“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
Explanation and Commentary of Romans 13:1
When Jesus asked for a coin and said, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mk 12:17), he separated church and state. The state (like anything else) does not exist apart from God, but God himself has separated the functions of the state and the church, though both are subject to his sovereign will, whether-or-not they know or acknowledge it.
Paul is making the same statement here with some further application. As long as the governing authorities aren’t attempting to cause Christians to break the laws of God, Christians should view obeying the government as obeying God, who sovereignly has appointed even godless human authority. For an individual to understand their individual personhood properly and their dignity as an image-bearer of God, and then to voluntarily obey proper authority is a humble act of submission to God. Jesus did the same when he “rendered unto Caesar.”
However, when the governing authorities are asking the individual to disobey God, the answer, at all costs, must be the same as Peter’s, “We must obey God rather than human beings” (Acts 5:29).
Breaking Down the Key Parts of Romans 13:1
#1 “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities,”
As already stated, the Father wants us to submit to him by submitting to those he has sovereignly put in authority over us. It is important to remember that there was hardly any authority in the ancient world that was not corrupt and oppressive. How much more today, for those of us in more democratic societies (admittedly, this is not everyone), should we trust God and the injunction.
#2 “for there is no authority except that which God has established.”
The very concept of authority is a universal principle established by the very One who established all principles. Christians are taught by Christ that even when they are in a position of authority, they are not to domineer or “Lord it over” others (Lk 22:25). But all under authority are supposed to submit to that established authority for the sake of the idea of authority and submission. This does not make a man the “head” of another man. Only Christ is the head of man, as God is the head of Christ (1 Cor 11). But positional authority is from God and must be honored until the authority commands disobedience to God.
#3 “The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
The specific authorities in existence are in place because God has allowed it. It does not mean that there are not situations where an established authority is not to be overthrown in certain circumstances, but it does mean that the authorities are agents of God. One function of this agent is to exact justice on behalf of the Lord, freeing the individual citizen from the responsibility. Deuteronomy 32:35 warns that vengeance belongs to God, not the individual. This is grace for which we should be thankful.
Expert Overview of Romans Ch. 5-16
Biblical Translations of Romans 13:1
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
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.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.