it had occupied his thoughts. It is not necessary to refer it either to Ebionite dualistic views (so Baur), which would involve an anachronism, or to exaggerated Gentile ideas of Christian liberty; we have no record that these were ever perverted in this direction.

Two considerations may have specially influenced St. Paul to discuss the subject in his Epistle to the Romans. The first was the known fact of the turbulence of the Roman Jews; a fact which would be brought before him by his intercourse with Priscilla and Aquila. This may illustrate just the degree of local reference in the Epistle to the Romans. We have emphasized more than once the fact that we cannot argue anything from such passages as this as to the state of the Roman community; but St. Paul would not write in the air, and the knowledge of the character of the Jewish population in Rome gained from political refugees would be just sufficient to suggest this topic. A second cause which would lead him to introduce it would be the fascination which he felt for the power and position of Rome, a fascination which has been already illustrated (Introduction, § 1).

It must be remembered that when this Epistle was written the Roman Empire had never appeared in the character of a persecutor. Persecution had up to this time always come from the Jews or from popular riots. To St. Paul the magistrates who represented the Roman power had always been associated with order and restraint. The persecution of Stephen had probably taken place in the absence of the Roman governor: it was at the hands of the Jewish king Herod that James the brother of John had perished: at Paphos, at Thessalonica, at Corinth, at Ephesus, St. Paul had found the Roman officials a restraining power and all his experience would support the statements that he makes: ‘The rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil:’ ‘He is a minister of God to thee for good:’ ‘He is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil.’ Nor can any rhetorical point be made as has been attempted from the fact that Nero was at this time the ruler of the Empire. It may be doubted how far the vices of a ruler like Nero seriously affected the well-being of the provincials, but at any rate when these words were written the world was enjoying the good government and bright hopes of Nero’s Quinquennium.

The true relations of Christianity to the civil power had been laid down by our Lord when He had said: ‘My kingdom is not of this world,’ and again: ‘Render unto Caesar the things that be Caesar’s and to God the things that be God’s.’ It is difficult to believe that St. Paul had not these words in his mind when he wrote ver. 7, especially as the coincidences with the moral teaching of our Lord are numerous in these chapters. At any rate, starting from this idea he works out the principles which must lie at the basis of Christian politics, that the State is divinely appointed, or permitted by God; that its end is beneficent; and that the spheres of Church and State are not identical.

It has been remarked that, when St. Paul wrote, his experience might have induced him to estimate too highly the merits of the Roman government. But although later the relation of the Church to the State changed, the principles of the Church did not. In 1 Timothy 2:1, 1 Timothy 2:2 the Apostle gives a very clear command to pray for those in authority: ‘I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men: for kings and all that are in high place; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity’; so also in Titus 3:1 ‘Put them in mind to be in subjection to rulers, to authorities.’ When these words were written, the writer had to some extent at any rate experienced the Roman power in a very different aspect. Still more important is the evidence of 1 Peter. It was certainly written at a time when persecution, and that of an official character, had begun, yet the commands of St. Paul are repeated and with even greater emphasis (1 Peter 2:13-17).

The sub-Apostolic literature will illustrate this. Clement is writing to the Corinthians just after successive periods of persecution, yet he includes a prayer of the character which he would himself deliver, in the as yet unsystematized services of the day, on behalf of secular rulers. ‘Give concord and peace to us and to all that dwell on the earth … while we render obedience to Thine Almighty and most excellent Name, and to our rulers and governors upon the earth. Thou, Lord and Master, hast given them the power of sovereignty through Thine excellent and unspeakable might, that we, knowing the glory and honour which Thou hast given them, may submit ourselves unto them, in nothing resisting Thy will. Grant unto them therefore, O Lord, health, peace, concord, stability, that they may administer the government which Thou hast given them without failure. For Thou, O heavenly Master, King of the ages, givest to the sons of men glory and honour and power over all things that are upon the earth. Do Thou, Lord, direct their counsel according to that which is good and well-pleasing in Thy sight.’ Still more significant is the letter of Polycarp, which was written very shortly after he had met Ignatius on his road to martyrdom; in it he emphasizes the Christian custom by combining the command to pray for rulers with that to love our enemies. ‘Pray also for kings and powers and princes and for them that persecute and hate you and for the enemies of the cross, that your fruit may be manifest among all men that ye may be perfect in Him.’ (Clem. Rom. 60, 61; Polyc. ad Phil. xii.)

It is not necessary to give further instances of a custom which prevailed extensively or universally in the early Church. It became a commonplace of apologists (Just. Mart. Apol. i. 17; Athenagoras, Leg. xxxvii; Theophilus, i. 11; Tertullian, Apol. 30, 39, ad Scap. 2; Dion. Alex. ap Eus. H. E. VII. xi; Arnob. iv. 36) and is found in all liturgies (cf. Const. Ap. viii. 12).

One particular phase in the interpretation of this chapter demands a passing notice. In the hands of the Jacobean and Caroline divines it was held to support the doctrine of Passive Obedience. This doctrine has taken a variety of forms. Some held that a Monarchy as opposed to a Republic is the only scriptural form of government, others that a legitimate line alone has this divine right. A more modified type of this teaching may be represented by a sermon of Bishop Berkeley (Passive Obedience or the Christian Doctrine of not resisting the supreme power, proved and vindicated upon the principles of the law of nature in a discourse delivered at the College Chapel, 1712. Works, iii. p. 101). He takes as his text Romans 13:2 ‘Whosoever resisteth the Power, resisteth the ordinance of God.’ He begins ‘It is not my design to inquire into the particular nature of the government and constitution of these kingdoms.’ He then proceeds by assuming that ‘there is in every civil community, somewhere or other, placed a supreme power of making laws, and enforcing the observation of them.’ His main purpose is to prove that ‘Loyalty is a moral virtue, and thou shalt not resist the supreme power, a rule or law of nature, the least breach whereof hath the inherent stain of moral turpitude.’ And he places it on the same level as the commandments which St. Paul quotes in this same chapter.

Bishop Berkeley represents the doctrine of Passive Obedience as expounded in its most philosophical form. But he does not notice the main difficultySt. Paul gives no directions as to what ought to be done when there is a conflict of authority. In his day there could be no doubt that the rule of Caesar was supreme and had become legitimate: all that he had to condemn was an incorrect view of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ as a theocracy established on earth, whether it were held by Jewish zealots or by Christians. He does not discuss the question, ‘if there were two claimants for the Empire which should be supported?’ for it was not a practical difficulty when he wrote. So Bishop Berkeley, by his use of the expression ‘somewhere or other,’ equally evades the difficulty. Almost always when there is a rebellion or a civil war the question at issue is, Who is the rightful governor? which is the power ordained by God?

But there is a side of the doctrine of Passive Obedience which requires emphasis, and which was illustrated by the Christianity of the first three centuries. The early Christians were subject to a power which required them to do that which was forbidden by their religion. To that extent and within those limits they could not and did not obey it; but they never encouraged in any way resistance or rebellion. In all things indifferent the Christian conformed to existing law; he obeyed the law ‘not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience sake.’ He only disobeyed when it was necessary to do so for conscience sake. The point of importance is the detachment of the two spheres of activity. The Church and the State are looked upon as different bodies, each with a different work to perform. To designate this or that form of government as ‘Christian,’ and support it on these grounds, would have been quite alien to the whole spirit of those days. The Church must influence the world by its hold on the hearts and consciences of individuals, and in that way, and not by political power, will the Kingdom of God come.


13:8-10. There is one debt which the Christian must always be paying but never can discharge, that of love. All particular precepts are summed up in that of love, which makes injury to any man impossible.

8. St. Paul passes from our duties towards superiors to that one principle which must control our relations towards all men, love. In 12:9 the principle of love is introduced as the true solution of all difficulties which may arise from rivalry in the community; here it is represented as at the root of all regulations as to our relations to others in any of the affairs of life.

μηδενὶ μηδὲν ὀφείλετε must be imperative as the negatives show. It sums up negatively the results of the previous verse and suggests the transition, ‘Pay every one their due and owe no man anything.’

εἰ μὴ τὸ ἀγαπᾷ ἀλλήλους: ‘Let your only debt that is unpaid be that of love—a debt which you should always be attempting to discharge in full, but will never succeed in discharging.’ Permanere tamen et nunquam cessare a nobis debitum caritatis: hoc enim et quotidie solvere et semper debere expedit nobis. Orig. By this pregnant expression St. Paul suggests both the obligation of love and the impossibility of fulfilling it. This is more forcible than to suppose a change in the meaning of ὀφείλετε: ‘Owe no man anything, only ye ought to love one another.’

ὁ γὰρ ἀγαπῶν κ.τ.λ. gives the reason why ‘love’ is so important: if a man truly loves another he has fulfilled towards him the whole law. νόμον is not merely the Jewish law, although it is from it that the illustrations that follow are taken, but law as a principle. Just as in the relations of man and God πίστις has been substituted for νόμος, so between man and man ἀγάπη takes the place of definite legal relations. The perfect πεπλήρωκεν implies that the fulfilment is already accomplished simply in the act of love.

9. St. Paul gives instances of the manner in which ‘love’ fulfils law. No man who loves another will injure him by adultery, by murder, by theft, &c. They are all therefore summed up in the one maxim ‘thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,’ as indeed they were also in the Old Covenant.

The AV. adds after οὐ κλέψεις in this verse οὐ ψενδομαρτυρήσεις from the O. T. with א P &c., Boh. &c., as against A B D E F G L &c., Vulg. codd. and most Fathers. ἐν τῷ before ἀγαπήσεις is omitted by B F G. For σεαυτόν of the older MSS. (א A B D E), later MSS. read ἑαυτόν, both here and elsewhere. In late Greek ἑαυτόν became habitually used for all persons in the reflexive, and scribes substituted the form most usual to them.

The order of the commandments is different from that in the Hebrew text, both in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17, namely, (6) Thou shalt do no murder, (7) Thou shalt not commit adultery, (8) Thou shalt not steal. The MSS. of the LXX vary; in Exodus B reads 7, 8, 6, A F 6, 7, 8; in Deut. B reads 7, 6, 8 (the order here), A F 6, 7, 8. The order of Romans is that also of Luke 18:20; Jam 2:11; Philo De Decalogo; Clem.-Alex. Strom. vi. 16.

καὶ εἴ τις ἑτέρα shows that St. Paul in this selection has only taken instances and that he does not mean merely to give a summing up of the Jewish law.

ἀνακεφαλαιοῦται: a rhetorical term used of the summing up of a speech or argument, and hence of including a large number of separate details under one head. As used in Ephesians 1:10 of God summing up all things in Christ it became a definite theological term, represented in Latin by recapitulatio (Iren. III. xxii. 2).

Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς ἑαυτόν. Taken from Leviticus 19:18 where it sums up a far longer list of commandments. It is quoted Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Galatians 5:14; Jam 2:8 where it is called βασιλικὸς νόμος.

10. ἡ ἀγάπη … οὐκ ἐργάζεται. Love fulfils all law, because no one who loves another will do him any ill by word or deed. These words sum up what has been said at greater length in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6.

πλήρωμα, ‘complete fulfilment.’ The meaning of πλ. here is given by ver. 9 ‘He that loveth his neighbour has fulfilled (πεπλήρωκεν) law, therefore love is the fulfilment (πλήρωμα) of law.

The History of the word ἀγάπη.

There are three words in Greek all of which may be translated by the English ‘love,’ ἐράω, φιλέω, ἀγαπάω. Of these ἐράω with its cognate form ἔραμαι was originally associated with the sexual passion and was thence transferred to any strong passionate affection; φιλέω was used rather of warm domestic affection, and so of the love of master and servant, of parents and children, of husband and wife; in Homer, of the love of the gods for men. ἐρᾶν is combined with ἐπιθυμεῖν and contrasted with φιλεῖν as in Xen. Hier. xi. 11 ὤστε οὐ μόνον φιλοῖο ἂν ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐρῷο. One special use of ἔρως and ἐράω must be referred to, namely, the Platonic. The intensity and strength of human passion seemed to Plato to represent most adequately the love of the soul for higher things, and so the philosophic ἔρως was used for the highest human desire, that for true knowledge, true virtue, true immortality.

The distinction of φιλέω and ἀγαπάω much resembled that between ame and diligo. The one expressed greater affection, the other greater esteem. So Dio Cassius xliv. 48 ἐφιλήσατε αὐτὸν ὡς πατέρα καὶ ἠγαπήσατε ὡς εὐεργέτην; and John 21:15-17 λέγει αὐτῷ πάλιν δεύτερον, Σίμων Ἰωάνου, ἀγαπᾷς με; λέγει αὐτῷ, Ναί, Κύριε· σὺ οἵδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε κ.τ.λ. (see Trench, Syn. § xii). It is significant that no distinction is absolute; but φιλέω occasionally, still more rarely ἀγαπάω, are both used incorrectly of the sexual passion. There is too close a connexion between the different forms of human affection to allow any rigid distinction to be made in the use of words.

When these words were adopted into Hellenistic Greek, a gradual change was made in their use. ἐράω and its cognates are very rarely used, and almost invariably in a bad sense. In the N. T. they do not occur at all, the word ἐπιθυμέω being employed instead. Yet occasionally, even in biblical and ecclesiastical Greek, the higher sense of the Platonic ἔρως finds a place (Proverbs 4:6; Wisdom 8:2; Justin, Dial. 8, p. 225 B; Clem.-Alex. Coh. ii, p. 90; see Lightfoot, Ignatius ad Rom. vii. 2). Between ἀγαπάω and φιλέω a decided preference was shown for the former. It occurs about 268 times (Hatch and Redpath) in a very large proportion of cases as a translation of the Hebrew אָהֵב; φιλέω about twelve times (Trommius), excluding its use as equivalent to osculor. This choice was largely due to the use of the Hebrew word to express the love of God to man, and of man to God (Deuteronomy 23:5; Deuteronomy 30:6; Hosea 3:1); it was felt that the greater amount of intellectual desire and the greater severity implied in ἀγαπάω fitted it better than φιλέω for this purpose. But while it was elevated in meaning it was also broadened; it is used not only of the love of father and son, of husband and wife, but also of the love of Samson for Delilah (Judges 1:16:4) and of Hosea’s love for his adulterous wife (Hosea 3:1). Nor can there be any doubt that to Hebrew writers there was in a pure love of God or of righteousness something of the intensity which is the highest characteristic of human passion (Isaiah 62:5). ἀγαπάω in the LXX corresponds in all its characteristics to the English ‘love.’

But not only did the LXX use modify the meaning of ἀγαπάω, it created a new word ἀγάπη. Some method was required of expressing the conception which was gradually growing up. Ἕρως had too sordid associations. Φιλία was tried (Wisdom 7:14; 8:18), but was felt to be inadequate. The language of the Song of Solomon created the demand for ἀγάπη. (2Ki_1 or 2 times; Ecc_2; Canticles 11; Wisdom 2; Ecclus. 1; Jer_1; Ps. Son_1.)

The N. T. reproduces the usage of the LXX, but somewhat modified. While ἀγαπάω is used 138 times, φιλέω is used in this sense 22 times (13 in St. John’s Gospel); generally when special emphasis has to be laid on the relations of father and son. But the most marked change is in the use of ἀγάπη. It is never used in the Classical writers, only occasionally in the LXX; in early Christian writers its use becomes habitual and general. Nothing could show more clearly that a new principle has been created than this creation of a new word.

In the Vulgate ἀγάπη is sometimes rendered by dilectio, sometimes by caritas; to this inconsistency are due the variations in the English Authorized Version. The word caritas passed into English in the Middle Ages (for details see Eng. Dict. sub voc.) in the form ‘charity,’ and was for some time used to correspond to most of the meanings of ἀγάπη; but as the English Version was inconsistent and no corresponding verb existed the usage did not remain wide. In spite of its retention in 1Co_13. ‘charity’ became confined in all ordinary phraseology to ‘benevolence,’ and the Revised Version was compelled to make the usage of the New Testament consistent.

Whatever loss there may have been in association and in the rhythm of well-known passages, there is an undoubted gain. The history of the word ἀγαπάω is that of the collection under one head of various conceptions which were at any rate partially separated, and the usage of the N. T. shows that the distinction which has to be made is not between φιλέω, ἀγαπάω and ἐράω, but between ἀγάπη and ἐπιθυμία. The English language makes this distinction between the affection or passion in any form, and a purely animal desire, quite plain; although it may be obliterated at times by a natural euphemism. But setting aside this distinction which must be occasionally present to the mind, but which need not be often spoken of, Christianity does not shrink from declaring that in all forms of human passion and affection which are not purely animal there is present that same love which in its highest and most pure development forms the essence and sum of the Christian religion. This affection, however perverted it may be, Christianity does not condemn, but so far as may be elevates and purifies.

The Christian Teaching on Love

The somewhat lengthy history just given of the word ἀγάπη is a suitable introduction to the history of an idea which forms a fundamental principle of all Christian thought.

The duty of love in some form or other had been a common-place of moral teaching in times long before Christianity and in many different places. Isolated maxims have been collected in its favour from very varied authors, and the highest pagan teaching approaches the highest Christian doctrine. But in all previous philosophy such teaching was partial or isolated, it was never elevated to a great principle. Maxims almost or quite on a level with those of Christianity we find both in the O. T. and in Jewish writers. The command ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ is of course taken directly from the O. T., and is there used to sum up in one general principle a long series of rules. Sayings of great beauty are quoted from the Jewish fathers. ‘Hillel said, Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving mankind and bringing them nigh to the Torah’ (Pirqê Aboth i. 13); or again, ‘What is hateful to thyself do not to thy fellow; this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary; go study,’ also ascribed to Hillel. It is however true in all cases that these maxims, and all such as these, are only isolated instances, that they do not represent the spirit of earlier institutions, and that they form a very insignificant proportion compared with much of a different character.

In Christianity this principle, which had been only partially understood and imperfectly taught, which was known only in isolated examples, yet testified to a universal instinct, was finally put forward as the paramount principle of moral conduct, uniting our moral instincts with our highest religious principles. A new virtue, or rather one hitherto imperfectly understood, had become recognized as the root of all virtues, and a new name was demanded for what was practically a new idea.

In the first place, the new Christian doctrine of love is universal. ‘Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you;’ and a very definite reason is given, the universal Fatherhood of God. This universalism which underlies all the teaching of Jesus is put in a definite practical form by St. Paul, ‘In Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free, male nor female.’ As it is summed up in a well-known work. ‘The first law, then, of the kingdom of God is that all men, however divided from each other by blood or language, have certain mutual duties arising out of their common relation to God’ (Ecce Homo, chap. 12).

But secondly, the Christian doctrine of love was the substitution of a universal principle for law. All moral precepts are summed up in the one command of love. What is my duty towards others? Just that feeling which you have towards the persons to whom you are most attached in the world, just that you must feel for every one. If you have that feeling there will be no need for any further command. Love is a principle and a passion, and as such is the fulfilment of the Law. Christ ‘declared an ardent, passionate, or devoted state of mind to be the root of virtue’; and this purifying passion, capable of existing in all men alike, will be able to redeem our nature and make laws superfluous.

And thirdly, how is this new Christian spirit possible? It is possible because it is intimately bound up with that love which is a characteristic of the Godhead. ‘God is love.’ ‘A new commandment I give to you, that ye should love one another as I have loved you.’ It is possible also because men have learnt to love mankind in Christ. ‘Where the precept of love has been given, an image must be set before the eyes of those who are called on to obey it, an ideal or type of man which may be noble and amiable enough to raise the whole race, and make the meanest member of it sacred with reflected glory.’ This is what Christ did for us.

These three points will help to elucidate what St. Paul means by ἀγάπη. It is in fact the correlative in the moral world to what faith is in the religious life. Like faith it is universal; like faith it is a principle not a code; like faith it is centred in the Godhead. Hence St. Paul, as St. John (1 John 3:23), sums up Christianity in Faith and Love, which are finally, united in that Love of God, which is the end and root of both.


13:11-14. The night of this corrupt age is flying. The Parousia is nearing. Cast off your evil ways. Gird yourselves with the armour of light. Take Christ into your hearts. Shun sin and self-indulgence.

11. The Apostle adds a motive for the Christian standard of life, the nearness of our final salvation.

καὶ τοῦτο, ‘and that too’: cp. 1 Corinthians 6:6, 1 Corinthians 6:8; Ephesians 2:8, &c.: it resumes the series of exhortations implied in the previous sections; there is no need to supply any special words with it.

τὸν καιρόν: used of a definite, measured, or determined time, and so almost technically of the period before the second coming of Christ: cf. 1 Corinthians 7:29 ὁ καιρὸς συνεσταλμένοσ; Mark 1:15; and so ὁ καιρὸς ὁ ἐνεστώς (Hebrews 9:9).

ὅτι ὥρα ἤδη κ.τ.λ. ἤδη with ἐγερθῆναι. The time of trial on earth is looked upon as a night of gloom, to be followed by a bright morning. We must arouse ourselves from slumber and prepare ourselves for the light.

νῦν γὰρ ἐγγύτερον κ.τ.λ. ‘For our completed salvation, no longer that hope of salvation which sustains us here, is appreciably nearer for us than when we first accepted in faith the Messianic message.’ ὅτε ἐπιστεύσαμεν refers to the actual moment of the acceptance of Christianity. The language is that befitting those who expect the actual coming of Christ almost immediately, but it will fit the circumstances of any Christian for whom death brings the day.

In ver. 11 the original ὑμᾶς (א A B C P, Clem.-Alex.) has been corrected for the sake of uniformity into ἡμᾶς (אc D E F G L, &c., Boh. Sah.). In ver. 13 ἐν ἔρισι καὶ ζήλοις is a variant of B, Sah., Clem.-Alex. Amb. In ver. 14, B, and Clem.-Alex. read τὸν Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν, which may very likely be the correct reading.

12. προέκοψεν, ‘has advanced towards dawn.’ Cf. Luke 2:52; Galatians 1:14; Jos. Bell. Jud. IV. 4:6; Just. Dial. p. 277 d.

The contrast of ὕπνος, νύξ, and σκότος with ἡμέρα and φῶς finds many illustrations in Christian and in all religious literature.

ἀποθώμεθα. The works of darkness, i.e. works such as befit the kingdom of darkness, are represented as being cast off like the uncomely garments of the night, for the bright armour which befits the Christian soldier as a member of the kingdom of light. This metaphor of the Christian armour is a favourite one with St. Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:8; 2 Corinthians 6:7; Romans 6:13; and especially Ephesians 6:13 f.); it may have been originally suggested by the Jewish conception of the last great fight against the armies of Antichrist (Dan_10; Orac. Sib. 3. 663 f.; 4 Ezra 13:33; Enoch xc.16), but in St. Paul the conception has become completely spiritualized.

13. εὐσχημόνως περιπατήσωμεν. The metaphor περιπατεῖν of conduct is very common in St. Paul’s Epistles, where it occurs thirty-three times (never in the Past. Epp.); elsewhere in the N. T. sixteen times.

κώμοις, ‘rioting,’ ‘revelry’ (Galatians 5:21; 1 Peter 4:3). μέθη the drunkenness which would be the natural result and accompaniment of such revelry.

κοίταις καὶ ἀσελγείαις, ‘unlawful intercourse and wanton acts.’ Ορα δὲ τὴν τάξιν· κωμάζων μὲν γάρ τις μεθύει, μεθύων δὲ κοιτάζεται, κοιταζόμενος δὲ ἀσελγαίνει, τοῦ οἴνου τοῦτον τῇ πλησμονῇ πυρπολοῦντος καὶ διερεθίζοντος. Euthym.-Zig.

14. ἐνδύσασθε τὸν Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν. Christ is put on first in baptism (6:3; Galatians 3:27), but we must continually renew that life with which we have been clothed (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:12).

τῆς σαρκός with πρόνοιαν: the word is thrown forward in order to emphasize the contrast between the old nature, the flesh of sin, and the new, the life in Christ.

On this passage most commentators compare St. Aug. Confess. 8:12, 23 Arripui, aperui et legi in silentio capitulum, quo primum coniecti sunt oculi mei: Non in conversationibus et ebrietatibus, non in cubilibus et impudicitiis, non in contentione et aemulatione: sed induite Dominum Iesum Christum, et carnis providentiam ne feceritis in concupiscentiis. Nec ultra volui legere, nec opus erat. Statim quippe cum fine huiusce sententiae quasi luce securitatis infusa cordi meo, omnes dubitationis tenebrae diffugerunt.

The early Christian belief in the nearness of the παρουσία.

There can hardly be any doubt that in the Apostolic age the prevailing belief was that the Second Coming of the Lord was an event to be expected in any case shortly and probably in the life-time of many of those then living; it is also probable that this belief was shared by the Apostles themselves. For example, so strongly did such views prevail among the Thessalonian converts that the death of some members of the community had filled them with perplexity, and even when correcting these opinions St. Paul speaks of ‘we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of our Lord’; and in the second Epistle, although he corrects the erroneous impression which still prevailed that the coming was immediate and shows that other events must precede it, he still contemplates it as at hand. Similar passages may be quoted from all or most of the Epistles, although there are others that suggest that it is by his own death, not by the coming of Christ, that St. Paul expects to attain the full life in Christ to which he looked forward (1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Romans 13:11, Romans 13:12; Php 4:5; and on the other side 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Php 1:23; Php 3:11, Php 3:20, Php 3:21; see Jowett, Thessalonians, &c., i. p. 105, who quotes both classes of passages without distinguishing them).

How far was this derived from our Lord’s own teaching? There is, it is true, very clear teaching on the reality and the suddenness of the coming of Christ, and very definite exhortation to all Christians to live as expecting that coming. This teaching is couched largely in the current language of Apocalyptic literature which was often hardly intended to be taken literally even by Jewish writers; moreover it is certainly mingled with teaching which was intended to refer to what was a real manifestation of the Divine power, and very definitely a ‘coming of the Lord’ in the O. T. sense of the term, the destruction of Jerusalem. All this language again is reported to us by those who took it in a literal sense. The expressions of our Lord quoted as prophetic of His speedy return are all to a certain extent ambiguous; for example, ‘This generation shall not pass away until all these things be fulfilled,’ or again ‘There be some of them here who shall not taste of death until they see the Son of man coming with power.’ On the other side there is a very distinct tradition preserved in documents of different classes recording that when our Lord was asked definitely on such matters His answers were ambiguous. Acts 1:7 ‘It is not for you to know times and seasons, which the Father hath set within His own authority.’ John 21:23 ‘This saying therefore went forth among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, that he should not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?’ Moreover he affirmed that He Himself was ignorant of the date Mark 13:32; Matthew 24:36 ‘But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only.’

In the face of these passages it is reasonable to believe that this ignorance of the Early Church was permitted and that with a purpose. If so, we may be allowed to speculate as to the service it was intended to fulfil.

In the first place, this belief in the nearness of the second coming quickened the religious and moral earnestness of the early Christian. Believing as intently as he did ‘that the fashion of this world passeth away,’ he ‘set his affection on things above’; he lived in the world and yet not of the world. The constant looking forward to the coming of the Lord produced a state of intense spiritual zeal which braced the Church for its earliest and hardest task.

And secondly, it has been pointed out very ably how much the elasticity and mobility of Christianity were preserved by the fact that the Apostles never realized that they were building up a Church which was to last through the ages. It became the fashion of a later age to ascribe to the Apostles a series of ordinances and constitutions. Any such theory is quite inconsistent with the real spirit of their time. They never wrote or legislated except so far as existing needs demanded. They founded such institutions as were clearly required by some immediate want, or were part of our Lord’s teaching. But they never administered or planned with a view to the remote future. Their writings were occasional, suggested by some pressing difficulty; but they thus incidentally laid down great broad principles which became the guiding principles of the Church. The Church therefore is governed by case law, not by code law: by broad principles, not by minute regulations. It may seem a paradox, but yet it is profoundly true, that the Church is adapted to the needs of every age, just because the original preachers of Christianity never attempted to adapt it to the needs of any period but their own.

The relation of Chaps. 12-14 to the Gospels

There is a very marked resemblance between the moral teaching of St. Paul contained in the concluding section of the Epistle to the Romans, and our Lord’s own words; a resemblance which, in some cases, extends even to language.

Romans 12:14.Matthew 5:44.

εὐλογεῖτε τοῦς διώκοντας ὑμᾶς· εὐλογεῖτε, καὶ μὴ καταρᾶσθε. ἀγαπᾶτε τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑμῶν, καὶ προσεύχεσθε ὑπὲρ τῶν διωκόντων ὑμᾶς.

Romans 13:7. Matthew 22:21.

ἀπόδοτε πᾶσι τὰς ὀφειλάς κ.τ.λ. ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι, καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῷ Θεῷ.

Romans 13:9. Matthew 22:39, Matthew 22:40.

καὶ εἴ τις ἑτέρα ἐντολή, ἐν τούτῳ τῷ λόγῳ ἀνακεφαλαιοῦται, ἐν τῷ Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς ὲαυτόν. δευτέρα δὲ ὁμοία αὕτη, Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν. ἐν ταύταις ταῖς δυσὶν ἐντολαῖς ὅλος ὁ νόμος κρέμαται καὶ οἱ προφῆται.

To these verbal resemblances must be added remarkable identity of teaching in these successive chapters. Everything that is said about revenge, or about injuring others, is exactly identical with the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount; our duty towards rulers exactly reproduces the lesson given in St. Matthew’s Gospel; the words concerning the relation of ‘love’ to ‘law’ might be an extract from the Gospel: the two main lines of argument in ch. xiv, the absolute indifference of all external practices, and the supreme importance of not giving a cause of offence to any one are both directly derived from the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 18:6, Matthew 18:7, 15:Matthew 18:11-20). This resemblance is brought out very well by a recent writer (Knowling, Witness of the Epistles, p. 312): ‘Indeed it is not too much to add that the Apostle’s description of the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17) reads like a brief summary of its description in the same Sermon on the Mount; the righteousness, peace, and joy, which formed the contents of the kingdom in the Apostle’s conception are found side by side in the Saviour’s Beatitudes; nor can we fail to notice how both St. Matthew and St. Luke contrast the anxious care for meat and drink with seeking in the first place for the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Nor must it be forgotten that Paul’s fundamental idea of righteousness may be said to be rooted in the teaching of Jesus.’

It is well known that there are definite references by St. Paul to the words of our Lord: so 1 Thessalonians 4:15 = Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 7:10 = Mark 10:9; 1 Corinthians 9:14 = Luke 10:7; as also in the case of the institution of the Last Supper, 1 Corinthians 11:24. Reminiscences also of the Sermon on the Mount may be found in other Epistles, e. g. Jam 4:9 = Matthew 5:4; Jam 5:12 = Matthew 5:33; 1 Peter 3:9 = Matthew 5:39; 1 Peter 4:14 = Matthew 5:11, Matthew 5:12, and elsewhere. The resemblances are not in any case sufficient either to prove the use of any document which we possess in its present form, or to prove the use of a different document (see below); but they do show that the teaching of the Apostles was based on some common source, which was identical both in substance and spirit with those words of our Lord contained in the Gospels.

They suggest further that even in cases where we have no direct evidence that Apostolic teaching is based on the Gospel narrative it does not follow that our Lord Himself did not originate it. For Christianity is older than any of its records. The books of the N. T. reflect, they did not originate, the teaching of early Christianity. Moreover, our Lord originated principles. It was these principles which inspired His followers; some of the words which are the product of and which taught those principles are preserved, some are not; but the result of them is contained in the words of the Apostles, which worked out in practical life the principles they had learnt directly or indirectly from the Christ.

A much more exact and definite conclusion is supported with very great industry by Alfred Resch in a series of investigations, the first of which is Agrapha, Aussercanonische Evangelien-fragmente in Texte und Untersuchungen, 5:4. He argues (pp. 28, 29) that the acquaintance shown by St. Paul with the words and teaching of Jesus implies the use of an Urcanonische Quellenschrift, which was also used by St. Mark, as well as the other N. T. writers. It would be of course beside our purpose to examine this theory, but so far as it concerns the passages we are considering it may be noticed: (1) That so far as they go there would be no reason why all St. Paul’s teaching should not have been derived from our present Gospels. He does not profess to be quoting, and the verbal reminiscences might quite well represent the documents we possess. (2) That it is equally impossible to argue against the use of different Gospels. The only legitimate conclusion is that there must have been a common teaching of Jesus behind the Apostle’s words which was identical in spirit and substantially in words with that contained in our Synoptic Gospels. Some stress is laid by Resch (pp.245, 302 ff.) on passages which are identical in Romans and 1 Peter. So Romans 12:17 = 1 Peter 3:9; Romans 13:1, Romans 13:3 = 1 Peter 2:13, 1 Peter 2:14. The resemblance is undoubted, but a far more probable explanation is that 1 Peter is directly indebted to the Romans (see Introduction § 8). There is no reason to cite these as ‘Words of the Lord’; yet it is very probable that much more of the common teaching and even phraseology of the early Church than we are accustomed to imagine goes back to the teaching of Jesus.

Tert. Tertullian.

Jos. Josephus.

אԠCod. Sinaiticus

A Cod. Alexandrinus

B Cod. Vaticanus

L Cod. Angelicus

P Cod. Porphyrianus

Bas. Basil.

Chrys. Chrysostom.

Orig. Origen.

D Cod. Claromontanus

F Cod. Augiensis

G Cod. Boernerianus

Boh. Bohairic.

Vulg. Vulgate.

Clem.-Alex. Clement of Alexandria.

Orig.-lat. Latin Version of Origen

Syrr. Syriac.

Arm. Armenian.

Aeth. Ethiopic.

Eus. Eusebius.

&c. always qualify the word which precedes, not that which follows:

AV. Authorized Version.

E Cod. Sangermanensis

codd. codices.

Sah. Sahidic.

Amb. Ambrose.

Euthym.-Zig. Euthymius Zigabenus.

Aug. Augustine.

Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
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.
Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
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 ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
ICC New Testament commentary on selected books

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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