TRUTH: Romans 13 does not apply to the American Revolution

I just posted two blog entries about the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution on The Road to Concord.  They are, THE RULE OF LAW: Putting the Declaration back where It belongs and THE RULE OF LAW: The Declaration of Independence and American Revolution were not Acts of Lawlessness.  Now, because I realize there are many Christians who have been told Romans 13 forbids any form of revolt, I want to address Romans 13 and explain why it does not apply to the Declaration of Independence and American Revolution.

However, before I proceed, I would like to note that I am drawing heavily from an excellent book dealing with this and many other issues arising from Christians not reading and properly understanding Scripture.  If you can find it, I would highly recommend you read “Myths, Lies & Half-Truths: How Misreading the Bible Neutralizes Christians.”  The issue at hand is addressed in the last chapter, “It’s Never Right To Resist Authority.”  As we will see, this is not Scripturally accurate.

Now, the first thing we need to understand is that Romans 13 is addressing the individual, not civil government.  The next thing you need to understand is that Romans 13 does not tell you to do whatever the government tells you to do.  It merely says we are to submit to civil authority.  This is an important distinction.  What if the government told you, a Christian, that you had to renounce God and Christ: does Romans 13 command you to obey?  No!  We know this because Scripture tells us we must obey God first and foremost (Acts 5:29, 4:19-20).  What Romans 13 is actually telling us is that we are not permitted – as individuals – to act in a lawless fashion.  Scripture does not condone Anarchy.  So, even as we obey God, we are to submit to the civil law.  This is what the early Christians were doing when they willingly went to the lions.  They refused to obey the law by renouncing Christ, but they submitted to it by going to the lions without a fight.  This is what Romans 13 is really all about, and when God’s people are faithful in obeying this command, it is a powerful witness to the rest of the world.  After all, this refusal to obey but willingness to submit to the law is one of the primary reasons the Christian faith grew in the face of 1st Century oppression.  Nothing can testify to the power and glory of God any better than people willingly dying for His risen Son!

At the same time, Scripture does ordain civil government.  In fact, in Matt 22:21, Christ, Himself, gives legitimacy to civil government when He says to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s (i.e. government).  But notice what Christ actually said.  He did not say give to Caesar everything Caesar demands; He said give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s.  And Scripture addresses that which is rightfully Caesar’s, so Christ was also affirming those Scriptural boundaries.  These Scriptural boundaries for civil government are the same boundaries our founders called ‘The Ancient Principles,’ and the same principles they used to construct our system of government.  In other words, our founders were trying to build their government according to the Biblical principles which govern civil authority.

One of those principles is that the power of the sword rightfully rests with civil authority and not the Church or the individual.  This means that no revolt is ever legitimate – no matter what the principle invoked.  But the American Revolution was not a revolution in this sense; it was a war between legally constituted governments lead by duly elected representatives and – in the case of the Colonies – operating according to the established rule of law.  In this case – as far as Scripture is concerned — the Colonies were on solid ground.  It was the King of England who had violated the established law, not to mention God’s laws governing civil authority.  If you look to Scripture, you will find this is how God operates throughout the Old Testament.  Every time He commands Israel to go to war, it is as a nation, lead by the civil leaders of the nation – not by the religious leaders.  And He always tells Israel to fight other nations, not individuals.  And this is why Romans 13 does not apply to the American Revolution, and why the American Revolution is not a revolt but a revolution in the way man governs himself.


8 thoughts on “TRUTH: Romans 13 does not apply to the American Revolution

  1. Romans 13 in English Bibles mistranslated.. The first person that brought this to my attention was a good fried who’s Greek some 20 years ago.

    In looking for the same translation documented online since then & found a post here..

    Anyhow, here is the proper translation;

    NIV translation: Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

    New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    Every (A)person is to be in (B)subjection to the governing authorities For (C)there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.

    Greek Version (1550 AD)
    1πασα ψυχη εξουσιαις υπερεχουσαις υποτασσεσθω ου γαρ εστιν εξουσια ει μη απο θεου αι δε ουσαι εξουσιαι υπο του θεου τεταγμεναι εισιν

    Translation (WORD FOR WORD)
    Every single soul of ruling, dominating (or) submissive, they do not have substance of ruling if they are not from God and under God.

    English Translation:
    Every governing soul including those in highest command or lowest command have no authority if they are NOT ruling as fair and just as God.

    1. Tabitha,

      Thanks, I appreciate this. For what it’s worth, I hope to teach myself Greek and Hebrew specifically so I can read the OT and NT in their original languages before I die.

      Now, to the point at hand: let me ask you a question (if you don’t mind). Even with the proper translation, do you think it changes the central point of my post? Personally, I think it actually strengthens it as it stresses that those civil governments breaking God’s commands have no authority, but this could just be me.

  2. It’s not taught in American schools anymore that the British Parliament had zero legal authority over the American colonies to begin with. The colonies swore allegiance to the monarchy only. Therefore, every law the British Parliament passed that affected the American colonies was illegal by definition. As far as George III was concerned, he legally and officially abrogated his authority via the Prohibitory Acts in 1775.
    Take that information and apply it to what we know happened in the few years leading up to 1775/1776, and we begin to see that far from being stuck-up/arrogant/ungrateful rebels and traitors, the American colonists showed an INCREDIBLE amount of patience and restraint in the face of completely unjustified tyranny and oppression.

    1. Agreed. But on top of this, the King — who was the actual party to the Colonial Charters — was constantly violating his own duties and restrictions under the Charters HE authorized. So not only was Parliament in the wrong, so was the King. And the Colonies still did not respond lawlessly. As stated in the Declaration, they merely took their appeal to the Highest Court in the Universe. 🙂

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