10 Nov 2014

Commentary on Romans 13

Religious 35 Comments

Another libertarian Christian and I are devoting ourselves to examining the issue of Romans 13, since it obviously is the single biggest stumbling block for our views. We both agreed upfront that we would try to guard ourselves from reading in what we wanted to see, imposing our own ideological views on Paul.

The first place we started was the commentary from Gill’s Bible Exposition. Here’s a good part that crystallizes the trouble I am having with all of this:

“Subjection” to the civil magistrates designs and includes all duties relative to them; such as showing them respect, honour, and reverence suitable to their stations; speaking well of them, and their administration; using them with candour, not bearing hard upon them for little matters, and allowing for ignorance of the secret springs of many of their actions and conduct, which if known might greatly justify them; wishing well to them, and praying constantly, earnestly, and heartily for them; observing their laws and injunctions; obeying their lawful commands, which do not contradict the laws of God, nature, and right reason; and paying them their just dues and lawful tribute, to support them in their office and dignity… [Bold added.]

So this is the problem I have: Christians will often say things like, “As a Christian, you are called in Romans 13 to obey the government so long as its commands don’t call on you to violate your faith.” They have in mind heroic figures in the Old Testament refusing to worship false idols.

But I don’t think they really believe that, or at least, when modern Christians lay such a heavy emphasis on this criterion, I think in practice it’s pretty expansive even though they believe it’s narrow. For example, most Bible-belt Christians heartily applaud people who go to jail for protesting abortion. That’s not directly about faith; that’s about preventing what these Christians believe is systematic murder of the defenseless.

Right: the same reason I oppose the modern U.S. State, with its global empire and nonstop low-level wars.

Another important point to make is that I certainly am not advocating an “insurrection.” Instead in my writings and speeches I try to show people what a voluntary society would look like.

This is why I am so happy with the distinction between government and State. I am not opposed to institutions that issue judicial rulings or even agencies that enforce them. I am simply trying to imagine and then explain more peaceful mechanisms for carrying out these social functions. Look, when Paul was writing, maybe he thought it took a powerful State like Rome to build networks of roads. But as an economist if I endorse privately owned roads, does that mean I’m violating Romans 13 as a Christian?

I know there are a lot of Christian libertarians who read this blog but steer clear of the comments because you don’t want a few opinionated people biting your head off. Well I encourage you to chime in on this one. If you think I’m forcing the conclusion I want with my reasoning above, please push back.

35 Responses to “Commentary on Romans 13”

  1. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Bob, under your interpretation of Romans 13, would it be immoral to violate a law in situations where following it would NOT violate your faith? For instance, would it be immoral for you to disobey government rules regulating your behavior and business practices, simply because you want to be able to do what you want?

  2. C.Jay Engel says:

    Hey Bob, I’m a Christian Anarcho-Capitalist and I have written on Romans 13 here: http://reformedlibertarian.com/articles/theology/romans-13/

    I know this is just self-promotion, but I think you will like it.

    I also am enthusiastic about distinguishing between government and state: http://reformedlibertarian.com/blog/a-further-note-on-governments-and-states/

    Enjoy your site and your work in general!


  3. Tel says:

    If you are on the lookout for creative interpretation, “civil magistrates” does not necessarily refer to someone granted their position by the authority of military force.

    The same distinction of government vs state could equally apply to legal process. Indeed, if you are going to make a distinction in one aspect, you might as well be consistent about it. Thus a “civil magistrate” might be an employee of a private dispute settlement company, and the Bible is just explaining that abiding by the settlement process is a good idea, because it’s better than fighting.

    I mean, people see a “normal” interpretation as whatever fulfills their personal experience and expectations, so someone coming from a culture where private dispute settlement is the common way of doing things would say, “Well obviously that’s what it is trying to say.”

    You could go a step further and say that in abstract, it just says that whatever dispute resolution process is available, you should give it a go and take is seriously… because if you choose violence instead you are going to make things worse for yourself and others as well.

  4. Harold says:

    Why is there a problem? It says you should obey the law, not that you have to agree with it. As long as you are not advocating insurrection, why can you not just pay your taxes, whilst pointing out why you think there would be a better way to do things? Then if everyone agrees with you and the voluntary society you advocate does come into being, then you obey the rules set up by the voluntary society.

    Are people sent to prison for protesting abortion? I don’t think so, since protest is not a crime. Those that are gaoled have usually committed a crime such as assault, or even murder.

    • skylien says:

      “It says you should obey the law, not that you have to agree with it. As long as you are not advocating insurrection, why can you not just pay your taxes, whilst pointing out why you think there would be a better way to do things? Then if everyone agrees with you and the voluntary society you advocate does come into being, then you obey the rules set up by the voluntary society.”

      Isn’t that what Bob is doing?

      BTW: You don’t need everyone to agree with you. You need a critical mass. Obviously not all are for the status quo, so why would you need everyone for another status, no matter which?

      • Harold says:

        “Isn’t that what Bob is doing?”
        Yes, but he also says it is the biggest stumbling block for his views.

        • skylien says:

          Ok, I see what you mean now. That would be definitely a way to interpret this Bible section for Bob.

  5. Grescodid says:

    1 Peter 2 elaborates as well.

    13Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

    18Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

    • Grescodid says:

      Surely there are examples galore of prophets who spoke against kings. I don’t think Peter and Paul mean anything more than don’t resist. Obviously Peter alludes to getting punished and suffering at the hands of authority, so it’s not like you have to do everything they say.

      Pay your taxes. If you don’t want to pay taxes, don’t earn any money or own any property. Better to bear up under the pain of unjust suffering…

      1 Peter 2:12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

      Be FOR something, not against something.

  6. Todd says:

    I think approaching Romans 13 with the context of Romans 12 is important. Repay evil with good. Understanding that Romans 13 is not advocating for the state as a moral ideal (voluntary is the only way according to the golden rule) but merely advising how to react to it.

    We are not to expect perfect justice in this life and it is not a christian’s role to deviate from the mission God gave us to pursue justice here and now. God will repay at the appropriate time (Romans 12:19). Don’t get upset at his mercy towards our oppressors. 1 Peter 2-3 also draws this conclusion and links our long-suffering (in this case at the gross miscarriage of justice from the state) to the far more egregious miscarriage of justice through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, He was physically free from guilt but killed at the hands of Rome, but more-so spiritually for the sins of all. When it comes to the state, Jesus showed in Matthew 17:27 that it is not because they deserve our money/accommodation but that in order for us not to cause them to stumble at their lack of understanding. We become willingly compliant to the slave master (the state) as to not give him reason to act wrong and demonstrate love.

    We can advocate for love, peace, and justice. But that is not priority number one. Paul describes principles to live by on dealing with the oppression of the state (very relevant to the early church) but how those principles are directly applied is up to you.

    Does this mean speeding is wrong? I believe not, that the posted limits are just guidelines and everyone knows it. They are just excuses to get money/arrests at will.
    Does this mean pay your taxes? I believe yes, that to not do so would bring other’s opinion against me and erect a wall to their conversion.
    But conclusions vary and that is OK. These will be highly cultural (time & place).

    • Keshav Srinivasan says:

      ” Understanding that Romans 13 is not advocating for the state as a moral ideal (voluntary is the only way according to the golden rule) but merely advising how to react to it.” Then why does Romans 13 say “For 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 you will be commended.” Being commended for doing what is right and only having to fear the state if you’ve done something wrong sounds like a moral ideal.

  7. Matt M says:

    “obeying their lawful commands, which do not contradict the laws of God, nature, and right reason”

    I feel like that’s a LOT of wiggle room. Try and get 10 Christians from different denominations in a room and ask them to agree upon what the laws of God, nature, and “right reason” are..

  8. Tim M. says:

    Romans 13 should be read that God has designed man to live under authority. I.E. Government not anarchy. The fact that an evil authority such as exists in North Korea doesn’t mean that God set up that government. Like most things, God designs man screws it up.

    • Dan says:

      I can still live under authority under anarchy. It’d just be my voluntary choice rather than be forced to live under the authority of the State.

    • LvM says:

      Is that something you arbitrarily made up to avoid cognitive dissonance, or does it say somewhere Romans 13 should be read that way?

      “[T]here is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” is pretty clear language to me. It very plainly implies an evil authority such as the one in North Korea must have been set up by God.

      Thankfully, just because it says so in the bible doesn’t mean it’s true.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        LvM I agree with you that one “plain reading” interpretation would mean that Paul endorses all actions of every official running what the public calls “the government,” but keep in mind Paul wrote his letters from prison. And he hadn’t been locked up for robbing travelers or homicide. Furthermore, his whole faith was based on the defining historical moment when “the authorities” murdered the Son of God.

        So forget extreme libertarianism; just normal people reading that passage would have trouble believing Paul could mean the interpretation you attribute to him.

        • LK says:

          “I agree with you that one “plain reading” interpretation would mean that Paul endorses all actions of every official running what the public calls “the government,””

          No, Bob Murphy, that doesn’t follow, even from the perspective of a Christian reading of the passage. What Paul says is that “The authorities that exist have been established by God”. That doesn’t entail that all their actions must be right or endorsed by god, only that each exists because god allows them to exist.

          The OT God can, for example, allow Satan to do evil as in the book of Job, without god necessarily endorsing every evil thing Satan does to Job.

          • Bob Murphy says:

            LK what about this?

            For 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 you will be commended.

            One plain reading of that sure does sound like authorities only punish bad guys.

          • Bob Murphy says:

            Put it this way LK: Which of the following did Paul believe?

            (A) The authorities commended Jesus for His actions.

            (B) Jesus didn’t do what was right.

            Yes, your invocation of God using evil people to serve His noble plan is correct and I heartily agree; but I’m saying that doesn’t jump out of the plain reading of Romans 13.

            • Andrew says:

              In response to (A), that passage does not say that you will be commended by rulers, only that you will be commended, period.

              In response to (B), the rulers held no terror for Jesus. Sure, they beat him badly and killed him, but he was never terrified of them. This passage specifically mentions terror, not punishment.

              Therefore, Paul is not contradicting that Jesus did what was right in this passage. He isn’t saying that rulers commend all good people. That would be a ridiculous message. He is saying that those that follow the word of Christ shall not fear evil and shall be commended (in this life or the next).

              Now, does all of this jump out of the plain reading? Well, that depends on the reader. If you were a ruler, you would read this text and find no reason to object. But if you are a follower of Christ, you would read this with the understanding of the points I made above. It appears, to me anyway, that this passage was crafted carefully to resonate with one particular type of reader (followers of Christ), while passing innocuously by the other (rulers).

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                Well, look how the quote continues: “Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

                So it’s pretty clear that the rulers are the ones that are doing the commending.

      • AcePL says:

        He meant that only authorities established by God are valid. Context: Scripture clearly distinguishes law of God and law of men. Elsewhere, but it’s there.

  9. OFelixCulpa says:


    Again, I am so glad you are thinking and writing about this. I wish there was more challenge to the dominant view of Romans 13, which pretty much amounts to the divine right of kings.

    I understand the distinction you are drawing between government and state. While it would be very helpful, it seems almost too helpful. Couldn’t someone argue that the real difference between is that the state is what you call the government when you don’t want to obey it, and the government what you call the state when you approve of its demands?

    The interpretation of Rom 13 that I, at this point, favor is that it should be understood as one example of The general commands Paul gives in the later part of Romans 12 (e.g. v18 “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”) Being at peace with all often means patiently suffering injustice and declining to seek vengeance–instead trusting God to take care of those things (“leave it to the wrath of God” 12:19).

    In that context, I think it is warranted to say that Paul was arguing in Rom 13 that we should not oppose the governing authorities (even if they are not just, moral, or fair). Instead, we should leave all vengeance and righting of wrongs against us to God. Further, we should recognize that God is in control, even of the state, and that he (mysteriously to us) even uses evil kings to accomplish his good purposes (cf Is44:28 where God says of the evil king Cyrus “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please.”) Regarding the Roman government, Paul observes that God did use it for some good purposes (like punishment of wrongdoers). Basically, “Go along to get along whenever you can. It may not be good, but it’s temporary and not all bad.” After all, our hope is focused on something greater than a fair or just society in this world. (“My kingdom is not of this world, If it were, my servants would fight…” Jn 18:36). We look for a “better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb 11:13-16), fixing all the injustice of this world(even injustice against us) is not our concern.

    Let me offer one example of the kind of attitude I think Paul has in view. Jesus explained (Mat 17:24-27) that he (and perhaps Peter) did not really owe the temple tax which was being collected, but he paid it anyway to avoid giving offense. Though these goons had no right to demand payment from the Son of God, Jesus paid them because the scene they would have caused would be a distraction what he was here to do.

    Sorry for so much rambling. I hope I made some sense. Please, critique away. I want to know if I’m way off base on this.

  10. John says:

    Its important to note that in Romans 12 Paul is discussing how to respond to evil. He also discussed in Romans 7 and other letters that Christians were be slaughtered by governments. Thus, Romans 13 must be read in that context. So what is Paul trying to stress in Romans 13? Christians are to relate to earthly authorities with confidence in Christ’s sovereign authority. In other words, I believe that Paul’s main point in Romans 13 is that we have something more valuable than anything this world can take away from us, including an abusive government. There are four reasons in Romans 13 as why Christians can relate with confidence to earthly authorities. First, earthy authorities exist subject to Christ’s creation. Earthly authorities are therefore fleeting and unworthy of our greatest concerns and attention. Second, earthly authorities rule subject to Christ’s morality. Thus, we can stand up for Christ’s values in response to government action and in our political involvement while knowing earthly leaders will one day be held accountable for their reign. Third, earthly authorities can provide earthly security. Therefore, even when earthly authorities may be abusive or just incompetent, we know that God has created earthly authorities as a gift to protect us from harm and chaos in this fallen world. Finally, earthly authorities cannot take away our eternal security. We have Christ and that can never be stolen even at our deathbed. Thus, in response to abuse and tyranny, we have something better to hold onto and proclaim than our physical wealth. We have Christ.

  11. Tom says:

    The example from Scripture of when it is lawful to disobey the magistrate is when the magistrate orders (by enacting a law) the believer to do something that God clearly forbids or forbids him/her from doing something otherwise commanded. For the former, the Jewish mid-wives were correct to not kill new born Jewish baby boys because this would be against God’s command to not kill. For the latter, twice in Acts, the apostles were told to not preach the gospel (by the Sanhedrin, which essentially was the church and state for Jews, even while under Roman rule). They replied that they could not refrain from preaching the Word. This would not apply to blocking abortion clinics because there is no explicit command to do this. It is a matter of interpretation rather than expressly commanded. We are to view the magistrate as installed and ordained by God and are to peaceably submit as unto the Lord.

  12. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Bob, do you take seriesly Gill’s injunction that you should allow for “ignorance of the secret springs of many of their actions and conduct, which if known might greatly justify them”? And do you think that “speaking well of them, and their administration” is something you’re required to do as a Christian?

  13. poppies says:

    I need to find a couch to faint on, ‘cuz I’m getting the vapors from the general even-handedness and fairness in these comments! Murphy, are you trimming out some weeds behind the scenes?

  14. AcePL says:

    I’m going with Douay-Reims:
    “13 Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God.
    2 Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation.
    3 For princes are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good: and thou shalt have praise from the same.
    4 For he is God’s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.
    5 Wherefore be subject of necessity, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.
    6 For therefore also you pay tribute. For they are the ministers of God, serving unto this purpose.
    7 Render therefore to all men their dues. Tribute, to whom tribute is due: custom, to whom custom: fear, to whom fear: honour, to whom honour.”
    I would point out to the first verse, which, I think, sets proper context: ” for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God.”
    Government or State – it is worty of our respect and submission only when it follows Gods laws and are terror to evil. And at this point I think I can say QED, “rest my case” or ” ’nuff said”.
    I’m not seeing there anything about private roads (I know, I know…)

    That is why I think that you over-think the whole concept of Paul’s submission to authorities.He clearly defined their mandate and their duties. Ours is only one: do good.

  15. Roger McKinney says:

    I’m not sure what Paul meant in Romans 13. I have read a lot of commentaries and disagree with them all. Creative interpretation is not helpful. We need to follow the principles of hermeneutics. The passage raises more questions than it answers. For example:

    “here is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God.” Does that mean God approves of every decision everyone in authority makes? That can’t be true because most people in government authority were quite evil. Does it mean that God so controls the world that he personally places every person in authority? Not likely.

    And where in the Bible did God create those authorities? Theologians claim God instituted government after the flood when he told Noah that anyone who sheds man’s blood should suffer capital punishment. But that is a far distance from the government of Rome.

    One of the chief principles of hermeneutics is to let scripture interpret scripture. But where are the writings in the Bible on government? God created only one government, the laws of the nation of Israel in the Torah. It had no executive branch, police or standing army. It had no legislature. No one tried to add to the 613 laws in the Torah. Israel had only one branch of government – courts. Israelis paid no taxes. Judges were wealthy and self supporting. The tithe went to the priests to support them and aid the poor. The law was divided among civil, religious and moral with the courts enforcing only the civil law, leaving the others to the priests, God and peer pressure to enforce. That government was a libertarian’s dream.

    When Israel would degenerate into following pagan religions, including human sacrifice, God would have a pagan nation conquer Israel, then after a while God would encourage the faithful to rebel against the government he had used to conquer them.

    When Israel demanded a king, God understood that as rebellion against himself and he warned them of the evils that kings would bring upon them.

    Other than Romans 13 and I Peter 2, the Bible has little to say about government. In the light of the Torah government, it’s clear that the state is a form of God’s wrath against rebellious people. The more ungodly people are, the more they “worship” strong governments and that brings its own judgment against the people, as God had Samuel tell them.

    The only authority that God approves of, and the only authority he has given humans, is that which he gave mankind to enforce his civil laws, which consist mainly of thou shalt not kill, steal, defraud or enslave others. Yet God has allowed oppressive governments as punishment for rebellion against him.

    Various states murdered Paul and the other apostles because they did not respect the authorities and continued to preach the gospel and refuse to worship Caesar and other false gods. Paul did not submit to the authorities of Damascus who tried to arrest him but instead escaped in a basket. So we know that Paul doesn’t consider his commands to obey authorities an absolute command to obey every authority regardless of what he orders. He exempted preaching the gospel from that. And in Acts Peter and the other apostles told the authorities they had to obey God rather than men. Also, the command is similar to the ones about wives submitting to their husbands; he never meant that to be an absolute command to submit no matter what the husband demanded.

    In light of all that, it seems that Paul might be saying that God requires us to obey his laws and authorities who are trying to enforce them. But we are not required to submit to everything. And just as God led the Israelis to rebel against the governments that conquered them, so Christians have the right to rebel against oppressive states. But if we decide to rebel, we shouldn’t expect miraculous intervention; it can happen, but it may not. We must be prepared to suffer the consequences just as the Apostles did.

    So common sense says make sure the point at which you’re rebelling is worth the cost. Finally, Christians can differ on topics like this because it’s not part of the essentials of salvation. I think we should look on this subject in the same way Paul wrote about eating meat and observing holidays: be persuaded in your own mind and leave other Christians alone who disagree with you.

    • AcePL says:

      Again, start from the beginning:
      “Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God.”

      That means that every decision of the authorities have to be approved by God. It cannot go any other way. That is why back then king was crowned by archbishop or cardinal. To remind everyone who is at the head, and it was not the cleric nor monarch…

      In this context there is really no contesting “what Paul said” nor guessing “what he meant”.. Really. everything else is just expand and/or repeat

      • Roger McKinney says:

        Well as I wrote above, people should follow the principles of hermeneutics and one of the chief principles is to bring every relevant passage on the subject to bear. Trying to interpret any passage in isolation from the rest of the Bible is a prescription for disaster. And as I wrote, Paul didn’t follow his prescription.

        • AcePL says:

          Yes and no. Hermeneutics is fine and dandy, but there is no issue that is difficult. Really…

          But fire away, if you want. Explain using this method then, how come Paul and Peter did not follow their prescription? Because either they were hypocrites or Apostles… Were they doing “the right thing” or Followed God? Because that what being Christians is all about: follow Christ. As name says.
          So what is it?

          Use my interpretation and all falls into place.

  16. knoxharrington says:


    We’ve got another account of a “dead person” rising from the grave.

  17. Nicholas Gausling says:

    I am going a bit off topic here but it is related. There is sometimes a tendency amongst libertarian Christians to put their libertarianism before their Christianity. In times past I often found myself often at odds with other libertarians because their non-Christian worldview was fundamentally opposed to my Christian one.

    As an example, consider the matter of helping the poor. Austrian economics shows us that a voluntary market economy tends to create more real wealth and opportunity to obtain it for those who can respond properly to market signals (e.g., by making sound market decisions). In a pure free market system, there is no taxation or welfare state, and the individual is not coerced into giving money for the welfare of another. In this sense, the person has a libertarian ‘right’ to be greedy and withhold one’s resources. And yet, do they have a moral right to do that? The Christian answer would be a no; they are obligated before God to be generous to their neighbor. It is immoral to confiscate resources from one person to give to another, but it is also immoral to be greedy and withhold helping one’s neighbor when it within one’s reasonable power to do so.

    In much the same way that the Old Covenant law was not meant to save man but rather to show him his sin so he would turn to Christ, so also pure market theory alone is not sufficient for a true conception of society. God’s Kingdom is over all creation, and a right understanding of all things is oriented under His Lordship (including economics). So while Austrian theory might show us why economic intervention is flawed and how the pure market is natural and better, the scope of economic science can’t end there; it has to be integrated as a subset of theology which encompasses the truest understanding of all other fields.

    So when it comes to addressing how voluntary institutions are better than state institutions, which is demonstrable on the basis of pure economics, we ought not stop with that conclusion. The Gospel is transformative and also requires us to consider whether even certain voluntary institutions should exist, and through the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Church so also immoral voluntary institutions begin to phase out of existence peaceably. Society can (and must) have rules, but it doesn’t require coercion. If approached from a pure market approach (e.g., Rothbard) society would logically require privatized institutions of coercion, but when economics is integrated in and underneath Christian theology the conclusion differs, because the purpose of society is then deemed not towards a secular end but towards the worship of the true God.

    If the end of man is to glorify God, then our approach to all fields of understanding can be free to orient to their proper and true ends. In the case of economics, wealth or the enforcement of liberty is then not the final end; the end is the worship of God, and our fullest understanding of economics as libertarian Christians ought to demonstrate the logical and natural necessity of pure market theory, but then follow through to the final conclusion of how pure market theory itself is transformed by voluntary and genuine Christ-like love that flows from the Gospel and excels to heights that secular libertarianism can never reach.

  18. Ryan Scott says:

    I really think this is simpler than is usually made out. Pauls point is that individuals should submit themselves to the ruling authorities. He’s not saying that ruling authorities have the right to do whatever they want and as Bob has said there are plenty of biblical examples of rulers being rebuked for their tyranny.
    The implication of this is that the way to liberty is not through a bottom-up to top-down revolution. But through appealing to the lesser magistrates to break away and secede. (See the doctrine of the lesser magistrates)
    When talking about this passage with believers I actually find that it’s extremely useful in bringing them to a more libertarian outlook because what does Paul say the function of rulers is?
    It’s to punish evildoers.

    In a private law order that is exactly what rulers would do there as well. They wouldn’t be running the schools, hospitals, welfare, regulating the economy etc.

    So this very passage along with 1 Pet 2 can be used to push back and show that the duty of government is not to do all the things it tries to do but rather punish evil. (The very thing it barely tries to do anymore).
    The way to freedom is not revolution of leaders, but secession and emphasis on the doctrine of the lesser magistrates leading to the breakup of the state as a territorial monopoly.

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