The Christian’s View of the Superior Authorities
“Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God; the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God.”—ROMANS 13:1.
1, 2. (a) Why was Paul a prisoner in Rome? (b) What questions does Paul’s appeal to Caesar raise?
THE apostle Paul wrote the above words to the Romans about 56 C.E. A few years later, he found himself in Rome as a prisoner. Why? He had been attacked by a mob in Jerusalem and rescued by Roman soldiers. Taken to Caesarea, he faced false accusations, but he ably defended himself before Felix, the Roman governor. Felix, hoping for a bribe, held him in prison for two years. Finally, Paul demanded of the next governor, Festus, that his case be heard by Caesar.—Acts 21:27-32; 24:1–25:12.
2 This was his right as a Roman citizen. But was it consistent for Paul to appeal to that imperial authority when Jesus had referred to Satan as the real “ruler of the world” and Paul himself had called Satan “the god of this system of things”? (John 14:30; 2 Corinthians 4:4) Or did the Roman authority occupy some ‘relative position’ that made it appropriate for Paul to look to that authority for protection of his rights? Indeed, do the earlier words of the apostles, “We must obey God as ruler rather than men,” allow for Christian obedience to human rulers whenever disobedience to God is not involved?—Acts 5:29.
3. What mature view does Paul reveal, and how is conscience involved?
3 Paul helps us to answer these questions in his letter to the Romans, where he reveals a mature view of human rulership. At Romans 13:1-7, Paul makes plain the part a Christian’s conscience must play in balancing complete obedience to the Supreme Authority, Jehovah God, with relative obedience to “the superior authorities.”
Identifying the Superior Authorities
4. What adjustment of viewpoint was made in 1962, raising what questions?
4 For some years, until 1962, Jehovah’s Witnesses held that the superior authorities were Jehovah God and Christ Jesus. However, in line with Proverbs 4:18, light increased, and this view was adjusted, which may raise questions in the minds of some. Are we now correct in saying that these authorities are the kings, presidents, prime ministers, mayors, magistrates, and others who wield secular, political power in the world and that we owe them subjection in a relative way?
5. In what way does the context of Romans 13:1 help us to identify the superior authorities, and how do various Bible translations support this identification?
5 Irenaeus, a writer of the second century C.E., said that according to some in his day, Paul was speaking at Romans 13:1 “in regard to angelical powers [or] of invisible rulers.” Irenaeus himself, though, viewed the superior authorities as “actual human authorities.” The context of Paul’s words shows that Irenaeus was correct. In the closing verses of Romans chapter 12, Paul explains how Christians should conduct themselves before “all men,” treating even ‘enemies’ with love and consideration. (Romans 12:17-21) Clearly, the expression “all men” has application to men outside the Christian congregation. So “the superior authorities,” whom Paul then goes on to discuss, must also be outside the Christian congregation. In harmony with this, notice how various translations render the first part of Romans 13:1: “Everyone must obey state authorities” (Today’s English Version); “everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities” (New International Version); “everyone ought to obey the civil authorities.”—Phillips’ New Testament in Modern English.
6. How do Paul’s words about the paying of taxes and tribute show that the superior authorities must be secular authorities?
6 Paul goes on to say that these authorities call for taxes and tribute. (Romans 13:6, 7) The Christian congregation does not call for taxes or tribute; neither does Jehovah or Jesus or any other “invisible rulers.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) Taxes are paid only to secular authorities. In agreement with this, the Greek words for “tax” and “tribute” used by Paul at Romans 13:7 refer specifically to money paid to the State.*
7, 8. (a) How do various scriptures harmonize with the view that Christians should be subject to the political authorities of this world? (b) When only would the Christian not comply with the orders of the “authority”?
7 Further, Paul’s exhortation to be in subjection to the superior authorities is in harmony with Jesus’ command to pay back “Caesar’s things to Caesar,” where “Caesar” represents secular authority. (Matthew 22:21) It also agrees with Paul’s later words to Titus: “Continue reminding them to be in subjection and be obedient to governments and authorities as rulers, to be ready for every good work.” (Titus 3:1) Hence, when Christians are ordered by governments to share in community works, they quite properly comply as long as those works do not amount to a compromising substitute for some unscriptural service or otherwise violate Scriptural principles, such as that found at Isaiah 2:4.
8 Peter also affirmed that we should be subject to the secular authorities of this world when he said: “For the Lord’s sake subject yourselves to every human creation: whether to a king as being superior or to governors as being sent by him to inflict punishment on evildoers but to praise doers of good.” (1 Peter 2:13, 14) In harmony with this, Christians would also heed Paul’s admonition to Timothy: “I therefore exhort, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, offerings of thanks, be made concerning all sorts 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.”*—1 Timothy 2:1, 2.
9. Why does it not detract from Jehovah’s glory to refer to human authorities as “superior”?
9 In calling the secular authorities “superior,” do we somehow detract from the honor due Jehovah? No, because Jehovah is much more than merely superior. He is “the Sovereign Lord,” “the Supreme One.” (Psalm 73:28; Daniel 7:18, 22, 25, 27; Revelation 4:11; 6:10) In no way does a proper subjection to human authorities detract from our worship of the Supreme Authority, the Sovereign Lord Jehovah. To what extent, then, are these authorities superior? Merely with regard to other humans and in their own sphere of activity. They are responsible to govern and protect human communities, and for this they lay down regulations as to the conduct of public affairs.
“Placed in Their Relative Positions by God”
10. (a) Paul’s statement about ‘placing’ the superior authorities proves what about Jehovah’s own authority? (b) What has Jehovah permitted as to the ‘placing’ of certain rulers, and how are his servants thus tested?
10 Jehovah God’s supremacy over even the secular authorities is seen in that these authorities “stand placed in their relative positions by God.” However, this statement raises a question. Some years after Paul wrote these words, the Roman emperor Nero unleashed a campaign of vicious persecution against Christians. Did God personally place Nero in his position? Far from it! It is not that each individual ruler is selected by God and placed in position ‘by the grace of God.’ Rather, Satan sometimes maneuvers ruthless humans into position as rulers, and Jehovah permits this, along with the tests that such rulers bring upon his integrity-keeping servants.—Compare Job 2:2-10.
11, 12. What cases are on record in which Jehovah personally maneuvered secular authorities into or out of place?
11 However, Jehovah has personally intervened in the case of certain rulers or governments in order to serve his lofty purpose. For example, in Abraham’s time the Canaanites were allowed to remain in the land of Canaan. Later, though, Jehovah uprooted them and gave the land to Abraham’s seed. During the Israelites’ wilderness sojourn, Jehovah did not let them overrun Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir. But he did order them to destroy the kingdoms of Sihon and Og.—Genesis 15:18-21; 24:37; Exodus 34:11; Deuteronomy 2:4, 5, 9, 19, 24; 3:1, 2.
12 After Israel settled in Canaan, Jehovah continued to take a direct interest in the authorities that affected his people. At times, when Israel sinned, Jehovah allowed them to come under a pagan authority. When they repented, he removed that authority from the land. (Judges 2:11-23) Eventually, he allowed Judah, along with many other nations, to come under the sway of Babylon. (Isaiah 14:28–19:17; 23:1-12; 39:5-7) After Israel went into exile in Babylon, Jehovah foretold the rise and fall of world powers that would affect his people from the time of Babylon down to our own day.—Daniel, chapters 2, 7, 8, and Da 11.
13. (a) According to Moses’ song, why did Jehovah decree the boundary of the peoples? (b) Why did God later restore Israel to its land?
13 Moses sang about Jehovah: “When the Most High gave the nations an inheritance, when he parted the sons of Adam from one another, he proceeded to fix the boundary of the peoples with regard for the number of the sons of Israel. For Jehovah’s share is his people; Jacob is the allotment that he inherits.” (Deuteronomy 32:8, 9; compare Acts 17:26.) Yes, in order to carry out his purposes, God there decreed which authorities would remain and which would be destroyed. In this way, he allotted Abraham’s offspring a land to inherit and later restored them to that land, so that eventually the promised Seed could appear there, just as prophesied.—Daniel 9:25, 26; Micah 5:2.
14. For the most part, in what sense does Jehovah put human authorities into their relative positions?
14 In most cases, however, Jehovah places rulers in their relative positions in the sense that he allows humans to take positions of authority relative to one another but always inferior to himself. Thus, when Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, he told that ruler: “You would have no authority at all against me unless it had been granted to you from above.” (John 19:11) This did not mean that Pilate was personally put in position by God, but it meant that his life-and-death authority over Jesus was only by God’s permission.
“The God of This System of Things”
15. In what way does Satan wield authority in this world?
15 What, though, of the Bible’s statement that Satan is the god, or ruler, of this world? (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4) What, indeed, of Satan’s boast to Jesus when he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said: “All this authority . . . has been delivered to me, and to whomever I wish I give it.” (Luke 4:6) Jesus did not contradict Satan’s boast. And Satan’s words harmonize with what Paul later wrote to the Ephesians: “We have a wrestling, not against blood and flesh, but against the governments, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Moreover, the book of Revelation depicts Satan as a great dragon that gives to a beastly symbol of the world’s political system “its power and its throne and great authority.”—Revelation 13:2.
16. (a) How can it be seen that Satan’s authority is limited? (b) Why does Jehovah permit Satan to have authority among mankind?
16 Notice, though, that Satan’s statement to Jesus, “All this authority . . . has been delivered to me,” shows that he too exercises authority only by permission. Why does God grant this permission? Satan’s career as world ruler began back in Eden when he publicly accused God of lying and unjustly exercising His sovereignty. (Genesis 3:1-6) Adam and Eve followed Satan and disobeyed Jehovah God. At that point Jehovah could, with perfect justice, have executed Satan and his two new followers. (Genesis 2:16, 17) But Satan’s words were really a personal challenge to Jehovah. So God in his wisdom allowed Satan to live on for a while, and Adam and Eve were permitted to multiply children before they died. In this way, God provided time and opportunity for the falsity of Satan’s challenge to be demonstrated.—Genesis 3:15-19.
17, 18. (a) Why can we say that Satan is the god of this world? (b) In what way is there “no authority” in this world “except by God”?
17 Events since Eden have shown that Satan’s accusations were downright lies. Adam’s descendants have not found happiness either under Satan-rule or under man-rule. (Ecclesiastes 8:9) On the other hand, God’s dealings with his own people have demonstrated the superiority of divine rule. (Isaiah 33:22) But since most of Adam’s offspring do not accept Jehovah’s sovereignty, knowingly or unknowingly they serve Satan as their god.—Psalm 14:1; 1 John 5:19.
18 Soon, the issues raised in Eden will be resolved. God’s Kingdom will fully take over the administration of mankind’s affairs, and Satan will be abyssed. (Isaiah 11:1-5; Revelation 20:1-6) Meanwhile, though, some kind of arrangement, or structure, has been necessary among mankind so that an ordered life might be possible. Jehovah is “a God, not of disorder, but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33) Hence, he has allowed authority structures to come into existence in the communities that developed outside Eden, and he has permitted humans to exercise authority in this arrangement. In this way “there is no authority except by God.”
19. Is every human ruler under Satan’s direct control?
19 Since Eden, Satan has had wide freedom among mankind, and he has used this freedom to maneuver events on earth, in line with his boast to Jesus. (Job 1:7; Matthew 4:1-10) This does not mean, however, that every ruler in this world submits directly to the control of Satan. Some—like Nero in the first century and Adolf Hitler in ours—have manifested a truly satanic spirit. But others have not. Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus, was “an intelligent man” who “sought to hear the word of God.” (Acts 13:7) Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, refused to be pressured by the Jewish accusers of Paul. (Acts 18:12-17) Many other rulers have in an honorable way exercised their authority conscientiously.—Compare Romans 2:15.
20, 21. What events in the 20th century demonstrate that human rulers do not always do Satan’s will?
20 The book of Revelation foretold that during “the Lord’s day,” starting in 1914, Jehovah would even maneuver human authorities to thwart Satan’s purposes. Revelation describes a flood of persecution, unleashed by Satan against anointed Christians, that would be swallowed up by “the earth.” (Revelation 1:10; 12:16) Elements within “the earth,” the human society now existing on earth, would protect Jehovah’s people from Satan’s persecution.
21 Has this actually happened? Yes. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States were under great pressure, suffering mob attacks and frequent unjust arrests. They received relief when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a number of decisions recognizing the legality of their work. In other places too, the authorities have come to the aid of God’s people. Some 40 years ago in Ireland, a Roman Catholic mob attacked two Witnesses in the city of Cork. A local policeman came to the aid of the Witnesses, and a court of law disciplined the attackers. Just last year in Fiji, a meeting of high chiefs heard a proposal to ban the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses. One chief spoke up boldly for the Witnesses, and the proposal was easily defeated.
22. What questions will be discussed next?
22 No, secular authorities do not always serve Satan’s ends. Christians can be subject to the superior authorities without being subject to Satan himself. Indeed, they will be subject to these authorities as long as God permits the authorities to exist. What, though, does such subjection mean? And what may Christians expect in return from the superior authorities? These questions will be discussed in the study articles starting on pages 18 and 23 of this magazine.
The Greek noun translated “high station,” hy·pe·ro·kheʹ, is related to the verb hy·pe·reʹkho. The word “superior” in “superior authorities” is derived from this same Greek verb, which adds to the evidence that the superior authorities are the secular authorities. The rendering of Romans 13:1 in The New English Bible, “Every person must submit to the supreme authorities,” is not correct. Humans “in high station” are not supreme, although they may be superior to other humans.
How Would You Answer?
□ Who are the superior authorities?
□ How can we say that “there is no authority except by God”?
□ Why does Jehovah allow the world to be under Satan’s authority?
□ In what way does God place human authorities “in their relative positions”?
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After the burning of Rome, Nero displayed a truly satanic spirit
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Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus, sought to hear the word of God