Living Free in the Spirit of Christ

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A Different Look at Romans 13

Posted on June 11, 2016 by Alexander
roman jews.jpeg

Most of the Christians that Paul wrote to the Romans were Jewish believers.

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. 2 And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:1 & 2

We are all influenced by the world and the way of thinking of the world. For many Americans this is the result of government education, corporate advertising, media propaganda and the various disciplines of science that has established themselves as the gods of our age. Therefore our reading of the Bible tends to be influenced by these worldly influences and it takes deliberate effort to discern the truth of Scripture. Reading the Bible alone will not transform your mind. There are thousands of Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons who do not know Christ.  Renewing our minds come from reading the Bible by spiritual discernment.

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.   But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.(1Co 2:14  & 15)

Legalism is the heart of natural thinking. Legalism is the means of self-justification. James tells us that if we break one commandment we have broken them all (James 2:10). But legalism tells us that if we do one good thing, we are good in all things. Through our narrow definition of goodness, we judge others according to our own standard. If we see others fail in one thing, we condemn them as utterly worthless. How unlike our King who believes we are worth saving no matter what we have done. Legalism turns us into hypocrites.

Legalism makes right and wrong a game. Lawyers are a prime example of what I mean. They do not care about what is right or wrong, only what is legal. Natural thinking seeks only for the benefit of self. We are awash in our culture in this kind of thinking.

The influence of natural thinking distorts both our reading of Scriptures and affects the way godly men translate the Scriptures. We need to read the Bible through the eyes of Christ.  Since He is the King, we assume he is like a worldly king, and he is not. Jesus does not “rule” by force. He rules by example and is the standard we are to compare ourselves by. Jesus changes us just as a good marriage changes both partners. We love one another in marriage, so defer to one another. We love Jesus and defer to his good example because we want to please him and to be like him.

So with this  point of view, Romans 13 which we interpret as meaning obeying governments is out of character to both the Kingdom of God and the point of Paul’s epistle overall.

Paul Green writes for Lew Rockwell and in a 2010 article entitled, “Rights, Liberties, and Romans 13” made this tongue in cheek translation of Romans 13 as how most Christians view it.

“Totally submit to the government and all its officials, for there is no official that is not preordained by God to rule you. Therefore, any sign of resistance to any official is defying God and you will be destroyed. But do whatever they decide — that is being good and God through His officials will reward you. But disobeying anything they say or decide, any rule they make, is bad and you should be afraid because the government’s agents have swords and guns with good reason — and they are specially ordained by God to violently punish those who disobey them in any way, because to do so is evil. But don’t just obey them because they are threatening you, you should actually feel guilty if you disobey in any way. You should pay them whatever amount they ask without question because they are serving God by taking it from you and doing their very special work. So give without question everything they ask: taxes are theirs, all your money is theirs, your respect is their right, your complete obedience is their right.”

Mr. Green’s exaggeration of how people interpret Romans 13 illustrates the desire of Satan, who wants to distort Scriptures to undermine our faith in Christ. Satan said it from the beginning, and continues to say it today, “Hath God truly said…”

What makes me wonder about this interpretation of Romans 13 is that nowhere else in the book of Romans is there any mention of civil government.  So why would Paul address it here?  But first things first, who was Paul actually writing to?

The Intended Audience

Obviously the Christians in Rome. But where did they come from? They were not established by Paul on one of his missionary journeys. It is commonly agreed that the letter was written by Paul around 58 AD from Corinth. He tells us in chapter 15 that after tending to the poor saints of Jerusalem he would stop by Rome on his way to Spain (vs. 24-28) which was his third missionary journey. We know from Acts that it did not go the way he thought.

A general consensus exists that many of the Christians were pilgrimage Jews from Rome who were at the temple in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given in the book of Acts. Rome had a large Jewish population dating back since the 2nd century BC. The early Roman church, then, was mostly Jewish believers in Christ who evangelized both Roman Jews and Gentiles. The book of Romans is addressed to both groups of people. This means the early Roman church was about 25 years old (give or take several years depending on when Christ was born) by the time Paul wrote this letter. The primary audience were Jewish believers who still held fast to the Mosaic law with Christ as the capstone of that law. Paul’s intention in writing the epistle was to declare their freedom from the law which the grace of Christ had given them. This is especially clear in the first few versus of chapter 7. In verse 1 of chapter 7 he states: “for I speak to them that know the law”. He uses the metaphor of marriage then states in verse 4: “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God.” In other words, they were no longer joined to the Mosaic covenant.

It is important to remember that Paul’s primary target audience are the Jewish believers in Rome, not the Gentile believers. The law he refers to is always the Mosaic law that they knew and continued to follow. The Roman gentiles knew next to nothing of the Mosaic law unless they were converts to Judaism first. And it is likely that some of the Roman gentiles who had become followers of Christ were converts to Judaism previously.

Overview of Romans

So the question that comes to my mind is how does being subject to powers, that is, governments, in Romans 13 fit with the purpose of Paul’s writing his epistle? A quick survey of the whole book might be helpful in seeing how it fits. There are three main parts to the epistle.

  1. The Law Versus Grace   After establishing his apostolic ministry to the Roman Jews in chapter 1 and his recognition of the moral decay in Rome,  Paul addresses in the next 8 chapters how grace preceded the law and through grace the law is established.
  2. Israel Rejected Grace for the Law The next 3 chapters, 9 to 11, declare that God did not reject Israel, rather Israel rejected God.  However, there is hope for Israel in that they, the natural branches, could be grafted back into the vine.
  3. Body Life of Christians The book concludes with chapters 12 through 16 discussing how to live as Christians under grace.

It is here sandwiched between Romans 12 on the gifts of body life and 14 on the consideration towards those with weak faiths and conscience we have the non sequitor of Romans 13 telling us to obey civil governments. This does not fit with the point of the book.  Spiritual discernment in reading the Bible is to understand why the Scripture was written and what result was intended by the author upon the reader?  Understanding the point of the writing is spiritual discernment.

I think the answer is found in the latter part of Romans 12 that precedes the first part of Romans 13.

Conflict Resolutions

Since chapters and verse numbers are not part of what Paul wrote, I took the liberty of taking them out to get a better sense of his point. Some numbering has been left in to help recognize the reference.

Rom 12:14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Clearly Paul is trying to encourage the Roman Jews to not act according to the ways of the world, but to do what God wants  to bring them through their persecutions, pride, sufferings and conflicts with other people.

Rom 13:1 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. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

As translated here it sounds like Paul is telling the Roman Jews to let the civil governments handle their problems.

And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

From the point of view that verses 13:1-10 being the civil government, verses 11-14 seem like a strange change of topic.

Rom 14:1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.

When you consider that Romans 12:14 to 12:21 encourages them to bless them that persecute them and to let the Lord bring vengeance, then consider the continuation of resolving disputes with believers of different opinions (meat offered to idols) in Romans 14,  it would seem that in Romans 13 Paul is encouraging them to use the civil courts to resolve their differences.  But that contradicts other statements by Paul of not using the civil courts.  Consider the disputes in 1 Corinthians and how Paul was aghast that the believers were suing each other in court (1 Cor. 5:11- 6:8), and tells them that civil courts are for unbelievers and they should resolve their matters amongst themselves.  This parallels what Jesus said in Matthew 5:40:

And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.

So it can not be that Paul is telling us to use the civil system to resolve disputes. Instead, I believe  Romans 13 is telling us to draw upon mature believers to help us in our trouble and to be supportive of those believers who labor in the Lord. To explain why I think this let me review Romans 13:1-8 in more detail.  Please note, the analysis is long, but is worth sifting to completion.

As a disclaimer, however, I wish to state up front that I am not a Greek scholar. I am drawing upon the standard tools of Strong’s Concordance, Thayer’s Greek Definitions, Vine’s Expository Dictionary and a unique New Testament translation by Dr. A Nyland called, “The Source New Testament” from which she looks at the Greek language as understood by non religious people in ordinary Greek usage of that era.  That being said, that does not disqualify me to find a more accurate meaning of the passage because I seeking to see the flow of Paul’s point by the context of the rest of his epistle, the other writers and the Spirit of Christ.

Significant Greek Word Analysis

Rom 13:1

Let every soul be subject [5293 hupotasso¯] unto the higher [5242 huperecho] powers [1849 exousia] For there is no power [1849 exousia] but of God: the powers [1849 exousia] that be are ordained [5021 tasso] of God.

The first consideration is the word “subject” which is a translation of the Greek word hupotasso. This is a compound word of hupo + tasso which literally means “under” + “arranged”, or arranged under.  The general understanding of scholars is that this is a military term, hence, the translation into “subject”.  Dr. Nyland, however, makes this  significant observation:

hupotasso, in the passive means ‘to be attached to’, ‘to be in support of’ … and was used of attached/appended (supporting) documents in the postal system…. Horsley …  states that a common non-NT use of hupotasso is “append”, “attach below” …  and is attested in a letter of 114 B.C. (P. Tebt. 1100). It was commonly used in the postal system with the meaning, “stick (to)”, “attach”” (The Source New Testament, p. 298 footnote 3)

She translates the word as “supportive” which has no sense of subjection.

Likewise the words “higher” “powers” have been translated with this worldly frame of mind, and could be translated with words that fit the theme of body life and reconciliation.  The word “higher” in the Greek is another compound word huper + echo.  The two words literally mean “above” + “hold”, or figuratively “to excel” or to be “prominent”.  The word translated as “powers” in this phrase is exousia which is more complicated than the simple translation given it.

Strong’s says it it from exest meaning “it is right” or “authority”. Thayer’s adds “power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases”. Vines adds “freedom of action, right to act”. The Greek word exousia does not seem to mean people in power, but our rights, liberties and authority. In light of these meanings it seems fair to translate these words as “excellent liberties” or “excellent authorities”.  What if, in context to the letter, Paul is encouraging the Roman Jews to seek out mature believers who understand our freedom in Christ to help them endure their persecutions and differences in faith? When chapter 16 concludes with a list of believers that helped Paul, are these the mature believers that Paul is referring to in chapter 13? Also, when considering the word as meaning “rights” in reference to chapter 14 which discusses the “right” to eat meat offered to idols, Paul reminds us that even though we have the “right” it does not mean it is the most edifying thing to do (Rom. 14:14 & 15).

Exousia is translated as “power” throughout the rest of verse 1.  When you exchange the word power for liberty or authority, it takes on a new meaning.

Ordained of God has a very religious sound to it.  The English word, “ordained,” simply means ordered or organized.  The Greek word is tasso, which we have already seen in the word hupotasso means “arranged”or “assigned”.

Dr. Nyland translates verse 1 thusly:

Every individual must be supportive of the prominent authorities, for there is no authority that isn’t from God, but all those in existence have been posted there by God.

If Paul is talking about our freedoms in Christ it could be translated this way:

Everyone must be supportive of their significant rights, for there is no right that isn’t from God, but all rights have been given by God.

Or if Paul is talking about mature believers it might be translated this way:

Everyone must be supportive [hupotasso¯] of prominent [huperecho] authorities [exousia], for there is no authority [exousia] that isn’t from God, but all authorities  [exousia] have been assigned [tasso] by God.

Let us consider verse 2.

Rom 13:2

Whosoever therefore resisteth [498, antitassomai] the power [1849 exousia] , resisteth [436 anthiste¯mi] the ordinance [1296 diatage¯] of God: and they that resist [436 anthiste¯mi] shall receive to themselves damnation [2917 krima].

It is noteworthy that there are two different Greek words that are translated with the same English word, “Resists”.  The first Greek word, antitassomai refers to resisting the “power” or “authority” or “right” depending on how exousia is translated.  The second Greek word, anthiste-mi is used for resisting the “ordinance” of God which also is a different word (diatage) from the word used for “ordained” in verse 1 (tasso).

Antitassomai is another compound word consisting of “anti” + “tasso” + “mai“, which literally means “against” + “arranged” or “assigned” + “oneself”, or “to arrange oneself against” .  In contrast, the second Greek word translated as “resist” in this verse is anthiste-mi which means “to stand against”.   What is the difference then?  It seems that the first resistance is to move in the direction of opposition, but the second is to actively resist.  Why is the English word, “ordinance” (diatage in Greek) in verse 2 different from the “ordain” (tasso in Greek) in verse 1?  It seems tasso  refers to placement whereas diatage refers to an overall arrangement, or structure.

The final word in verse two that is misleading is krima which has been translated as “damnation”.  Damnation always has the religious connotation of going to Hell.  I don’t think this is a fair translation.  Krima  is also translated as “condemnation”.

I believe that exousia in verse one refers to rights and liberties exercised by people with authority, which means believers who know their freedom in Christ.  Remember, Paul’s epistle to Romans is primarily directed towards Jewish believers who are still under the Mosaic law.  They know that Christ has fulfilled the law, but they do not see that they are free from the  constraints of the Mosaic law. When they oppose their rights in Christ through the mindset of earning salvation through their works under the law, they stand against their freedoms and bring condemnation upon themselves.   So it is possible that verse two could be translated this way:

Whosoever therefore  opposes [antitassomai] the rights [exousia] , stands against [anthiste¯mi] the arrangement (of liberties) [diatage¯] of God: and they that stand against (them) [436 anthiste¯mi] shall experience to themselves condemnation [krima].

However, verse 3 clearly speaks of people so it is more likely that this is the better translation.

Whosoever therefore  opposes [antitassomai] those who know their authority in Christ [exousia] , stands against [anthiste¯mi] the structure  [diatage¯] of God: and they that stand against (them) [436 anthiste¯mi] shall experience to themselves condemnation [krima].

This brings up the question, “How does God structure authorities?”  The natural mind always assumes assignment from top down structure, but the Kingdom of God is opposite to the kingdoms of the world.  Jesus said that if you want to be great in the Kingdom you had to be servant to all (Matt. 20:27, 23:11, Mark 10:44).  The servants of God, that is, the mature believers, do not flaunt a position, rather they are recognized because of their character and actions.  David was anointed by Samuel as king of Israel, but David did not seek it nor tried to remove Saul.

As stated earlier in this post, Jesus as the King does not make anyone do anything. Rather he rules like a yardstick is a ruler. He is our example and measure of behavior.  Mature believers do not make people do things, rather they are examples.  People are changed by a constant examples of goodness. This is how Romans 2:4 (the goodness of the Lord leads us to repentance) works.  When we judge people according to the law we will always find faults and can then  dismiss them.  But we are not to judge according to the law but by grace by which the Roman Jews still had trouble recognizing.  And as I said earlier, the list of mature believers that Paul cites in Romans 16 are gentile believers who the Roman Jews would not accept if they judged them according to the Mosaic law.

Remember, too, that believers do not condemn one another.  The condemnation one experiences comes from failing to keep the law.  It is our own hearts that condemn us (1 John 3:20 & 21) as the law magnifies our failures. It is notable that while the Greek word krima is similar to our English word, “crime”, the English is derived from the Latin.  But the Latin and Greek are both derived from the Indo-European “cry” which is the cry of our heart as we fail.

Rom 13:3

For rulers [758 archo¯n] are not a terror [5401 phobos ] to good [18 agathos] works [2041 ergon], but to the evil [2556 kakos]. Wilt thou then not be afraid [5399 phobeo¯] of the power [1849 exousia]? do that which is good [18 agathos], and thou shalt have praise of the same:

An archon, which is translated as “rulers” simply means something or someone that is first.   It is noteworthy that we do not have the Greek word basileus which is translated as king and emperor;,  nor is the Greek word hegemon which is translated as governors and ruler; nor do we see the Greek word ethnarches which is translated as a ruler or governor of a nation.   With that in mind, it is more likely the rulers, or leaders, Paul is referring to are the pillars in the body of Christ.   Of course the issue of the sword  in verse 4 would make it seem like a civil ruler, but I will address that when I get there.

Terror is a an extreme word for phobos.  I think “dread” is a better word.   The good (agathos) works (ergon) and evil (kakos) works do not mean one time.  Both agathos and kakos  mean “habitual” good or bad, or  “intrinsically” within the character of the work.    It is also worth noting that the Greek word, ergon, often refers to one’s business or occupation. In that light, if this passage were referring to civil governments, then it is specifically referring to business owners.  However, I still don’t think that Paul is referring to civil governments, but mature believers laboring in the ministry full time.  Governments rarely hand out praise, but we see it more frequently from people we know.  It is more likely that the works Paul is referring to is the work of ministry.  Legalism is an evil ministry, but graciousness is good ministry.  Perhaps then the verse could be reworded this way:

For leaders [archo¯n] are not a dread [phobos ] to intrinsically good [agathos] ministry [ergon], but to the intrinsically evil [kakos]. Will you  then not be afraid [5399 phobeo¯] of them who know their authority in Christ [1849 exousia]? do that which is intrinsically good [agathos], and you shall have praise of the same:

Rom 13:4

For he is the minister [1249 diakonos] of God to thee for good [18 agathos]. But if thou do that which is evil [2556 kakos], be afraid [5399 phobeo¯]; for he beareth not the sword [3162 machaira] in vain [1500 eike]; for he is the minister [1249 diakonos] of God, a revenger [1558 ekdikos]  to execute wrath [3709 orge¯] upon him that doeth  [4238 prasso] evil [2556 kakos].

Our ruler from verse 3 is called a minister in verse 4 using the Greek word, diakonos,   that is often translated as “deacon”  and as “servant” in other verses.  The word, “sword” carries the connotation of warfare.  But the Greek word, machaira, is actually a dagger which is used for killing animals for sacrifice.  Sword has the figurative connotation of “punishment”  of which the verse has been translated to suggest.  But a dagger that is used for animal sacrifice is a figure of temple worship.  In the Mosaic dispensation the Roman Jews would have understood the priestly connotation instead of civil punishment as the figure of speech.   Mature believers bear the cross of Christ, as living sacrifices for the edification of the world.

The Greek word, ekdikos, translated as “revenger” specifically refers to justice.  We are justified by the sacrifice of Christ, not by the law.  The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God (James 1:20).  The word,  orge,  translated as “wrath” in this verse means “strong desire” or “passion”, and is the root for our English word “orgy”.  Frequently the strongest desire is anger, which is why the word wrath was chosen for the verse, but this is natural thinking still, not spiritual. The way the KJV translate this verse it makes it seem that the subject of “wrath” is God’s anger punishing the disobedient.  Could it not be that the subject is actually the “passion” of the “evil” worker that causes him to sin instead?

We are told to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21).  The story of Jim Elliot and Nick St James in Ecuador comes to my mind. They were trying to reach the Huaorani Indians whose culture exalted revenge and murder as virtues.  They murdered the husbands, but the wives forgave them which boggled their minds and who  could not understand why they did not seek revenge.  The Greek word,  prasso, in verse 4 means “to practice” as a habit.  The Huaorani’s culture of revenge was prasso kakos, i.e., habitual practice of intrinsic evil.  It was the habitual goodness of the wives that led them to repentance so that they became followers of Christ.  Their husbands were a literal sacrifice and the wives were living sacrifices.

Mature believers like the Elliots and St. James are people to be revered.  The Greek word in verse 4,  phobeo, translated as “afraid” is also used in reference to wives revering their husbands as Sarah revered her husband Abraham (1 Pet. 3:6).

It is possible, then, that Paul meant this instead:

For he is the minister [diakonos] of God to you for intrinsic good [agathos].  But if you do that which is intrinsically evil [kakos], be reverent [phobeo¯];  for he does not bear his cross [machaira] for no reason [eike], for he is the minister [diakonos] of God bringing justification [ekdikos] to those whose passions [orge¯]practice [prasso] intrinsic evil [kakos].

Rom 13:5

Wherefore  ye must needs [318 anagke] be subject [5293 hupotasso¯], not only for wrath [3709 orge?], but also for conscience sake.

Verse 5, of course is the conclusion of the thought in verse 4.  The only Greek word that is new is from the phrase, “must needs” (anagke) which refers to a necessity that is pressed by distress, or constraint.   The thought might conclude like this:

Consequently you are pressed [anagke] to support [hupotasso¯] not only for your passion [3709 orge],  but also for your conscience sake.

After making the case that we should respect and support mature ministries, Paul extends that thought on how we should have no debt to anyone but to love everyone.

Rom 13:6

For for this cause pay [5055 teleo] ye tribute [5411 phoros] also: for they are God’s ministers [3011 leitourgos], attending continually [4342 proskartereo] upon this very thing.

We should financially support those mature believers who labor in the Lord.  Paul told the Corinthians (1 Cor. 9:11) that if they had sown into them spiritually, then shouldn’t they sow back to them carnally, i.e., financially?  A recommendation he made to Corinth several years before he wrote to the Romans.  It is interesting that paying off a debt in Greek uses the word, teleo, from which we get our English word, “telescope.”  It refers to a goal or end point.   The Greek word, phoros, specifically means “load” or “burden” which by implication can mean a tax.  The English word, “tribute”, has a specific understanding of financing the temple.  So “tribute” does not mean a civil tax.   Also a totally different word  for “ministers” is used this time.  In verse 4 it was diakonos from which we get our English word, “deacon”.  However, this Greek word is, leitourgos,  which specifically refers to a public servant who worked in the Temple, and figuratively is a “worshipper of God”.   The phrase, “attending continually” which is the Greek word, proskartereo, means “a determined perseverance”, which is not found in civil servants.

While financial support is clearly indicated, I believe, since the thought of the paragraph is loving others, that Paul is encouraging the Roman Jews to join in the burden of those who labor in the Lord.  So it could read like this:

For this reason make it your goal [teleo] to carry their burdens [phoros]  also: for they are God’s worshippers [leitourgos], who attend diligently [proskartereo]  upon this very thing.

Rom 13:7

Render [591 apodidomi] therefore to all their dues [3782 opheile]: tribute [5411 phoros] to whom  tribute is due; custom [5056 telos] to whom custom; fear [5401 phobos] to whom fear; honour [5092 time] to whom honour.

The Greek word translated as “render”, apodidomi, literally means, “give back”.   The understanding is that these mature believers had sown spiritually into their lives and Paul is encouraging them to respond with gratitude and appreciation.  The Greek word,  opheile ,  translated here as, “due”, literally means “indebtedness” or “obligation”.  Paul uses this same Greek term later in the book of Romans (15:27) when he says that the Macedonians and Achaians recognized their indebtedness to the Jews which is why they sent a love offering with Paul to help the poor saints of Jerusalem.   The other Greek words in verse 7 have been addressed earlier except the last one, time,  which is translated as “honour” here.  It also has the meaning of “value”, “esteem”, and “dignity”.    This verse, then, could be translated this way:

Give back [apodidomi]  therefore to all to whom you are indebted [opheile]:  their burdens [phoros] to whom you were their burden; goals [telos] to whom you were their goal; respect [phobos] to whom respected you; esteem [time] to whom esteemed you.

Rom 13:8

Owe [3784 opheileo] no man [3367 medeis ] any thing, but to love [25 agapao] one another[240 allelon]: for he that loveth [25 agapao] another [2087 heteros] hath fulfilled [4137 pleroo] the law [3551 nomos].

Those who labor in the Lord share the Gospel to a lost and dying world.   Our liberty and freedom in Christ comes with the responsibility to set others free, which is the ultimate act of love.   We are indebted to God and Christ to share the Gospel.  Three Greek words should be noted in this verse.  The phrase, “no man” is the Greek word, medeis, is gender neutral, so is better understood as ” no one”.   Two different words translated as “another” are used in this verse.  In the first instance the Greek word,  allelon, refers to a reciprocation of the same kind, whereas the second Greek word, heteros, means of a different kind.  I believe that Paul is inviting the Roman Jews in his work of sharing Christ with the Gentiles.  The Greek word  agapao is a variation on the unconditional love of  God, agape.   The last clause of this verse concludes that the Mosaic law (nomos) is fulfilled in the uttermost (pleroo) when you love those that are different from you. This verse could be translated this way:

Be  indebted  [opheileo] to no one [medeis ] in any thing, but to love unconditionally [agapao] mutually one another [allelon] : for he who unconditionally loves another who is different  [heteros] has fulfilled to the uttermost [ pleroo] the Mosaic law [nomos] .

The law referred to being the Mosaic law,  is clearly indicated in the next verse, verse 9. He sums up his point in verse 10 when he says:

Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

How it Fits Together

If we take the point of view that Paul is not digressing with an unrelated topic of civil government, but is encouraging the Roman Jews to embrace the mature believers, and specifically the Gentile saints listed in chapter 16 to help them with the persecution and struggles begun in chapter 12:14 and the work of evangelism that mature believers have been engaged in, then verses 13:11 to 14 make sense as to why he encourages the Roman Jews to shake off their natural thinking and reach out to the lost.   Let’s read it all together.

Rom 12:14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Rom 13:1 Everyone must be supportive of prominent authorities, for there is no authority that isn’t from God, but all authorities have been assigned by God. Whosoever therefore  opposes  those who know their authority in Christ  , stands against the structure   of God: and they that stand against (them)  shall experience to themselves condemnation. For leaders are not a dread  to intrinsically good ministry,  but to the intrinsically evil. Will you  then not be afraid of them who know their authority in Christ? do that which is intrinsically good, and you shall have praise of the same: For he is the minister  of God to you for intrinsic good.  But if you do that which is intrinsically evil, be reverent;  for he does not bear his cross for no reason, for he is the minister  of God bringing justification  to those whose passions practice  intrinsic evil.  Consequently you are pressed  to support  not only for your passion,  but also for your conscience sake.

Rom 13:6 For this reason make it your goal  to carry their burdens  also: for they are God’s worshippers, who attend diligently  upon this very thing. Give back  therefore to all to whom you are indebted:  their burdens to whom you were their burden; goals to whom you were their goal; respect to whom respected you; esteem to whom esteemed you. Be  indebted  to no one in any thing, but to love unconditionally  mutually one another: for he who unconditionally loves another who is different  has fulfilled to the uttermost the Mosaic law.

Rom 13:9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love the fulfilling of the law.

Rom 13:11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

The Church and the Nanny State

I am convinced that there is not a single passage in the book of Romans that addresses civil governments. That is not to say that there are no other passages in the New Testament that address civil governments. But the mindset I believe the New Testament takes is one of avoiding civil governments and staying out of their way. Nor is there any directive in the New Testament that tells us that we are to reform and change civil governments. I do believe that God does call people to do so, but not directly through the Bible. Instead the directive is the one that Paul encouraged the Roman Jews to do in Romans 13: join in the labor of those who are sharing the Gospel by supporting them financially and with time and labor.

Civil governments belong to Satan.  He told Jesus that all these kingdoms would be his if he bowed down and worshipped him (Matt. 4:8-10).  They will never be reformed, only destroyed when Jesus returns.  I believe that the book of Judges is the only time period that reflects the Kingdom of God on Earth.  Israel had the Mosaic covenant.   The Torah directs each person to personal responsibility.  That 400 year period from Moses to Samuel was a time of genuine self government.According to Jewish understanding, the phrase repeated twice in the book of Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6 & 21:25) meant that the Israelis knew what the right thing to do was and they did it.  That is self government, or the fruit of the Spirit, which is self control (Gal. 5:23).  The only system provided by the Mosaic covenant was that of the priesthood and the prophets who were usually the judges.  And judges are not specifically enumerated in the Torah.  They were people who were raised by God when disputes or conflicts arose and functioned in a temporary role.

When we compare the number of failures of Israel in the book of Judges to the number of failures of Israel under the kings in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles the evil done in the latter books was exponentially worse.  Life for the average Israeli was significantly better during Judges than during the kings.  So, the obvious question that arises is, “why did they beg Samuel for a king?”  The Lord told Samuel that they were rejecting God, not Samuel.  But I think it was more than that because everyone wants God to help them.  Instead, I believe Israel clamored for a king because they did not want to be personally responsible for themselves any more.   They wanted someone else to be responsible for them. They wanted the Nanny State, and I believe mankind all throughout history has preferred delegating their personal responsibilities to some one else.

The Gospel is also rejected because of this reason.  The only way a person can receive the benefit of Christ’s atonement is for that person to own up to their sins and admit they need God’s help.  This is the first step of personal responsibility.  However, even after salvation has been accepted the renewing of our minds that Paul exhorted the Roman Jews in chapter 12 means a continuance of acting in personal responsibility.   There is no directive in the New Testament for assemblies of saints under the authority of a person called a “pastor”.  Yet the system flourishes because congregates can pass the buck to their own personal responsibility to the “professional clergy” who should do the work of the ministry for them.  Then when the “pros” fail, they can blame the king (pastor) instead of themselves.

Preaching the Gospel is two sided coin.  Each of us must preach the Gospel and we must live the Gospel.  People who don’t preach the Gospel say their lives are a witness, which for most of them is a lie  because their lives are no different than the lost.  We are to be examples of godliness, not simply talk the talk.

I encourage all who have taken the time to read this post to not use my interpretation of Romans 13 as flak to throw at civil governments.  Instead, take up the call of God, Christ and Paul to join in the labor of the Lord and  live your lives accordingly.

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    A Different Look at Romans 13 – Pointed Proposition

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  1. Thomas Lowe says:

    I understood Romans 13 to be obedience to secular govt only so long as it doesn’t act in opposition to the morality outlined by Paul to the Church. In 2016 looking at the US Govt there is essentially nothing about it that I should honor/respect as it is openly declaring war on both God and Satan for control of planet Earth.

  2. Alexander says:

    Thomas,

    I believe that we should be respectful to all people, including those in government. However, the point I have made in my post is that Paul was not addressing any kind of government at all in Romans 13. Rather, he was encouraging the Jewish believers in Rome to embrace and support the mature Greek believers listed at the end of Chapter 16. Your sentiment is increasingly being held by many Christians today. It is foolish to think that believers can change governments through the law without first changing the hearts of the government servants who are abusing the system. The Church must not forget that the Great Commission is still the priority of God.

  3. Dave says:

    Great article! I really enjoyed it and learned a lot. Thanks for taking the time to do all this research and present it so clearly. I especially like your conclusion about personal liberty and self government being difficult for most people to hold onto because it is easier to shift responsibility to “leaders”.
    I would like to point out one error. You wrote, “There are thousands of … Mormons who do not know Christ.” I am a Mormon. The actual name of the Mormon church is “The Church of Jesus Christ”. We fully believe in Christ. He is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, our King, and everything you believe him to be in your article. It is a common misconception that we don’t believe in Christ or simply view him as a prophet or teacher. I also study the Holy Bible just like you do. I know Christ in the same way you do. I too have accepted Him and His grace.
    Once again, thank you for this article and I look forward to getting more acquainted with your work.

  4. Alexander says:

    Dave,
    Thank you for your feedback. I understand your defensiveness regarding the LDS. I know the grace of God through Jesus Christ is greater than I can imagine, so I apologize for making the blanket statement. I could also point out that there are many Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopals, and so on who do not know Jesus Christ. If you have the new birth, then you are a Christian. Although much of LDS doctrine is found in the Doctrine and Covenants, by which salvation is obscured. This is also true for much of the Catholic doctrine. But as I said, God looks upon the heart not the mental comprehension. I appreciate your taking the time to comment. Thank you.

  5. Dave says:

    I can’t help but feel that my mental comprehension has been offended. 😉 There are also many Evangelicals who do not know Christ. But no matter, we share more in common than we have different between us. At the very least we are united in the belief that Christ is our sovereign and not governments of man.

  6. Alexander says:

    “There are also many Evangelicals who do not know Christ.” I agree and pointed that out in my prior comment: ” I could also point out that there are many Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopals, and so on who do not know Jesus Christ….. This is also true for much of the Catholic doctrine. ” I also acknowledged the possibility that you might have the new birth since “God looks upon the heart not the mental comprehension”. This is one reason why I do not participate in any organized religious group any more. I hope your mental comprehension is not offended because no one but Jesus has full mental comprehension of salvation. We are all in a state of constant renewing of our minds. For 31 years I believed that Romans 13 addressed governments until I took 4 months to meditate on it with Greek word analysis and the overall point of Paul’s writing.

    Your comment reminded me that I need to stick to the Scriptures and be more careful not to address other people’s views. Jesus only addressed the errors of the Pharisees and Sadducees after they began plotting his murder. Otherwise he stuck with proclaiming the kingdom of God. I want to do the same.

    Post Script

    I felt like the Lord wanted me to add this post script. The doctrine of the LDS that I referred to that obscures salvation is the belief that Elohim is one god of many gods. When the OT refers to Elohim it refers to Yahweh and his created children in Psalms 82. Yahweh declared in the book of Isaiah (44:8) that he alone is God and he knows of no other. If you believe that Jesus is the son of Elohim and is just another god, then your doctrine hinders you from knowing the Truth. Jesus is Yahweh who came in the flesh. He is called the Son of God because Yahweh placed part of his life (the Word) into the created person of Jesus of Nazareth. If anyone believes the LDS version without believing in the singular deity of Yahweh who became Yeshua, they lack the new birth, thus salvation.

    But, as I said above, I have no interest in pursuing criticism of other faiths. My interest is speaking the truth in love.

  7. Dave says:

    Maybe you were inspired to add the P.S. so that I could respond and clear up another misunderstanding. We (Mormons) certainly do believe that “Jesus is Yahweh who came in the flesh”. It is basic Mormon doctrine that Yahweh of the Old Testament is Yeshua of the New Testament. Same God. So yet again we are more similar than different. One word of advice that I give humbly and with no hard feelings: stick to what you know. Don’t assume you know more than you do about others. Seek to bring Christians together. Build on common ground.

  8. Alexander says:

    Dave,
    Thank you for your response. You are unique to my experience and will keep your point in mind. I have talked with many members of the LDS, and those that I have talked with do not believe that Jesus is Yahweh. I spoke from knowledge I do have. If you have the new birth, then you are unique to the LDS crowd, in my experience. I agree that Christians should be brought together on common ground. The new birth is that common ground. Speaking to you personally, Dave, I have to say you have been extremely gracious in your comments and I commend you on your gentle spirit and replies. Thank you for your feed back. I make no claim to having arrived, and appreciate differing view. Iron sharpens iron, as the proverb says.

    BTW, I must ask. Who is Yahweh to you? Is He the only God that exists, or do you think he is the son of Elohim whose brother is Lucifer amongst the many gods that are eternal and come in the flesh. Do you think you are an eternal spirit, too, that has been born in this world to be a god on some other world? If so, I doubt your salvation, because Yahweh is Elohim and is the only God that exists. People were made in his image, but we are created beings, not eternal beings. Eternal means with no beginning nor end. As created spirits we have a beginning but are everlasting – either in heaven or hell. If you believe that Jesus is the only God Yahweh who became a man, then praise the Lord for your salvation.



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