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1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.


This chapter continues the injunctions to live a life in submission to God (12:1-2).

Chapter 13 begins a new subject—the relation of the Christian to government. It is the central passage on this subject, which also includes the role of human government in society. Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire. Christians in Rome needed to pay attention to governmental authority because it was the most important capital in the world. There is no indication that Christians were under persecution from the empire at this time.

The tension is that the Christian is the citizen of two kingdoms, an earthly government and a heavenly kingdom (Mt 22:15-22; Phil 3:20; Co 1:13).

The principles for God’s empowerment of the state are found in Romans 13:1-5:

Christians are to submit to the state, 1:1a

The state has its authority from divine establishment, 1:1b

Rebellion against the state is mutiny against both God and government, 1:2a

God and the state will punish those who violate law, 1:2b

The state constrains evil, 1:3a

The state serves social order, 1:3-4a

God delegates the state power to punish lawbreakers, 1:4b

The Christian should let his conscience obey the state, 1:5

1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.

The principle is that Christians have loyalty to both God and government. “Every soul” indicates that submission to human government—whether Christian and non-Christian—is a universal command for everyone.

The word “subject” means to arrange under. The idea is to arrange our lives under the social order that government provides. Civil obedience is the operating norm. We should not muddy submission, however, with keeping silence about issues in government. Those of us who live in democratic societies have the right to speak to government.


There is a reason to submit to human government—all governmental authority ultimately comes from God.

there is no [civil] authority except from God,

“Authority” here is used for governmental power. No human government comes to power without the superintendence of God’s sovereignty, so state power is delegated power. The issue is not whether the government itself is good or bad but whether God placed them in authority or not.

The word “authority” occurs six times in this section of Romans. The Greek word here means delegated power. God delegates governments the right to use their power for the benefit of society.


Good citizenship follows the principle of divine establishment.


As long as Christians live in human governments, they must obey the given governmental structure. Believers are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (Mk 12:17).

God asks us to obey not only kings and presidents but also all levels of governing authorities such as policemen, mayors, and judges.

1 Ti 2:1-2, 1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.

Ti 3:1, Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work,

1 Pe 2:13-16, 13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

Paul does not deal with every contingency that Christians might face with government. If there is a conflict between the will of government and the will of God, then obviously we give precedence to the will of God. The issue is authority. Christians must accept governmental authority, but if that authority overrides God’s authority, then God’s authority must be paramount. Our responsibility to obey the state is limited to the bounds of the Word of God.

Ac 5:29, But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

When authorities in Jerusalem warned Peter and John not to speak or teach about the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18), they did not obey:

Acts 4:10-20, 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

The apostles continued their evangelism (Acts 5:28-29).


The Biblical Doctrine of the State: