Exhortations 12:1-15:13

i] The marks of a Christian community, 12:3-13:14

c) Be subject to government authorities


Paul continues to broach the subject of believers living together within God's new community, particularly with an eye to the community's witness in the world through the life of its members. Having dealt with personal ethics in chapter 12, Paul now deals with a believer's duties toward the civil authorities. Secular authorities are ordained by God to maintain good order for the maintenance of a just society and to this end it is the responsibility of believers to recognize that authority and pay their required dues.


i] Context: See 12:1-2.


ii] Background: See 1:8-15.


iii] Structure: This instruction toward civic responsibilities presents as follows:


Be subject to secular authorities, v1.


Ordained by God, v2;

Serve under God to maintain order, v3-4.


dio, "therefore", uJpotassesqai, "submit / recognize", v5a.

A further reason:

Because of conscience - it is the right thing to do, v5b.


Pay the secular authorities what is due, v6a;

Reason v2-3, is restated, v6b;

The exhortation is expanded, v7.


iv] Thesis: See 3:21-31.


v] Interpretation:

Arguments abound as to whether this section is original. It should be noted that it follows on from Paul's warning on taking vengeance and so it is natural for him to explain why it is appropriate for governments to take vengeance.


The authority of the State: Many commentators feel that this passage gives undue authority to governments, particularly an oppressive government. In underlining the good purpose of government, its authority and responsibility to implement judicial vengeance, Paul is not necessarily implying that we must obey the dictates of a government that commands us to act against the clear will of God. Paul doesn't touch on the issue, but theologians like Calvin and Knox argue strongly for mutual obligations. A government that is no longer an instrument for its citizens' "good", does not deserve their submission. As Jesus instructed us, we give to God what is due to God, and to the State what is due to the State.

A mutual obligations approach seems the most sensible way to handle this issue, but we do need to accept that it is possible to argue for a pacifist, even fatalistic, approach to government authority. Jesus was certainly not pro-active in his dealings with the Roman government. In the end, the secular state is bound by the ultimate purposes of God for the realization of his kingdom, and this apart from its own agenda. A corrupt government may even go so far as to take our life, but in so doing it will confer on us a crown of glory. Governmental authority is God's minister; it is there to achieve God's ends. So, a disciple's task may well be to submit and get on with the business of making known the good news of the kingdom. It was often said that the quiet and reverent way that the early Christians met their death in the Roman circus, later become the basis for an increasing willingness of the citizenry to give heed to the gospel.

We should also note that this passage does not sanction any particular form of government. A democratic form of government which encourages the inclusive participation of the population does seem to be more in line with God's plan for society than an autocracy, whether benign or not. None-the-less, the present cultural superiority of the West and its divine mission to impose democracy on less fortunate third world countries, has very little going for it, particularly when democratic governments are increasingly less inclusive. For example, Australia's participation in the recent invasion of Iraq was undertaken against the will of some 80% of the Australian population. The truth is, no system of government has the divine imprimatur.

In general terms we can say that Paul encourages us to give government its due right. The governing authorities have a special role under God and we are bound to respect this role, accepting its God given authority to govern. It is God who sets up and overthrows rulers, for no power exists other than under his will. Even the Roman Government of the time, a fully pagan and vicious dictatorship, operated under divine authority. Under God, governments function to provide peace and security, to encourage social interaction, to curb selfish excess, and to serve as an agent of justice. Thus, governments rightly exercise power through the army, police and judiciary. By this means governments promote peace and give free reign to the gospel. Therefore, believers must subject themselves to government authority, not just out of fear of punishment, but because we know that the state, with all its failings, is a divine institution.


vi] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 13:1

The Christian and the State, v1-7. Paul calls on his readers to "respect" the right of the State to govern and tax, presumably as long as it doesn't infringe God's rule. The reason for such respect rests with the truth that no authority can exist outside God's authority. The argument and exhortations (v1, 5, 6 and 7) are further examples of a believers thn logikhn latreian, "spiritual service", and thus of agaph, "love", in action.

pasa yuch "[let] everyone" - [let] every soul. A Hebraism. The following principles apply to all people; "every Christian in Rome", Longenecker.

uJpotassesqw (uJpotassw) pres. pas. imp. + dat. "submit to / be subject to" - The present tense is gnomic. "Obey", TEV, is not a good translation; the NIV "submit" is to be preferred. Like Eph.5:21 it is the giving of due place within a framework of reciprocal obligations. Paul is not promoting an uncritical obedience. Under God, government has rights over us and we are bound to recognize those rights and submit to their authority, unless of course, such submission infringes the law of God. For Paul and the early Christians, bound under the totalitarian government of Rome, it was simply, obey the law, pay taxes (and pray, 1Tim.2.) For those of us under a democratic government, the obligations are much more complicated. Cranfield takes the view that this verb does not express the sense "obey" but rather prompts the reader to "recognize" the authority of the state. Dunn agrees, arguing that "obedience" is not always an appropriate translation for this verb.

uJperecousaiV (uJperecw) dat. pres. part. "the governing [authorities]" - [be subject to] superior [authorities]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting exousia, "authorities", dative in agreement with "authorities" which is a dative of direct object after the uJpo prefix verb "be subject to." Civil authorities, not Angelic powers. Longenecker extends the phrase somewhat to "the governing authorities of the empire's capital city."

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining the reason why believers should submit / recognize, namely "because" rulers are instruments of God's will, although their authority is delegated, not absolute.

ei mh "except" - [there is not authority] Here introducing an exceptive clause which establishes a contrast.

uJpo + gen. "that which [God] has established" - under / by [God]. Expressing subordination; "except an authority which has been established under the rule of God."

aiJ ... ousai pres. part. "The authorities that exist" - the existing ones. The participle serves as a substantive. Paul would obviously have Rome in mind. An indication that there is probably no form of government that is divinely sanctioned, only that it should act for "the good" under God.

tetagmenai eisin perf. pas. part. "have been established [by God]" - [and the existing ones by God] having been appointed, stationed. Indicating delegated authority. The participle + the verb to-be forms a periphrastic perfect construction, possibly emphasizing durative aspect. Further indicating that a government that assumes to itself absolute authority, taking to itself divine rights, is no longer a legitimate government under God and may no longer rightly demand the submission of its citizens. The question then arises, and does so constantly through this passage, is it right for the citizenry to rise in revolt against the State when it no longer functions for "the good" of its citizens?

uJpo + gen. "by [God]" - The preposition as above. "The authorities which exist are of God's ordinance", Cassirer.


Since all civil authority is ordained by God, to willfully oppose that authority is to oppose God and come under his judgement.

wJste "consequently" - therefore. Possibly consecutive, expressing result, "so that", as NIV, but also possibly inferential, "therefore", as ESV.

oJ antitassomenoV (antitassw) dat. pres. part. "he who rebels against" - the one opposing, resisting. The participle serves as a substantive, the present tense being gnomic. A strong verb, therefore, "rebel", "revolt"; "anyone who resists authority is opposing the divine order", Moffatt.

th/ exousia/ (a) dat. "the authority" - Dative of direct object after the anti prefix verb "to resist / set oneself against" / disadvantage.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "[what] God [has instituted]" - [has opposed the ordinance / direction] of God. The genitive may be treated as verbal, subjective, or ablative, source / origin. "A divine institution", NEB.

oiJ ... anqesthkoteV (anqisthmi) perf. part. "those who do so" - [and] the ones having opposed, resisted. The participle serves as a substantive, with the perfect tense expressing a "determined and established policy", Dunn.

krima (a) "judgment" - [will receive] judgment. The "judgement" here is either Divine or secular, although both is an acceptable sense.

eJautoiV ref. dat. pro. "on themselves" - to themselves. Dative of indirect object / interest, disadvantage.


We are to respect the civil authority and this because its role is to "commend" what is right and good and punish what is evil.

gar "for" - for. Here explanatory rather than causal, explaining that the "judgment" referred to in v2 does not apply to those who "do what is good." Best left untranslated; "It is bad conduct, not good, that inspires fear of those who rule", Cassirer.

foboV (oV) "terror" - [the rulers are not] a fear, terror. "Rulers" (public officials) are either, a cause of fear, or arousing fear. Either way, the State wields the sword (army, police, judiciary.... taxation department!) and this is a terror to those who rebel against the State. Again, if a State does the opposite, is a terror to those who do right, is it a valid "divine institution" and if not, to what extent is it right to oppose such a State? It is often noted that Paul seems to ignore the fact that governments do not always praise the good and punish the evil. Even the Roman Government of the time was far from just. So what is his point? Calvin felt that Paul was only giving the positive side; he was speaking "of the true and natural duty of the magistrate." This seems the safest approach. It is possible, although unlikely, that Paul is speaking of an ultimate promise. The civilian power will ultimately honor God's servants, whether it is a good or evil government, for it is but an instrument of God's will. It may act justly or unjustly, but in all its actions God will use it as a channel for the establishment of his kingdom. This approach seems somewhat fatalistic (or realistic!!).

tw/ ... ergw/ (on) dat. "for those who do [right]" - to the [good] work, conduct. Dative of interest, advantage, "for", or reference / respect, "with respect to .." A concrete sense is intended, "those who behave themselves", Black. Note the adjective agaqw/, "good", is in the first predicate position so giving it emphasis.

alla "but [for those who do wrong]" - but [to / for the bad, evil]. Adversative, as NIV.

qeleiV (qelw) pres. "do you want" - [and] do you [not] want. The NIV forms a question with the negation mh prompting the answer "yes". Turner suggests that a 1st. class conditional clause is intended here, a clause where the condition is assumed to be true - ei + ind. must be assumed, see NJB; "if, as is the case, you wish not to fear the authority (to be fearless) then do what is good"

mh fobeisqai (fobew) pres. inf. "to be free from fear" - to fear [the authority (the one in authority); the good do]. The infinitive introduces a dependent statement of perception expressing what is wanted, namely, not to fear the authority / ie., the State.

ex (ek) + gen. "-" - [and you will have praise] from [it]. Expressing source / origin.


The civil authority is God's servant for a believer's good when we do what is right, but an agent of wrath when we do what is wrong.

gar "For [he is God's servant]" - for [the servant of God he is]. Introducing a causal clause explaining why can live free from fear of the state, "because ......" Stressing again that the State is a divine institution.

estin (eimi) pres. "he is / the one in authority is" - he / it is.

qeou (oV) gen. "God's [servant]" - The genitive may be viewed as adjectival, possessive, or verbal, objective; emphatic by position.

eiV to agaqon "to do [you] good / for your good" - to/for good. The adjective is possibly verbal, with the preposition eiV expressing purpose / intended result; "working for your good", NEB, "for your benefit", JB. The "benefit" is undefined, and so may range from "the good life" to "the blessings of the kingdom." Kingdom blessings can refer to peace and tranquility allowing free access of the gospel, through to divine control of government, both good and evil, for the ultimate realization of the kingdom. As noted above, a fatalistic approach to God's sovereignty is less than helpful. The divine purpose is realized in both good and evil, but that doesn't mean we should sit easily with evil. God is not caught out by human rebellion, nor does he acquiesce to it, and nor should we.

soi dat. "you" - you. Dative of interest, advantage, or feeling; "for you." The State is instituted for us, not for itself.

de "but" - but, and. Adversative, as NIV.

ean + subj. "if [you do wrong]" - if [you do evil, fear]. Introducing a conditional clause 3rd. class where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, .... then [fear]."

gar "for" - Here introducing a causal clause explaining why we should fear; "because ...."

ou ... forei (forew) pres. "rulers do not bear" - he / it does not bear, wear.

thn macairan (a) "the sword" - sword, knife [in vein]. Here best taken as the army (for us, police, judicial authority, etc.) rather than a reference to capital punishment.

gar "-" - Here more explanatory than causal, introducing an explanation of the State's function under God.

diakonoV (oV) "[he is God's] servant / [they are God's] servants" - [he /it is] a servant, minister [of God]. A word regularly used of Christian ministry.

qeou (oV) gen. "God's" - of God. The genitive is best taken as adjectival, possessive, but possibly ablative, expressing source / origin; "he is a servant from God."

ekdikoV (oV) "an agent" - an avenger. "His function is to exercise punishment", Barrett; "an agent of punishment", REB.

eiV + acc. "[of wrath to bring punishment]" - to [wrath]. Here expressing purpose, end-viw; "an avenger for / with a view to wrath" = "his function is to exercise punishment and to demonstrate the divine wrath", Barclay; "to inflict God's punishment", Phillips.

tw/ ... prossonti (prassw) dat. pres. part. "on the wrongdoer" - to the one doing [the evil]. The participle serves as a substantive, dative of indirect object / disadvantage.


A person is inclined to submit to the State because they fear punishment, but also because they know that the maintenance of peace is a societal good.

dio "therefore" - Inferential; drawing a logical conclusion.

anegkh "it is necessary" - A compulsion of some kind, "because" .... The compulsion is the fear of punishment, "fear of retribution", REB, probably civil, but possible divine necessity, so Dunn. As above, the question is, whose punishment?

uJpotassesqai (uJpotassw) pres. inf. "to be subject to the authorities" - to be subject. The infinitive serves as the subject of the verb "it is necessary"; "to be subject is necessary." The present tense is best taken as gnomic.

ou monon dia .... alla kai dia "not only because of ... but also as a matter of" - not only because of [wrath] but also because of. A counterpoint causal construction.

thn suneidhsin (iV ewV) "conscience" - For a believer, the conscience is that part of our being infused by Biblical truth. So, a person's sense of right and wrong, "it is the right thing to do", Phillips.


The administration of law and order is an expensive business and therefore, it is right for the State to levy taxes to fund its God-given role.

gar "-" - for [and]. Possibly explanatory, although Harvey suggests that it is emphatic here, "indeed", with kia taken as adjunctive, "also".

dia + acc. "[this is also] why" - because of, on account of [this]. Usually dia touto is inferential, "therefore", but here it is obviously causal, "this is why", REB.

teleite (telew) ind./imp. "you pay" - you complete, finish, pay. Possibly imperative, "you must also pay your taxes", CEV.

forouV (oV) "taxes" - People of the New Testament knew all about taxes. The total rate was around a flat 50%.

gar "for" - Here introducing a causal clause explaining why it is right to pay taxes; "it is right, too, for you to pay taxes for the civil authorities are appointed by God for the good purposes of public order and well-being", Phillips.

qeou (oV) gen. "God's" - of God. The genitive may be taken as adjectival, possessive, or verbal objective.

leitourgoi (oV) "servants" - [they are] public officials. Possibly "public servants".

proskarterounteV (proskarterew) pres. part. "who give their full time" - [to this thing] persevering in, attending continually. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "servants".

eiV auto touto "to governing" - to / for this thing. An awkward construction used to replace a dative; "to this very thing", ESV. The verb proskarterew, "to persevere in", will often take a dative, but it would be misleading here. Difficult to render in English so best handled in a general way; "and to these duties they devote their energies", TEV.


Paul concludes with an exhortation to "respect" and "honor" ("respect" in the Greek is "fear") the State, and in particular, to pay taxes when and where they are due. This verse echoes Mark.12:17, and is prompted by the requirement that we must pay back a debt owed. cf. 1 Peter 2:17 and Proverbs 24:21. So, we owe a debt to God and we owe a debt to government. It is possible therefore, that the meaning of 7b is not to distinguish respect to greater and lesser governmental authorities, but rather the respect we owe to God and government.

pasin dat. adj. "everyone" - [give to] all men. As with the series of datives in this verse, this adjective is a dative of indirect object. Is this "pay all that you owe", CEV; "pay all men (everyone) what is due to them", Barclay; "pay them", ie. the tax collectors, TEV. An injunction to pay our dues to the tax collector seems best.

taV ofeilaV "what you owe" - the dues = what is owed, an obligation.

tw/ dat. "if you owe" - to the one [owing the taxes render the taxes]. The article particularizes the nouns, the dative being of indirect object / reference, respect. This elliptical construction is repeated three times for "taxes (tribute???)", "revenue (tolls levied on goods)", "fear" and "honor". Longenecker thinks foroV is a city tax and teloV covers tolls and government revenues.

ton foron .... to teloV "taxes ... revenue" - tribute ... duties. "Whatever taxes you owe ....", Morris.

fobon (oV) "respect" - fear. Most likely of showing respect ("reverence", Phillips) to those in authority, and similarly timhn, "honor", of honoring the official status of secular authorities. It is possible that since the word is often used of God, secular authorities may not be in mind, so possibly a "fear God and honor the emperor" line is in mind. See note above.


Romans Introduction



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