Romans 13:1-14

Submitted by admin on Sat, 2009-05-09 12:33.

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Every “soul” or person should respectfully submit to the higher or governing authorities. This is because there is “no authority except by God,” the existing authorities having been placed by him. (13:1; see the Notes section.) Although the various ruling positions are human creations, they exist by God’s permission, providing essential services that benefit communities as a whole and maintaining law and order. God has “placed” these ruling authorities in the sense that he has granted humans the freedom to devise means of governing sizable populations to prevent destructive anarchy, which would be contrary to his purpose for the continuance of a measure of stability in human society. (13:1; compare 1 Peter 2:13, 14.)

Under the present circumstances, governments, despite their varied flaws, are needed for societies to function properly, and God has not instituted any other arrangement. Therefore, for believers to rise up in revolt against existing authorities would mean taking a stand against an arrangement God has seen fit to exist. Persons who would oppose the ruling powers would bring adverse judgment or punishment upon themselves. (13:2)

Governmental authorities have the power to enforce laws and regulations. So, as Paul noted, rulers are an object of fear, as they are in a position to inflict punishment. The authority to punish is not employed against those who conduct themselves according to what rulers consider to be good. For persons who engage in practices that have been decreed as bad, however, individuals in positions of authority are an object of fear. Lawless ones know that, if they are caught, they will be punished. (13:3)

Paul raised the rhetorical question, “Do you wish to have no fear of the authority?” The implied answer is that this would not be the desirable course. Far better it would be for one to respect the power of those who exercise authority and to do good, resulting in “praise” or commendation for exemplary conduct from rulers or officials. (13:3)

Believers benefit from the existing governmental arrangements that operate by divine permission. Accordingly, the ruling authority, as Paul expressed it, is a “servant of God” for the “good” of disciples of Christ. If believers were to practice what is bad, they would have reason to be in fear of punishment. The ruling authority “bears the sword,” representative of the power to impose penalties, including capital punishment. Many of the existing laws that serve to maintain stable societies are in harmony with God’s ways. Therefore, when bringing lawbreakers to justice, the ruling authority, through its officials, functions as God’s servant in directing wrathful punishment against them. (13:4)

For believers, the necessity of being submissive to governmental authority is not just a matter of “fear,” wanting to avoid punishment. In view of their relationship to God and his purpose to let governing authorities function to preserve law and order, they should also be submissive on account of “conscience,” their internal sense that this is the right thing to do as his obedient children. (13:5)

In order to carry out their essential functions, governmental authorities need funds. For this reason, believers are to be conscientious in paying tax or tribute (phóros), doing so with a noble spiritual reason in mind. They recognize that the ruling authorities are rendering a service that harmonizes with God’s will and, in that sense, they are his servants. (13:6)

In their relationship to rulers and governmental officials, Christ’s disciples should pay them their due. “Tribute” (phóros), “tax” (télos) or any other kind of required fee or toll should be paid. Proper fear or respect should be shown to rulers and officials, and they should be honored in keeping with the dignity of their respective positions. (13:7; see the Notes section.)

When it comes to rendering rightful dues to others, disciples of God’s Son should not be owing anyone anything besides loving one another, “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (13:8) Love is the foundation of the law God gave to the Israelites, for the commands relating to relationships with fellow humans promote just, caring, and compassionate treatment. Persons who are motivated to act out of love seek the welfare of fellow humans. The commands not to commit adultery, murder or theft, and not to covet, and any other commandment of like nature is summed up in the one command (quoted from Leviticus 19:18, LXX), “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (13:9; see the Notes section.)

Heeding the command to love one’s fellows means seeking their welfare and not doing them injury. Love anticipates avoiding the kind of harm to others that laws are designed to prevent through enforceable punishment. As the apostle Paul added, “Love does not work evil to [one’s] neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” By not harming fellow humans but being genuinely concerned about their welfare, persons who are governed by love fulfill the very purpose for which laws governing communities or societies are enacted. (13:10)

In the case of believers, love should be motivating them in all their conduct. Paul next stressed the reason for this. The coming of Christ and the laying down of his life in sacrifice proved to be the development that was to usher in a new day. So believers did “know the time.” It was an “hour” for them to be awake from sleep and not to be in a state of spiritual slumber associated with a life lacking in love. Their salvation or complete deliverance from sin and the attainment of the eternal life in the sinless state was nearer than when they first became believers. (13:11; see the Notes section.)

The night where loveless deeds are committed under the cover of darkness and where hatred and ignorance prevail was coming to an end, and the day the Son of God had made possible through his sacrificial death was drawing near. That day would be one where the hateful words, attitudes, and actions associated with darkness would cease, with love being the motivating power. Therefore, Paul urged fellow believers to rid themselves of the “works of darkness” and to equip themselves with the “weapons of light.” (13:12) Armed with weaponry that protects and defends what is right and pure, believers would be in a position to resist involvement in the “works of darkness,” the hateful attitudes, words, and actions that existed in the world of mankind alienated from God.

Disciples of God's Son should be conducting themselves as is appropriate for the day, having nothing to hide under the cover of darkness. The orgies, excessive drinking, sexual immorality, unrestrained debauchery, strife or rivalry, and jealousy that were common in the Greco-Roman world needed to be completely banished from the life of believers. (13:13)

Instead, they were to clothe themselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. So fully was their way of life to be reflective of the Son of God who set the example in the display of matchless love that it would be as if he was their identifying attire. This would put believers in a position to act on Paul’s further exhortation, “Do not make prior provision for the desires of the flesh.” As imitators of God’s Son, his disciples would not yield to the improper cravings of their sinful flesh and plan for ways to satisfy those base desires. (13:14)


The Book of Wisdom (thought to have been written in the first century BCE; preserved in fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus) contains a passage that somewhat parallels Romans 13:1. Addressing kings and judges, Wisdom 6:3 (NRSV) says, “For your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High.”

In Romans 13:6, 7, the terms that designate types of “tax” were common in the Greco-Roman world, but their precise meaning is not known today. It appears that phóros applied to the tribute tax that the people of various nations under the dominion of Rome were required to pay as subjects of the Roman Empire. It may have been levied on houses, land, and persons. The term télos may have been applied to customs duties, tolls, and other direct or indirect taxes.

Numerous manuscripts, including fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, add the command about not bearing false witness. (Romans 13:9) The quoted words in verse 9 are the same as in the extant Septuagint text of Deuteronomy 5:17-21. The order of the commands is different in the Septuagint reading of Exodus 20:13-17.

In Romans 13:11, manuscripts vary in reading either “you” or “we” in relation to being awake from sleep.