Monday, August 8, 2022

To Whom is the Apostle Writing?

Romans 13: 1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

I have written often on this passage, and others which also speak to the relationship of the governed to the governor.  I have written of it from the view that the common interpretation is incorrect – or at least incomplete. 

For example, “governing authorities” does not mean simply those who occupy positions of monopoly authority: the state.  There are many governing authorities – including the Church and the family, and others such as universities, guilds, trade organizations, customers, business associates, etc.

Further, we run into the stumbling block of the authority that demands of us to act against our conscience – against God, if you will.  One cannot read these verses written by St. Paul and reconcile this simplistic understanding with the fact that he defied the authorities unto his death.  (Which, if we are to extend this example, suggests that, ultimately, accepting the possibility of martyrdom is both necessary individually and beneficial as a means to grow the Kingdom.)

But this post won’t go through all of this ground – as if the only group St. Paul is writing to is the governed.  Instead, let’s review what he is writing to those in authority….

3(a) For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.

This is the role of those in authority – to be a “terror” to (other translations use the phrase “strike fear in” or some version of this) those who act in bad conduct.

3(b) Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,

The ruler is to approve of good conduct – not punish it, not make it illegal, not cancel it.  To approve it.

4(a) for he is God's servant for your good.

But if the one in authority is not God’s servant for good, then whose servant is he if he rewards evil?

4(b) But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.

I think about what many refer to as “the Old Testament God” (as if He changed).  The “wrath” He poured out on the wrongdoers of Sodom and Gomorrah, the wrath He poured out in the book of Joshua.  It was wrath poured out on those who act in bad conduct – those who practice evil, and even glory in it.  That wrath was poured out even on those in authority….

5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

Those who “must be in subjection” also include those in authority, else they will receive God’s wrath.  This is tough, a test of our patience and superficial sense of justice: God’s wrath when?  Through whose hand?  Unfortunately, you might say, this is where we, as Christians, are stuck.  Time works differently for God than it does for us.  How His wrath is shown may not always be to our immediate and worldly satisfaction.

6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.

Because of “what” do we pay taxes?  The “what” is all of the things St. Paul has offered as required of those in authority: to reward good and punish evil; to be a terror to those of bad conduct, not good.  But there is more on this subject of taxes, and for this I turn to the time when Israel demanded a king, and the warning God offered regarding their demand:

1 Samuel 8: 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants.

Suggesting that any authority that takes even one-tenth – ten percent – is violating God’s expectation of good authority.  But it gets worse:

17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.

Once the ten percent threshold is reached (let alone crossed), you are, in fact, a slave.  Hence, consider: the “governing authority” we are supposedly commanded to obey is violating both God’s command to reward good and punish evil and also God’s command of the appropriate level of taxation to pay for doing this good work.

One could consider that God understands that ten percent is sufficient for those in authority to conduct its proper role (let’s say, defend life and property and bring justice to those who violate life and property), and everything over ten percent will, inevitably and inherently, be used in ways contrary to its proper role (in other words, to become an agent that violates life and property).

So, we return to Romans 13:

7(a) Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed

To be clear, as modern governments – at all levels: federal, state, local – demand anywhere from thirty percent to eighty percent in taxes, what we are demanded to pay is in violation of God’s plan.  I say nothing about how we are to deal with this (tax revolt, etc.).  The point is, let’s not be fooled about the nature of our governing authorities, and let’s stop pretending that through this section of the book of Romans that the Apostle Paul is writing a one-sided admonishment.

7(b) revenue to whom revenue is owed

This can be read in more than one way.  As taxes were already covered, I will assume it can be read as what I owe the grocer, or the gas station, or the restaurant…

7(c) respect to whom respect is owed

This is respect to all levels of authority – from government, to Church, to family, etc.  For example, the king also owes respect to the authority of the Church, and to the authority held within the family.

But what does it mean to whom respect is “owed”?  Do I owe respect to a governing authority that rewards evil and punishes good?  Do I owe respect to a governing authority that takes more than ten percent?  Certainly, I might comply for my sake and the sake of my family.  But do I owe respect?

If the answer to that is yes, then I might as well quit writing.  But, as evidenced by my posting this work, I haven’t quit writing….

7(d) honor to whom honor is owed.

I could write again everything I have written about owing respect.  You get the idea.


How many times when we have had Romans 13 shoved down our throat are we also made to recognize the other side of this passage?  We are convinced by many Christian leaders to ignore the log in the governor’s eye and only to examine the speck in our own.

We need not even debate in what manner or how this passage speaks to us as those under the authority of such governing powers.  Nothing more need be done other than preach – regularly and often – about how those governing powers are violating what God has too often commanded throughout Scripture.


The Apostle Paul writes more along these lines, to Timothy: what do we “owe” to (or on behalf of) those in authority?

1 Timothy 2: 1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2(a) for kings and all who are in high positions

We are to pray.  I have recently also suggested fasting, given the quality of the demons that now govern us.

2(b) that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

And this is what we pray for: that the kings in high positions act in accord with what God commands them.

Further, St. Paul was not alone in such thoughts. 

1 Peter 2: 13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.

The governors sent by the emperor are to be sent to punish evil and to praise good. 

Let’s focus on that….


  1. Romans 13 gives a framework or a lens through which to view hierachies. First, we are not to reject societal order of which authority is inherent. The leftist attack of "the patriarchy" or "capitalism" is part of what Paul is warning against. For us to live a peaceful, productive life we are to support the society we are in. The other part I think is Paul explaining that it is not incumbent on Christians to overthrow governments and take political control. Instead

    Back to my initial point. I think the point of "punish evil, reward good" is to give people a gauge by which to determine when it is time to re-establish a new government or remove authorities and replace them with those who will follow God's intention. It is like the natural law of authority. When authority isn't satisfying its god-given purpose it needs to be opposed and ultimately replaced, not in a French Revolution way but in an American Revolution way.

    But the point at which it is time for the replacement is up to citizens to decide. The worse the authority the more impetus there will be to replace or reform it. The better it is the less. It will naturally be up to the level of suffering the people are willing to endure.

    To your point Bionic about kings or governments being subject as well, I recommend you read the book of Esther to see how that should work with law. You can also read the first few chapters of Ezra to see how even pagan kings should be submitted to the will of God.

  2. Judging by what I read at Lew Rockwell just today, your analysis of Romans 13 becomes an indictment against us Christians as to our lack of discernment in judging between good and evil - as in Hebrews 5:11-6:2.
    Our simplistic approach of 'theybad/we good' over the last last century and a half pretty much explains why we're in such deep doodoo in every area of our lives. The lack of self-awareness leads to an outsize self-promotion of our indoctrinated presuppositions - well learned but fundamentally false - into new and reckless adventures by our selected leaders.
    Don't get me started!

    1. Yes. Just today, Ira Katz included a summary of the evils just of the last two-three years, citing from Edward Curtin:

      This makes my list at the BU2B tab at the top of the page look almost like child's play - more "bad" in the last two years than in the last 200 (I might be exaggerating, but only a little).

      "They bad, we good" should be changed to "they bad, we worse," or..."they bad, we evil."

    2. And that same article by Ed Curtin had this: "Those who are never lost are forever lost. Only those who know they are lost and that life is a shipwreck have a chance to find their way to shore."
      Needless to is archived!

    3. What was Paul attempting to say in his Epistle to the Romans?

      In the King James version of the Bible chapter 13 begins:

      “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.”

      A common interpretation of this verse appears in The Living Bible, “Obey the government, for God is the one who has put it there. There is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow...” (Romans 13:1-3).

      You cannot blame all governments on God anymore than you can blame sin on God. The first thing God did was give man the right to choose, and the responsibility of suffering the consequences.

      While it is not right to sin we have the right to choose to sin. Cain chose to go out of the presence of God and create the first city state. What he did was wrong, but he had the right to make that choice. The nature of the government we create is a product of what we are and our souls are formed in the character of the government we choose to serve.

      Governments are created by men, not by God.

      God allows men the power, right, or liberty to create government, but not with impunity. There are many forms of government that are in opposition to God. Man must go out of the presence of God, rejecting Him, to create many of those governments.

      They are formed in the image and the character of Satan, who is the adversary of God.[1] Even those governments may serve God’s purpose by punishing the wicked who form them. God even forbids man from making covenants with those governments or bowing down or serving them.[2]

      See also a more detailed article on Romans 13 or read the book and join the Living Network.
      HHC Books

      Matthew 4:8 “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee...”
      Exodus 34:12 “Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:” also Exodus 23:32 and Exodus 34:15 “Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;”

  3. Couple of quick questions/answers...
    Where was Paul when he wrote Romans?
    In prison.
    Why was he in prison?
    For defying government edict.

    Pretty well puts paid to the standard and incorrect understanding your 501c3 pulpit pimp pushes on this chapter. As stated above, God gives us the framework of legitimate government, and any governing body that does not fit into that is not only illegitimate, but is owed no compliance, duty nor respect.

    1. Luke

      "Pretty well puts paid to the standard and incorrect understanding your 501c3 pulpit pimp pushes on this chapter."

      As I agree with the rest of your comment, I have no idea what you are trying to say with this statement.

  4. While this is a good article, I do have one quibble with your interpretation of 1 Samuel 8:15-17. Note that God is WARNING that the King will take 1/10th of their goods and this will make them slaves. So even 1/10th is too much.

    God tells the Jews to tithe. This is essentially saying to give 1/10th of your goods to God. Earthly authority should not get as much as God does. (Note: I know it is a controversial belief-- especially among the clergy -- but tithing is part of the Law. Paul tells us that if we adopt ANY of the law, we must adopt it all, and that we will have no part of grace. Therefore, those who adopt tithing are commanded to adopt the entirety of the Law and they have no part in the grace shown by our Lord.)

    But be that as it may, I think any government that takes even 10% is exceeding God's plan.

    1. I think a more careful reading of what I have written will make it clear that...well, I will just cite it here for convenience:

      "Suggesting that any authority that takes even one-tenth – ten percent – is violating God’s expectation of good authority."


      "Once the ten percent threshold is reached (let alone crossed), you are, in fact, a slave."

    2. Considering the occupations of the disciples it is doubtful that any more than four of them could read and/or write.

    3. Have you actually looked in detail at not just their occupations but Jewish first century culture in the Galilee? Businessmen raised in observant Hebrew families and communities? What Torah commands? And Jewish roles and importance in the empire? These and many other facts are a good indicator that every one of them were literate. Why did the ruling class call them "ignorant and unlearned" then? Perhaps for the same reason the powers that be today call people stupid and ignorant and unlearned. Wrong teachers, wrong schools, wrong professions, wrong beliefs, wrong politics. "Not a ringknocker!" "Not an Ivy League" school!" "Wrong (or no) initials after their names."

  5. any thing other than free will offerings, given in love and charity is His Government. Any mandated forced taking of "tithes and Offerings" is not His Kingdom