A teacher and brother in Christ stated a few months ago that the first century AD was long past and that we did not have to consider it any longer; that it was finished. I was so very astounded by his statement, in light of the fact that it was the first century AD – by our world calendars – in which God determined was the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4) to send His son into the world to be the propitiation for our sins (Rom. 3:25).
His attitude is reflected across all Christian denominations, and in my opinion stems from the idea that we can make application of the scriptures to our lives. If we are always applying His word to our lives, then we are essentially using God to suit our convenience, or our situations. There is a difference in conforming our lives to abide in God’s word, versus using His word to conform to our lives.
This may seem like splitting hairs, but it impacts how we read and study His word. Are we trying to abide in Him, or are we pulling Him down to our level and using His word for our beliefs? It has become so prevalent a practice to use God’s word and apply it to our current time frame, that the original audience is completely forgotten. Romans 13 is a very good example of how far away we can get from God’s word by “applying” it to our lives.
If we are going to correlate or compare their situations to our lives in order to make application of the scriptures to our lives, then we must first establish if the same perspective applied at the time the scripture was written.
Every preacher I have heard speak on Romans 13 has always looked at it from the perspective of our current social, economic, and political systems. But, if we keep this book in the proper time frame of the first century AD when it was written, then something else becomes entirely evident.
We should look at Romans 13 from the perspective of the first audience… those Jewish and gentile converts to The Way, who were worshiping the Father in their homes and assemblies in Rome at the time Paul wrote this letter to them in about 55-57 AD. (1)
The “ecclesia”, or called-out ones of Romans were living during the time of the reign of Caesar Nero under the “government” world power of the pagan Roman empire, and Paul’s letter would have reached them before Nero blamed the Christians for burning Rome, before the terrible persecutions Nero would cause about July AD 64. (2)
Their social, economic, and political system was under the cult emperor worship of the Caesars, which had Caesar as a “son of god” among their many pagan “gods” which included Jupiter (Zeus -the patron god of Rome), Juno, Minerva, Neptune, Venus, Mars, Apollo, Diana and a few others. (3)
Each of the emperors claimed one of the pagan gods to be their patron “god” as proof to the people that they had the right to rule. The Julian line, including Tiberius claimed Venus as their divine “mother” and thus their right to rule.(4) The Latin word “divus” meant “son of god”, but when translated into the Greek it became “theos,” which simply means “god”. The Greek translation removed the distinction of the Latin “son of,” or that of lesser status. (5)
This casts a whole new light upon Matt. 22:19-21 and the coin the Pharisees showed Jesus bearing the Roman image of Tiberius with the words “son of god” engraved upon it. The words on that coin were those of an imposter presented before the true Son of God in the temple. When Jesus said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s;” can you not hear the sarcasm? Neither the gold in that coin, nor the claim of “son of god” upon it were truly Caesar’s, as Caesar did not create the gold, and Caesar’s claim to be a “son of god” was false.
The Caesars’ claims of being the son of a god – Venus or Jupiter, etc – was of long standing practice of pagan nations, as being a “son of a nobody” was an epithet meaning of no authority.(6) The entire premise of being a “son of god” was to establish their power of authority, and divine right. But, whose right to rule was truly divine?
By definition, the called-out ones or “ecclesia” were called to live righteously under the gospel of Christ, and to shun sinful and worldly lusts.
Why then would Paul be discussing the authority of secular, “civil”, pagan governments with those who were to live righteously before YHVH?
The question should be which higher authorities did Paul mean? Do we really think that Paul meant to call Nero an authority who was also a servant to them?
We need to look at the original words, and begin with a better English translation from Young’s.
Rom. 13:1 -4:
“Let every soul to the higher authorities be subject, for there is no authority except from God, and the authorities existing are appointed by God,
2 so that he who is setting himself against the authority, against God’s ordinance hath resisted; and those resisting, to themselves shall receive judgment.
3 For those ruling are not a terror to the good works, but to the evil; and dost thou wish not to be afraid of the authority? that which is good be doing, and thou shalt have praise from it,
4 for of God it is a ministrant to thee for good; and if that which is evil thou mayest do, be fearing, for not in vain doth it bear the sword; for of God it is a ministrant, an avenger for wrath to him who is doing that which is evil.” (YLT)
The word “authorities” in vs. 1 is Strong’s Gr. 1849, “ἐξουσία“, and is transliterated as “exousia“. It means power to act, authority and was used as “(a) power, authority, weight, especially: moral authority, influence, (b) in a quasi-personal sense, derived from later Judaism, of a spiritual power, and hence of an earthly power.” (7)
It is different from Strong’s Gr. 1537 and 1510 which speak of authorization and delegated jurisdictional authority. Strong’s Gr. 1849 is used in the NT as ‘authority God gives to His saints – authorizing them to act to the extent they are guided by faith (His revealed word).”
The “higher authority” of Romans 13:1 was the authority God delegated to the Apostles to preach His word – the sword of the Spirit (Matt. 10:34; Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12) – that whatever they would bind on earth would be bound in heaven, and what they loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven (Matt. 18:18).
“God’s ordinance” in verse 2 would not encompass a command from Caesar Nero to worship him as a god under the cult of the Roman emperor worship. The ordinance referred to in vs. 2 must be those set by the Apostles through the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit as their leadership of the assemblies / churches of the saints did establish in the first century AD. Therefore anyone setting themselves against the authority of His Apostles were setting themselves against God’s ordinances.
The word “ministrant” in vs. 4 is Strong’s Gr. 1249, “διάκονος” or “diakonos” and means servant. According to A.T. Robertson it means to kick up dust, as one who is running an errand. It is the root of the English word “deacon”. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon has three meanings: 1) a servant of the king; 2) a deacon…who cares for the poor and distributes monies, 3) a waiter, one who serves food and drink. (8)
I cannot under any circumstances imagine Paul would imply that Caesar Nero or any other secular ruling authority of the time was a servant to the assemblies of Christ. The Apostles were the servants of Christ to the assemblies (Acts 16:17; Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1, Titus 1:1). The ministrants of the daily business / care of the assemblies were established in Acts 6:1-6 for the distributions of monies and service of tables.
The sword of verse 4 was carried by those same servants, the Apostles, and it was the sword of the gospel. They carried the two-edged sword of God, namely the word of God, the gospel of Christ:
Heb. 4:12, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (KJV)
That two-edged sword proceeded from the mouth of Christ in Rev. 1:16; 2:12. The two-edged sword is the word of God, the gospel of Christ. It is the means of binding kings with chains and honored ones in bands / fetters of iron (Psa. 149:6-9).
The dues and tributes of vs. 6 which they were to pay to the servants of God would be those paid to the same servants of verse 4 – the “deacons” (diakonos) who were working and ministering to the assemblies.
The dues of vs. 7 is Strong’s Gr. 3782, “ὀφειλή” or “opheilé” and is a debt, an obligation. Verse 7 is a general statement for well being, speaking of paying all debts to anyone to whom it is owed, whether of the tribute / tithe to the assembly, or of any taxing authority. It goes along with the command in vs. 8 to owe nothing to anyone.(9)
If we make the payments demanded by secular governments then they will be less likely to throw us in jail. But, this verse alone cannot be used to make the entire chapter speak of civil, or secular authorities.
The purpose of the entire chapter was to establish and confirm for the assemblies that God had appointed a HIGHER AUTHORITY than Caesar, even than of the Sanhedrin – the higher authority of the rule of the Apostles over the assemblies / ecclesia of Christ.
It is very possible that the current teaching of Romans 13 was generated by the desire of King James in his battle with the Pope to support his claim of the divine right of kings, and in his distaste of the Puritans and the marginal notes of the Geneva Bible which, if extended to its fullest application, threatened his position and authority as king, a teaching which he fully acknowledged as possible. See “King James and the Divine Right of Kings” at http://www.jesus-is-lord.com/kjdivin2.htm
I believe that Romans chap 13 has been used by unscrupulous power mongers to make today’s Christians believe they are to sit down, shut up and do what they are told… in other words to submit to secular governments who desire to control the people in each nation. Those who desire power and control over the people have incorrectly used Romans 13 twisting the meaning of “higher authority”, and have supplanted themselves in place of the apostles who were the true “higher authority” appointed by God.
So, this twisted misuse of these scriptures came about because we did not keep the proper perspective of the first audience. The first century AD is still very necessary for our understanding of God’s word. It cannot be considered “finished” when we are studying the NT scriptures because that is when they were written.
1) Dating the New Testament: Romans –DatingTheNewTestament
2) Tacitus on the Christians – Livius
3) The 12 Gods and Goddesses of Pagan Rome –Gods & Goddesses of Pagan Rome
4) Venus – Venus
5) Son of God in Roman World – here
6) Son of a Nobody – here
7) Strong’s Greek 1849, ” exousia” – Biblehub
8) Strong’s Greek 1249, ” diakonos” – Biblehub
9) Strong’s Greek 3782, ” opheilé” –Biblehub