Chapter 13 to the Romans

A Translation of David Pareus’ Commentary on Romans


As a new installment in our efforts to get classical Protestant political resources back into the hands of American Christians, we are pleased to present a translation of David Pareus’ commentary on Romans 13, which will be released serially in multiple parts. We are confident these will edify and encourage related discussions. While Pareus’ commentary on Revelation was translated into English early, most of his work remains in Latin and thus largely forgotten, albeit Pareus and his political thought has received some attention recently in scholarly circles. For more information on Pareus and these translations generally, see the introduction to Michael Lynch’s translation of the political aphorisms of Pareus. The first section of commentary below expounds on the nature of “civil subjection” in the first eight verses of chapter 13. 

-Timon Cline, Editor-in-Chief

Introduction, Structure, Analysis

In this chapter, the Apostle combines Christian ethics with political and ethnic considerations. He asserts that civil order is established by God and that the authority to wield the sword is divinely delegated to magistrates. Consequently, he obliges all to submit to and obey these authorities. The chapter then turns to the mutual commendation of love, urging believers to walk in holiness and purity while cautioning against the allure of sinful desires. Thus, this chapter encompasses three exhortations or paraenetic sections.

The first [section] is about civil subjection, up to verse 8, whose proposition is in verse 1: “Every soul should be subject to the magistrate.” This is confirmed by the chief considerations of deliberative kind.

I. From the honorable: because it is fitting for everyone to be subject to God and divine ordination. However, every magistrate is from God and divine ordination, verse 1.

II. From the dishonorable or base opposite. Whose contrary is impious and base, which befits Christians. Civil obedience’s contrary is rebellion against God and God’s ordination, an act illicit and base in its kind. Therefore, civil obedience befits Christians, verse 2. So, whoever opposes, etc.

III. From the harmful effect of the opposite. What attracts vengeance and penalties, that is to be avoided, and the opposite is to be done. Contempt and disobedience of magistrates assert vengeance and penalties. Therefore, disobedience is to be avoided, etc. The assumption is in verse 2: “They will bring judgment upon themselves.” And it is confirmed by the other purpose of the instituted magistrate and the sword of justice divinely entrusted to them, verses 3 and 4, so that it may be a terror to the wicked.

IV. From the beneficial effect of obedience: What yields praise to us, we rightly perform. To obey the magistrate and laws, praise is yielded to us. Therefore, it is to be obeyed. The assumption is in verse 3: “You will obtain praise from it.” It is confirmed by the principal purpose of the established magistrate, verse 4: “He is a minister of God for your good.”

V. From the necessary: What is necessary not only to avoid penalties but also to retain a good conscience, that is to be performed. Civil obedience is necessary for both of these. Therefore, etc. The assumption and conclusion are in verse 5: “Therefore, it is necessary to be subject.”

VI. From the connected: To whom we pay tribute by law, we also owe obedience by law. We pay tribute to the magistrate by law: Therefore, etc. The assumption is stated in verse 6, with the reason of law, from the magistrate’s proper duty: which is the defense of the state, since in this very thing he is a minister of God. Or from the lesser: If you give tribute, you owe even more obedience. Or from part to whole: You give tribute: Therefore, you are subject, for these are, as part and whole. Or from the sign: Tribute is a sign of subjection. Therefore, be subject. Finally, the argument is mixed with the general conclusion, from the rule of law and equity: It is of justice to give each their due. Tribute, tax, fear, honor, etc., are owed to the magistrate. Therefore, etc., verse 7: Render, therefore, etc.”

The other exhortation is about the mutual cultivation of Christian love, verses 8, 9, 10. The proposition is in verse 8: ‘Love one another.’ Among Christians, mutual love should thrive. Reason I: From the same rule of law – everyone owes a debt. Mutual love is a debt perpetually obligating us to one another. Therefore, it should be repaid. The entire syllogism is contained in verse 8. Major premise: “Owe no one anything.” Assumption and conclusion: “Except to love one another.” 2. From the honorable and useful: fulfilling the law is righteous and beneficial, and therefore, it should be done. To love others is to fulfill the law. Therefore, etc. The assumption is in verse 8: “For whoever loves another.” And it is proven by the nature and effects of charity: by it, all the precepts of the law are fulfilled, that is, the fulfillment of the law. All the precepts of the law are fulfilled by the love of neighbor. Therefore, charity is the fulfillment of the law. The major premise is left unspoken; the assumption is presented by enumerating and relating all the precepts to one love, in verse 9. The conclusion is in verse 10. Therefore, fulfillment. The assumption is confirmed by the removal of the contrary: “Since no harm is done to one’s neighbor by any law, all the precepts of the law are fulfilled.” Love affects one’s neighbor with no harm prohibited by the law. Therefore, etc. The minor premise is presented solely in verse 10: “Charity does not harm one’s neighbor.”

The third exhortation discouraging from gross vices such as drunkenness, fornication, hatred, etc., and encouraging towards opposite virtues like temperance, chastity, harmony, etc. The entire passage is allegorical or metaphorical, using the imagery of darkness and light, as well as clothing and dressing in verses 12, 13, and 14.

The exhortations are based on the circumstances of the time or the state of those being regenerated.

I. Because salvation is nearer than before.

II. Because the night has passed, the day is approaching. Therefore, it is necessary to awaken from the sleep of sin, discard the works of darkness, and put on the suitable attire of light, which is Christ.

First Part of the Chapter: On Civil Subjection

1. Let every soul be subject to higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are appointed by God.

2. Therefore, whoever opposes authority resists God’s ordinance. 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 it.

4. For the ruler is God’s servant for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword in vain; for it is God’s servant, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.

5. Therefore, it is necessary to be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.

6. For this reason, 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.

“Let every soul be subject to higher authorities.” The sense of the words is not obscure. It refers to authorities, not angels, as in Ephesians 1 and 1 Peter 3. It calls them “powers” rather than kings, princes, etc., so that it may be understood to speak not so much about persons as about the order itself. For often, in persons, there are vices and reasons for not obeying. Therefore, it wants powers to be distinguished from persons, as observed by Chrysostom: “It does not speak about this or that prince but about the matter itself.”

They excel, being ancient over the higher: which could be understood concerning the highest powers alone: Yet not only about the highest, but indeed, it speaks about all, as many as excel above other people in order and civil authority: as in 1 Timothy 2.2. “For kings and all who are in superiority” and Peter 1 Peter 2.13. “Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether to a king as in a position of superiority (υπερεγοντι), or to governors, as sent by him.” Especially, however, it understands the supreme civil power, whose prerogative is not only to preside but also to legislate, which Aristotle calls “political architecture” (πολιτικην αργιτεκτονικην), which is in the king or prince. Therefore, magistrates are called ‘supreme authorities’ (υρεχουσας εξουσιας) not by mutual relation but by the reasoning of subjects.

“Let him be subject (υποτάσσεσθω)”, be subordinate, be subjected. He speaks with apostolic authority imperatively, so that the seriousness of the sin may be understood if anyone acts against it. This is more than if he had said “obey, do not resist”; show honor, yield to it. These are indeed parts, but the whole is subjection, which he will later explain. The emphasis is on the word “subordinate.” For he wants everyone, considering the order, to submit voluntarily to the authority of the superior in the magistrate, considering themselves inferior. Just as the lower members, feet, shins, and arms acknowledge that they are subordinate to the head by nature, and therefore, they ought to submit voluntarily to the head.

“Every soul.” The soul is not opposed to the body, but, by a Hebraic synecdoche, “every soul” stands for “every person.” For the Hebrews and Greeks sometimes refer to a person as a soul, sometimes as flesh. “Every soul,” “every flesh,” means “every person.” Therefore, with this universal command, the Apostle subjects all people, of any condition, sex, or age, without exception, to the authorities. Chrysostom explains this: “The Apostle shows,” he says, “that these commands are given to everyone, to priests and monks, not only to secular individuals, even if you are an Apostle, an Evangelist, a Prophet, or whatever you may be. For this subjection does not undermine piety.” Hence, it is evident that not without manifest wrongdoing, the Pope of Rome, with his clergy, has not only subjected himself to the authority of higher powers contrary to the Apostle’s command but also elevated his throne above the Emperor, Kings, Princes, and all powers. He is not subject to authorities but has all authorities subjected to his feet, which he treads upon. He creates Emperors, designates Kings, casts them down from their kingdoms according to his whims. Whether a Bishop or any Christian man should act in such a way, not by right but against law and duty, will need to be explained in doubtful cases.

However, the Pope provides, especially with unruly Anabaptists and similar enthusiasts, an occasion for contemplating the Apostle’s goal and the reasons why all Christians are so strongly urged to obey civil authority and why the authority of magistrates is fortified with so many reasons. Not only in this place but also elsewhere, here and there, as in 1 Timothy 2, Ephesians 6, and Titus 3, where he prescribes civil obedience. Earlier, he taught that believers are not under the law but under grace. He also advises throughout not to become slaves to men but to stand firm in the liberty that Christ has asserted for us. From this, he foresaw that there would be tumultuous spirits who would seize on a pretext to overthrow civil order, withdraw from the authority of magistrates and all superiors, as if they could not serve Christ unless they shook off the yoke of earthly power. This is how the Jews persuaded themselves that they were not the people of God unless they cast off the yoke of the Romans. Especially, he saw that this could seem possible when emperors, kings, and all magistrates were enemies of Christ and persecutors of the Church. For believers to be subjected to unbelievers seemed and seems unworthy.

Therefore, the Apostle teaches to the contrary that the Gospel does not abolish governments in the world; rather, it establishes and improves them. It asserts that faith and the submission owed to God should not be hindered by the submission owed to civil authorities. In conclusion, Christians are obligated to be subject to authorities just like anyone else, not only to benevolent and just rulers but also to difficult and unjust ones. This applies particularly to matters within the realm of civil authority, extending even to what is rendered unto Caesar, as the Apostle will later specify. Obedience should align with divine ordination, as explained shortly thereafter. Indeed, subjects are subordinate to ordained authorities, and these authorities are, in turn, subordinate to God, whose ministers they are. Therefore, ordained authorities from God should be obeyed in such a way that obedience is given more to God ordaining them. As Christ advises: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” and as the Apostle emphasizes: “We must obey God rather than men.”

Therefore, by divine law, a political order is established, which is a just arrangement between magistrates and subjects, as it ought to be in the world. If every soul is to be subject to authorities, then there must be authorities to which others are subject, and there must be subjects who are subordinate. However, what a magistrate is, what the duties of magistrates and subjects are, and whether it is fitting for a Christian to hold political office, etc., are not yet sufficiently clear from here but will be learned in what follows, where it will be more explicitly confirmed that the political magistrate should also be obeyed by Christians in the Church. The Anabaptists concede the attribute of obedience to the magistrate but deny that there should be any magistrate in the Church. The Pope, on the other hand, acknowledges that there should be magistrates but denies that he and his clergy are subject to them. The Anabaptists are refuted based on the definition, office, and purpose of magistracy. There is nothing that does not fit Christians excellently, and what can be better administered by pious individuals than by profane magistrates. The Apostle refutes the Pontificians with a universal precept: “Let every soul be subject.” Therefore, either the Pope is not a soul, or he must be subject by divine law.

“For there is no power except from God.” The reason for the precept is the authorship of all powers by God, to whom it is necessary for them to be subject out of reverence. Thus, Peter says: “Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake.” Therefore, powers did not originate from themselves, nor from Satan, nor from humans, but from God.

However, in Hosea 8, it is said: “They have made kings, but not by me.” In what way, then, if all power is from God, does Peter call it a human institution? How these things harmonize will be explained in doubtful matters.

Let the statement of the Apostle be now examined: “There is no authority except from God.” It is equivalent to affirming on both sides universally: all authority is from God alone. Eccius said in his Enchiridion: “Sacred Scripture is not authentic except by the authority of the Church,” an exclusivity that I resolve into this universality: Scripture has all authority from the sole authority of the Church. The Jesuits claim it to be a calumny. However, not in my resolution is there calumny, but in the words and sentiment of Eccius there is falsehood. This reasoning of the Apostle shows: “There is no authority except from God.” Therefore, all authority is from God alone; therefore, even civil authority. He indicates, moreover, that since there are many authorities, all have God as their author. For God gave power to the heavens, first to himself, then to brute animals, and finally to humans

God granted power to man over himself, having made him in such a way that the ruling (το ηγεμονικον) part presides over the appetitive (τω ορεκτικω) in the soul of man, which Aristotle says is akin to the rule of a teacher over a student. Hence, Sirach 15, “God has left man in the hand of his own counsel”, etc. This we call free will, whereby man is not acted upon from outside like a log but moves himself and commands himself freely. In what manner and to what extent this occurs should be explained elsewhere.

The power over animals was given to man by God in the first creation: “Dominate over the animals of the earth,” etc.

Finally, the first authority over man was marital, directed towards the wife: Genesis 3. The next authority that flowed from this was parental over children. From here, others emerged: masterly over servants, royal over subjects. Of these, there are several types: monarchic, aristocratic, democratic; and their opposites: tyrannic, oligarchic. Among all these, some are Economic, like marital and parental; others are Political, like the rest. All are from God. So, is tyranny also from God? Fanatics claim that all are from God, just as plagues, diseases, and punishments are from God. But the Apostle will soon refute this calumny. Authority must be distinguished from the abuse of authority and the person. The authority of a tyrant is indeed from God, but tyranny, that is, the abuse of authority and the cruelty of a tyrant as such, is from Satan, not from God except incidentally, who allows the abuse. However, as a scourge by which the sins of subjects are avenged, it certainly has God as the author, as the judge of the world. But what about ecclesiastical and scholastic authority? Certainly, these are also from God, as mentioned in Matthew 18 and John 20. Therefore, even the Pope has his ecclesiastical authority from God. This is subject to doubt. The episcopal authority, if he has any, is not denied to be from God. However, falsely does he boast of having monarchic tyranny from Christ: for Christ prohibited it by saying, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, but not so with you” (Luke 22:25-26). The Apostle teaches where he received it from in 2 Thessalonians 2:9. But more will be said about this later in doubtful matters.

“But the powers that exist are ordained by God.” The Apostle now turns the preceding exclusive statement into a universal one: All powers, whether supreme, intermediate, subordinate, public, private, economic, civil, or ecclesiastical, are ordained by God. However, he speaks specifically here about civil and public powers. He also explains how he said that all are from God: certainly not as plagues, diseases, wars, and other scourges are sent by God to punish the sins of humanity, but as the salutary order, which (as the Apostle will explain shortly) ordinarily assumes the role or person of God in governing all people, both the righteous and the wicked: hence not only the ministers of God but also gods are called powers from God, which certainly cannot be said of the scourges of God. For punishments are indeed inflicted by God, but not ordinarily on all, but only on the wicked. Therefore, there is great force in the word ordered (τεταγμέναι), ordained. It signifies that civil powers are first established by God and elevated above other men to whom they preside. Then the power of magistrates is a regular and supremely necessary one among men, without which human society cannot exist, just as it cannot exist without divine order. Finally, the powers are ordained by God, i.e., within certain limits and laws of justice and morality, beyond which, unless they confine themselves, they deviate from the divine order. Order, indeed, has various meanings: It is called the order of equals and unequals according to the fitting arrangement of prior and posterior; as they say the ranks of soldiers, because of their suitable disposition, some lead, others follow. Thus, powers are called ordained by God because God has appropriately arranged political authorities, so that some may preside and others may submit. It is also called the order of the status and condition of men, such as the Roman people were divided into three orders: the senatorial, equestrian, and plebeian. Thus, powers are a certain order of men whom God has raised above others in dignity and power. Finally, order is said to be the relation or respect of a thing to its end, as the relation of a master to a servant is order, which is called dominion; the order of magistrates to subjects is called civil power.

In general, therefore, we are taught that God is the author and lover of order, the enemy of disorder (αταξια) and confusion. Let us, therefore, love and pursue order as the most beautiful thing in all things: for whatever consists and exists in order is beautiful and enduring. Let us recognize all confusion, whether in powers and authorities or in other matters, to be the work of the devil, adverse to God and harmful to human affairs.

In particular, let us acknowledge, venerate, and love this order, which is discussed, especially in political matters. Let us consider it not to have arisen by chance, nor to have been devised or introduced by human sagacity or ingenuity, but to have been established and ordained in the human race by God’s singular wisdom and benevolence. Nature itself (of which God is the author) teaches that peace and harmony do not long endure in equality but that conflicts and discord arise from equality, as no one yields to another. Hence, we see bees, cranes, and fish following their leaders. Therefore, from the beginning, God immediately distinguished humans not only by sex but also by authority and power, so that some would preside over others or be subject in the home, in politics, and in the Church. Where God has ordained marital and paternal authority is evident. He explicitly sanctioned domestic and civil authority in Genesis 9: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” This is not by just anyone, for He prohibits: “You shall not murder,” but by divinely ordained authority. It does not matter by what means or methods Nimrod, Jeroboam, or others acquired their kingdoms. For there is a difference between the power that comes from God and the acquisition and use of power, which varies between legitimate and illegitimate in different cases, as discussed in doubtful matters.

Therefore, whoever resists authority resists the ordination of God. The former argument implies another from its opposite. One who is subject to the magistrate is subject to God and His ordination, which is nothing more beautiful, right, and beneficial. Therefore, one who does not submit but resists the magistrate resists God and His ordination, which is nothing more disgraceful, wicked, not to mention foolish and harmful. What is a puny human rising against God? A creature against its creator? The pot against the potter? The formed against the former? But the danger of such madness will lead the apostles to the following conclusion. Now, it only reveals the ugliness of the matter. Let this consideration keep us in modesty and tranquility so that we neither oppose the authorities ordained by God—kings, princes, parents, teachers, pastors, leaders, lords—nor resist, nor join with those who plot against them. The emphasis is on the phrase “ο αντιτασσομενος,” which properly means the one against the order. He could have said “ο εφισταμενος,” meaning the one who resists, but he uses such a participle to signify that all disobedience, obstinacy, rebellion against the magistrate is a violation of divine order, which, gravely offending God, cannot go unpunished. Rebels against the divine order position themselves as if ordained and wage war with God, like the giants who tried in vain to overthrow Jupiter from the sky with piled-up mountains but in vain and without impunity. However, it teaches that all rebellion is horrible disorder, confusion. Whatever is against the divine order cannot be anything other than disorder (αταξια) and is likewise from the Devil, the father of all lies and murders. For whatever opposes divine order must be from the Devil, not God.

Resistance to authority can be twofold: either through open force exercised against authorities by subjects, commonly called rebellion, sedition, ακδιαστασις, such as the poetic rebellion of Absalom against David, Jeroboam against Rehoboam, etc., or through deceit and fraud when rulers are deceived by lies and calumnies, preventing them from fulfilling their duties – a common occurrence. Hence the saying that rulers are the most unfortunate, lacking eyes and ears, forced to see and hear through the eyes and ears of others, rarely hearing the truth themselves. However, not every disobedience is considered rebellion or resistance; only that which, in malice, violates the laws by those who refuse to satisfy the laws through punishment. Those who resist will bring condemnation upon themselves. Moreover, the severity of punishment remains for rebels to deter all from such harmful actions. Therefore, obedience to authority is necessary to avoid punishment. Χριμα in Beza’s interpretation signifies condemnation: an old condemnation, which can be understood as temporal punishment and eternal damnation. Others interpret it as judgment, vengeance, or penalty; χριμα encompasses all. From whom will they receive (ληψονται)? From the magistrate, who should and can restrain the rebellious with the sword, or certainly from God if the magistrate fails. God is the avenger of His order and does not let its disturbers go unpunished, as universal examples demonstrate: Dathan, Korah, who resisted Moses; Ish-bosheth, Absalom, who opposed David. Sacred history reveals the judgment these incurred upon themselves. The statement “they will bring upon themselves” (εαυτοις) demonstrates the folly of rebels; for no sane person harms themselves. Thus, they attract evil to themselves like the insane. Simultaneously, it asserts the righteousness of laws in inflicting punishment on rebels. It is an avoidable evil (οπισπαστον), whose cause lies not with the magistrates but with their own malice. It also exposes the futility and vain efforts of rebels. By rising against authority, they harm and overthrow themselves, like those who headbutt a wall: achieving nothing but diminishing themselves and spilling foolish brains.

3. For rulers are not a terror to good works but to evil. It proves that magistrates should not allow resistance without punishment, for which they are ordained by God. There are two reasons: one is to restrain the wicked by punishments, who would often be more numerous or exist in any society if not restrained by fear of punishment. The other is to protect the righteous from injuries and encourage virtue with rewards. The latter is prior and more important, as will be commended later; now, since dealing with rebels, the former is introduced to instill fear. Here he calls lords (Αρχοντες) princes, leaders whom previously authorities (εξουσιας): Embracing all, the highest, middle, lowest: civil and economic, but especially civil, to whom the right of the sword belongs. He understands fear (Φοβον) of money, i.e., the penalty (χριματος) of civil law, whose various forms are established by laws for the variety of offenses: rebukes, fines, prisons, exiles, relegations, scourgings, investigations, racks, crosses, wheels, etc., all of which, though painful, terrify both the righteous and the wicked, especially deterring them from crimes, which otherwise hope of impunity would lead them into. Here he calls good and bad deeds not theologically, but civilly, that is, virtues and vices, precepts or prohibitions of the laws of each state: which laws are both divine, of which magistrates should be the chief guardians to prevent them from being violated, and human, whether common or municipal or positive, by which suitable and necessary external discipline for any republic is established. Therefore, actions committed in accordance with or against these laws are called good or bad. He attributes terror to evil deeds, by metalepsis, effects for causes; for those who commit wicked deeds. For the deeds themselves do not fear, but people: He speaks thus because, in the order of justice, punishments are not inflicted on people unless for wicked deeds.

The antithesis is not to good but to evil deeds. Firstly, this contributes to the fact that those who devote themselves to virtue and obedience to the laws do not fear the punishments of the laws for themselves, nor do the wicked dread the magistrate, but rather they approach with love and reverence.

Then, to this end, that, convicted of their wickedness, the wicked may be absolved from punishment by the magistrate if their evil deeds and rebellion are restrained according to the laws. For even the wicked are not so stupid or perverse as not to understand that evil deeds deserve a bad reward and should be restrained by law, without which human society could not stand. Therefore, when the wicked resist the laws and magistrates, they are forced to accuse themselves on two counts: either because they are conscious of their evil deeds, which they do not want to be punished, or because they are evil worshippers of justice, to which they do not allow themselves to be incited by laws. Both of these are contrary to equity, and the conscience dictates that the wicked should be restrained. Finally, for this reason as well, so that magistrates do not exceed the limits of their authority, they terrify both the good and the evil: or they pervert by afflicting the good and conniving with the evil. If they do this, they pervert justice and resist the supreme authority of God. Therefore, all these things are said against them, that they will take away judgment from God, because the supreme ruler is a terror not to the good, but to the evil powers. Therefore, let the magistrates learn their duty here, that they may be a terror to evil deeds, that is, to scandals, vices, crimes that injure equity, disturb public peace, and carefully guard against, severely restraining through laws and penalties. At the same time, they should observe that the rule of their authority is prescribed to them in this place, so that they do not abuse it in punishing or terrifying the good as well as the evil. Therefore, diligent inquiry, vigilance, observation of law and fact, knowledge of laws and causes in and out of court are simultaneously prescribed to them: so that they may know what are good and evil deeds, who are good and evil, what rewards and punishments are appropriate according to the law.

You, however, should not fear power. Proleptic apostrophe addresses the exception of someone wicked: if rulers are positioned for terror, they seem to be avoided; therefore, who will love them? Fear obstructs honesty and virtue; it incites to wrongdoing: Whatever I do, it will be feared, lest I take away (χριμα) something valuable. God forbid, says the Apostle: A ready plan is in place, so that following it, you may not need to fear; indeed, dare, and you will congratulate yourself on your ruler: You cannot fear power. That is, you want to be free from the fear of loss (χριματος): Do what is good. Call the effort and observance of all laws that pertain to us good: which is initially good simply (απλως), i.e., congruent with the righteousness of divine, natural, and civil law. For this is the ultimate measure of laws, that they be good, i.e., in harmony with honesty and equity. Then it is good for someone (τινι), for me, for you, for anyone who obeys the laws. How so? Not only because it makes us immune from the evil of punishment, which is some part of the good, but also because, according to privileges, it obtains the public and private benefits proposed by laws. The Apostle calls all these benefits by the name of praise, in the manner of the Hebrews, who often understand all kinds of goods through the term תהלה (tehillah), which means praise. And you will obtain praise from it, that is, you will be secure from its indignation and condemnation: accused in judgment, you will be acquitted: which is a great part of praise, and you will even receive rewards for obedience. We are all eager for praise by the same nature: For praise is the approval of those who judge rightly of our own or others’ right actions. We all desire to be approved and pleasing to the good, to hear well, to be considered good. We all seek rewards and good things. Therefore, here is the great incentive that the Apostle adds to us, so that we may obtain praise and rewards: Do what is good, and you will obtain praise from it (εξ αυτης). From it, namely, from power: in other words, not only from God, the rewarder of the good but also from the magistrate. He now indicates another end and duty of power, which he will soon teach more openly, to protect the good, to distribute rewards to virtue. For he is a minister of God to you for good. He declares and proves what he had said earlier about the end of power: you will obtain praise from it because it is established by God for your good: at the same time, he confirms the principal institution from the useful and commends civil obedience to us, so that we willingly submit to the magistrate because we do it for our greatest good. “But we all, desiring good things, are attracted to joy (τα γηθε παντα εφιεται)”, as Aristotle says. He also repeats the first argument more clearly from the efficient cause. For who would deny obedience to the ministers of God? But the authorities are ministers of God. How? Because they are ordained by God: they are appointed by God for us. Finally, they sustain the person of God as His ambassadors in judgments. They speak the law in the name and place of God, dispensing rewards and punishments according to the laws, preserving public peace, defending the discipline of the Church and the state. Why, then, should we not offer love, reverence, and obedience to the ambassadors of God as if they were God Himself (for they are called gods)? For your good. Or for your benefit: what he previously called praise (επαινον), he now calls good (το αγαθον), adding an emphatic article, indicating a great good. Now good is an absolute term transcending in a broad sense. It is one thing by nature, another by morals, another by civic life, and another by spiritual matters. The duty of authorities extends to all these. For in the natural good, the magistrate serves us when he defends our life and well-being: in moral good, because he keeps us from vices, leads us to virtues by laws, rewards, and punishments: in civic good, because he not only preserves our fortunes and possessions for us but also upholds the society and interaction of citizens with the state and public honesty. Finally, in spiritual good, because he is the guardian not only of the second but also of the first table, preserving and defending the hospices of the Church, the true worship of God, the preaching of the word, and the legitimate use of sacraments according to the word of God, as instituted and defended by God’s command in Deuteronomy 17, following the example of praised kings such as Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, and others. And indeed, in this spiritual good, magistrates must primarily and chiefly exert themselves. Now it is already sufficiently understood how magistrates are ministers of God to us for good, but these are also evident in order. First, the authority and supreme dignity of the magistrate, who is a minister and ambassador of God, are established. Just as, therefore, reverence and obedience are owed to the ambassadors of princes because of the princes, so reverence and obedience are owed by us to the magistrates as ambassadors of God because of God Himself, according to 1 Peter 2. Subjects for the Lord. Second, the magistrate is admonished of his duty in two ways: first, since he is a minister of God, let him perform his duty so that he may approve himself to his Lord God, nor exceed the limits of his mission and ministry. Especially in judgments, let them know that they pronounce the law of God, who is present and trusting. Now, let the fear of Jehovah be upon you, etc. Then, since he is a minister of God for the good of subjects: let him not think that he is appointed for this reason, to indulge himself, to dissipate in luxury, to squander the wealth of the republic, to exhaust or oppress the subjects, but rather, let him devote himself entirely to the public good of the subjects, watch for the safety of the republic, protect and increase the private benefits of individuals, according to that saying: Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law. This is the difference between a good ruler and an exploitative tyrant. Hence, rulers are called shepherds of the people (ποιμενες λαων), fathers of the country, and senators: for they must exercise authority over the country not tyrannically.

III. This shall console the magistracy against the numerous troubles and countless perils of governance, against rebels, seditious individuals, and the disobedient, etc. Since they are ministers of God, God will assist their order; He will safeguard their lives and authority if they diligently watch over their duties. Daily examples testify that God does this. So, why should one person command so many? Why should so many obey one person? The answer seems to lie in God fortifying His order with authority, restraining the hearts of others through fear to prevent defiance and inclining them through love to inspire reverence for authorities. Fourthly, as ministers of God for the good of their subjects, and with the ultimate public good being the true religion of individuals, the genuine care and protection of true religion also fall within the magistrates’ duties. This is a grave mandate from God, as stated in Deuteronomy 17, “The king shall read from the Book of the Law all the days of his life to learn to fear the Lord.” Therefore, let him be pious and God-fearing, guarding all the words of this law. Let him be the custodian of piety and worship of God, ensuring the observance of the law among his subjects. It has always been the primary concern of pious kings to abolish false worship, remove idols and instruments of idolatry, and diligently provide for the true worship in the Church. Take David as an example, who, in 1 Chronicles 23, 24, 25, 29, distributed the Levitical orders and duties in the temple, not only as a prophet but also as a king whose duty was to prevent any confusion in the worship of God. Jehoshaphat, upon assuming the throne in 2 Chronicles 17:7, is promptly reported to have elevated his heart to the Lord, abolished high places and idols, and restored the doctrine of divine law. Joash, as per 2 Kings 12 and 2 Chronicles 24, reproaches negligent priests overseeing the temple’s construction, warns them of their duties, takes away the collected funds in their negligence, and restores and prescribes the temple’s rebuilding agenda. Hezekiah, in 2 Kings 18 and 2 Chronicles 29, purifies the temple, restores worship, and breaks the corrupted idols in the presence of the priests and prophets. Josiah, in 2 Kings 34 and 2 Chronicles 34, similarly restores the collapsed worship of God and removes priests sufficient for idols, as Solomon had deposed Abiathar from his office. Through these highly praised examples, it is evident that the magistracy is God’s minister, tasked not only with the care of their subjects’ physical well-being (for what difference is there from cattle herders?) but primarily with promoting their eternal salvation and averting their destruction.

Fifthly, since the magistrate is not the sole minister of God and apostles, prophets, evangelists, doctors, and pastors are also ministers and servants of God, it must be considered how their respective roles in the worship of God differ. The distinction is evident from the aforementioned points: they all have the common Lord God, whose ministers they are; they agree in the end that both should care for the subjects’ salvation. However, they differ in object and specific duties. The magistrate is a minister of God responsible for the natural, moral, civil, and spiritual welfare of their subjects, armed with the power of the sword, as will be explained shortly. Pastors of the Church are primarily concerned with spiritual well-being, not governed by laws or armed force like magistrates but through the preaching of God’s word, administration of divine sacraments, and governance of ecclesiastical discipline. These duties are specific to the ministers of the Church, and the magistrate is not obligated to perform them but to ensure they are properly carried out by the ministers of the Church.

Finally, since the magistrate is ordained by God to be God’s ordinary minister for the good of the subjects, both intrinsically and by its proper end, it concludes that the impious calumny and misinterpretation of Scripture by fanatics, suggesting that it is from God like a pestilence, famine, war, and other scourges for humanity, is impiety. These things are not said to be ordained by God or God’s ordinary ministers to govern the righteous and the wicked. Nor are they intrinsically for our good but only incidentally.

“If you do what is evil”: he has taught how we may be immune from fear and rejoice in the divinely appointed magistrate, by whom he has made the magistracy lovable to all the good. Now, on the contrary, he teaches who is a source of terror; namely, only to the wicked, those who do what is evil. Κακον (evil) is opposed to τω αγαθω ηθικεω (morally good). Do what is good, i.e., obey the laws. The opposite is: if you do evil, i.e., be disobedient or refractory to the laws. Moral evil signifies a violation of laws through vices and crimes: Just as obedience to the laws is a good, salutary, pleasing to God; so disobedience is an evil thing, pernicious, offending God.

If you do evil, be afraid of the magistrate. That is, be afraid of the magistrate’s authority, which frightens the wicked to refrain from evil. Otherwise, they themselves become a cause of terror. They have no grounds to accuse the magistrate. For he does not bear the sword in vain. The magistrate rightly frightens the wicked for two reasons, to deter them from evil: one, because they are armed with a sword, which they use against evildoers; the other, because by their duty and God’s place, they must take revenge and restrain the wicked by the punishment of their wrongdoing. Sword is a metonymy for the authority or right to use the sword against the wicked, which is synecdochically all kinds of weapons and coercive power. This authority is peculiar to the magistrate, distinguishing them from private individuals and ecclesiastics. They bear the sword. This undoubtedly refers to the custom where swords, fasces, and axes symbolizing power were carried before magistrates. It does not bear εικη, meaning in vain or without cause, as Beza wrongly interprets. The former refers to the end without cause, i.e., without any end; the latter refers to the beginning and manner of acting without author and reason, i.e., without authority and reason. In neither way does the magistrate bear the sword εικη. Not in vain does it bear it, i.e., not without cause but with a definite end, because the sword is given to the magistrate to use against the wicked, and they themselves are girded with the sword to use it against evil. This end includes its opposite: it defends the good by opposing the evil because avenging evil is the defense of the good. Therefore, the wicked have reason to fear themselves. Nor does it bear it in vain, i.e., without author and a definite reason. For the magistrate did not take it for themselves, nor did the sword happen to them by chance. Instead, it was given into their hands by God’s ordination, and indeed, to use it not thoughtlessly, with blind passion or lust, but for a definite reason, i.e., according to honest laws.

So, the right to the sword granted to the magistrate has nothing to be feared by the good, for it is not directed against them, and it is not reprehensible to the wicked because they bear it from God and use it according to honest laws. However, we speak about the right, not the fact, about what should be done, not what is done. Otherwise, if someone abuses the sword, the misuse should be imputed not to the sword itself but to the abuse, since no matter how good something is, it can sometimes be seized for misuse.

Here, two questions are raised: one by the Anabaptists, whether the right to the sword belongs to the Church of Christ, which they deny.

The other regarding the Pope and Bishops, whether they have the right to the sword, which we will refer to as dubious.

Let’s observe: I. The right to the sword is a mandate from God to the magistrates as a necessary support and sinew of their power. Without it, they could neither protect the good nor restrain the wicked. Therefore, those who condemn it or seek to deprive magistrates of it condemn divine ordination, overturn political structures, and are rightly punished as disturbers of the divine order and enemies of human society. The right to the sword includes warfare, which is the armed defense of public peace against enemies and the repulsion of injustices.

Observe: II. The right to the sword makes a crucial distinction between civil ministers and ecclesiastical ministers. Properly, the former have this right, while the latter do not (Luke 22:36, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.”). If, however, ecclesiastical ministers or others were to take it, they would transgress and incur penalties, according to Christ’s threat: “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.” The ecclesiastical sword is the Word of God, with which teachers should contend. Similarly, the scholastic and economic sword is the corrective rod, with which teachers and parents are divinely armed to wield neither rashly nor in vain.

“Avenge with wrath”: Metaleptically, it denotes punishments, as is often the case. It can also be understood concerning the wrath of God, as magistrates, in inflicting punishments, exercise divine retribution against the wicked. However, it is simpler to interpret it as referring to civil punishments, which vary according to the nature of the offenses and are implemented by the magistrates. When it calls the magistrate an “avenger,” it again affirms a divine duty. Retribution properly belongs to God (Romans 12:19, Deuteronomy 32:35). Sometimes God exercises it directly, and at other times indirectly through His ministers, the magistrates. Therefore, it is essential that magistrates do not blend private vengeance and personal feelings when punishing offenders. Private vengeance is condemned in both magistrates and private individuals.

5. Therefore, it is necessary to submit. Given that magistrates are armed with the sword and are called avengers to wrath in the place of God, another compelling argument for obedience arises from necessity. It is not a matter of free choice or indifference to submit or not; rather, submission is necessary. Why? He provides two reasons based on necessity: one he repeats from the above, to avoid wrath, and another he adds: for conscience’s sake, to preserve it unblemished before God and men. He implies as if saying: it is significant to avoid punishment and wrath due to disobedience, but the wicked often disdain wrath and are not deterred by punishments; they rush into crimes even with contempt for corporal punishment or the hope of impunity. However, it is graver that they defile their conscience and experience God’s vengeance, even if they escape human hands. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to authorities primarily for two reasons: first, to avoid wrath—not only the wrath of humans, authorities, rulers, parents, and teachers, which should indeed be avoided, but especially the wrath of God, which is more to be feared than the roar of a lion, which one may escape, but not God’s wrath. Second, for conscience’s sake, to protect and maintain a good and tranquil conscience. Obeying authorities is obeying God and His command: “Honor your father and mother.” Thus, obedience generates a good conscience, which is the approval of our minds rightly judging and testifying to us that we have acted rightly before God and people. Approved conscience leads to the joy of a heart content with this approval from God and others. On the contrary, resisting authorities is resisting God’s ordination; it is a θεομαχειν in the manner of the giants. This insane θεομαχια is a mortal sin, torturing the conscience and shaking faith. An evil conscience arises as an internal tormentor and executioner of the soul, causing good people to shun our disgrace, considering God Himself our enemy, a stern avenger of sins who will soon cast us into eternal punishment unless there is forgiveness. These are the avenging furies that poets imagine pursue guilty humans and for which Lucian depicts the shadows of wrongdoers being accused in the underworld.

Chrysostom interprets conscience not as the fear of divine offense but as the consideration of the benefits provided to subjects by the authorities.

For conscience’s sake. That is, because you are aware of how many benefits you receive from kings. But the argument is common and simpler: it is not from the advantageous, but from the necessary. The question arises whether the laws of civil magistrates bind consciences: from this, the Roman Pope concludes from the lesser to the greater: if those [laws], much more the decrees of the Church, about which there are doubts below.

6. For this reason, you also pay taxes. Another argument from the connected, either from part to whole, or from lesser to greater, or from a sign, as was in the analysis. Authorities must be obeyed because you pay taxes to them, as a sign of subjection: just as this sign indicated the subjection of the Jews, who used Caesar’s coin. However, he takes it as granted that they pay tribute to Caesar even if he is an unbeliever, which attests that Christians in the Roman Republic were not exempt from exactions, taxes, and public burdens. Through this: namely, what preceded, that is, to avoid wrath and to retain a good conscience. Indeed, you also pay taxes. Namely, to the authorities.

The particle “και” also indicates that taxes are a necessary part of the subjection owed to governing authorities. In Greek, “τελειτε” means to accomplish or perfect, and in German, it is expressed as “auszrichten.” Taxes refer, in the plural, to all kinds of pensions and public burdens imposed on subjects by law, sometimes even unjustly. Next, it distinguishes between “φορος” and “τελος.” Specifically, “φορος,” derived from φερεοθαι, meaning to carry or impose, is said to be every payment of money or goods made to the supreme magistrate in acknowledgment of submission, and is one reason why subjects pay taxes. The Apostle adds another point that they should receive just wages in place of a challenging duty imposed by God on their shoulders when he says: “For they are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.” Earlier, he said they are “διακονος θεου” (servants of God); now, they are “λειτουργοι” not only in the context of sacred duties but generally applicable to public services in Scripture. Therefore, Papists derive a ridiculous notion from Acts 13:4, where “λειτουργουντων αυτων” is interpreted as the mission of the Apostles, even though it doesn’t deny that it refers to sacred duties like preaching and ministry. “προσκαρτερουντες,” translated as “seruietes” in the old version, means more than mere service; it implies perseverance, vigilance, and earnest effort in a particular task. “Beza incumbentes” signifies the Apostle highlighting the difficulties, troubles, and exertions that come with the responsibilities of magistrates, and the divine mandate to toil for the well-being of their subjects, if they intend to fulfill their duty. While we sleep, they are forced to stay awake; as we leisurely rest at home, they are constantly preoccupied with the demanding task of governance. They often have to travel abroad and attend to public affairs, allowing us to manage our possessions and resources. For our security and enjoyment, they endure the disruption of borders, engage in battles against enemies, bear harsh labors, and face the gravest dangers. They administer justice, write laws, establish decrees, and formulate plans to ensure that no one is unjustly deprived of their property or subjected to shame or harm. They pursue wrongdoers, eliminate marauders and thieves, providing us with safe paths and minimizing dangers both at home and abroad. All these tremendous efforts are undertaken for our sake.

Indeed, the tribulations that magistrates are compelled to endure on behalf of their subjects, and especially considering the numerous and significant benefits received by the subjects from the authorities, taxes are justly paid to them as a rightful reward. This is precisely what the phrase “εις αυτο τουτο προσκαρτερουντες” conveys: diligently devoting themselves to this very thing, meaning exerting constant effort and vigilance. The relative pronoun “αυτο” doesn’t only pertain to immediate concerns, as if magistrates should solely focus on collecting or extracting taxes. Instead, it extends to all higher duties: to be a terror to evildoers, a praise to those who do well, to wield the avenging sword against the wicked, defend good citizens from injustices, and protect their possessions. In essence, magistrates must wholeheartedly engage in these responsibilities. However, they couldn’t fulfill these duties without the revenue generated from taxes.

For ministers, advisors, officials, guards, soldiers, and leaders are needed. Their efforts administer justice according to the laws, maintain peace, and repel unjust force from the services of the subjects. To support them, stipends and taxes are necessary.

Observation I: Magistracy is defined not only by dignity, being a servant and minister of God, and having authority over others but more so by labor, care, and vigilance for the public good. If many understood this, they would not seek or envy such positions. Hence, the wise king rightly said that the golden crown on the head of a king is beautiful but full of cares, known only to those who bear them, difficult to lift from the mud.

Observation II: Taxes are owed to magistrates by divine, natural, and civil law. First, as a sign of submission; second, as a just reward for their labor; third, as a necessary means for conducting affairs. Without funds, they could not support ministers, officials, advisors, churches, schools, and hospices. However, they are reluctant to do all this out of duty, not from their own resources, for they do not serve on their own salaries. Therefore, by the principles of equity and necessity, they receive from the subjects. Chrysostom rightly noted this to demonstrate the toil and hardship of magistrates upon the subjects: “Attending to this very thing,” for this is their life, their pursuit—to ensure that you enjoy peace in any way. Therefore, in another epistle, the Apostle not only demands our submission to them but also urges us to pray for them, showing our common interest and saying: “that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life.” For they significantly contribute to our current state of life by building fortifications, repelling enemies, restraining the unruly, and alleviating any calamities.

Observation III: The Apostle does not say, “Because of this, also pay minimal taxes,” but instructs to pay taxes to them, consistently emphasizing the just payment of taxes by the subjects, even if sometimes unjustly demanded by the authorities. Sometimes, in their demands, they exceed limits, excessively plundering or burdening the subjects. Undoubtedly, they then sin gravely, to whom they will have to give an account to God for the misuse of power. At that time, they act not as shepherds but as butchers: the former shear the flock, the latter flay and skin it. However, subjects should justly and properly pay what is wrongfully extorted. For instance, the Romans wrongly appropriated the temple tax that the Jews were rightfully paying because, without injustice, i.e., rebellion, they could not shake off unjust burdens. In such a situation, subjects should not riot but show patience, reflect on their sins being corrected, and seek and await God’s mercy, guided by Christ’s teaching: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

7. “Render, therefore, to all what you owe.” This concludes the first exhortation with the distribution or enumeration of the parts of the owed submission to rightful authorities. It aims to make it widely known and to help us understand what duties civil obedience chiefly includes. A new argument is added based on the rule of justice, emphasizing the repayment to each, as observed in the analysis. Αποδοτε (Render) means to give back, not just to give. This instructs that the fulfillment of these duties pertains to justice, and the denial of them pertains to injustice. “To all” can be broadly understood concerning all individuals close to us, ensuring that we give everyone their natural or civil rights. However, it is preferable to interpret it as referring to all the various authorities mentioned earlier: supreme, intermediate, lower, civil, economic, ecclesiastical, and scholastic. Each authority is owed submission, but not the same kind. Civil obedience is distinct from economic obedience. However, the text seems to speak specifically of civil obedience, enumerating its four parts according to the four degrees of civil authority. At the highest level is the ruler; under the ruler are treasurers, tax collectors, prefects, guards, officials, lictors, soldiers, etc. Therefore, let tribute be paid to whom tribute is owed, namely, the ruler’s treasurers; customs duties to whom customs duties, namely, the ruler’s tax collectors; fear to whom fear, namely, prefects, guards, soldiers, lictors, as the enforcers and ministers of justice; finally, honor to whom honor, namely, the ruler’s person, as Peter instructs: “Honor the king.” Tribute, as mentioned before, refers to any payment made from lands and possessions. A tax specifically imposed on whatever is paid for exported or imported goods. According to Ulpian, these are the sinews without which the state cannot be sustained and administered. Fear is the acknowledgment of power ordained by God and the effort to avoid its infringement, lest one incurs penalties. Honor is the expression of our opinion of someone’s excellence through external signs, such as uncovering the head, yielding a place, rising, etc. Glory, according to Cicero, is the united praise of the good, the untarnished voice of those who judge well of excellent virtue. According to Augustine, glory is the judgment of people thinking well of us, or the approval of the conscience rightly judging our own or another’s virtue. Therefore, honor and glory differ: a good magistrate administrating the state well has honor and glory. An idle or unjust person may have honor due to the dignity of the office but lacks glory due to virtue, which they lack. Furthermore, honor is owed to the highest authorities primarily because of their office, as to parents by precept: “Honor your father and mother,” which includes five elements. First, recognition and reverence for the divine order in their office, and the external declaration of this reverence through suitable signs and acts. Second, love for the duty they carry out in the name of God and for the benefits we receive from them. Third, obedience in all lawful and honest matters according to divine and human laws, whether universal or particular to our republic. Fourth, gratitude, a virtue based on truth and justice, consisting of truthfulness in acknowledging and professing the benefits subjects receive from authorities. Justice, to endeavor to compensate for those benefits by willingly paying taxes, customs duties, tithes, and faithfully performing the due services. Finally, equity, to endure patiently the weaknesses, flaws, errors, or excesses of authority, to act prudently, not to maliciously provoke or unjustly repel. ‘Do not accuse me,’ says Chrysostom (sermon 23), ‘because someone frequently abuses this power, but consider the honor and dignity of the constitution itself and the one who instituted it wisely from the beginning.’ The same Chrysostom raises a question about how, having said above not to fear the power if you do good, he now says, ‘Render fear.’ He explains that here he commands exceptional honor, not that fear arising from a guilty conscience mentioned earlier.

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Jonathan Tomes

Jonathan Tomes is a research librarian and enhanced translator. His work regularly appears at Greystone Theological Institute (Texts & Studies). He has several translation projects pending publication.

One thought on “Chapter 13 to the Romans

  1. But is what is good in evil in society the same as what is good and evil in the Church? That is the question that is at the heart of Christian Nationalism. For these definitions determine what laws should be passed or not passed. And we should expect that what is thought of as good in evil in society during Christendom will be different after or before Christendom. That is where we who live in post Christendom times and Paul who lived before Christendom have more in common than those who provided the Reformed traditions and that includes Augustine

    The passages that deal with Church discipline at least suggest that the standards for good and evil in society are different, though not disjoint, from those standards as they apply to the Church. For example, does Paul expect the government to punish those who are sexually immoral such as the homosexuals in Romans 1 or the man whose sexual sin is mentioned in I Cor 5? In fact, no where in the New Testament is what is good and evil in the Church is thought of as being identical to what is good and evil in society though, again, the two standards are not disjoint. And without further explanation, it seems that what Paul referred to was good and evil in this context was understood by the audience.

    In addition, the Great Commission also can shed light on this subject. Here we could think of Paul’s speech when he talks about unknown God. Does Paul expect the government to punish those who worship idols?

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