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Romans

Chapter: 13 | Verse: 1

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Note 1 on Romans 13:1

The subject of submission to authority is a very basic Bible doctrine. Some of the major areas of submission commanded in the Scriptures are (1) submission to God (Ephesians 5:24 and James 4:7), (2) submission to civil or governmental authority (Romans 13:1-7), (3) submission to the church or religious authority (Hebrews 13:17), (4) wives submitting to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24 and Colossians 3:18), (5) children submitting to their parents (Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20), (6) slaves submitting to their masters (today’s equivalent would be employees submitting to employers, 1 Peter 2:18), (7) the younger submitting to the older (1 Peter 5:5), and (8) all of us submitting to each other in love (Ephesians 5:21 and 1 Peter 5:5).

The Greek word translated “subject” here, as well as thirteen other times in the New Testament, is “HUPOTASSO.” This was a military term meaning “to rank under” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary). Although, in most cases, obedience is a part of submission, these terms are not synonymous. Just as those enlisted in the army have limits to their obedience to an officer, so we only obey others as long as their commands do not oppose God.

A failure to understand the difference between submission and obedience has given birth to many false teachings that have caused some people to obey others in matters of sin. That is never commanded in the Word of God.

One of the easiest ways to see that a person can submit without obeying an ungodly command is to look at the life of Peter. Peter made some striking statements in 1 Peter 2:13-14 when he said, “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.”

This was the same Peter who refused to obey the chief priests when they commanded him not to speak or teach anymore in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18-19). When Peter and the other apostles continued their teaching and preaching about Jesus, the high priest and the Jewish elders imprisoned them. However, they were supernaturally freed from prison by an angel of the Lord who told them to go back to the temple and preach again (Acts 5:17-20). This command was a direct contradiction to the commands of the Jews.

The Jews again arrested Peter and the other apostles and said (Acts 5:28), “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name?” Peter responded by saying, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). This is always the bottom line. We never obey any person if that would cause us to disobey God. And yet, we are to submit to every ordinance of man (1 Peter 2:13). Submission is an attitude, not an action. It will express itself through actions, but we can have a submissive attitude and yet disobey an ungodly command.

If government officials commanded us not to preach Jesus, we should follow the example of Peter, and not obey them. But we should also not rebel at their authority, in the same way that Peter and the other apostles did not rebel at the authority of the Jews.

When the apostles were beaten for their obedience to God, they didn’t criticize or form a revolt. They praised God and kept right on preaching the Gospel (Acts 5:41-42). They didn’t obey ungodly commands, but they didn’t become ungodly, either, by cursing those who had hurt them (see note 8 at Romans 12:14). They submitted to the authority over them to the point that they took a beating without one complaint, but they never did do what the Jews commanded them.

If a man commanded his wife not to go to church anymore, she should not obey that command. The Bible clearly says not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). However, there is a submissive way and a rebellious way of doing that.

If she said, “You old reprobate. You never have liked me going to church. Well, I’m going to show you that you can’t tell me what to do. I’m going anyway, and I don’t care what you say,” that would be a rebellious attitude.

Yet, a woman in the same circumstance could affirm her love to her husband and state that she really wants to comply as much as possible, but in this instance, she has to obey God over her husband. If that was her attitude, she would be in submission to her husband even though she wouldn’t do what he said.

Submission is also a voluntary thing. You cannot make another person submit. You can make people obey you, but that doesn’t mean they’ve submitted. Their attitude is totally a matter of choice on their part. This is the reason that a man cannot hear a teaching on submission and go home and make his wife submit. She has to choose to submit.

The book of Daniel has two examples of civil disobedience done through a commitment to God’s higher laws (Daniel 3:8-18 and 6:10-17), yet this disobedience was accomplished with respect and submission to the civil authority. When Pharaoh commanded that the male Hebrew babies were to be killed at birth (Exodus 1:16), Moses’ parents did not obey, and God blessed them for their actions.

Submission is an essential part of true Christianity. However, it is a missing ingredient in most of our lives. The root of all lack of submission in our lives lies in pride (1 Peter 5:4-6).

Note 2 on Romans 13:1

This sentence–“For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God”–has perplexed many people. Was Paul saying that God wills that there be oppressive governments like the Nazis or even the Roman government that Paul was under? Definitely not. Even though He has used corrupt rulers and governments to punish offenses, their governmental authority was not created by God to be oppressive. They were ordained to be ministers of God to us for good (Romans 13:4).

In the same way that God ordains people to the ministry yet they fail to fulfill that call as God intended, likewise, God ordains governments but doesn’t ordain everything that they do. There are countless scriptural examples of rebukes and punishments by God upon civil leaders because they did not submit to His will.

God’s original government over mankind was directly administered by God Himself. People answered only to their Creator. Even after the Fall, God worked in cooperation with people’s consciences to restrain them from evil. In the beginning, this was effective, as can be seen through Cain’s statement, “My punishment is greater than I can bear” (Genesis 4:13).

However, people seared their consciences (1 Timothy 4:2) through repeated sin. Therefore, since people were no longer responsive to their Creator, God ordained people to begin to police themselves. He told Noah, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:6). This responsibility of a corporate body to avenge the wrongs of an individual continued to develop until, through the giving of the Old Testament Law, God gave detailed instructions on how mankind was to treat each other and prescribed punishments for failure to do so.

So, in that context, God did ordain all government. But in more cases than not, governments are not any more responsive to Him than are individuals. However, we are to submit to them and obey them as long as we don’t have to violate a clear command of God. Even bad government is superior to anarchy.

The governors themselves may not be of God, but civil government is definitely of God.

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Q: Are there notes for every verse?
A: Andrew’s free online Bible commentary contains notes from the Life for Today commentaries which provides notes for about half of the verses. Additional notes are available in the expanded Living Commentary, containing footnotes on over 23,000 of the 31,000 Bible verses.
Q: Why is it called "Note 20 at Acts 2:11" when there is only one note for that verse?
A: The Life for Today Commentary notes on this web site are taken from the printed Life for Today Study Bible series. The system of numbering notes was designed for the printed book and is used throughout the text to refer to other notes. Because of this, it would be very difficult to try and change them.
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A: As mentioned above, the commentary notes are taken from a printed study Bible. The page numbers are useful in the printed book but not the web pages.
Q: What is this a reference to? "(see ref. b at v. 37)"
A: There are more features to the printed study Bible than we can include on this web site. We have many marginal references in the printed version with word definitions and related verses. This is a reference to one of these marginal notes.