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Bible Commentaries
Romans 13

Living By Faith: Commentary on Romans & 1st CorinthiansLiving By Faith

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Introduction to chapter 13: The instructions in this chapter were written to Christians living in Rome. Rome was the imperial capital and the seat of the empire’s civil government. Everyone who lived in Rome was very aware of these facts. Those who were Christians understood Rome’s role in the world. They also realized that they were citizens of another kingdom-Christ’s kingdom (Philippians 3:20; Colossians 1:13). For this reason Paul presented information on how Christians should relate to their government. This chapter is a detailed study of Christianity and civil authority. Other passages that relate to civil government are 1 Timothy 2:1-4; Titus 3:1; and 1 Peter 2:13-17.

The twelfth chapter in Romans opens with a command to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice.” The material in Romans 13:1-14 presents another way for Christians to be living sacrifices.

There are religious groups (the Jehovah’s Witnesses are one example) that believe earthly governments are part of Satan’s organization and, therefore, demonic. The basic argument for this view goes something like this.

Ø Whatever comes from God is good, holy, just, and pure.

Ø Governments are often evil, unholy, unjust, and impure (just like Satan).

Ø Since governments are often brutal and cruel, they are from Satan.

McGuiggan (speaking of the Jehovah’s Witnesses) wrote, “Flag-saluting is regarded as the equivalent to the ‘Heil Hitler’ of the Nazis” (p. 368). The Witnesses argue that the “higher powers” in Romans 13:1-14 are not governments. Rather, they describe Jehovah and His Son Jesus. Part of this conclusion is based upon how the “higher powers” are described (see verses 4 and 6). Paul said that the “higher powers” are avengers for wrath against those who do evil and continually attend to God’s will. The Witnesses also point to part of the 3rd verse that says the powers are “not a terror to good work but to evil.” The Witnesses link these thoughts together to conclude that the description is more consistent with God and His role in the world instead of governments.

This conclusion is easily refuted. The first thing to be noted is that Romans 13:1-7 presents five simple facts:

Ø There is no power unless God allows it.

Ø The higher powers (civil authorities) are ordained of God (1b). If the “higher powers” are God (the Jehovah Witness view), God has ordained Himself!

Ø Those who resist civil authority resist God’s ordinance.

Ø Governments are to support what is good and oppose what is evil.

Ø God uses governments to punish those who commit wrongs.

These five points describe God’s will for civil government, but as we know, God’s will is not always followed. God would like His people to be perfect (Matthew 5:48), but we do not live perfect lives (1 John 1:10; Romans 3:23). In a similar way God wants civil governments to support what is good and oppose what is evil. Civil governments are supposed to punish those who commit wrongs and honor good citizens. This is God’s will, but men (governments) do not always fulfill it. This same point may be made about the church. God has a will for His people, but this will is not always followed or realized (Revelation 2:1-29; Revelation 3:1-22).

In Romans 13:1-14 Paul affirmed that governments are from God. “Five times in the first four verses of this chapter the phrase ‘of God’ occurs. It indicates the origin of government; the origin is God’s authority. All government goes back to God” (CBL, Romans, p. 203).

Because God has ordained governments people are to respect and obey the government’s laws unless there is a conflict between Christianity and the governing authorities (Acts 4:19-20; Acts 5:29). When conflicts arise between the laws of the land and God’s word (and this is not too often in America), Christians must follow the Bible.

Teaching that civil authority has come from God and affirming that Christians must submit to a government does not mean that God’s people agree with everything a nation believes or practices. Governmental support and acceptance of abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, gambling, or something else does not prohibit Christians from condemning these things. God’s people should use every lawful means at their disposal to oppose what is wrong and promote what is right.

Verse 1

13:1: Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers: for there is no power but of God; and the (powers) that be are ordained of God.

In the previous chapter Paul presented lots of information about Christian living. This chapter provides practical information about our responsibilities to the governing authorities, and this information was addressed to “every soul.” In this passage as well as other places (1 Peter 3:20; Acts 7:14) every soul (psuche) means every person. A full commentary on this word (as well as the other parts of man’s nature) can be found in the commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

God requires every soul (person) to be in “subjection” to the “higher powers.” The words every soul show this teaching to be universal. Christians and non-Christians are to submit to the governing authorities. This duty is imposed upon all because all power comes from God (1b). This point is so important it is found in the Old Testament (Daniel 4:17; Daniel 4:25; Daniel 4:34-35). Even Jesus made this point (see Psalms 62:11 and John 19:10-11).

Higher powers is actually the translation of two separate terms (exousia-a plural noun that has the sense of authorities and huperecho, a word meaning being above/higher). While there are some commentators who believe these words should be understood as “angelic powers” (or human governments plus angelic beings), it appears the right sense is “state officials” (Brown, 2:609). Three times in this verse we find the word exousia (authorities). It is also used in verses 2 and 3. Subjection is explained in the following paragraphs.

The apostle knew that God has “ordained” (tasso) earthly government. In other places this term is translated “appointed” (Matthew 28:16; Acts 22:10). In Classical Greek tasso described the arranging of troops or ships so they would be positioned for battle. Here it means “God’s appointment of ‘the powers that be’” (Brown, 1:476). Since this point is made with a present tense verb, it seems only right to conclude that God is still doing this today. For information on how this point relates to corrupt governments and officials, see the comments below.

Though governing officials may believe that their power comes from a source other than God, Scripture says that governments are of (from) God. God gives men and nations the power to form and sustain governments. Those who have government jobs only possess them because God allows it. A cross-reference that demonstrates man’s ignorance of this fact and God’s control of human governments is John 19:10-11. Were it not for God, no human being, government official, nation, etc. would have any power at all. In view of this all people, officials, and nations should humble themselves before God because He allows people and nations to have power. Knowing that a government’s power comes from God implies several points, some of which are these: (1) If a government is in power by God, it is right for the government to create rules consistent with God’s will and nature. (2) God has given man free-will (choice). Governments are well advised to follow this divine precedent. (3) God is good and righteous; governments should behave in the same manner. (4) God is a religious object who welcomes worship. Governments should not sanction a religion in the sense they create a “state church,” but they should encourage citizens to be people of faith. Being of the “right faith” (see the commentary on Judges 1:3) is especially good.

Once a system of government is established, men are to obey the laws that are enacted unless the statutes conflict with Scripture (Acts 5:29). If we find a conflict between God’s word and the government, the example left by Daniel should be followed (see Daniel 1:8). As a young man, Daniel refused to eat certain food (this food would have resulted in dietary defilement). This refusal was necessary because the king’s order violated God’s law.

Daniel’s refusal was made with a godly spirit (Daniel 1:12-13). According to Daniel 1:14 he was allowed to reject the food. Midway through the book of Daniel this principle is again illustrated (6:4-9, 22). On this later occasion, Daniel again showed respect for civil authority (6:28). If civil authority or civil government must be opposed, it must be challenged with respect and great care. Christians have no authority to form mobs, be involved with riots, or involve themselves in acts of terrorism.

McArthur (p. 13) stated, “The verb translated ‘be subject’ is an imperative. The Greek word is hupotasso, a military term meaning ‘to line up to take your orders.’ Every one of us should get in line to submit to those who are commanding us. Who does the commanding? The higher powers. The phrase literally means ‘The authorities who have authority over us.’ That is a double phrase in the Greek text, exousiais huperexousais. They are the supreme ruling power. They’re called ‘rulers’ in verse 3. The text makes no distinction between good rulers and bad rulers or fair laws and unfair laws.”

This information may be supplemented with material from Matthew 23:2-3. The authority that was invested in “Moses’ seat” was not diminished or nullified even though it was improperly used. In a similar way, governments may improperly use their power, but this does not remove their God-given authority to govern and enforce laws.

There are times when obeying a government’s rules and regulations is difficult. Governments make some rules and laws that we do not like and do not want to obey. Some object to the Social Security system, paying a high percentage of their income for state and federal taxes, wearing seat belts, abiding by established speed laws, etc. Whether we like all of our laws or not, we have a divine obligation to obey them.

When studying this section of the Bible, many ask if evil and corrupt governments are ordained of God. In view of what Paul wrote, we must say yes. No government or government official has power unless God allows it. There has never been a tyrant who has seized power without God’s permission. No government exists unless God permits it (compare John 19:11 and Acts 17:26). God permits evil governments and rulers to be in power, but He does not necessarily sanction evil governments and rulers. This principle is similar to polygamy. In the past, God permitted men to have multiple wives, but He did not sanction or endorse the practice. God permits some things of which He does not approve because mankind has freewill.

Whether a government is good or bad, God can use it to accomplish much good. And, because God is ultimately in control of governments, we have an obligation to obey the laws that our officials enact. If we fail to obey the government, we fail to obey the one who controls it (God).

“God has decreed governments but not what form they shall be. Among the nations, there has been every form of government from tribal rule to democracy, monarchy, and dictatorship” (CBL, Romans, p. 203).

If Christians obey the laws of the land, they should not have too many problems with the government. Those who are in power should look upon God’s people with favor because Christians are law-abiding citizens (3b). Other New Testament passages tell us that obedience is a good way to keep reproach out of the church (1 Peter 2:13-15; 1 Peter 4:15-16).

Although the citizens of a country should be obedient to the civil authorities, there have been many cases of rebellion. During the first century, there were Jews who questioned the legitimacy of the Roman tax system (Matthew 22:16-17). There were also seditions (Acts 5:36-37). At one point Jews were expelled from Rome (Acts 18:2). In the first century there were even “Zealots,” a group that believed there was no king but God. This group also believed that taxes should be paid to God and God alone. The Zealots refused to submit to the governing authorities, and they showed their rebellion by violent acts such as murder and assassinations. Since the Jews were accustomed to rebellion and sedition, those who were converted may have been inclined to continue rebelling against Rome. Also, since the Romans saw Christianity as an extension of Judaism (Acts 18:12-17), they may have assumed that Christians also believed in civil disobedience. It was absolutely necessary to teach the first Christians obedience to civil government. Civil disobedience would have severely hindered the Lord’s work. Today this teaching is still needed.

Though some argue civil government has not come from God (it has been alleged that it came from Nimrod, Genesis 10:1-32), this cannot be correct. Paul specifically said God ordained governments. Also, the participle Paul used is in the perfect tense; this signifies that God ordained the governments in the past and He continues to ordain governments. This participle is also in the passive voice. This further proves God was the one who instituted governments. Governments exist because of God.

Verses 2-3

13:2-3: Therefore he that resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God: and they that withstand shall receive to themselves judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. And wouldest thou have no fear of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise from the same:

If Christians resist governing authorities when God’s will is not being violated they are guilty of resisting God. This is the only possible conclusion because God has “ordained” governments (1b). Christians may not like the government they have or respect their leaders, but God requires that we live with and under the system we have. We must obey our leaders as fully as possible because resistance, when there is no Biblical basis for it, is sin.

There are two different words for “resist” in verse 2. The first term (antitassomai) is found only here, Acts 18:6 -“opposed”; James 4:6; James 5:6; 1 Peter 5:5. It is a present tense verb that means “to arrange one’s self opposite or against, to resist” (Rienecker and Rogers, p. 378). Considering the definition and meaning, Paul described the type of person who habitually and defiantly resists governing authorities. Paul described a malcontent protestor or someone who would have tried to overthrow a government. Anyone who has this kind of mindset and behaves in this way will be punished (2b).

Towards the end of verse 2 is the second word for resist (anthistemi), a term found twice in this text. In other places this term is used in a positive way (Galatians 2:11; Ephesians 6:13; James 4:7). Here, however, it has a very negative sense. Human opposition to an established government (unless Christians are being asked to violate God’s divine laws) is rebellion to God (His “ordinance”) and thus worthy of judgment.

Some believe the “judgment” (krima) in 2b refers to judgment by the civil powers. This interpretation says that civil authorities will punish those who habitually resist the government. It is also possible to join the judgment with 2:5. This second explanation says that there will be a judgment (prosecution) for civil disobedience at the end of time. Both of these points are true, but we do not know which one of them Paul meant.

In the United States there have been cases of civil disobedience, attempts to subvert local, state, and national powers. There have been Presidential assassins. This section of Romans says that all of these things were wrong, and that those who carried out these acts deserve punishment. These kinds of sins deserve punishment because they are crimes against the government and the one who ordained the government (God).

A study of the Bible reveals three forms of penalties (punishments). These were restitution, corporeal punishment, and capital punishment.

The punishment of restitution kept people from being incarcerated. Those who received this form of punishment had to somehow restore what they took or damaged. A New Testament example of restoration is found in Zaccheus (Luke 19:8).

Another form of Biblical punishment was corporeal punishment. This punishment was also one that did not involve confinement. Those who received corporeal punishment were disciplined by whippings and beatings. Corporeal punishment was often public, and once it was over, the one who was punished returned to everyday life.

Capital punishment was the ultimate form of punishment. Those who were punished in this way died. Capital punishment was used for the most serious offences whereas the corporeal and restitution punishments were used for lesser crimes. Some of the crimes that merited the death penalty were:

Ø Murder, Numbers 35:16-18; Numbers 30:1-16; Numbers 31:1-54

Ø Adultery, Leviticus 20:10

Ø Incest, Leviticus 20:11-12; Leviticus 20:14

Ø Bestiality, Exodus 22:19

Ø Sodomy, Leviticus 20:13

Ø Promiscuous behavior before marriage, Deuteronomy 22:21

Ø Raping an engaged virgin, Deuteronomy 22:25

Ø Kidnapping, Exodus 21:16

Ø Fornication by a priest’s daughter, Leviticus 21:9

Ø Witchcraft, Exodus 22:18

Ø Offering of a human sacrifice, Leviticus 20:2-5

Ø Striking or cursing one’s parents, Exodus 21:15; Exodus 21:17

Ø Disobedience to parents, Deuteronomy 21:18-21

Ø Blasphemy, Leviticus 24:11-14

Ø Desecrating the Sabbath, Exodus 35:2

Ø Issuing a false prophesy or spreading false doctrine, Deuteronomy 13:1-10

Ø Offering sacrifices to false gods, Exodus 22:20

Ø Refusing to abide by a court’s decision, Deuteronomy 17:9; Deuteronomy 17:12

Ø Idolatry, Leviticus 20:2

For more information on the types of punishments and several more references see the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia article entitled “Punishments.” An examination of both testaments reveals several reasons for punishing those who commit crimes. The following five points summarize these reasons.

Ø Evildoers must be punished to help maintain justice.

Ø Evildoers must be punished because this is a function of civil government (Romans 13:4 b).

Ø Those who commit crimes must be punished because punishment deters others from engaging in wrongdoing. Even though this fact is sometimes disputed, it is true. If punishment is swift (Ecclesiastes 8:11; Proverbs 20:26; Proverbs 20:30, Living Bible), penalties and punishments are a deterrent.

Ø Punishment sometimes leads to a criminal being restrained or incarcerated. In at least some cases, this makes society a safer and better place.

Ø The infliction of punishment may permit rehabilitation to take place.

We live in a society that often insists on placing offenders into jails or prisons. This approach to crime and wrongdoing is fairly new. In the early days of America, the Puritans used corporeal punishment. Those who committed crimes sat in stocks with their heads, hands, and arms stuck through holes. The early Americans understood the value of corporeal punishment and this system worked. It worked very well. Those who committed very serious crimes were either banished or executed. The Quakers had a different method of punishment; they practiced incarceration. The first American prison was called the “Walnut Street Jail.” By 1790, the law had established imprisonment as the normal way to punish criminals (adapted from MacArthur, p. 33).

A careful study of the Old Testament shows that the Hebrews did not use a prison system to deal with wrongdoing. Even though prisons can be found in Roman culture as well as other ancient civilizations, the Jews had little use for incarceration. One of the few passages that does mention confinement is Jeremiah 37:15.

Instead of locking people up, the Jews practiced instantaneous payment or punishment for people’s crimes. This was an excellent system that worked very well. Our society has a slow justice system and has little interest in capital and corporeal punishment. Unless things drastically change, our prison system will likely be the preferred method of punishment for many more years and the inmate population will continue to grow.

Returning to the study of civil government in Romans (13:3), we are provided with additional information about civil authorities. Those who are “rulers” (archon-a term that here describes officials from the first century Roman government) are to be a “terror” (phobos) to “evil” people (compare Ecclesiastes 8:11). Terror has the sense of “that which strikes terror” (Thayer, p. 656) and “that which arouses fear” (Gingrich and Danker, p. 863). In the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (3:433) this definition is offered: “fear of legitimate punishment by earthly authorities.” Rulers, if God’s will is being followed, will not punish those who are trying to live by the rules and be good citizens. Civil authorities will turn their punitive efforts and attention to those who deserve to be punished (the evil members of society). Because of what governments are partly designed to do (punish wrongdoers), Christians should “fear” (phobeo) them. This term, used in the clause “wouldest thou have no fear of the power?,” is the verb form of phobos (the word used previously in this verse). Kittle’s comment on this fear (9:215) is quite insightful: “This is addressed to enthusiasts who want to pursue their own path of freedom from the traditional structure of obedience.” Though some were apparently tempted to go their own way, Paul “counsels obedient subjection to given powers” (ibid).

There have been instances where governments have terrorized and punished law-abiding citizens. These same governments have honored and aided men and women who were wicked. God permits this because man has free will. However, any government that blesses the wicked and injures the righteous is rebelling against God’s plan for civil government. Rebelling against God on an individual or national level always results in punishment. God wants governments to “praise” (3b) good citizens (and this certainly includes Christians). Christians should be appreciated and not hated by all who are in positions of power. If governments fail to do this, God will judge them. Nations are judged in time and people are judged in eternity.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrews lived under a system of government that consisted of three parts. The first part to this system may be described as without pity (Deuteronomy 19:13). Those who lived under the law could not use a “sad story” to reduce or remove their guilt. No matter how the judges felt towards the accused, the feelings were excluded from the verdict and punishment. This factual approach to the law was partially designed to keep others from committing the same crime (Deuteronomy 19:11-20).

The Old Testament system was also impartial. No one received special treatment under this system (compare Deuteronomy 13:6-10). Anyone who committed a capital crime and was properly convicted was to receive the death sentence. Whether the criminal was a brother, sister, mother, father, or a prophet of God, there were no exceptions.

The third element in the Old Testament system was speed. The execution of punishment was swift (Deuteronomy 25:2-3).

When a system of justice has these three characteristics, it will be a terror to those who engage in evil. On the other hand, if a government does not use these three principles (and this is generally true of the United States), what will be the result? Some will receive “pity” because of a hard luck story. There will be cases when some who are guilty will be fully punished for their crimes, but others, because of their power and influence, will escape prosecution. Not using these three principles also means that punishment will be delayed. In our country, there are numerous inmates on death row. Many of these inmates make appeals that last for years and the cases cost millions of dollars. The Old Testament provides an excellent model for justice. Any nation that follows it will be immeasurably blessed.

One of the most fundamental tasks for any government is to restrain evil by punishing those who commit crimes (3a). While some governments do a better job of this than others, virtually every government prosecutes citizens for serious crimes such as rape, robbery, murder, and terrorism. Even the worst governments have established some kind of standard of right and wrong. Thus, to some extent, governments are following God’s plan.

When we think about being submissive to the government, we must conclude that America was born because this principle was violated. The American Revolution is inconsistent with what Paul wrote. Although we appreciate our freedom (and some who read this material have willingly and honorably served this country), some of our forefathers created this nation by rebelling against civil authority. MacArthur (p. 3) said, “the United States was born out of a violation of Romans 13:1-7 in the name of Christian freedom. That doesn’t mean God won’t overrule such violations and bring about good (which He did in this case), but the end never justifies the means.”

At the present time, the Christians in this nation enjoy a significant amount of liberty and freedom. Being submissive to the government is not difficult. While we hope that this will always be true, what if a time comes when the civil authorities in this nation become hostile to Christianity? Will we continue to obey the instructions in Romans 13:1-14? Our answer must be yes.

In his book Mere Christianity (pp. 78-79) C.S. Lewis observed, “Human beings live forever, while the state is only temporal and thus reserved to comparative insignificance.” This author’s point is that only our souls are eternal. If we expend most or all of our time and resources trying to change the government and dabble in politics, we will lose sight of the Lord’s work. Freedom is a cherished blessing, but if it is lost it will not be the end of the world for Christians.

If our freedom is ever taken away, we should remind ourselves of the world that Jesus entered. The Lord came into a world where slavery abounded. It has been estimated that for every free man there were three slaves in Jesus’ day (MacArthur, p. 6). The Lord entered into a culture where there were absolute rulers. The Caesars had virtually unlimited power and Rome eventually became very unfriendly to the cause of Christ. Herod had so much authority that he was able to order the death of all the male children in Bethlehem who were under the age of two (Matthew 2:16). Also, when Jesus came into the world, taxes were high and there was religious persecution.

Although serious problems existed when the Lord came into the world, Jesus did not spend His time battling government officials. He had no plans to overthrow Rome. Neither did He attempt to eliminate slavery. He left the speeches about economic and political issues to the politicians. He also refused to wave the flag of Judaism. Jesus focused on eternal things. This was the right choice because the Roman Empire no longer exists. Christians should learn from Jesus and apply His example because the earth and everything on it will eventually perish (2 Peter 3:10-11).

There will be times when Christians will want to interact with their government on certain issues (especially in the area of morality). While these opportunities can and should be used, our emphasis must be in the spiritual realm. We must be good stewards with our national liberties (1 Corinthians 4:2), but we must also bear in mind our primary mission (Luke 19:10). MacArthur (p. 23) put the matter this way: “If you’re going to be thrown into prison, make sure you’re there for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and not for political protest.”

In the first three verses of Romans 13:1-14, Paul presented three reasons for subjecting ourselves to our government officials and laws: (1) Human government exists because of God’s decree (1b); (2) Resisting the government is resisting God (2a); (3) Resisting the government leads to punishment (2b).

Verse 4

13:4: for he is a 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 a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil.

When we think about the government, we do not usually view it as a “minister of God” (the word from which minister is translated is diakonos, deacon). For a full study of minister, see the introductory information in the commentary on 1 Timothy 3:8. According to Paul, governments are ministers, and he made this point in the present tense (“is”). Governments are to be servants (this suggests tyranny is wrong), and they should continually help people and do the job God intends for them to do. As ministers, they should consistently be “good” to the people who are law-abiding citizens and put fear into those who commit crimes.

A second description of governments is found in verse 7. While many translations again use the word minister in verse 7, it is a different word (leitourgos). Using two separate terms, and especially leitourgos in verse 7, provides a death blow to the idea that God should have no part in a nation’s laws, policies, or anything else. Were it not for God, nations and their governments would not exist. Governments may not realize it, but in verses 4 and 7 Paul claimed a partnership between God and government. Many today see a strong contrast between God and government, but Paul did not see the two as being complete opposites. There is a connection, but this alliance does not, as noted above, mean having something like a state sponsored church. Christians must affirm their President, Senators, Congressmen, Court Justices, and all other officials are servants (ministers) of God. Those who serve in these positions may not be Christians or even religious, but they are part of the process God has chosen to use in controlling nations and societies. When Christians realize these points they have an answer as to whether or not a Christian may serve in government. If governments are truly servants of God, and this is exactly what the opening verses in this chapter teach, how can a Christian sin or be guilty of wrongdoing if he or she is serving or employed by this God ordained institution?

A sound argument for a Christian being part of the military and engaging in armed conflict may be formed in this manner: (1) Governments have been ordained by God (Romans 13:1-4). (2) Christians must live under the control of their government and be obedient to its laws and statutes (Romans 13:1-2; Romans 13:5). (3) These principles are illustrated by taxes (Romans 13:6). Governments levy them and Christians pay them. (4) Governments also “bear the sword” (Romans 13:4). They are entitled to punish those who do wrong as well as have an army. (5) Since a government is authorized to have such a force and Christians are to live under the laws of their government, a Christian may help a government carry out the execution of wrong doers, be involved in the confinement of criminals, or be part of a government’s military. There are Christians who cannot conscientiously serve in this manner and this plus other matters related to the conscience are found in the next chapter.

In addition to saying that civil government is a minister, Paul revealed how a government is supposed to minister. A government is to “bear the sword” (verse 4). It is essential to notice that the text does not say, “a minister and an avenger for wrath.” The text says, “a minister, an avenger for wrath.” A government is supposed to serve its citizens as well as God. Part of this service includes punishing those who commit crimes.

There are many ways to punish criminals. One of these ways is described by the word “sword” (machaira), a word “generally used for the weapon of close combat in the first century. Josephus, who had a command for a time in the Roman army in Galilee, mentions it as the weapon of death worn at the side of the soldier” (Owen, p. 97). The sword was an instrument of death, and because Paul used this to illustrate his point, he believed in capital punishment. As MacArthur (p. 45) observed, those in Paul’s day didn’t use the sword to spank or fine people. Neither was the sword a decorative accessory for a military uniform. Vine (1:420) added, “A sword was actually worn by emperors and magistrates, as an emblem for their power of life and death; hence the metaphorical use of the phrase here.”

The sword in Romans 13:1-14 is not “vain” (for nothing). Paul informed his readers that the government has the right to use the sword (an instrument of death). This right exists because governments are to punish those who commit crimes. When crimes warrant the death penalty (and some do), capital punishment is allowed and is to be practiced. Compare Acts 25:6-11 and Genesis 9:6.

Throughout time, some have objected to capital punishment. One objection to this practice (though objections are hard to understand in light of this chapter) has been based upon the passages that teach Christians to love and forgive all people. Some have asked, “How can capital punishment for a crime be harmonized with Christian love and forgiveness?”

Those who ask this question should be asked why we should allow civil authority to administer any type of punishment. If love and forgiveness negate capital punishment, how can lesser forms of punishment be justified? If love and forgiveness nullify one form of punishment, love and forgiveness negate all forms of punishment.

People familiar with Scripture know that love and forgiveness do not remove the consequences of sin. The person who is guilty of fornication and infected with a sexually transmitted disease can be forgiven for the sin, but he or she will still bear the consequences for the wrong. It should also be observed that God (who is full of love and forgiveness) will sentence many people to an eternal hell. The qualities of love and forgiveness neither conflict with nor negate punishment.

As punishment options are considered, one common suggestion is incarceration. Why not imprison people instead of use the sword? No one believes in killing every person who commits a crime. That kind of logic would end up executing people who get traffic tickets. We may not always agree on which crimes deserve death and which merit lengthy or life prison sentences, but there are certainly cases where people deserve the death penalty. As noted above from Genesis 9:6 and Acts 25:6-11, both testaments speak of capital punishment. If it be argued by Christians that capital punishment removes the chance of repentance, it may be said (1) death eventually comes to all and all lose the chance to repent. Why should a person convicted of a crime and sentenced to death be given “more time” to repent and be saved? (2) Before a criminal is executed (at least in the United States), several years pass. There are inmates who die on death row. These years provide plenty of time for a convicted man or woman to study the Scriptures and seek salvation. (3) Capital punishment is a deterrent against crime-a needed deterrent, and it works if it is done in a reasonable amount of time (Ecclesiastes 8:11).

In the fourth verse of this chapter we have a negative reason for obeying the government (we obey because of fear). Though some are opposed to using fear as an incentive for obedience, fear is a tool to discourage crime and sin. It is an aid that can help governments fulfill God’s will.

The word avenger (ekdikos) “denotes one who deals justice. It is used of God in 1 Thessalonians 4:6” (Vine, 1:420). Human rulers are supposed to dispense justice, and some of this justice is capital punishment.

Verse 5

13:5: Wherefore (ye) must needs be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.

The first part of this verse is somewhat repetitive. We need to be good citizens to avoid being punished by God and by our government. The latter part of the verse adds another reason for being obedient-for the sake of our consciences. While the previous verse provides a negative reason for obeying governments, this verse provides a positive reason for complying with civil authority. Obeying civil authorities helps us have clean consciences. When people do not fear the government (verse 4), and they do not have consciences bothered by wrongdoing (verse 5), evil quickly spreads and affects every level of society.

A careful reading of this passage shows our need to be good citizens is an absolute must. In the Greek New Testament there are three words which convey the sense of absolute necessity and a sense of imperativeness (dei, opheilo, and the term here-ananke). Other passages that illustrate the meaning of ananke include Luke 23:17; 1 Corinthians 9:16; 2 Corinthians 9:7; Hebrews 7:12; Judges 1:3 (“constrained” in the ASV and “needful” in the KJV). “Subjection” (hupotasso) is the same term used in verse one.

Paul understood pursuit of a good conscience will not halt all crime. Having good laws will also not end criminal activity. However, these forces are powerful restraints that will limit crime and make any society a safer place.

The first five verses in this chapter introduce Christians to many different questions and areas of study. One of these questions concerns our involvement with or in civil government. How much association is a child of God allowed to have with civil authority?

Studious Christians have generally answered this question in three different ways. Some have alleged that Christians should not participate in the government at all. Those of this persuasion have even contended that voting is wrong. Others have argued that Christians can take part in any function of the government. The only exceptions to participation would be positions or situations where Christians would be asked or compelled to engage in sinful activities. The final position says that Christians may have a limited participation in government. That is, if someone can do a job in a non-governmental setting with God’s approval (be a recorder, tax assessor, secretary, etc.), a person may work for the government in this same capacity. All three of these positions are options since our involvement with civil government is a matter of judgment (Romans 14:5 b). We are allowed to choose whether we want to actively participate in the operation of our government. Our participation, however, cannot be a job that requires us to lie, cheat, steal, or engage in other sins.

The first five verses in this chapter may be summarized by these points: (1) God has given governments the right to control a nation’s citizens; (2) governments have the right and duty to punish criminals; (3) this punishment can and should include the death penalty; (4) we must be good citizens.

A key word in this passage (as well as other New Testament texts) is “conscience” (suneidesis). Outside the New Testament this term first occurs in “AD 59. A former soldier, Lucius Pamiseus, having met a convoy of donkeys loaded with stones, led by a slave, received a violent kick from one of the donkeys. The terrified slave took flight: ‘the slave, aware of his crime, fled’” (Spicq, 3:332-333) because his conscience said he would be punished by the soldier. Our definition of this word is less aligned with secular use and more like New Testament writers. In Biblical terms, the conscience is “the interior faculty for the personal discernment of good and evil” (Spicq, 3:335). Our conscience is like a court; it makes judgments on the matters brought before it (Brown, 1:350). This is especially evident from Romans 2:14-15. For additional information about the conscience, see the commentary on 1 Timothy 1:5.

Verses 6-7

13:6-7: For this cause ye pay tribute also; for they are ministers of God’s service, attending continually upon this very thing. 7 Render to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute (is due); custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

In this part of the chapter Paul turned to the subject of taxation. This topic is related to the previous verses. Governments are God’s “ministers” (verse 4). Thus, as God’s ministers, they are to be supported. Our support of this minister is to be continual because governments continually govern. This is the same principle that Paul stated in 1 Timothy 5:18.

It may appear to readers of English translations that minister in verse 4 is the same term used in verse 6. This is not correct. Here the term is leitourgos, a word that had several meanings in both Classical Greek and in the New Testament. In Classical Greek it described people from “governmental and public servants, to priests and prophets in pagan religions, and to angels as spiritual ministers of God. It is also used of demons, calling them ‘servants’ of the signs of zodiac” (CBL, GED, 4:54). In Hebrews 1:7 this term is applied to angels. Later in the book of Romans (15:16) Paul used this term to describe himself. Expositor’s (2:697) says the use of the term here stresses “the official character of the service they render” and indicates “they are in their place by God’s appointment for the public good.” Concerning their “attending continually” (proskartereo), Expositor’s (2:697) well says this means “spending all their time on the work.”

Most know that governments sometimes spend too much money. There are also times when governments take too much money from the taxpayers and often fail to work as they should. Money from taxation is sometimes mismanaged and wasted. Because governments sometimes squander tax money and are poor ministers of finances as well as other matters such as justice, some have concluded that Christians do not need to pay their entire tax bill. This conclusion is wrong. These two verses teach that poor stewardship on the part of the government does not release us from or reduce our tax obligations. We may not want to pay what we owe, we may think that the tax system is unfair, or we may know of someone who cheats the system and doesn’t get caught. No matter how we feel or what others do, we are obligated to pay our taxes. We will be judged on whether or not we fully cooperated with the taxation system of our government.

Those troubled by excessive taxation may find some comfort from Scripture. Before America was founded, many others paid taxes and some of these taxes were very high. The book of Genesis (41:34-36) states that a 20% tax was placed upon the Egyptians. This taxation allowed the government to provide services for the people as well as make a profit (see Genesis 41:34-36; Genesis 41:53-57; Genesis 47:13-14). This tax turned out to be such a useful tool that the government made it a regular part of Egyptian life (Genesis 47:26). This taxation also included a religious exemption; in many parts of the world there are still exemptions for religious organizations and workers.

Other examples of taxation in the Bible are even more fascinating. In some cases, tax bills were oppressive (Nehemiah 5:4). The people in Nehemiah’s day faced such a high tax rate that they borrowed money to pay their tax bills. During another time in Israel’s history (1 Kings 12:4; 1 Kings 12:14), taxes contributed to the split of a nation.

There have been times when taxes were levied because of intimidation (2 Kings 23:1-37 - Jehoiakim was under pressure to give Pharaoh Necho money). Jehoiakim faced extortion (2 Kings 23:35). We know that the Hebrew people paid high taxes. One passage that describes their tax burden is Leviticus 27:30-31. God wanted ten percent of all that His people had. This tithe (which was ten percent) went to the Levites (Numbers 18:21-24). The priests were not involved with animals and agriculture so this tax money was used to support them.

If the Hebrew people did not want to pay this tithe, they had an alternative (Leviticus 27:31). This option may be illustrated with grain. If a tenth of a farmer’s grain was worth $100, and he wanted to keep all his grain, he could give money. If he took this option, he had to add an additional “fifth” (twenty percent) to the value of his tithe. This tax was off the top. It had nothing to do with the other offerings such as the free-will offering.

Another tax (the festival tithe) was also taken off the top (see Deuteronomy 12:10-11; Deuteronomy 12:17-18). This tax took ten percent of a person’s grain, wine, oil, and the firstlings of his herds and flocks. What came from the festival tithe was taken to Jerusalem and eaten by Hebrew families and the Levites. We might call this a national potluck tax (MacArthur, p. 60).

In looking at the above references the Hebrews paid the first ten percent of their income to keep their government and religious systems intact. They paid another ten percent to support their nation’s cultural and national heritage. The second tax (which was the festival tax) helped keep the nation unified.

A third tax paid by the Hebrews is described in Deuteronomy 14:28-29 (these verses should also be read). This tax might be called the “welfare tithe.” At the end of every three years, ten percent was taken to help those who were strangers, orphans, Levites, and widows. If we divide this tax by three (it was collected every third year), this tax was three and a third percent a year. The total tax burden from all these taxes was about twenty three and a third percent per year. This is very close to the twenty percent tax figure used in ancient Egypt.

After paying these taxes, the Hebrews were allowed to make additional contributions (Leviticus 19:9-10). The people of Israel were to leave some of the harvest in their fields for the poor. The Leviticus 19:1-37 reference shows that the poor had access to food, but it was not brought to them. The people had to go get it (compare 2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Another part of the Hebrew’s giving is found in Exodus 23:11 (this passage should be read). The fields were not used every seventh year, but there were still some small harvests. These crops were given to the poor and the animals. This contribution must be added to the other taxes and offerings. There was also the giving described in Leviticus 25:1-55. The final tax paid by the Hebrews is found in Exodus 30:13 (this passage should be read).

Depending upon how completely the people harvested their fields, the total tax bill for the Hebrews was between twenty-three and twenty five percent (MacArthur, p. 62). This figure does not count the “extra” contributions mentioned in the law (Leviticus 25:1-55; Exodus 25:2). When the people failed to pay their tithes (taxes), they “robbed” God (Malachi 3:8-10). At the present time, those who fail to pay their taxes rob God because governments are God’s servants. If we rob the servants, we rob the one they serve.

Information about taxation is found in both testaments. One of the places where this subject is discussed in the New Testament is Matthew 17:1-27. Matthew recorded how Jesus received money from a fish to pay the temple tax. The details surrounding this story, as the following paragraphs show, are very significant.

Jesus predicted that He would be betrayed and put to death. The parties responsible for this (Matthew 16:21) were the elders, chief priests, and the scribes. Jesus would die because of the Jewish authorities. According to Matthew 17:24, Jesus entered into Capernaum. The authorities, who would soon seek to have the Lord killed, asked Peter for tax money (24b, “they that received the half-shekel”). Jesus paid this tax (Matthew 17:27). At a later time, this same fund was used to pay Judas for betraying Jesus (Matthew 26:15; Matthew 27:3). The Lord put money into the very fund that was used to later pay for His betrayal! Matthew added that those who controlled this fund were a “den of thieves” (Matthew 12:12-13).

If anyone could have objected to how tax money was spent, it was the Lord. Since Jesus paid into the tax fund that was controlled by thieves, and money was taken from this fund to betray Him, how can Christians not pay the taxes levied by their government? The Lord’s example forever answers any questions about Christians and taxation.

The tax in Matthew 17:1-27 was the “Double-Drachma Tax,” a sum equal to about two days of pay. MacArthur (p. 64) notes that if this tax was not paid officials had the power to take compensation out of a person’s possessions. Money collected from this tax helped pay for the Passover season and was thus collected (paid) before that time. The coin that was required for payment (the “didrachma”) was not available during this time so two people (such as Jesus and Peter) often paid the bill with a “shekel” (or “stater”). The shekel equaled two didrachmas. A “half shekel” (verse 24, ASV) equaled one didrachma.

Matthew 17:1-27 has so much bearing on the subject of taxation that additional thoughts on this passage are appropriate. The officials (Matthew 17:24) asked Peter if Jesus paid the tax and Peter said “yes” (verse 25). The apostle apparently responded to this question very quickly. When Peter came to Jesus, the Lord knew what Peter had been asked and what he had said. Thus, 25b records the Lord’s question about a king’s relationship to the government. In the first century, a king’s family did not pay taxes. Peter knew this and correctly concluded a king’s family was “free” (not obligated to pay taxes).

The point of the Lord’s illustration is clear. The temple was the house of God. Jesus was the “Son” and therefore free (not obligated to pay taxes). God’s other children (such as Peter) also had no obligation to pay the tax (the tax in this context was the temple tax, not Roman taxes). Though Jesus had no obligation to pay, He didn’t want to “offend” people. He didn’t want to create a problem when one didn’t need to be created so He avoided problems by having Peter pay the bill. Peter was to go fishing and the first fish he caught would have the right amount of money in its mouth.

Jesus paid taxes to a system that was run by a den of thieves (Matthew 21:12-13), that engaged in vain worship (Matthew 15:8-9), and that contributed to His death. In view of these facts, we should be able to pay our taxes without too much complaining. If the officials who receive the funds mismanage or abuse what we send, the matter will be between them and God. Jesus had no interest in starting a tax revolt and we shouldn’t either.

The other incident related to Jesus and taxes is found in Matthew 22:15. This is an unusual passage because the “Herodians” got together with people who followed the Pharisees. Under normal conditions, the Pharisees and the Herodians hated each other. They also had very different beliefs. One of these differences involved Rome. The Herods were supportive of Rome while the Pharisees were opposed to Rome. Although these two groups were philosophically opposite, they put aside their differences to set a trap for Jesus (Matthew 22:15-16). The Pharisees tried to flatter the Lord. They said He didn’t play favorites. They acknowledged that He paid no attention to a person’s rank, how much money someone had, or anything else. This flattery also contained a question. They wanted to know if it was “lawful” to give money to Caesar (verse 17). The Pharisees were hoping for a “yes” answer. If they had received this answer they could have said, “Caesar claims to be God. Since you say paying the tribute is lawful, you are endorsing idolatry. Why do you teach that we should support a ruler and/or a government that is idolatrous and pagan?” If Jesus had agreed with the Pharisees, the Herodians would have reported Him to Rome. If He had sided with the Herodians, the religious leaders would have said that Jesus supported Rome. This would have made Him unpopular with the people.

This tax question, unlike the previous one, was a civil matter because the money went to the Romans (the other tax was a religious tax). The amount of the Roman tax was one “denarius.” This coin, according to Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “was a Roman silver coin in the time of Jesus and the apostles. It took its name from its being first equal to ten ‘donkeys,’ a number afterward increased to sixteen. The earliest specimens are from approximately the start of the second century B.C. From this time it was the principal silver coin of the commonwealth. In the time of Augustus eighty-four denarii were struck from a pound of silver, which would make the standard weight about sixty grains. This Nero reduced by striking ninety-six from the pound, which would give a standard weight of about fifty-two grains, results confirmed by the coins of the periods, which are, however, not exactly true to the standard. In Palestine, in the NT period, evidence points to the denarii as mainly forming the silver currency. The denarius was the daily wage of a laborer. The only way to compute the value of NT coins in current values is to consider what a laborer might earn in a day in various countries of the world (see Matthew 20:2; Matthew 20:4; Matthew 20:7; Matthew 20:9-10; Matthew 20:13).”

The tax costing a denarius was one Jewish people hated to pay. Their distaste for it is seen in the number of revolts that occurred because of it. Thus, the question in Matthew 22:17 was a true test of the Lord’s wisdom and skill. We too may not like what our tax dollars are spent on, who spends them, or the amount of money the government takes.

In Romans 13:6 the word “tribute” (phoros) is defined as “direct tribute (property-or head-tax) of a subjected people to the foreign ruler” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3:436). It described a tax that had to be paid by every person. We might compare it to our income tax; it was an assessment on one’s land, property, slaves, and capital. Aside from Romans 13:6; Romans 7:1-25, this term is only found in Luke 20:22; Luke 23:2 where it is part of these famous words: “to give tribute unto Caesar.”

There is another word in the New Testament that has an even broader meaning than phoros. This word (telos) is used in verse seven, and the KJV and the ASV translate it “custom.” This second term described a tax on what we would call commodities. We might liken it to our tolls, sales tax, and transport tax (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3:436 and MacArthur, p. 87). By using two different words in verses 6 and 7, Paul fully described the subject of taxation. These verses tell us that Christians need to pay all their taxes. In addition, the tense of “pay” (teleo) is present. It is not enough to pay taxes sometimes. When taxes are asked of us, they need to be paid.

In addition to paying their taxes, God’s people have another responsibility. Christians are to “fear” those who are in positions of power. The word translated fear (phobos) is very similar to our English word phobia. The original term has a broad range of meanings that vary from being absolutely terrified of something to respect. In some places, this word even describes anxiety. Here phobos means “respect.” Gingrich and Danker (p. 864) define it as “respect that is due officials.” In view of this word and definitions, crude jokes about those who collect taxes or scornful and hateful remarks are improper. The same is true of slurs or hateful comments about other parts of government like the IRS. Those who collect or ask for taxes as well as those who work in other parts of the government must be respected. Additional references for this point include 1 Peter 2:17-18 and Acts 23:5.

Beyond having respect for those who collect taxes, Christians are to “honor” (time) those who are involved with civil service. Several meanings for this term can be found in the New Testament. In some places, honor describes money (Matthew 27:6, “price”). In this passage (Romans 13:7), it means honor. Those who collect money and taxes (tribute and custom) are to receive respect and honor. Christians are to treat government workers with dignity and appreciation.

Another important word in verse 7 is the term “render” (apodidomi). The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (1:128) says this verb “takes on the sense of ethical obligation when it is used in connection with proper and just conduct or the repayment of a debt, as in Mark 12:17 par. Matthew 22:21; Luke 20:25.” The meaning of this word is “give away, give back, repay” (same source, 1:27). See how this word is used in Romans 12:17. Knowing what the word render means allows us to quickly understand the point. Christians are to pay what they owe. The payment of taxes is not a “gift” to the government. Rather, taxes should be viewed as a debt. Knowing and understanding this fact is essential to properly interpreting the next verse.

Christians are to pay “all” (pas) parties what is “due” (opheile), a word found only here, 1 Corinthians 7:3, and Matthew 18:32. When writing the Septuagint, this term was never used. Here it has the sense of money-“the taxes owed to the state” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 2:550). Tribute and custom are explained in the commentary on verse 6.

Verse 8

13:8: Owe no man anything, save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law.

This verse has troubled numerous Christians. Many have read this passage and concluded that all forms of credit are wrong. Those holding to this view have reasoned, “If we use credit we owe someone. Since owing (opheilo) someone is wrong, credit is wrong.” This has been especially troubling for those who needed to borrow money for large purchases like houses, cars, and college. If we consider a parallel passage (God’s people in some respects are in the lending business, Matthew 5:42), the conclusion commonly drawn by people must be rejected.

There is a connection between the word “render” in verse 7 (a word meaning repayment of debts of obligations) and “owe no man anything” (verse 8). When joined together these two verses mean all debts must be paid. Instead of condemning credit or borrowing, Paul told Christians to make good on their debts. This is true for our tax obligations as well as personal bills. As long as we are a “good debtor” (we pay the bills when they come due), God is pleased. Additional proof that using credit is right may be found in Philemon 1:17-18. Paul had an “account” (a “credit line”). Since this was permissible for Paul, it is acceptable for us.

A practical illustration of what Paul wrote may be drawn from the automobile industry. Suppose a car is financed for a four-year period and the payments are due on the 20th of every month. If the payment is made by the 20th of the month, does the Christian owe anything? The creditor, having received the monthly payment, would say nothing more is owed for that month; payment has been made. It is only when payments are not made that people owe in the sense of Romans 13:8. When people fail to meet their financial obligations, this failure is sin. This sin is a form of theft. Not making car payments is tantamount to stealing a vehicle from a car dealer.

One of the debts we cannot pay (or repay) is “love” (8a). We are to “love our neighbor” and this is a perpetual debt. Our neighbors are the people Jesus described in Luke 10:29-37. Other useful cross-references are John 13:34-35; 1 Corinthians 16:14; Ephesians 5:2; Colossians 3:14; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:11; 1 John 4:21. Our debt of love may be described as “invincible good will, unconquerable benevolence” (McGuiggan quoting E.S. Jones, p. 376). McGuiggan (p. 377) also noted that “Love checks no pedigree or social record before acting. It is absolutely class and color blind. It doesn’t check the breath for liquor or the skin for puncture marks. It doesn’t find the long-haired boy obnoxious or the gaudy clothes intolerable.” When verses 7 and 8 are considered together, a contrast is seen. Paul emphasized “mutual love as the highest and most comprehensive obligation, which supersedes all other obligations-even those mentioned in v. 7” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 2:552). If we have the right kind of love, everything else will flow from that.

When we love our neighbor we “fulfill the law.” Paul made this same point in Galatians 5:14. When Paul described loving others, he used the word agape (this term is found in both Romans 13:8 and Galatians 5:14). Both of these passages also have the word “fulfilled” (in each passage the term fulfilled is in the perfect tense). The combination of love, fulfill, and law means agape love allows us to meet all the demands and requirements of the law. The perfect tense tells us that having the right kind of love makes our obedience to God complete. Those who truly love are those who obey the laws and requirements under which they live (John 14:15).

Even the Old Testament demonstrates the blending of love and law. Those under the Law of Moses were obligated to have this type of love (Leviticus 19:18). However, this love did not release the Hebrews from keeping the other commandments such as the Sabbath day, honoring one’s parents, tithing, etc. The New Testament obligates Christians to love others as well as carry out other responsibilities (Romans 12:9-21). Love is the fulfillment of the law because it motivates us to carry out all the Christian responsibilities found in Scripture.

Verses 9-10

13:9-10: For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. 10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: love therefore is the fulfilment of the law.

To fully appreciate the 9th verse the material in verse 8 must be studied. In the previous passage, Paul taught that agape love results in invincible good will and unconquerable benevolence towards others. When this type of love is in the heart, people will not commit sins such as adultery, theft, covetousness, revenge, tax evasion, or something else (verse 9). Agape love for both man and God would do away with murder. If people really loved God and their fellow man, there would be no adultery. Theft and covetousness would vanish. When people are seeking good things for their fellowman (and this is what agape love does), violating God’s laws is unthinkable. Love becomes the “golden chain” that binds people together.

Love has always been the essence of law. This was true for Moses’ Law (Leviticus 19:18) as well as the law of Christ. The best solution to crime and world problems is love for God and love for our fellowman. Any other solution is second best.

Concerning the sin of “adultery” (moicheuo), we find this verb 14 times in the New Testament, and “the Scripture is consistent in insisting that sexual relations outside the marriage covenant are sin” (CBL, GED, 4:215). “A person who truly loves will not commit adultery. If two people allow physical passions to entice them to sin, it is not because they love each other too much, but because they love each other too little. In true love there is respect and restraint” (CBL, Romans, p. 207). Inherent in the meaning of adultery is a relationship or partnership that God cannot and will not sanction.

The word translated “kill” (phoneuo) means “murder.” There is a difference between murder and killing and the Bible recognizes this distinction in verses like this text. Here the sense of the word is “the taking of human life for intentional and personal evil reasons. Such conduct is specifically forbidden by God and is certain to be judged with severity” (CBL, GED, 6:448). If there is not a difference between killing and murder, it is wrong to slaughter animals for food and to kill insects like flies. Failing to distinguish between killing and murder often creates confusion and leads people to erroneous conclusions. At the present time, many do not support the death penalty because they think capital punishment murders people. Scripture prohibits murder, but it does not prohibit the use of deadly force (i.e. killing).

A sin related to murder is suicide. When people are fully cognizant of their actions and they commit suicide they engage in “self murder.” If murder is wrong, “self murder” (suicide) is also wrong (in considering this point do not neglect to compare the information about Samson in Hebrews 11:32 and Judges 16:25-30).

When people engage in murder, they lack love (verse 8). This fact may be applied to abortion. Those who take the lives of unborn children commit murder. The unborn are children (see the commentary on the gospels, section 2, Luke 1:39-41). Since those who commit murder lack love, it may be said that those who support and perform abortions also lack true love.

Another demonstration of unloving behavior is theft. “Steal” (klepto) is the term Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19). It is also used when trying to explain the disappearance of the Lord’s body (Matthew 27:64 -stealing the Lord’s body would have been a sin!). Other meanings of this term include “to cheat” or “bewitch” and even “to conceal” (Kittle, abridged edition, p. 441). Love may also be cast aside by “bearing false witness” (pseudomartureo), a term found only in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and this passage (see the KJV and NKJV for this sin as it is not included in all Greek manuscripts). Here bearing false witness means “give false testimony” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3:497). A final specific sin is “lust” (epithumeo), the same term used in Romans 7:7, though here and there it is rendered “covet.” Thayer (p. 238) understands covet as here describing the arousal of lust (in various forms). Here is a strong desire for what is forbidden.

In both verses 9 and 10 Paul said our contact with “neighbors” (plesion) must be positive and negative. Positively, we are to love them with agape love-a love that transcends our opinions or emotions (this is a present tense verb). Negatively, Christians “work no ill” to neighbors. MacKnight (p. 123) offers a good expansion of the thought: “For love restraineth a man from doing evil to his neighbour, and leadeth him to do his neighbour every good office in his power.” This is a fuller explanation of our “debt” (verse 8).

Verse 11

13:11: And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep: for now is salvation nearer to us than when we (first) believed.

The Christians at Rome had received many instructions as well as several reasons for being obedient. Here Paul added another reason for obeying God’s will: “salvation” was “nearer” than “when they first believed” (became a Christian). The obvious meaning of these words is, “Time has passed since your conversion. Therefore, the return of the Lord is closer than what it once was.” Because the Lord’s return gets closer and closer with each passing moment, these Christians were told to “awake out of sleep.” God’s people were told to be alert, to practice agape love, and to present their bodies as a living sacrifice. This same message still needs to be preached because the Lord’s final return continues to grow closer and closer. “To ‘sleep’ indicates unconcern. Being ‘awake’ implies spiritual readiness” (CBL, Romans, p. 209). Given the context in this and the preceding chapter, sleep (hupnos) suggests a figurative meaning of “worldliness” (CBL, GED, 6:370). It “indicates the state of stupor, unconsciousness, and unawareness that accompanies indulging the flesh” (ibid).

Some such as Allen have argued this is not the proper meaning of the text. Some believe this verse refers to physical death instead of the Lord’s final return. According to this explanation, these Christians were getting closer and closer to the time of death. Because time was passing, they needed to do as much as they could for the Lord before they died. While this explanation is certainly true, the text says “salvation,” not death. The word salvation is more closely associated with the Lord’s final return than physical death.

When describing “time” (KJV) or “season” (ASV), Paul used one of two very important New Testament words. Bible writers had two words for time (chronos and kairos). In many places these words convey two separate ideas (in other texts, however, they can be synonymous). Chronos is like “tick-tock” time (setting a certain time and date). It is clock time or calendar time. Chronos is the kind of time an employee might count (the passing minutes or hours till he can go home, the days, weeks, or months that must pass before vacation time or even retirement). A fuller explanation of chronos can be found in the commentary on Acts 1:7, but a brief illustration is given here. Imagine a child who is waiting for his birthday. He or she eagerly looks at the calendar each day waiting for their birthday to come. This illustrates chronos time. When the day arrives, the child says, “today is my birthday.” At this point the interest in “clock time” diminishes and the focus is on the “special occasion.” It is now time to get out the cake and presents, not “watch the clock and calendar.”

We should not expect to find chronos used here, because that would suggest Paul and these Christians knew the date of the Lord’s return, information Christians do not have (Matthew 24:36). Here Paul chose the second term (kairos), a word associated with special times (see the illustration in the preceding paragraph). Kairos has been called “God time” because it occurs in places where key events, crucial times, special times, and decisive times are described. Here are some examples: Matthew 8:29 (demons recognize a “special time” for their existence); Matthew 12:1 (under the Old Testament the Sabbath day was a “special time”-see too Jesus’ words in verse 8, another indication of why this occasion was so important); Matthew 13:30 (harvest time is a “special time”); Matthew 21:34 (there is a “season” for fruit); Mark 1:15 (the “time” had come for the kingdom of God); Luke 8:13 (temptation is a “special time” because it can destroy our relationship with God); Acts 7:20 (when referring to the “time” of Moses’ birth, those in the first century were not thinking of the actual day and hour he was born. It was a divine time, a special and crucial time). Another example of kairos is Romans 5:6 (Jesus died at the right time or “season”). Also in this book is the example in 8:18 (we must suffer for this present “time”). Life is a special period or occasion, but there is another period (“season,” Galatians 6:9) when we are rewarded. A final illustration for kairos can be found in Hebrews 11:11.

Verse 12

13:12: The night is far spent, and the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.

The 11th and 12th verses are somewhat similar to each other. Time continued to pass for those in Rome, just as it does for us. There is no turning back the clock, and for some, the “night” is “far spent” (i.e. the body is old and cannot last too much longer). Too much time had been spent outside the service of God, so the remaining years must be dedicated to His service. All who are accountable are either “sowing to the flesh” or “sowing to the spirit” and will one day receive a harvest for the crop they planted (Galatians 6:7-8). Much “farm time” has been lost so we must make use of what we have left.

The “day at hand” may refer to the time Christians leave life and enter into paradise (Luke 23:43). At hand comes from a single term (engizo) that is also used by James (see James 5:8). In the Bible, salvation is presented from three perspectives, the first of which is the past (we were saved, Ephesians 2:1-5). There is a sense in which we are presently saved (Philippians 2:12). A final and future sense of salvation is expressed in Romans 13:12 (1 Corinthians 3:15 is another example of salvation being expressed as a future event). Paul’s day at hand, just like the passage in James, indicates salvation in the third and final sense.

Because we have a limited amount of time, and the hours are continually slipping by, we must not only make the most of them, but must utterly forsake the “works of darkness.” “Cast off” (apotithemi) is used in other verses to describe putting aside the old manner of life (see how it is used in Ephesians 4:22; Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:8; Hebrews 12:1; James 1:21; 1 Peter 2:1). Christians are to replace evil with an “armor of light.” Paul presented these images and ideas in chapters 6 and 12, though here armor (hoplon) can be understood as “equipment” or “apparatus” (CBL, GED, 4:369). Paul’s earlier references to living after the spirit instead of the flesh were expressed with statements like “renewing of the mind” (12:2) and “putting the old man to death” (6:6). The words “put on” are from a single term (enduo) that is often associated with the positive aspects of Christianity (verse 14 in this chapter; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:24; Ephesians 6:11; Ephesians 6:14; Colossians 3:10; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:8).

In the Greek text, there is a definite article (“the”) before works of darkness and armor of light. This indicates Paul described the whole category of both works. Paul meant evil in every form is to be completely and thoroughly removed from our lives. The evil must be replaced with all types of good and righteous deeds. We, like Jesus, are to “go about doing good” (Acts 10:38).

Verses 13-14

13:13-14: Let us walk becomingly, as in the day; not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to (fulfil) the lusts (thereof).

Christians are to “walk becomingly.” That is, God’s people are to live in a way that casts a favorable light upon the church. To walk becomingly means to live like it is “day” (there is nothing to be ashamed of; we are not trying to hide our deeds in the dark). This principle may be related to all people; it is especially useful for teenagers. Aside from here, becomingly (euschemonos) is found only in 1 Corinthians 14:40 (all things are to be done “decently” and in order) and 1 Thessalonians 4:12 (“honestly” in the KJV). “This trait is one that is observable to all people, believers and unbelievers alike” (CBL, GED, 2:652). “It signifies the characteristics of being ‘acceptable, honest,’ or ‘becoming’” (ibid). Secular writers employed it for what was “fitting in daylight.” Becomingly stood in contrast to “the carelessness, neglect, and indecency of ‘night manners’” (Spicq, 2:139). Walk (peripateo) is the same term used earlier in this book (6:4; 8:1-KJV and Romans 8:4). It is defined as “Conduct oneself, live” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3:75).

Although God wants His people to walk in a way that is upright and praiseworthy, most know at least one Christian who casts a dark shadow upon the church. There are churchgoers who are openly or secretly ungodly. These two verses specifically condemn the type of life that “says” but “does not” (Matthew 23:3).

Some of the sins related to darkness (verse 12) are found at the end of verse 13. The first sin is “reveling” (komos), a word meaning noisy frolicking or wild parties. In the KJV this is translated “rioting.” Writers of Classical Greek used this term “to refer to the riotous processions and feasts connected with the worship of Bacchus and other pagan deities. Such reveling or rioting was often the consequence of drunkenness, and this explains why the New Testament writers always connect komos with drunkenness” (CBL, GED, 3:438). Aside from here, this term is only found in Galatians 5:21 and 1 Peter 4:3. Spicq (2:354) defines it as “a drunken dinner party: ‘no more intemperate parties or drunkenness.’” The word “drunkenness” (methe) does not need to be explained. This word is also found in Galatians 5:21 where Paul classifies it as a “work of the flesh.” The next word (“chambering”) seems to be a euphemism for illicit sexual intercourse. The original word (koite) is the Greek word for bed. Luke used this word to describe an actual bed in Luke 11:7. In Romans 9:10, this word is translated “conceived.” See too how this term has a sexual connotation in Hebrews 13:4. Sexual sin is “in the same category as reveling, drunkenness, strife, and envy” (CBL, GED, 3:369).

The sin of “wantonness” (aselegia) is also a work of the flesh and is fully explained in the commentary on Galatians 5:19. In general terms this word described unbridled lust, excess, licentiousness, lasciviousness, or shamelessness (Thayer, p. 79). Thayer’s definition for wantonness in this passage is “wanton (acts or) manners, as filthy words, indecent bodily movements, unchaste handling of males and females, etc” (pp. 79-80). Rienecker and Rogers (p. 379) also give a wonderful definition: “The word contains the idea of shameless greed, animal lust, sheer self-indulgence which is such a slave to its so-called pleasures that it is lost to shame. It is one who acknowledges no restraints, who dares whatsoever his caprice and wanton petulance may suggest.” The sins of “strife” (eris) and “jealousy”(zelos), acts that are sins against others, are also found in the Galatian letter (see the commentary on Galatians 5:20-21).

All the sins listed in verses 13 and 14 are synonymous with the parties, unrestrained sexual encounters, and drunkenness found in our world. The Romans had left these things behind, but Paul needed to again remind them to stay away from these things. In fact, verse 14 says “But” (alla, a strong contrast). The Romans were reminded to “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

When the Romans first became Christians, they had put on Christ (Galatians 3:27). Those who become Christians clothe themselves with Christ. After the initial entrance into Christ, Paul said believers continually put on Jesus (Romans 13:14). That is, Christians continue to learn and grow so they will be increasingly like the Lord. For additional information on put on (enduo), see the commentary on verse 12. Continuing to improve our Christian life prevents us from “fulfilling the lusts of the flesh” and leaves “no provision for the flesh” (14b). If we do what is right, we avoid doing what is wrong.

Bibliographical Information
Price, Brad "Commentary on Romans 13". "Living By Faith: Commentary on Romans & 1st Corinthians". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bpc/romans-13.html.
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