What the Scriptures Teach About Obeying Governmental Authority

By Michael Klopfenstein

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What the Scriptures Teach about Obeying Governmental Authority


There has been much debate in the body of believers over this issue. Should we be subject to an unrighteous government and the laws they have in place? The questions in the subject range from paying taxes, taking on social security numbers, filing birth certificates, marriage certificates, obtaining licenses, property titles, etc.

There are many reasons formulated by man to support their cause, both for and against the issue (Proverbs 21:2). Rather than state all the arguments of both sides, this study will focus on the scriptures that pertain to our responsibility to governmental authorities and discern their real meaning by establishing a pattern of examples from both the old and new testament writings. (Matthew 4:4, II Timothy 3:13-17, Prov. 3:5-7).

The scriptures declare that our Savior Yahshua was in all points tempted like we are (Heb. 4:15), which includes the issue of this study, therefore we need not rely on human reasoning for the answer to this issue. The example that our Savior Yahshua left us should be enough evidence of the way he expects us to follow.

Paul addresses this issue in his letter to all the saints in Rome. Rome was the most powerful city in the ancient world and the capitol of the vast empire which bears its name. Traditionally founded in 753 BCE and located on the Tiber River in central Italy, Rome was a truly cosmopolitan city, attracting people from all over the Mediterranean world. It had in Paul’s time over one million population. One inscription says over four million. It was full of magnificent buildings, but the majority of the people were slaves. The Assembly in Rome was well known and it had been established for several years by the time of Paul’s letter to them (Rom. 14:14; 15:23). (References on Rome from "The Layman’s Bible Encyclopedia: and "The New Open Bible").

Romans 13:1-7 (Verse 1, KJV) Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of Yah: the powers that be are ordained of Yahweh.

Strong’s definition of "SUBJECT": #5293, hupotasso, hoop-ot-as’-so; from G5259 and G5021; to subordinate; reflex. To obey:--be under obedience (obedient), put under, subdue unto, (be, make) subject (to, unto), be (put) in subjection (to, under), submit self unto.

Strong’s definition of "HIGHER POWERS’: #5242, huperecho, hoop-er-ekh’o; from G5228 and G2192; to hold oneself above, i.e. (fig.) to excel; superior, higher, supreme. #1849, exousia, ex-oo-see’ah; from G1832 (in the sense of ability); force capacity, competency, mastery, magistrate.

Strong’s definition of "ORDAINED": #5021. Tasso, tas’-so; to arrange in an orderly manner, i.e., assign or dispose (to a certain position or lot).

Are unrighteous higher powers from and ordained of Yahweh? I Chron. 29:10-13, Thine O Yahweh is the greatness and the power. . . for all that is the heaven and the earth is thine.

Proverbs 8:15-16, By me kings reign. . .by me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.

Daniel 2:20-21, And he (Yahweh) changeth the times and seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings:

Proverbs 21:1, The king’s heart is in the hand of Yahweh. . .he turneth it withersoever he will.

Example, Romans 9:17-18, For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh. . .have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee. . .

Yahweh declares in His word that he is over all the earth and heavens, he sets up kings and turns their heart according to his will. These powers that he sets up are all part of his plan, to accomplish his goals, and to bring glory to His great Name.

Romans 13:2-4, Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of Yahweh: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of Yahweh, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

Does the word "minister" used in verse 4 and "ministers" in verse 6 refer to ministers of faith? Let’s look at the Strong’s definition of these words.

Minister in v. 4 is #2349 diakonos; means to run errands, an attendant, waiter, deacon, minister, pastor.

Ministers in v. 6 is #3011 leitourgos, a public servant, functionary in the Temple or Gospel, or a worshipper or benefactor.

By definition these are simply people who errands and are public servants. It can apply to ministers as we know today or it can represent anyone who carries out errands for the public. In looking at verse 4, this minister (servant) bears a sword as a revenger to execute wrath. In the previous chapter, Romans 12:17-21, Paul is telling the Saints in Rome that vengeance is not ours but Yahweh’s. His saints are not to take part in avenging, therefore these ministers cannot be referring to his saints.

Rom. 13:5, Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

Let’s look at some examples in scripture where saints of Yahweh were subject to unrighteous rulers:

In Genesis 39:1-6, Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. He served under an Egyptian master, a heathen authority. His master was so impressed with Joseph as a servant that he put him over all his house, because he saw that Yahweh was with him. Did Joseph gain this favor with a spirit of resisting authority? No, but through a spirit of subjection. Did Joseph break Yahweh’s commandments while under this authority? No, for Yahweh was with him. He was able to honor Yahweh and yet be subject to a heathen master. Eventually, Joseph became the second highest in command in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh (Gen. 41:37-43). Pharaoh was not a terror to Joseph, but showed good unto him because of his obedience to them.

In Jeremiah 25:1-11, Yahweh is giving the people of Judah a chance to repent from their evil ways, and if not, they would be taken captive to serve Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon. Notice in verse 9, Yahweh calls Nebuchadnezzar his servant, and that he will use this higher power to bring wrath (as a revenger) upon Judah because of their sins. In other words, he will be a terror to them if they do not repent.

In Jeremiah 27:1-17, because Judah did not repent, Yahweh gave their lands into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand, and COMMANDED them to serve the heathen king, his son, and his son’s son. If they refused to serve them, Yahweh would punish them with the sword until they would be consumed. So those who resisted the higher power would receive to themselves damnation. On the other hand, those who did serve the heathen king, he would let remain in their own land; they would see good.

In Jeremiah 29:1-14, Yahweh commands those in captivity in Babylon to build houses, plant gardens, marry, bear children, and SEEK THE PEACE OF THE CITY WHITHER I HAVE CAUSED YOU TO BE CARRIED AWAY, AND PRAY UNTO YAHWEH FOR IT. For in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. Then after the 70 years of captivity, they were to call upon Yahweh and pray. "And then ye shall seek me and find me when ye shall search for me with all your heart." Judah was not asked to resist the heathen authority to be delivered, but rather be subject to them and pray for Yahweh to deliver.

In Daniel 6:1-5, Daniel was conspired against by the other presidents and princes. They sought to find a fault wherewith he could be accused, and could not.

In Acts 25:7-11, the apostle Paul affirms that he did not offend (transgress) against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor yet against Caesar.

In John 19:13-15, the high priests of Yahshua’s day affirm their obedience to Caesar as a king.

In John 19:4-6, Pilate, a heathen ruler, affirmed that Yahshua himself was found to have no fault in him, both concerning Roman law and the law of the Jews.

The pattern is very evident in the Scriptures that whenever Yahweh’s people were placed under heathen authorities, they were to be subject to them by obeying their laws and ordinances. Even with the exodus of Israel out of Egypt, Moses honored the king by appealing to Pharaoh to let Israel go. You may ask, where in the law are we commanded to honor heathen rulers? Is it not contained in the second greatest commandment?

Leviticus 19:18, Mat. 19:19, Rom. 13:9-10, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

Exodus 22:28, We are not to curse the ruler of our people. See also Ecclesiastes 8:1-4 and 10:20.

How far do we go in submission to a ruler or governing authority? This is very simple. In the law we are commanded to keep certain laws, statutes and judgments. If the laws of our ruling authorities would cause us to break one of Yahweh’s laws, then we are to obey Yahweh rather than men, as Peter stated in Acts 5:29.

In Daniel 3:1-18, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, while living under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule, were commanded to bow down and worship a golden image. They appropriately refused the order.

What about paying taxes to an unrighteous government? Romans 13:6-7, "For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are (Yah’s) ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

In Luke 2:1-5, Joseph, who was a just man, went up to Bethlehem to be taxed. In Clark’s Commentary Vol. V, page 369, concerning verse 3, "And all went to be taxed, everyone to his own city." The Roman census was an institution of Servius Tullius, 6th king of Rome. From the account which Dionysius of Halicarnassus gives of it, we may at once see its nature. "He ordered all the citizens of Rome to register their estates according to their value in money, taking an oath, in a form he prescribed, to deliver a faithful account according to the best of their knowledge, specifying the names of their parents, the names of their wives and children, adding also what quarter of the city, or what town in the country they live in."

A Roman census appears to have consisted of these two parts:

1) The account which the people were obliged to give in of their names, quality, employments, wives, children, servants, and estates; and

2) The value set upon the estates by the censors, and the proportion in which they adjudged them to contribute to the defence and support of the state, either in men or money, or both; and this seems to have been the design of the census or enrollment in the text.

In Matthew 17:24-27, Peter confirmed that Yahshua paid tribute (taxes). Yahshua himself paid the tax. In Clark’s Commentary Vol. V, page 179 concerning this tribute Yahshua paid, "this was a temple tax, and not a tax to be paid to the Roman government. The amount paid was a shekel. This was enough for both Peter and Yahshua, as the law required a half shekel per person per year (Exodus 30:13)."

Concerning Yahshua’s point to Peter in vs. 25 and 26, Yahshua, because he was the Master of the Temple, and the disciples His children, they were exempt from paying the temple tax (but not the Roman taxes), BUT so that they not offend, they should go ahead and pay.

In Acts 5:28-39, Gamaliel, a Pharisee and doctor of law, gave the suggestion that if the work of the apostles was of Yahweh, it could not be overthrown. Gamaliel used the examples of two men whose work did come to nought, showing that it was not of Yahweh. One of the men was Judas of Galilee who, in the days of taxing, drew much people after him, but perished, and those that followed him were dispersed. Who was this Judas, and what was his work?

In "The New Bible Dictionary" by J. D. Douglas, page 203, article, CENSUS: "The census of Acts 5:37, which was marked by the insurrection (a rising against civil or religious authority) led by Judas of Galilee, was held in A.D. 6, in the year that Judea was incorporated into the Roman provincial system, and a census was held in order to assess the amount of tribute which the new province should pay to the imperial exchequer. The census was conducted by P. Sulpicius Quirinus, at that time imperial legate of Syria. The suggestion that Israel should pay tribute to a pagan overlord was deemed intolerable by Judas, and by the party of the Zealots, whose formation is to be dated from this time."

This Judas of Galilee resisted the pagan authorities by rising against them because he felt paying tribute (taxes) to a heathen government was intolerable. As Gamaliel confirmed, his work was not of Yahweh because it came to nought.

As you can see, this very issue we’re discussing was common in the days of Yahshua. How did Yahshua respond? Matthew 22:16-22, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto Yahweh the things that are Yahweh’s. If Yahshua had felt in any way it was wrong to pay tribute to a heathen government, he would have surely stated it here.

As said in Romans 13, the higher powers are used by Yahweh to punish evil doers. In our land we have local authorities that maintain law and order, and a military force that protects our borders. This protection carries a cost. We enjoy this protection which Yahweh is in control of. Should we not help pay for this since we are receiving these services? We also enjoy freedom to practice our beliefs. Is this not worth something?

A very common objection to paying taxes is, it supports evil causes and therefore if we pay taxes, we are supporting an evil cause. Is it unlawful then to pay taxes? What do all the examples in scripture show? It is not unlawful to pay taxes. We are each individually responsible for obeying Yahweh’s laws. We are not responsible for what the government does with the money they require of us. Consider this: When we buy products from the stores, are we responsible for what that business does with the money? No. Most products today are made and sold by people who do not follow Yahweh’s laws. In fact, most businesses work on the Sabbath days. Does this mean if we buy their products we are responsible for their sins? No. Was not Lot, who lived in Sodom, considered a righteous man? Who do you suppose he did business with? We will be judged by our own works, not the works of others (Jeremiah 17:10, II Corinthians 5:10).

Romans 13:8-14 shows the situation in Rome at the time of Paul was very trying for the saints. As mentioned earlier, it was a city where slaves made up most of the population, therefore he establishes the importance of submitting to the Roman authorities, for they are Yahweh’s ministers. To do otherwise would be making provisions for the flesh to sin. The scriptures declare that rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft (I Sam. 15:23). In this case Saul thought he was doing Yahweh a favor by keeping back the best of the sheep for sacrificing. Yet that is not what Yahweh had told him to do.

In I Peter 2:9-23, Peter affirms the importance of submitting to every ordinance of man for Yahweh’s sake, "whether it be to the king, or governors, for so is the will of Yahweh that with well doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. For even hereunto were ye called: because the Messiah suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps." This was Paul’s goal as he mentioned in Acts 24:16 in which he states, "and herein I do exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward Yahweh and men."

I Corinthians 10:32-33, "Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Assembly of Yahweh: even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved."

It is difficult sometimes to obey authorities that are not righteous, but it is required just the same as it is for children who are commanded to obey their parents. It is not conditional based on them being righteous or not. Remember that Yahweh’s children are a peculiar people, zealous of good works to show forth the praise of our Maker. We are not to render evil for evil, but rather good for evil, just as Yahshua did. Let us strive to have a life void of offense, that we not bring shame to Yahweh, whom we serve. Isn’t this what Yahshua did for his father?

Hebrews 12:14-15, "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see Yahweh. Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of Yah; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;...

(Phil 2:12) Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

James 3:13-18, "Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him show out of a good conduct his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descends not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace."

Conclusion: According to Scripture, we are commanded to obey our governing authorities in all things with one exception: If they require us to violate Yahweh’s Law, then we must obey Yahweh. ~MK


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