Monday, November 5, 2012

Judges in the Assembly Part 1: Why Romans 13 is not about Secular Government

Now that an election is upon us I've decided to present the truth behind Romans 13. In my journey with God He first freed me from man-made law before freeing me from His law. I used to fear that breaking "the law of the land," as churches called it, meant I was sinning. Having any copyrighted material that I didn't purchase on my hard drive, using any non-public domain image on my website, & even going 1mph over the speed limit would send me into a spiral of shame, fear, guilt, and the desire to not engage God. I somehow came across this webpage, (which most of the post below borrows from), which showed me how Romans 13 & 1 Peter 2 had been mistranslated. Its truth gave me great freedom & broke the illusion of so many things I thought stood between me & God. Roughly two years later I still have found no one else who has seen the truth which that author & I have seen regarding these scriptures. My second post on this blog addressed 1 Peter 2 in this light & does address how Christians are to relate to secular government.

I've kept this one under wraps for over 2 years because most will probably think this interpretation is an "excuse to sin" or be rebellious towards government but I don't care. What people should really be looking for in their own lives are "excuses to feel shame" & "excuses to burden themselves." People are much more likely to feel the wrong things & believe the wrong things than they are to do the wrong things. Feeling wrong & believing wrong is 98% as miserable as doing wrong. I think one reason why religious people get so mad at the idea of sinning & are always speaking against it is because inside they really want to do the things the free or uninhibited people are doing but their rules & fear won't let them. Thus they decide to attack the people who get to do the "fun" things they aren't allowed to do. Romans 13 is one of those scriptures that people's hearts tell them is not true because the translations & doctrines formed from it aren't true. My heart has always known that it wasn't true as translated & presented & it doesn't take much brain-power to see how this straight reads like non-sense...

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” (Romans 12:21-13:5, NIV 1984)

There is No Authority Except FROM God?
Most translations of Romans 13:1 say, "There is no authority except FROM God." The Greek word translated as "from" is "upo". This word means "under" rather than "from." This is a subtle but important difference. Saying that all visible authority is FROM God implies that he sanctions all authority. It can also imply that He created it, but has given it to someone else. It has gone from him to the political authorities. This is a distortion of the truth. Authority under God has not gone anywhere. Paul is saying that there is no legitimate authority except UNDER God. True authority can only be exercised by those who move "under" God. Any authority which is not under God is illegitimate.

Jesus said that all authority has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18). He has not handed any authority over to the secular state. He has not even handed authority over to a Christian state who pay lip service to his authority.  Unless governments are totally submitted to God (& they pretty much can't be), they are operating with fleshly authority that is not sanctioned by God. Paul was actually warning that they are rebels and usurpers. The truth is exactly opposite of the traditional interpretation.

The traditional interpretation of this scripture is to submit to governments regardless of how ungodly they are because God set up, even the most wicked governments. This interpretation by necessity says that the Nazi's were "God's servants" for "the people's good" simply because they were in charge. Think about that. Most people will teach you, based on this scripture, that someone is automatically God's servant by the mere fact that they are in charge! This teaching could only come from the lips of the deceived or the oppressors themselves! It says, "Because I'm in charge that means God put me in charge & you have to do whatever I say."

Nowhere else in scripture do we find the idea that unsaved, ungodly people, who have never even known God are His servants. This scripture isn't saying that either. Paul had warned at the end of chapter 12 that Christians should not be “overcome by evil”. It is unlikely that he would follow this warning with a message of comfort to support rulers and authorities who do not acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Psalm 103:6 says, "The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed." Are we to believe He does this by putting oppressors in authority?

Most Christians assume that we must submit to all political powers. This cannot be true. If Paul believed that all authorities are from God, he would have used the word “all”, but he did not. He used the Greek word “all” (pasa) when saying that “all people should submit”, but he did not use it when saying which authorities to submit to.

Submit to Governing Authorities?
"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established." (NIV)
This translation is quite misleading. The word often translated as “governing” is “huperecho”. It can mean “superior in rank”, but it also has a strong sense of “excellence”. Paul used the same word in Phil 3:8, when speaking of the “surpassing greatness” of knowing Christ. Paul is actually saying that we should only submit to those who are excellent. He is giving us a choice when submitting. We only submit to those who have demonstrated excellence.

Submission is never obligatory. It does not have the same meaning as obedience. Christians are never required to submit & certainly not to blindly submit. Our freedom means that submission is always voluntary. The word submit means "voluntary cooperation." We should use our freedom to submit wisely, never out of obligation & never simply because someone is in a position of man-made authority.

"For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong."
The word usually translated as “ruler” is “arkon.”  English translations of Romans always choose the strongest possible translation, but this Greek word can also be translated as “judge” or “magistrate”. It is translated as judge in Luke 12:58. The context confirms that Paul is writing about submission to judges. We will see who these judges are in Part 2.

Not a Terror?
Paul says that good people do not need to fear rulers. "For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you" (Romans 13:3). If Paul were speaking about all political authorities, this statement would be nonsense. Sadly a mainstream method of biblical interpretation is to take what you interpret as non-sense & turn it into obligation. Instead of discovering its true meaning you just shut-up & obey. Instead of questioning what you've been told, regardless of if it makes sense, Christians are just supposed to keep any imperative statement in the bible as a law out of fear of sinning.

All over the world and throughout history, good people have had terrible harm done to them by rulers. Kings and armies have pillaged and burned houses and farms without discrimination. In the Soviet Union, millions of people were sent into exile and many were killed. Millions of innocent people were slaughtered in Communist China. Political powers have always been a source of terror for good people. The bible is obviously wrong here to anyone with an ounce of historical knowledge if it were meaning to say that "all governing authorities are instituted by God," "everyone in them serves Him," & no government causes terror for those who do right." People will try to excuse it by saying, "Well it means unless they are sinning or tell you to sin." But Paul makes no such statements here. Paul cannot be speaking about all political power, when he says that they hold no terror for those who do right. In fact, the opposite is true. Political authorities throughout history have had so much power that they have been terrors to good people.

These so-called authorities are in rebellion against God. Unfortunately, Christians have failed to understand this message and have twisted the scriptures to give a justification to kings and governments who have set themselves up in opposition to God. Psalm 2:2 says, "The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together AGAINST the LORD and against his Anointed One (Christ)." Are we to believe that it is God's will for people to oppose Him? That is non-sense.

Does God Override the Freewill of Governing Leaders?
Proverbs 21:1 says, "The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes."
Who wrote this? Solomon. Who was Solomon? The King of Israel. Notice King Solomon says, "The king's heart," not "all kings hearts." He was speaking of himself and his relationship with God. In this verse Solomon is "the king." This is not a claim that God overrides the freewill of all governing leaders. Solomon didn't dam up the channels of his heart. He was saying that his heart was open to God's turning.

People like to take comfort in the idea that whatever happens is God's will but that is not true. Countless places in scripture people don't do what God wants. God didn't even want Israel to have a human king in the first place. God never wanted anyone to sin. God is not in control of mankind! God has a hand in everything and in the end He will accomplish what He desires but GOD DOES NOT CONTROL A SINGLE HUMAN BEING ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH. HE NEVER HAS AND HE NEVER WILL.

Not all authority is from God. That is a mistranslation. The only legitimate authorities are under God & work under His authority.
Submit does not mean to obey but to voluntarily cooperate.
Paul wasn't writing about "governing authorities," he was writing about "excellent authorities."
Rulers is a mistranslation. The word should be "judges."
Governments do terrible things to good people & have throughout history.
You will almost never get commended for doing right by the government.
People who have never known God are not God's "servants."

Romans 13 has been badly translated into English. Almost every English version has been translated in a way that gives the greatest possible power to political leaders. These translations make Paul out to be an idiot, a liar, or a stooge. In reality Paul was in trouble with the political authorities throughout his life. The assumption that Paul is commanding us to submit to every political authority including dictators and tyrants is absurd and needs to be deported from our minds. Romans 13 is not written about secular government/authority. As we've seen there are so many reasons why the idea that it would be is utterly absurd. In part 2 we will look at what Romans 13 is really about.

“Do not envy the oppressor & choose none of his ways.” (Proverbs 3:31)
Related Posts
Submission to Whom?:  Much of this post comes from this page & it gives additional details.
The Letter of the Law, The Life of Love -1 Peter 2:11-17:  Focuses on scripture that does address how Christians relate to secular government.


  1. As someone with obsessive compulsive disorder I constantly focus on sin which obviously makes you feel guilty all the time. So what you are saying is that we don't have to feel guilty whether sin or not sin? What happens if there are 'sins' that you are still happy doing? How does god change you? Do you have to feel guilty in the mean time?

    1. God doesn't have to guilt trip you to make you change your behavior. Scripture says it is His kindness that leads us to change our minds for the better.

      You never have to feel guilty about anything you've done. But understand having empathy, sympathy, hurting feelings, etc for someone you've hurt isn't guilt, its compassion. Guilt & shame are when you turn in on yourself & make everything you do wrong about you & your goodness or performance instead of it being about anyone else. It is also when you feel like you've lost favor with God because of what you've done.

      Titus 2:11-12,14 says, "God's love for us trains us to reject godless ways & worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. His love for us makes us eager to do what is good. He gave Himself for us to restore us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people who belong to Him as His very own dearly loved children."

      God doesn't change us by demands, punishment, & guilt. He changes us by walking with us in love. If you're evaluating your life as to what you should change about yourself you need instead to listen to God for what He wants to change first. He knows you may need to learn certain things & unlearn other things before you could ever be ready to legitimately stop doing certain things.

      So don't approach your life as, "that's a sin, I need to stop doing that sin." Instead ask God everyday, "What do you want to do with me today Lord?" And don't assume what He always wants to do with you will involve making you sin less often. We can have a rich journey with God but we limit the richness by our beliefs, assumptions, & expectations.

      God holds nothing against you (2 Corinthians 5:19) so don't hold anything against yourself. Consider yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11), that means you stop keeping track of sins (dead men can't count) & just focus on being alive to God by listening to Him & talking to Him.

      "Trust in God at all times. Pour out your heart before him." (Psalm 62:8)

    2. Thanks for your advice. I find it interesting to note that you believe we don't have to obey the laws of the land. So does that mean we don't have to pay taxes, pay tv licences, car insurance etc. What about breaking copyright laws like you have previously mentioned, why don't you feel guilty for that and the other things that you have " broken". I find your advice very helpful, I feel guilty if I owe someone a penny or park on double yellow lines. How I wish I could be guilt free!

    3. I'd say those things are up to you in your relationship with God. There are consequences to secular law breaking as well. Copyright law is incredibly easy to break if you look into it.

      I felt guilt because I felt that I had a sin record with God. I don't & neither do you. Give up the idea that God is tallying up your sins & most guilt goes away.

      God is love & love keeps no record of wrongs.
      If You, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3)
      God does not count sins against anyone in the world during this age. (2 Corinthians 5:19)
      Blessed is the person whose sin the Lord will never take into account! He will never charge that person with sin! (Romans 4:8)
      Those who trust Jesus enter into an eternal covenant of peace with Him that He made through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:20, Matthew 26:28, Isaiah 54:9-10)

  2. Just a final question, how as someone with ocd who is constantly obsessed with sin should I approach making decisions (the more I try not to do something the more I do it). There are something's that I feel I should change but don't want to.

    1. Don't try to change anything, just learn about how much God loves you.

      Here are two scripture collections about God's love for you.

      If you need to be pointed to more things or need more help I'll do whatever I can.