Some passages in the Bible take on a life of their own, living independently of their own context. As such, they can be made to say any number of things, some not even remotely related to the original meaning. Frankly, Romans 13:1-7 is one of those passages.
Discussions on politics, on military service, on voting, on citizenship… this short passage can appear in any and all of those discussions. Before rounding out what the passage is saying, let’s take a moment to talk about what it isn’t saying:
- “Government was created by God.” You might can make that argument from somewhere else… though I’m not sure where. It’s my own personal belief that government naturally arose as man rejected God’s protection and chose to depend on other men. It’s the story that played out at Babel.
- “Christians are called to be an active part of their government” or “Christians are called to be good citizens” or “Christians have a civic responsibility to vote” or… Yeah, there are a whole bunch of related ideas that people try to support with this passage. Huh nuh. Think about the situation in the first century. Would any of those things have been remotely conceivable to Paul or the Roman Christians? We can’t take our situation and superimpose it on theirs. Again, you might be able to make those arguments somehow, but not based on Romans 13.
- “Christians must support just governments, but should oppose unjust governments.” Sorry… you can’t make this passage play both ways. If it applies to every government throughout history (which I don’t believe), then it applies to the good and the bad. If it was of limited application (which I believe), the direct application was to one of the cruelest, most unjust governments that has ever existed. If we submit to all governments, we submit to all governments: good and bad.
I could go on, I guess, but those are some of the main ideas. Care to mention any others? Or dispute what I’ve written here? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.