Romans 13: Ordained by Sin, Ordered by Love

By Ricardo Rodriguez and Brennan Lester

There it began – the Roman Emperor Theodosius I signed the decree, and all of Rome was coerced into Christianity. Ever since then, as economist Ludwig von Mises notes very well, Christianity has never been able to put down the sword on a large scale.[1] For politics eats away at a man – the politicization of something profoundly changes a man and his ideologies. Politics has changed Christendom as well – deeply and profoundly – and the end result is contradictions, as well as complete alienation. Romans 13, history shows, has been a central tenet of this politicization much like the tribute episode that was treated last time. Romans 13, however, by being interpreted with the intent of supporting the State, or seeing Christianity as supporting the State, lends itself as such to contradictions, alienation, misinterpretation, and most definitely mistranslation.

One should keep in mind how crucial this text is for the Christian anarchist – one cannot escape discussion of its contents when talking about anything involving Christian anarchism. Further, the anarchist movement is not very fond of it, and for very good reasons – it has been used for the Divine Right of Kings,[2] as well as the Christian Right for justifying government.[3] Monarch King James I called on its authority when he wrote in Chapter 20 of his Works (1609) that “[t]he state of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth; for kings are not only God’s lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon God’s throne, but even by God himself are called ‘gods.'” Similarly, and more recently, US evangelical John MacArthur wrote that the principle of subjugation to governing authorities is “unqualified, unlimited, and unconditional… [t]he text makes no distinction between good rulers and bad rulers, or fair laws and unfair laws”: all the same “[e]very one of us should get in line to submit to those who are commanding us”[4]. It is not a pretty sight – the anarchist movement is very well justified in being naturally alienated away from really existing Christianity as a result. However, this alienation is not at all substantiated by the actual facts, and much to the movement’s detriment, as will be explained in detail before the end of our analysis.

This interpretation created great hostility for Christianity in most anarchist circles throughout history, regarding the State and religion as one beast— that one cannot have church without state, that both are part of the same enslaving principle— perhaps most famously expressed by Mikhail Bakunin when he wrote, “[t]here is not, there cannot be, a State without a religion”[5], that under Christianity, “all men owe [the “legislators inspired by God himself”] passive and unlimited obedience; for against the divine reason there is no human reason… Slaves of God, men must also be slaves of Church and State, in so far as the State is consecrated by the Church” (emphasis Bakunin’s) — “his existence necessarily implies the slavery of all that is beneath him,” [6] and as such offered the now infamous inversion, “if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.”[7] This opinion has been widely adopted by anarchists of most stripes, such as Benjamin Tucker, who translated Bakunin’s God and the State for English audiences and the criticism of religion by egoist Max Stirner. [8]

Not only has it enraged atheists, but it has also caused scorn among Christian anarchists; most notably Leo Tolstoy, in his 1882 work “Church and State,” who asserts that Christianity “excludes the external worship of God [rulers and statesmanship]” and “positively repudiates mastership” but says that the link between the State and Christianity is a deviation and that “[t]his deviation begins from the times of the Apostles and especially from that hankerer after mastership Paul.”[9] This criticism is also echoed by figure of great significance to anarchist and modernist thought, though not an anarchist himself, Friedrich Nietzsche in The Antichrist who criticized the Apostles, and namely Paul, for falsifying the history of Christianity, Israel, and mankind for his purposes.[10] But this is all due to a lack of proper understanding, both the rejection of Christianity itself and the rejection of Paul’s message in the book of Romans by the anarchists is of detriment to a fuller understanding of Scripture, an understanding that this paper will assert comes to the aid of anarcho-pacifism, and rejects the notion of allegiance to a State ostensibly ordained by God.

What we intend in doing, then, is to take the Greek text of the verses, and begin translating and giving analysis of the passage.[11] We do not intend to critique other interpretations per se, as literature exists or will exist that does this better than we can. (see the “Further Reading” section) Rather, our intent is to show a historical-grammatical interpretation of the text – that in which necessarily ends at a position of Christian anarcho-pacifism – and attempts to to a conclusion immense both in its strength as well as its general cohesion. A theological analysis of a text is never perfect, but we do intend it to be strong enough to persuade another to get rid of their views that to be Christian must necessarily mean to support a State ordained by God.

One must start by making clear a few things. Romans 13 – as far as one can tell – was not written with any type of Stoic use in mind.[12] There is no exact metaphorical or allegorical way of looking about this text. In fact, some scholars consider Romans chapters 12-15 to be the “imperative” part of the book, as one can see by historical-grammatical analysis what Paul writes to the Christians.[13] Not only that, but this entire section of the book of Romans is written in such a manner that it is cohesive,[14] with each verse bound inextricably with the other; as a letter to Roman Christians, no fragment should be overlooked in analysis.[15]

It is therefore first important for us to notice Paul’s reiteration of Christ’s teachings of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt, 5:38-9, NIV) at the end of chapter 12: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) To review the contents of Romans 13 without understanding Romans 12 is to strip away the context of the lessons preached— for at the heart of Romans 12 is the divine idea that the Christian must love one’s neighbor as one’s self, and to not resist evil with evil. It is not to love those you prefer to love but to even “[b]less those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12:14) Those principles are the very foundation of Christ’s teachings, Christian pacifism, and Paul’s philosophy.

And that leads us to Romans 13:1 (NIV), a line that seals the deal for most in favor of statism: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” It appears to be a dead end for the Christian— thus we must bow to the State. But this is not what it seems, as shown by John Howard Yoder’s treatment of the passage in his stellar The Politics of Jesus. To start, it is wise to view the text in its Greek form and work from there:

Πᾶσα ψυχὴ ἐξουσίαις ὑπερεχούσαις ὑποτασσέσθω. οὐ γὰρ ἔστιν ἐξουσία εἰ μὴ ὑπὸ θεοῦ, αἱ δὲ οὖσαι ὑπὸ θεοῦ τεταγμέναι εἰσίν:

One of the words one must concentrate on, even if one can’t read it, is τεταγμέναι, which is normally translated as “ordained” or “established” in the King James and New International Version. In actuality, the word is a perfect passive participle of the word τάσσω, which one can conclude means to “order”, to “arrange”, or to “put into place” more so than it is translated as “establish”, or “ordained”. This changes the underlying implication, for as we go back to Chapter 12, one reads:

“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” ~ Romans 12:19

One can begin to see a point to what Paul is exemplifying – submit because God arranges and fixes all, because for a Christian, God is ultimately in control. One reads in Yoder:

“God is not said to create or institute or ordain the powers that be, but only to order them, to put them in order, sovereignty to tell them where they belong, what is their place. It is not as if there was a time when there was no government and then God made government through a new creative intervention; there has been hierarchy and authority and power since human society existed. Its exercise has involved domination, disrespect for human dignity, and real or potential violence ever since sin has existed. Nor is it that by ordering this realm God specifically, morally approves of what a government does. The sergeant does not produce the soldiers he drills; the librarian does not create nor approve of the book she or he catalogs and shelves. Likewise God does not take responsibility for the existence of the rebellious ‘powers that be’ or for their shape or identity; they already are. What the text says is that God orders them, brings them into line, providentially and permissively lines them up with divine purposes.” [16]

One can see Yoder’s point verified in 1 Samuel 8, which is the first time a government is truly mentioned in the Bible, as well as Hosea 8:4.

However, let us go back to the Greek analysis of Romans 13:1 – we are not quite finished examining the vocabulary, as there are some more crucial things we must keep in mind: ὑποτασσέσθω in particular also comes from τάσσω, but combined also with the word ὑπο, which means “under”, which then leads itself to mean to be “ordered under”, in a sense of voluntary submission – rather than the common dogma of being told to do it because it is a commandment. This harks back a few sentences in the text to the text of Romans 12. This does not give any implication of an absolute obedience – rather a very conditional, voluntary obedience.

This obedience is fleshed out in the word ἐξουσίαι, which is translated as “authorities”. N.T. Wright and Clinton Morrison both point out profoundly that the authorities in which Paul mentions is not a clear distinction between earthly and heavenly.[17] This does not simply account for Paul, but one can see the pervasive nature in even Roman currency, where the denarius stated, “Tiberius Caesar, Worshipful Son of the God, Augustus.”[18] This incredible mix makes it a confounding word to translate. Further, more specific words like ἀρχαὶ and δυνάμεις – “rulers” and “powers” respectively – can indicate one half behind the meaning of the word ἐξουσίαι, and should be examined carefully.

One sees these rulers and powers in Romans 8:38-39, showing profound contempt for them. In this vein, Paul writes that Christ has “disarmed the rulers and authorities (ἀρχὰς and ἐξουσίας) and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”(Colossians 2:15) Paul never stops to show that nothing stands between the Christian and God [19] – the authorities are disarmed and rendered useless. This voluntary submission proves itself to be a profound expansion of what Paul wrote after – with the submission of authorities occurring due to the fact that God puts them in their place, that Jesus has disarmed and rendered the authorities ineffectual, that one should save revenge for God, and resist evil not with evil: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

This line of thought does not lose its strength as one goes along, but rather continues to develop in Romans 13:2, which reads in the NIV:

“Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

And in the Greek:

ὥστε ὁ ἀντιτασσόμενος τῇ ἐξουσίᾳ τῇ τοῦ θεοῦ διαταγῇ ἀνθέστηκεν, οἱ δὲ ἀνθεστηκότες ἑαυτοῖς κρίμα λήμψονται.

The word mentioned earlier which means “order”, “put into place”, “arrange”, etc. – τάσσω – is in this verse as well. The word τάσσω is a very crucial part of this entire passage, as one can tell – further, it is used here in the word ἀντιτασσόμενος, which combines both τάσσω and the participle ἀντι, which is connotative to “anti” thus leading to a combination which means literally to be “against order”, or to be against the order established by God.

One should be able to see the obvious at this point – this too harks back to what Paul was saying just before hand. Everything is falling into place – a Christian is in fact a person who should believe that revenge is God’s alone, and to not put anything into one’s own hands. A Christian must be pacifistic towards authorities. The question begs, however, if this voluntary submission is contingent to also allowing them to reign and submitting to whoever comes by with a big gun.

It is simple: Resist evil not with evil means exactly what Jesus meant for it to say. It does not mean that one should not resist evil at all, as Adin Ballou points out wonderfully,[20] but to resist evil with good – with Christian love. Paul explains this heavily in Romans 12 – but what does this entail per se? It entails turning away from evil, and to love one’s enemies and pray for them. Early Christianity is known for martyrs that never fought back, but certainly many were running, fleeing, while preaching, praying, and loving.[21] This is what it means to resist evil not with evil – very much so must a Christian turn away from what the Bible teaches as evil,[22] and to pursue one’s faith in God. One must not forget that last part, for as Acts 5:29 states: “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings!’ (NIV)

One need not harken back to the Greek to see that again and again is the topic of resistance to evil through evil means addressed by Paul. This point of resisting evil with evil is further exemplified in the translation, for the NIV reads in verses 3-5:

“3 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 you will be commended.

4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”

So it is here that the contents of the first two verses become intertwined: Resist evil not with evil, but instead let God have revenge, for it is His to take; and He will take it “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52) . It also connects itself to many things, especially the idea that a soft answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1), along with many other verses showing that love stops evil. There is a profound idea here that Paul is showing, and it is to resist evil not with evil, which will set one free.

Additionally, verse four says essentially to do right and not transgress Jesus’ teaching, for they do not wear their swords without a cause ( εἰκῇ is the word that is translated to “no reason”, though one could have a stronger wording with “without a cause”). Another mistranslation is in verse 4 – “They are God’s servants”, in which the word servant (διάκονος), is actually singular. It is more or less translated to “He is God’s servant”, with the word “rulers” not even being in the Greek text for verse four. Further, the fourth verse does not mention rulers, but rather making it clear that whoever does have a sword is under God’s control and arrangement (vengeance and all), and that transgressing resist evil not with evil will carry consequences.

The fifth verse then seals the lid on this interpretation, showing why we should voluntarily submit to authorities – possible punishment, but also conscience for not letting God handle the situation. One should turn away from evil, but do so in love, for it is God’s commandment.

One is not left with clean air after this, however, for one has one more obstacle to overcome before having a completely clear understanding of the text – that is, Romans 13:6. However, this obstruction shows itself to be illusory when subjected to closer analysis, where a massive mistranslation befuddles what is the true expression of the text.

It reads in the NIV:

“This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.”

However, one reads in the Greek:

διὰ τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ φόρους τελεῖτε, λειτουργοὶ γὰρ θεοῦ εἰσιν εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦτο προσκαρτεροῦντες.

One should see two things missing here: “authorities”, and “governing”. The former is translated from λειτουργοὶ, however this has nothing to do with authorities. Rather, this has everything to do with a minister, a priest, or a servant – nothing of authoritative power. “Governing”, on the other hand, seems to come from εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦτο, which translates to “with this very thing”, while “προσκαρτεροῦντες” translates to “adhere to”.

The icing on the cake is that this passage turns into, “For this is why you pay taxes, because God’s priests (or ministers or servants) adhere to this very thing.” For supplementary proof of this translation of “εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦτο” without any Greek grammatical explanations, one can cross-reference with 2 Corinthians 2:3, Philippians 1:6, and 2 Corinthians 5:5 – all of which uses “τοῦτο αὐτὸ”, “εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦτο”, or plain “αὐτὸ τοῦτο”, but it also translates to “this very thing”.

It is clear that this passage cannot be a pro-taxation statement. Even if one were to take the translation as it is, one would find major historical inaccuracy considering the amount of resources showing that taxes did not go to governing in the Roman Empire. Rather, it should be a known fact that the taxes went to military expansion before concentration on governing [23]— to recall the advice Emperor Septimius Severus gave to his heirs, “live in harmony; enrich the troops; ignore everyone else.”[24] As early as Nero did emperors debase the currency in order to fund the increasing costs of military and bureaucracy.[25] This indirect tax on cash balances became worse and worse under succeeding emperors Aurelius, with prices higher than ever before in the Empire’s history when Severus’s heir, Carcacalla took over.[26] The Roman Empire would periodically confiscate property, and towns would be forced to feed, lodge, and provide transport for the troops— the soldiers were even allowed to loot as they pleased.[27]

To give solidify the interpretation of 13:1-6, one should look at the concluding verse right after the passages – “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor”. This drives the point home– to voluntarily submit and to resist evil not with evil. Give to everyone their due – which is in the end is summed up in the Golden Rule of loving one’s neighbor as yourself. It is clear that in the book of Romans, Paul is outlining how the pious Christian is to deal with those who it is hardest to love: the corrupt, violent, and degenerate “authorities” who make up the State, they are a test of the Christian’s obedience to God’s command of universal love.

If anarchism alienates itself away from religion – never accepting its existence, but always wanting it to push it away, then there is no reason to be an anarchist. A political ideology that pushes away over 3 billion people in the world should not be a political ideology worth having. The ideas that anarchism must be absolutely contingent with any type of personal conviction – whether irreligious or religious – is one in vain. Anarchism is about the factual order of human beings and understanding how human beings order naturally. For as David Hume said, “… the stability of possession, its translation by consent, and the performance of promises. These are, therefore, antecedent to government.”[28] One must not forget that anarchism is about the natural order of human society – to say religion is not a part of human society would be horribly ignorant of thousands of years of civilization. To say religion naturally does harm to a society is equally ignorant – for history shows profoundly that it was never religion that has caused the problems, as much as it was the political power absorbing religion. Theodisius I is just one example of many, along with well thought out arguments for as to how Christianity’s desperate need to seek political power hurts the church more than anything. [29]

Christianity necessarily goes in line with anarchism; Christianity necessarily is anarchism. It is a form of anarcho-pacifism – it submits to pacify, but resists in love, compassion, and with deep religious introspection. It shows that there is no genuine authority but God, and everything is under God’s control – wrath and revenge is His, not the Christian’s. Anarchists should welcome the chance to connect Christianity with anarchism, or any religion for that matter, as it pushes forward the importance of peace and the fundamental understanding of the benefits felt from cooperation, as opposed to the parasitism of the State. To ignorantly toss away an entire group of people is to defeat the purpose of spreading information. With love, respect, and keen understanding can anarchists truly spread the basis of anarchism. Fear of confronting religion only leads to fear in accepting anarchist ideology, and a bitter rejection of what is held dear to many of “the people” is to insulate the movement of the people with intellectual dogmatism.

In desperation to conform to society’s ways of thinking, many Christians – whose main objective should be to obtain salvation – desperately cling onto the State. With amazing leaps of apologetics, many Christians will attempt to justify the State through the use of Scripture, no matter what the costs of doing so may be. The deaths of millions upon millions of innocent people in history matters not – one will still assume the State does not directly attempt to hinder their relationship with God. The desperate attempt to use the sword to express Christianity is in vain – in the end, it will push people out of faith completely. If one must love Christ, one must abandon the sword, and by abandoning the sword, they must abandon their allegiance with any State, whose origins start by forcing others into fear and submission to a singular human will; the State elevates its law above all else, its supremacy over the land it possesses lays claim to a totality over the spirit that could only be rightfully claimed by God— and no Christian can preach fidelity to a force such as that. By breaking down Romans 13 into a passage of resisting evil with Christian love, the Christian should reflect on who their allegiance truly belongs to. The question then remains: Does the Christian tacitly give more allegiance to the temporal State, or allegiance to their faith in an eternal God? The former asks for allegiance until death, and the latter asks for all your heart, mind, and body, and condemns the idea of being lukewarm. The choice is for the Christian – choose wisely.

Translations for this article:

Further Reading:
Stark, Thom. Peace and Security: Two Rival Gospels in Romans 13 (A History of Interpretation and Critical Appropriation). Pickwick Publications, forthcoming.


[1] Mises, Ludwig Von. Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution. Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 2007. 43. Print.
[2] One can see some defense in this in Martin Luther’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans.
[3] An interesting sermon indicating that “Christians have a holy obligation to be the best citizens we can possibly be”: “God and Country Sermon, God and Country Sermon by Brian La Croix, Romans 13:1-13:5 –” – Free Sermons, Illustrations, Videos, and PowerPoints for Preaching. Web. 06 Feb. 2011.
[4] MacArthur, John. “The Christian’s Responsibility to Government—Part 1 — John MacArthur.” Bible Bulletin Board. Web. 09 Feb. 2011.
[5] Bakunin, Mikhail Aleksandrovich. God and the State. [S.l.]: Cosimo, 2008. 84. Print.
[6] Ibid., pg. 24.
[7] Ibid., pg 27-8.
[8] Tucker, Benjamin R. “State Socialism and Anarchism: How Far They Agree and Wherein They Differ.” Instead of a Book by a Man Too Busy to Write One: A Fragmentary Exposition of Philosophical Anarchism. Adamant Media Corporation, 2005. 14. Print.
See also Stirner, Max. The Ego and its Own.
[9] Tolstoy, Leo. “Church and State.” Wikisource, the Free Library. Web. 31 Jan. 2011.
[10] Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols/The Anti-Christ. Tr. R.J. Hollingdale. pg. 165-169 for a brief overlook, though Paul is mentioned many more times.
[11] One can join in and follow: offers a very well done Greek Bible, at the same is a strong lexicon. However, as Ricardo did when writing the Scriptural analysis, it is best to buy an authoritative lexicon, along with Google searching continually and cross-referencing. Immense scrutiny and thought should be applied at all times.
[12] There is a lot of back and forth thoughts on how much (or if at all) Stoicism is used in Paul’s writings, but there is hardly anything at all giving evidence that Paul used it for Romans 13. One can see this in Stoicism: Traditions and Transformations, where authors Steven K. Strange and Jack Zupko try to use Stoicism in the core of Paul’s teaching, but give no reference to Romans 13 using Stoic terms. Further, there is a strong rebuttal on the notion that Paul used Stoic language at all by Joseph Spencer called “Stoic Influence in the Writings of Saint Paul”. In James Hastings’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, he writes that “[Paul’s] views of the divine birth of Jesus, and of His resurrection…are unintelligible except in terms of Stoicism”, bur give no reference to the notion that Paul’s political views should be viewed in such a way.
[13] Thorsteinsson, Runar M. Roman Christianity and Roman Stoicism: a Comparative Study of Ancient Morality. Oxford [u.a.: Oxford UP, 2010. 92. Print.
[14] One should not forget that verses and chapters were not in the original manuscripts of the Bible, and was developed after. There are many different ministries that offer an overlook of this development, for example Rowland Croucher’s “Chapters and Verses in the Bible”.
[15] Bear in mind our scrutiny of the verses stops at 13:7, however, and that one can give analysis later in the chapter. Thom Stark wonderfully points out in The Human Faces of God, pg. 201-202, that Romans 13 also had much to do with the eschatological viewpoints Paul had, which is shown later in the chapter.
[16] Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus; Vicit Agnus Noster. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972. 203. Print.
[17] See N.T. Wright’s “Paul and Caesar: A New Reading of Romans”, along with Clinton Morrison’s The Powers That Be.
[18] Tolstoy, Leo, and Constance Garnett. The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2006. 11-14. Print.
[19] Smith, Mahlon H. “Tiberius.” Virtual Religion Network. Web. 31 Jan. 2011.
[20] Romans 8:38-39
[21] Balasundaram, Franklyn J. Martyrs in the History of Christianity. New Delhi: Publ. for The United Theological College, Bangalore by ISPCK, 1997. Print.
[22] 1 Peter 3:11, Psalm 34:14, Psalm 37:27-29, Proverbs 3:7, Zechariah 1:4 to name a few passages.
[23] Bartlett, Bruce. “How Excessive Government Killed Rome”. The Cato Journal, Volume 14 Number 2, Fall 1994.
[24] Peden, Joseph R. “Inflation and the Fall of the Roman Empire.” Ludwig Von Mises Institute. 7 Sept. 2009. Web. 31 Jan. 2011.
[25] Bailey, M.J. “The Welfare Cost of Inflationary Finance.” Journal of Political Economy 64(2): 93-110.
[26] Schuettinger, Robert Lindsay, and Eamonn Butler. “The Roman Republic and Empire.” Forty Centuries of Wage and Price Controls: How Not to Fight Inflation. Washington, D.C.: Heritage Foundation, 1979. 19-20. Print.
[27] Haskell, H.J. The New Deal in Old Rome: How Government in the Ancient World Tried to Deal with Modern Problems. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1939. 216. Print.
[28] Hume, David. “Book III.” A Treatise of Human Nature. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, 2005. Print.
[29] Boyd, Gregory A. The Myth of a Christian Nation How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church. Grand Rapids (Michigan): Zondervan, 2005. Print.

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