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Are Christians Required to Be Submissive to Authorities in Any Events?


Romans Chapter 13 is often used by some Christians to justify submission to government authorities, despite what these authorities do (hereinafter known as Interpretation A). They believe that Bible abiding Christians should never fight the government. This article attempts to seek an answer whether or not the aforesaid proposition correctly interprets what the Bible actually means.

All biblical quotations are from The Holy Bible, New International Version.

Romans Chapter 13 verse 1 to 7: Submission to the Authorities

1Everyone 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. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For 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. 4For 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. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

The Historical Background When the Apostle Paul Wrote The Book of Romans

Theologians generally believe that Paul wrote Romans in the winter of 56-57 A.D. (some sources suggest 57-58 A.D.) from Corinth. His intended audience was the Christians in Rome whom he planned to visit. If this belief is true, the book of Romans was written in an era of severe persecution against the early Christians when Emperor Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus reigned from 54 A.D. until he was forced to commit suicide on June 9, 68 A.D. in Rome.

Historians consider Nero one of the most wicked rulers in the Roman Empire. A series of treason laws in A.D. 62 and the fire in Rome of A.D. 64 built his bad reputation. Nero used the treason laws to kill whomever he considered a threat to his regime and the fire gave him the excuse to construct his golden palace, the "domus aurea."

It appears that Paul advocated unconditional submission to authorities in an era of one of the most wicked regimes in history. On the surface, the historical background seems to lend support to Interpretation A. However, be mindful that Paul, though may or may not be known to him at the point of writing, was writing to a much broader audience of many nations and over different eras. If the Bible is regarded as a divine teaching not only pertains to the time of writing but to all times, then human Bible authors, known or unknown to themselves, must have written with some generality that may allow certain latitude and/or under some unmentioned assumptions. For instance, the commandment "Thou shall not kill." was given under the unspoken assumption that when one's safety is not jeopardized. God does not order us not to defend ourselves when attacked. When David was pursued by Saul, his self-defence often involved killings which God considered righteous [1].

It follows that submission to authorities in Romans 13 is a conditional premise. Verse 4 of Romans 13 further confirms this view. For he (authority) is God's servant to do you good.

From a Christian perspective, all governments, including atheistic and wicked regimes, were allowed to rule by God until God decides otherwise. God controls history, the rise and fall of kingdoms and regimes. The disposal of Saul is a good example in Jewish history.

The key point is: "to do you good." This clearly states the condition of "doing people good" that authorities have to satisfy before the requirement of submission applies. The Bible never demands blind submission to authorities.

An Alternative Interpretation of Romans 13:1-7

The Bible requests us to be submissive to authorities if and only if the following criteria are met:

  1. Not in contravention of God's commands to judges as per:

    'Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. (Leviticus 19:15)

  2. Pass our clear conscience as stipulated in:
  3. "They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience." (1 Timothy 3:9)

  4. Do people good (Romans 13:4)

  5. Not against other laws of natural that God has instituted.

  6. "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4)

Based on the aforesaid principles, Romans 13:1-7 only requires Christians to be submissive to authorities if and only if the authorities are righteous and are acting to the best interests of the people.

What If Interpretation A is correct?

On the alternate, if Interpretation A is indeed what God commands, it follows that:


Interpretation A is indeed a simplistic and dogmatic view that accepts the face value of several Bible verses literally without thorough thoughts. It does not make common sense and is inconsistent with other biblical principles. Moreover, it creates dilemma in practicing Christian faith and attracts criticism from non-believers that Christianity indoctrinates blind faith and preaches self-contradictory principles.

God does not require Christians be submissive to authorities in any circumstances. Fighting an unrighteous act of the authorities is not unbiblical.



[1] This belief is supported by: "For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the LORD'S commands all the days of his life--except in the case of Uriah the Hittite." (1 Kings 15:5)
[2] Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. (Matthew 27:11)