What Does Romans 13 Mean? (The Most Controversial Bible Passage In History)

Romans 13 is a very hard passage to wrap one’s brain around. It’s been used in all kinds of weird and ugly ways, but why is it in the Bible and what does it actually mean?

Thanks to those who support TMBH at patreon.com/tmbh. You can do that as well if you’d like, or you can also not, which is completely cool too. Either way, I’m honored to have you here.

References and Notes:

Early Christian Beliefs About the Return of Christ – https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/62846/why-did-the-early-christians-think-jesus-would-return-soon

Constantine and Theodosius –
https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/quotes/emperors-constantine-and-licinius-edict-of-milan-on-the-freedom-to-worship-for-christianity-and-other-religions-313-ce

https://www.svspress.com/christianity-and-the-roman-empire

http://www.earlychristianhistory.info/chr-power.html

Augustine on Government –
https://www.iep.utm.edu/aug-poso/

https://perspectivesjournal.org/posts/church-and-state-in-defense-of-augustines-allegory-of-the-two-cities/

https://www.jstor.org/stable/3160702?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

City of God –
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/45304/45304-h/45304-h.htm

Two Swords Theology –
https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-011-1638-1_12

Popes Appointing and Deposing Kings –
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Investiture_Controversy

Aquinas on Government –
https://www.iep.utm.edu/aqui-pol/

Luther on Government –
https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-34/political-luther.html

https://lutheranreformation.org/theology/kingdom-left-luther-temporal-authority/

https://www.elca.org/JLE/Articles/947

Calvin on Government –
http://www.libertylawsite.org/book-review/the-political-philosophy-of-john-calvin/

http://thefielder.net/26/11/2012/john-calvin-on-politics-and-state/

Michael Servetus and His Execution in Geneva –
https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-12/servetus-affair.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Servetus

Zwingli on Government –
https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/urban-reformation-the-life-and-thought-of-zwingli

https://zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com/2017/10/31/zwingli/

Jefferson on Separation of Church and State –
https://www.usconstitution.net/jeffwall.html

http://www.ushistory.org/us/20b.asp

Sermon on the Mount Series –
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iO30rNAkhc

Comments

PJ Flyers says:

Thank you for discussing this as I’ve been trying to rectify in my head and reactions regarding recent government events that quoted Romans

MissLexiification says:

I get so excited when I get the notification of a new episode!

Mojodojo says:

@ 27:00 u talk about breaking out of jail being illegal. funny enough in germany its not illegal to break out. its seen as basic human behavior to want to be free, so u cant punish someone for following that instinct

EmethMatthew says:

Could you also do a video on the thoughts you briefly touched on about people in a democracy being a fractional king and the biblical discussion on the responsibility of leaders?

ttarabbia says:

+

Mathew Alden says:

Nah man you’re right. Do everything out of love (like Jesus did). That’s the singular goal.

John h says:

Worth the 50 minutes.

Ron Wells says:

Excellent well researched and presented video! Thanks for your time, Matt.

jayhawkkilroy says:

Matt, love the longer content. Ever considered putting this stuff in podcast form? I would be able to consume it a lot easier that way.

Marcus Swope says:

This was like a whole sermon and I didn’t even have to tithe! (but I did support on Patreon)

Wordsnwood (Art Mulder) says:

Really thought provoking, Matt, thanks (ps: you forgot to add the end cards)

KalashniBear says:

Great analysis of this passage. It not an easy one, but it’s well worth the effort.

Jarrett Hall says:

Dude, my head hurts now! But thanks for the push to think this through.

Leah C says:

Wow, thanks for this incredibly detailed and honest breakdown! I especially appreciated the middle part when you mentioned the concept that God allows things he doesn’t necessarily approve. In my opinion, that gets to the heart of what so many people find really difficult about Christianity. I appreciated that you addressed in a such a direct way.

Mark Smit says:

You got me seriously thinking. Thank you Matt. Great stuff to think about.

LawnD4rt says:

“Including the maps” Best statement ever.

Jason Pratt says:

Literally darker episode?

Vincent Cristini says:

I really like the history and literary analysis aspect of your videos. I’m agnostic, and I’ve always been able to recognize the fact that the bible is the most influential collection of texts in western society and if not the entire world. Despite this I’d probably attribute the fact that the bible is on my reading list entirely to how much interest you manage to spark in me with your videos. I also really like how with this specific video you didn’t go into analyzing the actual policy the AG was referring to and looked at the quote in an entirely historical context, so I actually managed to be introduced to new information and ideas unlike other analyses of the use of this quote. :)

klackattack says:

Also, Aquinas has some dope bangs

Jared Evatt says:

Matt. You’re awesome. Thanks so much for producing great content like this. It really helps people like me who just don’t pick up on the undertones and greater context of the text. Keep it up man!

EmethMatthew says:

Spot on! It’s great to see you go through and hit point by point what I’ve come to believe about Christianity and government in my adult life! Thank you for putting this together much better than I have done so far!

llave brooks says:

One kingdom!!…the best statement in your whole presentation, and I really think that the last 5 minutes of your talk is perhaps the most honest thing I have ever heard a teacher say. I’m leaning on your conclusion as well that there isn’t an answer about how to respond except the one that each person discovers as they walk with God. I think though that Paul gives another clue in Romans 9:1-3. Perhaps I would like to say that a great deal of the passion for writing Romans is captured in these three verses. I believe Paul is looking at something much deeper here as you have so beautifully communicated. I really don’t think that he is an absolutist about the performance (I think he is still a pharisee in his methods of study and communication, but as you said, one who has found the liberation of Grace). I think he is straining himself to find any and every way to stimulate any onlooker to consider the kingdom. For him it was the unbelieving Jewish community. He saw the Gentile believer as a pivotal player in winning them over to Jesus being the long awaited Messiah. I believe this is why he sets the stage as he does and upon arriving at chapter 12 and 13 he is simply listing out all the possible conditions that we find ourselves in and some of the best ways to uphold the standard of the higher kingdom to which we belong. Does that mean you and I will decide exactly the same how to live out his encouragements? NO! But, again, the looming issue is that any and all who witness our behavior might at the very least take a second thought as to what is stimulating it.

For a moment…a brief moment I was getting excited Matt. For this message is beyond the act of just going to church and being religous. It is a much higher vision of life and that is something I have been pondering and it was good to actually hear you wrestling with it.

Questions: Have you ever pondered dimensions and how they relate to kingdoms? We are physically limited to the four dimensions we live in, but there are dimensions that exist beyond those four. If the kingdom of Jesus, “is not of this world”, what is it of? Is it not of another dimension? What one is it of? Even more, if God is of a higher dimension and he, as Carl Sagan explained, came from that place to this to reveal that one, could we not then say that the Bible is a book beyond the wisdom of this world because it is from that higher dimension? AND, could we not also say that if he explained the ideal of life in the Bible that comes from that higher dimension, then to follow it and it’s life, is to live by a standard that is beyond this world and indeed foreign to it, if not absolutely ridiculous?

Keep it up brother…keep it up. Love this format, hope you don’t stray to much from it. So many things need to be said.

Kanshin says:

Only just over a min in and as your talking I started thinking oh I wonder what his thoughts are on Bonhoeffer…Then you mention him.

Sylvain Robitaille says:

Wouldn’t Jesus being the king of king has something to do in that. As it set an example of authority that must be followed?

New Darganism says:

LOVE this! You are at your very best here, Matt, if you don’t mind a perfect stranger saying so. Thank you so much for putting the work in to compile data for this discussion, and articulate the biblical take on it. Even when I don’t reach the same conclusion you do, the balance of perspective here allows people to think their own thoughts in a better informed way, and that is a precious luxury amidst a lot of the current noise.

Jason Bleau says:

Excellent. Thanks.

Janet Ely says:

Awesome job. I tried to explain the difference in the scripture reference last week to a non believer and I think you have it right. We are to follow the law, yes; but God’s law is our ultimate guide even then.

Jason Pratt says:

13:20 Reagan rolls over in his grave. {g}

Donovan Schafer says:

As a listener to no dumb questions is is clear that Matt is making a point to show that his channel is IN NO WAY ANTI-SEMITIC. I love hearing you talk about controversial passages, I’d love to see maybe a mini-series that deals with more simple verses that get misread or misinterpreted commonly that cause issues with how people see Christianity. Thanks for the great content, you really stand out among all the polarized content from other creators that talk about religions and world stuff.

Bryan Steffen says:

I would not have thought a 49 min video from the “10 minute” bible guy would have captivated my attention so well. Such a timely topic to cover. I really enjoyed how you lead me on a little field trip through history and how the passage could be applied to different points in history. As we were going along, though I had a little question in my head. What was going on and what was the context at the time the letter was written. And there is where I see the underlying jist being teased out. Well done!

John Hathaway says:

Awesome video, Matt. Timely and insightful. Thanks so much for your earnestness and approachability.

Samuel Cooley says:

Wow Matt such a great video. I love the ending that we are ambassadors for Christ and that is our first call.

Joe Rundle says:

Matt I absolutely love this type of deep analysis of a small section if you have time I would love more of these!!! If you can fit them inbetween eps of NDQ

David Wood says:

Great video. Your ability to make such a long video not drag even slightly is extremely impressive.

As for the specifics, this is pretty similar to my view. Clearly given what happened to all but one of the disciples, we sometimes end up in the hands of authorities doing evil against us. And clearly political uprising was not practical or desirable to the early church. But at the same time we live in a democracy where we do have a say. The things we’re doing near the Mexican border right now are morally wrong, and in a democracy it’s right that we say so. But in the end perhaps more important is to individually do our part to show love to other human beings, because in the end what happens in this world is not the most important thing. I think if I were being persecuted like that, I would be able to take at least some comfort in that — living for another world to come is certainly comforting to me at least. God will handle it in the end. All we can do is our best, both as leaders and as participants in a democracy.

Matt Van Winkle says:

The 50 Minute Bible Hour

Michael Boyle says:

One Kingdom? Yes, but Christ’s Kingdom is in all and over all. If you think of the three institutions that God instituted to govern man, the family, the church, and the state, Christ is the head of all of them. Christ is the head of the man who is the head of his wife. Christ is the head of the church. Christ is the King of kings. God also instituted the conscience to help man govern himself and He is Lord and Judge over each person individually. So then we can understand that Christ has all power and by that meaning all legitimate claim to power, or proper authority (Matthew 28:18).

Roman 13, although not directed at government is an explanation to Christians that have been freed from the law and are no longer under its condemnation, nor can they be under the condemnation of any man’s law because of Christ’s sacrifice, why they are under the obligation to follow the law of government. It is because government is also under the authority of God. In fact, Paul says, they are God’s minister of justice. They have a responsibility to God to implement and execute His justice and when they do not they fall under his judgment.

Romans 13 does not mean we follow unjust laws. It does not mean that whatever the government says is equal to divine revelation (see divine right of kings theology). What it means is that the same way the church is responsible to God, the same way the individual is responsible to God, in that same way government is responsible to God so Christians should follow the law of God and He will have no trouble with government if government is behaving the way it should. It is God’s minister.

If we see a church minister teaching bad theology, what do we do? Do we wonder if God wants me to apply bad theology to my life? Do we wonder if we should try to violently overthrow them? I think we rightly recognize that this person has misused his authority and we are to be very careful around them and call out there wickedness but respect their position while seeking to remove them from it. The application is dynamic depending on your position but the takeaway is that we recognize that position is God ordained and the individual serving is in defiance to that ordinance.

Government is no different. They are ordained to execute justice, to punish evil, to execute God’s wrath. Government is part of God’s vengeance. When God says not repay evil for evil but to allow God to repay, part of that is the role of government. When Noah got off the boat, God told him that enacting justice for murder was man’s (government) job. God then gave responsibility to man and also accountability (Sodom and Gomorrah).

So the question is why would a free man in Christ obey the government? Paul says for conscience sake and because their authority comes from God. So then a nation has a God ordained right to enforce its laws and a God ordained responsibility to make sure those laws are in line with God’s system of justice and not a perversion of it.

Philip Cobb says:

Such a great video, it’d be great for those in power to hear it!

Trickle Smith says:

Not true that the bible does not talk about other types of goverments. Before the rule of the Kings God sets up a system of judges through Moses. I contend that this was set up as the first Republic. The second best form of government second only to a Theocracy with Christ at its head.

SciGuy says:

Did Jesus ever state that the ends justify the means?

David Coutcher says:

Awesome my friend. So so good. FYI, I have started listening to your sermon podcasts when caught up on NDQ. Started in Matthew. Absolutely loving it!

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