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Romans 13:1-2

1. 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.

1. Omnis anima potestatibus supereminentibus subdita sit: non enim est potestas, nisi a Deo; quae vero sunt potestates a Deo sunt ordinatae.

2. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

2. Itaque qui resistit potestati, Dei ordinationi resistit; qui vero restiterint judicium sibi accersent.

1. Let every soul, 399399     “Anima,” ψυχὴ, not only the Hebrews, (see Genesis 14:21; 46:27,) but the Greeks also designate man by this word. Man is sometimes designated by his immaterial part, soul, and sometimes by his material part, flesh, or body, as in Romans 12:1. One author says that the word soul is used here in order to show that the obedience enforced should be from the soul, not feigned, but sincere and genuine. Let every soul, that is “every one,” says Grotius, “even apostles, prophets, and bishops.” — Ed. etc. Inasmuch as he so carefully handles this subject in connection with what forms the Christian life, it appears that he was constrained to do so by some great necessity which existed especially in that age, though the preaching of the gospel at all times renders this necessary. There are indeed always some tumultuous spirits who believe that the kingdom of Christ cannot be sufficiently elevated, unless all earthly powers be abolished, and that they cannot enjoy the liberty given by him, except they shake off every yoke of human subjection. This error, however, possessed the minds of the Jews above all others; for it seemed to them disgraceful that the offspring of Abraham, whose kingdom flourished before the Redeemer’s coming, should now, after his appearance, continue in submission to another power. There was also another thing which alienated the Jews no less than the Gentiles from their rulers, because they all not only hated piety, but also persecuted religion with the most hostile feelings. Hence it seemed unreasonable to acknowledge them for legitimate princes and rulers, who were attempting to take away the kingdom from Christ, the only Lord of heaven and earth.

By these reasons, as it is probable, Paul was induced to establish, with greater care than usual, the authority of magistrates, and first he lays down a general precept, which briefly includes what he afterwards says: secondly, he subjoins an exposition and a proof of his precept.

He calls them the higher powers, 400400     “Potestates supereminentes — pre-eminent powers.” Hammond renders the words ἐξουσίαις ὑπερεχούσαις, supreme powers, meaning kings, and refers to ἄρχοντες in Romans 13:3, as a proof; but this word means magistrates as well as kings. See Luke 12:58. The ruling power as exercised by those in authority is evidently what is meant here, without any reference to any form of government. Of course obedience to kings, or to emperors, or to any exercising a ruling power, whatever name they may bear, is included. — Ed not the supreme, who possess the chief authority, but such as excel other men. Magistrates are then thus called with regard to their subjects, and not as compared with each other. And it seems indeed to me, that the Apostle intended by this word to take away the frivolous curiosity of men, who are wont often to inquire by what right they who rule have obtained their authority; but it ought to be enough for us, that they do rule; for they have not ascended by their own power into this high station, but have been placed there by the Lord’s hand. And by mentioning every soul, he removes every exception, lest any one should claim an immunity from the common duty of obedience. 401401     Grotius qualifies this obedience by saying, that it should not extend to what is contrary to the will of God. But it is remarkable, that often in Scripture things are stated broadly and without any qualifying terms, and yet they have limits, as it is clear from other portions. This peculiarity is worthy of notice. Power is from God, the abuse of power is from what is evil in men. The Apostle throughout refers only to power justly exercised. He does not enter into the subject of tyranny and oppression. And this is probably the reason why he does not set limits to the obedience required: he contemplated no other than the proper and legitimate use of power. — Ed.

For there is no power, etc. The reason why we ought to be subject to magistrates is, because they are constituted by God’s ordination. For since it pleases God thus to govern the world, he who attempts to invert the order of God, and thus to resist God himself, despises his power; since to despise the providence of him who is the founder of civil power, is to carry on war with him. Understand further, that powers are from God, not as pestilence, and famine, and wars, and other visitations for sin, are said to be from him; but because he has appointed them for the legitimate and just government of the world. For though tyrannies and unjust exercise of power, as they are full of disorder, (ἀταξίας) are not an ordained government; yet the right of government is ordained by God for the wellbeing of mankind. As it is lawful to repel wars and to seek remedies for other evils, hence the Apostle commands us willingly and cheerfully to respect and honor the right and authority of magistrates, as useful to men: for the punishment which God inflicts on men for their sins, we cannot properly call ordinations, but they are the means which he designedly appoints for the preservation of legitimate order.

2. And they who resist, etc. As no one can resist God but to his own ruin, he threatens, that they shall not be unpunished who in this respect oppose the providence of God. Let us then beware, lest we incur this denunciation. And by judgment, 402402     “Judicium,” κρίμα; some render it “punishment;” Beza, “condemnation.” The word is used in both senses: but according to the tenor of the former part of the verse, it seems that the Apostle means that which is inflicted by God. — Ed. I understand not only the punishment which is inflicted by the magistrate, as though he had only said, that they would be justly punished who resisted authority; but also the vengeance of God, however it may at length be executed: for he teaches us in general what end awaits those who contend with God.


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