Subjection to Superior Authorities
“Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities.”—Rom. 13:1, NW.
1. What are the two superiors confronting Christians today? Is this something new?
CHRISTIANS today find themselves confronted with two superiors. This situation is not new.a Christians during the first century A.D. were similarly situated; and so were the Israelites after 607 B.C., when they had lost their national sovereignty to the non-Jewish nations. In all three instances the one superior is an assumed, temporary, tolerated superiority, that of the limited superiority of the man-made Caesar governments of this old world. The other superior is the genuine, absolute, everlasting superiority, that of the unlimited superiority of Jehovah God. In this overlapping period before Armageddon Jehovah’s witnesses are clearly able to determine their legal relationships and duties to the two sets of governing superiors, both of which bring obligations upon Christian inferiors. Their legal position is invincible. This is by reason of their being heirs of the many sound legal doctrines and principles recorded in the Scriptures and of the many legal precedents of Biblical cases which are currently applicable.—Titus 3:1, NW.
2. What was the situation as to superiors during Jesus’ ministry, and what did he testify as to Caesar’s superiority?
2 Jesus Christ, the Greater than Moses, was undoubtedly the greatest judge and lawyer ever to walk this earth. For this reason his legal pronouncements are not only of persuasive value but of binding force upon Christians. Jesus conducted his great ministry in a time when the Roman Caesars literally held domination of the Promised Land of Palestine and in a time when the law covenant of Jehovah God was still binding upon the Jews. Hence two superiors existed who brought obligations upon Jesus and all the Jews. At the close of his ministry when Jesus conducted his own defense before Rome’s governor Pilate on the false charge of sedition, Pilate sought to remind Jesus of Rome’s superiority when he said, “‘Do you not know I have authority to release you and I have authority to impale you?’ Jesus answered him: ‘You would have no authority at all against me unless it had been granted to you from above.’” (John 19:10, 11, NW) Thus we have the clear evidence that Caesar’s superiority over God’s servants was merely a tolerated one on the part of the true Sovereign Superior, Jehovah God.
3. How did enemies of Jesus seek to trap him?
3 Religious enemies of Jesus tried to entrap him on the issue as to whether Jews in covenant relationship with God should lawfully render tribute to Caesar. In this manner they thought to get him to advocate overt acts against Roman authority and thus bring upon himself a charge of sedition. “Then the Pharisees went their way and took counsel together in order to trap him in his speech. So they dispatched to him their disciples together with party followers of Herod, saying: ‘Teacher, we know you are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and you do not care for anybody, for you do not look upon men’s outward appearance. Tell us, therefore, What do you think? Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus, knowing their wickedness, said: ‘Why do you put me to the test, hypocrites? Show me the tribute coin.’ They brought him a denarius. And he said to them: ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ They said: ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them: ‘Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.’”—Matt. 22:15-21, NW.
4. What does the sound legal doctrine pronounced by Jesus mean to Christians today?
4 On the above occasion Jesus pronounced a sound legal doctrine. That doctrine is simply stated, ‘Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.’ Thus Jesus grants that the “Caesar” governments may set upon their Christian inferiors or subjects certain duties of paying tribute which are proper to be paid back to them for services rendered. But, mind you, in the temporary systems of things in which “Caesar” operates, “Caesar” may only exact return payment for those limited services for which Christians are dependent upon the state. This was underscored by Jesus in his reference to Caesar’s coin, which was called a “tribute coin”. Therefore in this binding legal doctrine Jesus drew a clear line at which one’s duties to the state end. Beyond that line commences the Christian’s duties toward his God. Note that Jesus did not shut out of the picture these greater duties to be paid by Jehovah’s witnesses to their sovereign God, for he completed the legal pronouncement by saying, “Pay back . . . God’s things to God.”
5. What course do Christians take when there is a conflict between the requirements of Caesar and those of God? What precedent do they follow?
5 Christian men and women dedicated to Jehovah depend absolutely upon God for life and its major needs. Consequently it is right and necessary that they render their greater duties to God at all points of dependency. Where the legal obligations of Caesar and those of God seem to conflict, then Christians follow the legal precedent set by Peter and the apostles in their defense before the Sánhedrin court in Jerusalem. The Sánhedrin judge said, “‘We positively charged you not to keep teaching upon the basis of this name, and yet, look! you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you are determined to bring the blood of this man upon us.’ In answer Peter and the other apostles said: ‘We must obey God as ruler rather than men.’” (Acts 5:27-29, NW) If Caesar thereupon applies sanctions of punishment against Christians for following this proper precedent in refusing to comply with Caesar’s conflicting requirements, then they suffer the consequences at Caesar’s hands. They do this rather than be found breaking God’s law or be found negligent in paying back God’s things to God. If Caesar’s law commands a Christian to do a thing which God’s law clearly forbids, God’s servants do not halt between two opinions but strictly adhere to the precedent, “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”
“SUBJECTION TO THE SUPERIOR AUTHORITIES”
6, 7. Who are the “superior authorities” that Paul refers to in Romans 13:1, and why so?
6 The apostle Paul, a lawyer by profession prior to his becoming a zealous Christian minister, with great force points out the pre-eminent position of true superior authorities in God’s government over his servants. Paul writes, “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God.” (Rom. 13:1, NW) These last words, “for there is no authority except by God,” are proof conclusive that the “superior authorities” Paul is speaking of could not refer to the political powers of the Caesar governments. In the Scripture at Revelation 13:2, NW, the Bible specifically states that Satan is the one who has empowered and authorized the old world Caesars. Hence the “superior authorities” in Romans chapter 13 which God commissions includes only the theocratic ruling authorities and excludes Caesar’s authorities.
7 The Bible clearly identifies these truly superior authorities. First of all, Jehovah God himself, who resumes his sovereign control as to affairs of the earth, is the chief theocratic authority. Of his administrative kingship it is written, “Praise Jah, you people, because Jehovah our God, the Almighty, has begun to rule as king.” (Rev. 19:6, NW; Dan. 7:13) Then, too, the Scriptures say, “Shall we not much more subject ourselves to the Father of our spiritual life and live?” (Heb. 12:9, NW) The second in command and the remaining “superior authority” is the consort King Christ Jesus, of which Peter writes, “Have honor for the king.” Paul confirms this matter by speaking of the great name or lofty office which God gave to Jesus when he raised him to the superior position as a consort authority. “Keep this mental attitude in you which was also in Christ Jesus. For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name, so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground, and every tongue should openly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”—1 Pet. 2:17; Phil. 2:5, 9-11 and Rev. 11:15, NW.
8, 9. (a) Who places the “existing authorities”, and what is the Christian’s relationship toward them? (b) Why is it a serious matter to be an inferior under God’s theocratic organization? and what warning did Paul give as to this?
8 Christians in this twentieth century readily bend the knee in acknowledgment as inferiors that Jehovah and Christ Jesus are the ones to whom they render primary subjection and which divine authorities have the right to lay duties and obligations upon them. Paul continues to say, “The existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God.” (Rom. 13:1, NW) Here again is proof that these are the “theocratic superior authorities”, because it is written that “God has set the members in the body, each one of them, just as he pleased”. Therefore a dedicated Christian delights to be obedient at all points in loyal loving subjection, and such is of concern to every servant of God.—1 Cor. 12:18, NW.
9 To these theocratic superior authorities are entrusted great sanctioning powers of punishment. They have power of execution of judgment upon all opposers. Warning of this fact Paul next writes, “Therefore he who ranges himself up against the authority has taken a stand against the arrangement of God; those who have taken a stand against it will receive judgment to themselves. For those ruling are an object of fear, not to the good deed, but to the evil. Do you, then, want to have no fear of the authority? Keep doing good, and you will have praise from it; for it [the authority] is God’s minister to you for your good. But if you are doing evil, be in fear: for it is not without purpose that it bears the sword; for it [the authority] is God’s minister, an avenger to express wrath [sanctions of punishment] upon the one practicing evil.” (Rom. 13:2-4, NW) Truly it is an extremely serious relationship to be brought into as an inferior under God’s theocratic organization. Never must it be forgotten that evil deeds, gross unfaithfulness and opposition to God’s theocratic governmental authorities bring fearful consequences.
10. What further facts demonstrate that the “superior authorities” spoken of at Romans 13:1 could not be the Caesar governments as claimed by the clergy?
10 The above quotations from Paul’s letter to the Romans could never have applied to the political powers of Caesar’s world as wrongly claimed by the clergy of Christendom. The Caesars of this world have never demonstrated by their deeds that they are ‘God’s ministers to you for good’. Rather, exactly to the contrary, the Caesars have done evil by persecuting God’s faithful servants. One needs only to cite the brief facts how in the Western countries between 1933 and 1946 thousands of conscientious Christians were persecuted, mobbed and unjustly imprisoned for obeying God rather than men. For example, during those years men and women, Jehovah’s witnesses, to the number of 1,600 were imprisoned in Britain; 10,000 were packed off to concentration camps by Hitler in Germany; and in the United States, 20,000 arrests and imprisonments were effected in addition to at least 1,500 mobbings. Since 1946 Russia has become notorious by imprisoning and banishing thousands of the Christian witnesses of Jehovah. It has turned out exactly as Jesus foretold. Just as Caesar and his religious allies persecuted Jesus, so modern Caesar and his religious supporters have a black record of persecuting modern Christians.—John 15:20.
11, 12. (a) What does Paul say as to the proper motive for being in subjection to God’s theocratic authorities? (b) How does Paul illustrate this right motive, and what further obligations does he speak of?
11 Paul proceeds to strengthen his legal counsel by discussing the primary motive for a Christian’s being in subjection to theocratic superior authorities. He shows that the compelling motive is not only that of avoiding the wrath of punishment at the hands of God’s government but the more powerful force in us, that of our conscientious love for righteousness, our deep love for Jehovah our Great Benefactor. Paul says, “There is therefore compelling reason for you to be in subjection, not only on account of that wrath [sanctions of punishment] but also on account of your conscience.” (Rom. 13:5, NW) Conscience is that faculty of the mind by which the human creature realizes and distinctly perceives or appreciates that the course of action taken by him is right or wrong. The Christian’s conscience having long been trained from the Word of God knows fully what God’s will is and what is the right thing to do to please his heavenly Master. Thus out of our warm love for God which our consciences are constantly bathed with, the Christian unhesitatingly keeps himself in total subjection to Jehovah and his theocratic governing authorities.
12 To emphasize this matter of conscience, Paul next gives an illustration of right motive. “For that is why you are also paying tribute.” The “tribute” mentioned is that of paying taxes to Caesar. Years before Paul’s time, Jesus had settled this issue of paying “tribute” or taxes to Caesar (see paragraphs 3 and 4); so Paul unhesitatingly cited this example of right motive out of a clear conscience as an obvious course. Reverting now to his main subject, Paul argues: “For they [the theocratic authorities] are God’s public servants constantly serving this very purpose. Render to all their dues, to him who calls for tribute [Caesar’s taxes levied on persons and land estates], the tribute; to him who calls for tax [Caesar’s taxes on commercial and personal items], the tax; to him who calls for fear [respect for prominent persons in both God’s and Caesar’s organization], such fear; to him who calls for honor [Peter says, ‘Honor men of all kinds’], such honor.”—Rom. 13:6, 7 and; 1 Pet. 2:17, NW.
PRAYERS FOR THOSE IN HIGH STATION
13. What questions are raised by 1 Timothy 2:1-4?
13 Another scripture that has caused confusion in the minds of some persons is 1 Timothy 2:1-4. It is often associated with Romans 13:1-7; so it is appropriate to consider it now. It reads, according to the New World Translation: “I therefore exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, offerings of thanks, be made concerning all kinds of men, concerning kings and all those who are in high station, in order that we may go on leading a calm and quiet life with full godly devotion and seriousness. This is right and acceptable in the sight of our Savior, God, whose will is that all kinds of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” Who are the kings and those in high station? What kind of prayers would be offered for them?
14. Who are the kings and highly stationed ones? and how did instructions given by Jeremiah harmonize with Paul’s?
14 It appears from the context that the kings and others in high station refer to rulers of the worldly nations and others highly placed in public affairs. There are recorded instances in the Bible where Jehovah’s people offered prayers that concerned rulers, which prayers were sometimes on the behalf of such rulers. In Jeremiah’s day and after the Judean kings had been made tributary kings to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, there was political unrest in Judah, with many looking to Egypt for help in their seditions against Babylon. Even after many Jews were carried captive to Babylon, in 618 B.C., the seditious spirit flourished and hopes were high that Egypt would break the Babylonish yoke. Jeremiah prophesied differently, and rather than raising the hopes of Jews captive in Babylon for an early deliverance he told them to prepare for a long stay there, and added as a part of God’s message to them: “Seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” (Jer. 29:1-7) The purpose of the prayers to God for the captor city was that the captive Jews might lead “a calm and quiet life”.
15 After Babylon fell before the onslaught of Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Persian, the latter decreed that the Jews could return to Judah and rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. This was in 537 B.C., but it was only after years of interruption and opposition that the temple was completed, in 516 B.C. Opening the way for the Jewish governor Zerubbabel to complete the project was the intercession of Darius II, ruler of the Medo-Persian empire; and after ordering the opposers to help instead of hinder, and even commanding that supplies from the king’s goods be made available to the Jews for sacrifice at the temple, the Medo-Persian king added by way of explanation: “That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons.” (Ezra 6:1-10) Apparently all of the wishes of Darius II were carried out, including the one that prayers be made by the Jews for him and his sons. There is no evidence otherwise.
16. How are the backgrounds of these events in the days of Jeremiah and Zerubbabel and Paul similar?
16 These two cases, the one in Jeremiah’s day and the other in Zerubbabel’s time, fit right in with the counsel Paul gave to Timothy. Both of them were in times when seditious movements or charges were prominent, and prayers for the entrenched rulers would show that the ones praying were not out to overthrow the government, but that they favored the continuance of the existing government rather than some new rebel regime run by men. They wanted peace, not revolution. Moreover, Nebuchadnezzar was used by God to punish backsliding Israel, and Darius II was a means for re-establishing true worship in Jerusalem. So it was when Paul wrote to Timothy about praying concerning highly stationed rulers, between A.D. 61-64. At that time seditions in Jerusalem and all Palestine were brewing, and soon thereafter precipitated the war with the Romans that led to the horrible destruction of Jerusalem, A.D. 70. The Christians did not participate in the Jewish seditions, did not have political prejudices and ambitions, but were interested only in peace and calm in which they could preach the gospel. They were out to overthrow no government, but would leave that to Christ Jesus in his due time. Until then, they could pray for peaceful administration of public affairs that would be conducive to “a calm and quiet life with full godly devotion”. Moreover, the Roman legions were instruments used to execute divine judgment against the Jews, just as Nebuchadnezzar had been so used centuries before, in 607 B.C.—Matt. 22:7.
17. How might one pray on such occasions as Matthew 10:18 describes?
17 Not only could such prayers be pointed to by early Christians to prove they were innocent of the many charges of sedition brought against them, but also they could be used to possibly influence decisions rulers might make concerning gospel-preaching. (Luke 23:2; Acts 17:7; 24:5) Jesus warned his followers: “You will be haled before governors and kings for my sake for the purpose of a witness to them and the nations.” (Matt. 10:18, NW) The Christian would certainly pray to God before such appearances, and the prayer would concern the official before whom you were to appear, he being mentioned. The Christian might pray that the message be presented clearly and boldly and in understandable form for the official or judge, and that if it please God will he make this highly stationed one amenable to the message, unprejudiced, reasonable, so that he will see the justice of the Christian’s cause and rule in his favor, allowing him freedom of action for preaching, and not curbing such activity by imprisoning the minister.
18. How was such praying exemplified in Esther’s day?
18 Prayers with regard to government officials in that sense or with that purpose in view are Scripturally exemplified also. When Queen Esther appeared unbidden before the Persian king Xerxes she put her life in jeopardy, so before she did this she sent word to Mordecai: “Go and gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, fast for me, eat and drink nothing for three days and three nights; I and my maids will fast as you do; and so I will go to the king, though it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.” Such fasting before God would certainly be accompanied by prayers and supplications for Esther’s safety, which means they would ask God to make the king view Esther with favor, for that was the point on which her safety hinged. The intercessions were successful, for Esther found favor with the king.—Esther 4:16; 5:2, Mo.
19. How was such praying successfully done in Nehemiah’s case?
19 Again, when Nehemiah had to present a cause involving Jehovah’s worship before the Persian king he fasted and prayed, concluding his prayer thus: “Ah, Lord, may thine ear now be attentive to the prayer of thy servant and to the prayer of thy servants who delight to reverence thy Name. Ah, let thy servant have success at this time, let him find favour in the sight of this man!” The man was the king, for whom Nehemiah was cupbearer. When Nehemiah appeared before the king he was asked: “What request have you to make?” Before ever answering Nehemiah did something, and he tells us what: “So I prayed to the God of heaven; then I said to the king.” The quick prayer came first, and brought results, for the request was granted. “This the king granted me, thanks to the kind favour of my God.” (Neh. 1:4, 11; 2:4, 5, 8, Mo) It is quite evident that Nehemiah prayed for God to shape the king’s decision, and God answered that prayer, and Nehemiah gave God the credit for the favorable reply from the king.
20. Wherein did Paul show willingness to make supplication for rulers?
20 And consider the following exchange of words between King Agrippa and Paul, when a weighty question involving Paul’s preaching was up for decision: “Agrippa said to Paul: ‘In a short time you would persuade me to become a Christian.’ At this Paul said: ‘I could wish to God that whether in a short time or in a long time not only you but also all those who hear me today would become men such as I also am, with the exception of these bonds.’” With the king were the governor and other persons in high station. These words of Paul concerning these rulers, if not a regular prayer, were in the nature of supplication or intercession, for they constituted a “wish to God”. No conversion of the high officials followed, but their decision was favorable to Paul: “This man practices nothing deserving death or bonds”; “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (Acts 26:28-32, NW) In this particular case Paul was subsequently released by Caesar.
21. How are such prayers of possible benefit to all kinds of men?
21 On other occasions the early Christians prayed concerning rulers, if not always on their behalf. (Acts 4:23-31) They did this that the work of preaching might prosper. Moreover, prayers that concerned rulers might also be viewed as on their behalf, in the sense that if they conformed to the petitions they would be in a better position with God. If the prayers for just administration of public affairs on the part of officials are answered and lead to a calm existence, without violent persecutions and mobbings, without bans and imprisonments, then they work good for all kinds of men, and not just Jehovah’s witnesses and the rulers. So it is in the interests of saving all kinds of men and bringing them to a knowledge of the truth that we pray concerning rulers and others in high station. Widespread preaching aids all kinds of men.
22. So in keeping our balance in this matter, for what will we pray and for what will we not pray?
22 Some government officials have come into the truth, but we do not pray for that. We pray for opportunity to preach to all of the Lord’s yet-scattered “other sheep”, and if rulers are among them we are glad. Nor do we pray for the political schemes of the rulers, or for the world of which they are a part. (John 17:9; Jas. 4:3, 4) Our prayers must not take on any political tone or color, because we are neutral with regard to the affairs of this world. The Jews in Jesus’ time, and before and after his time, went far in their regard for Caesar, being able to say in proof of their patriotism: “We offer sacrifices twice every day for Caesar, and for the Roman people.” (Josephus’ Wars of the Jews, Book II, Chapter X, Section 4) They even went to the suicidal extreme of rejecting the Messiah with the clamorous cry: “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15) Let others become so unbalanced in their view of this matter and fall in destruction if they insist upon it, but let us heed Paul’s advice: “You, though, keep your balance in all things.” (2 Tim. 4:5, NW) So we will not pray for the conversion of the world, or for the conversion of an atheistic nation, or for the conversion of governmental bodies or individual officials; rather we will pray to God that if it pleases him to direct rulers and judges to see clearly the issues relative to his people, may he do so for the work’s sake. We may pray concerning court cases, bans, persecutions behind “iron curtains”, and other instances where the work is involved, and this prayer will also concern the officials involved in the case, and if they react justly it will be to their advantage. God will certainly accomplish his work and bless his people, and sometimes he maneuvers worldly rulers to do his will. (Rev. 17:17) At any rate, our prayers concerning those in high stations will never elevate them above the Superior Authorities, Jehovah God and Christ Jesus.
23. What does it mean to a Christian “to be in subjection”?
23 The final sum of the matter of being in subjection to the “superior authorities” is a matter of humbleness. We recognize our greatly inferior position before the living God. We realize that we are totally dependent upon him for life and all its present and future boundless blessings. With the increasing knowledge of his Word our proper appreciation of this subjection is increased. It is reflected not only in our preaching activities, but in our association as wide-awake members of the new world society and in our domestic spheres of life also. Subjecting ourselves to the true superior authorities produces a loving relationship which is one of divine favor.—Jas 4:6, 7, NW.
24. What concern should there be as to (1) our old course and (2) our new course?
24 Our old course in the old world society has left its marks in the time before we came to be in subjection to the true superior authorities. But that former time of insubordination is behind us. Now that we have taken on the new course let us do so with full understanding. Great care must be exercised that we follow the sound principles and rich precedents laid down in the Bible to guide our way. Do not take chances of displeasing the theocratic superior authorities by any act of unfaithfulness. It might mean your failing to get everlasting life in the new world. Old scruples and customs are well to be laid aside. New duties ascertainable from the Scriptures are well to be accepted and performed by all of us. Let us be moved to dedicate all our energies and substance in a total subjection to the new world government. Let us go all out to make that new course a success. Daily live and conform yourselves as in the new world. In fact, life in the new world society is already a reality. Enjoy now to the full the fruits and the peace of new world subjection.
a The District Court of the United States, Eastern District of Washington, in 1943 held, along with James Madison, the fourth president of the United States in the early 1800’s, that one is a subject of the Universal Sovereign (God) as well as a subject of the state. This court quoted from Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance”—“It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to Him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation to the claims of Civil Society [the state]. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Universe. And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign [God].” United States v. Hillyard, 52 F. Supp. 612.
[Picture on page 374]
The two sides of the silver denarius with image and superscription of Tiberius Caesar