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Bible Commentaries
Romans 13

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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There is not a word to indicate how the transition is made from the discussion of the duties of Christians as members of one body, especially the duties of humility and love in chap. 12, to the special subject which meets us in chap. 13 the duty of Christians in relation to the civil authorities. There is nothing exactly like Romans 13:1-7 elsewhere in Paul’s epistles, and it is difficult not to believe that he had some particular reason for treating the question here. The Christians in Rome, though mainly Gentile, as this epistle proves, were closely connected with the Jews, and the Jews were notoriously bad subjects. Many of them held, on the ground of Deuteronomy 17:15 , that to acknowledge a Gentile ruler was itself sinful; and the spirit which prompted Pharisees to ask, Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar or not? Shall we give or shall we not give? (Mark 12:14 ) had no doubt its representatives in Rome also. As believers in the Messiah, “in another King, one Jesus” (Acts 17:7 ), even Christians of Gentile origin may have been open to the impulses of this same spirit; and unbalanced minds, then as in all ages, might be disposed to find in the loyalty which was due to Christ alone, an emancipation from all subjection to inferior powers. There is here an apparent point of contact between Christianity and anarchism, and it may have been the knowledge of some such movement of mind in the Church at Rome that made Paul write as he did. There is perhaps nothing in the passage which is not already given in our Lord’s word, “Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”; yet nothing can be more worthy of admiration than the soberness with which a Christian idealist like Paul lays down the Divine right of the state. The use made of the passage to prove the duty of “passive obedience,” or “the right divine of kings to govern wrong,” is beside the mark; the Apostle was not thinking of such things at all. What is in his mind is that the organisation of human society, with its distinction of higher and lower ranks, is essential for the preservation of moral order, and therefore, one might add, for the existence of the Kingdom of God itself; so that no Christian is at liberty to revolt against that organisation. The state is of God, and the Christian has to recognise its Divine right in the persons and requirements in which it is presented to him: that is all. Whether in any given case say in England in 1642 the true representative of the State was to be found in the king or in the Commons, Paul, of course, does not enable us to say. Neither does he say anything bearing on the Divine right of insurrection. When he wrote, no doubt, Nero had not yet begun to rage against the Christians, and the imperial authorities had usually protected the Apostle himself against popular violence, whether Jewish or pagan; but even of this we must not suppose him to be taking any special account. He had, indeed, had other experiences (Acts 16:37 , 2 Corinthians 11:25 ff.). But the whole discussion presupposes normal conditions: law and its representatives are of God, and as such are entitled to all honour and obedience from Christians.

Verse 1

Romans 13:1 . πᾶσα ψυχὴ is a Hebraism; cf. Acts 2:43 ; Acts 3:23 , and chap. Romans 2:9 . For ἐξουσίαις cf. Luke 12:11 : it is exactly like “authorities” in English abstract for concrete. ὑπερεχούσαις describes the authorities as being actually in a position of superiority. Cf. 1 P. Romans 2:13 , and Malachi 3:11; Malachi 3:11 ( ἀνδρὸς ἐν ὑπεροχῇ κειμένου ). οὐ γὰρ ἔστιν ἐξουσία εἰ μὴ ὑπὸ θεοῦ : ὑπὸ is the correct reading ( [32] [33] [34] ), not ἀπό . Weiss compares Bar 4:27 . ἔσται γὰρ ὑμῶν ὑπὸ τοῦ ἐπάγοντος μνεία . It is by God’s act and will alone that there is such a thing as an authority, or magistrate; and those that actually exist have been appointed set in their place by Him. With αἱ δὲ οὖσαι the Apostle passes from the abstract to the concrete; the persons and institutions in which for the time authority had its seat, are before his mind in other words, the Empire with all its grades of officials from the Emperor down. In itself, and quite apart from its relation to the Church, this system had a Divine right to be. It did not need to be legitimated by any special relation to the Church; quite as truly as the Church it existed Dei gratia .

[32] Codex Sinaiticus (sæc. iv.), now at St. Petersburg, published in facsimile type by its discoverer, Tischendorf, in 1862.

[33] Codex Alexandrinus (sæc. v.), at the British Museum, published in photographic facsimile by Sir E. M. Thompson (1879).

[34] Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.

Verse 2

Romans 13:2 . ὥστε cf. Romans 7:4 ; Romans 7:12 . The conclusion is that he who sets himself against the authorities withstands what has been instituted by God: διαταγῇ (Acts 7:53 ) recalls τεταγμέναι , Romans 13:1 . The κρίμα , i.e. , the judgment or condemnation which those who offer such resistance shall receive, is of course a Divine one that is the nerve of the whole passage; but most commentators seem to regard it as coming through the human authority resisted. This is by no means clear; even a successful defiance of authority, which involved no human κρίμα , would according to Paul ensure punishment from God. For λήψονται κρίμα cf. Mark 12:40 , James 3:1 : where also God’s judgment alone is in view. But to say that it is God’s judgment only is not to say that it is eternal damnation. There are many ways in which God’s condemnation of sin is expressed and executed.

Verse 3

Romans 13:3 . οἱ γὰρ ἄρχοντες κ . τ . λ . The γὰρ can only be connected in a forced and artificial way with the clause which immediately precedes: it really introduces the reason for a frank and unreserved acceptance of that view of “authorities” which the Apostle is laying down. It is as if he said: Recognise the Divine right of the State, for its representatives are not a terror an object of dread to the good work, but to the bad. φόβος as in Isaiah 8:13 . It is implied that those to whom he speaks will always be identified with the good work, and so have the authorities on their side: it is taken for granted also that the State will not act in violation of its own idea, and identify itself with the bad. θέλεις δὲ μὴ φοβεῖσθαι κ . τ . λ . This is most expressive when read as an interrogation, though some prefer to take it as an assertion: that is, to regard Paul as assuming that the reader does not want to be afraid of the magistrate, rather than as inquiring whether he does or not. To escape fear, τὸ ἀγαθὸν ποίει : do what is (legally and morally) good.

Verse 4

Romans 13:4 . θεοῦ γὰρ διάκονός ἐστιν σοὶ εἰς τὸ ἀγαθόν . διάκονός is feminine agreeing with ἐξουσία , which is “almost personified” (Sanday and Headlam). The σοὶ is not immediately dependent on διάκονός , as if the State were conceived as directly serving the person; the State serves God, with good in view as the end to be secured by its ministry, viz. , the maintenance of the moral order in society; and this situation is one the benefit of which redounds to the individual. ἐὰν δὲ τὸ κακὸν ποιῇς , φοβοῦ : only when the individual does that which is contrary to the end set before the State by God commits τὸ κακὸν , which frustrates τὸ ἀγαθὸν need he fear: but then he must fear. οὐ γὰρ εἰκῇ : for not for nothing, but for serious use, does the ruler wear the sword. For εἰκῇ cf. 1 Corinthians 15:2 , Galatians 3:4 . φορεῖ is wear, rather than bear: the sword was carried habitually, if not by, then before the higher magistrates, and symbolised the power of life and death which they had in their hands. “The Apostle in this passage,” says Gifford, “expressly vindicates the right of capital punishment as divinely entrusted to the magistrate”. But “expressly” is perhaps too much, and Paul could not deliberately vindicate what no one had assailed. He did, indeed, on a memorable occasion (later than this) express his readiness to die if his life had been forfeited to the law (Acts 25:11 ); but to know that if an individual sets himself to subvert the moral order of the world, its representatives can proceed to extremities against him (on the ground, apparently, that it , as of God’s institution, is of priceless value to mankind, whereas he in his opposition to it is of no moral worth at all) is not to vindicate capital punishment as it exists in the law or practice of any given society. When the words θεοῦ γὰρ διάκονός ἐστιν are repeated, it is the punitive ministry of the magistrate which is alone in view. ἔκδικος εἰς ὀργὴν : an avenger for wrath. ὀργὴ in the N.T. almost always (as here) means the wrath of God. It occurs eleven times in Romans: always so. The exceptions are Ephesians 4:31 , Col 3:8 , 1 Timothy 2:8 , James 1:19 f. τῷ τὸ κακὸν πράσσοντι = to him who works at evil. The process is presented in πράσσειν rather than the result. Cf. Romans 1:32 .

Verse 5

Romans 13:5 f. διὸ ἀνάγκη ὑποτάσσεσθαι : there is a twofold necessity for submission an external one, in the wrath of God which comes on resistance; an internal one, in conscience. Even apart from the consequences of disobedience conscience recognises the Divine right and function of the ἐξουσία and freely submits to it. διὰ τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ φόρους τελεῖτε . διὰ τοῦτο seems to refer to the moral necessity to which appeal has been already made in διὰ τὴν συνείδησιν . It is because conscience recognises the moral value of the State as an ordinance of God that we pay taxes. φόρος is often used of the tribute paid by a subject nation: Nehemiah 5:4 , 1Ma 8:4 , Luke 20:22 ; but here is probably used indefinitely of any imposts made for the support of the Government. λειτουργοὶ γὰρ θεοῦ εἰσίν : the use of λειτουργοί here instead of διάκονοι emphasises the official character of the service which they render. In the LXX λειτουργεῖν is the regular rendering of שֵׁרֵת , and therefore refers frequently to the service of the priests and Levites, a usage the influence of which is seen in chap. Romans 15:16 and Philippians 2:17 ; but this was by no means exclusively the case in the O.T. (2 Samuel 13:18 , 2 Kings 10:5 ) nor is it so in the New (chap. Romans 15:27 , Philippians 2:25 ; Philippians 2:30 ). It is not a priestly character that the word assigns to the magistracy, but only an official character; they are in their place by God’s appointment for the public good. εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦτο means “to this very end” the end described in Romans 13:3-4 . As προσκαρτεροῦντες is elsewhere construed with the dative (Acts 1:14 ; Acts 6:4 , chap. Romans 12:12 ) it seems necessary here to take εἰς τὸ αὐτὸ with what precedes, and προσκ . by itself as, e.g. , in Numbers 13:21 : spending all their time on the work.

Verse 7

Romans 13:7 . At this point Weiss begins a new paragraph, but W. and H. make Romans 13:7 the conclusion of the first part of this chapter. In view of the close connection between Romans 13:7-8 ( cf. ὀφειλάς , ὀφείλετε ) it is better not to make too decided a break at either place. All the words in Romans 13:7 , φόρος , τέλος , φόβος , τιμὴ , do indeed imply duties to superiors, and seem therefore to continue and to sum up the content of Romans 13:1-6 ; but Romans 13:8 , in which μηδενὶ μηδὲν ὀφείλετε seems expressly written as the negative counterpart to ἀπόδοτε πᾶσι τὰς ὀφειλάς in Romans 13:7 , introduces at the same time a wider subject that of the duties of all individuals toward each other. τῷ τὸν φόρον τὸν φόρον : this is quite intelligible, but nothing can make it grammatical: see Winer, p. 737. For the distinction of φόρος and τέλος see Trench, Syn [35] , p. 392. For φόβος and τιμή 1 Peter 2:17 .

[35] synonym, synonymous.

Verse 8

Romans 13:8 . εἰ μὴ τὸ ἀλλήλους ἀγαπᾷν = except mutual love. This is the debitum immortale of Bengel; hoc enim et quotidie solvere et semper debere expedit nobis (Origen). ὁ γὰρ ἀγαπῶν τὸν ἕτερον : he who loves his neighbour, the other with whom he has to do. Cf. Romans 2:1 ; Romans 2:21 (Weiss). νόμον πεπλήρωκεν = has done all that law requires. From what follows it is clear that Paul is thinking of the Mosaic law; it was virtually the only thing in the world to which he could apply the word νόμος , or which he could use to illustrate that word. The relation of chaps. 12 and 13 to the Gospels makes it very credible that Paul had here in his mind the words of our Lord in Matthew 22:34 ff.

Verse 9

Romans 13:9 . τὸ γὰρ Οὐ μοιχεύσεις . Cf. Romans 8:26 . The order of the commandments here is different from that in Exodus 20:0 or Deuteronomy 5:0 (Hebrew), but it is the same as in Luke 18:20 , and (so far) in James 2:11 . This order is also found in Cod. . of the LXX in Deuteronomy 5:0 καὶ εἴ τις ἑτέρα ἐντολή : this shows that the enumeration does not aim at completeness, and that the insertion in some MSS. of οὐ ψευδομαρτυρήσεις , to complete the second table, is beside the mark. ἀνακεφαλαιοῦται : it is summed up the scattered particulars are resumed and brought to one. The only other instance of this word in the N.T. (Ephesians 1:10 ) illustrates the present one, though the meaning is not exactly the same. ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου κ . τ . λ . In Leviticus 19:18 this is given as a summary of various laws, mostly precepts enjoining humanity, in various relations; by our Lord (in Matthew 22:39 ) and by Paul (here and in Galatians 5:14 ) an ampler, indeed an unlimited range, is given to it. Its supreme position too seems to be what is indicated in James 2:8 by calling it νόμος βασιλικός .

Verse 10

Romans 13:10 . ἡ ἀγάπη … κακὸν οὐκ ἐργάζεται . This is all that is formally required by the law as quoted above ( οὐ μοιχεύσεις , etc.): therefore love is πλήρωμα νόμου , law’s fulfilment. Of course love is an inspiration rather than a restraint, and transcends law as embodied in merely negative commandments; but the form in which the law actually existed determines the form in which the Apostle expresses himself. It is apparent once more that νόμος is the Mosaic law, and not law in general; it is from it the prohibitions are derived on the ground of which the Apostle argues, and to it therefore we must apply his conclusion, πλήρωμα οὖν νόμου ἡ ἀγάπη .

Verses 11-14

Romans 13:11-14 . In the closing verses of the chapter Paul enforces this exhortation to mutual love as the fulfilling of the law by reference to the approaching Parousia. We must all appear (and who can tell how soon?) before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in the body: if the awe and the inspiration of that great truth descend upon our hearts, we shall feel how urgent the Apostle’s exhortation is. καὶ τοῦτο : cf. 1Co 6:6 ; 1 Corinthians 6:8 . In classical writers καὶ ταῦτα is commoner. It sums up all that precedes, but especially Romans 13:8-10 . εἰδότες τὸν καιρόν : ὁ καιρὸς is not “the time” abstractly, but the time they lived in with its moral import, its critical place in the working out of God’s designs. It is their time regarded as having a character of its own, full of significance for them. This is unfolded in ὅτι ὥρα ἤδη κ . τ . λ . ἤδη (without waiting longer) is to be construed with ἐγερθῆναι : “it is time for you at once to awake” (Gifford). No Christian should be asleep, yet the ordinary life of all is but drowsy compared with what it should be, and with what it would be, if the Christian hope were perpetually present to us. νῦν γὰρ ἐγγύτερον ἡμῶν ἡ σωτηρία : for now is salvation nearer us than when we believed, ἡ σωτηρία has here the transcendent eschatological sense: it is the final and complete deliverance from sin and death, and the reception into the heavenly kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. This salvation was always near, to the faith of the Apostles; and with the lapse of time it became, of course, nearer. Yet it has often been remarked that in his later epistles Paul seems to contemplate not merely the possibility, but the probability, that he himself would not live to see it. See 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 , Philippians 1:23 . ὅτε ἐπιστεύσαμεν : when we became Christians, 1 Corinthians 3:5 ; 1 Corinthians 15:2 , Galatians 2:16 .

Verse 12

Romans 13:12 . ἡ νύξ προέκοψεν : the true day dawns only when Christ appears; at present it is night, though a night that has run much of its course. ἀποθώμεθα οὖν τὰ ἔργα τοῦ σκότους . Things that can only be done in the dark that cannot bear the light of day are therefore to be put away by the Christian. For ἀποθώμεσα (properly of dress) cf. James 1:21 ; James 1:1 . Pet. Romans 2:1 Hebrews 12:1 . τὰ ὅπλα τοῦ φωτός : for τὰ ὅπλα see on chap. Romans 6:13 , Eph 6:11 , 1 Thessalonians 5:8 . The idea is that the Christian’s life is not a sleep, but a battle. τὰ ὅπλα τοῦ φωτός does not mean “shining armour”; but (on the analogy of τὰ ἔργα τοῦ σκότους ) such armour as one can wear when the great day dawns, and we would appear on the Lord’s side in the fight. An allusion to the last great battle against the armies of anti-Christ is too remote, and at variance with Paul’s use of the figure elsewhere.

Verse 13

Romans 13:13 . ὡς ἐν ἡμέρᾳ : as one walks in the day, so let us walk εὐσχημόνως . The same adverb is found with the same verb in 1 Thessalonians 4:2 : A.V. in both places “honestly”. The meaning is rather “in seemly fashion,” “becomingly”; in 1 Corinthians 14:40 it is rendered “decently,” where also regard for decorum (the aesthetic side of morality) is in view. κῶμοι and μέθαι are again found conjoined in Galatians 5:21 ; ἔρις and ζῆλος in Galatians 5:20 and 1 Corinthians 3:3 . W. and H. following . put ἔρισι καὶ ζήλοις in margin; the plurals in this case as in the others would indicate the various acts or manifestations of excess, whether in self-indulgence or self-will.

Verse 14

Romans 13:14 . ἀλλὰ ἐνδύσασθε τὸν Κ . Ἰ . Χριστὸν , ἀλλὰ emphasises the contrast between the true Christian life and that which has just been described. The Christian puts on the Lord Jesus Christ, according to Paul’s teaching, in baptism ( cf. Galatians 3:27 ), as the solemn deliberate act in which he identifies himself, by faith, with Christ in His death and resurrection (chap. Romans 6:3 ). But the Christian life is not exhausted in this act, which is rather the starting-point for a putting on of Christ in the ethical sense, a “clothing of the soul in the moral disposition and habits of Christ” (Gifford); or as the Apostle himself puts it in Romans 6:11 , a reckoning of ourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Every time we perform an ethical act of this kind we put on the Lord Jesus Christ more fully. But the principle of all such acts is the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us (chaps. 6 8), and it is the essential antagonism of the spirit to the flesh which determines the form of the last words: καὶ τῆς σαρκὸς πρόνοιαν μὴ ποιεῖσθε εἰς ἐπιθυμίας . It is to inquire too curiously if we inquire whether σάρξ here is used in the physiological sense = the body, or in the moral sense = libidinosa caro (as Fritzsche argues): the significance of the word in Paul depends on the fact that in experience these two meanings are indubitably if not inseparably related. Taking the flesh as it is, forethought or provision for it an interest in it which consults for it, and makes it an object can only have one end, viz. , its ἐπιθυμίαι . All such interest therefore is forbidden as inconsistent with putting on the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 13". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/romans-13.html. 1897-1910.
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