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
15 thoughts on “The First Audience Perspective of Romans 13”
I have a few questions. You may have covered these in one of your other segments. If so, please point me to them. I have been reading some material by a full-preterist who states that in Revelation 12: 7-12, Michael is Christ. His angels are the apostles. The dragon is Rome and its angels are the Jews. Is this your understanding? In particular, that Micheal should be equated with Christ?
Also in Revelation 13 where the mortal wound to one of the beast’s heads is mentioned, do you associate this mortal wound to the moment when Pilate was ordered to Rome by Vitellius?
The wounded head was one of the kings /rulers of the beast, not the entire beast itself. See the post Frequent Mistakes Part I which goes over how the head or ruler was mortally wounded, but that did not take down the entire beast kingdom.
And, yes I do agree with the understanding that Michael and his angels was a metaphorical represenattion of Christ and the Apostles / disciples; that the dragon was Rome, and its satellite rulers of Judea, the Sanhedrin and scribes and Pharisees. In prophesy, the word “heavens” is plural and is usually referring the the king’s dominion over his land. I discuss this in Signs of Revelation Part III – Codes and Symbols of Nature; also in It’s Not The End of the World – Part III: Judgment Language in the OT. It may also be mentioned in several other posts.
Michael was called the prince in the OT prophesies that would fight for his people, and is I believe a metaphorical representative of Christ. As the Lord is the one who protects Israel (Psa. 121:2-4), and Michael was called “your prince” in Dan. 10:13, and “the great prince” or “great head” in Dan. 12:1. Remembering that an “angel” is a messenger, and that the “Messenger of the Lord” was called God in several OT passages (Ex. 3:2, 4; Judges 6:12, 14). The Messenger of the Lord, the Angel of the Lord, the Word was with God, and was God – John 1:1. Messenger / Word of God.
The battle was not in heave where God sits on His throne, but on the earth of Judea between those who crucified Christ and killed His Apostles / disciples. The two armies represent the opposing forces of the rulers under Rome, and Judea against Christ and His messengers. It is prophetic, so figurative language rules.
Do you have a response to 1 Peter 2:13-14? “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to the king as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors as those sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.”
From the contemporary historical perspective, we have to know the background. What was going on when Peter wrote the book, approx. AD 64-65? This was right about the time that the Zealots in Jerusalem were beginning their open revolt against the pagan, heathen Roman rule. They did not recognize any civil or magisterial rule over them b/c they were heathens. Under the OT Mosaic Law the authority came from the High Priest and the King of Judea / Israel. To them, Caesar held no authority.
The gentiles / pagans were accusing the Christians – a Jewish sect in their eyes at that time – of being disruptive and causing violence. They were being equated with the Zealots. Peter was exhorting the assemblies to distinguish themselves from the Zealots by peaceful behavior to magistrates that Caesar sent to punish evil doers. For the Lord’s sake. Pilate tried to set Jesus free as he could not see that Jesus had broken any Roman law, but the Jews would not have it. So, at that time, and just before the revolt of the Zealots, about 2-1/2 years before the Roman-Jewish wars, Peter was advising the saints to get along with the local magistrates, to live in peace. He was not telling them to worship Caesar as a god.
Every human institution … ? This is being misapplied today. The human creation is of civil government and offices, of officers tasked with certain duties in carrying out and enforcing ordinances which are human creations, instituted by the king. In every other instance of the use of the word “Gr. ktisis – “institution” it is of divine foundations, or cities. (https://biblehub.com/greek/2937.htm) Even in our current political environment we are not able to submit to every law / ordinance of the civil authorities as they often contradict each other from other offices / departments / authority.
Every commentary qualifies this instruction in light of Acts 4:19 – we are to obey God rather than man – so in so far as the civil authorities do not contradict God’s commands. However, that was not Peter’s intent. Meyer’s NT commentary comes closer in recognizing that the action / verb is not passive, but active – make yourselves subject to – . They were in the tribulation, actively being persecuted and killed. Peter was trying to get them through to the other side, to live in peace as much as possible.
Again, lifting this passage out of time and place is anachronistic, and is causing a great deal of confusion. Today, if one of the states in the US has a posted speed limit ordinance of 75 mph, then I am going to abide by the posted speed limit to be able to live in peace. However, does that mean that the ppl living under communist Chinese rule are to make themselves submit to those who kidnap them for their organs, who murder them on the operating tables to sell their hearts and livers, should not do everything they can to fight that? The current teaching of Romans 13 and 1 Pet. 2:13 would suggest that they submit to those evil kidnappers.
Thanks Gina very much for this.
Fascinating! This makes more sense of a text that I’ve always found puzzling. I am especially intrigued by your comments on 13:6. … If Paul was talking of Emperors at 13:1, you get funny results like “whoever resists authority is opposing what God has set in place” -> “whoever resists Nero is opposing what God has set in place.” Could Paul have really meant that?
Yes, Anthony. That is the very puzzling and contradictory conclusion that is drawn when making the argument that the “higher authorities” were / are civilian, secular rulers. And, Paul certainly did not mean that.
Interesting take on the scripture.
But what about John 19:11 “Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me at all if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the sin and guilt of the one who handed Me over to you is greater [than your own].””
This leads me to believe God knows the beginning from the end. And it is God who allows or does not allow to be in power.
I believe we are to take this scripture as it is written. Instead of going against the authorities, I believe we are called to love our neighbors…. now more than ever we need to be beacons of Light for the Lord, leading non believers to Christ and in doing so, the authorities we battle will change.
The Almighty Father allows leaders and nations to come to power, and will also pluck them up and throw them down (Deu. 28:63; 7 Chron. 7:20; Psa. 52:5; Jer. 12:14, 17, etc.) John 19:11 tells us that God allowed those evil men to carry out their foul plans of crucifying Jesus so that the plan of salvation which was designed from the beginning (1 Pet. 1:20; Eph. 3:9), & which Jesus knew was the only way to redeem us for the Father (Matt. 16:21; 17:22-23; Mark 8:31-33; 9:30-32, etc.) would be completed. The text of John 19:11 is not about us being obedient to civil authorities, but about Jesus’ obedience to the will of the Father (John 5:30; 8:29; 14:31; Luke 24:44-47; Heb. 10:7, etc.). The context of the scriptures has to govern our understanding.
But civil authorities are under God’s authority and rule. As long as the earthly kings / authorities are obedient to the Father, then we can be also. He will allow them to rise, and pluck them up when it is time.
When challenged by the civil authorities of the day, Peter told those of the Sanhedrin, “We are to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) Are we to obey civil authorities such as those in China who kidnap their own people to use for organ harvesting? Are we to sit back and let the civil authorities murder the people? Being a beacon of light for the Lord is to stand up for Him who died for us, and that is to help all of those around us know His word, do His will, and help those who are in need (Mark 16:16; 2 Tim. 2:2; Matt. 25:37-40).
We are to be teachers and doers of His word. If we are silent, and do nothing to object to the evil that is around us, then we are consenting, and have agreed to it. That is a known rule of law, that silence is agreement. Romans 13 was not about being silent and submissive to civil authorities but to the authorities that God had established over the assemblies (churches), and those authorities were the apostles.
Psa. 149:6-9, “6 Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand; 7 To execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people; 8 To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; 9 To execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have all his saints. Praise ye the Lord.”
The praises of God in the first half of vs. 6 is expressed and restated in the 2nd half as the two-edged sword in their hand. The same sword of Rom. 13:4. The word of God executes vengeance and punishments, binding the ruling kings with chains. How can we bind them with the chains if we do not preach His word and stand up for Him when we see evil being done?
In all of our studies of the Bible, context is key. Paul was not telling the assembly at Rome to be obedient to Caesar, nor the Sanhedrin, but to our Almighty Father as the appointed apostles were their ministrants before God and Jesus Christ and as Jesus Himself was obedient in all things commanded by the Father.
From a teen when I first read the bible this point has always seemed off for me – render unto Caesar… Thank you for doing this research and helping me understand this!! Bless you for all the work you do!!
We are up against preconceived ideas and teachings of men, which are ashes. Their word does not stand only God’s word stands in the Earth. After30 years God had to get me out of traditional Christianity and set me down and teach me himself, then I could see. Scripture interprets scripture and it is all about context. I was reading things in Scripture that did not line up with my thinking but when my thinking lined up with scripture then I understood. Hidden in plain sight from the carnal minded man and revealed to spiritually minded Kingdom leaders/ servants. God sets great opportunity before us to walk through and I’m having fun. You look like you are also and your work is very admirable.
God bless you my sister
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Love your heart for God Michael!
Very well put Gina, especially like the use of Psalm 149 verse 9 to carry out the sentence written against them. The sentence written against them is throughout all scripture and the first born of the new creation have this honor. Two examples of this are Christ cursing the fig tree saying let no fruit grow from you forever more and teaching his disciples to cast this is Mountain into the sea. And also the promise made in the garden that her seed would Crush his head.
In all my Circles of Christian believers I find No one who understands this. So when I found your blog I was doing somersaults in the spirit.
Michael, I thought about this topic for several months before writing it because I know most people have been so programmed to think it speaks about the “governments” of men that it may shock them. I hope that it will cause people to think carefully about the context of the scriptures, which is always first and foremost the rule and authority of Christ’s kingdom. He reigns over all of the kingdoms of men. Thanks again for your comments. I hope you can share it with as many people as you can. And, please rate it for me with some stars?