Romans 13

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Romans 13
Codex Guelferbytanus 64 Weissenburgensis, page 00507.JPG
Folio 256 verso of Codex Guelferbytanus 64 Weissenburgensis, page 507, showing palimpsest with Romans 12:17-13:1 of Codex Carolinus at the lower layer; and Isidore of Seville's writings at the upper layer in reverse.
BookEpistle to the Romans
Bible partNew Testament
Order in the Bible part6
CategoryPauline epistles

Romans 13 is the thirteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It is authored by Paul the Apostle, but written by an amanuensis, Tertius of Iconium, while Paul was in Corinth, in winter of AD 57-58.[1] Paul wrote to the Roman Christians because he was "eager to preach the gospel" [2] to them, so as to remind them on "certain subjects".[3] Although he had been hindered from coming to them many times, he longed to encourage the Roman church by reminding them of the gospel, because of his calling to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews.[4]

In this chapter, Paul reminds his readers that they should honour and obey the secular authorities. Reformer Martin Luther suggested that "he includes this, not because it makes people virtuous in the sight of God, but because it does insure that the virtuous have outward peace and protection and that the wicked cannot do evil without fear and in undisturbed peace".[5]




The New King James Version organises this chapter as follows:

Romans 13:9 has cross-references with Exodus 20:13–15; Deuteronomy 5:17–19,21; Leviticus 19:18


Love Your Neighbour (verse 9)[edit]

New King James Version

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery”, “You shall not murder”, “You shall not steal”, “You shall not bear false witness”, “You shall not covet”, and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[6]

Citations: Exodus 20:13–15; Deuteronomy 5:17–19,21; Leviticus 19:18

Many texts do not include "You shall not bear false witness", but it is included in the Textus Receptus and the King James Bible. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges suggests that it is "perhaps to be omitted, on documentary evidence".[7]

The day is at hand (verses 11-14)[edit]

Non-conformist theologian Matthew Henry calls these verses "a Christian's directory for his day's work".[8] According to the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, "Paul enforces all the preceding precepts (of chapters 12 and 13) by the solemn assertion of the approach of the eternal Day of Resurrection and Glory",[9] "for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed" (King James Version).[10] Many translations, such as the New King James Version and Revised Standard Version, refer to "when we first believed".

New King James Version

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.[11]

Political Meaning and Use[edit]

Romans 13 is from time to time employed in civil discourse and by politicians and philiosophers in support of or against political issues. According to biblical scholars John Barton and John Muddiman;

Few if any passages in the Pauline corpus have been more subject to abuse than w. 1-7. Paul does not indicate that one is required to obey public officials under all circumstances, nor does he say that every exercise of civil authority is sanctioned by God. No particular government is authorized; no universal autarchy is legitimated. Instead, Paul reiterates the common Jewish view that human governance operates under God's superintendency (Jn 19:11; Dan 2:21; Prov 8:15—16; Isa 45:1—3; Wis 6:3), that it is part ofthe divine order and so is meant for human good (i Pet 2:13-14; Ep. Arist. 291-2).[12]

Two conflicting arguments are made: that the passage mandates obedience to civil law; and that there are limits to authority beyond which obedience is not required. John Calvin, in Institutes of the Christian Religion[13] took the latter position: "that we might not yield a slavish obedience to the depraved wishes of men". Martin Luther employed Romans 13 in Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants[14] to advocate that it would be sinful for a prince or lord not to use force, including violent force, to fulfil the duties of their office.[15]

Romans 13 was used during the period of the American Revolution, by loyalists who preached obedience to the Crown; and by revolutionaries who argued for elimination of the unjust authority of the King. Later in US history, Romans 13 was employed by anti-abolitionists to justify and legitimise the keeping of slaves; notably around the time of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which precipitated debate as to whether the law should be obeyed or resisted.[15] It was also used by the Dutch Reformed Church to justify apartheid rule in South Africa.[16][17]

In June 2018, Romans 13 was used by Jeff Sessions to justify the Trump administration family separation policy, saying:[15][18][19]

"I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful."[20]

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, echoed Sessions' use of Romans 13, stating:

"I’m not aware of the attorney general’s comments or what he would be referencing, [but] I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is repeated throughout the Bible."[20]

Commenting on the fight to define Romans 13, Lincoln Mullen argues that "what the attorney general actually has on his side is the thread of American history that justifies oppression and domination in the name of law and order."[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Halley, Henry H. Halley's Bible Handbook: an Abbreviated Bible Commentary. 23rd edition. Zondervan Publishing House. 1962.
  2. ^ Romans 1:15
  3. ^ Romans 15:15
  4. ^ Romans 1:13
  5. ^ Luther, M., Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, translated by Andrew Thornton, OSB
  6. ^ Romans 13:9
  7. ^ Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Romans 13, accessed 30 September 2016
  8. ^ Matthew Henry's Commentary on Romans 13, accessed 1 October 2016
  9. ^ Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Romans 13, accessed 30 September 2016
  10. ^ Romans 13:11
  11. ^ Romans 13:14
  12. ^ Barton, John, and John Muddiman, eds. The Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford University Press, 2007, 1104.
  13. ^ Calvin, John (1536). "20". Institutes of the Christian Religion.
  14. ^ Luther, Martin (1525). Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants.
  15. ^ a b c d Mullen, Lincoln. "The Fight to Define Romans 13". The Atlantic. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  16. ^ W. Munro (1990-11-01). "Romans 13:1-7 Apartheid's Last Biblical Refuge". SAGE Journals.
  17. ^ Joel A. Nichols & James W McCarty III (2014). "When the State is Evil: Biblical Civil (Dis)Obedience in South Africa". St John's Law Review.
  18. ^ Zauzmer, Julie; McMillan, Keith (15 June 2018). "Sessions cites Bible passage used to defend slavery in defense of separating immigrant families". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  19. ^ Swenson, Kyle (15 June 2018). "Sessions says the Bible justifies separating immigrant families. The verses he cited are infamous". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  20. ^ a b Jacobs, Ben (15 June 2018). "Sanders uses Bible to defend Trump's separation of children from families at border". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 June 2018.

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