person: Or “living person.” Here the Greek word psy·kheʹ, rendered “soul” in some Bible translations, refers to a person.—See Glossary, “Soul.”
the superior authorities: That is, the secular governing authorities. The term here rendered “authorities” is the plural form of the Greek word e·xou·siʹa. Readers of the Greek Septuagint may have been familiar with the way this word was applied to rulerships or dominion. (See Da 7:6, 14, 27; 11:5, where e·xou·siʹa is used to render Hebrew and Aramaic words meaning “authority to rule; rulership; ruling power.”) At Lu 12:11, it is used in the expression “government officials, and authorities.” The Greek term rendered “superior” is related to a word used at 1Ti 2:2 in the expression “kings and all those who are in high positions [or “in positions of authority,” ftn.].” In some contexts, it refers to being in a controlling position, having power or authority over others, but it does not imply being “supreme.” This is shown by the usage at Php 2:3, where Christians are urged to consider others “superior” to themselves, not supreme.
stand placed in their relative positions by God: Lit., “having been set in order they are by God.” That is, by God’s permission. The Greek word tasʹso used here is defined in various lexicons as “to bring about an order of things by arranging; to put in place; to draw up in order; to set in a certain order; to appoint.” The term is rendered “arranged” in some contexts. (Mt 28:16; Ac 15:2; 28:23) At Lu 7:8, Luke uses the same Greek word when rendering an army officer’s words: “I too am a man placed [form of tasʹso] under authority [form of e·xou·siʹa, the same word rendered “authority; authorities” at Ro 13:1-3], having soldiers under me.” This army officer had someone placed over him, and he had “soldiers under” him; so his “authority” was relative in relation to others. This indicates that the Greek word tasʹso does not always simply mean “to put in place.” It can also refer to a certain order in which someone is placed in relation to others. Many translations of Ro 13:1 use such expressions as “ordained of God” or “instituted (established; appointed) by God,” which might give the impression that God is ultimately responsible for installing secular rulers. However, based on the meaning of the Greek word, the immediate context, and what the Bible teaches elsewhere (Pr 21:1; Ec 5:8; Da 4:32; Joh 19:11), the New World Translation uses the expression “stand placed in their relative positions by God.” God allows the secular governments to have “relative” positions of authority, greater or lesser in relation to one another, but always inferior to his own supreme authority as Sovereign of the universe.
the arrangement of God: “The superior authorities” are part of a temporary arrangement permitted by God. (Ro 13:1) The Greek expression used here denotes what God has ordered or directed. These secular authorities are God’s temporary means of maintaining order in human society. But there would be no human authority if God did not permit it. (Joh 19:11) In that sense, the superior authorities have a relative position within God’s purpose. When Paul wrote this letter, the superior authorities affecting Christians were primarily the government of Rome under Emperor Nero, who ruled from 54 to 68 C.E. Paul clearly recognized the need for and the superiority of God’s way of governing. (Ac 28:31; 1Co 15:24) He was simply saying that as long as Jehovah allows human rulership to exist, Christians should respect and accept it as “the arrangement of God.”
it: That is, “the authority.”
it is God’s minister: This refers to “the authority” mentioned at Ro 13:1-3. This human authority is God’s “minister,” or servant (Greek, di·aʹko·nos), in a particular sense. The Bible sometimes uses this Greek word to refer to “servants; those serving” others. (Mt 22:13; Joh 2:5, 9) The related verb di·a·ko·neʹo (to serve; to attend to; to minister) is also used to describe people performing various personal services for others. (See study note on Lu 8:3.) It is in this sense that the secular authorities can be called a “minister,” or servant. They are God’s minister because he allows them to continue for a time. They render certain services for the good of the people, providing a measure of order and protection against lawlessness. Additionally, the Bible shows that secular authorities have sometimes served as God’s minister in other ways. For example: King Cyrus of Persia called on the Jews to go out of Babylon and rebuild God’s house in Jerusalem. (Ezr 1:1-4; Isa 44:28) Persian King Artaxerxes sent Ezra with a contribution for the rebuilding of that house and later commissioned Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. (Ezr 7:11-26; 8:25-30; Ne 2:1-8) The Roman authority delivered Paul from the mob in Jerusalem, protected him after he was shipwrecked, and allowed him to stay in a rented house while a prisoner until his case could be heard by Caesar.—Ac 21:31, 32; 28:7-10, 30, 31.
the sword: Here referring to the right or power of secular authorities to inflict punishment on those practicing what is bad. When authorities use this power properly, it can be a strong deterrent to crime, contributing to order in society. However, they are responsible to God for how they use this authority. For example, King Herod Antipas had John the Baptist beheaded, abusing this symbolic sword. (Mt 14:1-12) Likewise, King Herod Agrippa I misused his authority by putting “James the brother of John to death by the sword.” (Ac 12:1, 2) If secular rulers try to make Christians act in violation of the Scriptures, they would not be acting as God’s minister.
to express wrath: When a person violates a human law that does not contradict God’s laws, the punishment meted out by the “rulers” is an indirect expression of God’s wrath against the one practicing what is bad. (Ro 13:3) In this context, the Greek expression for “to express wrath” could also be rendered “to bring punishment.”
There is . . . compelling reason: Or “It is . . . necessary.” The Greek word a·nagʹke used here literally means “necessity.” This verse shows that the compelling reason for Christians to obey Caesar’s laws and to pay taxes should be the Christian conscience rather than fear of Caesar’s “sword” of punishment. (See study notes on Ro 13:4.) Therefore, a Christian submits to human governments when a command does not contradict God’s laws.
public servants: The Greek word lei·tour·gosʹ (public servant, or worker) used here and the related words lei·tour·geʹo (to render public service) and lei·tour·giʹa (public service) were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans to refer to work or service for the State or for civil authorities that was done for the benefit of the people. (The above-mentioned Greek words are derived from la·osʹ, “people,” and erʹgon, “work.”) Here the secular authorities are called God’s “public servants” (plural form of lei·tour·gosʹ) in the sense that they provide beneficial services for the people. However, in the Christian Greek Scriptures, these Greek terms are frequently used in connection with the temple service and the Christian ministry. For this usage, see study notes on Lu 1:23; Ac 13:2; Ro 15:16.
constantly serving this very purpose: Or “devoting themselves to this very thing.” The secular authorities fulfill their duties as described in the preceding verses, and as “God’s public servants,” they provide beneficial services for the people.
commit adultery: See study note on Ro 2:22.
wild parties: Or “revelries.” The Greek word koʹmos occurs three times in the Christian Greek Scriptures and always in an unfavorable sense. (Ga 5:21; 1Pe 4:3) It has been defined as “drinking parties involving unrestrained indulgence in alcoholic beverages and accompanying immoral behavior.” In ancient Greek writings, the word was used in connection with riotous festal street processions that honored pagan gods, such as Dionysius (or Bacchus), the god of wine, with singing until late at night. Such processions and licentious conduct were common in Greek cities of the apostles’ time, including cities of Asia Minor. (1Pe 1:1) Peter addressed his letter to Christians there who had “carried on in acts of . . . unbridled passions, overdrinking, wild parties, drinking bouts, and lawless idolatries” before becoming Christians. (1Pe 4:3, 4) Paul included “wild parties” among “the works of the flesh,” adding that those who indulged in such behavior would “not inherit God’s Kingdom.” (Ga 5:19-21) In verses where the expression “wild parties” occurs, Paul and Peter also list such behavior as drunkenness, immoral intercourse, sexual immorality, uncleanness, brazen conduct, and unbridled passions.
brazen conduct: Or “acts of shameless conduct.” Here the plural form of the Greek word a·selʹgei·a is used. This Greek word denotes conduct that is a serious violation of God’s laws and that reflects a brazen or boldly contemptuous attitude.—See Glossary.
put on the Lord: Or “imitate the qualities (manners) of the Lord.” The Greek word for “put on” literally means “to clothe (dress) oneself.” (Lu 15:22; Ac 12:21) It is here used figuratively in the sense of taking on the characteristics of someone. The same Greek word is used at Col 3:10, 12 in the expression “clothe yourselves with.” Paul’s admonition at Ro 13:14 means that Christians should follow Jesus closely, figuratively clothing themselves with his example and his disposition, striving to be Christlike.