Quotes from some sources on Romans 13

Tom Constable, Notes on Romans 13. For example, the Christian’s obligation to submit to a government that requires abortions would be different from his or her duty to one that only permits them. I believe a Christian should disobey a government when it requires him or her to practice abortion but not if it only permits abortions (cf. Exod. 1:15–22). I do not believe a Christian should break the law to protest an ungodly practice that his or her government only permits. If he or she disagrees with a law, that Christian should pursue whatever legal options exist to change the law. I believe that those who choose to break the law to make a statement, even though they are willing to suffer the consequences (e.g., go to jail), violate New Testament teaching on this subject. Constable, Tom. Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible. Galaxie Software, 2003. Romans 13.7.) …Chapter 13 deals with living in the world as a Christian. Paul counselled submission to human government and love for all people while we actively wait for our Lord to appear.

See Charles C. Ryrie, “The Christian and Civil Disobedience,” Bibliotheca Sacra 127:506 (April-June 1970):153-62.

Schaff, Philip. The distinction which Chrys. carries through his interpretation of this passage on human government, between authority in abstracto and in concreto belongs rather to a philosophical treatment of the subject than to an exposition of the apostle’s language. The use of general terms like ἐξουσία and οὖσία cannot have been designed to leave room for concrete exceptions since the apostle blends general and specific terms throughout the passage [ἄρχοντες (3) θεοῦ διάκονος (4)]. The question of obeying unjust rulers and supporting the “powers” in unjust measures, the apostle does not raise. He is stating a general principle and he says nothing of exceptions. His language does not exclude the possibility of exceptions when the reign of rulers becomes clearly subversive of moral order and opposed to the principles of the divine government. G. B. S (Schaff, Philip, ed. Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans. Vol. 11. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889. Print. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series.)

Foreman puts it somewhat colloquially: “Put into very simple English, Paul is saying: Do not plan for sin; give it no welcome; offer it no opportunity. Kick the sin off your doorstep and you won’t have it in the house.” Morris, Leon. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.

Leon Morris. There has been a very wide divergence of opinion about the way this passage is to be understood. Since it forms a unit without formal grammatical connection to what precedes or follows and since verse 8 would follow quite naturally on 12:21, some see it as an interpolation into a letter that originally lacked it. This is strengthened by the fact that there is nothing quite like it anywhere else in Paul (though attention may be drawn to 2 Thess. 2:6–7). Nor is there any mention of Christ in these verses. All this leads O’Neil[1]l to the view that they are not only non-Pauline, but non-Christian (he thinks they come from a Stoic source).[2]1

Others find the passage an integral part of the epistle (“There is no reason to dispute the authenticity of the text” [Käseman[3]n, p. 351]). After his words forbidding private vengeance it was necessary, it is argued, for Paul to point out that this does not mean that the state may not take punitive action. It has been pointed out that the apostle is writing to people in Rome, the capital of the world, the seat of empire, and it would be suitable to say something to them about the role of the state. Again, there were Jews who took strong exception to acknowledging any heathen king (cf. Deut. 17:15) and who objected to paying taxes to support a heathen state.[4]2 Sometimes it is argued that the Jews in Rome may well have been resistive (cf. the rioting about “Chrestus” of which Suetonius wrote and Claudius’s expulsion of the Jews from that city, Acts 18:2; it is conjectured that some of them may have had ideas akin to those of the Palestinian Zealots who recognized no king but God and would pay taxes to no one but God); Paul may have wanted to dissuade Christian Jews in the capital from taking part in revolutionary movements.[5]3

Such considerations seem to show that we must take this passage seriously in its present context. It is part of what Paul is saying to the Romans and it has abiding significance for Christian readers in all ages. Jesus taught his followers that they must “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17), and several other passages urge the believer to obey the authorities (1 Tim. 2:1–3; Tit. 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13–17; cf. Prov. 8:15; Jer. 29:7; Dan. 2:21, 37–38, etc.). This passage seems accordingly to be Paul’s considered treatment of a theme that was important for the early Christians. Many of them were Jews, with Jewish reluctance to be ruled by a foreigner. Christians were in an ambiguous position vis-à-vis the authorities. If they were regarded as a variety of Judaism, they came under the umbrella protection afforded people of that nation (cf. Gallio’s refusal to take action in what he saw as a dispute among Jews, Acts 18:12–16). But if they were seen as a distinct religion, they had no protection. What attitude should they adopt to people who might at any time persecute them?

Paul’s view is distinctive.[6]4 He is firmly convinced that God is in control and that nobody secures a position of rulership unless God permits. Ordered government is not a human device, but something of divine origin. The servants of God must accordingly submit to its laws. Paul regards rulers not as autonomous, but as “established by God” (v. 1); the ruler is “God’s servant” (v. 4). This gives the ruler a special dignity but at the same time stresses that his position is a subordinate one. He is to do, not whatever he wishes, but what the will of God is for him in his situation.

This understanding of the state has been strongly criticized on the grounds that it justifies every tyrant and compels the believer to obey him.[7]5 It is this that is behind O’Neill’s remark cited above that no passage has caused more unhappiness and misery than this one. But it must be borne in mind that Paul is writing in general terms to meet the need of the Romans and not legislating for every conceivable situation in which the Christian might find himself. He does not face, let alone resolve, the problem of when it is right to rebel against unjust tyranny (it has well been remarked that the first-century Romans had no experience of a successful revolt), or what to do when there are rival claimants to the crown or conflicts between civil and religious authorities. He does not distinguish between legitimate and usurped authority, nor go into the question of when a successful rebel may be held to have become the legitimate ruler. He does not speak of the situation in which the state asks the citizen to do something against the law of God. All the New Testament writers were clear that they must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29),[8]6 and Paul’s whole manner of life shows that he accepted this wholeheartedly. He does not say what the Christian should do when the state fails in its duty. He is not trying to cover every situation. His concern is authority, however it has come to be possessed. He is writing out of a settled order where there is no doubt as to who the ruler is, and he is telling his readers something of the duty of a citizen in such a situation.

Paul owed a good deal to the protection the Romans had afforded him, but he was not unaware of the fact that the state could be unjust. No Christian could, for the atoning death of Jesus lay at the very heart of the faith and that death had been brought about on the human level by evil and unjust people (though even here the early Christians saw God at work even in the deeds of evil men, Acts 4:24–28). The man who had been often in prisons in the Roman empire and had frequently been flogged (2 Cor. 11:23) was not unaware that the authorities can be unjust. For that matter he knew that he himself had been unjust when he was one of the authorities that persecuted the church. But here he is writing about the state’s essential nature, about what it should be and in some measure at least is. Rulers may misuse the authority God has given them, but Paul’s point is that that does not alter the fact that it was God who gave it to them. People are often tempted to evade their civic responsibilities (and not only in the first century); Paul reminds them of the significance of those responsibilities. Order is important, and the state embodies order.

We should be clear that Paul is writing about the existing state, not some ideal state that he hoped would appear. Every state has its faults, and first-century Rome had many. But it still had to be treated as the ruling authority and as such as the servant of God.[9]7

Mention should be made of the view that Paul has in mind angelic beings of the kind designated “principalities and powers” (8:38; Eph. 6:12, etc.). This was argued by M. Dibelius and taken up by O. Cullmann (The State in the New Testament [London, 1957]; Christ and Time [London, 1951], pp. 191ff.); Clinton D. Morrison (The Powers That Be [London, 1960]), and others. It is clear that the state is in mind in, for example, verse 4, so the position is stated in terms of angelic beings behind the state. But there are strong reasons for rejecting this view. The angelic beings in the New Testament are never regarded as the servants of God, but as enemies defeated by Christ (Col. 2:15). Again, references in this chapter to “God’s servants”, to “the sword”, and to taxes surely point to humans, not spirit beings. The difficulties are too great, and not many hold this view in recent times.[10]8[11] Morris, Leon. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.

No political power is attained apart from the sovereign will of God.

If God has ordained and appointed the ruling authorities, then the conclusion drawn in verse 2 follows naturally. Those who resist such an authority oppose that which God has ordained (τῇ τοῦ θεοῦ διαταγῇ, tē tou theou diatagē, the ordinance of God; cf. Ezra 4:11 [2 Esdr. 4:11 LX[12]X]). Then in verse 2b Paul draws another conclusion from verse 2a (so Stein 1989: 330). Those who resist God’s ordinance will receive judgment (κρίμα, krima). As noted above, it is possible that the “judgment” refers to God’s eschatological judgment (so Stein 1989: 331–32; Ziesler 1989: 312), but the structure of the text suggests that the judgment is inflicted by the rulers and authorities.1[13]9 [14]

There is nothing exactly like vers. 1–7 elsewhere in Paul’s epistles, and it is difficult not to believe that he had some particular reason for treating the question here. The Christians in Rome, though mainly Gentile, as this epistle proves, were closely connected with the Jews, and the Jews were notoriously bad subjects. Many of them held, on the ground of Deut. 17:15, that to acknowledge a Gentile ruler was itself sinful; and the spirit which prompted Pharisees to ask, Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar or not? Shall we give or shall we not give? (Mark 12:14) had no doubt its representatives in Rome also. As believers in the Messiah, “in another King, one Jesus” (Acts 17:7), even Christians of Gentile origin may have been open to the impulses of this same spirit; and unbalanced minds, then as in all ages, might be disposed to find in the loyalty which was due to Christ alone, an emancipation from all subjection to inferior powers. There is here an apparent point of contact between Christianity and anarchism, and it may have been the knowledge of some such movement of mind in the Church at Rome that made Paul write as he did. There is perhaps nothing in the passage which is not already given in our Lord’s word, “Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”; yet nothing can be more worthy of admiration than the soberness with which a Christian idealist like Paul lays down the Divine right of the state. The use made of the passage to prove the duty of “passive obedience,” or “the right divine of kings to govern wrong,” is beside the mark; the Apostle was not thinking of such things at all.[15]

Tom Constable. 13:3 There are two possible ways to explain this verse that on the surface seems very naive. Each of these interpretations will have very different results for those who hold them. The problem, of course, is that rulers are sometimes, perhaps often, a cause of fear for those who do right. Government authorities sometimes abuse their powers for selfish ends. If they do not but serve the welfare of the people as they should, we have no fear of them and can submit to them fairly easily. What if they are evil?

The first way some people have interpreted this verse is to assume that Paul was speaking only of the norm. The normal situation would be a good government that punishes evil and rewards good. Obviously rebellion and revolution would be wrong in such a situation. However those actions might not be wrong if the state ceased to serve its God-given function and began denying the rights and removing the liberties of its citizens. Moderate advocates of this interpretation usually do not suggest that the church as an institution should lead a revolution. Most of them would say, however, that Christians as individuals could justifiably participate in a revolution against such a government. Christians should speak out against such abuses at least. We must be careful not to confuse submission with silence. Silence can express approval.

The second way of interpreting this verse is to take Paul’s words at face value and trust in the fact expressed in [Romans] 8:28. The Christian who takes this view would not participate in a revolution though he might speak out against a government’s evils. He should prepare himself to accept the consequences of his actions. Such was the position of some pastors in Nazi Germany during World War II, for example, who went to prison not for revolting against the government but for speaking out against it. Another alternative might be to flee from the persecution of a hostile government (cf. Matt. 10:23). This is what the Huguenots, who fled from France to England, and the Puritans, who fled from England to America, did.

I tend to prefer the second option mainly because I am uncomfortable if I assume that Paul meant something that he did not state. I prefer to accept what he said at face value. In this case the rulers would be a cause of fear for the Christian neither if the rulers were just nor unjust. The Christian would be obedient to God by submitting in either case. The problem with this view is that evil governments do not praise those who oppose them. But in a sense they do. For example, a German pastor whom the Nazis jailed for disobeying the law received the commendation of the rest of the world. The martyrdom of Christians by Nero shortly after Paul wrote Romans was an indirect praise of them for their fidelity to Christ. The evil government may not issue a certificate of commendation to the faithful Christian, but his or her submissive conduct can be the cause of his praise. Even if no other human being ever learned of the martyr’s conduct, God would know about it and would praise him or her.[16]

For example, the Christian’s obligation to submit to a government that requires abortions would be different from his or her duty to one that only permits them. I believe a Christian should disobey a government when it requires him or her to practice abortion but not if it only permits abortions (cf. Exod. 1:15–22). I do not believe a Christian should break the law to protest an ungodly practice that his or her government only permits. If he or she disagrees with a law, that Christian should pursue whatever legal options exist to change the law. I believe that those who choose to break the law to make a statement, even though they are willing to suffer the consequences (e.g., go to jail), violate New Testament teaching on this subject. Constable, Tom. Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible. Galaxie Software, 2003. Romans 13.7.) …Chapter 13 deals with living in the world as a Christian. Paul counselled submission to human government and love for all people while we actively wait for our Lord to appear. Constable

See Charles C. Ryrie, “The Christian and Civil Disobedience,” Bibliotheca Sacra 127:506 (April-June 1970):153-62.

The distinction which Chrys. carries through his interpretation of this passage on human government, between authority in abstracto and in concreto belongs rather to a philosophical treatment of the subject than to an exposition of the apostle’s language. The use of general terms like ἐξουσία and οὖσία cannot have been designed to leave room for concrete exceptions since the apostle blends general and specific terms throughout the passage [ἄρχοντες (3) θεοῦ διάκονος (4)]. The question of obeying unjust rulers and supporting the “powers” in unjust measures, the apostle does not raise. He is stating a general principle and he says nothing of exceptions. His language does not exclude the possibility of exceptions when the reign of rulers becomes clearly subversive of moral order and opposed to the principles of the divine government.—G. B. S (Schaff, Philip, ed. Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans. Vol. 11. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889. Print. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series.)

Foreman puts it somewhat colloquially: “Put into very simple English, Paul is saying: Do not plan for sin; give it no welcome; offer it no opportunity. Kick the sin off your doorstep and you won’t have it in the house.” Morris, Leon. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.

USURY Sum of money charged for a loan. OT laws prohibited a Jew from charging another Jew usury but permitted it when money was loaned to a Gentile (Deut. 23:19–20). Although the word has negative connotations today, it was not so in biblical days when usury simply was the interest charged for a loan. Excessive usury was condemned.[17]

Psa 15:5, Ezek 18:8, Deut 23:19–20 and Lev 25:35[18]

  1. O’Neill J. C. O’Neill: Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Harmondsworth, 1975)

  2. 1 O’Neill says of the passage: “These seven verses have caused more unhappiness and misery in the Christian East and West than any other seven verses in the New Testament.” James Kallas is not so severe, but he finds the passage alien to the thought of Paul and argues that it is an interpolation (NTS, XI [1964–65], pp. 365–74).

  3. Käsemann Ernst Käsemann: Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids, 1980)

  4. 2 This attitude persisted, and we see something of it in Wis. 6:1–5, though that passage concerns the duties of rulers rather than those of subjects.

  5. 3 Marcus Borg argues along these lines (NTS, XIX [1972–73], pp. 205–18). He says of this passage that “it not only fits into its immediate context, but that it also has an intimate connection to Romans as a whole” (p. 214).

  6. 4 A. Schweitzer finds no parallel to these verses except among “the great Stoic Emperors, who felt themselves to be truly the servants of the State for the realisation of good” (The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle [New York, 1931], p. 315). These emperors, of course, were later and viewed the matter from the perspective of the ruler. “But from the point of view of the subject this ethical valuation of rulership was expressed by no other writer of antiquity, except the Jew, Paul. Neither Socrates, Plato, nor Aristotle carry the idea of obedience to authority so far. Not even Reitzenstein can discover any parallels in Hellenistic literature to Rom 13:1–7” (ibid.).

  7. 5 Haldane argues that the passage demands unconditional obedience; rebellion is not lawful (p. 585). But Hunter seems closer to the mark when he says, “what Paul condemns in these verses is rebellion in the name of Christian freedom.”

  8. 6 This is clear in the Old Testament also. The king was “the Lord’s anointed” and as such to be treated with respect (1 Sam. 24:6 etc.). But the prophet Ahijah, speaking in the name of God, said that the bulk of the kingdom would be taken away from Rehoboam and given to the rebel Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:29–31).

  9. 7 Geoffrey W. Bromiley points out that civil authorities are “means by which God exercises his authority. Outside the sphere of revelation, rulers have only an indistinct and perverted apprehension of this truth. They thus tend to think in terms of absolute or inherent power or to confuse divine authorization with a transferred right to do all things at will. This can raise acute problems for the Church and can produce the clash of authority that brings tension, persecution, or compromise. Even where rulers are Christians and know clearly the source of their authority, they may still fail to see that this authority can be properly exercised only according to the Word of God and within the sovereign authority that God always reserves for himself” (W. Ward Gasque and William Sanford LaSor, eds., Scripture, Tradition, and Interpretation [Grand Rapids, 1978], p. 25).

  10. 8 See the detailed criticisms in Murray, Appendix C (pp. 252ff.), and Hendriksen, pp. 430–31.

  11. Morris, Leon. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.

  12. LXX Septuagint

  13. 19 So Sanday and Headlam 1902: 367; Murray 1965: 149–50; Dunn 1988b: 762–63. Fitzmyer (1993c: 633, 667) is uncertain whether eschatological judgment or judgment in history is denoted, but he inclines to the former. One could say that the judgment of the state anticipates God’s judgment (S. Porter 1990b: 132).

  14. Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Vol. 6. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998. Print. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.

  15. Nicoll, W. Robertson. The Expositor’s Greek Testament: Commentary. Vol. 2. New York: George H. Doran Company. Print.

  16. Constable, Tom. Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible. Galaxie Software, 2003. Print.

  17. Brand, Chad et al., eds. “Usury.” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary 2003 : 1643. Print.

  18. Bohlinger, Tavis A. “Usury.” Ed. John D. Barry et al. The Lexham Bible Dictionary 2016 : n. pag. Print.