Romans 13:1 is another Bible verse that has been misused for so long & many Christians have accepted this verse not knowing, I know beause I was one of them. In a regular modern bible version it will read something like this:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. “
You can see the importance of a good Bible translation, since this verse translated like that, can mean that we believers need to be into submission to the earthly governments or state authority, like kings, presidents, or even pastors, etc. no matter how evil or corrupt they are, because is God’s will since He appointed them, right? but let us see what the original Romans 13:1 really says:
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. Romans 13:1
But them. . . who are the higher powers that the Apostle Paul talking about in his letter to the Romans? We will find it if we read the next verses. When we read only one verse it’s easy to take it out of context & that’s how doctrinal errors are made. Remember the basic steps when reading or studying the Bible, is that we need to first set the context.
13 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
2 Whosoever therefore resisteth (G498=oppose/stand against) the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
3 For rulers (G758= leaders) are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister(G1249=diakonos=minister, servant) 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.
1/ We see that this higher power is good, rewards good, is godly & punish evil. So this passage isn’t asking to obey or to be subject blindly. Many church leaders specially certain denominations that have a wrong doctrine, had abused their authority for so long, misusing & twisting the Word of God.
2/ Christian authority is not the same as it is in the world. For us the Church’s authority does not reside in the Church, or in any office-holder in the Church, but in the Word of God. The Head is the authority & that Head of the Church is Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 5:23), and we ALL (the body) submit to Him. The leaders in the church are servants of God, imitators of Christ, not like the secular rulers, they are there to serve, be a good influence & help us grow in the Word of God, but they are not there to control us or exercise authority over us.
25 But having called them, Jesus said, You know that the rulers (G758=leader, prince) of the nations exercise lordship over them, and the great ones exercise authority over them. 26 But it will not be so among you. But whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant (G1249=diakonos=minister). 27 And whoever desires to be first (G4413=chief) among you, let him be your slave (G1401=servant, sense of subjection or subserviency); 28 Even as the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28,
3/ Because there are not contradictions in the Word of God, I believe the Higher Powers in Romans 13 start with God Himself (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) & may be extended to His ministers, ordained by Him -We will recognize who is ordained because they are godly, humble & submitted to God.
Vs. 3 gives as example how even we don’t fear secular leaders when we do good, & not evil, then we shouldn’t fear been subject to the high powers, but vs.4 is talking about Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, the Lord of Lords but also the servant/minister we all need to imitate, Mt.20:28. Only God has the power to avenge & to execute judgment, & He gave that power to the Son John 5:22. “he beareth not the sword (G3162-figuratively war judicial punishment) in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger (G1558 =avenger, same word as 1Ths.4:6) to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” If Jesus is the Head of the Church, then every true (ordained by God) Christian leader also must be subjected to Him.
Vs.5 Tell us it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath (punishment for disobeying God’s Word), but also for the sake of conscience, which is to give a good example to others. Vs. 6 mentions God’s ministers “For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.” so this yielding to authority is extended to the Church leaders or God’s ministers.
Vs. 7 “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour” We as Christians pay our debts monetary & not monetary (honor), behaving righteously. The bible never incite us to disobey the earthly authorities, since 1 Peter 2:13 mentions them & also uses the word subject G5293=reflexively to obey, but is not blindly obedience, so the key to understand better is in that Greek word ‘G5293 = hupotasso“, which has been translated as “submit” or “be subject,” which literally means to arrange in an “orderly manner underneath“ or to to yield to one’ s admonition or advice.
This same word is used in Ephesians 5:22 to encourage husbands and wives to submit to one another, which shows God’s concern for order and respect. The apostles believed that governing authorities are necessary for keeping the peace, remember God is a God of order – not of chaos.
4/ But it is very important to note, that there is ANOTHER Greek word, G5219 =hupakouō, translated as “obey,” which literally means to follow a command, to submit to an authority as a subordinate. The apostles Peter and Paul could have used this word, G5219 “obey,” but they chose not to. That word hupakouō is used around 20 times in the New Testament and always suggests a hierarchical context, as in the relationship between children & their parents or slaves and masters (Eph 6:1 and 6:5), etc.
God is our only authority, He is the creator & He is above all human government. Most government laws are good to follow, since they try to put order & don’t harm anybody, they don’t want you to kill, nor commit robbery, etc. that go in accordance with God’s Word, we should respect & even collaborate with our government when they are doing good to others, but if it is something that goes against God’s Word, then we don’t obey because our authority is God not man.
On both Testaments we find several cases of people disobeying the government authorities, in Exodus 1:15-22 we read the midwives disobeying Pharaoh’s order to kill the male babies, because they feared God & God blessed them for saving the babies. We also see Daniel praying when it was prohibited, also Daniel’s friends that didn’t bow to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar & ended up in the furnace, Rahab hid & helped the Hebrew spies (Joshua 2:9-11), etc. In the New Testament we read Peter & John disobeyed the Sanhedrin, Acts 4, the apostle Paul went to prison several times & was persecuted by the Roman government for preaching the gospel which was prohibited by their laws.
Remember the Christian church in Hitler’s time? Must of them stood by & did nothing while their neighbors were unjustly discriminated, taken prisoners, torture & killed by the evil governing authorities of the time. We are living today in very harsh times, that remind us about the very beginnings & also the discrimination done by that same evil government, which by the way also had at the time a “Gesundheitspass“ (pictures) or health pass, coincidence or is history repeating? Except this time is not 1 race but all & it is done globally. You can read more here. (1), (2).
“In this country, you and I, the President and the Congress and the State Department are accessories to the crime and share Hitler’s guilt. If we behaved like humane and generous people instead of complacent cowardly ones, the two million lying today in the earth of Poland . . . would be alive and safe. We had it in our power to rescue this doomed people and yet we did not lift a hand to do it.” –March of 1943, American Journalist Frida Kirchway, Editor of The Nation magazine.
We cannot deceive God, He knows our hearts, and one day we will give account for what we did but also for the good we didn’t do when we were able to. (James 4:17).