Romans 13 – More Than Church/State Relations

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When you take a look at Romans 13 it seems a little out of place. It looks like Paul diverts himself from talking about issues related to love (12:9-21) to talk about the governing authorities (13:1-7) and then goes right back to talking about love again (13:8-10). As disconnected as it seems there are some unifying elements in Romans 13:1-7 that might not be as apparent on a quick read. Here are a couple of the tie ins:

  1. Romans 12:1 started a section that is basically about how to live the transformed life in view of God’s mercy. Paul is giving a practical “how to” series of exhortations that will help the readers/hearers of the letter put into practice the principles he has been laying out in the first 11 chapters.
  2. Romans 12 ended with some information on the wrath of God. Romans 13:1-7 talks about how ruling authorities in this world are put there by God in order to bring justice. In essence, earthly authorities are one means by which God carries out his vengeance toward justice.
  3. Paul connects this section on how to live in light of earthly authorities back into the theme of love by talking about the need to pay our dues (13:7) and the need to continue to pay the due of love to one another (13:8).

Romans 13 is a very often used and quoted chapter in Romans for the purpose of talking about church/state relations, the death penalty, and just war. However, that is really taking the whole point of what Paul is writing here and throwing it out the window. Paul’s emphasis is not a political manifesto of what governments can and cannot do. Paul is moreso telling Christins how they are to live in light of what God is doing and authorizing behind the scenes. In the next post we will deal with Romans 13:1-7 and what Paul is and is not saying about how Christians are to live in the civic arena and how God views the governing authorities of this world.

0 Responses

  1. Ooh… pet topic of mine. I like it so far. I’ll be traveling this weekend, so you’ll probably get a late comment on your next post.

    Grace and peace,

  2. Matt,

    Romans 13 is often appealed to as a wholesale endorsement of government–any government–and it’s subsequent actions as being above scrutiny. It seems within the context of Romans that one of the main reasons Paul wrote 13 is because he has previously said many things which are anti-imperial (pronouncing another Lord other than Caesar, etc.). In this context it is not wholesale endorsement. Romans 13 itself is subversive in that it considers Caesar as accountable to God. Just some balancing thoughts before we go here simply to justify war, etc.

    Looking forward to the next post.


  3. I have often wondered if we would be talking about a Revolutionary War (or any revolution) in American History if people, who for the most part regarded themselves as Christians, would have taken seriously that tid-bit about being submissive to your governing authorities. I am quite sure when Paul wrote Romans, he was writing to Christians that were increasingly being treated less than fair by their government…yet somehow, the idea of taxation without fair representation was far worse than the treatment dealt to the Christians by the Roman Government.

    Grace and peace,


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