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Calvin's Commentaries  

The Epistle to the Romans 13:1-10 (Volume XIX)

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, 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 Redeemerís 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, 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 Lordís hand. And by mentioning every soul, he removes every exception, lest any one should claim an immunity from the common duty of obedience. 

For there is no power, etc. The reason why we ought to be subject to magistrates is, because they are constituted by Godís 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, (ajtaxi>av) 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, 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. 

Romans 13:3-4 
3. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:  
3. Principes enim non sunt terrori bonis operibus sed malis; vis ergo non timere potestatem? bene fac, et habebis laudem ab ea; 
4. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.  
4. Dei enim minister est tibi in bonum; si vero quid mali feceris, time; non enim frustra gladium gerit; Dei enim minister est, vindex in iram adversus eos qui male agunt. 

3. For princes, etc. He now commends to us obedience to princes on the ground of utility; for the causative ga<r, for, is to be referred to the first proposition, and not to the last verse. Now, the utility is this, ó that the Lord has designed in this way to provide for the tranquillity of the good, and to restrain the waywardness of the wicked; by which two things the safety of mankind is secured: for except the fury of the wicked be resisted, and the innocent be protected from their violence, all things would come to an entire confusion. Since then this is the only remedy by which mankind can be preserved from destruction, it ought to be carefully observed by us, unless we wish to avow ourselves as the public enemies of the human race. 

And he adds, Wilt not thou then fear the power? Do good. By this he intimates, that there is no reason why we should dislike the magistrate, if indeed we are good; nay, that it is an implied proof of an evil conscience, and of one that is devising some mischief, when any one wishes to shake off or to remove from himself this yoke. But he speaks here of the true, and, as it were, of the native duty of the magistrate, from which however they who hold power often degenerate; yet the obedience due to princes ought to be rendered to them. For since a wicked prince is the Lordís scourge to punish the sins of the people, let us remember, that it happens through our fault that this excellent blessing of God is turned into a curse. 

Let us then continue to honor the good appointment of God, which may be easily done, provided we impute to ourselves whatever evil may accompany it. Hence he teaches us here the end for which magistrates are instituted by the Lord; the happy effects of which would always appear, were not so noble and salutary an institution marred through our fault. At the same time, princes do never so far abuse their power, by harassing the good and innocent, that they do not retain in their tyranny some kind of just government: there can then be no tyranny which does not in some respects assist in consolidating the society of men. 

He has here noticed two things, which even philosophers have considered as making a part of a well-ordered administration of a commonwealth, that is, rewards for the good, and punishment for the wicked. The word praise has here, after the Hebrew manner, a wide meaning. 

4. For he is Godís minister for good, etc. Magistrates may hence learn what their vocation is, for they are not to rule for their own interest, but for the public good; nor are they endued with unbridled power, but what is restricted to the wellbeing of their subjects; in short, they are responsible to God and to men in the exercise of their power. For as they are deputed by God and do his business, they must give an account to him: and then the ministration which God has committed to them has a regard to the subjects, they are therefore debtors also to them. And private men are reminded, that it is through the divine goodness that they are defended by the sword of princes against injuries done by the wicked. 

For they bear not the sword in vain, etc. It is another part of the office of magistrates, that they ought forcibly to repress the waywardness of evil men, who do not willingly suffer themselves to be governed by laws, and to inflict such punishment on their offenses as Godís judgment requires; for he expressly declares, that they are armed with the sword, not for an empty show, but that they may smite evil-doers. 

And then he says, An avenger, to execute wrath, etc. This is the same as if it had been said, that he is an executioner of Godís wrath; and this he shows himself to be by having the sword, which the Lord has delivered into his hand. This is a remarkable passage for the purpose of proving the right of the sword; for if the Lord, by arming the magistrate, has also committed to him the use of the sword, whenever he visits the guilty with death, by executing Godís vengeance, he obeys his commands. Contend then do they with God who think it unlawful to shed the blood of wicked men. 

Romans 13:5-7 
5. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.  
5. Itaque necesse est subjici, non modo propter iram, sed etiam propter conscientiam. 
6. For, for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are Godministers, attending continually upon this very thing.  
6. Propterea enim tributa quoque solutis; ministrienim Dei sunt, in hoc incumbentes. 
7. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.  
7. Reddite ergo omnibus quod debetur; cui tributum, tributum; cui vectigal, vectigal; cui timorem, timorem; cui honorem, honorem. 

5. It is therefore necessary, etc. What he had at first commanded as to the rendering of obedience to magistrates, he now briefly repeats, but with some addition, and that is, ó that we ought to obey them, not only on the ground of necessity arising from man, but that we thereby obey God; for by wrath he means the punishment which the magistrates inflict for the contempt of their dignity; as though he had said, ďWe must not only obey, because we cannot with impunity resist the powerful and those armed with authority, as injuries are wont to be borne with which cannot be repelled; but we ought to obey willingly, as conscience through Godís word thus binds us.Ē Though then the magistrate were disarmed, so that we could with impunity provoke and despise him, yet such a thing ought to be no more attempted than if we were to see punishment suspended over us; for it belongs not to a private individual to take away authority from him whom the Lord has in power set over us. This whole discourse is concerning civil government; it is therefore to no purpose that they who would exercise dominion over consciences do hence attempt to establish their sacrilegious tyranny. 

6. For this reason also, etc. He takes occasion to introduce the subject of tributes, the reason for which he deduces from the office of magistrates; for if it be their duty to defend and safely preserve the peace of the good, and to resist the mischievous attempts of the wicked, this they cannot do unless they are aided by sufficient force. Tributes then are justly paid to support such necessary expenses.  But respecting the proportion of taxes or tributes, this is not the place to discuss the subject; nor does it belong to us either to prescribe to princes how much they ought to expend in every affair, or to call them to an account. It yet behooves them to remember, that whatever they receive from the people, is as it were public property, and not to be spent in the gratification of private indulgence. For we see the use for which Paul appoints these tributes which are to be paid ó even that kings may be furnished with means to defend their subjects. 

7. Render then to all what is due, etc. The Apostle seems here summarily to include the particulars in which the duties of subjects towards magistrates consist, ó that they are to hold them in esteem and honor, that they are to obey their edicts, laws, and judgments, ó that they are to pay tributes and customs. By the word fear, he means obedience; by customs and tributes, not only imposts and taxes, but also other revenues. 

Now this passage confirms what I have already said, ó that we ought to obey kings and governors, whoever they may be, not because we are constrained, but because it is a service acceptable to God; for he will have them not only to be feared, but also honored by a voluntary respect. 

Romans 13:8-10
8. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. 8. Nemini quicquam debeatis, nisi ut invicem diligatis; qui enim diligit alterum Legem implevit.
9. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. 9. Illud enim, Non moechaberis, Non occides, Non falsum testimonium dices, Non concupisces, et si quod est aliud praeceptum, in hoc sermone comprehenditur, Diliges proximum sicut teipsum.
10. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. 10. Dilectio proximo malum non infert: plenitudo ergo legis est dilectio.

8. To no one owe ye, etc. There are those who think that this was not said without a taunt, as though Paul was answering the objection of those who contended that Christians were burdened in having other precepts than that of love enjoined them. And indeed I do not deny, but that it may be taken ironically, as though he conceded to those who allowed no other law but that of love, what they required, but in another sense. And yet I prefer to take the words simply as they are; for I think that Paul meant to refer the precept respecting the power of magistrates to the law of love, lest it should seem to any one too feeble; as though he had said, ó "When I require you to obey princes, I require nothing more than what all the faithful ought to do, as demanded by the law of love: for if ye wish well to the good, (and not to wish this is inhuman,) ye ought to strive, that the laws and judgments may prevail, that the administrators of the laws may have an obedient people, so that through them peace may be secured to all." He then who introduces anarchy, violates love; for what immediately follows anarchy, is the confusion of all things.  

For he who loves another, etc. Paulís design is to reduce all the precepts of the law to love, so that we may know that we then rightly obey the commandments, when we observe the law of love, and when we refuse to undergo no burden in order to keep it. He thus fully confirms what he has commanded respecting obedience to magistrates, in which consists no small portion of love. 

But some are here impeded, and they cannot well extricate themselves from this difficulty, ó that Paul teaches us that the law is fulfilled when we love our neighbor, for no mention is here made of what is due to God, which ought not by any means to have been omitted. But Paul refers not to the whole law, but speaks only of what the law requires from us as to our neighbor. And it is doubtless true, that the whole law is fulfilled when we love our neighbors; for true love towards man does not flow except from the love of God, and it is its evidence, and as it were its effects. But Paul records here only the precepts of the second table, and of these only he speaks, as though he had said, ó "He who loves his neighbor as himself, performs his duty towards the whole world." Puerile then is the gloss of the Sophists, who attempt to elicit from this passage what may favor justification by works: for Paul declares not what men do or do not, but he speaks hypothetically of that which you will find nowhere accomplished. And when we say, that men are not justified by works, we deny not that the keeping of the law is true righteousness: but as no one performs it, and never has performed it, we say, that all are excluded from it, and that hence the only refuge is in the grace of Christ. 

9. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, etc. It cannot be from this passage concluded what precepts are contained in the second table, for he subjoins at the end, and if there be any other precept. He indeed omits the command respecting the honoring of parents; and it may seem strange, that what especially belonged to his subject should have been passed by. But what if he had left it out, lest he should obscure his argument? Though I dare not to affirm this, yet I see here nothing wanting to answer the purpose he had in view, which was to show, ó that since God intended nothing else by all his commandments than to teach us the duty of love, we ought by all means to strive to perform it. And yet the uncontentious reader will readily acknowledge, that Paul intended to prove, by things of a like nature, that the import of the whole law is, that love towards one another ought to be exercised by us, and that what he left to be implied is to be understood, and that is, ó that obedience to magistrates is not the least thing which tends to nourish peace, to preserve brotherly love. 

10. Love doeth no evil to a neighbor, etc. He demonstrates by the effect, that under the word love are contained those things which are taught us in all the commandments; for he who is endued with true love will never entertain the thought of injuring others. What else does the whole law forbid, but that we do no harm to our neighbor? This, however, ought to be applied to the present subject; for since magistrates are the guardians of peace and justice, he who desires that his own right should be secured to every one, and that all may live free from wrong, ought to defend, as far as he can, the power of magistrates. But the enemies of government show a disposition to do harm. And when he repeats that the fulfilling of the law is love, understand this, as before, of that part of the law which refers to mankind; for the first table of the law, which contains what we owe to God, is not here referred to at all.