Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers
The apostle having finished his exhortations to this church, in relation to the several duties incumbent upon both officers and private Christians, as members of a church, and with reference to each other, and their moral conduct in the world; proceeds to advise, direct, and exhort them to such duties as were relative to them as members of a civil society; the former chapter contains his Christian Ethics, and this his Christian Politics. There was the greater reason to insist upon the latter, as well as on the former, since the primitive saints greatly lay under the imputation of being seditious persons and enemies to the commonwealth; which might arise from a very great number of them being Jews, who scrupled subjection to the Heathen magistrates, because they were the seed of Abraham, and by a law were not to set one as king over them, that was a stranger, and not their own brother, and very unwillingly bore the Roman yoke, and paid tribute to Caesar: hence the Christians in common were suspected to be of the same principles; and of all the Jews none were more averse to the payment of taxes to the Roman magistrates than the Galilaeans; see ( Acts 5:37 ) ( Luke 13:1 ) . And this being the name by which Christ and his followers were commonly called, might serve to strengthen the above suspicion of them, and charge against them. Moreover, some Christians might be tempted to think that they should not be subject to Heathen magistrates; since they were generally wicked men, and violent persecutors of them; and that it was one branch of their Christian liberty to be freed from subjection to them: and certain it is, that there were a set of loose and licentious persons, who bore the name of Christians, that despised dominion, and spoke evil of dignities; wherefore the apostle judged it advisable especially to exhort the church of Rome, and the members who dwelt there, where was the seat of power and civil government, so to behave towards their superiors, that they might set a good example to the Christians in the several parts of the empire, and wipe off the aspersion that was cast upon them, as if they were enemies to magistracy and civil power. By "the higher powers", he means not angels, sometimes called principalities and powers; for unto these God hath not put in subjection his people under the Gospel dispensation; nor ecclesiastical officers, or those who are in church power and authority; for they do not bear the temporal sword, nor have any power to inflict corporeal punishment: but civil magistrates are intended, see ( Titus 3:1 ) ; and these not only supreme magistrates, as emperors and kings, but all inferior and subordinate ones, acting in commission under them, as appears from ( 1 Peter 2:13 1 Peter 2:14 ) , which are called "powers", because they are invested with power and authority over others, and have a right to exercise it in a proper way, and in proper cases; and the "higher" or super eminent ones, because they are set in high places, and have superior dignity and authority to others. The persons that are to be subject to them are "every soul"; not that the souls of men, distinct from their bodies, are under subjection to civil magistrates; for of all things they have the least to do with them, their power and jurisdiction not reaching to the souls, the hearts, and consciences of men, especially in matters of religion, but chiefly to their bodies, and outward civil concerns of life: but the meaning is, that every man that has a soul, every rational creature, ought to be subject to civil government. This is but his reasonable service, and which he should from his heart, and with all his soul, cheerfully perform. In short, the sense is, that every man should be subject: this is an Hebraism, a common way of speaking among the Jews, who sometimes denominate men from one part, and sometimes from another; sometimes from the body or flesh, thus "all flesh is grass", ( Isaiah 40:6 ) , that is, all men are frail; and sometimes front the soul, "all souls are mine", ( Ezekiel 18:4 ) , all belong to me; as here, "every soul", that is, every man, all the individuals of mankind, of whatsoever sex, age, state, or condition, ecclesiastics not excepted: the pope, and his clergy, are not exempted from civil jurisdiction; nor any of the true ministers of the Gospel; the priests under the law were under the civil government; and so was Christ himself, and his apostles, who paid tribute to Caesar; yea, even Peter particularly, whose successor the pope of Rome pretends to be. "Subjection" to the civil magistrates designs and includes all duties relative to them; such as showing them respect, honour, and reverence suitable to their stations; speaking well of them, and their administration; using them with candour, not bearing hard upon them for little matters, and allowing for ignorance of the secret springs of many of their actions and conduct, which if known might greatly justify them; wishing well to them, and praying constantly, earnestly, and heartily for them; observing their laws and injunctions; obeying their lawful commands, which do not contradict the laws of God, nature, and right reason; and paying them their just dues and lawful tribute, to support them in their office and dignity:
for there is no power but of God;
God is the fountain of all power and authority; the streams of power among creatures flow from him; the power that man has over all the creatures, the fowls of the air, the beasts of the field, and the fishes of the sea, is originally of God, and by a grant from him; the lesser powers, and the exercises of them, in the various relations men stand in to one another, are of God, as the power the husband has over the wife, parents over their children, and masters over their servants; and so the higher power that princes have over their subjects: for it is the God of heaven that sets up kings, as well as pulls them down; he is the King of kings, from whom they derive their power and authority, from whom they have the right of government, and all the qualifications for it; it is by him that kings reign, and princes decree justice.
The powers that be are ordained of God.
The order of magistracy is of God; it is of his ordination and appointment, and of his ordering, disposing, and fixing in its proper bounds and limits. The several forms of government are of human will and pleasure; but government itself is an order of God. There may be men in power who assume it of themselves, and are of themselves, and not of God; and others that abuse the power that is lodged in them; who, though they are by divine permission, yet not of God's approbation and good will. And it is observable, that the apostle speaks of powers, and not persons, at least, not of persons, but under the name of powers, to show that he means not this, or the other particular prince or magistrate, but the thing itself, the office and dignity of magistracy itself; for there may be some persons, who may of themselves usurp this office, or exercise it in a very illegal way, who are not of God, nor to be subject to by men. The apostle here both uses the language, and speaks the sentiments of his countrymen the Jews, who are wont to call magistrates, "powers"; hence those sayings were used among them; says Shemaiah F20,
``(twvrl edwtt la) , "be not too familiar with the power".''that is, with a magistrate, which oftentimes is dangerous. Again,
``says F21 Rabban Gamaliel, (twvrb Nyryhz wyh) , "take heed of the power" (i.e. of magistrates), for they do not suffer a man to come near them, but in necessity, and then they appear as friends for their own advantage, but will not stand by a man in the time of distress.''Moreover, after this manner they explain F23 ( Proverbs 5:8 ) ,
``"remove thy way far from her", this is heresy; "and come not nigh the door of her house", (twvrh wz) , "this is the power". The gloss on it is, magistrates, because they set their eyes upon rich men to kill them, and take away their substance.''And a little after it is observed,
``"the horse leech hath two daughters, crying, give, give", ( Proverbs 30:15 ) : it is asked, what is the meaning of give, give? Says Mar Ukba, there are two daughters which cry out of hell, and say in this world, give, give, and they are heresy, (twvrhw) , "and the civil power".''The gloss on this place is,
``Heresy cries, bring a sacrifice to the idol; "Civil Power" cries, bring money, and gifts, and revenues, and tribute to the king.''Nevertheless, they look upon civil government to be of divine appointment. They say F24, that
``no man is made a governor below, except they proclaim him above;''i.e. unless he is ordained of God: yea, they allow F25 the Roman empire to be of God, than which no government was more disagreeable to them.
``When R. Jose ben Kisma was sick, R. Chanina ben Tradion went to visit him; he said unto him, Chanina, my brother, my brother, knowest thou not that this nation, (the Romans) (hwkylmh Mymvh Nm) , "have received their empire" from God? for it hath laid waste his house, and hath burnt his temple, and has slain his saints, and destroyed his good men, and yet it endures.''Nay, they frequently affirm F26, that the meanest office of power among men was of divine appointment. This is the apostle's first argument for subjection to the civil magistrate.
F20 Pirke Abot, c. 1. sect. 10.
F21 Ib. c. 2. sect. 3.
F23 T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 17. 1.
F24 In Buxtorf. Florileg. Heb. p. 178.
F25 T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 18. 1.
F26 T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 51. 1. Bava Bathra, fol. 91. 2. Jarchi in 1 Chron. xxix. 11.