Appendix: Elders And Romans 13
The question has been asked as to how the words of Romans
13 can stand true, with their implication that Government ministers are
God’s representatives, punishing sinners and upholding righteousness,
and therefore should be obeyed. Many young brethren are pressured by such
ministers to join armies and in other ways too, to break the law of Christ.
How, for example, could those words have been true in Hitler’s Germany
or Taliban-controlled Afghanistan?
First it must be remembered that there are other passages which do command
our submission to human authorities: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance
of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or
unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of
evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will
of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish
men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness,
but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood.
Fear God. Honour the king” (1 Pet. 1:13-17). Whilst these words stand
true, Peter himself also disobeyed human authority, with the comment that
we must obey God rather than men. When there is a conflict in allegiance
created, we must obey God and disobey anyone or any institution that commands
us to disobey Him. And Paul likewise- the man who was jailed repeatedly
for breaking the law: “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities
and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak
evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto
all men” (Tit. 3:1,2).
But the Romans 13 passage goes much further, saying that these “ministers”
are ordained by God on His behalf, and therefore must be obeyed. Logically,
therefore, one would have to obey whatever they said. Otherwise we would
always be having to decide whether or not a Government minister was really
ordained in God’s behalf, or not. And Romans 13 seems to imply that all
ministers are “ministers of God”. And so for this passage I wish to suggest
that it specifically refers to submission to the elders and apostles of
the first century ecclesia, empowered as they were with the miraculous
Spirit gifts and direct revelations of wisdom and judgment.
There is great stress in Rom. 13 that these “powers” punish evil / sinfulness.
This is just not true of human Governments. Yet it is appropriate if the
“powers” spoken of here are within the ecclesia. So we will consider the
passage phrase by phrase- and we find that almost every Greek noun or
verb in it is used elsewhere in a specifically ecclesial context.
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers”
The Greek for “Higher” means ‘to excel, to be superior, better than,
to surpass”. The same word occurs in Phil. 2:3: “Let nothing be done through
strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better
than themselves”. We may respect human ministers but we can scarcely
esteem them better than ourselves in a spiritual sense. Yet authority
held by ecclesial elders is earnt and not demanded- based on our respect
of them as brethren more mature in Christ than we are.
For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained…
“Powers” is s.w. [same word] 2 Cor. 10:8 “our [apostolic] authority”;
“the power which the Lord hath given me” (Paul; 2 Cor. 13:10).
“Not because we [the apostles] have not power” (2 Thess. 3:9).
Those powers are “ordained”- s.w. Acts 15:2 , where Paul and Barnabas
were “determined”, s.w. “ordained”, to go to Jerusalem as representative
elders; the family of Stephanas “addicted themselves”, literally ‘ordained
themselves’, to the work of ministry in the ecclesia. Note how here as
in Rom. 13, the ideas or being ordained to be a minister
also occur together.
[ordained] of God
In the sense of 1 Cor. 12:28: “And God hath set some in the
church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after
that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth… (:2)
Alexander “hath greatly withstood [s.w. resisteth] our words”
(2 Tim. 4:15)- the words of elders like Paul. This doesn’t mean that elders
are beyond any criticism- for the same Greek word is used of how Paul
“withstood” Peter when he gave in to legalism and rejected grace (Gal.
the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves
damnation. For rulers are not a terror… (:2,3)
“Terror” translates the Greek word used for how “fear” came upon the
ecclesia when the elders exercised their powers of the Holy Spirit (Acts
2:43; 5:5,11). Initially, Corinth showed such “fear” towards Paul (2 Cor.
7:11,15). Elders should rebuke publically those who sin, that others in
the ecclesia might “fear” (1 Tim. 5:20). The situation in the first century
as far as the authorities of the world are concerned was actually the
very opposite of what we read here in Romans. The same word occurs in
1 Pet. 3:14, telling the believers to endure persecution from the authorities,
not to cave in to their demands, and “be not afraid of their fear”.
Note that the Greek word for “afraid” occurs in Rom. 13:3- we should be
“afraid” of the powers God has placed in the ecclesia. The fact the two
words occur together in both Romans and Peter leads us to the conclusion:
‘Respect and “fear” those who are elders truly; but don’t fear / respect
those who are elders in name only and are in reality far from grace”.
[not a terror] to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be
afraid of the power? (:3)
The Greek word for “afraid” is the same word in Gal. 2:12, which criticizes
Peter for being “afraid” of the Jerusalem elders who were teaching legalism.
Paul doesn’t mean we should fear an elder merely because they have the
office of an elder; but we fear / respect those who are indeed spiritually
“higher” than us.
do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
This certainly isn’t true of worldly authorities and rulers. They don’t
praise righteousness, and they certainly didn’t in the first century.
Yet the same word is used in 2 Cor. 8:18 of how Timothy was “praised”
in the ecclesias. Good elders and healthy ecclesias will give praise /
encouragement to those who deserve it.
For he is the minister of God (:4)
Gk. Diakonos, sometimes translated “deacon”. The word is used
31 times in the N.T., nearly always about ecclesial elders / ministers
/ servants. Paul speaks of himself and Timothy with the very same words:
a “minister of God” (2 Cor. 6:4; 1 Thess. 3:2), who therefore ought to
be listened to.
…to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for
he beareth not the sword in vain
This seems to be a reference to the ability which some elders had in
the first century to execute physical affliction upon those who were disobedient.
Peter smote Ananias and Sapphira dead. Paul seems to warn the Corinthians
that he could “not spare” them if he convicted them of apostacy on his
next visit. It even seems that the sicknesses spoken of in James
5 are a direct result of sinful behaviour, and the gift of healing could
be exercised by the elders in the case of repentance. Jesus Himself threatened
immediate physical judgment, presumably through the hands of His representatives,
upon some in the ecclesias of Rev. 2,3. Respect for elders is something
taught throughout the N.T. letters- “remember them that have the rule
over you” (Heb. 13:7). Here the writer clearly refers to elders in the
ecclesia, for he bids his readers consider the end of those men’s faithful
way of life and to follow their example. And yet they are described as
‘rulers’. It’s as if the point is that the real rulers of a first century
believer were not the Roman administrators, but the ministers of God within
their ecclesia. In illiterate ecclesias or those without access to the
written scrolls containing God’s word, the elders would have played a
more critical role in their relationship with God than in our age.
…for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon
him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for
wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute
This could be referring to the Lord’s well known example of paying tribute,
and simply saying that the principle of submission to authority should
extend out of the ecclesia, to all those who have power over us- so long
as this does not contradict our conscience toward Christ. But it could
also be a reference to some form of tithing or regular support of elders.
There is historical evidence that this went on early in the Christian
“Be subject” uses a Greek word elsewhere used about submission to elders
(1 Cor. 16:16). Note how the word occurs in 1 Cor. 14:34- the sisters
were commanded “to be under obedience” to their men [Gk.]. I take this
to refer to the need for those sisters to be submissive to their appointed
elder. When we meet the word again in the command “Wives, submit yourselves
unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:22,24; Col. 3:18; Tit.
2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1,5), I take this as meaning that they should treat him
as they would an elder- in that Paul assumes he will teach and inspire
her as the elders ought to have been doing.
for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this
very thing (:6)
The question arises, what thing? If the reference is to
their reflecting of God’s judgment against those who sin, this is simply
not true of human Governments. The first century authorities were persecuting
the Christians, fabricating untruth against them, killing them, and insisting
that those who refused to accept Caesar as Lord be punished. The words
can only be true of the ministers of God of whom we read elsewhere in
the N.T.- i.e., the ecclesial elders.
The Greek phrase for “attending continually” is a catchphrase usually
employed to describe the zealous pastoral care of the early apostles:
“These all continued with one accord in prayer…continuing
daily with one accord…and breaking bread…we will give ourselves
continually to prayer, and to the ministry [another Romans 13 idea!]
of the word” (Acts 1:14; 2:46; 6:4). By using the phrase, Paul is undoubtedly
pointing us back to the example of the early apostles / elders.
Render therefore to all their dues (:7)
The Greek for “dues” is found in Rom. 15:27 about the due which the Gentile
believers owe to materially support their Jewish brethren. We have no
‘due’ to this world (Rom. 13:8 Gk., s.w.), but our due is to love each
other in the brotherhood. But admittedly Paul does seem in the next verses
to extend the principle of submission further than just within the ecclesia.
In the same way as elders should only be respected if they had earnt that
respect, and were leading brethren in the way of Christ, so too the authorities
of the world should only be followed insofar as they did not lead believers
into disobedience to Christ: “…tribute to whom tribute is due; custom
to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Owe no man any
thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled
the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill,
Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not
covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended
in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love
worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the