11. How did Paul counsel Christians to deal with worldly rulers?
11 It was in line with this that, a little over 20 years after Christ’s death, the apostle Paul told the Christians in Rome: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities.” (Romans 13:1) About ten years later, shortly before his second imprisonment and his execution in Rome, Paul wrote to Titus: “Continue reminding them [Cretan Christians] to be in subjection and be obedient to governments and authorities as rulers, to be ready for every good work, to speak injuriously of no one, not to be belligerent, to be reasonable, exhibiting all mildness toward all men.”—Titus 3:1, 2.
Progressive Understanding of “the Superior Authorities”
12. (a) What did Charles Taze Russell view as the proper position of a Christian relative to the governmental authorities? (b) Regarding serving in the armed forces, what varied positions did anointed Christians take during World War I?
12 As early as 1886, Charles Taze Russell wrote in the book The Plan of the Ages: “Neither Jesus nor the Apostles interfered with earthly rulers in any way. . . . They taught the Church to obey the laws, and to respect those in authority because of their office, . . . to pay their appointed taxes, and except where they conflict with God’s laws (Acts 4:19; 5:29) to offer no resistance to any established law. (Rom. 13:1-7; Matt. 22:21) Jesus and the Apostles and the early church were all law-abiding, though they were separate from, and took no share in the governments of this world.” This book correctly identified “the higher powers,” or “the superior authorities,” mentioned by the apostle Paul, as human governmental authorities. (Romans 13:1, King James Version) In 1904 the book The New Creation stated that true Christians “should be found amongst the most law-abiding of the present time—not agitators, not quarrelsome, not fault-finders.” This was understood by some to mean total submission to the powers that be, even to the point of accepting service in the armed forces during World War I. Others, however, viewed it as contrary to Jesus’ statement: “All those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) Obviously, a clearer understanding of Christian submission to the superior authorities was needed.
13. What change in understanding of the identity of the higher powers was presented in 1929, and how did this prove beneficial?
13 In 1929, at a time when laws of various governments were beginning to forbid things that God commands or demand things that God’s laws forbid, it was felt that the higher powers must be Jehovah God and Jesus Christ.* This was the understanding Jehovah’s servants had during the crucial period before and during World War II and on into the Cold War, with its balance of terror and its military preparedness. Looking back, it must be said that this view of things, exalting as it did the supremacy of Jehovah and his Christ, helped God’s people to maintain an uncompromisingly neutral stand throughout this difficult period.
14. How was increased light shed on Romans 13:1, 2 and related scriptures in 1962?
14 In 1961 the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures was completed. Its preparation had required an in-depth study of the textual language of the Scriptures. The precise translation of the words used not only in Romans chapter 13 but also in such passages as Titus 3:1, 2 and 1 Peter 2:13, 17 made it evident that the term “superior authorities” referred, not to the Supreme Authority, Jehovah, and to his Son, Jesus, but to human governmental authorities. In late 1962, articles were published in The Watchtower that gave an accurate explanation of Romans chapter 13 and also provided a clearer view than that held at the time of C. T. Russell. These articles pointed out that Christian subjection to the authorities cannot be total. It must be relative, subject to its not bringing God’s servants into conflict with God’s laws. Further articles in The Watchtower have emphasized this important point.*
15, 16. (a) What better balance did the new understanding of Romans chapter 13 lead to? (b) What questions remain to be answered?
15 This key to the correct understanding of Romans chapter 13 has enabled Jehovah’s people to balance due respect for the political authorities with an uncompromising stand on vital Scriptural principles. (Psalm 97:11; Jeremiah 3:15) It has allowed them to have a proper view of their relationship with God and their dealings with the State. It has ensured that while they pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar, they do not neglect to pay back God’s things to God.
Interestingly, in his commentary on Romans chapter 13, Professor F. F. Bruce writes: “It is plain from the immediate context, as from the general context of the apostolic writings, that the state can rightly command obedience only within the limits of the purposes for which it has been divinely instituted—in particular, the state not only may but must be resisted when it demands the allegiance due to God alone.”