[forthright] Romans 13 and the Role of Government (2)

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From: Forthright Magazine <forthrightmag@...>
Date: Tue, 14 Oct 2008 09:28:26 -0700 (PDT)
Forthright Magazine 
Straight to the Cross

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Romans 13 and the Role of Government (2) 
 by Richard Mansel, assistant editor

The Apostle Paul provides a concise discussion on God's
view of government. It is important that Christians
study Romans 13:1-6, especially when the role of
government is under reconsideration in the United

"For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you
do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in
vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute
wrath on him who practices evil"(Romans 13:4, NKJV).

Government is the method for ordering secular society.
Governmental authority comes from God but man maintains
his freewill. Thus, leaders will either follow God or
disobey him. If the latter, there will be consequences.

If laws order society, then disobedience brings
punishment [keeping Acts 5:29 in mind]. Government must
have the authority to enforce its laws, so the innocent
can be safe. Governmental authorities are called "God's
minister" for this purpose.

In Romans 12:19, Paul wrote that men were not to
"avenge themselves," because God would take care of
their punishment. In part, the governing authorities
carry this out. The New English Bible calls them,
"God’s agents."

While they are not ministers in the same respect as
spiritual ministers, they are an instrument of God to
facilitate the stabilization of society. "The might of
the state is entrusted by God with the office of

The avenger carries the authority to enforce the laws
of the land. He "does not bear the sword in vain,"
which means, "to bear constantly."/2 Government should
never be off-duty, because God is not.

The Greek word for "sword" refers to the "sword worn by
the superior magistrates of the provinces, to whom
belonged the right of capital punishment."/3 This sword
was the ultimate symbol of life and death./4 It implied
"repeated or habitual action."/5

"The Emperor Trajan once presented a dagger to a
provincial governor with the words, 'For me. If I
deserve it, in me.'"/6

The full phrase has in view the "power of life and
death which was then, as for most of human
civilization, the ultimate sanction for government."/7

Man is not to enact vigilante justice. God has
established a system to enact punishment on criminals.
Government bears the authority to execute wrath by the

The role of government in this function is verified by
Jesus (John 19:11) and Paul (Acts 25:10-11). Evil
rulers existed in New Testament times, so they do not
negate the command to be subject to the leaders of the

Does this mention of the sword allow capital punishment
by the government?

When we discuss the issue, we will examine it from the
Biblical perspective. Discussions on racial disparity
and fairness and the humanity of execution methods are
beyond the scope of our discussion.

1/ The quote is attributed to Falkenroth but the source
is unknown to me. 
2/ Joseph Thayer, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the 
New Testament (Nashville:Broadman, 1977), 393. 
3/ C.G. Moule, The Epistle of St.Paul to the Romans 
(New York: Hodder and Stoughton, n.d.), 355. 
4/ Ibid 
5/ James D.G. Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary: 
Romans 9-16 (Dallas: Word Books, 1988), 764
6/ Tom Wacaster, Studies in Romans (Pulaski, Sain 
Publications, 2005), 563. 7/ Dunn, 764.

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