Romans 13:1
Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
Jump to: AlfordBarnesBengelBensonBICalvinCambridgeChrysostomClarkeDarbyEllicottExpositor'sExp DctExp GrkGaebeleinGSBGillGrayHaydockHastingsHomileticsICCJFBKellyKJTLangeMacLarenMHCMHCWMeyerNewellParkerPNTPoolePulpitSermonSCOTeedTTBVWSWESTSK

(1-7) Subject unto the higher powers.—Looking impartially at the passage which follows, it would seem at first sight—and perhaps not only at first sight—that the Apostle distinctly preaches two doctrines, both of which are now discredited, the doctrines of divine right and of passive obedience. The duty of obedience is grounded upon the fact that the power wielded by the magistrate is derived from God, and that duty itself is stated without qualification.

What are we to understand by this? Are we to say, for instance, that Hampden was wrong in refusing the payment of ship-money? Or if he was not wrong—and the verdict of mankind has generally justified his act—what are we to think of the language that is here used by St. Paul?

1. In the first place it should be noticed that though the duty of obedience is here stated without qualification, still the existence of qualifications to it is not therefore denied or excluded. Tribute is to be paid to whom tribute is due. But this still leaves the question open, whether in any particular case tribute is rightfully due or not. There may possibly be a conflict of rights and duties, and the lower may have to yield to the higher. All that is alleged is that, primâ facie, the magistrate can claim the obedience of the subject. But supposing the magistrate calls upon the subject to do that which some other authority co-ordinate with that of the magistrate forbids—supposing, for instance, as in the case of Hampden, under a constitutional monarchy, the king commands one thing, and the Parliament another—there is clearly a conflict of obligations, and the decision which accepts the one obligation is not necessarily wrong because it ignores the other. There will always be a certain debatable ground within which opposite duties will seem to clash, and where general principles are no longer of any avail. Here the individual conscience must assume the responsibility of deciding which to obey.

We are not called upon to enter into the casuistry of the subject. It may only be well to add one caution. Any such seemingly direct collision of duties must be at the very lightest a most serious and difficult matter; and though the burden of deciding falls ultimately on the individual, still he must be careful to remember that his particular judgment is subject to that fallibility to which, all individual judgments are liable. Where the precept is appealed to, “Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” one man will say that the particular point in question comes under the first head, another that it comes under the second. In either case a great responsibility is assumed, and it is especially desirable that the judgment of the individual should be fortified by the consent of others, if possible by the suffrages of the majority of those who are in a position to judge. It is one thing to say that a conflict of duties may arise, and that the higher is to be obeyed. It is another thing to say that in a certain given case such conflict has arisen, and that the duty which commends itself to the individual is the higher of the two. Whatever the decision arrived at, it ought not to be made in a spirit of levity, nor ought it to be supposed that the dictum of the single conscience bears anything like the same validity as the universal principles of morals. And there will be the further drawback, that in such cases the individual usually acts as judge in his own cause, where his conscience is pretty sure to be biased. There is therefore a very strong onus probandi thrown upon the person who takes upon himself to overrule what is in itself a clear obligation.

2. But the question of political obedience cannot be rightly considered without taking into account the relation of Christianity to political life generally, neither can this isolated passage in an Epistle of St. Paul’s be considered apart from other teaching upon the same subjects in the rest of the New Testament. Very similar language, it will be remembered, is found in 1Peter 2:13-17. And going back to the fountain-head of Christian doctrine, we find, indeed, no express statements, but several significant facts and some important intimations. When He was arrested by the civil power, and unjustly tried and condemned, our Lord made no resistance. Not only so, but when resistance was made on His behalf, He rebuked the disciple who had drawn the sword for Him. When the didrachma was demanded of Him, which it was customary for the Jew to pay towards the repair and maintenance of the Temple, He, though as Lord of the Temple He claimed exemption, nevertheless, for fear of putting a stumbling-block in the way of others, supplied the sum required by a miracle. On another occasion, when a question was asked as to the legitimacy of the Roman tribute, He replied in words already quoted, “Render to Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s, and to God the things which are God’s.” And, lastly, when appeal was made to Him to settle a disputed inheritance, He refused, saying to His petitioner, “Man, who made Me a judge or a divider over you?” Here we have really the key to the whole question. So far as His practice was concerned, our Lord pursued a course of simple obedience; into the theory of political or civil obligation He absolutely refused to enter. The answer, “Render to Cæsar,” &c., left matters precisely as they stood, for the real question was, “What was Cæsar’s, and what was not? The ambiguity of the reply was intended. It was practically a refusal to reply at all.

The significance of this comes out very strikingly when it is contrasted with the state of feeling and opinion current among the Jews at the same time. With them politics and religion were intimately blended. They carried into the former sphere the fanaticism natural to the latter. Their religious hopes took a political form. The dominion of the Messiah was to be not a spiritual, but a literal dominion, in which they, as a people, were to share.

Clearly, the relations which our Lord assumed towards politics had especial reference to this attitude of the Jews. He wished to disabuse His disciples once and for all of this fatal confusion of two spheres in themselves so distinct. He wished to purify and to spiritualise their conception of the “Kingdom of Heaven,” which He came to found. And, lastly, He finally submitted to the civil power, as the instrument divinely employed to inflict upon Him those sufferings which were to be the cause of our redemption. Vicit patiendo.

It would seem as if by some intuitive perception the disciples entered into the intention of their Master. Towards the civil power they maintained an attitude of absolute submission. They refused to avail themselves of the elements of fanaticism which existed wherever there were Jews, and at the head of which they might easily have placed themselves. Instead of this, they chose to suffer and die, and their sufferings did what force could never have done—they leavened and Christianised the world.

3. It is an expression of this deliberate policy (if by that name it may be called) which we find in these first seven verses of Romans 13. At the same time, the Apostle may very well have had a special as well as a general object. The Church at Rome was largely composed of Jews, and these would naturally be imbued with the fanatical spirit of their countrymen. The very mention of the Messiah would tend to fan their smouldering passions into flame. The Apostle would be aware of this. His informants at Rome may have told him of excitement prevailing among the Jewish portion of the community. His experience in Palestine would tell him to what unscrupulous acts of violence this might lead. And he forestalls the danger by an authoritative and reasoned description of the attitude which the Christian ought to assume.

It does not necessarily follow that precisely the same attitude is incumbent upon the Christian now. In this section of Christian teaching there was something that was temporary and local, and that had reference to conditions that have now passed away. And yet as a general principle, the injunctions of the Apostle entirely hold good. The exceptions to this principle are few and far between. And he who would assert the existence of such an exception must count the cost well beforehand.

(1) Every soul.—A Hebraism for “every person,” though at the same time here, as in Romans 2:9, there is a slight stress upon the fact that man is a conscious and intelligent being, capable of moral relations, and it is especially with reference to these relations that the phrase is used.

Higher powers.—Authorities, i.e., magistrates, the abstract for the concrete.

There is no power.—It is strange that the Apostle seems to go almost out of his way to include even usurped and tyrannical power. He is, however, evidently speaking of the magistracy in its abstract or ideal form. It is the magistrate quâ magistrate, not quâ just or unjust magistrate. In this sense, not only is the human system of society a part of the divinely-appointed order of things, but it partakes more especially in the divine attributes, inasmuch as its object is to reward virtue and to punish vice. It discharges the same functions that God himself discharges, though in a lower scale and degree. Hence Bishop Butler feels himself justified in taking the principles which regulate civil society as an analogy for those which will regulate the ultimate divine disposition of things. “It is necessary to the very being of society that vices destructive of it should be punished as being so—the vices of falsehood, injustice, cruelty—which punishment, therefore, is as natural as society; and so is an instance of a kind of moral government, naturally established, and actually taking place. And, since the certain natural course of things is the conduct of Providence or the government of God, though carried on by the instrumentality of men, the observation here made amounts to this, that mankind find themselves placed by Him in such circumstances as that they are unavoidably accountable for their behaviour, and are often punished and sometimes rewarded under His government in the view of their being mischievous or eminently beneficial to society.” In other words, the machinery of civil society is one of the chief and most conspicuous instruments by which God carries out His own moral government of mankind in this present existence. It may be said to be more distinctly and peculiarly derived from Him than other parts of the order of nature, inasmuch as it is the channel used to convey His moral approbation, or the reverse.

The powers that be.—Those that we see existing all around us.

Romans 13:1. From exhorting the believers at Rome to a life of entire devotedness to God, and the various duties of brotherly kindness, the apostle now proceeds to inculcate upon them that subjection and obedience which they owed to their civil rulers, and those duties of justice and benevolence which were due from them to all men. And as Rome was the seat of the empire, it was highly proper for the credit of Christianity, for which indeed it was, in effect, a public apology for him to do this when writing to inhabitants of that city, whether they were originally Jews or Gentiles. Let every soul — Every person, of whatever state, calling, or degree he may be, however endowed with miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, whatever office he may sustain, or in what esteem soever he may be held in the church of Christ; (for that these things were apt to make some Christians overvalue themselves, is obvious from what St. Paul says to the Corinthians, first epistle, chap. 12.; and to the Romans, in the preceding chapter of this epistle;) be subject to the higher powers Εξουσιαις υπερεχουσαις, the superior or ruling powers; meaning the governing civil authorities which the Divine Providence had established in the places where they lived: an admonition this peculiarly needful for the Jews. For as God had chosen them for his peculiar people, “and, being their king, had dictated to them a system of laws, and had governed them anciently in person, and afterward by princes of his own nomination, many of them reckoned it impiety to submit to heathen laws and rulers. In the same light they viewed the paying of taxes for the support of heathen governments, Matthew 22:17. In short, the zealots of that nation laid it down as a principle, that they would obey God alone as their king and governor, in opposition to Cesar and all kings whatever, who were not of their religion, and who did not govern them by the laws of Moses.” And it is probable, as Locke and Macknight further observe, that some of the Jews who embraced the gospel, did not immediately lay aside this turbulent disposition, and that even of the believing Gentiles there were a few, who, on pretence that they had a sufficient rule of conduct in the spiritual gifts with which they were endowed, thought that they were under no obligation to obey ordinances imposed by idolaters, nor to pay taxes for the support of idolatrous governments. That some Christians were involved in this error, or at least were in danger of being involved in it, appears also from the caution which Peter gives the believers to whom he wrote, (first epistle, chap. 2.,) not to use their liberty for a cloak of maliciousness or misbehaviour. Now, as these principles and practices, if they should prevail, must, of necessity, cause the gospel to be evil spoken of, the apostle judged it necessary, in this letter to the Romans, to show that they had no countenance from the Christian doctrine, by inculcating the duties which subjects owe to magistrates, and by testifying that the disciples of Christ were not exempt from obedience to the wholesome laws, even of the heathen countries where they lived, nor from contributing to the support of the government by which they were protected, although it was administered by idolaters. For there is no power but of God — “There is no legal authority but may, in one sense or another, be said to be from God, the origin of all power. It is his will that there should be magistrates to guard the peace of societies; and the hand of his providence, in directing to the persons of particular governors, ought to be seriously considered and revered.” The powers that be — The authorities that exist, under one form or another; are ordained of God — “Are, in their different places, ranged, disposed, and established by God, the original and universal governor.” So Dr. Doddridge renders the word τεταγμεναι, here used, thinking the English word ordained rather too strong. Compare Acts 13:48. “Divine Providence,” says he, “ranges, and in fact establishes the various governments of the world; they are, therefore, under the character of governments, in the general, to be revered: but this cannot make what is wrong and pernicious, in any particular forms, sacred, divine, and immutable, any more than the hand of God in a famine or pestilence is an argument against seeking proper means to remove it.” But the expression, υπο θεου τεταγμεναι εισιν, might be rendered, are subordinate to, or orderly disposed under God; implying that they are God’s deputies, or vicegerents, and consequently their authority, being in effect his, demands our conscientious obedience. “In other passages,” says Macknight, “εξουσιαι, powers, by a common figure, signifies persons possessed of power or authority. But here, αι εξουσιαι υπερεχουσαι, the higher powers, being distinguished from οι αρχοντες, the rulers, Romans 13:3, must signify, not the persons who possess the supreme authority, but the supreme authority itself, whereby the state is governed, whether that authority be vested in the people or in the nobles, or in a single person, or be shared among these three orders: in short, the higher powers denote that form of government which is established in any country, whatever it may be. This remark deserves attention, because the apostle’s reasoning, while it holds good concerning the form of government established in a country, is not true concerning the persons who possess the supreme power, that there is no power but from God; and that he who resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. For, if the person who possesses the supreme power in any state, exercises it in destroying the fundamental laws, and to the ruin of the people, such a ruler is not from God, is not authorized by him, and ought to be resisted.” The declaration, there is no power but of God, he thinks, “was written to correct the pride of the Jews, who valued themselves exceedingly because they had received a form of government from God. The government of every state, whether it be monarchical, aristocratical, democratical, or mixed, is as really of divine appointment as the government of the Jews was, though none but the Jewish form was of divine legislation. For God having designed mankind to live in society, he has, by the frame of their nature, and by the reason of things, authorized government to be exercised in every country. At the same time, having appointed no particular form to any nation but to the Jews, nor named any particular person or family to exercise the power of government, he has left it to the people to choose what form is most agreeable to themselves, and to commit the exercise of the supreme power to what persons they think fit. And therefore, whatever form of government hath been chosen, or is established in any country, hath the divine sanction; and the persons who by choice, or even by the peaceable submission of the governed, have the reins of government in their hands, are the lawful sovereigns of that country, and have all the rights and prerogatives belonging to the sovereignty vested in their persons.” The sum appears to be, the office of civil government is instituted by him, and the persons who exercise it are invested therewith by the appointment or permission of his providence. 13:1-7 The grace of the gospel teaches us submission and quiet, where pride and the carnal mind only see causes for murmuring and discontent. Whatever the persons in authority over us themselves may be, yet the just power they have, must be submitted to and obeyed. In the general course of human affairs, rulers are not a terror to honest, quiet, and good subjects, but to evil-doers. Such is the power of sin and corruption, that many will be kept back from crimes only by the fear of punishment. Thou hast the benefit of the government, therefore do what thou canst to preserve it, and nothing to disturb it. This directs private persons to behave quietly and peaceably where God has set them, 1Ti 2:1,2. Christians must not use any trick or fraud. All smuggling, dealing in contraband goods, withholding or evading duties, is rebellion against the express command of God. Thus honest neighbours are robbed, who will have to pay the more; and the crimes of smugglers, and others who join with them, are abetted. It is painful that some professors of the gospel should countenance such dishonest practices. The lesson here taught it becomes all Christians to learn and practise, that the godly in the land will always be found the quiet and the peaceable in the land, whatever others are.Let every soul - Every person. In the seven first verses of this chapter, the apostle discusses the subject of the duty which Christians owe to civil government; a subject which is extremely important, and at the same time exceedingly difficult. There is no doubt that he had express reference to the special situation of the Christians at Rome; but the subject was of so much importance that he gives it a "general" bearing, and states the great principles on which all Christians are to act. The circumstances which made this discussion proper and important were the following:

(1) The Christian religion was designed to extend throughout the world. Yet it contemplated the rearing of a kingdom amid other kingdoms, an empire amid other empires. Christians professed supreme allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ; he was their Lawgiver, their Sovereign, their Judge. It became, therefore, a question of great importance and difficulty, "what kind" of allegiance they were to render to earthly magistrates.

(2) the kingdoms of the world were then "pagan" kingdoms. The laws were made by pagans, and were adapted to the prevalence of paganism. Those kingdoms had been generally founded in conquest, and blood, and oppression. Many of the monarchs were blood-stained warriors; were unprincipled men; and were polluted in their private, and oppressive in their public character. Whether Christians were to acknowledge the laws of such kingdoms and of such men, was a serious question, and one which could not but occur very early. It would occur also very soon, in circumstances that would be very affecting and trying. Soon the hands of these magistrates were to be raised against Christians in the fiery scenes of persecution; and the duty and extent of submission to them became a matter of very serious inquiry.

(3) many of the early Christians were composed of Jewish converts. Yet the Jews had long been under Roman oppression, and had borne the foreign yoke with great uneasiness. The whole pagan magistracy they regarded as founded in a system of idolatry; as opposed to God and his kingdom; and as abomination in his sight. With these feelings they had become Christians; and it was natural that their former sentiments should exert an influence on them after their conversion. How far they should submit, if at all, to heathen magistrates, was a question of deep interest; and there was danger that the "Jewish" converts might prove to be disorderly and rebellious citizens of the empire.

(4) nor was the case much different with the "Gentile" converts. They would naturally look with abhorrence on the system of idolatry which they had just forsaken. They would regard all as opposed to God. They would denounce the "religion" of the pagans as abomination; and as that religion was interwoven with the civil institutions, there was danger also that they might denounce the government altogether, and be regarded as opposed to the laws of the land,

(5) there "were" cases where it was right to "resist" the laws. This the Christian religion clearly taught; and in cases like these, it was indispensable for Christians to take a stand. When the laws interfered with the rights of conscience; when they commanded the worship of idols, or any moral wrong, then it was their duty to refuse submission. Yet in what cases this was to be done, where the line was to be drawn, was a question of deep importance, and one which was not easily settled. It is quite probable, however, that the main danger was, that the early Christians would err in "refusing" submission, even when it was proper, rather than in undue conformity to idolatrous rites and ceremonies.

(6) in the "changes" which were to occur in human governments, it would be an inquiry of deep interest, what part Christians should take, and what submission they should yield to the various laws which might spring up among the nations. The "principles" on which Christians should act are settled in this chapter.

Be subject - Submit. The word denotes that kind of submission which soldiers render to their officers. It implies "subordination;" a willingness to occupy our proper place, to yield to the authority of those over us. The word used here does not designate the "extent" of the submission, but merely enjoins it in general. The general principle will be seen to be, that we are to obey in all things which are not contrary to the Law of God.

The higher powers - The magistracy; the supreme government. It undoubtedly here refers to the Roman magistracy, and has relation not so much to the rulers as to the supreme "authority" which was established as the constitution of government; compare Matthew 10:1; Matthew 28:18.

For - The apostle gives a "reason" why Christians should be subject; and that reason is, that magistrates have received their appointment from God. As Christians, therefore, are to be subject to God, so they are to honor "God" by honoring the arrangement which he has instituted for the government of mankind. Doubtless, he here intends also to repress the vain curiosity and agitation with which men are prone to inquire into the "titles" of their rulers; to guard them from the agitation and conflicts of party, and of contentions to establish a favorite on the throne. It might be that those in power had not a proper title to their office; that they had secured it, not according to justice, but by oppression; but into that question Christians were not to enter. The government was established, and they were not to seek to overturn it.

No power - No office; no magistracy; no civil rule.

But of God - By God's permission, or appointment; by the arrangements of his providence, by which those in office had obtained their power. God often claims and asserts that "He" sets up one, and puts down another; Psalm 75:7; Daniel 2:21; Daniel 4:17, Daniel 4:25, Daniel 4:34-35.

The powers that be - That is, all the civil magistracies that exist; those who have the "rule" over nations, by whatever means they may have obtained it. This is equally true at all times, that the powers that exist, exist by the permission and providence of God.

Are ordained of God - This word "ordained" denotes the "ordering" or "arrangement" which subsists in a "military" company, or army. God sets them "in order," assigns them their location, changes and directs them as he pleases. This does not mean that he "originates" or causes the evil dispositions of rulers, but that he "directs" and "controls" their appointment. By this, we are not to infer:



Ro 13:1-14. Same Subject Continued—Political and Social Relations—Motives.

1, 2. Let every soul—every man of you

be subject unto the higher powers—or, "submit himself to the authorities that are above him."

For there is no power—"no authority"

but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God—"have been ordained of God."Romans 13:1-6 Subjection to magistrates enforced.

Romans 13:7 We must render to all their dues,

Romans 13:8-10 only love is a debt we must always owe, and virtually

containeth the whole law.

Romans 13:11-14 Rioting, drunkenness, and other works of darkness

must be put away, as much out of season under the gospel.

The former chapter is called by some St. Paul’s ethics, and this his politics. He having said, in the latter end of the foregoing chapter, that Christians must not avenge themselves, but refer all to God, who says, that vengeance is his, and he will repay it; some might infer from hence, that it was not lawful for magistrates to right the wronged, and avenge them of their adversaries; or for Christians to make use of them to such a purpose; therefore, to set us right in this matter, he falls into the following discourse. Others think, that the apostle having spoken in several places concerning Christians’ liberty, lest what he had said should be misconstrued, as if he meant that Christians were freed from subjection to the powers that were over them, he seasonably insists upon the doctrine and duty of obedience to authority; which point is more fully handled in this context than in any other place besides.

Let every soul; i.e. every person. In the first verse of the foregoing chapter the body was put for the whole man; here, the soul; and when he says every person, it is plain that ecclesiastical persons are not exempted.

Be subject: he doth not say, be obedient, but be subject; which is a general word, (as some have noted), comprehending all other duties and services. This subjection must be limited only to lawful things; otherwise, we must answer as they did, Acts 4:19: or as Polycarpus did; when he was required to blaspheme Christ, and swear by the fortune of Caesar, he peremptorily refused, and said: We are taught to give honour to princes and potentates, but such honour as is not contrary to true religion.

Unto the higher powers: though he speaks of things, he means persons; and he calls them rulers in Romans 13:3, whom he calls powers in this verse. So in Luke 12:11, Christ tells his disciples, they should be brought before magistrates and powers; it is the same word, and it is plain he means persons in power. Chrysostom notes, that he rather speaks of our subjection to powers, than persons in power; because, that howsoever their power be abused, their authority must be acknowledged and obeyed. He speaks of powers, in the plural number, because there are divers sorts and kinds thereof, as monarchy, aristocracy, democracy: under which soever of these we live, we must be subject thereunto. By higher powers, he means the supreme powers; so the word is rendered, 1 Peter 2:13. To them, and to those that are authorized by them, we must submit, for that is all one as if we did it to themselves, 1 Timothy 2:2 1 Peter 2:14. There are other inferior powers, which are also of God, as parents, masters, &c.; but of these he doth not speak in this place.

For there is no power but of God: this is a reason of the foregoing injunction: q.d. That which hath God for its author, is to be acknowledged and submitted to; but magistracy hath God for its author: ergo. He speaketh not here of the person, nor of the abuse, nor of the manner of getting into power, but of the thing itself, viz. magistracy and authority: and he says, it is of God; he instituted the office, and he appointeth or permitteth the person that executes it. This clause is attested and illustrated by Proverbs 8:15 Daniel 4:32 John 19:11.

The powers that be are ordained of God: this passage is an exemplification of the former. Erasmus thinks it was inserted by some interpreter, by way of explanation; but it is found in all ancient copies, therefore that conceit of his is without foundation. The emphasis of this sentence seems to lie in the word ordained; power and civil authority is not simply from God, as all other things are, but it is ordained by him. This word (as one observes) implieth two things; invention, and ratification. God invented and devised this order, that some should rule, and others obey; and he maintaineth and upholdeth it.

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers,.... The apostle having finished his exhortations to this church, in relation to the several duties incumbent upon both officers and private Christians, as members of a church, and with reference to each other, and their moral conduct in the world; proceeds to advise, direct, and exhort them to such duties as were relative to them as members of a civil society; the former chapter contains his Christian Ethics, and this his Christian Politics. There was the greater reason to insist upon the latter, as well as on the former, since the primitive saints greatly lay under the imputation of being seditious persons and enemies to the commonwealth; which might arise from a very great number of them being Jews, who scrupled subjection to the Heathen magistrates, because they were the seed of Abraham, and by a law were not to set one as king over them, that was a stranger, and not their own brother, and very unwillingly bore the Roman yoke, and paid tribute to Caesar: hence the Christians in common were suspected to be of the same principles; and of all the Jews none were more averse to the payment of taxes to the Roman magistrates than the Galilaeans; see Acts 5:37. And this being the name by which Christ and his followers were commonly called, might serve to strengthen the above suspicion of them, and charge against them. Moreover, some Christians might be tempted to think that they should not be subject to Heathen magistrates; since they were generally wicked men, and violent persecutors of them; and that it was one branch of their Christian liberty to be freed from subjection to them: and certain it is, that there were a set of loose and licentious persons, who bore the name of Christians, that despised dominion, and spoke evil of dignities; wherefore the apostle judged it advisable especially to exhort the church of Rome, and the members who dwelt there, where was the seat of power and civil government, so to behave towards their superiors, that they might set a good example to the Christians in the several parts of the empire, and wipe off the aspersion that was cast upon them, as if they were enemies to magistracy and civil power. By "the higher powers", he means not angels, sometimes called principalities and powers; for unto these God hath not put in subjection his people under the Gospel dispensation; nor ecclesiastical officers, or those who are in church power and authority; for they do not bear the temporal sword, nor have any power to inflict corporeal punishment: but civil magistrates are intended, see Titus 3:1; and these not only supreme magistrates, as emperors and kings, but all inferior and subordinate ones, acting in commission under them, as appears from 1 Peter 2:13, which are called "powers", because they are invested with power and authority over others, and have a right to exercise it in a proper way, and in proper cases; and the "higher" or super eminent ones, because they are set in high places, and have superior dignity and authority to others. The persons that are to be subject to them are "every soul"; not that the souls of men, distinct from their bodies, are under subjection to civil magistrates; for of all things they have the least to do with them, their power and jurisdiction not reaching to the souls, the hearts, and consciences of men, especially in matters of religion, but chiefly to their bodies, and outward civil concerns of life: but the meaning is, that every man that has a soul, every rational creature, ought to be subject to civil government. This is but his reasonable service, and which he should from his heart, and with all his soul, cheerfully perform. In short, the sense is, that every man should be subject: this is an Hebraism, a common way of speaking among the Jews, who sometimes denominate men from one part, and sometimes from another; sometimes from the body or flesh, thus "all flesh is grass", Isaiah 40:6, that is, all men are frail; and sometimes front the soul, "all souls are mine", Ezekiel 18:4, all belong to me; as here, "every soul", that is, every man, all the individuals of mankind, of whatsoever sex, age, state, or condition, ecclesiastics not excepted: the pope, and his clergy, are not exempted from civil jurisdiction; nor any of the true ministers of the Gospel; the priests under the law were under the civil government; and so was Christ himself, and his apostles, who paid tribute to Caesar; yea, even Peter particularly, whose successor the pope of Rome pretends to be. "Subjection" to the civil magistrates designs and includes all duties relative to them; such as showing them respect, honour, and reverence suitable to their stations; speaking well of them, and their administration; using them with candour, not bearing hard upon them for little matters, and allowing for ignorance of the secret springs of many of their actions and conduct, which if known might greatly justify them; wishing well to them, and praying constantly, earnestly, and heartily for them; observing their laws and injunctions; obeying their lawful commands, which do not contradict the laws of God, nature, and right reason; and paying them their just dues and lawful tribute, to support them in their office and dignity:

for there is no power but of God; God is the fountain of all power and authority; the streams of power among creatures flow from him; the power that man has over all the creatures, the fowls of the air, the beasts of the field, and the fishes of the sea, is originally of God, and by a grant from him; the lesser powers, and the exercises of them, in the various relations men stand in to one another, are of God, as the power the husband has over the wife, parents over their children, and masters over their servants; and so the higher power that princes have over their subjects: for it is the God of heaven that sets up kings, as well as pulls them down; he is the King of kings, from whom they derive their power and authority, from whom they have the right of government, and all the qualifications for it; it is by him that kings reign, and princes decree justice.

The powers that be are ordained of God. The order of magistracy is of God; it is of his ordination and appointment, and of his ordering, disposing, and fixing in its proper bounds and limits. The several forms of government are of human will and pleasure; but government itself is an order of God. There may be men in power who assume it of themselves, and are of themselves, and not of God; and others that abuse the power that is lodged in them; who, though they are by divine permission, yet not of God's approbation and good will. And it is observable, that the apostle speaks of powers, and not persons, at least, not of persons, but under the name of powers, to show that he means not this, or the other particular prince or magistrate, but the thing itself, the office and dignity of magistracy itself; for there may be some persons, who may of themselves usurp this office, or exercise it in a very illegal way, who are not of God, nor to be subject to by men. The apostle here both uses the language, and speaks the sentiments of his countrymen the Jews, who are wont to call magistrates, "powers"; hence those sayings were used among them; says Shemaiah (t),

"twvrl edwtt la, "be not too familiar with the power".''

that is, with a magistrate, which oftentimes is dangerous. Again,

"says (u) Rabban Gamaliel, , "take heed of the power" (i.e. of magistrates), for they do not suffer a man to come near them, but in necessity, and then they appear as friends for their own advantage, but will not stand by a man in the time of distress.''

Moreover, after this manner they explain (w) Proverbs 5:8,

""remove thy way far from her", this is heresy; "and come not nigh the door of her house", , "this is the power". The gloss on it is, magistrates, because they set their eyes upon rich men to kill them, and take away their substance.''

And a little after it is observed,

""the horse leech hath two daughters, crying, give, give", Proverbs 30:15, it is asked, what is the meaning of give, give? Says Mar Ukba, there are two daughters which cry out of hell, and say in this world, give, give, and they are heresy, "and the civil power".''

The gloss on this place is,

"Heresy cries, bring a sacrifice to the idol; "Civil Power" cries, bring money, and gifts, and revenues, and tribute to the king.''

Nevertheless, they look upon civil government to be of divine appointment. They say (x), that

"no man is made a governor below, except they proclaim him above;''


Let {1} every {a} soul be subject unto the higher {2} powers. {3} For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are {b} ordained of God.

(1) Now he distinctly shows what subjects owe to their magistrates, that is, obedience: from which he shows that no man is free: and the obedience we owe is such that it is not only due to the highest magistrate himself, but also even to the lowest, who has any office under him.

(a) Indeed, though an apostle, though an evangelist, though a prophet; Chrysostom. Therefore the tyranny of the pope over all kingdoms must be thrown down to the ground.

(2) A reason taken from the nature of the thing itself: for to what purpose are they placed in higher degree, but in order that the inferiors should be subject to them?

(3) Another argument of great force: because God is author of this order: so that those who are rebels ought to know that they make war with God himself: and because of this they purchase for themselves great misery and calamity.

(b) Be distributed: for some are greater, some smaller.

Romans 13:1. Πᾶσα ψυχή] In the sense of every man, but (comp. on Romans 2:9) of man conceived in reference to his soul-nature, in virtue of which he consciously feels pleasure and displeasure (rejoices, is troubled, etc.), and cherishes corresponding impulses. There lies a certain pathos in the significant: every soul, which at once brings into prominence the universality of the duty. Comp. Acts 2:43; Acts 3:23; Revelation 16:3.

ἐξουσίαις ὑπερεχ.] magistrates high in standing (without the article). ὑπερεχ. (see Wis 6:5; 1 Peter 2:13; 1 Timothy 2:2; 2Ma 3:11) is added, in order to set forth the ὑποτάσς.

ὑπέρ and ὑπό being correlative—as corresponding to the standpoint of the magistracy itself (comp. the German: hohe Obrigkeiten); the motive of obedience follows.

There is no magistracy apart from God expresses in general the proceeding of all magistracy whatever from God, and then this relation is still more precisely defined, in respect of those magistracies which exist in concreto as a divine institution, by ὑπὸ Θεοῦ τεταγμ. εἰσίν; comp. Hom. Il. 2:204 ff., ix. 38, 98; Soph. Phil. 140, et al.; Xen. Rep. Lac. 15. 2. Thus Paul has certainly expressed the divine right of magistracy, which Christian princes especially designate by the expression “by the grace of God” (since the time of Louis the Pious). And αἱ δὲ οὖσαι, the extant, actually existing, allows no exception, such as that possibly of tyrants or usurpers (in opposition to Reiche). The Christian, according to Paul, ought to regard any magistracy whatever, provided its rule over him subsists de facto, as divinely ordained, since it has not come into existence without the operation of God’s will; and this applies also to tyrannical or usurped power, although such a power, in the counsel of God, is perhaps destined merely to be temporary and transitional. From this point of view, the Christian obeys not the human caprice and injustice, but the will of God, who—in connection with His plan of government inaccessible to human insight—has presented even the unworthy and unrighteous ruler as the οὖσα ἐξουσία, and has made him the instrument of His measures. Questions as to special cases—such as how the Christian is to conduct himself in political catastrophes, what magistracy he is to look upon in such times as the οὖσα ἐξουσία, as also, how he, if the command of the magistrate is against the command of God, is at any rate to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29), etc.

Paul here leaves unnoticed, and only gives the main injunction of obedience, which he does not make contingent on this or that form of constitution. By no means, however, are we to think only of the magisterial office as instituted by God (Chrysostom, Oecumenius, and others), but rather of the magistracy in its concrete persons and members as the bearers of the divinely-ordained office. Comp. οἱ ἄρχοντες, Romans 13:3, and Romans 13:4; Romans 13:6-7; Dion. Hal. Antt. xi. 32; Plut. Philop. 17; Titus 3:1; also Martyr. Polyc. 10.

Observe, moreover, that Paul has in view Gentile magistrates in concreto; consequently he could not speak more specially of that which Christian magistrates have on their part to do, and which Christian subjects in their duty of obedience for God and right’s sake are to expect and to require from them, although he expresses in general—by repeatedly bringing forward the fact that magistrates are the servants of God (Romans 13:3-4), indeed ministering servants of God (Romans 13:6)—the point of view from which the distinctively Christian judgment as to the duties and rights of magistrate and subject respectively must proceed.

Romans 13:1-7. The proud love of freedom of the Jews (see on John 8:33; Matthew 22:17, and their tumultuary spirit thereby excited, which was peculiarly ardent from the time of Judas Gaulonites (see Acts 5:37; Josephus, Ant. xviii. 1. 1) and had shortly before broken out in Rome itself (Suetonius, Claud. 25; Dio Cassius, lx. 6; see Introd. § 2, and on Acts 18:2), redoubled for the Christians—among whom, indeed, even the Gentile-Christians might easily enough be led astray by the Messianic ideas (theocracy, kingdom of Christ, freedom and κληρονομία of believers, etc.) into perverted thoughts of freedom and desires for emancipation (comp. 1 Corinthians 6:1 ff.)—the necessity of civil obedience, seeing that they, as confessing the Messiah (Acts 17:6-7), and regarded by the Gentiles as a Jewish sect, were much exposed to the suspicion of revolutionary enterprise. The danger thus lay, not indeed exclusively (Mangold, Beyschlag), but primarily and mostly, on the side of the Jewish-Christians, not on that of the Gentile-Christians, as Th. Schott, in the interest of the view that Paul desired to prepare the Roman church to be the base of operations of his western mission to the Gentiles, unhistorically assumes. And was not Rome, the very seat of the government of the world, just the place above all others where that danger was greatest, and where nevertheless the whole Christian body, of the Jewish as well as of the Gentile section, had to distinguish itself by exemplary civil order? Hence we have here the—in the Pauline epistles unique—detailed and emphatic inculcation of obedience towards the magistracy, introduced without link of connection with what precedes as a new subject. Baur, I. p. 384 f., thinks that Paul is here combating Ebionitic dualism, which regarded the secular magistrate as of non-divine, devilish origin. As if Paul could not, without any such antithesis, have held it to be necessary to inculcate upon the Romans the divine right of the state-authority! Moreover, he would certainly not merely have kept his eye upon that dualism in regard to its practical manifestations (Baur’s subterfuge), but would have combated it in principle, and thereby have grasped it at the root.

The partial resemblance, moreover, which exists between Romans 13:1-4 and 1 Peter 2:13-14 is not sufficient to enable us to assume that Peter made use of our passage, or that Paul made use of Peter’s epistle; a view, which has been lately maintained especially by Weiss, Petrin. Lehrbegr. p. 416 ff., and in the Stud. u. Krit. 1865, 4; see, on the other hand, Huther on 1 Pet. Introd. § 2. Paul doubtless frequently preached a similar doctrine orally respecting duty towards the heathen magistracy. And the power of his preaching was sufficiently influential in moulding the earliest ecclesiastical language, to lead even a Peter, especially on so peculiar a subject, involuntarily to echo the words of Paul which had vibrated through the whole church. Compare the creative influence of Luther upon the language of the church.Romans 13:1. πᾶσα ψυχὴ is a Hebraism; cf. Acts 2:43; Acts 3:23, and chap. Romans 2:9. For ἐξουσίαις cf. Luke 12:11 : it is exactly like “authorities” in English—abstract for concrete. ὑπερεχούσαις describes the authorities as being actually in a position of superiority. Cf. 1 P. Romans 2:13, and 2Ma 3:11 (ἀνδρὸς ἐν ὑπεροχῇ κειμένου). οὐ γὰρ ἔστιν ἐξουσία εἰ μὴ ὑπὸ θεοῦ: ὑπὸ is the correct reading ([32] [33] [34]), not ἀπό. Weiss compares Bar 4:27. ἔσται γὰρ ὑμῶν ὑπὸ τοῦ ἐπάγοντος μνεία. It is by God’s act and will alone that there is such a thing as an authority, or magistrate; and those that actually exist have been appointed—set in their place—by Him. With αἱ δὲ οὖσαι the Apostle passes from the abstract to the concrete; the persons and institutions in which for the time authority had its seat, are before his mind—in other words, the Empire with all its grades of officials from the Emperor down. In itself, and quite apart from its relation to the Church, this system had a Divine right to be. It did not need to be legitimated by any special relation to the Church; quite as truly as the Church it existed Dei gratia.

[32] Codex Sinaiticus (sæc. iv.), now at St. Petersburg, published in facsimile type by its discoverer, Tischendorf, in 1862.

[33] Codex Alexandrinus (sæc. v.), at the British Museum, published in photographic facsimile by Sir E. M. Thompson (1879).

[34] Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.Ch. Romans 13:1-7. Christian practice: civil duties: authority and obedience

1. Let every soul be subject, &c.] A new subject is here treated—Civil Obedience. It is not isolated, however, from the previous context, in which (from Romans 12:19) subjection to individuals in private life was considered. And it passes in turn into a different but kindred context again, in Romans 13:8 below. We offer a few general remarks on the subject.

1. In this passage it is stated, as a primary truth of human society, that civil authority is, as such, a Divine institution. Whatever may be the details of error or of wrong in its exercise, it is nevertheless, even at its worst, so vastly better than anarchy, that it forms a main instrument and ordinance of the will of God.Romans 13:1. Πᾶσα, every) The apostle writes at very great length to the Romans, whose city was the seat of empire, on the subject of the magistracy, and this circumstance has all the force of a public apology for the Christian religion. This, too, may have been the reason why Paul, in this long epistle, used only once, and that too not until after this apology, the phrase, the kingdom of God, on other occasions so customary with him; Romans 14:17, for, instead of the kingdom, he calls it the glory; comp., however, Acts 28:31, note. Every individual should be under the authority of the magistrate, and be liable to suffer punishment, if he has done evil, Romans 13:4.—ψυχὴ, soul) He had said that their bodies ought to be presented to God, ch. Romans 12:1, presupposing that the souls would be; now he wishes souls to be subject to the magistrate. It is the soul, which does either good or evil, ch. Romans 2:9, and those in authority are a terror to the evil work, i.e. to the evil doer.—A man’s high rank does not exempt him from obedience.—ἐξουσίαις ὑπερεχούσαις) ἐξουσία from εἰμὶ, ὑπερέχω from ἔχω; being is before having: ὑπερεχούσαις contains the aetiology [end. Be subject to the powers because they are ὑπερέχουσαι: the cause or reason], 1 Peter 2:13, Fr. Souverain, Sovereign.—ὑποτασσέσθω) The antithesis to this is ἀντιταοσόμενος, Romans 13:2. The Conjugates are τεταγμένοι, διαταγή. Let him be subject, an admonition especially necessary to the Jews.—ἐξουσία, power) ἐξουσία, denotes the office of the magistrate in the abstract; αἱ δὲ ἐξουσίαι, Romans 13:2, those in authority in the concrete, therefore δὲ is interposed, ἐπιτατικὸν [forming an Epitasis, i.e. an emphatic addition to explain or augment the force of the previous enunciation.—Appen.]. The former is more readily acknowledged to be from God than the latter. The apostle makes an affirmation respecting both. All are from God, who has instituted all powers in general, and has constituted each in particular, by His providence,—εἰ μὴ ἀπὸ) See Appendix. crit. Ed. ii. ad h. v.[133]

[133] G Orig. D corrected later, read ἀπὸ. But AB read ὑπὸ. Vulg. fg and Iren. have the transl. Lat. a.—ED.

Jerome omits from αἱ δε to εἰσίν. But ABD(Λ)G Vulg. Memph. fg Versions, Iren. 280, 321, retain the clause, omitting, however, ἐξουσίαι: which word is retained by Orig. and both the Syr. Versions and Rec Text.—ED.Verses 1-8. - From admonitions to keep peace, if possible, with all men, whether or not within the Christian circle, and to act honourably and benevolently towards all, the apostle now passes to the duty of Christians towards the civil government and the laws of the country in which they lived. It is well known that the Jews were impatient of the Roman dominion, and that some held it to be unlawful, on religious grounds, to pay tribute to Caesar (Matthew 22:17). Insurrections against the government had consequently been frequent. There had been the notable one under Judas the Gaulonite of Gamala (called ὁ Γαλιλαῖος, Acts 5:37), who left followers behind him, called Gaulonites, and to whose tenets Josephus attributes all subsequent insurrections of the Jews ('Ant.,' 18:01. § 1). Recently one had broken out in Rome, which had caused Claudius to order the expulsion of all Jews from the city (Acts 17:2; cf. Suetonius, 'Claud.,' 25; Din Cassius, 60:6). The Christians, being regarded as a Jewish sect, and known for their acknowledgment of a Messiah and their refusal to comply with heathen usages, were not unnaturally confounded with such disturbers of the peace (cf. Acts 17:6, 7; Acts 21:37). It was, therefore, peculiarly needful that the Christian communities should be cautioned to disprove such accusations by showing themselves in all respects good, law-abiding subjects. They might easily be under a temptation to be otherwise. Feeling themselves already subjects of Christ's new kingdom, and regarding the second advent as probably near at hand, they might seem to themselves above the powers and institutions of the unbelieving world, which were so soon to pass away. St. Paul himself condemned resort to heathen tribunals in matters which Christians might settle among themselves (1 Corinthians 6:1, etc.); and many might go so far as to ignore the authority of such tribunals over the saints at all. Peter and John had at the first defied the authority even of the Sanhedrin in matters touching conscience (Acts 4:19); and many might be slow to distinguish between temporal and spiritual spheres of jurisdiction. St. Paul, therefore, lays down the rule that the civil government, in whatsoever hands it might be, was, no less than the Church, a Divine institution for the maintenance of order in the world, to be submitted to and obeyed by Christians within the whole sphere of its legitimate authority. He does not refer to cases in which it might become necessary to obey God rather than man: his purpose here does not call on him to do so; nor were the circumstances so far such as to bring such cases into prominence; for he was writing in the earlier part of Nero's reign, before any general persecution of Christians had begun. Nor does he touch on the question whether it may be right in some cases for subjects to resist usurped power or tyranny, or to take part in political revolutions, and even fight for freedom. Such a question was apart from his subject, which is the general duty of obedience to the law and government under which we are placed by Providence. This is the only passage in which he treats the subject at length and definitely. In a doctrinal and practical treatise like this Epistle, addressed as an apologia pro fide sua to the metropolis of the world and the seat of government, it was fitting that he should express clearly the attitude of the Church with regard to the civil order. But his teaching in other Epistles is in accordance with this; as where (1 Corinthians 7:21) he bids slaves acquiesce in the existing law of slavery, and (1 Timothy 2:1, etc.) he desires especially prayers to be made in behalf of kings and rulers. And he himself notably carried out his principles in this regard (cf. Acts 23:5; Acts 25:8-11). There is a closely similar passage in the First Epistle of St. Peter (1 Peter 2:12-18). Verse 1. - Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of (rather, from) God: the powers that be are ordained of God. It is of God's ordering that there should be human governments and human laws. Without them there could be no order, security, or progress among mankind. Imperfect as they may often be, and in some instances oppressive and unjust, still they exist for a purpose of good, and form part of the Divine order for the government of the world. In this sense all are from God, and ordained of God; and in submitting to them we are submitting to God. Every soul

Every man. See on Romans 11:3.

Higher powers (ἐξουσίαις ὑπερεχούσαις)

Lit., authorities which have themselves over. See on Mark 2:10; see on John 1:12.

The powers that be (αἱ δὲ οὖσαι)

Lit., the existing. Powers is not in the text, and is supplied from the preceding clause.

Are ordained (τεταγμέναι εἰσίν)

Perfect tense: Have been ordained, and the ordinance remains in force. See on set under authority, Luke 7:8.

Romans 13:1 Interlinear
Romans 13:1 Parallel Texts

Romans 13:1 NIV
Romans 13:1 NLT
Romans 13:1 ESV
Romans 13:1 NASB
Romans 13:1 KJV

Romans 13:1 Bible Apps
Romans 13:1 Parallel
Romans 13:1 Biblia Paralela
Romans 13:1 Chinese Bible
Romans 13:1 French Bible
Romans 13:1 German Bible

Bible Hub

Romans 12:21
Top of Page
Top of Page