Posted by: Moses | April 3, 2007

To Bear the Sword

This post is to try to illicit discussion and counsel, my views are not cogent in this matter yet.


Romans 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment 3 (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. 6 For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. 7 Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

Now that seems pretty absolute, especially considering that Paul is referencing Nero. However, compare the following, where Daniel persisted in prayer despite the king’s edict. So, where is the line? Daniel was not bound to pray to God aloud three times a day; it was merely his habit. So he wasn’t writing this concept off under “obey God rather than men.” There is no Mosaic law to pray towards Jerusalem thrice daily.


Daniel 4:4 Then the presidents and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

6 Then these presidents and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 7 All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. 8 Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.

10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. 11 Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God.

And they took Daniel and chucked him into the lion’s den for breaking the law. The synthesis of these two passages seems to be an issue of fearing God rather than men. Paul’s reasoning in Romans is that “if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer.” So if the action is pleasing to God, and you are willing to submit to your authority for the consequences of your actions, is it permissable to disobey authority after the pattern of Daniel? The presentation in Romans seems to offer two options, obey the undesirable laws because God is sovereign over the ruler, or disobey and accept the punishment. Daniel seems to illustrate the latter, there is no question of his meek submissiveness to his earthly authority, even though he flagrantly disobeyed. Thoughts? Other passages to consider?



  1. A few thoughts.

    Daniel was operating under the Old Testament law — a system that at his height was a theocracy. He did not have the revelation that came through Paul.

    Secondly, Paul is arguing that disobeying authorities on non-religious issues is a sin. Paul never says that we should obey authorities if they are in direct and very clear opposition to God.

    Daniel’s issue was a sin. If he were to cease his habit, by default it would be assumed by his enemies that he was praying/worshiping the king. This would at the very best give the impression of idolatry. He could not give that impression. This is similar to the early Christians refusal to burn incense to Caesar. There is nothing wrong in lighting a candle, but in their situation to light the candle was to worship a false god. Even if they realized that one cannot actually pray to a false god and that there was no harm in lighting the candle, to light it would have declared to everyone that they were worshiping Caesar, even if in their mind and heart they weren’t.

    While I believe that a synthesis of this passage can be found in the “fear of God rather than the fear of men.” I believe that your application, “The presentation in Romans seems to offer two options, obey the undesirable laws because God is sovereign over the ruler, or disobey and accept the punishment” is dangerous at best.

    Verse 4 refers to the person that the government has to punish as a wrongdoer and verse 5 says that it is necessary to be in subjection because of your own conscience. I don’t think that this means that just because I deem a rule/law to be a bad or even wrong law and therefore my conscience is not offended because I don’t obey it, that I don’t have to obey the law.

    For example, I believe that the institution of the income tax truly was contrary to what our founding fathers intended and I believe that the subsequent amendment to the Constitution was wrong. I firmly believe that this law is wrong and if I didn’t pay my taxes, that action by itself would not offend my conscience. However, because my God says that I should obey my government, even if they are wrong, I must obey. Otherwise I will have a guilty conscience for not obeying my God.

    For me to keep a clear conscience before God and man, I must be very cautious and extremely careful that disobeying a rule an authority has given me would glorify God more than obeying it.

  2. Okay, I agree with your ending comments entirely. I’m not an anarchist and would never consider violating Romans 13 on anything but spiritual grounds. That was my tacit profession under “if it is pleasing to God.” Something that is pleasing to God will always be something that, of the possible options, brings him the most recognition for His excellence. It would never capriciously disregard authority, in fact I think its only justifiable recourse would be an appeal to a higher authority. Thus the believer’s submission and humility persist, even in “rebellion.”

    Exegesis issues: Paul’s reference in v. 4 is κακον πρασσοντι. “One who does wrong.” Κακον, in the context of law simply implies a breach of law (BDAG). It does not intrinsically imply moral reprehensibility in the eyes of God like πονηρος. The issue of conscience is not very clear to me. However, it seems that Paul is using the conscience terminology in this passage to refer to the Roman’s measure of faith (Romans 12:1-8). Therefore, if they are questioning whether or not to pay taxes and trying to base their confidence in Paul’s word, then their conscience already condemns them; they don’t have that faith (see Romans 14:22-23).

    The main point of contention in my mind was more the first bit, concerning the fact that Daniel was not required to pray under the Old Covenant. I’m sure that his prayers did honor God, but they were not commanded. Let me try a secondary illustration of the conflict: Bonhoeffer. Let’s let the sleeping neoorthodoxy dog lie now for the sake of the illustration. The government decided to wipe out Jews. Bonhoeffer’s conscience constrained him to rebel against the government and “seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause,” rather than submit to Hitler (Isaiah 1:17). He died for that faith. Did he die in rebellion? Or did he die fighting for God’s ideal rather than fearing man’s sword? My heart cries out for the latter, but being “deceitful above all things and desperately sick,” that isn’t the most credible of supports.

    Thank you for your sound expansion on the submission aspect; however I think that these questions persists: how do I discern which option will bring God the most glory? Why oppose a regulation instead of adapting to regulations of spiritual practices? What is the criteria of determination? For that matter, is such a criteria even knowable, or does it vary from faith to faith?

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