The Real Romans 13

By Paul Green

Reprinted from:

Over the centuries, many Christians have actively supported governments with their wars, taxes, rules and regulations – ever since a “Church Under State” pact of blood was first sealed by misled leaders with the Emperor Constantine.

But Jesus identified such killing, stealing and destroying as characteristics of Satan:

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly – John 10:10

And the Apostle Paul gave instructions from God as to the kind of active support Christians should be offering, in order to see the world transformed: That instruction is to pray…

…for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. – 1 Timothy 2:2-4

Yet in recent times, many Christians and their leaders even thought that war would help convert the Middle East. In fact, the end result has been that the number of Christians in Iraq has been decimated.

Much of the killing, stealing and destroying has been supported and in many cases, committed by Christians under the conscience absolving banner of Romans 13. So it is time to reconsider the ungodly ideas surrounding that passage.

Beginning with a brief look at the actual text of Romans 13, here is the key first verse of that chapter, as translated in the King James Version:

“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.”

William Tyndale had printed and translated the Bible some years before the King James Version, and it was he who first coined that phrase, “the powers that be.” Some modern translations just use the word “government”. That the verse refers directly to government power would, at first glance, seem to be underlined by verses 6 and 7, which the New King James version translates:

“For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes [are due], customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”

However, the translation of key words here is in fact very easily shown to be incorrect interpretation: In reality, the original Greek word for “powers” is used many times elsewhere in the Bible and usually does not refer to government at all – it can even refer to the real but illegitimate “power of Satan“. It is in fact a very general word for ownership or any managerial authority or leadership – good or bad.

Nor do the original words in verse six specifically mean “taxes” or “customs”; they both instead have much more general use.

The Greek word translated as “customs” for example, is actually a word for any conclusion or settlement – and is often translated elsewhere in the Bible as simply, “the end“. The very same word (telos) was used by Jesus on the cross when, after bearing the sins of the world, he cried out, “It is finished“.

A further, more detailed analysis of this passage can found in the articles, “Rights and Liberties ” and “"Romans 13:Armed Liberty“.

Once the real subject of the first verse becomes clear – i.e. legitimate leadership that is actually established by God, such as patriarchal family authority, managerial seniority and property ownership – then the rest of Romans 13 falls into place.

In summary:

Overseeing heads of household and business, landlords, owners and appointed managers are there to serve – but also to protect from evildoers, by force if necessary. We should always respect the rights and liberties of such people and fulfill our obligations, financial or otherwise, to them – as they should to us.

So in fact, the kingdoms of this world are far from being the exalted and exclusive subject of Romans 13.

Operating under Satan’s spiritual kingdom of darkness, governments undermine proper authority to impose their own improper control, often by disarming legitimate God given family and business authorities.

By their very nature, governments and their elite allies are in fact, some of the most dedicated and persistent violators of the passage – because any and all power or money they acquire, can only come by taking it away from legitimate, God-given spheres of authority.

But the lust for that kind of power is an ancient one:

Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” – Luke 4:5-8

This lure of government power was one of the great temptations Satan used to test Jesus in the wilderness. Of course, the Lord did overcome it, but consider this:

If Satan had succeeded, then the precise objective of many Christian churches today would have been fully accomplished: The “right” person would be in office, and a superficially perfect “Christian” government imposed on the world by force.

This passage serves to illustrate that only with unshakeable opposition to the very existence of such systems, is it possible to be influential within them, while having no part in their evil ways.

In the Book of Daniel for example, the prophet was first introduced to the emperor when he was able to both describe and interpret a dream from God.

Note carefully the message of this dream, which made absolutely clear that not only the emperor’s rule, but all other earthly kingdoms were destined only to be utterly destroyed by the coming Kingdom of God:

…in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. – Daniel 2:44

God through the Psalmist David also spoke of this time to come in Psalms 110:

The LORD said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”….
Rule in the midst of Your enemies!
Your people shall be volunteers…
…He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath…
He shall judge among the nations…
He shall execute the heads of many countries

When this true King was later revealed to be the Christ, that passage was specifically quoted by Jesus himself. In addition, 1 Corinthians 15 likewise prophesies:

Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.

But rather than real faith of this kind – faith which “subdues kingdoms“ according to Hebrews 11 – faith in the deceptive, corrupting, state/church pact has held sway in Christian circles.

And, now that Christian teaching has been sufficiently corrupted, that evil entity with which they have shared their love for God is revealing its true colours with increasing tyranny and in unprecedented perverse social control.

Those few and perhaps admirable Christian leaders who have set themselves to resist the state imposition of improper forms of sexual union, will find themselves hampered and lacking in moral confidence.

They may not even be capable of continued resistance, no matter how committed or well intentioned. Not because they are bad people – but because they are terrified of defying a powerful force they believe God has set in place:

Under the intense temptation in the wilderness, Jesus set us an example to follow when he counteracted Satan, evil, deception, and doubt by saying repeatedly, “It is written…”. So it should be clear that in order to maintain faith and hope during any time of testing, it is essential to stand against adversity with an outspoken commitment to specific truth contained in the written Word of God.

However… only when such truth is known, can it set us free. And since they have long been taught to believe in earthly government; over time and under pressure, most resisters will begin to question their own judgement. In fear, they may well attribute their difficulties to “disobedience” of government – i.e. they will doubt.

Under an increasingly hostile legal and political system, it should not be surprising to hear long theological excuses, grovelling redactions and embarrassing climbdowns by Christian leaders. And in most cases, the underlying bedrock of this unbelief is nothing more than that often repeated but fatally flawed misinterpretation of Romans 13 – along with numerous associated misconceptions.

The good news is that an immediate start can be made to correct this problem. In addition to the translation problems already covered earlier, consider the following:

Since all variants of misinterpretation claim that the pivotal first verse of Romans 13 refers to a time when government was divinely “set in place” or “ordained” by God; then there is one major question that must be answered:

If Romans 13 really does refer to such a moment, then exactly where and when was government “ordained” by God? For the sincere Christian, scraping up ambiguous out-of-context half scriptures or shoe-horning in a personal interpretation, just will not do. If we are to show proper respect for the scriptures, then we are instructed that every word must be established “upon the evidence of two or three witnesses“.

But the truth is, no matter the denomination, movement, theological school, church group or individual commentary – any quest to get an answer from them on that simple but critical question, always draws a complete blank. Usually, the question is avoided entirely.

Surely therefore, if popular ideas about Romans 13 are laying claim to an event that did not actually take place; then is it not time to reconsider those ideas – however popular they may be?