In Romans 13:3, the scriptures state that the authorities hold no terror for those who do right. Considering all the martyrs who have been persecuted for doing right, then how can this scripture be true in every situation?

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    Can y'all stop voting to close stuff that can be fixed with a simple and straightforward edit? Stevie, your original question leaned a bit into the opinion based territory, so I fixed it up to make it more objective. It could be improved further if you added a denomination or theological tradition you'd like to hear from.
    – jaredad7
    Aug 10, 2023 at 20:30
  • @jaredad7 Actually, early Christian persecution before 250 wasn't "state-sponsored" (see here for example). For the most part, there was no systematic hunting down of Christian; it was sporadic, caused by social unrest, varied greatly in how it was conducted, and there were a lot of ambiguity, false-charges, and confusion. The earliest one, Nero persecution, certainly wasn't lawful and did NOT have the blessing of the Roman Senate. Aug 10, 2023 at 20:45
  • @GratefulDisciple I don't want to get into a dispute about the term state-sponsored, but Nero was certainly an authority in the Roman empire. If you think there's a better word, you have the ability to edit. I was just trying to save this good question from being needlessly closed on a technicality.
    – jaredad7
    Aug 10, 2023 at 20:48
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    @jaredad7 That's why in my answer I distinguished clearly between government "system" and office "occupant". Ancient Roman emperors were technically Princeps, leading member of the Roman Senate, so he is an "office holder" but not the sole authority. City rulers have far more direct day-to-day authority that Paul had in mind when writing Romans 13:1-7. Nero was characterized by Roman historians as deviant measured by their own system. Aug 10, 2023 at 20:53
  • @GratefulDisciple for what it's worth, I think your answer is good even for the edited version of the question. Answers don't have to buy into wrong premises in questions.
    – jaredad7
    Aug 10, 2023 at 21:21

2 Answers 2


All governments (authorities, kings, judges etc) act unjustly. There is no question about that. There has not been a century, or a single country, where the authority Christians are to respect has not acted wrongly, sometimes intolerably wrongly. This must give cause for us to think that the instruction in Romans 13:1-7 is given despite that fact. After all, Paul knew full well himself of many terrible things done by the Roman authorities, and by the Jewish authorities, at the very least. He would also know from the Hebrew Scriptures of atrocities done by other national authorities.

The issue here is not that various governments have made martyrs out of God's prophets and people. Nor is the issue whether Christians might feel terror at them because they have done (and will do) that. Believers in God know that that is par for the course.

So, what is the issue in that chapter? It is about a God-ordained system of order in the running of nations that leaves God's people free to concentrate on spreading his word, particularly for Christians to get on with spreading the gospel globally. They are told to pray for governments, that such order will be maintained that Christians will have freedom to keep spreading the gospel.

They do not fear any authority, even if it turns on them, to martyr them. Their consciences are clear before God, and God will judge those rulers. Jesus even told Pontius Pilate that the authority he was exercising - to crucify Christ - was given to him by God. Peter agreed with Paul when he wrote:

"Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will og God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using yopur liberty as a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." 1 Peter 2:13-17 A.V.

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    Would you agree that whilst Christians are instructed to honour and obey the secular authorities, the over-riding principle is to obey God rather than men when the demands of government (or kings) go against God's righteous commands (Acts 5:29)? Hence the martyrs throughout history who align themselves with God's government (which is not of this world) rather than secular governments.
    – Lesley
    Aug 19, 2023 at 17:02
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    @Lesley Yes, certainly. Though when Christians have been killed by rioting mobs, it is not always the case that their rulers have encouraged them to do that. Sometimes that is so, but it's difficult to prove state-sponsored killings. However, God judges the authorities, and the individual murderous mobsters. Thanks for flagging up Acts 5:29.
    – Anne
    Aug 19, 2023 at 17:12

Romans 13:1-7 is titled by various translations as "Respect for Authority" (NLT), "A Christian's Duties to the State" (CSB), "Submission to Governing Authorities" (NIV). Obviously implicit in what Paul meant by "governing authorities" in this passage is when the government SYSTEM is designed with justice (i.e. legitimate). Paul is implying that civil magistrates (who MAY NOT be Christians) have a social purpose to maintain order and to achieve that purpose the office occupants need to be given authority by the SYSTEM. But when the government SYSTEM itself is blatantly unjust (example: occupation by foreign power) instead of corrupt office OCCUPANTS that could have been removed through democratic (or other) system processes, Christians can argue that Romans 13:1-7 is out of scope.

What if a legitimate government system operating within its lawful parameters acts unjustly by persecuting the innocent, or even worse, by engaging in unjust invasions, or by taking over cities and subject their citizens to inhumane treatments, even enslaving them? Christians living in modern democracies today need to see the relevance of Romans 13:1-7 in a different cultural, legal, and international-relations framework (such as the Westphalian system). One solution is to fight WITHIN THE SYSTEM to have an updated constitution that provides MORE justful recourse of all aggrieved citizens to a fair trial, laws that respect freedom & human flourishing, and mechanisms to overthrow existing government through peaceful means, while still giving "monopoly" to a single military and (in a locality) to a single police force in the interest of maintaining order. In this scheme, there is a place for "civil disobedience" demonstrations, or even a non-anarchist revolution that still respects the intent of Romans 13:1-7.

As for the martyrs, of course they don't see their submitting to martyrdom as "submission to governing authorities", since they didn't come forward on their own, but forced against their will. Submitting in Romans 13:1-7 implies acting willingly, but in the case of celebrated ancient martyrdoms, they would have run away if the option was available to them. Submitting to martyrdom here is "submission to honoring Jesus above all other powers" by refusing to worship the Emperor, for example.

CONCLUSION: Romans 13:1-7 implies a just and legitimate government. It is false to use this passage to argue that simply because there is a "government" in place (de facto ruler), it automatically means that the government is established by God. No. The right interpretation is that all government office occupants are answerable to God as agents who maintain public order (God is the ultimate order-creator, as Gen 1 implies), and their authorities are upheld by God if they act justly according to Christian principles (whether they are Christians or not). As long as the resulting public order is just, the kind of government system we have is our freedom to choose.

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