Who are the "higher powers" of Romans 13?

I know people are tired of this discussion, but I did promise to bring up the Romans 13 problem, and here it is in a nutshell. The Greek word translated "powers" is "exousia". This word is used many times in the New Testament and mainly translated "powers". The word basically means the permission, authority, right or power to do something. It is not just the authority to do something but the ability to do it.

The particular definition of the word must be determined by context. The broad category of definition in Romans 13:1 is that of power over persons and things, dominion, authority or rule. Jesus spoke of having such authority in heaven and earth in Mark 13:34. Satan has this authority according to Colossians 1:13. Archangels, demons, princes, potentates and angels all are called by or have this power.

In three places this word is used in relation to those invested with power such as the powers of rulers. In Luke 12:11 the word "powers" is this word "exousia" and would be better translated either "rulers" or "authorities". In Titus 3:1 exhortation is made to be subject to "principalities and powers". Isn't it interesting that the same term used to describe the devil's hierarchy we war against in Ephesians 6 is used to describe something believers are to be subject to?

In both Luke and Titus as well as in 1 Peter, the word "magistrate" is another Greek word. It is NOT "exousia". Now let us look at Romans 13:1 from the King James Version:

"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God. The powers that be are ordained of God."

To begin with we see a word before "powers" which is "higher". The word "higher" is the Greek word "huperecho" which is combination of "huper" which means above or over, and "echo" which means to have. In the New Testament, the figurative meaning of the word is simply to hold one over, superior or better than another. Specifically here it means to be superior or higher in rank.

Let every soul be subject to those "exousia" which have a superior or higher rank. Contrary to what most theologians believe, my feeling is that these "superior authorities" are not the world's rulers but is referring to those entrusted with the oversight of the Church. Logic would dictate that the ordained leaders operating within the Body of Christ would be superior powers to those in the world.

If the "powers" of Romans 13:1 are looked at as being the leaders of the church who are entrusted with the oversight of fellowships, assemblies and activities relating to the gospel; the next six verses take on a whole new meaning. Instead of urging believers to be subject to the governments of man, I believe this verse is exhorting believers to be subject to those who are entrusted with their oversight.

Please read closely the following verse in Hebrews 13:7:

"Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation."

If the "higher powers" of Romans 13 are indeed those who have the rule over you, then that puts them in the category of being exactly what it says in Romans 13:3 and 4:

"For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power (exousia)? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same;
For he is a minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil."

1 Timothy 3 lays out specific qualifications for a "minister of God-diakonos". Someone please tell me how a government official who does not even believe in God can be a "minister of God-diakonos"? Yet, if this section is referring to government authorities, that makes THEM the ministers of God whose responsibility is to serve God's people. When is the last time some government official "served" you as a minister of God?

It is the authorities within the church who bear the sword of the spirit-the Word of God and are revengers, executing wrath upon him which does evil. We are not talking here about a speeding ticket. Since when does a government official have the right to take out his sword and behead a Christian for going 75 in a 65 mph zone? I beg of you to think logically about what is being said here in Romans and how illogical this section becomes if it is referring only to worldly governments and their various officials.

Romans 13:6 specifically speaks of "paying tribute" to these people because they are God's ministers-diakonos who are attending continually upon this very thing. What very thing is he talking about? Context dictates the answer being that they are serving God's people as ministers of God-diakonos. Those who work full time serving God's people, ministering to their needs, watching over them and fighting for them are deserving of compensation.

The word "tribute" is the same as the Old Testament poll tax. This was a "tax" due from every adult Jew for the maintenance of the temple services. Paul is simply saying that those who labor among the believers full time as their ministers of God are worthy of at least what used to be paid to keep the temple from falling apart. 1 Timothy 5:17 states:

"Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine."

Those who are ministers of God, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine are to be counted worthy of double honor, or double poll tax. God does not expect those who serve Him full time to receive nothing for their labor. God is fair God and that is what is being explained in Romans 13. Romans 13:7 acts as a bridge between the first six verses dealing with ministers of God and the next section dealing with love. Verse 7 reads:

"Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor."

Render to each what is due them. Those ministers of God which serve well, are due compensation at least equal to the poll tax Jews paid yearly. Those who work for the government are due taxes (custom) for Jesus stated to render unto Caesar the things due him. Render unto God fear or reverence for He is due that from our hearts. Render respect to civil servants who serve and protect the population.

Regardless of whether you agree with anything I have written, I beseech you to ponder this possible explanation of Romans 13 and how much more sense it makes contextually in Romans. Why and how Paul would suddenly switch from talking about service, the renewed mind, ministries within the body and humility and love in chapter 12 to being subject to and obeying worldly government authorities at the beginning of chapter 13 makes little sense. Especially when starting in verse 8, Paul goes right back to teaching about love and finally purity in the walk.

Tossing aside all arguments for or against the ordination by God of civil authorities, I leave you with a couple of questions which are: Why would God demand his people be more subject to and obey more completely civil authorities enforcing man's laws than He would His own ministers who taught His Word? Why would God threaten His own people with such dire punishment for not obeying civil government authorities and then say spiritually it was the age of grace?

There is no profit in beating God's people over the head with threats that if they don't obey everything a government official tells them to do they will face the wrath of God. There is no profit in trying to explain how thugs in boots that would come in and rape and kill civilians on the spot were the "ministers of God". As for me, I will carry out the instructions of Romans 13:7 and render unto the appropriate parties that which they are due.

  1. Ministers of God are due tribute compensation

  2. Governments are due customs (taxes)

  3. God is due reverence and fear

  4. Civil servants are due respect