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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Romans 13:1



Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.

Adam Clarke Commentary

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers - This is a very strong saying, and most solemnly introduced; and we must consider the apostle as speaking, not from his own private judgment, or teaching a doctrine of present expediency, but declaring the mind of God on a subject of the utmost importance to the peace of the world; a doctrine which does not exclusively belong to any class of people, order of the community, or official situations, but to every soul; and, on the principles which the apostle lays down, to every soul in all possible varieties of situation, and on all occasions. And what is this solemn doctrine? It is this: Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. Let every man be obedient to the civil government under which the providence of God has cast his lot.

For there is no power but of God - As God is the origin of power, and the supreme Governor of the universe, he delegates authority to whomsoever he will; and though in many cases the governor himself may not be of God, yet civil government is of him; for without this there could be no society, no security, no private property; all would be confusion and anarchy, and the habitable world would soon be depopulated. In ancient times, God, in an especial manner, on many occasions appointed the individual who was to govern; and he accordingly governed by a Divine right, as in the case of Moses, Joshua, the Hebrew judges, and several of the Israelitish kings. In after times, and to the present day, he does that by a general superintending providence which he did before by especial designation. In all nations of the earth there is what may be called a constitution - a plan by which a particular country or state is governed; and this constitution is less or more calculated to promote the interests of the community. The civil governor, whether he be elective or hereditary, agrees to govern according to that constitution. Thus we may consider that there is a compact and consent between the governor and the governed, and in such a case, the potentate may be considered as coming to the supreme authority in the direct way of God's providence; and as civil government is of God, who is the fountain of law, order, and regularity, the civil governor, who administers the laws of a state according to its constitution, is the minister of God. But it has been asked: If the ruler be an immoral or profligate man, does he not prove himself thereby to be unworthy of his high office, and should he not be deposed? I answer, No: if he rule according to the constitution, nothing can justify rebellion against his authority. He may be irregular in his own private life; he may be an immoral man, and disgrace himself by an improper conduct: but if he rule according to the law; if he make no attempt to change the constitution, nor break the compact between him and the people; there is, therefore, no legal ground of opposition to his civil authority, and every act against him is not only rebellion in the worst sense of the word, but is unlawful and absolutely sinful.

Nothing can justify the opposition of the subjects to the ruler but overt attempts on his part to change the constitution, or to rule contrary to law. When the ruler acts thus he dissolves the compact between him and his people; his authority is no longer binding, because illegal; and it is illegal because he is acting contrary to the laws of that constitution, according to which, on being raised to the supreme power, he promised to govern. This conduct justifies opposition to his government; but I contend that no personal misconduct in the ruler, no immorality in his own life, while he governs according to law, can justify either rebellion against him or contempt of his authority. For his political conduct he is accountable to his people; for his moral conduct he is accountable to God, his conscience, and the ministers of religion. A king may be a good moral man, and yet a weak, and indeed a bad and dangerous prince. He may be a bad man, and stained with vice in his private life, and yet be a good prince. Saul was a good moral man, but a bad prince, because he endeavored to act contrary to the Israelitish constitution: he changed some essential parts of that constitution, as I have elsewhere shown; (see the note on Acts 13:22;); he was therefore lawfully deposed. James the Second was a good moral man, as far as I can learn, but he was a bad and dangerous prince; he endeavored to alter, and essentially change the British constitution, both in Church and state, therefore he was lawfully deposed. It would be easy, in running over the list of our own kings, to point out several who were deservedly reputed good kings, who in their private life were very immoral. Bad as they might be in private life, the constitution was in their hands ever considered a sacred deposit, and they faithfully preserved it, and transmitted it unimpaired to their successors; and took care while they held the reins of government to have it impartially and effectually administered.

It must be allowed, notwithstanding, that when a prince, howsoever heedful to the laws, is unrighteous in private life, his example is contagious; morality, banished from the throne, is discountenanced by the community; and happiness is diminished in proportion to the increase of vice. On the other hand, when a king governs according to the constitution of his realms and has his heart and life governed by the laws of his God, he is then a double blessing to his people; while he is ruling carefully according to the laws, his pious example is a great means of extending and confirming the reign of pure morality among his subjects. Vice is discredited from the throne, and the profligate dare not hope for a place of trust and confidence, (however in other respects he may be qualified for it), because he is a vicious man.

As I have already mentioned some potentates by name, as apt examples of the doctrines I have been laying down, my readers will naturally expect that, on so fair an opportunity, I should introduce another; one in whom the double blessing meets; one who, through an unusually protracted reign, during every year of which he most conscientiously watched over the sacred constitution committed to his care, not only did not impair this constitution, but took care that its wholesome laws should be properly administered, and who in every respect acted as the father of his people, and added to all this the most exemplary moral conduct perhaps ever exhibited by a prince, whether in ancient or modern times; not only tacitly discountenancing vice by his truly religious conduct, but by his frequent proclamations most solemnly forbidding Sabbath-breaking, profane swearing, and immorality in general. More might be justly said, but when I have mentioned all these things, (and I mention them with exultation; and with gratitude to God), I need scarcely add the venerable name of George the Third, king of Great Britain; as every reader will at once perceive that the description suits no potentate besides. I may just observe, that notwithstanding his long reign has been a reign of unparalleled troubles and commotions in the world, in which his empire has always been involved, yet, never did useful arts, ennobling sciences, and pure religion gain a more decided and general ascendancy: and much of this, under God, is owing to the manner in which this king has lived, and the encouragement he invariably gave to whatever had a tendency to promote the best interests of his people. Indeed it has been well observed, that, under the ruling providence of God, it was chiefly owing to the private and personal virtues of the sovereign that the house of Brunswick remained firmly seated on the throne amidst the storms arising from democratical agitations and revolutionary convulsions in Europe during the years 1792-1794. The stability of his throne amidst these dangers and distresses may prove a useful lesson to his successors, and show them the strength of a virtuous character, and that morality and religion form the best bulwark against those great evils to which all human governments are exposed. This small tribute of praise to the character and conduct of the British king, and gratitude to God for such a governor, will not be suspected of sinister motive; as the object of it is, by an inscrutable providence, placed in a situation to which neither envy, flattery, nor even just praise can approach, and where the majesty of the man is placed in the most awful yet respectable ruins. I have only one abatement to make: had this potentate been as adverse from War as he was from public and private vices, he would have been the most immaculate sovereign that ever held a scepter or wore a crown.

But to resume the subject, and conclude the argument: I wish particularly to show the utter unlawfulness of rebellion against a ruler, who, though he may be incorrect in his moral conduct, yet rules according to the laws; and the additional blessing of having a prince, who, while his political conduct is regulated by the principles of the constitution, has his heart and life regulated by the dictates of eternal truth, as contained in that revelation which came from God.

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Let every soul - Every person. In the seven first verses of this chapter, the apostle discusses the subject of the duty which Christians owe to civil government; a subject which is extremely important, and at the same time exceedingly difficult. There is no doubt that he had express reference to the special situation of the Christians at Rome; but the subject was of so much importance that he gives it a “general” bearing, and states the great principles on which all Christians are to act. The circumstances which made this discussion proper and important were the following:

(1) The Christian religion was designed to extend throughout the world. Yet it contemplated the rearing of a kingdom amid other kingdoms, an empire amid other empires. Christians professed supreme allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ; he was their Lawgiver, their Sovereign, their Judge. It became, therefore, a question of great importance and difficulty, “what kind” of allegiance they were to render to earthly magistrates.

(2) the kingdoms of the world were then “pagan” kingdoms. The laws were made by pagans, and were adapted to the prevalence of paganism. Those kingdoms had been generally founded in conquest, and blood, and oppression. Many of the monarchs were blood-stained warriors; were unprincipled men; and were polluted in their private, and oppressive in their public character. Whether Christians were to acknowledge the laws of such kingdoms and of such men, was a serious question, and one which could not but occur very early. It would occur also very soon, in circumstances that would be very affecting and trying. Soon the hands of these magistrates were to be raised against Christians in the fiery scenes of persecution; and the duty and extent of submission to them became a matter of very serious inquiry.

(3) many of the early Christians were composed of Jewish converts. Yet the Jews had long been under Roman oppression, and had borne the foreign yoke with great uneasiness. The whole pagan magistracy they regarded as founded in a system of idolatry; as opposed to God and his kingdom; and as abomination in his sight. With these feelings they had become Christians; and it was natural that their former sentiments should exert an influence on them after their conversion. How far they should submit, if at all, to heathen magistrates, was a question of deep interest; and there was danger that the “Jewish” converts might prove to be disorderly and rebellious citizens of the empire.

(4) nor was the case much different with the “Gentile” converts. They would naturally look with abhorrence on the system of idolatry which they had just forsaken. They would regard all as opposed to God. They would denounce the “religion” of the pagans as abomination; and as that religion was interwoven with the civil institutions, there was danger also that they might denounce the government altogether, and be regarded as opposed to the laws of the land,

(5) there “were” cases where it was right to “resist” the laws. This the Christian religion clearly taught; and in cases like these, it was indispensable for Christians to take a stand. When the laws interfered with the rights of conscience; when they commanded the worship of idols, or any moral wrong, then it was their duty to refuse submission. Yet in what cases this was to be done, where the line was to be drawn, was a question of deep importance, and one which was not easily settled. It is quite probable, however, that the main danger was, that the early Christians would err in “refusing” submission, even when it was proper, rather than in undue conformity to idolatrous rites and ceremonies.

(6) in the “changes” which were to occur in human governments, it would be an inquiry of deep interest, what part Christians should take, and what submission they should yield to the various laws which might spring up among the nations. The “principles” on which Christians should act are settled in this chapter.

Be subject - Submit. The word denotes that kind of submission which soldiers render to their officers. It implies “subordination;” a willingness to occupy our proper place, to yield to the authority of those over us. The word used here does not designate the “extent” of the submission, but merely enjoins it in general. The general principle will be seen to be, that we are to obey in all things which are not contrary to the Law of God.

The higher powers - The magistracy; the supreme government. It undoubtedly here refers to the Roman magistracy, and has relation not so much to the rulers as to the supreme “authority” which was established as the constitution of government; compare Matthew 10:1; Matthew 28:18.

For - The apostle gives a “reason” why Christians should be subject; and that reason is, that magistrates have received their appointment from God. As Christians, therefore, are to be subject to God, so they are to honor “God” by honoring the arrangement which he has instituted for the government of mankind. Doubtless, he here intends also to repress the vain curiosity and agitation with which men are prone to inquire into the “titles” of their rulers; to guard them from the agitation and conflicts of party, and of contentions to establish a favorite on the throne. It might be that those in power had not a proper title to their office; that they had secured it, not according to justice, but by oppression; but into that question Christians were not to enter. The government was established, and they were not to seek to overturn it.

No power - No office; no magistracy; no civil rule.

But of God - By God‘s permission, or appointment; by the arrangements of his providence, by which those in office had obtained their power. God often claims and asserts that “He” sets up one, and puts down another; Psalm 75:7; Daniel 2:21; Daniel 4:17, Daniel 4:25, Daniel 4:34-35.

The powers that be - That is, all the civil magistracies that exist; those who have the “rule” over nations, by whatever means they may have obtained it. This is equally true at all times, that the powers that exist, exist by the permission and providence of God.

Are ordained of God - This word “ordained” denotes the “ordering” or “arrangement” which subsists in a “military” company, or army. God sets them “in order,” assigns them their location, changes and directs them as he pleases. This does not mean that he “originates” or causes the evil dispositions of rulers, but that he “directs” and “controls” their appointment. By this, we are not to infer:

(1)That he approves their conduct; nor,

(2)That what they do is always right; nor,

(3)That it is our duty “always” to submit to them.

Their requirements “may be” opposed to the Law of God, and then we are to obey God rather than man; Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29. But it is meant that the power is intrusted to them by God; and that he has the authority to remove them when he pleases. If they abuse their power, however, they do it at their peril; and “when” so abused, the obligation to obey them ceases. That this is the case, is apparent further from the nature of the “question” which would be likely to arise among the early Christians. It “could not be” and “never was” a question, whether they should obey a magistrate when he commanded a thing that was plainly contrary to the Law of God. But the question was, whether they should obey a pagan magistrate at “all.” This question the apostle answers in the affirmative, because “God” had made government necessary, and because it was arranged and ordered by his providence. Probably also the apostle had another object in view. At the time in which he wrote this Epistle, the Roman Empire was agitated with civil dissensions. One emperor followed another in rapid succession. The throne was often seized, not by right, but by crime. Different claimants would rise, and their claims would excite controversy. The object of the apostle was to prevent Christians from entering into those disputes, and from taking an active part in a political controversy. Besides, the throne had been “usurped” by the reigning emperors, and there was a prevalent disposition to rebel against a tyrannical government. Claudius had been put to death by poison; Caligula in a violent manner; Nero was a tyrant; and amidst these agitations, and crimes, and revolutions, the apostle wished to guard Christians from taking an active part in political affairs.

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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

Haldane's Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans

Letevery soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.

In this verse the Apostle first states the duty he enjoins on Christians towards civil rulers. Next he states the ground on which the command rests as the reason why he gives the injunction: every government is to be obeyed, because there is no government but of God. Lastly, he brings it home to the existing government under which the servants of God are placed. Let every soul. — This most comprehensive expression shows that to every Christian, in every country, in all variety of situations, and on all occasions, the doctrine which the Apostle is about to teach is applicable. Be subject unto the higher powers. — By this expression is meant the persons who possess the supreme authority, who are in the 3rd verse denominated rulers. Government, in our language, is a term of similar import. No phrase could more clearly and definitely express the duty of subjection to the civil rulers whom God has placed over us, than that which the Apostle here employs. This passage expressly enjoins obedience to all governments equally. The word rendered ‘powers’ wants the article, and has not an exclusive reference to the Roman government. It comprehends governments universally. Had any of the Roman Christians gone beyond the bounds of the empire, their duty of obedience to the government of the country is here as expressly enjoined as it is to the powers of the empire itself. And the foreigners who may have belonged to countries beyond the limits of the empire, are here taught obedience to the powers of Rome while in the country, and obedience to the powers of their own country when they should have returned home. The Apostle speaks of ‘powers’ without peculiar reference. Every one, without exception, is, by the command of God, to be subject to the existing powers, whatever were the means by which they became possessed of the situation in which they stand. Caesar subverted the laws of his country, Jeroboam established idolatry, and Nebuchadnezzar carried Judah captive.

Yet the successors of Caesar were recognized by Jesus, and were the rulers of the Roman empire when the Apostle wrote; Jeroboam was expressly appointed by God as king over the ten tribes; and the oppressed Jews were commanded to pray for the peace of Babylon. For there is no power but of God. — The meaning of the first clause, ‘Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers,’ is clear as noonday; this second gives the reason why subjection is demanded, — for there is no power but of God; not ‘by Divine permission,’ according to Mr. Stuart, but by Divine appointment. The expression of or from God, cannot mean Divine permission. What we permit is not in any sense of us. There is no power but of God; because it is God in His providence who confers power on every man who holds it. No tyrant ever seized power till God gave it him. The words ‘no power’ referred neither to kinds of powers nor order in government, but necessarily apply to every civil ruler under heaven.

Were there any doubt with respect to the sense in which the power is of God, it would be entirely removed by the next clause of the verse, in which the existing powers are said to be ordained of God. The power, then, is ‘of God,’ in the sense, as is there declared, of being ‘ordained of God.’ The 4th verse also decides this to be the meaning of the phrase, where the ruler is twice said to be the minister of God. Civil rulers, then, are the ministers of God; if so, they must be of God’s own appointment.

The worst government in any country is of God, and is calculated to effect His purposes and promote His glory. Wicked rulers are necessary in God’s plans to punish wicked nations. It is not merely the form of civil government that is from God, but the governors. Dr. Macknight says that God ‘has left it to the people to choose what form is most agreeable to themselves, and to commit the exercise of the supreme power to what persons they think fit. And, therefore, whatever form of government hath been chosen, or is established in any country, hath the Divine sanction.’

This is neither consonant to fact nor to Scripture. In most countries the people have had nothing to do with the choice of their governors. The powers are of God not on this account, but they are of God because they are of His setting up. Whatever may have been the means of their exaltation, it is God who has exalted them either for a blessing or a curse to the people. They who enjoin obedience to civil government on the supposition of implied compacts or conventions, overturn the ground on which it is rested by the word of God. The powers that be are ordained of God — Here every evasion is taken away from the ingenuity of sophistry. It will not be of any avail to attempt to limit allegiance according to the conduct of rulers, or the means by which they have acquired their authority. The existing powers in every country, and in every age, are ordained 60 of God. Nero was as truly a ruler ordained of God as Titus or Antoninus. The Divine appointment of the government that is over us, is the ground on which the duty of our submission rests; and the powers that be that exist in any country — are appointed by God. ‘The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He wills and setteth up over it the basest of men,’ Daniel 4:17 ‘I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by My great power, and by My outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto Me,’ Jeremiah 27:5. Here we see how God disposes of kingdoms, and appoints their rulers according to His sovereign pleasure. It was God who set up Pharaoh, the cruel and tyrannical oppressor of Israel. ‘And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee My power; and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth,’ Exodus 9:16. ‘He putteth down one, and setteth up another,’ Psalm 75:7.

60: That ordained, or appointed, is here the proper rendering of the original word that a more faithful translation could not possibly be given, and that all the attempts which have been made to impose on it a different sense are unfounded, is fully established by Dr. Earson in his Review of Dr. John Brown on the law of Christ respecting Civil Obedience, especially on the Duty of paying Tribute, 1838. That review contains also a full and critical discussion on the whole of Romans 13:1-7. Whoever wishes thoroughly to investigate the subject of which it treats, would do well to read this very able review, printed at Edinburgh by William Whyte & Co.

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Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Haldane, Robert. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Haldane's Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans and Hebrews". 1835.

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

The great need of Paul's revelation of the proper Christian attitude toward the secular state derived from a number of very important considerations. The whole Jewish nation groaned under the yoke of Roman tyranny, longed to escape it, and had participated in a number of bloody insurrections against Roman authority. Barabbas, who had come into conspicuous view at the time of Jesus' crucifixion, was a revolutionary, many others having preceded him. Further, at the very moment Paul was writing Romans, practically the whole Jewish nation was preparing its final insurrection which was destined to culminate only a few years later (70 A.D.) in the destruction of Jerusalem by Vespasian and Titus. The widespread Jewish attitude toward Rome was well known in Paul's day, and there can be little doubt that practically all of the Christians sympathized with it and were strongly tempted to aid the Jewish cause. To all such persons, the question of submission to a government like Rome Was the most burning question of the day.

Furthermore, the Christians themselves were widely regarded as a Jewish sect, were known to acknowledge supreme allegiance to the Messiah, and were easily confused with the extreme nationalistic movement among the Jews. Paul himself was mistaken for the leader of an insurrection by the military tribune himself (Acts 21:38); and thus, it was extremely important that Christian behavior should conform to a strict pattern of respect and submission to the lawful government. Otherwise, the whole Christian movement might have been swallowed up in the overwhelming destruction of Israel, then impending, and so soon to be accomplished.

Also, there were certain Christian practices which might have led them easily to despise the state. In all legal and disputes, Christians were encouraged to bypass the pagan courts of justice and settle, as far as possible, all such questions among themselves (1 Corinthians 6:1ff). They did not participate in the public festivals and ceremonies given over to the deification of the emperor, and might, therefore, have been suspect as enemies of the government. Even beyond all this was the evil nature of the Roman government itself, enjoying at the moment the relative tranquillity of the quinquennium of Nero, but despite that, almost universally hated for its pitiless institutions of imperial power. To the gentle, Spirit-filled Christian, Rome must certainly have appeared to be the seat of Satan himself, an impression that would have been "proved" in their view by the murders and debaucheries which occurred so soon thereafter, drowning Nero's administration in blood and shame.

It is such a background, therefore, which dramatizes Paul's instructions to Christians in this thirteenth chapter. Some have expressed wonder at Paul's sandwiching such commandments as these in between two tender and beautiful admonitions on love; but Paul knew what he was doing, and did it in such a manner that none could mistake his intention or misunderstand his commands. The "beseeching" attitude of the previous chapter gives way in this one to the majestic authority of the apostolic command which seems to say, "Make no mistake about it; this is an order!"

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. (Romans 13:1)

The state itself, no less than God's church, is a divine institution, existing by God's permission and authority, and absolutely necessary for the continuity of the race of people upon the earth; and it is the unqualified duty of the Christian to submit to it, except in whose situations where doing so would break the commandments of God. This cannot mean that the shameful deeds, of evil rulers are ever in any manner approved of God. It is not any particular implementation of the state's authority which is "ordained of God," but the existence of such an authority. Without such constituted authority, the whole world would sink in me chaos and ruin. Unbridled human nature is a savage beast that lies restless, and uneasy under the restraint imposed by the state, being ever ready, at the slightest opportunity, to break its chains and ravage the world with blood and terror.

Civilization itself is but the ice formed in process of ages over the turbulent stream of unbridled human passions. To our ancestors, that ice seemed secure and permanent; but, during the agony of the great war, it has rotted and cracked; and in places the submerged torrent has broken through, casting great fragments of our civilization into collision with one another, and threatening by their attrition to break up and disappear altogether.[1]

Thus, Stanley Baldwin described the disastrous effects which always accompany the dissolution of states and the breakdown of authority. Paul's revelation that the state is "ordained of God" and an effective instrument of the holy will is not a new doctrine invented by him to ease the Christian community through a difficult political period, but it is essential element of Jesus' teachings. In this connection, a little further attention to Christ's teachings in this sector is helpful.


Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). His kingdom lies, for the most part, within a sector totally removed and separated from the secular state, that institution being also "ordained of God" but charged with a different function, that of preserving order upon earth. Christ himself honored God's ordained institution, the state, ordered the payment of taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:21), declared that the authority of the procurator, Pontius Pilate, was given to him "from above" (John 19:11), prophetically identified the armies of Vespasian and Titus as those of God himself sent for the purpose of destroying those evil men and burning their city, the city of Jerusalem (Matthew 22:7), submitted to arrest, even illegal and unjust arrest (Matthew 26:47-56), refused to allow Peter to defend with the sword against such an outrage, and meekly accepted the death penalty itself, which the state unjustly exacted, and which Christ had ample means of avoiding (Matthew 26:53), but did not.

Christ never led a riot, organized an underground, criticized the government, or took the part of the Jews against Rome. He did not offer himself as an advocate against society on behalf of any so-called victim of social injustice; and, once, he even refused to aid a man who claimed that he had been robbed of his inheritance (Luke 12:13). Jesus Christ was not a revolutionary in any sense of that word today. Although it is true that his holy teachings had the profoundest influence upon the course of history, it was always as leaven and not as dynamite that his influence worked.

Some of Jesus' parables had as their significant and active premises the institutions of government, as exemplified by the "king" who stood for God (Matthew 22:2), the legal contract of the householder who let out his vineyard, and even the "unrighteous judge" who granted the plea of the importunate widow, his unrighteousness in no way preventing his appearance in the parable as analogous with God! Had the state and its institutions been otherwise than "ordained of God," it is unthinkable that Christ would have borrowed such illustrations and made them analogies for the conveyance of eternal truth. Christ's usage of such terms as the officer, the judge, and the prison, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:25) also fits this conclusion.

All of the apostles understood and reiterated' Jesus' teaching in this field. Both Paul (here) and Peter (1 Peter 2:13-17) emphatically underscored this teaching. Not merely those laws of the state conceived of as "just laws" are to be obeyed; but, as Peter said, "every ordinance of man" was to be obeyed. In the New Testament, there was never any hint of Christians organizing any kind of campaign to change or nullify laws. That some laws were unjust was clear to all; but Paul sent a runaway slave back to his Christian master (Philemon 1:1:17), and provided specific instructions to both masters and slaves in his epistles to Ephesus and Colossae.

There is no suggestion here that the evil laws of Rome may be justified, nor the evil laws of any other state; but, in the light of Christian acceptance of such laws under the direct guidance of Christ and the apostles, the conclusion is demanded that the constituted government must be viewed as "ordained of God" and entitled to Christian obedience. Over and above all this, there stands the commandment of the apostles that the public prayers of Christians should constantly be directed to God upon the behalf of the state and its lawful representatives, on behalf of "kings and all that are in high place" (1 Timothy 2:1,2), to the intent that Christians might be permitted to "lead a tranquil life in all godliness and gravity," thus, by implication, making the provision of such privilege for Christians being the state's intended function.

To those persons, present in every age, who reject the meek and submissive attitude of Christ regarding earthly governments, and prefer instead the belligerent posture of the aggressive revolutionary, it should be pointed out that this is not a new attitude but an old and discredited one. It existed contemporaneously with Christ and the apostles. The Jewish people preferred Barabbas the seditionist to the gentle Jesus; but it must be added that when they finally got the revolution they wanted, it terminated in a situation far worse than what existed previously. The tragic results of taking the route of Barabbas, instead of the way of Christ, may serve as a classical example of the superiority of Jesus' way. In our own beloved America today, those people who are flirting with revolutionary schemes, if they should ever have their way, shall certainly overwhelm themselves and their posterity with sorrows, and far from attaining any worthy goals, will reap a gory harvest of tragedy and disappointment.

Then, may it never be overlooked that the established order in the civilized world, in spite of its deficiency, despite the inequalities and injustices, despite its halting and stumbling, is still far better than anarchy; and that, even if some complete overthrow of established institutions should occur, the new order, judged in the light of what history invariably discloses, would be no better than the old and would probably be much worse, especially when contrasted with the magnificent and benevolent policies already existing in our own beloved United States.

To that affluent host of Christians in present-day America, let it be thundered that they must not now allow the submerged torrent of blood, lust, and anarchy to break through. This may be prevented by their love, support, honor, and prayers for the present government, and by the necessity of their voting in a manner consistent with their prayers, to the end that the government may be able to survive the assaults being made upon it by forces of evil; and may their diligence in this be stimulated by the thought that if a breakthrough against the government succeeds, none will survive it, least of all, those who sought the tranquil life as God directed.

Present-day Christians are the privileged heirs of the greatest earthly inheritance ever known in the history of the world, a fact that angers Satan. Don't throw it away, or allow some revolutionary to rape you intellectually and rob you of it. And if, through indifference or tacit support, you should ever contribute to the overthrow of present institutions, and if you should live for a single day without the legacy you now hold in your hands, an ocean of tears could not ease your heartbreak or give you another inheritance like the one in which you now stand secure. Keep it! We currently pass through an era that glorifies the extremist; the seductive voices of the far left are calling; stop your ears and bind yourselves to the mast, like the sailors of Ulysses. Death and destruction shall reward you if you turn your back upon the teachings of the Saviour and cast in your destiny with the seditionists. The Marxists, revolutionaries, Rousseauists, and screaming agitators are not the friends of the people but enemies. To trust them is to have your throats cut and to lose your souls also.

Take up the whole armour of God that ye may be able to stand against all the fiery darts of the evil one, and having done all, STAND (Ephesians 6:13f).

Reject every form of extremism, and heed the apostolic injunction to "Let your moderation be known unto all men" (Philippians 4:5).

Implications of the Christian attitude toward the state are far-reaching and include the deduction that Christians may serve in military or political capacity, vote, and engage freely in the participation allowed and encouraged by the state itself, the only restriction being that conscience, being under God above all, should not be defiled. It is a comment upon the extreme worthiness of our own government, as compared to other worldly states, that many Christians do share in the management of its institutions and hold offices of public trust, the nation being far better off for the presence of such citizens within the structure of its political and institutions.


[1] Sir Stanley Baldwin, Address: Truth and Politics, delivered at Edinburgh University, November 6,1925. Modern Essays of Various Types (New York: Charles E. Merrill Company, 1927), p. 213.

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James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers,.... The apostle having finished his exhortations to this church, in relation to the several duties incumbent upon both officers and private Christians, as members of a church, and with reference to each other, and their moral conduct in the world; proceeds to advise, direct, and exhort them to such duties as were relative to them as members of a civil society; the former chapter contains his Christian Ethics, and this his Christian Politics. There was the greater reason to insist upon the latter, as well as on the former, since the primitive saints greatly lay under the imputation of being seditious persons and enemies to the commonwealth; which might arise from a very great number of them being Jews, who scrupled subjection to the Heathen magistrates, because they were the seed of Abraham, and by a law were not to set one as king over them, that was a stranger, and not their own brother, and very unwillingly bore the Roman yoke, and paid tribute to Caesar: hence the Christians in common were suspected to be of the same principles; and of all the Jews none were more averse to the payment of taxes to the Roman magistrates than the Galilaeans; see Acts 5:37. And this being the name by which Christ and his followers were commonly called, might serve to strengthen the above suspicion of them, and charge against them. Moreover, some Christians might be tempted to think that they should not be subject to Heathen magistrates; since they were generally wicked men, and violent persecutors of them; and that it was one branch of their Christian liberty to be freed from subjection to them: and certain it is, that there were a set of loose and licentious persons, who bore the name of Christians, that despised dominion, and spoke evil of dignities; wherefore the apostle judged it advisable especially to exhort the church of Rome, and the members who dwelt there, where was the seat of power and civil government, so to behave towards their superiors, that they might set a good example to the Christians in the several parts of the empire, and wipe off the aspersion that was cast upon them, as if they were enemies to magistracy and civil power. By "the higher powers", he means not angels, sometimes called principalities and powers; for unto these God hath not put in subjection his people under the Gospel dispensation; nor ecclesiastical officers, or those who are in church power and authority; for they do not bear the temporal sword, nor have any power to inflict corporeal punishment: but civil magistrates are intended, see Titus 3:1; and these not only supreme magistrates, as emperors and kings, but all inferior and subordinate ones, acting in commission under them, as appears from 1 Peter 2:13, which are called "powers", because they are invested with power and authority over others, and have a right to exercise it in a proper way, and in proper cases; and the "higher" or super eminent ones, because they are set in high places, and have superior dignity and authority to others. The persons that are to be subject to them are "every soul"; not that the souls of men, distinct from their bodies, are under subjection to civil magistrates; for of all things they have the least to do with them, their power and jurisdiction not reaching to the souls, the hearts, and consciences of men, especially in matters of religion, but chiefly to their bodies, and outward civil concerns of life: but the meaning is, that every man that has a soul, every rational creature, ought to be subject to civil government. This is but his reasonable service, and which he should from his heart, and with all his soul, cheerfully perform. In short, the sense is, that every man should be subject: this is an Hebraism, a common way of speaking among the Jews, who sometimes denominate men from one part, and sometimes from another; sometimes from the body or flesh, thus "all flesh is grass", Isaiah 40:6, that is, all men are frail; and sometimes front the soul, "all souls are mine", Ezekiel 18:4, all belong to me; as here, "every soul", that is, every man, all the individuals of mankind, of whatsoever sex, age, state, or condition, ecclesiastics not excepted: the pope, and his clergy, are not exempted from civil jurisdiction; nor any of the true ministers of the Gospel; the priests under the law were under the civil government; and so was Christ himself, and his apostles, who paid tribute to Caesar; yea, even Peter particularly, whose successor the pope of Rome pretends to be. "Subjection" to the civil magistrates designs and includes all duties relative to them; such as showing them respect, honour, and reverence suitable to their stations; speaking well of them, and their administration; using them with candour, not bearing hard upon them for little matters, and allowing for ignorance of the secret springs of many of their actions and conduct, which if known might greatly justify them; wishing well to them, and praying constantly, earnestly, and heartily for them; observing their laws and injunctions; obeying their lawful commands, which do not contradict the laws of God, nature, and right reason; and paying them their just dues and lawful tribute, to support them in their office and dignity:

for there is no power but of God; God is the fountain of all power and authority; the streams of power among creatures flow from him; the power that man has over all the creatures, the fowls of the air, the beasts of the field, and the fishes of the sea, is originally of God, and by a grant from him; the lesser powers, and the exercises of them, in the various relations men stand in to one another, are of God, as the power the husband has over the wife, parents over their children, and masters over their servants; and so the higher power that princes have over their subjects: for it is the God of heaven that sets up kings, as well as pulls them down; he is the King of kings, from whom they derive their power and authority, from whom they have the right of government, and all the qualifications for it; it is by him that kings reign, and princes decree justice.

The powers that be are ordained of God. The order of magistracy is of God; it is of his ordination and appointment, and of his ordering, disposing, and fixing in its proper bounds and limits. The several forms of government are of human will and pleasure; but government itself is an order of God. There may be men in power who assume it of themselves, and are of themselves, and not of God; and others that abuse the power that is lodged in them; who, though they are by divine permission, yet not of God's approbation and good will. And it is observable, that the apostle speaks of powers, and not persons, at least, not of persons, but under the name of powers, to show that he means not this, or the other particular prince or magistrate, but the thing itself, the office and dignity of magistracy itself; for there may be some persons, who may of themselves usurp this office, or exercise it in a very illegal way, who are not of God, nor to be subject to by men. The apostle here both uses the language, and speaks the sentiments of his countrymen the Jews, who are wont to call magistrates, "powers"; hence those sayings were used among them; says ShemaiahF20Pirke Abot, c. 1. sect. 10. ,

"twvrl edwtt la, "be not too familiar with the power".'

that is, with a magistrate, which oftentimes is dangerous. Again,

"saysF21Ib. c. 2. sect. 3. Rabban Gamaliel, היו זהירין ברשות, "take heed of the power" (i.e. of magistrates), for they do not suffer a man to come near them, but in necessity, and then they appear as friends for their own advantage, but will not stand by a man in the time of distress.'

Moreover, after this manner they explainF23T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 17. 1. Proverbs 5:8,

""remove thy way far from her", this is heresy; "and come not nigh the door of her house", זו הרשות, "this is the power". The gloss on it is, magistrates, because they set their eyes upon rich men to kill them, and take away their substance.'

And a little after it is observed,

""the horse leech hath two daughters, crying, give, give", Proverbs 30:15, it is asked, what is the meaning of give, give? Says Mar Ukba, there are two daughters which cry out of hell, and say in this world, give, give, and they are heresy, והרשות, "and the civil power".'

The gloss on this place is,

"Heresy cries, bring a sacrifice to the idol; "Civil Power" cries, bring money, and gifts, and revenues, and tribute to the king.'

Nevertheless, they look upon civil government to be of divine appointment. They sayF24In Buxtorf. Florileg. Heb. p. 178. , that

"no man is made a governor below, except they proclaim him above;'

i.e. unless he is ordained of God: yea, they allowF25T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 18. 1. the Roman empire to be of God, than which no government was more disagreeable to them.

"When R. Jose ben Kisma was sick, R. Chanina ben Tradion went to visit him; he said unto him, Chanina, my brother, my brother, knowest thou not that this nation, (the Romans) מן השמים המליכוה, "have received their empire" from God? for it hath laid waste his house, and hath burnt his temple, and has slain his saints, and destroyed his good men, and yet it endures.'

Nay, they frequently affirmF26T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 51. 1. Bava Bathra, fol. 91. 2. Jarchi in 1 Chron. xxix. 11. , that the meanest office of power among men was of divine appointment. This is the apostle's first argument for subjection to the civil magistrate.

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Gill, John. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

Let 1 every a soul be subject unto the higher 2 powers. 3 For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are b ordained of God.

(1) Now he distinctly shows what subjects owe to their magistrates, that is, obedience: from which he shows that no man is free: and the obedience we owe is such that it is not only due to the highest magistrate himself, but also even to the lowest, who has any office under him.

(a) Indeed, though an apostle, though an evangelist, though a prophet; Chrysostom. Therefore the tyranny of the pope over all kingdoms must be thrown down to the ground. {(2)} A reason taken from the nature of the thing itself: for to what purpose are they placed in higher degree, but in order that the inferiors should be subject to them? {(3)} Another argument of great force: because God is author of this order: so that those who are rebels ought to know that they make war with God himself: and because of this they purchase for themselves great misery and calamity.

(b) Be distributed: for some are greater, some smaller.

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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Every soul (πασα πσυχηpāsa psuchē). As in Romans 2:9; Acts 2:43. A Hebraism for πας αντρωποςpās anthrōpos (every man).

To the higher powers (εχουσιαις υπερεχουσαιςexousiais huperechousais). Abstract for concrete. See note on Mark 2:10 for εχουσιαexousia υπερεχωHuperechō is an old verb to have or hold over, to be above or supreme, as in 1 Peter 2:13.

Except by God (ει μη υπο τεουei mē hupo theou). So the best MSS. rather than απο τεουapo theou (from God). God is the author of order, not anarchy.

The powers that be (αι ουσαιhai ousai). “The existing authorities” (supply εχουσιαιexousiai). Art ordained (τεταγμεναι εισινtetagmenai eisin). Periphrastic perfect passive indicative of τασσωtassō “stand ordained by God.” Paul is not arguing for the divine right of kings or for any special form of government, but for government and order. Nor does he oppose here revolution for a change of government, but he does oppose all lawlessness and disorder.

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Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

Every soul

Every man. See on Romans 11:3.

Higher powers ( ἐξουσίαις ὑπερεχούσαις )

Lit., authorities which have themselves over. See on Mark 2:10; see on John 1:12.

The powers that be ( αἱ δὲ οὖσαι )

Lit., the existing. Powers is not in the text, and is supplied from the preceding clause.

Are ordained ( τεταγμέναι εἰσίν )

Perfect tense: Have been ordained, and the ordinance remains in force. See on set under authority, Luke 7:8.

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Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

St. Paul, writing to the Romans, whose city was the seat of the empire, speaks largely of obedience to magistrates: and this was also, in effect, a public apology for the Christian religion.

Let every soul be subject to the supreme powers — An admonition peculiarly needful for the Jews. Power, in the singular number, is the supreme authority; powers are they who are invested with it. That is more readily acknowledged to be from God than these. The apostle affirms it of both. They are all from God, who constituted all in general, and permits each in particular by his providence.

The powers that be are appointed by God — It might be rendered, are subordinate to, or, orderly disposed under, God; implying, that they are God's deputies or vicegerents and consequently, their authority being, in effect, his, demands our conscientious obedience.

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament

Subject; obedient and submissive.--The higher powers; those of the civil government.

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Abbott, John S. C. & Abbott, Jacob. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Abbott's Illustrated New Testament". 1878.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

1.Let every soul, (399) etc. Inasmuch as he so carefully handles this subject in connection with what forms the Christian life, it appears that he was constrained to do so by some great necessity which existed especially in that age, though the preaching of the gospel at all times renders this necessary. There are indeed always some tumultuous spirits who believe that the kingdom of Christ cannot be sufficiently elevated, unless all earthly powers be abolished, and that they cannot enjoy the liberty given by him, except they shake off every yoke of human subjection. This error, however, possessed the minds of the Jews above all others; for it seemed to them disgraceful that the offspring of Abraham, whose kingdom flourished before the Redeemer’s coming, should now, after his appearance, continue in submission to another power. There was also another thing which alienated the Jews no less than the Gentiles from their rulers, because they all not only hated piety, but also persecuted religion with the most hostile feelings. Hence it seemed unreasonable to acknowledge them for legitimate princes and rulers, who were attempting to take away the kingdom from Christ, the only Lord of heaven and earth.

By these reasons, as it is probable, Paul was induced to establish, with greater care than usual, the authority of magistrates, and first he lays down a general precept, which briefly includes what he afterwards says: secondly, he subjoins an exposition and a proof of his precept.

He calls them the higher powers, (400) not the supreme, who possess the chief authority, but such as excel other men. Magistrates are then thus called with regard to their subjects, and not as compared with each other. And it seems indeed to me, that the Apostle intended by this word to take away the frivolous curiosity of men, who are wont often to inquire by what right they who rule have obtained their authority; but it ought to be enough for us, that they do rule; for they have not ascended by their own power into this high station, but have been placed there by the Lord’s hand. And by mentioning every soul, he removes every exception, lest any one should claim an immunity from the common duty of obedience. (401)

For there is no power, etc. The reason why we ought to be subject to magistrates is, because they are constituted by God’s ordination. For since it pleases God thus to govern the world, he who attempts to invert the order of God, and thus to resist God himself, despises his power; since to despise the providence of him who is the founder of civil power, is to carry on war with him. Understand further, that powers are from God, not as pestilence, and famine, and wars, and other visitations for sin, are said to be from him; but because he has appointed them for the legitimate and just government of the world. For though tyrannies and unjust exercise of power, as they are full of disorder, ( ἀταξίας)are not an ordained government; yet the right of government is ordained by God for the wellbeing of mankind. As it is lawful to repel wars and to seek remedies for other evils, hence the Apostle commands us willingly and cheerfully to respect and honor the right and authority of magistrates, as useful to men: for the punishment which God inflicts on men for their sins, we cannot properly call ordinations, but they are the means which he designedly appoints for the preservation of legitimate order.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

Vv. 1. "Let every soul submit itself unto the higher powers; for there is no power but of God, and the powers that be are ordained of God."— Why does the apostle say: every soul, instead of every man, or rather every believer? Is he alluding to the fact that submission ought to proceed from the inmost sanctuary of the human being (the conscience, Romans 13:5)? The word every does not correspond well with this explanation; it leads rather to the thought that the apostle means to express that a duty is involved which is naturally incumbent on every human being. This is not an obligation on the believer arising from his spiritual life, like the precepts of chap. 12; it is an obligation of the psychical life which is the common domain of mankind. Every free and reasonable being should recognize its suitableness.

The present imperative, ὑποτασσέσθω, let it submit itself, indicates a reflex action, exercised by the man on himself, and that permanently. This expression is, indeed, the counterpart of the term σωφρονεῖν, to control oneself, in chap. 12

The term higher powers does not denote merely the highest class of authorities in the state. It is all those powers in general and of all degrees; they are thus designated as being raised above the simple citizen; comp. Romans 13:7.

The second part of this verse justifies the duty of submission, and that for two reasons: the first is the divine origin of the state as an institution; the second, the will of God which controls the raising of individuals to office at any given time. The first proposition has the character of a general principle. This appears—(1) from the singular ἐξουσία, power; comp. the same word in the plural before and after, in the same verse, which proves that Paul means to speak of power in itself, and not of its historical and particular realizations; (2) from the negative form of the proposition: "there is not but of"...; this form corresponds also to the enunciation of an abstract principle; (3) from the choice of the preposition ἀπό, of, or on the part of, which indicates the origin and essence of the fact. It is true the Alexs. and Byzs. read ὑπό, by, in this proposition as well as in the following. But this is one of the cases in which the Greco-Latin text has certainly preserved the true reading. It is clear, whatever Tischendorf may think, that the copyists have changed the first preposition according to that of the following clause. Meyer himself acknowledges this. We shall see that as thoroughly as ἀπό corresponds to the idea of the first proposition, so thoroughly does ὑπό apply to that of the second. Paul means, therefore, first, that the institution of the state is according to the plan of God who created man as a social being; so that we are called to recognize in the existence of a power (authority) the realization of a divine thought. In the second proposition he goes further ( δέ, and, moreover). He declares that at each time the very persons who are established in office occupy this exalted position only in virtue of a divine dispensation. This gradation from the first idea to the second appears—(1) from the particle δέ; (2) from the participle οὖσαι, those who are, that is to say, who are there; this term added here would be superfluous if it did not denote the historical fact in opposition to the idea; (3) from the return to the plural (the powers), which proves that Paul means again to designate here, as in the first part of the verse, the manifold realizations of social power; (4) from the affirmative form of the proposition, which applies to the real fact; (5) from the preposition ὑπό, by, which more naturally describes the historical fact than would be done by the preposition ἀπό, on the part of.

The word ἐξουσίαι in the T. R. is probably only a copyist"s addition.

But for the very reason of this precept it is asked: If it is not merely the state in itself which is a thought of God, but if the very individuals who possess the power at a given time are set up by His will, what are we to do in a period of revolution, when a new power is violently substituted for another? This question, which the apostle does not raise, may, according to the principles he lays down, be resolved thus: The Christian will submit to the new power as soon as the resistance of the old shall have ceased. In the actual state of matters he will recognize the manifestation of God"s will, and will take no part whatever in any reactionary plot. But should the Christian support the power of the state even in its unjust measures? No, there is nothing to show that the submission required by Paul includes active co-operation; it may even show itself in the form of passive resistance, and it does not at all exclude protestation in word and even resistance in deed, provided that to this latter there be joined the calm acceptance of the punishment inflicted; comp. the conduct of the apostles and Peter"s answer, Acts 5:29; Acts 5:40-42. This submissive but at the same time firm conduct is also a homage to the inviolability of authority; and experience proves that it is in this way all tyrannies have been morally broken, and all true progress in the history of humanity effected.

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Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books".

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary


‘Let every soul be subject unto the higher power. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.’

Romans 13:1

St. Paul is enforcing obedience to authority as a duty owed to God, and doubtless he realised the deep importance of the advice he was giving.

He lays stress upon it for many reasons.

I. Because the Jews in Rome were, as a race, antagonistic to the authority under which they were living. Obedience to it seemed to them to be directly opposed to all the teaching they had inherited. Already once they had been expelled from the city on account of their turbulence and disaffection. And St. Paul would have the Jewish Christians show no sympathy with such a rebellious attitude, but be above suspicion, standing aloof in this respect from their kinsfolk after the flesh.

II. Because Christians belong to another Kingdom, the Divine Kingdom, and there was a danger lest they should suppose that they were thereby released from earthly obligations. Hence it was all-important that they should bear in mind that inheritors though they were of the Kingdom of Heaven, their duty to earthly rulers remained unchanged. Nay, they must place it on a higher level, for they must accept their authority as ordained of God. It was for them to conduct themselves as good and loyal citizens under whatever rule they might find themselves.

III. How wise and far-reaching is this advice as we look into it!

(a) It has to do with rulers. We lose much of the force of the words if we do not perceive in them a protest against the tyranny of rulers. ‘There is no power but of God.’ He is speaking of the powers, not of the men who wield them.

(b) It has to do with the ruled. Obedience always brings its own reward. The man who obeys for conscience sake is doing a work which can never be thrown on one side or overthrown.

Bishop C. J. Ridgeway.


‘Nero is Emperor at the time when this letter is written, a monster of cruelty, the incarnation of wickedness, even in days when cruelty, profligacy, abuse of power are rampant in high places. And yet it is Christians dwelling there the Apostle enjoins to be in subjection to “the powers that be.” It is important to bear in mind that this duty of obedience to authority is no new thing, demanded for the first time by the religion of Christ. What Christianity does is to place this, like other duties that have been in the past, upon a higher ground than before.’

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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Ver. 1. Let every soul be subject] In things lawful only; for else we must answer as those apostles did, Acts 4:29, and as Polycarp, who being commanded to blaspheme Christ, and to swear by the fortune of Caesar, peremptorily refused, and said, We are taught to give honour to princes and potentates, but such honour as is not contrary to God’s religion.

Ordained of God] In regard of its institution, though for the manner of its constitution it is of man.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Sermon Bible Commentary

Romans 13:1

The Principles and Method of Christian Civilisation.

I. It may not be certain that this Epistle was written at one of the worst moments of Roman tyranny. It may possibly belong to that short interval of promise which preceded the full outburst of Nero's natural atrocity. But the character which the empire had assumed must have been perfectly well known to St. Paul. It could have been no surprise to him that within a few years the Christians whom he was addressing should be called to expiate the emperor's own crime by frightful tortures, or that he himself should be one of the victims. He wrote to prepare them for such events. And yet he says, "Let every soul be subject to the higher powers, for they are ordained of God."

II. We lose, it seems to me, much of the Apostle's meaning, and pervert it to a purpose the most opposite to that which he contemplated, while, at the same time, we weaken the obligation which is laid upon us, if we do not perceive that these words contain the most strong and effectual protest ever made against the tyranny which they command Christian men patiently to endure. The very reason upon which St. Paul rests his exhortation to the Roman Christians is the reason which proves all such oppression as the Roman emperors were guilty of to be a false and hateful thing, a contradiction so gross and monstrous, that it can last only for a short time. "There is no power but of God." If the powers that be are ordained of men, they may be used according to the pleasure of men. It is merely a conflict between this form of self-will and that; between a despotism that exists and a despotism that is struggling to exist. If the powers that be are ordained of God, they must be designed to accomplish the good pleasure of God, all self-will must be at strife with a perfect will which is working continually for good. All efforts at absolute dominion must be a daring outrage upon Him who alone is absolute, and such struggles and such outrages, though they may be permitted a while for the fuller manifestation of that purpose which shall be accomplished in spite of them, have a lying root, and must at last come to nought.

F. D. Maurice, Christmas Day and Other Sermons, p. 393.

I. This text is a good illustration of the manner in which Christian doctrine is ever made by the apostles the ground of Christian duty. They do not often teach us new duties—in fact, there are very few duties in any part of the New Testament which were not either recognised in the Old, or else perceived to be duties by the light which is naturally in the human mind; but the great feature of the New Testament teaching is this, that all duties whatever are put upon a higher ground than they occupied before. What Christ has done for us is made the measure of what we should do and the argument why we should do it; and Christians are regarded not so much in the character of men who know more than their fellows, as in the character of men who feel themselves bound by the mercies of God and the love of Christ to offer themselves up a living sacrifice.

II. Note two or three reasons why we might have expected that the teaching of Christ's disciples would not omit to lay stress upon the duty of honouring and submitting to the Queen. (1) In the first place, the general spirit of gentleness and longsuffering which belonged to all the teaching of Christ would suggest that quiet submission to authority was the right course for Christians. (2) Again, it is not to be forgotten that Christ Himself was declared to be a King, and that all Christians become by their profession subjects of this new kingdom. And in this kingdom submission was to be unlimited and obedience complete; the very lesson which all Christians had to learn was that they were bound to give themselves up with all their power and all their might to be a living sacrifice to Him who redeemed them, and to do His will with all their soul and strength. Hence, to a Christian the name of King was sanctified by its having been assumed by Christ, and the relation of people to king was hallowed. (3) Once more, the example of our Lord Jesus Christ in the days of His flesh would have a great effect in enforcing such duties as those which the text contains. He who would not allow Himself to be made the means of insurrection when the people would take Him by force and make Him a King, and who paid the tribute to avoid giving offence, and who permitted Himself to be given up to the rulers and to be tried and condemned, would certainly have given His sanction to the doctrine of the text.

Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, vol. iv., p. 227.

References: Romans 13:1.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. viii., p. 88; C. Kingsley, National Sermons, p. 32. Romans 13:1-7.—Homilist, new series, vol. i., p. 141.

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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Romans 13:1. This epistle was written about the fourth year of the emperor Nero, about six years after Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome. It is not improbable, that, as Suetonius relates in the Life of Claudius, this was occasioned by the tumultuous disposition of the Jews, in one shape or other; whether upon a civil or religious account, is not easy to determine. However, we know that they had notions relating to government favourable to none but their own; and it was with great reluctance that they submitted to a foreign jurisdiction. The Christians, under a notion of their being the people of God, and the subjects of his kingdom, might be in danger of being infected by those unruly and rebellious sentiments: therefore the Apostle here points out their duty to the civilmagistrate. To understand him right, we must consider these two things: First, That these rules are given to Christians, who were members of the heathen commonwealth,—to shew them that, by being made Christians, and subjects of Christ's kingdom, they were not, through the freedom of the Gospel, exempt from any tiesof duty or subjection which by the laws of the country wherein they lived they were bound to observe,—from paying all due obedience to the government and magistrates, though heathens, in the same manner as was done by their heathen subjects. But on the other side, these rules did not tie them up, more than any of their fellow-citizens who were not Christians, from any of those due rights which by the law of nature, or the constitution of their country, belonged to them. Whatever any other of their fellow-subjects, being in a like station with them, might do without sinning, of that they were not abridged, but might still do the same, being Christians; the rule here being the same with that given by St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 7:17. As the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. The rules of civil right and wrong, whereby he is to walk, are to him the same that they were before. Secondly, We must consider, that St. Paul, in this direction to the Romans, does not so much describe the magistrates who were then in Rome, as relate whence they, and all magistrates every where, derive their authority; and for what end they have, and should use it: and this he does as becomes his prudence, to avoid bringing any imputation on the Christians from heathen magistrates; especially those insolent and vicious ones of Rome, who could not brook any thing to be told them as their duty, and so might be apt to interpret such plain truths, laid down in a dogmatical way, into sedition or treason;—a scandal cautiously to be kept off from the Christian doctrine. Nor does he, in what he says, in the least flatter the Roman emperor: for he speaks here of the higher powers, that is, the supreme civil power, which is in every commonwealth derived from God, and is of the same extent every where; that is, is absolute and unlimited by any thing, but the end for which God gave it; namely, the good of the people, sincerely pursued according to the best skill of those who share that power; and so is not to be resisted. But how men come by a rightful title to this power, or who has that title, the Apostle is wholly silent: to have meddled with that, would have been to decide of civil rights, contrary to the design and business of the Gospel, and the example of our Saviour. If the reader is attentive, he must be pleased to see in how small a compass, and with how much dexterity, truth, and gravity, the Apostle affirms and explains the foundation, the nature, ends, and just limits of the magistrate's authority, while he is pleading his cause, and teaching the subject the duty and obedience due to governors. See Locke.

Let every soul "Every one, however endowed with miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, or advanced to any dignity in the church of Christ:" for that these things were apt to make men overvalue themselves, is obvious from what St. Paul says to the Corinthians, 1 Ep. 12: and to the Romans 12:3-4. But, above all others, the Jews were apt to have an inward reluctancy and indignation against the power of any heathen over them, taking it to be an unjust and tyrannical usurpation uponthem, who were the people of God, and their betters. These the Apostle thought it necessary to restrain, and therefore says, "Every soul, that is, every person among you, whether Jew or Gentile, must live in subjection to the civil magistrate." We see by what St. Peter says on the like occasion, that there was great need that Christians should have this duty inculcated upon them, lest any among them should use their liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, or misbehaviour, 1 Peter 2:13-16. The doctrine of Christianity was a doctrine of liberty. Hence mistaken men, especially Jewish converts, impatient, as we have observed, of any heathen dominion, might be ready to infer, that Christians were exempt from subjection to the laws of heathen governments. This he obviates by telling them, that all other governments derived the power they had from God, as well as that of the Jews, though they had not the whole frame of their government immediately from him, as the Jews had. Whether we take the powers here, in the abstract, for political authority, or in the concrete for the persons de facto exercising political power and jurisdiction, the sense will be the same; viz. that Christians, by virtue of being Christians, are not any way exempt from obedience to the civil magistrates, nor ought by any means to resist them; though by what is said, Romans 13:3 it seems that St. Paul meant here magistrates having and exercising a lawful power. But whether the magistrates in being were or were not such, and consequently were or were not to be obeyed, that Christianity gave them no peculiar power to examine. They had the common right of others their fellow-citizens, but had no distinct privilege as Christians; and therefore we see, Romans 13:7 that where he enjoins the payingof tribute, custom, &c. it is in these words: Render to all their dues, tribute to whom tribute, honour to whom honour, &c. But who it was to whom any of these, or any other dues of right belonged, he decides not; for that he leaves them to be determined by the laws and constitutions of their country. Instead of ordained of God, we may render the original τεταγμεναι, by disposed, or established. See Acts 13:48. Divine Providence ranges, and in some sense establishes, the various governments of the world; they are therefore under the character of governments in the general to be revered: but this cannot make what is wrong and pernicious in any peculiar forms, sacred, divine, andimmutable; any more than the hand of God in a famine or pestilence, is an argument against seeking proper means to remove it. See Locke, Doddridge, and Mintert.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

Observe here, 1. The title given to magistrates, they are powers, higher powers, that is, persons invested with power, and placed in supreme authority over us. All mankind is not of one rank, doth not stand upon an equal level. Magistracy is an eminency or superiority of some persons above others.

Observe, 2. The original fountain from whence all power is derived from God, and is to be used for God; the magistrate acts by his authority, and consequently is to act for his interest, honour, and glory. It is agreeable to the will of God, that there should be such a thing as magistracy and government in the world; and it is his appointment that men should be governed by men deriving the power and authority from him: The powers that be are ordained of God.

Observe, 3. The apostle's strict injunction for subjection unto magistracy, as a divine ordinance: Let every soul be subject, that is, every person, by he of what rank, or in what station he will, high or low, honourable or ignoble, rich or poor, clergy or laity, he must be subject to God's ordinance.

Where note, That Christ is a friend to Caesar, and Christianity no enemy to loyalty: the best Christians are always the best subjects; none so true to their prince, as they that are most faithful to their God. Obedience to magistrates is both the duty of Christians, and the interest of Christianity.

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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. 1700-1703.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

1.] ὑποτασσέσθω, see 1 Corinthians 16:16, is reflective, subject himself, i.e. ‘be subject of his own free will and accord.’

For there is no authority (in heaven or earth—no power at all) except from God: and (so δέ, 2 Corinthians 6:15-16. It introduces a second clause as if μέν had stood in the first) those that are (the existing powers which we see about us), have been ordained by God. We may observe that the Apostle here pays no regard to the question of the duty of Christians in revolutionary movements. His precepts regard an established power, be it what it may. It, in all matters lawful, we are bound to obey. But even the parental power does not extend to things unlawful. If the civil power commands us to violate the law of God, we must obey God before man. If it commands us to disobey the common laws of humanity, or the sacred institutions of our country, our obedience is due to the higher and more general law, rather than to the lower and particular. These distinctions must be drawn by the wisdom granted to Christians in the varying circumstances of human affairs: they are all only subordinate portions of the great duty of obedience to LAW. To obtain, by lawful means, the removal or alteration of an unjust or unreasonable law, is another part of this duty: for all authorities among men must be in accord with the highest authority, the moral sense. But even where law is hard and unreasonable, not disobedience, but legitimate protest, is the duty of the Christian.

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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary


Here are various Directions concerning Christian Graces, And the Chapter concludes with an affecting call of the Apostle from the shortness of Life, to be always clothed with Christ.

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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". 1828.

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

Romans 13:1. πᾶσα ψυχή] In the sense of every man, but (comp. on Romans 2:9) of man conceived in reference to his soul-nature, in virtue of which he consciously feels pleasure and displeasure (rejoices, is troubled, etc.), and cherishes corresponding impulses. There lies a certain pathos in the significant: every soul, which at once brings into prominence the universality of the duty. Comp. Acts 2:43; Acts 3:23; Revelation 16:3.

ἐξουσίαις ὑπερεχ.] magistrates high in standing (without the article). ὑπερεχ. (see Wisdom of Solomon 6:5; 1 Peter 2:13; 1 Timothy 2:2; 2 Maccabees 3:11) is added, in order to set forth the ὑποτάσς.

ὑπέρ and ὑπό being correlative—as corresponding to the standpoint of the magistracy itself (comp. the German: hohe Obrigkeiten); the motive of obedience follows.

There is no magistracy apart from God expresses in general the proceeding of all magistracy whatever from God, and then this relation is still more precisely defined, in respect of those magistracies which exist in concreto as a divine institution, by ὑπὸ θεοῦ τεταγμ. εἰσίν; comp. Hom. Il. 2:204 ff., ix. 38, 98; Soph. Phil. 140, et al.; Xen. Rep. Lac. 15. 2. Thus Paul has certainly expressed the divine right of magistracy, which Christian princes especially designate by the expression “by the grace of God” (since the time of Louis the Pious). And αἱ δὲ οὖσαι, the extant, actually existing, allows no exception, such as that possibly of tyrants or usurpers (in opposition to Reiche). The Christian, according to Paul, ought to regard any magistracy whatever, provided its rule over him subsists de facto, as divinely ordained, since it has not come into existence without the operation of God’s will; and this applies also to tyrannical or usurped power, although such a power, in the counsel of God, is perhaps destined merely to be temporary and transitional. From this point of view, the Christian obeys not the human caprice and injustice, but the will of God, who—in connection with His plan of government inaccessible to human insight—has presented even the unworthy and unrighteous ruler as the οὖσα ἐξουσία, and has made him the instrument of His measures. Questions as to special cases—such as how the Christian is to conduct himself in political catastrophes, what magistracy he is to look upon in such times as the οὖσα ἐξουσία, as also, how he, if the command of the magistrate is against the command of God, is at any rate to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29), etc.

Paul here leaves unnoticed, and only gives the main injunction of obedience, which he does not make contingent on this or that form of constitution. By no means, however, are we to think only of the magisterial office as instituted by God (Chrysostom, Oecumenius, and others), but rather of the magistracy in its concrete persons and members as the bearers of the divinely-ordained office. Comp. οἱ ἄρχοντες, Romans 13:3, and Romans 13:4; Romans 13:6-7; Dion. Hal. Antt. xi. 32; Plut. Philop. 17; Titus 3:1; also Martyr. Polyc. 10.

Observe, moreover, that Paul has in view Gentile magistrates in concreto; consequently he could not speak more specially of that which Christian magistrates have on their part to do, and which Christian subjects in their duty of obedience for God and right’s sake are to expect and to require from them, although he expresses in general—by repeatedly bringing forward the fact that magistrates are the servants of God (Romans 13:3-4), indeed ministering servants of God (Romans 13:6)—the point of view from which the distinctively Christian judgment as to the duties and rights of magistrate and subject respectively must proceed.

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Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. 1832.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

Romans 13:1. πᾶσα, every) The apostle writes at very great length to the Romans, whose city was the seat of empire, on the subject of the magistracy, and this circumstance has all the force of a public apology for the Christian religion. This, too, may have been the reason why Paul, in this long epistle, used only once, and that too not until after this apology, the phrase, the kingdom of God, on other occasions so customary with him; Romans 14:17, for, instead of the kingdom, he calls it the glory; comp., however, Acts 28:31, note. Every individual should be under the authority of the magistrate, and be liable to suffer punishment, if he has done evil, Romans 13:4.— ψυχὴ, soul) He had said that their bodies ought to be presented to God, ch. Romans 12:1, presupposing that the souls would be; now he wishes souls to be subject to the magistrate. It is the soul, which does either good or evil, ch. Romans 2:9, and those in authority are a terror to the evil work, i.e. to the evil doer.—A man’s high rank does not exempt him from obedience.— ἐξουσίαις ὑπερεχούσαις) ἐξουσία from εἰμὶ, ὑπερέχω from ἔχω; being is before having: ὑπερεχούσαις contains the aetiology [end. Be subject to the powers because they are ὑπερέχουσαι: the cause or reason], 1 Peter 2:13, Fr. Souverain, Sovereign.— ὑποτασσέσθω) The antithesis to this is ἀντιταοσόμενος, Romans 13:2. The Conjugates are τεταγμένοι, διαταγή. Let him be subject, an admonition especially necessary to the Jews.— ἐξουσία, power) ἐξουσία, denotes the office of the magistrate in the abstract; αἱ δὲ ἐξουσίαι, Romans 13:2, those in authority in the concrete, therefore δὲ is interposed, ἐπιτατικὸν [forming an Epitasis, i.e. an emphatic addition to explain or augment the force of the previous enunciation.—Appen.]. The former is more readily acknowledged to be from God than the latter. The apostle makes an affirmation respecting both. All are from God, who has instituted all powers in general, and has constituted each in particular, by His providence,— εἰ μὴ ἀπὸ) See Appendix. crit. Ed. ii. ad h. v.(133)

Jerome omits from αἱ δε to εἰσίν. But ABD( λ)G Vulg. Memph. fg Versions, Iren. 280, 321, retain the clause, omitting, however, ἐξουσίαι: which word is retained by Orig. and both the Syr. Versions and Rec Text.—ED.

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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible


Romans 13:1-6 Subjection to magistrates enforced.

Romans 13:7 We must render to all their dues,

Romans 13:8-10 only love is a debt we must always owe, and virtually

containeth the whole law.

Romans 13:11-14 Rioting, drunkenness, and other works of darkness

must be put away, as much out of season under the gospel.

The former chapter is called by some St. Paul’s ethics, and this his politics. He having said, in the latter end of the foregoing chapter, that Christians must not avenge themselves, but refer all to God, who says, that vengeance is his, and he will repay it; some might infer from hence, that it was not lawful for magistrates to right the wronged, and avenge them of their adversaries; or for Christians to make use of them to such a purpose; therefore, to set us right in this matter, he falls into the following discourse. Others think, that the apostle having spoken in several places concerning Christians’ liberty, lest what he had said should be misconstrued, as if he meant that Christians were freed from subjection to the powers that were over them, he seasonably insists upon the doctrine and duty of obedience to authority; which point is more fully handled in this context than in any other place besides.

Let every soul; i.e. every person. In the first verse of the foregoing chapter the body was put for the whole man; here, the soul; and when he says every person, it is plain that ecclesiastical persons are not exempted.

Be subject: he doth not say, be obedient, but be subject; which is a general word, (as some have noted), comprehending all other duties and services. This subjection must be limited only to lawful things; otherwise, we must answer as they did, Acts 4:19: or as Polycarpus did; when he was required to blaspheme Christ, and swear by the fortune of Caesar, he peremptorily refused, and said: We are taught to give honour to princes and potentates, but such honour as is not contrary to true religion.

Unto the higher powers: though he speaks of things, he means persons; and he calls them rulers in Romans 13:3, whom he calls powers in this verse. So in Luke 12:11, Christ tells his disciples, they should be brought before magistrates and powers; it is the same word, and it is plain he means persons in power. Chrysostom notes, that he rather speaks of our subjection to powers, than persons in power; because, that howsoever their power be abused, their authority must be acknowledged and obeyed. He speaks of powers, in the plural number, because there are divers sorts and kinds thereof, as monarchy, aristocracy, democracy: under which soever of these we live, we must be subject thereunto. By higher powers, he means the supreme powers; so the word is rendered, 1 Peter 2:13. To them, and to those that are authorized by them, we must submit, for that is all one as if we did it to themselves, 1 Timothy 2:2 1 Peter 2:14. There are other inferior powers, which are also of God, as parents, masters, &c.; but of these he doth not speak in this place.

For there is no power but of God: this is a reason of the foregoing injunction: q.d. That which hath God for its author, is to be acknowledged and submitted to; but magistracy hath God for its author: ergo. He speaketh not here of the person, nor of the abuse, nor of the manner of getting into power, but of the thing itself, viz. magistracy and authority: and he says, it is of God; he instituted the office, and he appointeth or permitteth the person that executes it. This clause is attested and illustrated by Proverbs 8:15 Daniel 4:32 John 19:11.

The powers that be are ordained of God: this passage is an exemplification of the former. Erasmus thinks it was inserted by some interpreter, by way of explanation; but it is found in all ancient copies, therefore that conceit of his is without foundation. The emphasis of this sentence seems to lie in the word ordained; power and civil authority is not simply from God, as all other things are, but it is ordained by him. This word (as one observes) implieth two things; invention, and ratification. God invented and devised this order, that some should rule, and others obey; and he maintaineth and upholdeth it.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Romans 13:1". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

The higher powers; the civil government.

Are ordained of God; civil government is an ordinance of God, and magistrates are to be obeyed as his ministers, clothed with authority from him.

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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Family Bible New Testament". American Tract Society. 1851.

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

1. πᾶσα ψυχὴ. Cf. Romans 2:9 (Revelation 16:3, of fish); Acts 2:43; Acts 3:23. L. & S. give |[258] from Greek class. poetry. Epictet. fr. 33 ψυχαὶ = slaves.

ἐξουσίαις, of persons holding civil authority Luke 12:11; Titus 3:1 only; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 1:21 alibi; Colossians 1:16 alibi; 1 Peter 3:22.

ὑπερεχούσαις. Simply of superiority in any degree; cf. 1 Peter 2:13.

οὐ γὰρ ἔστιν ἐξ. κ.τ.λ. S. Paul lays down the principle that the fact of authority being established involves the divine ordinance of it. The two clauses state the same principle, in a negative and a positive form. The repetition emphasises the point.

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"Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

‘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.’

‘Every soul’ simply means ‘everyone.’ Thus everyone is to be subject to ‘the higher powers’, that is the appointed governors and their staff. And this is because men cannot come to power except God allows it, and thus those who do come to power are to be seen as ordained of God. This view is in accord with Scripture, for in Daniel 4:17; Daniel 4:25; Daniel 4:32 we read, ‘the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whoever He will’, something which presumably Jesus had in mind when He said, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ (Matthew 22:21). He saw it as Caesar’s due that he be rightfully treated in secular matters.

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

1. Every soul—A term of solemn universality; every human being needs the government and should obey it.

Higher powers—The apostle uses the abstract, and not the concrete. It is the government that is of God, not necessarily the particular governor.

No power but of God—Nor is it said that there is no usurper who is of the devil. But as government is ordained of God, so every admitted government must be attributed to God.

It has often been the case in human history that conscientious Christians have been doubtful what, or which, is the true government, the government entitled to their Christian obedience. When the popish tyrant, James II., was driven from the throne of England, and a constitutional sovereign substituted in his place, a large class of conscientious thinkers continued for near half a century sincerely to believe that James and his heirs were their true and lawful sovereigns. So believing, they thought it their duty to withhold their allegiance from the reigning authority. They believed that there is no power but of God; but they also believed that the new king was, in the apostle’s sense, not a power.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

When Paul said "every person" (Gr. psyche) he probably had every Christian person in mind since he was writing to Christians. Nevertheless what he said about his readers" conduct toward their civil government also applies to the unsaved. He was not legislating Christian behavior for unbelievers, but when unbelievers behave this way the best conditions prevail.

Subjection or submission involves placing oneself under the authority of another and doing or not doing what the authority requires. Paul did not say "obey." Submission includes obedience, but it also includes an attitude from which the obedience springs. Submission involves an attitude of compliance and deference that is not necessarily present in obedience. Submission is essentially support. The Christian may have to disobey his government ( Acts 5:29). Still in those cases he or she must still be submissive and bear the consequences of his or her disobedience (cf. Daniel 4:17; Daniel 4:25; Daniel 4:32). "Governing authorities" is a term that embraces all the rulers who govern the citizen.

Every ruler exercises his or her authority because God has allowed him or her to occupy his or her position, even Satan ( Luke 4:6). The Christian should acknowledge that the government under which he or she lives has received authority from God to govern regardless of whether it governs well or poorly.

God has established three institutions to control life in our dispensation: the family ( Genesis 2:18-25), the civil government ( Genesis 9:1-7), and the church ( Acts 2). In each institution there are authorities to whom we need to submit for God"s will to go forward. Women are not the only people God commands to be submissive or supportive ( Ephesians 5:22). Male and female children, citizens, and church members also need to demonstrate a submissive spirit.

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Romans 13:1. Let every soul; every human being, but with reference to the life of the ‘soul,’ rather than of the ‘spirit,’ the former being the common life of the subject of a state.

Submit himself. This rendering suggests that the obedience is of a voluntary and rational character, not a servile and blind subjection.

To the authorities which are ever him. We substitute ‘authorities’ for powers,’ both because it is a more exact rendering and accords better with the use of the singular in the next clause. Political rulers are undoubtedly meant, and most probably all such, of every rank; the exclusive reference to the higher class of rulers being very doubtful.

For there is no authority (of any kind, the proposition being universal) but of God. The preposition, according to the received reading is more exactly ‘from;’ according to the better established text, ‘by.’ The former indicates that there is no authority apart from Him as the source; the latter that authority is established by Him. This general proposition is applied in the next clause, which gives the motive for obedience to the preceding exhortation.

They that exist. The word ‘authorities’ (E. V., ‘powers’) is not found in the best manuscripts and is rejected by modern editors. The reference here is to existing civil authorities, de facto governments, which the Apostle asserts, have been ordained of God. The simple, pellucid meaning of the Apostle, is that civil government is necessary, and of divine appointment. We infer that anarchy is as godless as it is inhuman; magistrates derive their authority from God, even when chosen by the people. This principle, moreover, respects the office, not the character of the ruler. But as the obedience is demanded because of God’s appointment, there inheres this limitation, that obedience is not demanded in matters contrary to God’s appointment. When the civil power is most directly under the control of the popular will, the personal responsibility of Christian citizens is greatest: to the duty of obedience are added those of political knowledge and prudence. Unfortunately the ‘rights’ are too frequently recognized more clearly than the duties; and history proves plainly enough that popular government, when, and only when the people are permeated by Christian principle contains in itself the preventive of revolutionary excess.

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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

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 2 Maccabees 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 Baruch 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.

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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Romans 13:1. From exhorting the believers at Rome to a life of entire devotedness to God, and the various duties of brotherly kindness, the apostle now proceeds to inculcate upon them that subjection and obedience which they owed to their civil rulers, and those duties of justice and benevolence which were due from them to all men. And as Rome was the seat of the empire, it was highly proper for the credit of Christianity, for which indeed it was, in effect, a public apology for him to do this when writing to inhabitants of that city, whether they were originally Jews or Gentiles. Let every soul — Every person, of whatever state, calling, or degree he may be, however endowed with miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, whatever office he may sustain, or in what esteem soever he may be held in the church of Christ; (for that these things were apt to make some Christians overvalue themselves, is obvious from what St. Paul says to the Corinthians, first epistle, chap. 12.; and to the Romans, in the preceding chapter of this epistle;) be subject to the higher powers εξουσιαις υπερεχουσαις, the superior or ruling powers; meaning the governing civil authorities which the Divine Providence had established in the places where they lived: an admonition this peculiarly needful for the Jews. For as God had chosen them for his peculiar people, “and, being their king, had dictated to them a system of laws, and had governed them anciently in person, and afterward by princes of his own nomination, many of them reckoned it impiety to submit to heathen laws and rulers. In the same light they viewed the paying of taxes for the support of heathen governments, Matthew 22:17. In short, the zealots of that nation laid it down as a principle, that they would obey God alone as their king and governor, in opposition to Cesar and all kings whatever, who were not of their religion, and who did not govern them by the laws of Moses.” And it is probable, as Locke and Macknight further observe, that some of the Jews who embraced the gospel, did not immediately lay aside this turbulent disposition, and that even of the believing Gentiles there were a few, who, on pretence that they had a sufficient rule of conduct in the spiritual gifts with which they were endowed, thought that they were under no obligation to obey ordinances imposed by idolaters, nor to pay taxes for the support of idolatrous governments. That some Christians were involved in this error, or at least were in danger of being involved in it, appears also from the caution which Peter gives the believers to whom he wrote, (first epistle, chap. 2.,) not to use their liberty for a cloak of maliciousness or misbehaviour. Now, as these principles and practices, if they should prevail, must, of necessity, cause the gospel to be evil spoken of, the apostle judged it necessary, in this letter to the Romans, to show that they had no countenance from the Christian doctrine, by inculcating the duties which subjects owe to magistrates, and by testifying that the disciples of Christ were not exempt from obedience to the wholesome laws, even of the heathen countries where they lived, nor from contributing to the support of the government by which they were protected, although it was administered by idolaters. For there is no power but of God — “There is no legal authority but may, in one sense or another, be said to be from God, the origin of all power. It is his will that there should be magistrates to guard the peace of societies; and the hand of his providence, in directing to the persons of particular governors, ought to be seriously considered and revered.” The powers that be — The authorities that exist, under one form or another; are ordained of God — “Are, in their different places, ranged, disposed, and established by God, the original and universal governor.” So Dr. Doddridge renders the word τεταγμεναι, here used, thinking the English word ordained rather too strong. Compare Acts 13:48. “Divine Providence,” says he, “ranges, and in fact establishes the various governments of the world; they are, therefore, under the character of governments, in the general, to be revered: but this cannot make what is wrong and pernicious, in any particular forms, sacred, divine, and immutable, any more than the hand of God in a famine or pestilence is an argument against seeking proper means to remove it.” But the expression, υπο θεου τεταγμεναι εισιν, might be rendered, are subordinate to, or orderly disposed under God; implying that they are God’s deputies, or vicegerents, and consequently their authority, being in effect his, demands our conscientious obedience. “In other passages,” says Macknight, “ εξουσιαι, powers, by a common figure, signifies persons possessed of power or authority. But here, αι εξουσιαι υπερεχουσαι, the higher powers, being distinguished from οι αρχοντες, the rulers, Romans 13:3, must signify, not the persons who possess the supreme authority, but the supreme authority itself, whereby the state is governed, whether that authority be vested in the people or in the nobles, or in a single person, or be shared among these three orders: in short, the higher powers denote that form of government which is established in any country, whatever it may be. This remark deserves attention, because the apostle’s reasoning, while it holds good concerning the form of government established in a country, is not true concerning the persons who possess the supreme power, that there is no power but from God; and that he who resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. For, if the person who possesses the supreme power in any state, exercises it in destroying the fundamental laws, and to the ruin of the people, such a ruler is not from God, is not authorized by him, and ought to be resisted.” The declaration, there is no power but of God, he thinks, “was written to correct the pride of the Jews, who valued themselves exceedingly because they had received a form of government from God. The government of every state, whether it be monarchical, aristocratical, democratical, or mixed, is as really of divine appointment as the government of the Jews was, though none but the Jewish form was of divine legislation. For God having designed mankind to live in society, he has, by the frame of their nature, and by the reason of things, authorized government to be exercised in every country. At the same time, having appointed no particular form to any nation but to the Jews, nor named any particular person or family to exercise the power of government, he has left it to the people to choose what form is most agreeable to themselves, and to commit the exercise of the supreme power to what persons they think fit. And therefore, whatever form of government hath been chosen, or is established in any country, hath the divine sanction; and the persons who by choice, or even by the peaceable submission of the governed, have the reins of government in their hands, are the lawful sovereigns of that country, and have all the rights and prerogatives belonging to the sovereignty vested in their persons.” The sum appears to be, the office of civil government is instituted by him, and the persons who exercise it are invested therewith by the appointment or permission of his providence.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Let every soul, or every one, be subject, &c.(1) The Jews were apt to think themselves not subject to temporal princes, as to taxes, &c. and lest Christians should misconstrue their Christian liberty, he here teacheth them that every one (even priests and bishops, says St. John Chrysostom) must be subject and obedient to princes, even to heathens, as they were at that time, as to laws that regard the policy of the civil government, honouring them, obeying them, and their laws, as it is the will of God, because the power they act by is from God. So that to resist them, is to resist God. And every Christian must obey them even for conscience-sake. St. John Chrysostom takes notice that St. Paul does not say that there is no prince but from God, but only that there is no power but from God, meaning no lawful power, and speaking of true and just laws. See hom. xxiii. (Witham)



Non est potestas, Greek: exousia, nisi a Deo. St. John Chrysostom, Greek: om. kg. p. 189. Greek: ouk eipen, ou gar estin archon ei me upo tou theou, alla peri tou pragmatos dialegetai legon, ou gar estin exousia.

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible

Romans 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.

"Let every soul"-"The thirteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, according to J.W. Allen, contains what are perhaps the most important words ever written for the history of political thought."

"The duty of submission to civil authorities is thus without exception, no matter how high or privileged one"s social position may be, no matter what political theories one may hold, no matter what religious views one may profess."

"Soul"-"person" (NASV)

"Subjection"-"Let every one obey" (TCNT), "submit himself to" (Con). 5293. hupotasso {hoop-ot-as"-so}; from 5259 and 5021; to subordinate; reflexively, to obey: -be under obedience (obedient), put under, subdue unto, (be, make) subject (to, unto), be (put) in subjection (to, under), submit self unto.

"The Jews were especially averse to being subject to the Roman government, and Jews who became Christians would likely hold to their former prejudice against being subject to Rome. And converts from heathenism might feel that, having confessed Jesus Christ as their king, they were not subject to any other government."

"Many of them (the Jews) held, on the ground of Deuteronomy 17:15, that to acknowledge a Gentile ruler was itself sinful; and the spirit which prompted the Pharisees to ask, Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not? (Mark 12:14) had no doubt its representatives in Rome also. 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."

Modern Applications:

1. New Christians can naively think that since their citizenship is now in heaven, all human laws (like speed limits, tax laws, etc..) are unimportant. The Bible doesn"t support such a view, in fact, contradicts it here and in Matthew 22:21; 1 Peter 2:13-17; 1 Peter 4:15.

2. God even expects the wealthy to comply. Some try to excuse themselves by saying, "this nation should be lucky to have such a productive citizen as myself, I employ people, pay a larger amount of taxes, the government should just look the other way when I break the law."

3. And yet, the poor are not immune from the temptation to rebel either. "I need to feed my family, or, the stores are exploiting me, so it"s alright to steal, loot and riot to get what"s rightfully mine."

"higher powers"-"governing authorities" (NASV). Lit., authorities which have themselves over. (Vincent p. 163) "The government that is over him" (Beck) (1 Peter 2:13 "whether to a king as the one in authority.")

Point to Note: The Jehovah Witnesses regard the governments of the world as Satan"s organization. In fact some Christians hold the same view with regard to every government but their own, or even their own. They believe that the "higher powers" of this section are Jehovah and His Son Jesus. Yet this definition breaks down in the immediate context, not to mention various contradictions with other passages:

1. "For it is a minister of God" (,6). Clearly the "higher powers" in this section are viewed as "servants of God", and not God Himself.

2. Jesus taught that the people of God have a dual citizenship (Matthew 22:21), with responsibilities that go with both. If Caesar"s kingdom and God"s kingdom were naturally antagonistic one toward the other, no person could sustain a relationship to both as citizens. This would be like trying to serve two masters.

3. Paul taught that "our citizenship is in Heaven" (Philippians 3:20), and yet often appealed to and used his Roman citizenship. (Acts 16:37; Acts 22:26-28; Acts 25:11) This demonstrates that the Christian can legitimately and consistently sustain a relationship to both the civil government he is under and the God he serves.

4. Being subject to human authorities and being subject to God, shouldn"t shock us. Children are subject to their parents (Ephesians 6:1-2); a woman is subject to her husband (5:22); members are subject to the elders (Hebrews 13:17); and employees are subject to their bosses (Colossians 3:22).

"for there is no power but of God"-"For there is no authority except from God" (NASV). "If it didn"t suit God for that government to be there, it wouldn"t be there." (McGuiggan p. 380) "In heaven or earth-no power at all" (Alford p. 954) (John 19:10-11; Daniel 4:17; Daniel 5:19-21). "for no authority can exist without the permission of God". (Gspd)

"and the powers that be"-"the authorities that now exist" (Mon)

"are ordained of God"-"appointed by God" (Mon); "established by God" (Gspd) "Stand ordained by God" (Robertson p. 407) Perfect tense, have been ordained, and the ordinance remains in force. (Vincent p. 164)

All the governments of the world exist, because God allows them to. And while they exist, God expects those under them to be in subjection, except where subjection would place one in direct violation to the law of God. (Acts 5:29)

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Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". 1999-2014.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

soul. App-110.

be subject. See Romans 8:7.

unto = to.

higher = supreme. Greek. huperecho. Here, Philippians 1:2, Philippians 1:3; Philippians 3:8; Philippians 4:7. 1 Peter 2:13.

powers. App-172.

but = if (App-118) not (App-105).

of. App-104. but the texts read "under", App-104.

God. App-98.

ordained. See Acts 13:48.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

In such a state of things as existed at Rome when the apostle wrote, the Christians there must often have been perplexed as to the estimate they were to form, and the duties they owed to "the power" that so tyrannically and degradingly ruled there; especially as the whole fabric of Roman society heaved with the elements of insubordination and insurrection, and as the Jews in particular had, in the days of Claudius, been banished the capital for their restless and insurrectionary tendencies (Acts 18:2). It was natural, therefore, to pass from the social to the political duties of believers; and this accordingly occupies the chief portico of the present chapter.

The Relation and Duties of the Christian to the Civil Magistrate (Romans 13:1-6)

Let every soul (every man of you) be subject unto the higher powers , [ exousiais (Greek #1849) huperechousais (Greek #5242)] - rather, 'submit himself to the authorities that are over him.'

For there is no power ('authority') but of God: the powers that be - `the existing authorities,' whatever they are,

Are ('have been') ordained of God - [ exousiai (Greek #1849) seems not genuine. In this case the translation is 'those that be have been ordained,' etc.]

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

The Bible Study New Testament

Everyone must obey the state authorities. Paul is telling Christians to obey the Roman government that would soon be persecuting them. This is a paradox. The Christian is to obey whatever government rules the country where he lives. The Gentile Christians would be expected to pick up many Jewish ideas from the Jewish Christians. The Jews believed no Gentile had the right to rule over them, basing this on Deuteronomy 17:15. As believers in the Messiah, "another king, by the name of Jesus" (Acts 17:7), even Gentile Christians might feel they had no loyalty to any human government. Paul's teaching here is the same as what Jesus said in Mark 12:14-17. The point is that human governments are necessary to preserve moral order. All human governments have been put there by God. [The Book of Revelation shows us that EVERY government serves both God and Satan at exactly the same time.]

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Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "The Bible Study New Testament". College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(1) Every soul.—A Hebraism for “every person,” though at the same time here, as in Romans 2:9, there is a slight stress upon the fact that man is a conscious and intelligent being, capable of moral relations, and it is especially with reference to these relations that the phrase is used.

Higher powers.—Authorities, i.e., magistrates, the abstract for the concrete.

There is no power.—It is strange that the Apostle seems to go almost out of his way to include even usurped and tyrannical power. He is, however, evidently speaking of the magistracy in its abstract or ideal form. It is the magistrate quâ magistrate, not quâ just or unjust magistrate. In this sense, not only is the human system of society a part of the divinely-appointed order of things, but it partakes more especially in the divine attributes, inasmuch as its object is to reward virtue and to punish vice. It discharges the same functions that God himself discharges, though in a lower scale and degree. Hence Bishop Butler feels himself justified in taking the principles which regulate civil society as an analogy for those which will regulate the ultimate divine disposition of things. “It is necessary to the very being of society that vices destructive of it should be punished as being so—the vices of falsehood, injustice, cruelty—which punishment, therefore, is as natural as society; and so is an instance of a kind of moral government, naturally established, and actually taking place. And, since the certain natural course of things is the conduct of Providence or the government of God, though carried on by the instrumentality of men, the observation here made amounts to this, that mankind find themselves placed by Him in such circumstances as that they are unavoidably accountable for their behaviour, and are often punished and sometimes rewarded under His government in the view of their being mischievous or eminently beneficial to society.” In other words, the machinery of civil society is one of the chief and most conspicuous instruments by which God carries out His own moral government of mankind in this present existence. It may be said to be more distinctly and peculiarly derived from Him than other parts of the order of nature, inasmuch as it is the channel used to convey His moral approbation, or the reverse.

The powers that be.—Those that we see existing all around us.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
Deuteronomy 17:12; Ephesians 5:21; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17; 2 Peter 2:10,11; Jude 1:8
1 Samuel 2:8; 1 Chronicles 28:4,5; Psalms 62:11; Proverbs 8:15,16; Jeremiah 27:5-8; Daniel 2:21; 4:32; Daniel 5:18-23; Matthew 6:13; John 19:11; Revelation 1:5; 17:14; 19:16
or, order.

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians


The chapter treats mainly of our political duties. From Romans 13:1 to Romans 13:7 inclusive, the apostle enforces the duties which we owe to civil magistrates. From Romans 13:8 to Romans 13:10, he refers to the more general obligations under which christians are placed, but still with special reference to their civil and social relations. From Romans 13:11 to the end of the chapter, he enjoins an exemplary and holy deportment.


The duty of obedience to those in authority is enforced,

1. By the consideration that civil government is a divine institution, and, therefore, resistance to magistrates in the exercise of their lawful authority is disobedience to God, Romans 13:1, Romans 13:2.

2. From the end or design of their appointment, which is to promote the good of society, to be a terror to evil doers, and a praise to them that do well, Romans 13:3, Romans 13:4.

3. Because such subjection is a moral as well as civil duty, Romans 13:5. On these grounds the payment of tribute or taxes, and general deference, are to be cheerfully rendered, Romans 13:6, Romans 13:7.

Christians are bound not only to be obedient to those in authority, but also to perform all social and relative duties, especially that of love, which includes and secures the observance of all others, Romans 13:8-10. A pure and exemplary life as members of society is enforced by the consideration that the night is far spent and that the day is at hand, that the time of suffering and trial is nearly over, and that of deliverance approaching, Romans 13:11-14.


Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. The expression every soul is often used as equivalent to every one; it is at times, however, emphatic, and such is probably the case in this passage. By higher powers are most commonly and naturally understood those in authority, without reference to their grade of office, or their character. We are to be subject not only to the supreme magistrates, but to all who have authority over us. The abstract word powers or authorities ( ἐξουσίαι) is used for those who are invested with power, Luke 12:11; Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 3:10, etc. etc. The word ( ὑπερέχων) rendered higher, is applied to any one who, in dignity and authority, excels us. In 1 Peter 2:13, it is applied to the king as supreme, i.e. superior to all other magistrates. But here one class of magistrates is not brought into comparison with another, but they are spoken of as being over other men who are not in office. It is a very unnatural interpretation which makes this word refer to the character of the magistrates, as though the sense were, ‘Be subject to good magistrates.' This is contrary to the usage of the term, and inconsistent with the context. Obedience is not enjoined on the ground of the personal merit of those in authority, but on the ground of their official station.

There was peculiar necessity, during the apostolic age, for inculcating the duty of obedience to civil magistrates. This necessity arose in part from the fact that a large portion of the converts to Christianity had been Jews, and were peculiarly indisposed to submit to the heathen authorities. This indisposition (as far as it was peculiar) arose from the prevailing impression among them, that this subjection was unlawful, or at least highly derogatory to their character as the people of God, who had so long lived under a theocracy. In Deuteronomy 17:15, it is said, "Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose; one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother." It was a question, therefore, constantly agitated among them, "Is it lawful to pay tribute unto Caesar, or not?" A question which the great majority were at least secretly inclined to answer in the negative. Another source of the restlessness of the Jews under a foreign yoke, was the idea which they entertained of the nature of the Messiah's kingdom. As they expected a temporal Prince, whose kingdom should be of this world, they were ready to rise in rebellion at the call of every one who cried, "I am Christ." The history of the Jews at this period shows how great was the effect produced by these and similar causes on their feelings towards the Roman government. They were continually breaking out into tumults, which led to their expulsion from Rome,‹68› and, finally, to the utter destruction of Jerusalem. It is therefore not a matter of surprise, that converts from among such a people should need the injunction, "Be subject to the higher powers." Besides the effect of their previous opinions and feelings, there is something in the character of Christianity itself, and in the incidental results of the excitement which it occasions, to account for the repugnance of many of the early Christians to submit to their civil rulers. They wrested, no doubt, the doctrine of Christian liberty, as they did other doctrines, to suit their own inclinations. This result, however, is to be attributed not to religion, but to the improper feelings of those into whose minds the form of truth, without its full power, had been received.

For there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God. οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἐξουσία εἰ μὴ ἀπὸ θεοῦ. This is a very comprehensive proposition. All authority is of God. No man has any rightful power over other men, which is not derived from God. All human power is delegated and ministerial. This is true of parents, of magistrates, and of church officers. This, however, is not all the passage means. It not only asserts that all government ( ἐξουσία, authority) is ( ἀπὸ θεοῦ) derived from God, but that every magistrate is of God; that is, his authority is jure divino. The word ἐξουσία is evidently, in this connection, used in a concrete sense. This is plain from the use of the word in the other clauses of the verse. "The higher powers," and "the powers that be," are concrete terms, meaning those invested with power. Compare Romans 13:3, Romans 13:4, where "rulers" and "ministers" are substituted for the abstract "powers." The doctrine here taught is the ground of the injunction contained in the first clause of the verse. We are to obey magistrates, because they derive their authority from God. Not only is human government a divine institution, but the form in which that government exists, and the persons by whom its functions are exercised, are determined by his providence. All magistrates of whatever grade are to be regarded as acting by divine appointment; not that God designates the individuals, but it being his will that there should be magistrates, every person, who is in point of fact clothed with authority, is to be regarded as having a claim to obedience, founded on the will of God. In like manner, the authority of parents over their children, of husbands over their wives, of masters over their servants, is of God's ordination. There is no limitation to the injunction in this verse, so far as the objects of obedience are concerned, although there is as to the extent of the obedience itself. That is, we are to obey all that is in actual authority over us, whether their authority be legitimate or usurped, whether they are just or unjust. The actual reigning emperor was to be obeyed by the Roman Christians, whatever they might think as to his title to the sceptre. But if he transcended his authority, and required them to worship idols, they were to obey God rather than man. This is the limitation to all human authority. Whenever obedience to man is inconsistent with obedience to God, then disobedience becomes a duty.

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Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 13:1". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians.

: 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 Psalm 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, ). Three times in this verse we find the word exousia (authorities). It is also used in verses2,3. 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 Jude 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 Prayer of Manasseh , 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 (p13) 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 verse3. 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 , p203).

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.

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Price, Brad "Commentary on Romans 13:1". "Living By Faith: Commentary on Romans".

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