Romans 13– be Subject To Higher Powers?

As I was doing my essays on the nature of freedom from religious organizations, I was informed that the idea of “judge not, that ye be not judged” would lead to anarchy in today’s society.

If, within the context of truth, we cannot judge or condemn others, how would we go about enforcing obedience for those who simply refuse to try and live by a moral standard?

Ad we know from Matthew 5, Jesus said he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill “every jot and tittle” of the law.

However, if we try to keep that law, in accordance with Paul’s statement in Romans 8:7, the result would be infinite splintering of religious beliefs. Jesus apparently agreed with that, since he said in Matthew 10:34-38 that he came to bring about exactly those results!

In other words, the attempt to obey “God’s law” will force us to become more and more individualistic in spite of ourselves.. yet out of that individualism, Jesus also told us we are not to seek “an eye for an eye” or vengeance in our dealings with others.

What we see in that is a “separation of church and state”. To pursue the ideals taught by Jesus, to love those that hate you, to pray for those that use and persecute you, to bless those that curse you, these would make a person an open invitation to every crook who ignored those principles.

But by that same token, we cannot simply take vengeance into our own hands. The very act of doing so is to claim that we can speak with authority in God’s name over the life of others.

So, it becomes necessary to have a system that “executes wrath”, and Paul covers that subject in Romans 13. “For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”

But let’s also look at Matthew 4: 8-10, and Luke 4: 5-7. We recognize from that statement that Satan has power over all world governments. So if all powers are ordained of God, then we are forced to conclude that Satan’s power is ordained of God(assuming that they exist, of course).

The power of vengeance, of wrath, of even death, is given to Satan, recognized and ordained by God. In Hebrews 2: 14 we see this. “For as much as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.”

One favorite statement of Libertarians is that of Thomas Paine: Government at its best is but a necessary evil….

While Paine himself “converted” to atheism at a later time, he actually made a statement consistent with the bible. Government, from the scriptures above, is a necessary evil.

So, while the “higher powers” are ordained of God, and we are to be subject to them, they are nothing more than a necessary evil, and the direct administrator of them is not God.

Romans 13:3 “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil”.

If government itself is a necessary evil, it is empowered to punish only evil. Therefore, we see from Jesus’ teachings that his followers are not to condemn others, nor to practice vengeance.

But before he tells us to be subject to the higher powers, Paul reminds us of the same obligation in Romans 12:19-20: “Dearly beloved, revenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine, and I will repay, saith the Lord.”

Notice that first part, “revenge not yourselves”. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in his treatise on the Common Law, tells us that law has developed out of a need for vengeance. It was necessary to have a higher power to enforce vengeance, but both Jesus and Paul tells us that vengeance is not our job.
Verse 20: “Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: For in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head”.

Within the teachings above, we see the presumption of innocence for all accused persons. Can the “higher power” accuse? Can Satan act as accuser to people? The whole point of Jesus’ life, as we saw in Hebrews 2, above, is to overcome Satan’s control over death.

This means that government must follow certain guidelines before there can be punishment, and since God ordains all government, then all government would be subject to the protections ordained by God:
1.presumption of innocence(Isaiah 54:17)
2.Right to face your accuser(Isaiah 50:8)
3.No entrapment(Isaiah 29:21, Jeremiah 5: 26-31)
4.Two unbiased witnesses for all accusations(Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15)
5.Protection from perjury(Deut. 19:19)
6.Trial by jury(1 Corinthians 6)

Notice that these are recognized in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution, along with the First Amendment, giving freedom of religion. A government of “God”, therefore, would of necessity be a government in which innocence is to be preserved.

In regard to that right against self incrimination, former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas says:

“The principle that a man is not obliged to furnish the state with ammunition to use against him is basic to this conception.” The state must “within the limits of accepted procedure”, punish lawbreakers. “But it has no right to compel the sovereign individual to surrender or impair his right to self defense….A man may be punished, even put to death by the state; but…he should not be made to prostrate himself before its majesty. Mea culpa belongs to a man and his God. It is a plea that cannot be exacted from free men by human authority. To require it is to insist that the state is the superior of the individuals who compose it, instead of their instrument”.

As Constitutional historian Leonard Levy wrote “The framers understood that without fair and regularized procedures to protect the criminally accused, there could be no liberty. They knew that from time immemorial, the tyrant’s first step was to use the criminal law to crush his opposition”.

As Lord Acton said, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Government, said Paine, at its very best is but a necessary evil.

The principle of rule by the people is bound within the concept of “due process of law”. We read it in both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, first as protection from the federal government, and then as protection against the states.

No person shall be deprive of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

Due process, said Chief Justice Edward Coke of England, came from Magna Carta. It was defined as “lawful judgement of peers and law of the land”. This, said U.S. Justice Joseph Story, meant the common law.

To be “subject to higher powers” is a necessity, but it is a necessity that comes secondary to the right of individuals to live freely. That is the

essence of Paul’s teachings about Jesus.

I can expand on this later.

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