Article 3.6 – Explanation of Romans 13
By Pastor David Whitney
Institute on the Constitution (IOTC)
Now regarding Romans 13:1-6, what people so often miss is the repeated phrase “minister of God.” Note that it is repeated three times in the passage. We know that when Scripture repeats a phrase it does so for emphasis, so three times means pay very close attention to this phrase.
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. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 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: 4 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. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
Note several points:
v1 These entities are called higher powers, and their powers are ordained of God. Has God given them power to violate His Law? Certainly not. They only have God-ordained power to obey God’s Law and to rule in complete accordance to God’s Law. They are to be in submission to God’s Law themselves in order to be ministers of God. What if a minister of the Gospel were to command his congregation from the pulpit to violate God’s Law? Would we think he is a minister of God? No. What should a Christian do when the one who claims power violates the God ordained boundaries of what God has given them to do?
The Apostle Peter tells us what the civil magistrates are supposed to do. 2 Peter 2:14: “Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.”
So what is a Christian to do when those who claim to be rulers actually do the opposite of what God commands them? Are we to obey their edict when to do so is to violate God’s Law? For example, former President Barack Obama commanded Christian organizations to participate in the murder of the unborn. This is not a new phenomenon. Consider what Pharaoh demanded of the Hebrew Midwives and place that passage side by side with Romans13.
Exodus 1:15-17: “And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: 16 And he said, when ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him, but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. 17 But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.”
When challenged by Pharaoh, they misled him by their answers. And the passage says God blessed them greatly for their disobedience to the Pharaoh. When they resisted Pharaoh, they were not resisting a “higher
power” which God had ordained. Therefore, their actions did not result in “damnation” but rather in great blessing. There are a multitude of other examples from one end of the Bible to the other.
So putting this together with Romans 13:1, we conclude that when a ruler commands in violation of God’s Law, we have no obligation to obey them for at least in that specific instance. They are not the “higher powers” God is referring to in Romans 13:1. They have abdicated their throne or in the language of our Founders in the Declaration of Independence, they “are not fit to be the ruler of a free people.”
Now consider Romans 13:3. Rulers are supposed to be a terror to evil doers, not to the righteous. What had Pharaoh become by issuing an order to commit infanticide? He became a terror to the righteous, a terror to good works and a rewarder of evildoing murderers. The midwives now had reason to fear Pharaoh when they obeyed God and did what was right. So the passage says, “Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same.” This is further evidence that Pharaoh abdicated his rulership in this edict. He is not “the power” Scripture refers to in Romans 13, because if he was, those who did good would be unafraid and those who did evil would be afraid.
God’s ministers in Romans 13 are civil magistrates who rule lawfully, because they rule in accordance with God’s Law, punish those who violate God’s Law and praise and reward those who obey God’s Law.
So our Founders were following Romans 13 as well as Matthew 18. The king of England claimed to be a Christian, so they confronted him with his sin as Jesus commanded in Matthew 18. They listed the specific ways the king violated God’s Law and commanded others to do likewise. In essence, King George repeated Pharaoh’s folly expecting everyone to comply with his edicts and violate God’s Law. In this the Founders saw that he was not “the higher power” Romans 13 refers to, that in essence he abdicated his throne and now was “not fit to be the ruler of a free people.” The king was in violation of God’s Law in 27 specific ways which they listed in the Declaration of Independence. The Founders were following God’s Law (“The laws of Nature and Nature’s God”) in obedience to Romans 13.