Art Toombs Ministries

Online Bible Commentary

No Authority Except from God
Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. (NKJV)






The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Rome during a three month visit to the church in Corinth, Greece in late 56 and early 57 A.D. The letter is heavy with Christian Doctrine, Christian teaching.

The major doctrinal portion of the letter ends with chapter 11. Going forward, the next section (chapters 12-15:13) takes this doctrine and applies it through practical Christian living.

In this passage Paul addresses practical Christian living for our relationship with government authorities. He writes “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.” (v. 1a). Everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike, are subject to the governing authorities.

This commandment is tempered by the overarching commandment to Christians in Acts 5:29. Luke wrote “But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men.” Where the government dictates are different from God’s dictates, as expressed in the Bible, Christians should always obey God, rather than the government.

Next, Paul writes “For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (v. 1b). God is the only authority, and He appoints earthly rulers.

Paul is writing during the rule of Nero, the Roman Emperor who persecuted and executed Christians, often by burning them alive. It was Nero who, in one of his last acts before committing suicide in 68 A.D., had Paul beheaded, according to tradition.

“Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God” (v. 2a). To resist the authority of their ruler is to resist the authority of God, unless the edict of the ruler is unbiblical.

Nevertheless, those who break the law of man will be subject to man’s judgment. Paul writes “those who resist will bring judgment on themselves”. (v. 2b). Standing up for God’s commandments will sometimes put us crosswise with the government. Paul was put to death when he got crosswise with the government.

In verse three, Paul writes “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Rulers should not be feared by those who obey the law, only by those who do not.

Paul continues in verse three by writing “Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.” We need not be afraid of our rulers, if we obey the law. We will even be praised by them.

“For he is God's minister to you for good.” (v. 4a). The original Greek reads ”of God for a servant he is to you for the good.” Our rulers are servants of God given to us to do good.

Paul continues in verse four “But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” Here, God gives authority to the government to hand down capital punishment.

Paul writes “Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake”. (v. 5). So, we must be subject to earthly laws not only because of fear from punishment, but also because of our own moral laws.

“For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing.” (v. 6). Here, Paul is calling on us to pay the taxes levied by the government.

Paul concludes this passage by writing “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due (v. 7a). Our tax money is to be used to attend to the continuing needs of the citizens. They are to be paid to the various taxing authorities.

Paul lists three taxing authorities; “customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor”. (v, 7b). We are to pay taxes to provide for those in charge of “customs”, such as the transport of merchandise over roads and bridges. We are to pay taxes to provide for those whom we fear with respect, such as our police officers and other legal authorities. We are to pay taxes to provide for those who we honor by electing them as our representatives.

The central point of this passage is “For there is no authority except from God”. All authority rests with God. God appoints our leaders, and therefore they should be obeyed. However, if Christians are forced to choose between them and God, we must choose God.