Christians and Governing Rulers (Rom 13:1-7)
1 Let every person be subject to the imperial authorities; for there is no authority except from God, as those authorities have been instituted by God. 2 So that, the one rebelling against authority rebels against what God has appointed, and rebels will receive due recompense. 3 For rulers elicit no fear among those who perform good deeds, but only for those who do wicked deeds. Do you wish to be free of fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its praise, 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wicked, then you should be fearful, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on those doing wicked things. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, attentive to the task of governance. 7 Pay to all what is owed them — taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, reverence to whom reverence is due, honor to whom honor is due.
1 Everyone should keep in the government’s favor, for there is no governing power other than what God has appointed to keep civilization civil. 2 So whoever tries to over-throw the civic authority is trying to overthrow something that God has set up for human good, and for that, there will be swift and severe reprisals. 3 Leaders do not frighten people doing the right thing, but only those doing the wrong thing; so if you want to live without fear of the government, then do what is right before them, in fact, they might even give you a medal for good behaviour. 4 Remember, government serves you as God’s servant, but if you do what is wrong, then you should be afraid of the governing authorities, for the government holds the power of life and death over all the people! Government is God’s servant to even exercise a punitive justice on the wicked. 5 It is, then, incumbent on us to yield to and obey the governing authorities, not only because of the prospect of punishment, but because Christian conscience also requires it. 6 This is why you must pay taxes, because it funds the services that government provides, which they exercise as servants of God. 7 Give everyone their debts, duties, and dues as expected of you – whether it’s taxes, tribute, a salute, a curtsy, “Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am,” or recognition of their official titles.
1-7. This is a controversial passage and one wonders whether Paul would have written with this strongly subservient theme if he knew of Nero’s forthcoming pogrom against Christians in which Peter, himself, and many others would lose their lives. The New Testament urges Christians to obey governing authorities (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:17), but other times to look forward to the day when God burns wicked governments to the ground (Revelation 13). I surmise that Paul aims to avoid two extremes of over-realized eschatology (i.e., the kingdom is here, so ignore Government, and carry on as if it doesn’t exist), and under-realized eschatology (i.e., the kingdom is not here, so sharpen your sword, let’s storm the capitol, assassinate Caesar, and make the kingdom come that way). Paul is perhaps arguing, in effect, “Jesus is the Lord, the new age has dawned, but be that as it, we cannot get ahead of ourselves and live as if authorities are not there. They are here, and for good reasons, God has appointed them to provide justice for their peoples. What is more, some hot-heads in Judea might be sharpening their swords for holy war, looking for opportunities to revolt, but that will not solve the problem, just replace imperial rule with lawless anarchy. God can bring Rome to its knees and he does not need your sword to do it.”