Romans 13:2

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
Romans 13:2

Romans 13:2 very clearly states that:
– Resisting governing authorities is tantamount to resisting God
– Judgment awaits those who resist governing authorities

There are two important interpretive questions we must ask. What is meant by “resist” and what is meant by “judgment”?

I’ll take judgment first. Several of my libertarian friends like to interpret this as referring only toward the punishment someone would receive from the magistrate. If you rebel against the government, the government is going to fight back and try to subjugate and execute you. Thus, these libertarians take a very narrow view of the judgment in view here.

I don’t buy that explanation because of the first clause of the sentence. “Whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed.” Now it *is* an interesting turn of phrase that instead of saying “whoever resists the authorities resists God,” Paul says “resists what God has appointed,” but in light of the facts that the authorities are indeed appointed by God and entrusted to steward his authority, I lean toward viewing the phrases as relatively equivalent.

Because of this, I believe the judgment referred to here is two-fold. Indeed, you will incur the judgment of the government if you resist them, but also, if you are resisting God’s appointed authorities, you are resisting God. Resisting God is sin. So this does have eternal damnation in mind.

Resistance is difficult to define. The word is ἀντιτασσόμενος. The word appears in Acts 18:6 to describe the actions of the Jews in Macedonia who “opposed and reviled” Paul’s message of the Gospel. It also appears in James’ and Peter’s quotations of the saying “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Unfortunately, I was unable to find a specific old testament verse that this quote was specifically lifted from. There were a few cross-references of verses that said very similar things, but none that were close enough for me to feel confident as to being direct quotes (even allowing for slight variation introduced by the Septuagint).

So it remains a little cloudy, but it seems to be a very strong word referring to a diametrical opposition. I.E., complete enmity. In other words, I don’t think driving 10 over the speed limit is what is in mind here. Rather, this has to do with a completely revolutionary outlook toward the government.

Take heed! This has great implications for those of us who call ourselves anarchists!

I will also say this, that I do not believe that holding political ideas about how the government would be more justly aligned with God’s standards, preferring that the government be changed to be brought into greater conformity, and speaking out to this effect, fall within the scope of resistance as understood here – even when the government disagrees and bans such thoughts and speech. When it comes to believing and speaking the truth, we must obey God rather than men.

Consider authority in another context. If you were talking about the pastor of your church and your concern was that the church was led in a Biblically faithful way and that the ministry of the word was Biblically faithful, you are not resisting God to call attention to deficiencies you see in the leadership of the church. Your concern is to help your pastor do the job that God gave him. You are not an enemy. You are his friend. This is all conditional, of course, on whether you do it in a respectful way, and that’s the rub. Having respect for God’s authority that is the issue at hand will stay us from being too rash in our approach to the situation. Humility is called for in both cases.

Specifically, as it pertains to civil government, I take two things away from this:

1. Armed rebellion is not justified for Christians. I won’t be 100% absolute on this. Many will argue that sometimes armed rebellion is a form of self-defense. Maybe. But in light of Romans 12, I do think we ought to even avoid rebellion for self-defense if at all possible. This could be a whole essay in itself because there are a lot of nuances here. Think, for example, of the hypothetical – what if the Mafia, who often acts like a government, comes to enforce their will on you, are they a government? Do you have to be subject to them? Are you not to resist them? What of the Nazis asking you if you have Jews in your house? What of the guards of Jericho asking Rahab if she has the Israelite spies? There’s nuance and gray area to this. I don’t think this is an absolute statement. Yet, it is one that should be taken seriously before signing up for the boogaloo. I’ll just leave it at that for now. You will answer to God for how you obeyed Romans 13:2. Let your own conscience be your guide.

2. This verse gives us the first disqualifier for the State. Remember that God has appointed the State. While the State has the authority God has entrusted to it, everything we discovered in verse 1 and everything I said above applies to the State.

However, it does say that *anyone* who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed. This would include the State!

This begs the question of how authority comes to be appointed. The text makes no clear statement on the matter. This implies that the appointment may come by various means. Again, keep in mind that these means may indeed by sinful and unjust on the part of the conquering king, but since God is free, they are all at his disposal.

But remembering that we have yet to see any statement to the effect that government must be monopolized by a State, suppose the authority comes to be bestowed upon someone through market forces. There is a need for governing authority in a community. The people of that community turn to someone who will do the work for them. He becomes their magistrate. Is he not a governing authority whom God has appointed? Suppose spontaneously multiple people were appointed by various clients, what would be the situation if one of them tried to establish a monopoly and become a State? He would be resisting the other authorities that God has appointed.

Indeed, by conquering and subjugating lands previously governed by other magistrates that God has appointed, and by proscribing any attempts by other magistrates to serve the people where the State falls short, up to and including secession, and by all the other ways in which the State enforces a monopoly on the status of governing authority, the State resists authorities that God has appointed or may appoint in the future.

Thus, while God is free to appoint a State to be a magistrate, the State invariably falls short of stewarding that authority up to God’s standards.

And we’re only 2 verses in!


9 thoughts on “Romans 13:2

  1. It is good to see a thoughtful approach to the exegesis of this verse.

    May I suggest a more fruitful and contextual explanation of Rom. 13:2? The context is:
    1. The Christians in Rome were being persecuted by unbelieving Jews, and unfaithful Israel, not Rome or the Roman government. (The Roman government first persecuted Christians only about 7 years later in 64 A.D., so that event is not in the context here).
    2. The Christian response to this persecution — and any persecution — is love and peace, rather than opposition or violence, even in ‘self-defence.’
    3. The divine response to THIS PERSECUTION — and not any persecution — is divine repayment, in fulfilment of prophecy. In particular, the Song of Moses in Deut. 32, addressing Israel’s final end and her latter days, when she would be a rebellious people and a crooked and perverse generation. God would, at the end of Israel’s covenant history, judge her, and avenge the blood of his servants against her, to atone for his land and his people. Paul quotes this as the divine prophetic solution in Rom. 12, which is our context for Rom. 13:1-4.

    So, the Roman government is introduced by Paul in Rom. 13:1 as God’s institution, in a specific sense, and for a specific judgement, against a specific target of rebels, who had rebelled (or would rebel) not only against the (Roman) government, but against God.

    In Rom. 13:2 Paul states that Israel will rebel against Rome, and be judged in response. The Christians were not to take part in the tax-rebellion of Israel against Rome. The Lord had predicted it in Mat. 24:7. Daniel had predicted it in Dan. 9:24-27 and 12:1-2, which would ‘completely shatter’ the power of the ‘holy people’ Israel (Dan. 12:7). Paul had earlier predicted it in 2 Thes. 2, with a rebellion that would arise and take over the Second Temple, and be destroyed by the Lord.

    In this context, Paul instructs the Christians to be cheerful taxpayers to Rome and to have nothing to do with the ill-fated armed rebellion against Rome. Rome would respond with wrath and violence and destruction. The tax-payments of the Christians were to finance the destruction of the persecuting power, unfaithful crooked and perverse last days Israel. The Christians could take some comfort from paying Roman taxes anticipating this, while being prudent and peaceable in not supporting the tax protesters and Zealot nationalists who were doomed to judgement and destruction.

    It was the rebels who would be condemned to the hell of total destruction in Is. 66:24. The context for this rebellion was Israel’s judgement and salvation in Is. 65-66. Israel, who had been invited to the wedding feast of her resurrection to new life in Is. 25:6-8, would miss out and be killed by her God instead, who would call a new people to himself, and call them by a new name, Is. 65:13-15. This new people would be a new Jerusalem, and a new Israel, Israel reborn and resurrected as the Kingdom of God.

    The resurrection and the rebellion was also predicted by Ezekiel, in chapters 37-39. Israel would be restored and resurrected, after the Babylonian exile. Israel was the valley of dry bones, dead in exile. Israel would be resurrected: this is the ‘resurrection of the just.’ But God would also raise up the unjust, ‘Gog and Magog’ to persecute his new and resurrected people. Those wicked people persecuting the New Israel, resurrected Israel, would be destroyed in ‘the war’. In the New Testament, in Revelation, Gog and Magog are those deceived by the beast (the Zealot rebel government), who war against Christ and his people, and yet are totally destroyed (Rev. 19:17-21). They are the nations lead by the dragon, released for a short rebellion and war, which they lose, in Rev. 20:7-10.

    In summary, a correct understanding of Rom. 13:2 requires a correct understanding of the rebellion and the resurrection of the unjust, which is put down by God and his Christ at the end of Old Covenant Israel, when the new Israel enjoys resurrection life in the Kingdom of God.

  2. Romans is an occasional letter and so it addresses the occasion which my earlier comment discussed. The instructions are relevant, however, beyond the original audience. The scriptures are written for us, even if not to us.

    The relevance is the understanding of the specific birth pains that the Christian movement was experiencing at that time, and how they related to the new birth of the kingdom of God. As Paul said to those at that time: ‘through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts. 14:22). The Great Tribulation of Dan. 12:1 was the means by which the resurrection of the just and the unjust of Dan. 12:2 and the missionary activity of Dan. 12:3 would be fulfilled. This is what the Lord also said in the Olivet Discourse: through the great tribulation upon Israel, would come the fall of the Second Temple and the Kingdom of God (Luke 21:10-33).

    Those birth pains would produce only wind for the old Israel (Is. 26:18). Yet, nonetheless, God would bring Israel through the birth pains and indeed to the new birth to the New Jerusalem (Is. 66:7-14). Although Israel was the uncooperative and brittle clay, ‘vessels of wrath prepared for destruction’ (Rom. 9:22), from the Jews would still become ‘vessels of mercy’ along with the gentiles, who would become the sons of God (Rom. 9:23-26).

    God has always been the God who works through and is seen in history, and tells via prophecy before he does, and who, by the prophets, explains the significance of his awesome deeds. Paul’s teaching in Rom. 13:1-4 is a prophecy, it predicts what God was to do, and how, but it also explains the significance of those events. In particular, he addresses the objection: ‘I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means!’ (Rom. 11:1). The destruction of Israel and the Second Temple is not God’s failure to deliver Israel and to save her, it is the means of her salvation, destroying the old and creating the new. This is why Paul says:
    Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

    “The Deliverer will come from Zion,
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
    “and this will be my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.” (Rom. 11:25-27).

    God has always worked through political powers, whether through destroying them, as with the flood, and as with the dispersion at Babel, and as with the granting of Palestine to Israel temporarily, and taking it away in the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, also in the judgement upon Babylon and Assyria and, ultimately, Second Temple Israel as the Fourth Beast, and as the Fourth Empire, the Beast, and the ancient serpent, the dragon. Israel would become Egypt, and Sodom, and ‘Babylon’ and would be judged at the Second Flood, and at the Second Exodus.

    The Lord clearly stated that as the Father had judged in the Old Testament, the Son would judge in the New Testament (Mat. 5), i.e. in history and politically. The Son, Jesus Christ, would be seen as victorious in heaven through the judgement of those who pierced him and rejected the gospel and rejected peace (Rev. 1:7). The tribes of the land of Israel would mourn. Those who said they were Jews, but were not, but were the Synagogue of Satan, would be crushed under the feet of God’s people when they would be brought low (Rev. 3:9). The beast that would arise from the Abyss and work in Jerusalem killing God’s witnesses (Rev. 11) would be judged and destroyed as those who had destroyed the land. The beast would possess the dragon and direct it to chase and persecute the woman (Rev. 12). The beast would take the throne of the dragon, to persecute the Christians and to take military power in Jerusalem and deceive those who dwell on the land of Israel (Rev. 13).

    The people of God had been taken from their land to Babylon, and the prophets had taught the people that they could still be God’s people and could still exercise their knowledge of God even without a political kingdom and political domination. As Israel was restored to her land and restored to having her own political power after the Babylonian exile, she had the time of trouble, the 62 sevens, of Dan. 9. During this period, after the Greek Antiochus Epiphanes was resisted by Israel (Dan. 11:32), there were two groups in Israel: the wise and the foolish (Dan. 11:33-35). Accordingly, the people of God had always since this time transcended political power which was weak and/or hostile to God and his law. The Lord came in this context, teaching about the two groups, the wheat and the tares (Mat. 13), the wise and the foolish (Mat. 7:24-27). With Israel falling into deception and rebellion at her end (e.g. Deut. 32; Is. 65-66; Dan. 9:24-27), and being destroyed, the Kingdom of God was handed to the saints in a new form, that exists in parallel to the political structures of the old world and even the modern world.

    Rom. 13:1-4 teaches us that God is in control and that our war is not against the government and its officers, rather it is against the beasts that would possess them and possess men and dominate them, instead of being held in check and kept down by man. Our response is to stick to our standing instructions to honour all men as being made in the image of God (even if they are murderers), and to build and grow the kingdom of peace and bring peace and healing to the world.

  3. Correction to my above comment: It is John 5, not Mat. 5, that has the Lord’s teaching about his authority to judge as the Father had judged in history in the Old Testament. This judgement was to be through the then-present resurrection of the just (John. 5:25) and the soon to follow resurrection of the just and the unjust.

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