Insights on Romans 13
By Ivan Ho 19 May 2016
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.
Romans 13:1-2 KJV
Romans 13:1-2 KJV (Strong’s Concordance definition in brackets)
Let every soul be subject (subordinate, obey) unto the higher (to exalt, superior) powers (force, delegated influence – authority, jurisdiction, liberty power). For there is no power but of God: the powers that be (being, be, come, have) are ordained ( assign or dispose (to a certain position or lot)) of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth (stand against, oppose) the ordinance (arrangement that is institution) of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation (decision, judgement).
If we read this scripture in KJV version which I believe is one of the more accurate translations, there is no mention of “governing authorities” like other translations do, including NKJV.
All it says is that every man ought to obey the higher force or powers which I believe refers to the spiritual powers and authorities on earth ordained by God, rather than every authoritative structures set up by man.
If we read the next verse, we get a better understanding what “higher powers” refer to.
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.
Romans 13:3-4 KJV
The Bible calls them “rulers” and “ministers of God“. Again, the emphasis is on “of God” rather than “of the devil” or “of man”. I take it to mean those who are in authority who themselves are godly men and women, who are ordained by God. If and when they rule with ungodly manners, they loose their status of being “ministers of God”. If they are not ministers of God, they may be either “ministers of man” which we need to use our own discretion as to what we would obey and what not to obey, or even “ministers of Satan” which we are called to resist!
Furthermore, the KJV version says that spiritual power is derived from God, and if it is not from God, they have no power at all: “There is no power but of God“. In other words, people and institutions have no real power except that which is of God, or ordained by God!
No person is born with power or authority from above, such that every one has to go through a process of “becoming” who he or she is called to be, hence “the power that BE are ordained of God“. God may have called someone before birth for a predetermined position or role in His kingdom, but it would still take time and process for that person to become who he or she has been called to be.
However, if we read another translation, eg NIV, this same scripture could take on a very different meaning.
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. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
Romans 13:1-2 NIV
It says: “The authorities that exist have been established by God” meaning every governing authority or authoritative structures that exist on earth are from God. That would include Hitler’s Nazi rulership, any Communist totalitarian authorities etc! If we are to take on this meaning, God is telling us to submit to every evil, ungodly authoritative structures set up by the devil, which makes no sense at all! Why would God want every man to obey evil forces of darkness? God has no such command at all and we are to use our discretion as to what to obey and what not to obey. The NIV or some other translations on this scriptures could be very misleading.
An example of man disobeying and defying the governing authorities can be seen in Exodus:
and he said, “When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive.
Exodus 1:16-17 NKJV
If the authorities demand us to do evil or practice things which are contrary to God’s principles or moral standards, we should not obey them at all! Same sex marriage comes to mind.
Not ALL governing authorities that exist on earth are from God, not every hierarchy set up by man in the name of God are necessarily of God either.
We are only required to submit to and obey godly authorities ordained by God. In Samuel’s days, for example, that would include king Saul who was later on replaced by king David.